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Talking to terrorists
By Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum, August 24, 2007

I'd started talking with Islamist movements who were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the mid-eighties -- 20 years ago. In one way or another, all the formative elements of today's Islamist canvas were evident then: It was a kaleidoscope; some movements had real credibility, and were very serious about improving the lives of their members; whilst others, including the Saudi Wahhabis, were already at odds with many of the other groups. Among the troublesome was Osama bin Laden's small contingent, which at that time numbered no more than 150-200 men.

There was little interest then in understanding these movements; what separated them from the others; or in trying to piece together a comprehension of the currents that were to shape the future of the Muslim world.

The Afghan Resistance had been commandeered as proxy troops in the Cold War against Russia. I recall giving a talk to Washington policy-makers which essentially was a plea for a better understanding of these movements. These Islamist groups were not all the same. In fact they could not be more different. Some possessed real legitimacy and popular support and held high-minded civic aims; but others were conspiratorial, focused almost exclusively upon violence, I suggested, then, these might become dangerous to their own societies. [complete article]
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Why U.S. policy is contradictory
By Francis Matthew, Gulf News, August 23, 2007

Two major parts of American policy in the Gulf are in contradiction to each other, which is creating substantial conflict in the Bush administration as it seeks a way forward to deliver good headlines at home during its final year and a half in power.

Firstly, the United States needs to give its home audience a feeling of successful conclusion in Iraq. To deliver that it will wind down its active presence in Iraq over the next 18 months, which means that it requires a more effective government in Baghdad than at present.

This also means that the military surge, which is the high point of its present policy, has to be ditched and the United States has to aim for more empowerment of the Iraqis.

Secondly, the Bush administration has picked a dispute with Iran. The Bush administration has adopted a basic hatred of the Iranian regime, largely because it has a world view which is irreconcilable with Washington's, but Bush has focused on Iran's nuclear ambitions as the keystone of his administration's assault (diplomatic so far). [complete article]

Comment -- With eighteen months left in office, Bush psychology seems to be the only way of making sense of the administration's contradictory objectives. The idea of picking a fight with Iran at the same time as trying to extricate the U.S. from Iraq is strategically self-defeating. But at this point, George Bush -- increasingly isolated -- is likely to be increasingly self-absorbed. He has two scenarios to choose between: leave office with his Iraq venture universally recognized as a loss, or leave office in the middle of a fight with Iran where the fight isn't lost -- he's just passing on the gloves to his successor, along with his sage advice on how to win.

"Do you want to be seen as a loser or a fighter?" Cheney whispers in Bush's ear. Having spent his whole life fighting against his image as a loser, Bush isn't about to stop fighting now.
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Draft report logs bleak outlook for Iran
By Pauline Jelinek and Katherine Shrader, AP, August 24, 2007

A draft intelligence report on Iran suggests a change in the Tehran regime appears unlikely any time soon despite growing public anger over the country's economic woes, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The report also anticipates little progress in getting Iran to halt its nuclear program or stop supporting militant groups in the region, officials familiar with the draft said on condition of anonymity because the report has not been released. [complete article]
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Gen. Pace denies will urge troop cut in Iraq
Reuters, August 25, 2007

The chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday denied a newspaper report that he will urge President George W. Bush to cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq next year.

"The story is wrong," Marine Gen. Peter Pace said through a spokesman. "It is speculative. I have not made nor decided on any recommendations yet." [complete article]
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Warner's Iraq proposal roils White House
By Anne Flaherty, AP, August 25, 2007

Sen. John Warner's suggestion that some troops leave Iraq by the end of the year has roiled the White House, with administration officials saying they've asked the influential Republican to clarify that he has not broken politically with President Bush.

But Warner said Friday that he stands by his remarks and that he did not object to how his views have been characterized.

"I'm not going to issue any clarification," Warner, R-Va., said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I don't think any clarification is needed." [complete article]
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U.S. surge sees 600,000 more Iraqis abandon home
By Leonard Doyle, The Independent, August 25, 2007

The scale of the human disaster in the Iraq war has become clearer from statistics collected by two humanitarian groups that reveal the number of Iraqis who have fled the fighting has more than doubled since the US military build-up began in February.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Organisation said the total number of internally displaced has jumped from 499,000 to 1.1 million since extra US forces arrived with the aim of making the country more secure. The UN-run International Organisation for Migration says the numbers fleeing fighting in Baghdad grew by a factor of 20 in the same period.

These damning statistics reveal that despite much- trumpeted security improvements in certain areas, the level of murderous violence has not declined. The studies reveal that the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes ­ not intending to return ­ is far higher than before the US surge. [complete article]
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With troop rise, Iraqi detainees soar in number
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, August 25, 2007

The number of detainees held by the American-led military forces in Iraq has swelled by 50 percent under the troop increase ordered by President Bush, with the inmate population growing to 24,500 today from 16,000 in February, according to American military officers in Iraq.

The detainee increase comes, they said, because American forces are operating in areas where they had not been present for some time, and because more units are able to maintain a round-the-clock presence in some areas. They also said more Iraqis were cooperating with military forces.

Nearly 85 percent of the detainees in custody are Sunni Arabs, the minority faction in Iraq that ruled the country under the government of Saddam Hussein; the other detainees are Shiites, the officers say. [complete article]
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GIs' morale dips as Iraq war drags on
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2007

In the dining hall of a U.S. Army post south of Baghdad, President Bush was on the wide-screen TV, giving a speech about the war in Iraq. The soldiers didn't look up from their chicken and mashed potatoes.

As military and political leaders prepare to deliver a progress report on the conflict to Congress next month, many soldiers are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war.

And they're becoming vocal about their frustration over longer deployments and a taxing mission that keeps many living in dangerous and uncomfortably austere conditions. Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see. [complete article]
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Allawi lobby contract just one among many
By Spencer Ackerman, TPM Muckraker, August 24, 2007

It's not just Barbour Griffith & Rogers, and it's not just Ayad Allawi. Ten different U.S. firms are registered through the Department of Justice's Foreign Agents Registration Act database as having active contracts with various Iraqi factions.

BGR isn't even making most of its Iraq-related money off Allawi: for the six-month period between January 1 and May 31, the Kurdistan Regional Government -- the political entity ruling the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq -- paid the firm $381,487.71 for its various services, which, from its mandatory reporting, includes a lot of phone calls to BRG President Bob Blackwill's old friend at the National Security Council, Meghan O'Sullivan. [complete article]
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Military cites risk of abuse by CIA
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, August 25, 2007

Top military lawyers have told senators that President Bush's new rules for CIA interrogations of suspected terrorists could allow abuses that violate the Geneva Conventions, according to Senate and military officials.

The Judge Advocates General of all branches of the military told the senators that a July 20 executive order establishing rules for the treatment of CIA prisoners appeared to be carefully worded to allow humiliating or degrading interrogation techniques when the interrogators' objective is to protect national security rather than to satisfy sadistic impulses.

The JAGs expressed their concerns at a meeting late last month with Senators John Warner of Virginia, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and an aide representing John McCain of Arizona, who could not attend because he was campaigning for president. All three senators are Republicans who have been key proponents of laws banning the abuse of detainees, and have vowed to monitor the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners. [complete article]
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Terror suspect list yields few arrests
By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, August 25, 2007

The government's terrorist screening database flagged Americans and foreigners as suspected terrorists almost 20,000 times last year. But only a small fraction of those questioned were arrested or denied entry into the United States, raising concerns among critics about privacy and the list's effectiveness.
The government says the database is a powerful tool for identifying and tracking suspected terrorists and for sharing intelligence, and that its purpose is not necessarily to make arrests. But the new details about the numbers, disclosed in an FBI budget document and in interviews, raise questions about the database's effectiveness and its impact on privacy, critics said. They argued that the number of hits relative to arrests was alarmingly high and indicated that the threshold for including someone on a watch list was too low, potentially violating thousands of Americans' civil liberties when they are stopped.

David Sobel, senior counsel with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy organization, said the numbers "suggest a staggeringly high rate of false positives with respect to the identification of supposed terrorists." He added that "this really confirms the long-standing fear that this list is inaccurate and ultimately ineffective as an anti-terrorism tool." [complete article]
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A crisis of conscience over refugees in Israel
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 25, 2007

Israel's decision to close its doors to asylum-seekers from Darfur and all other non-Jewish refugees has Israelis and Jews around the world struggling with their distinct identities of Israel: a Jewish state with a Jewish people, or a state born from the Holocaust with a determination to challenge future genocides and succor their victims.

Israeli refugee groups said this week that they would challenge in court Israel's new policy of blocking Africans who enter the country from Egypt. International and Israeli rights groups maintain that returning the would-be refugees without assessing their claims for asylum violates international accords, including the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, as well as Israeli law and government commitments.

In its decision announced last weekend, Israel also said it would expel to Egypt all but 500 people from Darfur already in the Jewish state. Since 2003, an Arab militia linked to the Sudanese government has led a campaign of violence in the western region of Sudan that has left as many as 450,000 African villagers dead and displaced 2.5 million, rights groups say. [complete article]
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Palestinian journalists protest Hamas media crackdown in Gaza
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, August 25, 2007

Dozens of Palestinian journalists on Saturday held a demonstration to protest a crackdown on the media by the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip.

About 40 journalists joined Saturday's demonstration, calling for freedom of the press and urging Hamas to stop violence against journalists in Gaza. Hamas has controlled Gaza since routing forces of the rival Fatah movement in June.

On Friday, Hamas security agents clashed with Fatah supporters in Gaza Strip, firing into the air and beating journalists covering a demonstration against the Islamic militant group's rule in Gaza. [complete article]
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Three British troops killed by US jet
By Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, August 25, 2007

An urgent investigation was under way last night into why a US fighter plane killed three British soldiers, and seriously injured two others, after it was called in to support UK troops engaged in a fierce battle with Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan.

In the worst "friendly fire" incident involving British forces in the country, an American F-15 long-range strike aircraft dropped a single 500lb bomb killing the soldiers from 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment.

The investigation will need to determine whether the accident was the result of a communications or technical failure, why an American rather than a British plane was involved, and why such a relatively big bomb was dropped close to British positions on the ground. [complete article]
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Maliki's fate and America's
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 24, 2007

Unlike the politicians in Washington who seem blithely oblivious in their campaign-trail debates, the Iraqis -- like everyone else in the Middle East -- are well aware of the limits of American power, and the fact that it is on the wane. The signs are everywhere now, nowhere more so than in the fact that even the regimes most dependent on direct U.S. military support -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- are simply ignoring the Bush Administration’s injunctions against consorting with Iran.

They know the U.S. has shot its wad, and that it can't sustain the current troop "surge" beyond next spring. They smell the panic in the discussion in Washington over how and when to pull the troops out, as the underpinnings of American power begin to creak ominously, like that bridge in Minneapolis -- in an extraordinary intervention in the Financial Times, recently, U.S. comptroller David Walker compared the U.S. to the Roman Empire on the eve of its collapse, warning that current debt, taxation and expenditure levels combined with infrastructural decay, an aging population and ruinous military commitments abroad have created a "burning platform" for U.S. governance.

Even as Washington was calling for his head, Maliki was in Damascus, cutting new security and economic deals with an Assad regime that, according to the fanciful projections of the neocons at the start of the Iraq adventure, ought to be have been but a memory by now. [complete article]

Comment -- It's natural that those who make their bread and butter from marketing ideas -- such as "It's time for Maliki to go" -- have more interest in their ability to shape reality than they have in reality itself. The oust-Maliki campaign could work, especially when it has the names of former Bush administration heavyweights behind it. Ambassador Robert Blackwill, the former deputy national security adviser who was Bush's envoy to Iraq and helped form Allawi's interim government in 2004, and Philip Zelikow, former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both add up to strong endorsements in a campaign to replace Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki with former interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. But if Allawi can pull some weight in Washington (thanks to the efforts of the Republican lobbying firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers) there's no reason to think this would translate into the creation of a more effective government in Baghdad. On the contrary, the fact that's Allawi's been able to so successfully drum up American support will, in the eyes of most Iraqis, demonstrate why he can't be trusted.

Maliki on the other hand, despite his image for being ineffectual, actually seems to be working on a smart strategy. It is clearly at an embryonic stage, but what he appears to be attempting to do is to position Iraq as the antidote to America's strategy of divide-and-rule in the Middle East.

A year ago, at the beginning of the Israel war on Lebanon, the Bush administration unveiled its plans to forge a Sunni alliance (within which Israel would have honorary membership), as the "moderate" Arab world united to oppose the threat from Iran itself and an expanding "Shia crescent." When it quickly become evident that Israel would not be able to defeat Hezbollah -- purportedly the Western tip of the crescent -- the strategy backfired with Hassan Nasrallah emerging as a pan-Arab nationalist hero.

In spite of this setback, the administration has subsequently been relentless in promoting regional fear of Iran. At the same time it offers an ambiguous panacea for those fears in the form of major weapons contracts to all members of the de facto anti-Iranian alliance.

Out of this, Maliki may now sense the makings of a strategic opportunity. An Iraqi-Iranian-Syrian alliance could provide the makings for a political settlement in Iraq and become a counterweight to the U.S.'s divisive regional machinations. The steps towards such an alliance would of necessity be tentative and discreet, but I suspect that within five to ten years, this is where we will see the axis of power across the Middle East.
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An intensifying US campaign against Iran
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2007

Somalia, 1993: During the darkest days of the American military intervention, when US troops were taking casualties from drug-addled gunmen wearing flip-flops, US officials pointed to a familiar nemesis.

It was Iran, warned Madeleine Albright, then-US envoy to the United Nations, that had forged a "tactical alliance" with a Somali warlord and "terrorists" in Sudan. Intelligence sources for the first time spoke of smuggled Iranian weapons. In Mogadishu, journalists were told that Iranian agents were training Somalis to make car bombs. But no proof was ever presented.

US charges against Iran's role in Iraq are mounting. But analysts say that a history of unsubstantiated US claims against Iran should serve as a cautionary tale. The lesson to be drawn is not that Iran is guiltless in Iraq, they say, but one of restraint as a familiar drumbeat sounds. [complete article]
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Troops argue Iraq is 'unwinnable'
By Paul Wood, BBC News, August 23, 2007

A belief that Iraq is unwinnable, fears that Afghanistan could go the same way and an overwhelming feeling that the government has not looked after the Armed Forces properly in return for the sacrifices they make.

That is what emerges from the answers given by hundreds of servicemen and women in response to the online questionnaire we posted here a few weeks ago. We received nearly 2,000 replies to a set of questions about life in the forces.

Those who contacted us did so in defiance of Queen's Regulations. It is forbidden for members of the Armed Forces to talk to the media unsupervised.

There is a good constitutional reason for that. Britain does not have the kind of politicised military which intervenes to change policy, or governments. But many servicemen and women are deeply worried and so are speaking out. [complete article]
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Pitching the imperial republic
By Juan Cole, TomDispatch, August 23, 2007

French Egypt and American Iraq can be considered bookends on the history of modern imperialism in the Middle East. The Bush administration's already failed version of the conquest of Iraq is, of course, on everyone's mind; while the French conquest of Egypt, now more than two centuries past, is all too little remembered, despite having been led by Napoleon Bonaparte, whose career has otherwise hardly languished in obscurity. There are many eerily familiar resonances between the two misadventures, not least among them that both began with supreme arrogance and ended as fiascoes. Above all, the leaders of both occupations employed the same basic political vocabulary and rhetorical flimflammery, invoking the spirit of liberty, security, and democracy while largely ignoring the substance of these concepts.

The French general and the American president do not much resemble one another -- except perhaps in the way the prospect of conquest in the Middle East appears to have put fire in their veins and in their unappealing tendency to believe their own propaganda (or at least to keep repeating it long after it became completely implausible). Both leaders invaded and occupied a major Arabic-speaking Muslim country; both harbored dreams of a "Greater Middle East"; both were surprised to find themselves enmeshed in long, bitter, debilitating guerrilla wars. Neither genuinely cared about grassroots democracy, but both found its symbols easy to invoke for gullible domestic publics. Substantial numbers of their new subjects quickly saw, however, that they faced occupations, not liberations. [complete article]
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The Road Less Traveled, Hamas style
By Dion Nissenbaum, Checkpoint Jerusalem, August 23, 2007

Even if Abbas does call early elections, any campaign would still have to go through Gaza, where Hamas has no intention of letting the Palestinian president ram a campaign down its throat.

"We will respect the Palestinian elections when they happen at their usual time and date and according to the law, and with guarantees they will not play with the votes," said Mashaal. "We respect the rules of the Democratic game. But we don't respect playing with democracy."

Mashaal said it would be "impossible" for Abbas to hold early elections. And, since Hamas security forces control the Gaza Strip streets, it is unlikely Abbas could ensure a free and fair election takes place there.

The best way to unify the feuding factions, Mashaal says, is to create a unified Palestinian security front that brings together Hamas and Fatah gunmen.

This, of course, has been the heart of the problem ever since Hamas took control of the PA last year. And, with trust between Fatah and Hamas at an all-time low, it's unclear how the two sides can resolve this fundamental issue that was impossible to settle before the Gaza takeover. [complete article]

The Palestinian wrestling match
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, August 21, 2007

In the harsh media war between the sides, Hamas spokesmen recently whipped out a video cassette that they found when they took over PA offices in Gaza. The cassette shows Abu Mazen at a meeting with Fatah activists in Gaza, where he asked them about the clashes with Hamas. One of the activists answered: You have nothing to worry about. It will take us less than one ghalwa to wipe out Hamas. A ghalwa is the few seconds for which black coffee can be allowed to boil before it must be removed from the fire so that it does not boil over. The cassette was broadcast on the Hamas television channel, Al Aqsa, and prompted scores of jokes about "Abu Ghalwa" and the false information that Mohammed Dahlan and his people fed Abu Mazen about their strength vis-a-vis Hamas.

Now, too, the information that PA officials in the West Bank and Hamas officials in Gaza are disseminating about each other must be examined carefully. Senior PA officials, like Abbas advisor Nabil Amar and Minister of Information Riad Maliki, have declared that shortages and despair prevail under the Hamas regime in Gaza and that it will end "much faster than people think." Two journalists from Gaza with whom I spoke last Saturday said that the opposite is the case: Quiet and order prevail in the Gaza Strip, and there is personal security such as has not been experienced for years. According to them, there are shortages in Gaza, but they are not terrible. Hamas is even interested in exaggerating the talk about distress and shortages so that international organizations will transfer more aid to Gaza. [complete article]

Hamas optimism vs. Fatah despair
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, August 14, 2007

Even in the face of possible economic collapse, Hamas leaders want to figure out a better way to collect garbage in Gaza. The Islamist movement, which now controls the coastal strip, is working out ways to create new jobs and reduce petty crime.

A new enthusiasm has swept through this territory in the aftermath of the violent split in June between the two Palestinian factions. Among many young Gazans there is excitement for a Palestinian enclave that fully embraces the principles of their Islamic Resistance Movement without the interference of Fatah rivals.

"We've taken control, we've gotten rid of people who were collaborating with Israel, and we've restored order," says Khalil al-Haja, a mid-ranking member of Hamas Qassem Brigade militia. "Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] will eventually have to realize that we're hear to stay. In six months, we'll be reunited."

While that vision may indeed be only a Hamas dream, the good spirits among Hamas officials in Gaza are in stark contrast to the low morale of their Fatah counterparts. [complete article]

Hamas refashions its militancy
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 2007

There was a time when the killing of six Hamas gunmen, which Israel said it did Monday in an airstrike on the Gaza Strip, would have propelled the Islamic militants to unleash a barrage of rockets into southern Israel.

But despite angry vows of revenge, Hamas continued to uphold Tuesday an undeclared policy, established after its takeover of Gaza in June, of limiting rocket attacks on Israel.

At a time when Hamas is trying to consolidate power and show the world it can rule responsibly since bringing to a violent end the unity government with rival Fatah, it is being careful to keep its fight against what it calls "the Zionist enemy" on a low flame of rhetoric and lower-impact mortar fire. [complete article]

See also, Abbas denies West Bank-Gaza route included in land swap plan (Haaretz) and Palestinian poll finds support for Fatah government over Hamas (AP).
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Egypt's unchecked repression
By Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Washington Post, August 21, 2007

This month marked the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal. Rumors about the involvement of a secret government death squad tasked with silencing detractors of the ruling Mubarak family in this and other disappearances -- such as that of Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia in Cairo in 1993 -- have spiked in recent weeks.

On Aug. 8, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported that it had confirmed more than 500 cases of police abuse since 1993, including 167 deaths -- three of which took place this year -- that the group "strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment." The organization previously found that while Egypt's population nearly doubled during the first 25 years of Hosni Mubarak's regime, the number of prisons grew more than fourfold and that the number of detainees held for more than one year without charge or indictment grew to more than 20,000.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have corroborated chilling accounts of torture in Egyptian prisons. The independent daily Eldestour recently published two important facts: that the annual budget for internal security was $1.5 billion in 2006, more than the entire national budget for health care, and that the security police forces comprise 1.4 million officers, nearly four times the size of the Egyptian army. "Egypt has become a police state par excellence," the paper's editor noted. [complete article]

See also, Egypt: Are the Islamists heading to power? (Scott MacLeod).
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Mysterious disappearances (and releases) in Pakistan
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 23, 2007

On July 13, 2004, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old computer engineer, was detained by Pakistani military intelligence. The following month a Reuters report quoted a Pakistani intelligence source saying that:
"After [Khan's] capture he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send emails to his contacts... He sent encoded emails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the US agents said he was a computer whiz."

Last weekend US officials said someone held secretly by Pakistan was the source of the bulk of the information justifying the [elevated Homeland Security "orange"] alert [which, just by chance, coincided with the Democratic National Convention] .

The New York Times obtained Khan's name independently, and US officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.

None of those reports mentioned that Khan had been under cover helping the authorities catch al Qaeda suspects, and that his value in that regard was destroyed by making his name public.

A day later, Britain hastily rounded up terrorism suspects, some of whom are believed to have been in contact with Khan while he was under cover.

Washington has portrayed those arrests as a major success, saying one of the suspects, named Abu Musa al-Hindi or Abu Eissa al-Hindi, was a senior al Qaeda figure.

But British police have acknowledged the raids were carried out in a rush.
For the following three years, Khan remained in detention -- but was never charged. This week, his case -- along with that of over 200 other missing people -- came before Pakistan's Supreme Court. It was then revealed for the first time that Khan had in fact been quietly released a month earlier (July 24, 2007). The New York Times reports that, "American officials declined to speak for the record on Monday, but said they were dismayed at the news of his release." They may have been dismayed but that's not quite the same as saying they weren't already aware of what had happened.

This story is hard to unravel and so far no one in the U.S. media seems to think it's worth the effort. But there are numerous questions that need to be answered. Did the Bush administration receive advance notice of Khan's release? Does the administration support the efforts of Pakistan's Supreme Court to uphold the law and secure the release of uncharged detainees? Or, is the administration currently looking for new venues of secret detention outside Pakistan in order to avoid the risk of detainees being granted their legal rights?

Given the focus that this administration has generally had in finding ways to maneuver around the law, one assumes that it is currently busy exercising its well-honed skills in the outlaw domain where it most comfortably operates.

But as for America's attitude towards Pakistan's invisible prisoners -- what does it say about us if we have more concern about a government's efficiency in clamping down on terrorism than we have about its use of what at other times would have been seen as the instruments of state terrorism?

Who wields the more dangerous power? The terrorist who might blow up innocent people, or the government that can make suspicious people "disappear"?
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Sharif's shadow looms over Pakistan's Musharraf
By Simon Cameron-Moore, Reuters, August 23, 2007

A Pakistan Supreme Court decision on Thursday to allow former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to return from exile will reinforce growing doubts over President Pervez Musharraf's grip on power.

General Musharraf overthrew Sharif eight years ago, and co-opted the rump of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League to form his own political base.

The timing for a return by Sharif, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, could hardly be more awkward for Musharraf, who, with his popularity plunging, is expected to seek re-election from the national and provincial assemblies between mid-September and mid-October and hold parliamentary elections within months.

Just last week, Sharif told a news channel NDTV he regarded Musharraf as "a drowning man" with no options left. [complete article]
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How can this bloody failure be regarded as a good war?
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, August 23, 2007

Enthusiasts for the catastrophe that is the Iraq war may be hard to come by these days, but Afghanistan is another matter. The invasion and occupation that opened George Bush's war on terror are still championed by powerful voices in the occupying states as - in the words of the New York Times this week - "the good war" that can still be won. While speculation intensifies about British withdrawal from Basra, there's no such talk about a retreat from Kabul or Kandahar. On the contrary, the plan is to increase British troop numbers from the current 7,000, and ministers, commanders and officials have been hammering home the message all summer that Britain is in Afghanistan, as the foreign secretary, David Miliband, insisted, for the long haul.

"We should be thinking in terms of decades," the British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, declared; Brigadier John Lorimer, British commander in Helmand province, thought the military occupation might last more than Northern Ireland's 38 years; and the defence secretary, Des Browne, last week confirmed that the government had made a "long-term commitment" to stay in Afghanistan to prevent it reverting to a terrorist training ground. Even allowing for the Brown government's need for political cover if it is indeed to run down its forces in Iraq, that all amounts to a pretty clear policy of indefinite occupation - one on which it has not thought necessary to consult the British people, let alone the Afghans.

All this follows the escalation of Britain's involvement in Afghanistan last year, when Browne's predecessor, John Reid, sent thousands of extra troops to the south to "help reconstruction", hoping they would be a able to leave "without firing a single shot". Two million rounds of ammunition later, what was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission is now an all-out war against a resurgent Taliban that has become an umbrella for Pashtun nationalists, jihadists and all those determined to fight foreign occupation. [complete article]
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Foreign aid groups face terror screens
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 23, 2007

The Bush administration plans to screen thousands of people who work with charities and nonprofit organizations that receive U.S. Agency for International Development funds to ensure they are not connected with individuals or groups associated with terrorism, according to a recent Federal Register notice.

The plan would require the organizations to give the government detailed information about key personnel, including phone numbers, birth dates and e-mail addresses. But the government plans to shroud its use of that information in secrecy and does not intend to tell groups deemed unacceptable why they are rejected.

The plan has aroused concern and debate among some of the larger U.S. charitable organizations and recipients of AID funding. Officials of InterAction, representing 165 foreign aid groups, said last week that the plan would impose undue burdens and has no statutory basis. The organization requested that it be withdrawn.

"We don't know who will do the vetting, what the standards are and whether we could answer any allegation," said an executive for a major nongovernmental organization that would be subject to the new requirements and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to harm his organization's relations with the government. [complete article]

Comment -- This program has the innocuous name, "Partner Vetting System," but it's real character is evident from the fact that it is cloaked in secrecy and will become effective on the last day that public comments can be submitted -- for disposal in USAID's paper shredders. That is I assume what they intend to do with public comments. Why else would they provide no time for modifying the plan in response to public comment?

In practice, what this plan seems to fit in with, is a comprehensive effort to prevent humanitarian workers in the Middle East being associated in any way with Islamists. If one sees this as an initiative in public diplomacy its effects are totally predictable: those in need across the region are going to receive much more help from Islamist charities than Western charities. Are they then going to thank Uncle Sam? I don't think so -- but that would be a fabulously complex idea to grasp if you happen to be sitting in Washington fumbling with the levers of power.
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Intel report questions Iraq's government
AP, August 23, 2007

The Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months and its security forces have not improved enough to operate without outside help, intelligence analysts conclude in a new National Intelligence Estimate.

Despite uneven improvements, the analysts concluded that the level of overall violence is high, Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled, and al-Qaida in Iraq is still able to conduct its highly visible attacks.

"Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively," the 10-page document concludes. A copy was obtained by The Associated Press in advance of its release Thursday. [complete article]
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The U.N.'s role in Iraq
By Carlos Pascual and Brian Cullin, Washington Post, August 23, 2007

When Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker report next month on the results of our "surge" in Iraq, the most important category, political progress, should receive an F. Even if our military forces have made real progress of late, their sacrifices will have been for naught because our diplomatic strategy has been disconnected, anemic and ineffective.

The importance of diplomacy is rooted in Iraq's sectarian civil war. The war in Iraq is not the United States against a single enemy but the United States interjecting itself among many enemies fighting each other. That war cannot be solved by military means. Even if the United States were to quell the violence in the short term, fighting would erupt again with an American withdrawal. Until there is a political compact among Iraqi parties, endorsed by neighbors and the international community, there will be no prospect for peace in Iraq. [complete article]
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Bush Iraq War analogy strikes a nerve in Vietnam
AP, August 23, 2007

U.S. President George W. Bush's latest effort to rally support for his Iraq policy has touched a nerve in Vietnam, where a previous American military intervention led to the deaths of millions of people.

In a speech to U.S. war veterans on Wednesday, Bush invoked the Vietnam War, saying that widespread death and chaos would envelop Iraq if the U.S. troops left too quickly, as he said happened when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam three decades ago.

But people in Vietnam, where opposition to the U.S. intervention in Iraq is strong, said Thursday that Bush had drawn the wrong conclusions from the Southeast Asian conflict.

"Doesn't he realize that if the U.S. had stayed in Vietnam longer, they would have killed more people?" said Vu Huy Trieu of Hanoi, a veteran who fought against the U.S. troops in Vietnam. "Nobody regrets that the Vietnam War wasn't prolonged except Bush." [complete article]

See also, Historians question Bush's reading of lessons of Vietnam War for Iraq (NYT).
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Militias seizing control of Iraqi electricity grid
By James Glanz and Stephen Farrell, New York Times, August 23, 2007

Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.

That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.

The development adds to existing electricity problems in Baghdad, which has been struggling to provide power for more than a few hours a day because insurgents regularly blow up the towers that carry power lines into the city. [complete article]
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The report the CIA didn't want you to see
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, August 21, 2007

[Former CIA Director, George] Tenet was chided for failing to devote sufficient resources to disrupting Al Qaeda, even though he had issued a December 1998 memo stating "we are at war" with the terrorist group. The CIA's CTC [Counter-Terrorism Center] bungled key intelligence about 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, never focusing on reporting that he was sending terrorists to the United States on bin Laden's behalf, the report stated. And the report lambasts the CTC for failing to share key information about two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who had been discovered to have entered the United States after being observed by the CIA attending an Al Qaeda summit in January 2000.

The CIA failed to tell the State Department to "watch-list" the two Al Qaeda men, and the inspector general could find no evidence that the agency ever told the FBI about their presence in the country. The report called this a "potentially significant" lapse, since an alert to the Bureau might have led to "surveillance" and ultimately vital information about the 9/11 plot itself. "In the period January through March 2000, some 50 to 60 individuals read one or more of six Agency cables containing travel information related to these terrorists," the report stated. It concluded: "That so many individuals failed to act in this case reflects a systemic breakdown" within the CTC. (The report recommended that along with Tenet, two former CTC chiefs should also be reviewed by an accountability board.) [complete article]

See also, OIG Report on CIA Accountability With Respect to the 9/11 Attacks [PDF].

Comment -- When the Taliban's envoy, Sayed Rahmatullah Hashimi, visited the United States for the first time in March 2001, he told a New York Times reporter that he liked Americans more than he expected because he found them more open-minded than Europeans.

It was a compliment that clearly fell on deaf ears, yet it underlines a dimension to the build up to the 9/11 attacks that rarely gets a mention. That is to say, the plot is viewed in a deterministic fashion which envisages only two possibilities: the attacks could either have been thwarted by effective intelligence or the failure to do so would guarantee their inevitability.

A third dimension that no one wants to discuss is a political failure: the failure to engage the Taliban.

As the Times reported on March 19, 2001:
Mr. Rahmatullah is in the United States on a mission to improve ties and ease the Taliban's isolation. A main focus of his visit, he said, will be to find a way out of the impasse surrounding Osama bin Laden, the terrorist suspect whose presence in Afghanistan has prompted international sanctions.
Rahmatullah's visit to the U.S. coincided with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas -- an act in which Osama bin Laden is alleged to have played an instrumental role. While the world predictably perceived this event as a demonstration of uncivilized fanatacism, it can just as easily be understood as a political lesson through which al Qaeda's leaders wanted to persuade the Taliban that their overtures to the international community should be abandoned.

The Taliban's leader, Mullah Omar, had already indicated that the Taliban had no intention of destroying the Buddhas. Imagine then that Osama bin Laden turns to him and says something along these lines:
The West views Afghanistan with contempt. Your people starve and no one will lift a finger. You cut opium production but you get no political credit. But mark my words: destroy some artifacts that the West has claimed as its own by naming them pieces of "World heritage", and I guarantee that Western leaders, and film stars and every imaginable figure of authority will speak out in rage. Afghanistan will suddenly become the center of global attention, when previously it could be ignored. Then it will be clear that in the eyes of the world, the people of Afghanistan are worth nothing.
Whether my speculation is sound, we already know that before March 2001, while the UN was unwilling to provide funds for famine relief, UNESCO was offering funds to restore the Buddha statues. And while the Taliban had overseen major reductions in opium production, the UN narcotics control program would not provide money to pay for seeds for alternative crops. These are among the many political failures that paved the road to 9/11 by driving the Taliban into the arms of al Qaeda. Had Western leaders drawn on more intelligence, imagination, and compassion, by late 2001, Osama bin Laden and the rest of the al Qaeda leadership might, instead of being holed up in Tora Bora, have been awaiting trial in The Hague.

In such a scenario it remains possible that the 9/11 attacks would have proceeded according to plan, yet what seems certain is that with al Qaeda's leadership already shut down, there would have been no persuasive political rationale for the wars that followed.
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The sole superpower in decline
By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch, August 20, 2007

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States stood tall -- militarily invincible, economically unrivalled, diplomatically uncontestable, and the dominating force on information channels worldwide. The next century was to be the true "American century," with the rest of the world molding itself in the image of the sole superpower.

Yet, with not even a decade of this century behind us, we are already witnessing the rise of a multipolar world in which new powers are challenging different aspects of American supremacy -- Russia and China in the forefront, with regional powers Venezuela and Iran forming the second rank. These emergent powers are primed to erode American hegemony, not confront it, singly or jointly.

How and why has the world evolved in this way so soon? The Bush administration's debacle in Iraq is certainly a major factor in this transformation, a classic example of an imperialist power, brimming with hubris, over-extending itself. To the relief of many -- in the U. S. and elsewhere -- the Iraq fiasco has demonstrated the striking limitations of power for the globe's highest-tech, most destructive military machine. In Iraq, Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to two U.S. presidents, concedes in a recent op-ed, "We are being wrestled to a draw by opponents who are not even an organized state adversary." [complete article]
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Iraq's Maliki inks Syrian border pact
By Hugh Naylor, Christian Science Monitor, August 23, 2007

The delegation of visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and their Syrian counterparts signed an agreement Tuesday to bolster security along the two countries' porous 466-mile border, which US military officials say is the crossing point for most of the foreign fighters in Iraq.

"This agreement is very important because it will mark a permanent and cooperative effort to secure our border," Mr. Maliki said Wednesday morning in Damascus.

The pact marks the first formalized security deal between the two countries, which have shared long-standing suspicions of each other since the rule of Saddam Hussein. It also comes at a time when both Baghdad and Washington are looking for help across the Middle East to ease the relentless violence in Iraq. Last month, Iran agreed to join a security subcommittee with their US and Iraqi counterparts. [complete article]
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New misgivings on wiretap law
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 2007

The administration's warrantless wiretapping program looks set to be the subject of renewed and bitter wrangling between Congress and the White House when lawmakers return to Washington in September.

And this upcoming battle promises to be far more complex than a run-of-the-mill dispute over an agriculture bill, say, or tax legislation. The law in this area is unusually dense and difficult. The underlying activity is classified. One of the key administration figures dealing with the issue is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, an official in whom many in Congress have little trust.

"Essentially, it's a difficult situation to have a rational conversation on the merits," says Benjamin Wittes, an expert on national security law at the Brookings Institution in Washington. [complete article]
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Army drops more charges in officer's Abu Ghraib case
By Josh White, Washington Post, August 21, 2007

Military prosecutors dropped two charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan yesterday, hours before his court-martial for allegedly abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was set to begin at Fort Meade.

The dismissal of allegations that Jordan lied to investigators in the 2004 probe of the notorious abuses was a last-minute surprise in the military courtroom at the Maryland Army base. Based on new evidence that surfaced over the weekend, prosecutors determined that Jordan had not been read his rights before giving detailed statements to Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led the seminal investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. Those statements are therefore inadmissible in the proceedings.

Fay's failure to read Jordan his rights appears to be a major oversight in the probe, and prosecutors did not explain the discrepancy. The move reduces Jordan's potential sentence almost by half, to a maximum of 8 1/2 years.

It was the latest in a series of odd twists in Jordan's case. Prosecutors have recommended for years that Jordan face administrative punishment rather than trial. An investigative officer once advocated a reprimand to avoid a public rehashing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. And emerging evidence has now led to the dismissal of eight out of 12 original charges against the Army officer. Jordan said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes he is a scapegoat because authorities want an officer to go to trial as a final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal, even though a more senior officer who admitted approving the use of dogs, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, received only a reprimand and a fine. [complete article]

See also, Abu Ghraib abuse just tip of the iceberg: author (AFP).
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Maliki: Iraq 'can find friends elsewhere'
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 22, 2007

In response to Senator Carl Levin's call for the Iraqi prime minister's ouster and President Bush's expression of "frustration," Nouri al-Maliki's response was blunt:
"No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people," he said at a press conference in Damascus at the end of a three-day visit to Syria.

"Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria. We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere," al-Maliki said.
After a recent trip to Tehran and while now being welcomed by President Bashar Assad, Maliki had no need to name the friends he is courting. And the more alienated he becomes from Washington, the more appealing it might seem to forge a Sunni-Shia alliance that unites Iraq, Iran, and Syria. That nightmare scenario is going to precipitate some serious back-peddling from Washington, but in the end geography is likely to be the decisive factor. 2000km of shared borders is a reality that Washington can't change -- unless that is, the partitionists win. But that's an option about which even Cheney long ago made clear his skepticism.
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Syria presses Iraq on U.S. troop pullout
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP, August 21, 2007

The presence of foreign troops has "brought radical forces and inflamed the cycle of violence," Syria's official news agency SANA quoted [Syrian Prime Minister Naji] Ottri as saying.

Ottri said Syria supports efforts by neighboring countries to increase security, but Damascus believes that "putting a timetable for troop withdrawal will enhance possibilities of reconciliation among Iraqi people," according to SANA.

Ottri's comments echoed remarks by Iranian officials during al-Maliki's visit to their country this month. The Iranian and Syrian remarks together illustrate the competing pressures on the Iraqi government from the United States on one hand and Washington's two Mideast rivals on the other. [complete article]
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U.S . struggles to keep Iraqi leader at helm
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, August 21, 2007

US officials in Baghdad and Washington, under pressure to show political progress in Iraq to an increasingly skeptical Congress, are scrambling to shore up support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose shaky coalition government has been on the verge of collapse since a rash of Cabinet defections earlier this month, analysts and government officials said yesterday.

At least three separate attempts to unseat Maliki are unfolding in Baghdad -- two from within his own Shi'ite coalition. Nearly half of the ministers in his Cabinet have resigned or are boycotting official meetings. The defections have so thinned the ranks of his supporters that some analysts say that Maliki might not be able to survive a vote of no confidence in the Iraqi parliament, if such a vote were called.

"My view is that his government is in essential collapse," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service, the research arm of Congress.

In recent weeks, the US ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and a top White House aide, Meghan O'Sullivan, have held a series of intense, behind-the-scenes meetings with Iraqi politicians. Their goal is to build enough support for Maliki to maintain control of a majority of seats in parliament and push through key pieces of legislation, including a law to regulate the sharing of oil profits and provisions to allow more Sunni Ba'athists to return to government service.

Those two laws are among the 18 benchmarks by which the US Congress will measure progress in Iraq.

Bush administration officials in Baghdad and Washington warned yesterday that unseating Maliki -- which would usher in Iraq's fourth prime minister in five years -- would not help the country. [complete article]

See also, Senator calls for Maliki's ouster (WP) and Maliki faces fresh doubts, tests (WSJ).
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Toll in Iraq bombings is raised to more than 500
By Damien Cave and James Glanz, New York Times, August 21, 2007

One week after a series of truck bombs hit two poor villages near the Syrian border, the known casualty toll has soared to more than 500 dead and 1,500 wounded, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, making them by far the worst coordinated attacks since the American-led invasion.

Dr. Said Hakki, director of the society, said Tuesday that local Red Crescent workers registering families for aid after the explosions in Qahtaniya and Jazeera had compiled the new numbers, which dwarf the earlier estimates that at least 250 people were killed.

The toll, Dr. Hakki said, may yet rise further. Among the wounded, one in five suffered serious injuries, such as head, chest or stomach damage, and emergency workers continuing to drag bodies from site's dusty rubble. [complete article]
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Asking the wrong questions on Iran
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 21, 2007

The drumbeat for war against Iran is actually more subtle than it was in the case of Iraq: The Administration denies it wants war and insists it seeks a "diplomatic solution" to the standoff over the demand that Iran cease uranium enrichment. But by "diplomatic solution," the Administration and its allies simply mean an Iranian surrender to U.S. terms as a result of non-military pressures. There's no room to question, here, the basic assumption: (a) that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons; (b) that, as Senator John McCain put it, "the only thing worse than going to war with Iran is an Iran with nuclear weapons."

McCain delivers that one as if it's a last word, but it shouldn't be. He's trying to effect the familiar demagoguery of narrowing options in the way the Iran issue is defined in U.S. public discussion: If threats and sanctions can't dissuade Iran from enriching uranium, then military action becomes the "last resort." The idea that Iran enriching uranium is a "red line" is not questioned. An irreversible slide to war in the U.S. is being carefully constructed by those who are out to persuade the American public that if Tehran refuses to run up a white flag, military action -- unfortunate as it may be -- becomes essential. [complete article]

Comment -- The idea that a nuclear-armed Iran would present an unacceptable risk to the world rests on the accusation that Iran is governed by suicidal Islamic extremists. As Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, expressed it in February, Iran "is a genocidal nation, a suicidal nation."

This image of Iran blends a fear of Shia Islam and the significance it attaches to martyrdom (something that anyone who venerates a cross with a man nailed on it should be able to relate to) along with the fear of suicide bombing (ignoring the fact that the overwhelming number of victims of suicide bombing have been Shiites while most of the perpetrators were Sunnis). But beneath this pastiche of contemporary images there is an enduring narrative of shame. Iran can never be forgiven for the humiliation that America suffered after the Iranians threw out the Shah -- even if that humiliation was in truth a trifling price to pay for decades of U.S.-sponsored repression.

Yet behind the terrorizing image of Islamic nuclear terror, another unrelated issue lurks -- one that rendered the end of the Cold War a hollow victory.

For much of the 1990's there was a real opportunity for the United States to show genuine global leadership -- practical leadership as opposed to self-aggrandizing posturing -- and champion the cause of global nuclear disarmament. Yet it didn't happen. Why? Surely not because America lacked a president with the intelligence to recognize the opportunity. It may in part have represented a lack of courage and shallowness inside the Clinton administration, yet it was also surely a reflection of the Pentagon's own intoxication with nuclear power: the prospect of a nuclear-free world was simply not attractive enough if it meant having to relinquish the greatest imaginable source of power. Where there was no will to seriously pursue disarmament, it was naturally assumed that there was no way this could be achieved.

The legacy of that failure is that politicians can now scream hysterically about nuclear threats while the fundamental issue of disarmament is perversely ignored -- as though the eradication of tyranny and evil was an exercise in realpolitik while disarmament was a fanciful notion that could only be entertained by woolly-minded idealists.
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The Terrorism Index
Center for American Progress, August 20, 2007

Surveying more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy experts -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- the Foreign Policy/Center for American Progress Terrorism Index is the only comprehensive, nonpartisan effort to mine the highest echelons of the nation's foreign-policy establishment for its assessment of how the United States is fighting the war on terror. First released in July 2006, and again last February, the index attempts to draw definitive conclusions about the war's priorities, policies, and progress. Its participants include people who have served as secretary of state, national security advisor, senior White House aides, top commanders in the U.S. military, seasoned intelligence professionals, and distinguished academics. Eighty percent of the experts have served in the U.S. government -- including more than half in the Executive Branch, 32 percent in the military, and 21 percent in the intelligence community.

The world these experts see today is one that continues to grow more threatening. Fully 91 percent say the world is becoming more dangerous for Americans and the United States, up 10 percentage points since February. Eighty-four percent do not believe the United States is winning the war on terror, an increase of 9 percentage points from six months ago. More than 80 percent expect a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 within a decade, a result that is more or less unchanged from one year ago. [complete article]
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The war as we saw it
By Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray, and Jeremy A. Murphy, New York Times, August 19, 2007

Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the "battle space" remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers' expense. [complete article]
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No refuge here: Iraqis flee, but where?
By Joseph Huff-Hannon, Dissent, Summer, 2007

New Yorker Lisa Ramaci-Vincent and Basra native Nour al Khal have never met face to face. The two correspond daily via phone or e-mail, and Ramaci-Vincent regularly sends al Khal much-needed funds to help her survive. Yet Ramaci-Vincent has made a crusade out of trying to get al Khal into the United States and has even testified in Congress on her behalf. Ramaci-Vincent is the widow of Steven Vincent, one of the first American journalists to die in Iraq; al Khal was Steven's translator.

In August of 2005, Vincent, a freelance journalist, was kidnapped, tortured, and shot to death in the southern Iraqi city of Basra by militants dressed in police uniform. His abduction and murder came two days after a story about the infiltration of the local security forces by Iranian-backed Shia militias ran with his byline in the New York Times. Al Khal was also kidnapped and shot during the attack, but survived and was transported to a hospital in Baghdad. Fearing for her life, al Khal fled to a neighboring country upon her release, where she remains to this day (the exact location of which is kept private, for reasons of security).

"Before she worked with Steven, Nour had worked with the Guardian, the Dallas Morning News. She has impeccable credentials," Ramaci-Vincent tells me a few weeks after testifying before a Senate hearing convened by Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter.

Lisa has lined up a job for al Khal in New York at the UN Bureau Office of the Al-Arabiya news channel, and if her plan succeeds, al Khal will stay in the same East Village apartment that she shared with Steven. Yet, despite all this planning, when Ramaci-Vincent first approached the State Department, she was told that al Khal does not qualify for refugee or asylum status because Iraq is now a democracy, hence there should be no reason she would need to flee. [complete article]
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The legacy of Indian partition
By Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007

Eventually, after wrangling and recriminations, Mountbatten got Indian leaders to agree to partition. Then, abruptly, in early June, he announced August 15, 1947, as the date for the transfer of power, bringing forward the British government's original schedule by nine months. The reason for this rush is not known. Mountbatten may have wanted to inject some urgency into the tortuous negotiations about who would get what -- even ink pots were to be divided between the new nation-states. He may also have simply wanted to cut and run. In any case, his decision is partly to blame for the disasters that followed.

Cyril Radcliffe, a London barrister, was flown to Delhi and given forty days to define precisely the strange political geography of an India flanked by an eastern and a western wing called Pakistan. He did not visit the villages, communities, rivers, or forests divided by the lines he drew on paper. Ill-informed about the relation between agricultural hinterlands and industrial centers, he made a mistake of enormous economic consequence when, dividing Bengal on religious lines, he deprived the Muslim majority in the eastern region of its major city, Calcutta, condemning East Pakistan -- and, later, Bangladesh—to decades of rural backwardness.

It was in Punjab that Radcliffe's mapmaking sparked the biggest conflagration. As Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs on either side of the new border suddenly found themselves reduced to a religious minority, the tensions of the preceding months exploded into the violence of ethnic cleansing. It seems extraordinary today that so few among the cabal of Indian leaders whom Mountbatten consulted anticipated that the drawing of borders and the crystallizing of national identities along religious lines would plunge millions into bewilderment, panic, and murderous rage. If the British were eager to divide and quit, their successors wanted to savor power. No one had prepared for a massive transfer of population. Even as armed militias roamed the countryside, looking for people to kidnap, rape, and kill, houses to loot, and trains to derail and burn, the only force capable of restoring order, the British Indian Army, was itself being divided along religious lines—Muslim soldiers to Pakistan, Hindus to India. Soon, many of the communalized soldiers would join their co-religionists in killing sprees, giving the violence of partition its genocidal cast. Radcliffe never returned to India. Just before his death, in 1977, he told a journalist, "I suspect they’d shoot me out of hand—both sides."

Trains carrying nothing but corpses through a desolate countryside became the totemic image of the savagery of partition. British soldiers confined to their barracks, ordered by Mountbatten to save only British lives, may prove to be the most enduring image of imperial retreat. With this act of moral dereliction, the British Empire finally disowned its noble sense of mission. As Paul Scott put it in "The Raj Quartet," the epic of imperial exhaustion and disillusion, India in 1947 was where the empire's high idea of itself collapsed and "the British came to the end of themselves as they were."

The British Empire passed quickly and with less humiliation than its French and Dutch counterparts, but decades later the vicious politics of partition still seems to define India and Pakistan. The millions of Muslims who chose to stay in India never ceased to be hostages to Hindu extremists. As recently as 2002, Hindu nationalists massacred more than two thousand Muslims in the state of Gujarat. The dispute over Kashmir, the biggest unfinished business of partition, committed countries with mostly poor and illiterate populations to a nuclear arms race and nourished extremists in both countries: Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, Hindu nationalists in India. It also damaged India's fragile democracy -- Indian soldiers and policemen in Kashmir routinely execute and torture Pakistan-backed Muslim insurgents -- and helped cement the military's extra-constitutional influence over Pakistan's inherently weaker state. Tens of thousands have died in Kashmir in the past decade and a half, and since 1947 sectarian conflicts in India and Pakistan have killed thousands more.

Many ethnic minorities chafed at the postcolonial nationalism of India and Pakistan, and some rebelled. At least one group—Bengali Muslims -- succeeded in establishing their own nation-state (Bangladesh), though only after suffering another round of ethnic cleansing, this time by fellow-Muslims. Other minorities demanding political autonomy -- Nagas, Sikhs, Kashmiris, Baluchis -- were quelled, often with greater brutality than the British had ever used against their subjects.

Meeting Mountbatten a few months after partition, Churchill assailed him for helping Britain's "enemies," "Hindustan," against "Britain's friends," the Muslims. Little did Churchill know that his expedient boosting of political Islam would eventually unleash a global jihad engulfing even distant New York and London. The rival nationalisms and politicized religions the British Empire brought into being now clash in an enlarged geopolitical arena; and the human costs of imperial overreaching seem unlikely to attain a final tally for many more decades. [complete article]
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Iran isn't scared
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 20, 2007

The latest move in the U.S.'s escalating rhetoric aimed at Iran is Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch's claim -- no evidence provided -- that 50 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are training Shiite militias, south of Baghdad, the area under Lynch's command. He hasn't caught any of them but he knows they're there. He also confirms that after spending two months patrolling a 125-mile stretch of the Iraq-Iran border, his troops haven't once intercepted shipments of illegal weapons. I guess it just goes to show what a devilishly cunning enemy Iran is: it can sneak in sophisticated bombs and train militias how to use them, all without getting caught.

What the U.S. seems to be doing is providing "proof" (threadbare as usual) as to why the Revolutionary Guard needs to be labeled as an SDGT ("specially designated global terrorist"). I'm sure Joe Lieberman thinks the argument is iron-clad.

What seems much less clear is whether there is any real strategic thinking going on here. Robert Baer says he has been told by an administration official, "IRGC IED's are a casus belli for this administration. There will be an attack on Iran." It's a simple as that. Baer writes, "The feeling in the Administration is that we should have taken care of the IRGC a long, long time ago."

Nothing better optimizes American hubris than the expression "taking care" -- as though the solution to any problem merely hinges on whether the all-powerful U.S. of A. gets around to deciding to fix it. Meanwhile the world -- convinced that the United States is much better at breaking than fixing -- shudders at the prospect that the Pentagon is getting ready to engage in another bout of Middle East problem-solving.

As for how Iran is reacting to the administration's increasingly bellicose rhetoric? It seems to be eagerly lapping it up.

The Ayatollah's are far too sophisticated to use an expression like "bring 'em on," but in effect, that's what they are saying. Associated Press reports that last week,
Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami [not to be confused with former president Mohammad Khatami], who does not hold a government post but once a month delivers the official Friday prayer sermon, told thousands of worshippers at Tehran University in a speech broadcast on radio that the designation [SDGT] showed that the Guards were doing something right.

"I believe the U.S. decision for including the Guards in the list of terrorist organizations is an honor and a golden card in their file," he said. "Whenever your enemy is saying something bad about an organization, it shows that the organization has been effective," he added.
Now, in a move that seems calculated to demonstrate who really holds greater political influence in Baghdad -- Tehran or Washington -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accepted an invitation to the Iraqi capital. I doubt that President Bush will be able to avail himself of a similar photo opportunity.
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Kurds flee homes as Iran shells villages in Iraq
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, August 20, 2007

Iraqi Kurdish officials expressed deepening concern yesterday at an upsurge in fierce clashes between Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian forces in the remote border area of north-east Iraq, where Tehran has recently deployed thousands of Revolutionary Guards.

Jabar Yawar, a deputy minister in the Kurdistan regional government, said four days of intermittent shelling by Iranian forces had hit mountain villages high up on the Iraqi side of the border, wounding two women, destroying livestock and property, and displacing about 1,000 people from their homes. Mr Yawer said there had also been intense fighting on the Iraqi border between Iranian forces and guerrillas of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), an armed Iranian Kurdish group that is stepping up its campaign for Kurdish rights against the theocratic regime in Tehran. [complete article]

Comment -- It's curious, to say the least, that in Washington's war of words aimed at Iran and specifically at the Republican Guard, the U.S. military spokesman, Major-General Rick Lynch, chooses to talk about 50 members of the guard supposedly lurking somewhere south of Baghdad, but has nothing to saying about the thousands massed on the Kurdish border who have for several days been firing artillery shells at Kurdish villages. Perhaps it's because Iran's target, the PJAK (as a branch of the PKK) is designated by the United States as a terrorist organization -- which would mean that irrespective of whether the IRGC is about to be labeled "terrorist" itself, the Pentagon would find it difficult not to concede that the Guard's northern operations are counter-terrorism operations. It just goes to show, the word "terrorist" shines no light in any effort to unravel a conflict.
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Iran wants IAEA to highlight atomic cooperation
By Edmund Blair, Reuters, August 20, 2007

Iran expects the U.N. nuclear watchdog to highlight Tehran's cooperation in its next report on Iran's atomic program, which could determine whether it faces more U.N. sanctions, an Iranian official said on Monday.

Senior officials from Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency meet for a third round of talks on Monday and Tuesday to discuss Tehran's offer of more transparency, part of Iran's effort to ward off a third U.N. sanctions resolution.

Iran, under U.N. pressure to suspend work the West suspects is aimed at assembling nuclear bombs, agreed in June to draft an "action plan" within 60 days to give the IAEA more access to atomic sites and resolve questions about the scope of its work. [complete article]
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Muqtada al-Sadr: The British are retreating from Basra
By Nizar Latif and Phil Sands, The Independent, August 20, 2007

Mr Sadr praised Iraqi Sunnis who had begun to fight against al-Qa'ida and religious extremists guilty of targeting Shia civilians. "Proud Iraqis in Ramadi have stood against al-Qa'ida and against the Americans and they have written their names into our history books," he said.

Shrugging off recent rumours that he had fled to Iran - he dismissed them as American propaganda designed to discredit him - Mr Sadr denied US claims his forces were armed by Iran.

"We are at war and America is our enemy so we are entitled to take help from anyone," he said. "But we have not asked for Iran's help." The cleric also said he "welcomed" a recent decision by the UN to expand its role in Iraq. "I would support the UN here in Iraq if it comes and replaces the American and British occupiers," he said.

"If the UN comes here to truly help the Iraqi people, they will receive our help in their work. I would ask my followers to support the UN as long as it is here to help us rebuild our country. They must not just be another face of the American occupation." [complete article]
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Second Iraqi governor killed as Shiite rifts deepen
AFP, August 20, 2007

Bombers killed an Iraqi provincial governor on Monday -- the second assassinated in two weeks -- amid mounting tension between rival Shiite armed factions in Iraq's southern cities.

Brigadier General Kadhim al-Jayashi, chief of police in the city of Samawa, said the governor of the southern Iraqi province of Muthanna, Mohammed Ali al-Hassani, was killed by a roadside bomb on his way to work.

"Police leaders have imposed a curfew on Samawa after the assassination," he told AFP. "We have formed a committee to investigate."

Hassani is the second Shiite governor to be killed within a fortnight, amid growing signs of conflict between rival political and militia factions within the country's majority community. [complete article]

Comment -- More powerful IED's, expertly used; more evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq? Unlikely, since it's Iran's allies who are getting blown up. I guess it just goes to show that you need much more than an explosion upon which to build a political theory.
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Blackouts as EU halts Gaza fuel aid
Al Jazeera, August 19, 2007

The only power plant in the Gaza Strip has shut down operations after the European Union suspended the financing of fuel deliveries over what it said were security concerns.

Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Gaza, said that up to 50 per cent of the territory's residents were in darkness after the shutdown.

The power station - which according to the EU produces between 25 and 30 per cent of the electricity in Gaza - shut the last of its four generators after it did not receive the fuel. [complete article]
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Backlash over book on policy for Israel
By Patricia Cohen, New York Times, August 16, 2007

"The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" is not even in bookstores, but already anxieties have surfaced about the backlash it is stirring, with several institutions backing away from holding events with the authors.
[complete article]

Comment -- If Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman and other leading lights in the Israel Lobby had paused to think before denouncing Mearsheimer and Walt, they should have thought about Salman Rushdie. There's no better way to boost public interest than through an orchestrated expression of outrage. The "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" in pre-release sales has already reached #24 on Amazon's bestselling nonfiction list (#106 in all titles)! Meanwhile, Abe Foxman's counterattack (The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control) is down at #17,124.
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Hamas is ready to talk
By Mousa Abu Marzook, The Guardian, August 16, 2007

While Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is busily courting Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas as a "partner for peace", successive voices continue to speak out against efforts to sideline the democratically elected Hamas government. As the Britain's Commons foreign affairs committee concluded on Monday, this strategy is counterproductive and doomed to fail, for the simple reason that the support of the Palestinian people is unmistakably lacking. Abbas's party does not democratically represent the Palestinians, yet what is in effect now a dictatorship in the West Bank is being welcomed by Israel and its western allies. The duplicity of this situation is shameful. Israel and its allies were quick to dismiss Hamas and the national unity governments and isolate both, and are now equally as quick to welcome an illegally formed self-proclaimed government for the Palestinians. Is this democracy? [complete article]

See also, The one clear solution (Azmi Bishara).
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The resistance lives on
Sheikh Naim Qasim interviewed by Omayma Abdel-Latif, Al-Ahram Weekly, August 16, 2007

There will be no fresh war in the near future between Hizbullah and Israel, according to the Islamic resistance movement's deputy secretary-general. Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from his office in Dahiya, Beirut, Sheikh Naim Qasim said Hizbullah does not expect an imminent Israeli attack. He also stressed that the party does not intend to attack Israeli targets for the time being.

"From day one, our resistance has been one of self-defence. We do not initiate war against the enemy; rather we respond when we are being attacked," Sheikh Qasim said. Qasim adds that in the belief of Hizbullah, Israel did not restore its capacities to wage war on Lebanon. "Any adventure in that direction is likely to implicate Israel in a deadlock that is much more complex than the July [2006] war. We therefore believe that Israel is incapable of launching an aggressive war during the forthcoming period." [complete article]

In 2006 Lebanon war, most crimes were Israeli
By Jonathan Cook, IPS, August 17, 2007

This week marks a year since the end of hostilities now officially called the Second Lebanon war by Israelis. A month of fighting – mostly Israeli aerial bombardment of Lebanon, and rocket attacks from the Shi'ite militia Hezbollah on northern Israel in response – ended with more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and a small but unknown number of Hezbollah fighters dead, as well as 119 Israeli soldiers and 43 civilians.

When Israel and the United States realized that Hezbollah could not be bombed into submission, they pushed a resolution, 1701, through the United Nations. It placed an expanded international peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, in south Lebanon to keep Hezbollah in check and try to disarm its few thousand fighters.

But many significant developments since the war have gone unnoticed, including several that seriously put in question Israel's account of what happened last summer. This is old ground worth revisiting for that reason alone. [complete article]
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Iraq: the summer and the surge
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, August 19, 2007

It was 111 degrees Fahrenheit for Americans in Baghdad today (43 Celsius for the Iraqis), and it's supposed to be hotter - 117 F or 47C - for the rest of the week. That's in the shade, of course, for those who can find it. Such infernal temperatures are pretty much the same every year. Nothing is quite as predictable in Iraq as the summer heat.

But another simple fact is just as evident: the death toll among fighters tends to decline in the dog days, because nobody wants to have to do battle in that stifling air, and those who have to go into combat tend to move more slowly and cautiously.

On the other hand, to the extent public records are available on non-governmental Web sites like and (the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, with which Newsweek did a major presentation on the Internet in December of last year), it seems that the civilian death toll, mainly from terrorist attacks, actually may remain high or rise in the heat of summer. Security forces are thinner on the ground. Roadside bombs can be put out at night and suicide drivers don't usually have to brave the hellish heat for very long before they punch their ticket to Paradise.

All of this needs to be taken into account when we look at the results of what the White House has called "The New Way Forward" in Iraq and what the rest of us call "the surge." [complete article]

Comment -- When it comes to considering that uniquely human activity called warfare, it's easy to overlook the powers of a "government" that regulates life and ignores all borders: climate. Indeed, it's particularly easy to ignore those elements that don't touch our own skin. We bear a cognitive affliction in that we know too much and too little because of what I call illusions of proximity. Iraq is forever present as an electronic image, as a headline, in speeches and in statistics, yet its dust does not clog our nostrils and while it burns, we turn up the air conditioning.
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Military commanders tell Brown to withdraw from Iraq without delay
By Raymond Whitaker and Robert Fox, The Independent, August 19, 2007

Senior military commanders have told the Government that Britain can achieve "nothing more" in south-east Iraq, and that the 5,500 British troops still deployed there should move towards withdrawal without further delay.

Last month Gordon Brown said after meeting George Bush at Camp David that the decision to hand over security in Basra province – the last of the four held by the British – "will be made on the military advice of our commanders on the ground". He added: "Whatever happens, we will make a full statement to Parliament when it returns [in October]."

Two generals told The Independent on Sunday last week that the military advice given to the Prime Minister was, "We've done what we can in the south [of Iraq]". Commanders want to hand over Basra Palace – where 500 British troops are subjected to up to 60 rocket and mortar strikes a day, and resupply convoys have been described as "nightly suicide missions" – by the end of August. The withdrawal of 500 soldiers has already been announced by the Government. The Army is drawing up plans to "reposture" the 5,000 that will be left at Basra airport, and aims to bring the bulk of them home in the next few months. [complete article]

Quiet areas of Iraq attacked
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2007

U.S. officials say that over the last two months they have captured dozens of key insurgents and disrupted their operations as the troop increase has allowed more concerted moves against hot spots such as Baghdad and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the west and south.

But as violence in those areas has eased, car bombs and small-arms fire have been increasingly directed against Iraqis in more distant areas. Synchronized truck bombings Tuesday in three northern villages killed as many as 400 people of the Yazidi religious sect, the deadliest attack on civilians in the Iraq war. The Bush administration maintains that security is improving. [complete article]

Falluja's calm is seen as fragile if U.S. leaves
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, August 19, 2007

Falluja's police chief, Col. Faisal Ismail Hussein, waved aloft a picture of a severed head in a bucket as a reminder of the brutality of the fundamentalist Sunni militias that once controlled this city. But he also described an uncertain future without "my only supporters," the United States Marine Corps.

Nearly three years after invading and seizing Falluja from insurgents, the Marines are engaged in another struggle here: trying to build up a city, and police force, that seem to get little help from the Shiite-dominated national government. [complete article]
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A plan for Iraq
By Ayad Allawi, Washington Post, August 19, 2007

It is past time for change at the top of the Iraqi government. Without that, no American military strategy or orderly withdrawal will succeed, and Iraq and the region will be left in chaos. [complete article]

Comment -- Hmmmm. So does Ayad Allawi have anyone in particular in mind? A former prime minister perhaps?

Iraqi premier stirs discontent, yet hangs on
By Damien Cave, New York Times, August 19, 2007

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has lost the support of the largest Shiite, Sunni and secular parties in Parliament. Some American officials privately describe him as a paranoid failure, while his only recent success has been a meeting on Saturday with senior Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders. It yielded little more than promises of future compromise.

And yet, Mr. Maliki remains.

That appears to be, in part, because neither the Americans nor the Iraqis can agree on who is supposed to lead. In the absence of a strong alternative to Mr. Maliki, both camps have come to rely on a game of criticize and run. The Americans bash him, then say it is up to the Iraqis to decide what to do. The Iraqis call him a sectarian incompetent, then say they are waiting for the Americans to stop acting as his patron. [complete article]

Iraqi leaders' talks yield scant results
By Megan Greenwell, Washington Post, August 19, 2007

Iraq's top five government leaders began a review of the country's de-Baathification law Saturday but appeared not to have reached an agreement on that topic or any of the other critical issues that have plunged the country into a political crisis.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, met with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd; Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni; Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shiite; and Massoud Barzani, president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region. [complete article]
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Muslim groups oppose a list of 'co-conspirators'
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, August 19, 2007

Two prominent Muslim American organizations took steps yesterday to reverse what they called a Justice Department effort to smear the entire Muslim community by naming some of its largest organizations as unindicted co-conspirators in a Texas terrorism trial.

The National Association of Muslim Lawyers, which is not named, sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales objecting to the list, which it said breached the department's own guidelines against releasing the names of unindicted co-conspirators and did not serve any clear law enforcement purpose.

The letter, also signed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the "overreaching list" of more than 300 organizations and individuals would further cripple charitable donations to Muslim organizations and could ratchet up the discrimination faced by American Muslims since the Sept. 11 attacks. [complete article]
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Concerns raised on wider spying under new law
By James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, August 19, 2007

Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include -- without court approval -- certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation.

They also emphasized that there would be strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance.

The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought. [complete article]

See also, Terror law puts Britons at risk of surveillance by US agents (The Observer).
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Defense agency proposes outsourcing more spying
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 19, 2007

The Defense Intelligence Agency is preparing to pay private contractors up to $1 billion to conduct core intelligence tasks of analysis and collection over the next five years, an amount that would set a record in the outsourcing of such functions by the Pentagon's top spying agency.

The proposed contracts, outlined in a recent early notice of the DIA's plans, reflect a continuing expansion of the Defense Department's intelligence-related work and fit a well-established pattern of Bush administration transfers of government work to private contractors.

Since 2000, the value of federal contracts signed by all agencies each year has more than doubled to reach $412 billion, with the largest growth at the Defense Department, according to a congressional tally in June. Outsourcing particularly accelerated among intelligence agencies after the 2001 terrorist attacks caught many of them unprepared to meet new demands with their existing workforce. [complete article]
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How Rove directed federal assets for GOP gains
By John Solomon, Alec MacGillis and Sarah Cohen, Washington Post, August 19, 2007

Thirteen months before President Bush was reelected, chief strategist Karl Rove summoned political appointees from around the government to the Old Executive Office Building. The subject of the Oct. 1, 2003, meeting was "asset deployment," and the message was clear:

The staging of official announcements, high-visibility trips and declarations of federal grants had to be carefully coordinated with the White House political affairs office to ensure the maximum promotion of Bush's reelection agenda and the Republicans in Congress who supported him, according to documents and some of those involved in the effort.

"The White House determines which members need visits," said an internal e-mail about the previously undisclosed Rove "deployment" team, "and where we need to be strategically placing our assets."

Many administrations have sought to maximize their control of the machinery of government for political gain, dispatching Cabinet secretaries bearing government largess to battleground states in the days before elections. The Clinton White House routinely rewarded big donors with stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and private coffees with senior federal officials, and held some political briefings for top Cabinet officials during the 1996 election.

But Rove, who announced last week that he is resigning from the White House at the end of August, pursued the goal far more systematically than his predecessors, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Washington Post, enlisting political appointees at every level of government in a permanent campaign that was an integral part of his strategy to establish Republican electoral dominance. [complete article]
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Indian identity is forged in diversity. Every one of us is in a minority
By Shashi Tharoor, The Guardian, August 15, 2007

[U]nder Mahatma Gandhi and Prime Minister Nehru, Indian nationalism was not based on any of the conventional indices of national identity. Not language, since India's constitution now recognises 22 official languages, and as many as 35 languages spoken by more than a million people each. Not ethnicity, since the "Indian" accommodates a diversity of racial types in which many Indians (Punjabis and Bengalis, in particular) have more ethnically in common with foreigners than with their other compatriots. Not religion, since India is a secular pluralist state that is home to every religion known to mankind, with the possible exception of Shintoism. Not geography, since the natural geography of the subcontinent - framed by the mountains and the sea - was hacked by the partition of 1947. And not even territory, since, by law, anyone with one grandparent born in pre-partition India - outside the territorial boundaries of today's state - is eligible for citizenship. Indian nationalism has therefore always been the nationalism of an idea.

It is the idea of an ever-ever land - emerging from an ancient civilisation, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy. India's democracy imposes no narrow conformities on its citizens. The whole point of Indian pluralism is you can be many things and one thing: you can be a good Muslim, a good Keralite and a good Indian all at once. The Indian idea is the opposite of what Freudians call "the narcissism of minor differences"; in India we celebrate the commonality of major differences. If America is a melting-pot, then to me India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast.

So the idea of India is of one land embracing many. It is the idea that a nation may endure differences of caste, creed, colour, conviction, culture, cuisine, costume and custom, and still rally around a consensus. And that consensus is around the simple idea that in a democracy you don't really need to agree - except on the ground rules of how you will disagree.

Geography helps, because it accustoms Indians to the idea of difference. India's national identity has long been built on the slogan "unity in diversity". The "Indian" comes in such varieties that a woman who is fair-skinned, sari-wearing and Italian-speaking, as Sonia Gandhi is, is not more foreign to my grandmother in Kerala than one who is "wheatish-complexioned", wears a salwar kameez and speaks Urdu. Our nation absorbs both these types of people; both are equally "foreign" to some of us, equally Indian to us all. [complete article]
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Pakistan: America's dubious ally in terror war
By Michael Hirsh And Ron Moreau, Newsweek, August 20, 2007

[A]n increasing number of voices in Washington -- from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to hard-line officials in the Bush administration -- are calling for unilateral military action inside Pakistan. Newsweek has learned that for weeks Pentagon officials have been debating the current policy of not violating Pakistani sovereignty, coming down in favor of restraint. But some officers in Joint Special Operations Command are "pawing the ground to go into Waziristan," says one Pentagon consultant who is privy to the debate but would speak about classified discussions only anonymously. Congress, meanwhile, has passed legislation that threatens to cut off aid to Pakistan if President Bush can't certify that Musharraf is doing all he can. "It's very humiliating for Musharraf," says retired Pakistani Lt. Gen. Talat Masood. "It could even destabilize him." That's one reason Bush continues to stand by him. Administration officials fear that if Musharraf falls and Pakistan descends into political chaos, then a nuclear-armed state could fail and Pakistan's nuclear know-how might end up in the wrong hands.

Even short of that doomsday scenario, senior U.S. officials, both active and retired, say that without more decisive action Al Qaeda will grow, if not flourish, in the tribal areas. And someday the U.S. homeland will likely be attacked from there, they say, just as Al Qaeda once used Afghanistan as a base from which to plot the 9/11 attacks. In late July a National Intelligence Estimate -- a periodic assessment that is considered the most authoritative issued by the U.S. government -- concluded Al Qaeda has "regenerated key elements" of its ability to attack the United States from the tribal regions of North Waziristan and Bajaur. Hank Crumpton, a near-legendary CIA clandestine service officer who retired last year as the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, says Washington needs to do more than rely on the Pakistani military and intelligence services. "I'd go in there [tribal areas] with a hard-core counterinsurgency effort," Crumpton told Newsweek. He would seek Pakistan's consent—"but I wouldn't pretend that this is sovereign territory. It is not." [complete article]

Comment -- It's curious, to say the least, that there should be anything resembling a political consensus on the "need" to "finish the job" in Pakistan's tribal territories. It's as though the war just the other side of the border -- a war that refuses to end -- was going on ten thousand miles away. This emerging consensus seems to have more to do with a contest of narratives in Washington than it has to do with actual knowledge about the territory that Washington's storytellers are eager to clean out.

The Democratic narrative has always pushed the line that if it wasn't for Iraq, al Qaeda would now be history. So when Democrats now start talking tough, the administration has no interest in showing restraint. At the same time, all sides acknowledge the constraint that they don't want to precipitate the collapse of government in Pakistan. What neither side seems willing to acknowledge is an asymmetry that has always applied: U.S. intelligence and military forces are and always will be at a serious disadvantage because they lack their opponent's intimate understanding of the local terrain; they do not share their opponent's access to rich social networks; and they neither understand nor are sympathetic with the indigenous culture and customs. This adds up to a profound knowledge deficit that cannot be remedied by anything the Pentagon owns or can purchase.
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'It's bleak and ferocious, but is it still winnable?'
By Mark Townsend, The Observer, August 19, 2007

As usual, the conversation turned towards the same simple question. 'Do you think it is winnable?', the British commanders, officers and soldiers of Helmand would ask. It was a tough call. Talk would then veer towards the intractability of fighting, the miasma of tribal politics, terrorism and the deaths of British men.

The obstacles were piled high. Progress, by comparison, seemed stunted. Few who asked seemed sure of success. Some sensed it was possible, others wondered at what cost. One officer simply exhaled sharply and gazed at his desert combat boots.

Such discussions, often conducted against the soundtrack of fighting, would unfailingly find agreement on one topic: more young adults from Britain would die here. The nagging dread that they might perish in vain was palpable.

During weeks as the only newspaper on Afghanistan's front line, The Observer had access to those embroiled in the bitterest fighting for decades, a unique insight into a conflict more complex, ferocious and challenging than is popularly understood. Their assessments, hopes and fears offer an extraordinary, at times bleak, picture of a daunting war. No one privy to its intensity dared believe a quick-fix solution is near, but occasionally chinks of hope would appear amid the unrelenting demands of what the historians may recall as one of the most difficult campaigns in British military history. [complete article]

See also, Shock toll of British injured in Afghan war (The Observer).
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The lost war
By Misha Glenny, Washington Post, August 19, 2007

Poppies were the first thing that British army Capt. Leo Docherty noticed when he arrived in Afghanistan's turbulent Helmand province in April 2006. "They were growing right outside the gate of our Forward Operating Base," he told me. Within two weeks of his deployment to the remote town of Sangin, he realized that "poppy is the economic mainstay and everyone is involved right up to the higher echelons of the local government."

Poppy, of course, is the plant from which opium -- and heroin -- are derived.

Docherty was quick to realize that the military push into northern Helmand province was going to run into serious trouble. The rumor was "that we were there to eradicate the poppy," he said. "The Taliban aren't stupid and so they said, 'These guys are here to destroy your livelihood, so let's take up arms against them.' And it's been a downward spiral since then."

Despite the presence of 35,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, the drug trade there is going gangbusters. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan opium production in 2006 rose a staggering 57 percent over the previous year. Next month, the United Nations is expected to release a report showing an additional 15 percent jump in opium production this year while highlighting the sobering fact that Afghanistan now accounts for 95 percent of the world's poppy crop. But the success of the illegal narcotics industry isn't confined to Afghanistan. Business is booming in South America, the Middle East, Africa and across the United States. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Reengaging with the world
By John Edwards, Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2007

The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam
By Henry Siegman, London Review of Books, August 16, 2007

The debate America needs
By Michael Boyle, The Guardian, August 17, 2007

U.S. steps closer to war with Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, August 18, 2007

What "progress" in Iraq really means
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, August 13, 2007

Middle East already planning for Bush's departure
By Mark Seibel, McClatchy, August 11, 2007
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A resource for more information about Iraq, the Middle East conflict, Afghanistan, Korea, nuclear proliferation, war, peace, and the foreign policies of the Bush Administration.

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