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A small break for Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, September 1, 2007

In a new report bound to cause shivers among the Washington hawks applauding the White House's anti-Iran escalations, the United Nations' atomic agency has confirmed "significant progress" in Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since May.

Throwing cold water on the hot furnace brewing yet another war in the volatile region, the report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei raises hope that the Iran nuclear crisis may be resolved one step at a time, unless the United States and Israel somehow manage to derail the process, just as happened with Iraq five years ago. [complete article]

Report showing rise in Iran's nuclear activity exposes split between U.S. and U.N.
By Elaine Sciolino and William J. Broad, New York Times, August 31, 2007

In the interview, Dr. ElBaradei suggested that he would welcome a delay in the American-led strategy to impose new sanctions, saying, "I'm clear at this stage you need to give Iran a chance to prove its stated goodwill. Sanctions alone, I know for sure, are not going to lead to a durable solution."

The agreement, announced Monday, laid out a timetable of cooperation with the goal of wrapping up by December nuclear issues that have been under investigation for four years. By then, Dr. ElBaradei said, the agency will know whether Iran was "serious" or "was trying to take us for a ride." [complete article]
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Secret report: corruption is "norm" within Iraqi government
By David Corn, The Nation, August 30, 2007

As Congress prepares to receive reports on Iraq from General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and readies for a debate on George W. Bush's latest funding request of $50 billion for the Iraq war, the performance of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become a central and contentious issue. But according to the working draft of a secret document prepared by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the Maliki government has failed in one significant area: corruption. Maliki's government is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws," the report says, and, perhaps worse, the report notes that Maliki's office has impeded investigations of fraud and crime within the government.

The draft--over 70 pages long--was obtained by The Nation, and it reviews the work (or attempted work) of the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), an independent Iraqi institution, and other anticorruption agencies within the Iraqi government. Labeled "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED/Not for distribution to personnel outside of the US Embassy in Baghdad," the study details a situation in which there is little, if any, prosecution of government theft and sleaze. Moreover, it concludes that corruption is "the norm in many ministries."

The report depicts the Iraqi government as riddled with corruption and criminals-and beyond the reach of anticorruption investigators. It also maintains that the extensive corruption within the Iraqi government has strategic consequences by decreasing public support for the U.S.-backed government and by providing a source of funding for Iraqi insurgents and militias. [complete article]
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Allawi gets a Baathist endorsement
By Bobby Ghosh, Time, August 30, 2007

Iyad Allawi's bid to become Iraq's prime minister again has received an endorsement from an unexpected source: the Baath Party. A spokesman for the exiled leadership of Saddam Hussein's old party told TIME that Allawi "is the best person at this time to be given the task of ruling Iraq." He said he hoped that Allawi would pave the way for the Baath Party to "return to the political life of Iraq, where we rightfully belong."

The spokesman, known only as Abu Hala, said the Baath leadership under Saddam's deputy, Izzat al-Douri, were "more than willing to work with Allawi, because we see him as a nationalist and Iraqi patriot, and not a sectarian figure." He said the party didn't agree with all of Allawi's policies when he headed a transitional Iraqi government in 2004, but "we have no doubt that he would represent the interests of Iraq, not of Shi'ites or Sunnis or any other group."

Abu Hala said the Baath leadership has had several meetings with Allawi, and "we found him open-minded and fair." Allawi has previously told TIME that he has for some time had channels open to exiled Baath leaders, many of whom live in Jordan and Syria. Allawi has criticized the government of current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for its de-Baathification policies, saying they hurt many blameless Iraqis. But he has never called for the party's return to Iraq's political stage. [complete article]

The war against Iraq's prime minister
By Juan Cole, Salon, August , 2007

On Tuesday, President Bush went overboard in his defense of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, calling him America's bulwark against both al-Qaida and Iran.

In his remarks to the American Legion in Reno, Nevada, Bush said that the Iraqi government was America's shield in the region against both of these forces of "Islamic extremism," and said of al-Maliki, "The Prime Minister of Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki, has courageously committed to pursue the forces of evil and destruction."

Bush was defending al-Maliki, even at the cost of implausibly depicting the leader of the fundamentalist Shiite Islamic Call (al-Da'wa) party as an opponent of Iran and Hezbollah, because the prime minister has been under virtual siege from Washington politicians for the past week-and-a-half. He's become the favorite whipping boy of opponents of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. [complete article]

Behind Allawi's bid for power
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, MSNBC, August 29, 2007

Adding further intrigue to the lobbying campaign was the disclosure that the Barbour Griffith principal overseeing the firm's Allawi account was former ambassador Robert D. Blackwill—the former Bush White House deputy national-security adviser in charge of Iraq policy, who later served as U.S. special envoy to that country.

Documents filed by Barbour Griffith with Justice show that Blackwill personally signed the firm's contract with Allawi on Aug. 20, stating that he will "lead the team" that will assist "Dr. Allawi and his moderate Iraqi colleagues as they undertake this work."

In light of Blackwill's close ties to Bush White House policymakers, his role has lead to speculation that the retention of Barbour Griffith was a move at least implicitly endorsed, if not encouraged, by some elements of the administration that are fed up with Maliki. While the White House has been critical of Maliki, they maintain official support for his government and have had no comment on Allawi’s campaign. [complete article]
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Pentagon challenges GAO's report on Iraq
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, August 31, 2007

The Pentagon has disputed parts of a progress report on Iraq drafted by the Government Accountability Office, and asked that some of the assessment's failing grades on key political and security benchmarks be changed before the final report is made public next week, a Defense spokesman said yesterday.

"We have provided the GAO with information which we believe will lead them to conclude that a few of the benchmark grades should be upgraded from 'not met' to 'met,' " spokesman Geoff Morrell said. He declined to specify which grades he was citing.

In a draft version of an audit ordered by Congress last spring, the GAO concluded that Iraq had met only three of 18 benchmarks lawmakers set for progress toward political reconciliation and security. The draft has circulated within the State and Defense departments for comment before its publication. [complete article]
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Petraeus says Iraq "surge" working: paper
Reuters, August 30, 2007

The U.S. troop surge in Iraq has thrown al Qaeda off balance and led to a reduction in sectarian violence and bombings, the U.S. commander in Iraq was quoted on Friday by an Australian newspaper as saying.

"We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress and we believe al Qaeda is off balance at the very least," General David Petraeus told the Australian in an interview after briefing Australia's defense minister, Brendan Nelson, in Baghdad.

Petraeus and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker will testify before the U.S. Congress on either September 11 or 12. [complete article]
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Sadr may revoke 'freeze' on militia
By Megan Greenwell, Washington Post, August 31, 2007

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr told his followers Thursday that he would rescind his order "freezing" the operations of his powerful militia if military raids on his offices did not cease in the next few days, according to officials of Sadr's organization.

Sadr's message came the day after he issued a public statement to his Mahdi Army to cease its operations for up to six months so he could restructure the group. But Sadr was forced to reconsider after a raid Thursday by U.S. and Iraqi forces on his office in the southern city of Karbala led to the deaths of six Mahdi Army members and the arrest of 30 others, the officials said.

"When you see the enemy is attacking you, you have to defend yourself," said Alaa Abid Jiaara, a Mahdi Army member in Sadr's headquarters in Kufa, about 90 miles south of Baghdad. "Today we have seen the occupation forces and Iraqi forces violate the Sadr followers and their offices and holy symbols. This means it is the duty of the followers of Sadr to defend against them." [complete article]
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Abandoned at the border
By Joseph P. Hoar, New York Times, August 31, 2007

For more than a year, men and women in our armed forces have been urging the United States to bring to safety the Iraqi translators and others who have worked beside them and are now the victims of retaliation. A Marine captain, Zachary Iscol, said he owed his life and the lives of his men to his Iraqi translator. "Just coming to work was an act of heroism and courage on his part," Captain Iscol said.

On July 7, the administration received another urgent call to action on this issue, this time from Ambassador Ryan Crocker. In a cable to Washington, he laid out the dangers his Iraqi employees faced. "Just last week we recovered and identified the bodies of two ... who were kidnapped in May," he wrote. Mr. Crocker wanted to be able to assure the Iraqis on his staff that they had some hope of receiving refuge in the United States.

It is shameful that more than four years into this war, Iraqis working at our embassy cannot count on the United States to protect them or to help them find a new home when their work with us has made it impossible to survive in their own country. [complete article]
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Taliban ambushes Pakistani convoy, seizes 100 troops
By Griff Witte and Imtiaz Ali, Washington Post, August 31, 2007

In an audacious display of force, Taliban fighters on Thursday ambushed a convoy of military vehicles in a remote tribal area and took more than 100 Pakistani troops hostage, local officials said.

The convoy of more than a dozen vehicles was traveling between two towns in the South Waziristan area, near the Afghan border, when it was overtaken by fighters, officials said.

"Our group has surrounded and disarmed the convoy of Pakistani soldiers and they have been made hostages," said Zulfiqar Mehsud, a purported Taliban spokesman.

Mehsud, who said the troops had been taken to "our prisons," accused the government of violating a pledge not to send soldiers into the area. He said the Taliban had meticulously planned the ambush. [complete article]
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Anti-Hamas rallies staged in Gaza
BBC News, August 31, 2007

Thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have taken part in protests against the territory's Hamas rulers, despite a ban on public gatherings.

About 20 people were injured in clashes after outdoor prayers were organised that turned into marches in main towns.

Protesters accuse the Islamist Hamas of violating civil liberties and using mosques to spread political propaganda.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Gaza says this is the biggest show of opposition to Hamas since it took control in June. [complete article]
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Report finds little progress on Iraq goals
By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, August 30, 2007

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq. [complete article]

Pentagon won't make surge recommendation to Bush
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, August 29, 2007

In a sign that top commanders are divided over what course to pursue in Iraq, the Pentagon said Wednesday that it won't make a single, unified recommendation to President Bush during next month's strategy assessment, but instead will allow top commanders to make individual presentations.

"Consensus is not the goal of the process," Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. "If there are differences, the president will hear them."

Military analysts called the move unusual for an institution that ordinarily does not air its differences in public, especially while its troops are deployed in combat.

"The professional military guys are going to the non-professional military guys and saying 'Resolve this,'" said Jeffrey White, a military analyst for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "That's what it sounds like."

White said it suggests that the military commanders want to be able to distance themselves from Iraq strategy by making it clear that whatever course is followed is the president's decision, not what commanders agreed on. [complete article]

Sorry, Mr. President, you're all out of troops
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, August 29, 2007

The long and short of it is that by next spring some of the 20 U.S. combat brigades currently in Iraq -- perhaps as many as a quarter to a half of them -- will be pulling out, and nobody will replace them. This is a mathematical fact, quite apart from anything to do with the upcoming election or the war's diminishing popularity.

Whether or not you regard this fact as lamentable, President Bush only makes things worse by howling that any pullback would erode American power and embolden the terrorists. Even if his warning is true, for a president to state it so urgently, over and over and over and over, deepens the damage when the storm hits. And given that the storm is certain to hit, it's irresponsible -- it's baffling—that he's howling so loudly. [complete article]
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Bush's lost Iraqi election
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, August 30, 2007

Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister of Iraq, hinted in a television interview last weekend at one of the war's least understood turning points: America's decision not to challenge Iranian intervention in Iraq's January 2005 elections.

"Our adversaries in Iraq are heavily supported financially by other quarters. We are not," Allawi told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "We fought the elections with virtually no support whatsoever, except for Iraqis and the Iraqis who support us."

Behind Allawi's comment lies a tale of intrigue and indecision by the United States over whether to mount a covert-action program to confront Iran's political meddling. Such a plan was crafted by the Central Intelligence Agency and then withdrawn -- because of opposition from an unlikely coalition that is said to have included Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was then House minority leader, and Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. [complete article]

Comment -- As usual, David Ignatius is posing the wrong questions here -- not surprising though for someone willing to make a distinction where there's no difference. The "covert-action program" to which he refers would clearly have been an act of political meddling. What Ignatius and Allawi and their friends at Barbour Griffith & Rogers are up against is that Iraq and Iran share a relationship with which that the U.S. can never compete.

It's not unfair that Iran and Iraq share a 1,458 km border. It's not unfair that 60% of Iraqis belong to the same Muslim sect as the overwhelming majority of Iranians. It's not unfair that so many of Iraq's current political leaders have spent so much time living in Iran and that they continue to visit that country.

Ignatius says that, "Future historians should record that the Bush administration actually lived by its pro-democracy rhetoric about a new Iraq -- to the point that it scuttled a covert action program aimed at countering Iranian influence." Such tragic nobility!

But maybe it wasn't just about principles. Maybe there was an unusual and refreshing moment of pragmatism in Washington: a recognition that the program would inevitably be exposed and that the administration and its allies humiliated and discredited.

Maybe next time someone from the CIA tells David Ignatius that the CIA could fix so many things if only their hands weren't tied -- maybe he should say, "Stop treating me like a sucker."
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Maliki: I won't resign, can't be forced out
By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, August 29, 2007

Looking tired and pale but speaking firmly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki told McClatchy Newspapers Tuesday that he has no intention of resigning despite rising U.S. criticism of his government.

In a 50-minute interview in his office in Baghdad's Green Zone, Maliki strongly defended his tenure and said that he doesn't expect to be forced out. He said his efforts at national reconciliation, not the surge of additional U.S. troops or actions by Iraqi security forces, are responsible for improved security.

He blamed the United States and its early policies in Iraq for the sectarianism that plagues the country, and said he opposed the current U.S. policy of working with former Sunni Muslim insurgent groups who've turned against al Qaida in Iraq because that, too, promotes sectarianism.

Still, he said he isn't yet willing to send Americans home. "Now there is a need for them to stay on," Maliki said. "When the security situation becomes stable, the need will no longer be there." [complete article]
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White House is gaining confidence it can win fight in Congress over Iraq policy
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, August 30, 2007

The White House is growing more confident that it can beat back efforts by Congressional Democrats to shift course in Iraq, a significant turnabout from two months ago, when a string of Republican defections had administration officials worried that President Bush's troop buildup was in serious danger on Capitol Hill.

Current and former administration officials say they realize that the September battle over the troop buildup will be difficult. But they also say the president's hand is stronger now than it was in early July, when Republican senators like Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana publicly called for a change of course.

"There is a tonal shift, and that is important, but there is always the chance that it could be ephemeral, in the same way that the panic of early July proved ephemeral," said Peter D. Feaver, who helped draft the buildup strategy as an official with the National Security Council but recently returned to his post as a political science professor at Duke University. "I don't detect any triumphalism in the White House." [complete article]
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Iraqi Shiite heir steps into a tough role
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, August 30, 2007

When a Shiite religious leader's phalanx was waved through a security cordon and into the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala on Monday night, a crowd of rival militiamen grew incensed, sparking fighting that claimed the lives of at least 50 people and left parts of the holy city smoldering.

The man at the center of it was a soft-spoken 36-year-old cleric who has emerged this summer as the likely next head of the party that is the United States' most powerful political ally in Iraq.

Ammar Hakim is far from the secular, Western-educated men whom U.S. policymakers hoped would govern this land once Saddam Hussein was toppled. He wears the black turban of those who claim to be descended from the prophet Muhammad and was educated in the Shiite seminaries of Iran. [complete article]
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Discussion on NSA wiretap program
Slate, August 28, 2007

First off, I wonder if you all agree that one problem in ascertaining just what's going on is that from the beginning, there have been numerous programs, above and beyond the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" acknowledged by the administration. With well over 40,000 employees and a budget north of $6 billion, NSA is the biggest intelligence agency in the country. They're not running just one program down there at Ft. Meade. In his El Paso Times interview last week, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said, "Now there's a sense that we're doing massive data mining. In fact, what we're doing is surgical." But that's disingenuous, no? A significant number of press leaks have suggested that the agency uses various forms of link analysis to scan through the header information on the 650 million communications it intercepts every day in order to turn up individuals who might then warrant more targeted, "surgical" scrutiny. I've long suspected that some kind of broader, mile-wide-and-inch-deep program must be a predicate for the more tailored surveillance that would, in theory, eventually lead to an application to a judge for a warrant, and that this explains the divergent accounts of the program that have emerged. Do you buy that, as a hunch? Is there anything in the debate leading up to the Protect America Act, or anything in the law itself, that might cut for, or against, that interpretation? [complete article]
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Bush threatens to confront Iran over alleged support for Iraqi insurgents
By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, August 29, 2007

George Bush yesterday ramped up the war of words between the US and Iran, accusing Tehran of threatening to place the Middle East under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust and revealing that he had authorised US military commanders in Iraq to "confront Tehran's murderous activities".

In a speech designed to shore up US public opinion behind his unpopular strategy in Iraq, the president reserved his strongest words for the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which he accused of openly supporting violent forces within Iraq. Iran, he said, was responsible for training extremist Shia factions in Iraq, supplying them with weapons, including sophisticated roadside bombs. Iran has denied all these accusations.

Mr Bush referred specifically to 240mm rockets which he said were made in Iran this year and smuggled into Iraq.

"Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region," he said. "Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust." [complete article]
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U.S. releases group of Iranians held in Baghdad
By Stephen Farrell, New York Times, August 29, 2007

Members of an Iranian Energy Ministry delegation visiting Baghdad at the invitation of the Iraqi government were released Wednesday, a day after being arrested at their hotel by American troops and led away in handcuffs and blindfolds.

Iraqi and Iranian officials said the Iranians were in Baghdad to help resolve Iraq’s power crisis. American officials said they were held after being stopped and searched at a checkpoint near their hotel because unauthorized weapons were found in their vehicles. [complete article]
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New steps in the war dance over Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, August 30, 2007

A day after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner apologized to Iraq for his inappropriate call for a leadership change in that country, President Nicolas Sarkozy added his own blunder by tacitly endorsing the military option on Iran. Clearly, the new US-friendly leader in Paris has much to learn about international diplomacy and Middle East politics, or he risks taking France down a path where only the dogs of war and clashing civilizations prowl.

Coinciding with a relentless anti-Iran campaign riveting the US media, Sarkozy's comments on Iran have been "well received in Washington", according to news reports, although some French commentators and spin doctors have tried to nuance those comments in less incendiary and more benign directions.

In his first major foreign-policy speech as president, Sarkozy said an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable, and he warned that Iran could be attacked militarily if it dies not meet its international obligations to curb its nuclear program. [complete article]
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Bush's brand-new poodle
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 30, 2007

He was impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance. - Graham Greene, The Quiet American

With former British prime minister Tony Blair out of the picture, there's now a newer, leaner, meaner, adrenaline-packed "Made in France" version. Thanks to his unrelenting support for President George W Bush's war on Iraq, Blair used to be derided in all corners of the globe as Bush's poodle. Now the new self-appointed lap dog is French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The hyperactive "Sarkozy the First" - as he is widely referred to in France - has just pronounced his first major foreign-policy speech, to an annual conference of 200-odd French ambassadors from posts around the world. He took no time to engage himself in the current White House and neo-conservative-promoted Iran-demonization campaign. [complete article]
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Al-Sadr orders six-month shutdown of Mahdi Army
By Joshua Partlow and Megan Greenwell, Washington Post, August 29, 2007

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr Wednesday ordered a six-month shutdown of his militia in what his aides described as an attempt to reform the organization, a development that came as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki imposed a curfew in the southern holy city of Karbala to contain the deadly fighting there.

The fighting in Karbala during a religious festival was blamed by some on Sadr's Mahdi Army. In a statement read on Iraqi state television, Hazim al Arraji, an aide to the powerful cleric, announced that Sadr was "freezing the Mahdi Army, without exception in order to have it restructured in a way that would retain for this ideological body its prestige for a period of a maximum of six months." [complete article]
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The insurgency's strategy in September
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, August 28, 2007

For months now, insurgency groups have been trying to formulate some kind of public political front, but seem to be consistently frustrated by internal struggles and the fragmented nature of the insurgency itself (among the latest developments, we've got the 1920 Revolution Brigade denouncing anyone using its name while cooperating with the Americans while accusing Hamas Iraq of being the real collaborators, and the Islamic Army of Iraq indicating that it's striking a truce with al-Qaeda in Iraq). It's in that context that I wanted to draw attention to an essay published today under the title "September and a political project for the mujahideen" on the al-Haq Agency, one of the major internet outlets for the Sunni insurgency, by Abd al-Rahman al-Ruwashdi.

Ruwashdi complains about politicians stepping forward to claim the fruits of the insurgency's victory without having made its sacrifices or paid its costs. It is therefore time, he argues, for the real insurgency groups to come together and form a viable political front. While there have already been some efforts to form a political front, he notes, the expected changes in September mean that there's no time to lose. He quotes Hareth al-Dhari, who argued that the principled rejection of participating in the political process under occupation does not mean that groups can not organize to prepare to fill the political vaccuum. He warns the Sunnis that not preparing for the period after the American withdrawal would mean making the same mistake as the Americans, who failed in Iraq because they did not plan for the period after the war. [complete article]
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Source: Israel told U.S. to target Iran, not Iraq
By Gareth Porter, IPS, August 29, 2007

Israeli officials warned the George W. Bush administration that an invasion of Iraq would be destabilizing to the region and urged the United States to instead target Iran as the primary enemy, according to former administration official Lawrence Wilkerson.

Wilkerson, then a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff and later chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalled in an interview with IPS that the Israelis reacted immediately to indications that the Bush administration was thinking of war against Iraq. After the Israeli government picked up the first signs of that intention, Wilkerson says, "The Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy – Iran is the enemy."

Wilkerson describes the Israeli message to the Bush administration in early 2002 as being, "If you are going to destabilize the balance of power, do it against the main enemy."

The warning against an invasion of Iraq was "pervasive" in Israeli communications with the administration, Wilkerson recalls. It was conveyed to the administration by a wide range of Israeli sources, including political figures, intelligence, and private citizens. [complete article]
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Pipes joins up with Giuliani
By Ken Silverstein, Harper's, August 28, 2007

Add another neoconservative adviser on the Middle East to an already impressive roster -- Daniel Pipes signed on with Rudy Giuliani's campaign today. I'd heard Pipes was advising Giuliani and asked him about it yesterday. He told me by e-mail that he had "close relations with several people in the campaign," but said that he did not have "official connection to it." He e-mailed back just now to say that, as of today, he has officially signed up with the campaign. [complete article]

Arabic as a terrorist language
By Anthony DiMaggio, ZNet, August 28, 2007

A good friend and former Professor of mine always began his classes on the developing world with an introduction to Islam. One of the first points driven home in the class, semester after semester, was the difference between Islam and Arabic. While the terms are obviously not synonymous (one being a religion and the other a language), this basic distinction is disregarded in recent fundamentalist efforts to demonize not only Islam, but the Arabic language itself.

I wanted to believe that we'd come far enough in this country that Muslim-Americans and non-citizens alike don't have to suffer under irrational hatred, fanaticism, and repression. But for America's small, but influential right-wing minority, this seems too much to ask.

I am referring to the racist war that has been declared on the Khalil Gibran International Academy (in New York), and most specifically its Principal, Debbie Almontaser. The Gibran Academy is the first public institution in the U.S. committed specifically to learning the Arabic language. But the way the school has been attacked in media diatribes, one would think it was named after Osama bin Laden, rather than an uncontroversial, but well known poet. [complete article]

Critics ignored record of a Muslim principal
By Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, August , 2007

Last Feb. 12, you may recall, New York education officials announced plans to open a minischool in September that would teach half its classes in Arabic and include study of Arab culture. The principal was to be a veteran teacher who was also a Muslim immigrant from Yemen, Debbie Almontaser.

The critical response began pouring in the very next day.

"I hope it burns to the ground just like the towers did with all the students inside including school officials as well," wrote an unidentified blogger on the Web site Modern Tribalist, a hub of anti-immigrant sentiment. A contributor identified as Dave responded, "Now Muslims will be able to learn how to become terrorists without leaving New York City."

Not to be outdone, the conservative Web site Political Dishonesty carried this commentary on Feb. 14:

"Just think, instead of jocks, cheerleaders and nerds, there's going to be the Taliban hanging out on the history hall, Al Qaeda hanging out by the gym, and Palestinians hanging out in the science labs. Hamas and Hezbollah studies will be the prerequisite classes for an Iranian physics. Maybe in gym they'll learn how to wire their bomb vests and they'll convert the football field to a terrorist training camp."

Thus commenced the smear campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy and, specifically, Debbie Almontaser. For the next six months, from blogs to talk shows to cable networks to the right-wing press, the hysteria and hatred never ceased. Regrettably, it worked. [complete article]
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The language of force
By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, August 28, 2007

Soon after coming to power, Ariel Sharon started to commission public opinion polls. He kept the results to himself. This week, a reporter of Israel's TV Channel 10 succeeded in obtaining some of them.

Among other things, Sharon wanted to know what the public thought about peace. He did not dream of starting on this road himself, but he felt it important to be informed about the trends.

In these polls, the public was presented with a question that came close to the final Clinton Proposal and the Geneva Initiative: Are you for a peace that would include a Palestinian state, withdrawal from almost all occupied territories, giving up the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and dismantling most settlements?

The results were very instructive. In 2002, 73% (seventy three percent!) supported this solution. In the next two years, support declined, but it was still accepted by the majority. In 2005 the percentage of supporters slipped under the 50% line. [complete article]
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Iran 'ready to fill Iraq power vacuum'
By Damien McElroy, The Telegraph, August 28, 2007

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said his country is prepared to step in to the emerging "power vacuum" in Iraq.

The maverick populist struck a triumphant tone in a television interview, predicting the collapse of democratic government in Iraq.

"The political power of the occupiers is being destroyed rapidly and very soon we will be witnessing a great void of power in the region," he said.

"You [America] cannot preserve your power over Iraq with a few tanks, artillery and weapons. Today, you are prisoners of your own quagmire. Today you have no choice but to accept the rights of the Iraqi people.

"I can tell you there will be a power vacuum in the region. We are ready with other regional countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and the people of Iraq to fill this vacuum." [complete article]

Comment -- Although few observers in Washington are inclined to pay much attention to Ahmadinejad's rhetoric (unless of course he's saying something about Israel), place his assertions alongside the vacuous statements that come out of the administration and it's obvious which side suffers from the most serious credibility problems.

For all the power that George Bush has squandered, that which will take longest to restore is the power which he valued least: the power of the word.
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Lieberman in Farsi interview: Sanctions best option on Iran
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz, August 28, 2007

Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio's Farsi broadcast on Monday that the military option is not suitable for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, adding that economic sanctions are the most effective way to halt the nuclear program.

In an interview in which the minister also fielded questions from people in Iran, Lieberman called on the Iranian people to pressure its leadership.

"The Iranian people are the ones paying the price, as they are already suffering from the extremism of the current leadership, which has private foreign bank accounts and is not adversely affected by the sanctions," said Lieberman, whose comments were translated into Farsi. [complete article]

Comment -- Avigdor Lieberman, not a man well-known for moderation, thinks the "Iranian problem" can be dealt with by sanctions and elections. Did you hear that Mr. Cheney?
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U.S. military regrets giving Afghans 'blasphemous' soccer balls
Reuters, August 28, 2007

The U.S. military in Afghanistan on Monday expressed regret for a publicity campaign aimed at winning hearts and minds that ended up offending scores of Muslims.

U.S. troops on Friday dropped dozens of free footballs for soccer-mad Afghan children from helicopters in an area of southeastern Afghanistan, all marked with flags of various countries.

But the balls depicted the Saudi Arabian flag, which features the Islamic declaration of faith and includes the names of Allah and the prophet Mohammed.

The idea of kicking something bearing their names is considered deeply offensive to Muslims.

"This ball ... carries a message with it which, like an atom bomb, can cause carnage and insecurity in all parts of Afghanistan," a leading Afghan private daily, Cheragh, said on Monday.

Fawad Ahmad, a shopkeeper in Kabul, said: "Americans themselves create insecurity by ignoring religious sensitivity, it is against Islam.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan said the ball distribution was part of a "goodwill humanitarian aid mission ... for the enjoyment of Afghan children". [complete article]

Comment -- Maybe it's time for the United States, under the bold leadership of Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, to launch a new initiative in public diplomacy: a moratorium on all U.S. public diplomacy programs. Under the Hippocratic principle of at least doing no harm, the U.S. might be better off doing nothing at all when it comes to "winning hearts and minds." Alternatively, it might be a good idea to follow Hugo Chavez's lead.
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Not so fast, Christian soldiers
By Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2007

Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that's the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering "freedom packages" to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which "soldiers for Christ" hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program. [complete article]
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Did Chertoff lie to Congress about Guantanamo?
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, August 28, 2007

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will leave office Sept. 17 with a reputation for being untruthful. During his repeated appearances before Congress earlier this year to explain the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, Gonzales answered "I don't recall" or some variation as many as 70 times at a sitting. When his replacement comes to Capitol Hill for confirmation, lawmakers hope they will hear nothing but the truth.

But one of the men most often mentioned as his replacement may have some of the same trouble with the truth. Since rumors of Gonzales' departure surfaced last week, speculation about his successor has centered on Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Just as Gonzales, under oath before Congress, failed to recall whether there was dissension within the Bush administration over a controversial war-on-terror-related policy, so Michael Chertoff seems to have suffered a similar lapse of memory while under oath before Congress when pressed on a different terror-related policy. [complete article]
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Army officer aquitted of Abu Ghraib charges
By Josh White, Washington Post, August 28, 2007

The only military officer to face trial for the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison was acquitted today of all charges of mistreatment of detainees. But after a weeklong trial, a military jury in Fort Meade, Md., found Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan guilty of disobeying an order not to discuss a 2004 investigation into the allegations.

The jury of nine colonels and a one-star general deliberated for nearly seven hours over two days before concluding that Jordan should not be held responsible for failing to train and supervise interrogators and military police at the facility in 2003.

Jurors also determined that Jordan bears no responsibility for alleged abuses that occurred on Nov. 24 2003, when a group of Iraqi police officers were strip-searched and dogs were used to search for contraband. The jurors apparently agreed with defense arguments that Jordan was not in charge of the effort or the military police soldiers at the prison. [complete article]
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Iraq weapons are a focus of criminal investigations
By James Glanz and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, August 28, 2007

Several federal agencies are investigating a widening network of criminal cases involving the purchase and delivery of billions of dollars of weapons, supplies and other materiel to Iraqi and American forces, according to American officials. The officials said it amounted to the largest ring of fraud and kickbacks uncovered in the conflict here.

The inquiry has already led to several indictments of Americans, with more expected, the officials said. One of the investigations involves a senior American officer who worked closely with Gen. David H. Petraeus in setting up the logistics operation to supply the Iraqi forces when General Petraeus was in charge of training and equipping those forces in 2004 and 2005, American officials said Monday.

There is no indication that investigators have uncovered any wrongdoing by General Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, who through a spokesman declined comment on any legal proceedings. [complete article]
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The return of Ayad Allawi
By Charles Crain, Time, August 26, 2007

In another blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Iraq's former interim leader, Ayad Allawi, has announced that he plans to return to Baghdad to do what the current Prime Minister has not: rid the government of sectarian bias and bring violence under control.

Visions of a triumphant return for Allawi, however, are far-fetched. Allawi, who now spends most of his time outside Iraq, has hired the D.C.-based Republican lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers to help make his case. Some of his new advisers are former members of the Bush Administration, including Robert Blackwill, a former deputy national security adviser, who was involved in putting together the interim government that Allawi headed in 2004.

The notion of Allawi's return is symptomatic of a bipartisan consensus in the U.S. that Iraq's problems could be solved if the Iraqis would simply do as they're told. [complete article]

Comment -- The bipartisan consensus that Charles Crain pins down so well, is maddening not simply because it expresses such a thoroughly condescending colonialist tone -- it's a variant on that old imperial attitude that we had to take over running their country because the natives are all slackers -- but because it implies that the mess in Iraq stems in large part from an Iraqi unwillingness to take advantage of America's helping hand.
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U.S. delays terror screening for aid groups
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 28, 2007

The Bush administration has decided to defer the start of a new security screening program for thousands of officials of organizations seeking funds from the Agency for International Development until it reviews all the comments from those affected, according to USAID's acting deputy administrator, James Kunder.

Although USAID said in a Federal Register notice last month that the program would become effective yesterday, Kunder said in a telephone interview that it "would be effective, but not operational" until there is "a systematic review" of the views of the private organizations involved.

The screening plan would affect top officials and board members of foreign aid groups, and it has been highly controversial, attracting opposition from InterAction, representing 165 aid groups, and from the Global Health Council, a membership alliance of public health professionals in more than 100 countries. Yesterday was the last day for organizations to comment on the proposal, according to the notice, but Kunder said comments will now be accepted through the end of next month. [complete article]
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Into thin air
By Evan Thomas, Newsweek, September 3, 2007

There is a certain desperate quality to the hunt for bin Laden. Some experts think he's constantly on the move; others believe he must be holed up somewhere, never using electronics, impossible to detect. After the close call in 2004, says Omar Farooqi, "the Sheik" shrank his security staff and employed only faithful Arabs. A Western military official who has worked both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border told Newsweek that bin Laden may have deployed small groups of bodyguards spread along the frontier with the same "signature": small security detail, secretive, saying little to local villagers, always moving on. That's a perfect disinformation campaign, says the official. The nearby locals start whispering that bin Laden must be nearby. "Word gets around that it must have been him," he says. "We react. It throws us off the trail and makes us waste assets following bad leads. And it's a cheap and easy way to do."

No wonder the intelligence community is reaching out to anyone who can glean even a hint of bin Laden's whereabouts. As early as November 2001, John Shroder, a geographer at the University of Nebraska, found himself addressing an audience of intelligence officials, analyzing the rock formations behind bin Laden in a video released that October. About all he could do was tell the spooks that bin Laden seemed to be in the western part of Afghanistan's Spin Ghar Mountains. "We were grasping at straws," says Michael Scheuer, who was special adviser to the head of the CIA's bin Laden unit at the time. "We called in geologists. We had the Germans bring in ornithologists because they thought they heard a bird chirping on a video and wanted to see if it was particular to certain regions of South Asia." The agency enlisted doctors to look for signs of kidney disease, which bin Laden was rumored to be suffering from at the time. A Dec. 27, 2001, video, nicknamed by analysts "the Gaunt Tape," shows a haggard-looking bin Laden, who seems to be unable to move his left arm. "But the doctors couldn't pinpoint any problems with his health," says Scheuer.

CIA analysts began calling bin Laden "Elvis" because he was here, there, but really nowhere. Some wonder if he's dead. He has not issued a video since the end of 2004, and he has not been heard on an audiotape for more than a year. It is possible he is incapacitated by disease -- the rumors of kidney problems persist. There have been reports that bin Laden has sought medication to be used in the terminal stages of kidney disease. But "I don't have any reason to think he's dead," says [chief counterterror adviser, Frances Fragos] Townsend, who sees all the intelligence coming to the office of the president. "It's inconceivable to me to think that he would expire and we wouldn't have some information, intelligence, that something had happened to him." [complete article]

Comment -- Whenever anyone in the Bush administration says, "inconceivable to me," I'm inclined to believe them. But there's a huge difference between something being inconceivable and its being inconceivable inside the administration.

I can imagine that bin Laden is dead.... Wow! As far as I can tell, my brain is still working. But not only that, I can think of good reasons for assuming he is dead -- not the least of which is that for over a year there has been no evidence that he's alive. In wars, when there is no evidence that someone is alive, they are quite often "presumed dead." Of course at this time we have no way of knowing whether bin Laden is in fact alive or dead, but to treat him as "presumed alive" seems -- as much as anything else -- to be a way of keeping the war on terrorism alive.

Suppose the administration was to judiciously assume that their nemesis had expired. In other words, suppose they made a very measured announcement along these lines:
Mindful of the immortal words of former Secretary Rumsfeld -- "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" -- the administration has nevertheless at this time accepted the working assumption that Osama bin Laden is no longer alive. On this basis his name will be removed from the FBI's most wanted list.
The clandestine hunt for him would of course continue -- it's clandestine right? No need for George Bush shouting through a bullhorn, "We're going to smoke you out." And maybe they'll eventually come up with conclusive evidence of his death -- or even track him down. But at this time, isn't the United States Government ready to stop sustaining the mystique of al Qaeda's leader?

With the spotlight turned off, he might feel more pressure to demonstrate that he hasn't permanently shuffled off the world's stage. He might even make a mistake that would lead to his capture.

The alternative is that the administration (and most of their Democratic opponents) continue to treat bin Laden as a force to be reckoned with -- but why should he be given that power? To suggest that he's dead is not to claim that al Qaeda is a spent force. The war in Iraq provided the organization with a sturdy bridge transitioning from network to ideology. In fact, al Qaeda no longer needs bin Laden. So is he really just being kept on life-support (so to speak) by the Bush administration and everyone else for whom he provides a political utility?
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Iraqi insurgents taking cut of U.S. rebuilding money
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, August 27, 2007

Iraq's deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they've extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province.

The payments, in return for the insurgents' allowing supplies to move and construction work to begin, have taken place since the earliest projects in 2003, Iraqi contractors, politicians and interpreters involved with reconstruction efforts said.

A fresh round of rebuilding spurred by the U.S. military's recent alliance with some Anbar tribes -- 200 new projects are scheduled -- provides another opportunity for militant groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq to siphon off more U.S. money, contractors and politicians warn. [complete article]
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New U.S. 'allies' in hostages threat
By Ali Rifat and Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, August 26, 2007

According to [Ibrahim al-]Shammari [a representative of the Islamic Army, a leading Sunni insurgent group], however, the gains in Anbar will be shortlived. He said the Islamic Army had signed a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The country was to be carved into spheres of influence where the Islamic Army and Al-Qaeda in Iraq could operate independently of each other. It would represent an enormous setback for the surge.

Shammari admitted Al-Qaeda in Iraq was unpopular. "Local people consider them enemy number one. They tyrannised people and killed and assaulted tribal leaders. They lost their bases and supporters and provoked the clans into rising up against them," he said.

But the Islamic Army resents the way the Americans have tried to turn the infighting in Anbar to their advantage. "We've had big problems with Al-Qaeda ever since they began targeting and killing our men," he said. "Eventually we had to fight back, but we found American troops were exploiting the situation by spreading rumours that exacerbated the conflict."

The Islamic Army has also noted President George Bush's comments about the success of the surge. "Bush foolishly announced to the world that all the Sunnis in Iraq were fighting Al-Qaeda so he could claim to have achieved a great victory," Shammari said. "It's nonsense." [complete article]
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Iraq Sunni Arabs say deal won't end boycott
By Wisam Mohammed, Reuters, August 27, 2007

A new political accord between Iraq's main Sunni Arab, Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders will not be enough to lure boycotting Sunni Arabs back into the government, a spokesman for the biggest Sunni Arab bloc said on Monday. [complete article]

US pressure forces move to reconciliation
By Ian Black, Middle East editor and Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, August 27, 2007

Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, and fellow leaders in the country have reached consensus on key areas of national reconciliation, under mounting US pressure to demonstrate political progress on the eve of a key report to Congress on the Baghdad security "surge".

The Shia prime minister appeared on television flanked by Jalal Talabani, the country's Kurdish president, and the Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, to announce a deal on easing restrictions on former members of the Ba'ath party joining the civil service and military.

Easing de-Ba'athification laws passed after the 2003 US invasion has long been seen as a vital step if disenchanted Sunnis, who formed the backbone of Saddam Hussein's regime and, since its fall, of the insurgency, are to be persuaded to take part in Iraqi political life. [complete article]

Children doing battle in Iraq
By Alexandra Zavis and Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2007

Child fighters, once a rare presence on Iraq's battlefields, are playing a significant and growing role in kidnappings, killings and roadside bombings in the country, U.S. military officials say.

Boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber foreign fighters at U.S. detention camps in Iraq. Since March, their numbers have risen to 800 from 100, said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the commander of detainee operations. The Times reported last month that only 130 non-Iraqi fighters were in U.S. custody in Iraq.

Stone attributes the rise in child fighters in the country, in part, to the pressure that the U.S. buildup of troops has placed on the flow of foreign fighters. [complete article]

US shrugs off Sarkozy call for Iraq withdrawal
AFP, August 27, 2007

The White House on Monday shrugged off French President Nicolas Sarkozy's call for a clear timetable for the pullout of international forces from Iraq.

US President George W. Bush "will wait to hear from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker before any decisions on troop levels are made," national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Johndroe was referring to the September 15 Iraq progress report anchored on findings from the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker. [complete article]
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Meshal: Upcoming Middle East conference is doomed to fail
Reuters, August 27, 2007

The U.S.-sponsored international conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace is doomed to fail because it will serve only Israel's interests, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal said in a CNN interview broadcast on Monday.

Calling the gathering, expected in November, "a meeting controlled and directed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice", Meshal, who lives in Damascus, said neither Israel nor the United States was serious about achieving peace.

"There is no doubt that the outcome will be leaning towards Israel's best interest because [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert is the stronger side in the negotiations," Meshal said, according to CNN's translation of his comments in Arabic. [complete article]

Hamas sources differ on report of renewed attacks
By Amos Harel, Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, August 27, 2007

Hamas officials offered differing opinions Sunday on the question of renewing terrorist attacks in the West Bank and Israel.

A political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Ahmad Yousef, told Haaretz that the Shin Bet security service's assessments that the group is intensifying efforts to undermine diplomatic dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority through a series of spectacular terrorist attacks are inaccurate.

"There is no change in the Hamas position. Israel is threatening us and attacking us - we are only responding to provocations. But we do not intend to initiate any action, like the resumption of suicide bombings," Yousef said. [complete article]

Hamas to enforce media law amid crackdown
AFP, August 27, 2007

Hamas said on Monday it planned to enforce a 12-year-old Palestinian press law designed to silence dissident journalists, amid a crackdown that has raised fierce protests from the local media.

"We are all bound by this 1995 press law, and its articles carry the force of the law," said a statement from what was described as Hamas's "information ministry" in the Gaza Strip.

Since Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) seized control of Gaza in a bloody takeover in June, journalists have complained about a crackdown on the press, particularly on media groups linked to the rival Fatah movement. [complete article]

Hamas orders private Gaza clinics shut down in challenge to Abbas
AP, August 27, 2007

Gaza's Islamic Hamas rulers ordered striking doctors to shut down their private clinics on Monday, in a challenge to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that threatened to deepen hardship in the long-suffering territory.

The faceoff has largely paralyzed Gaza's medical system, putting it at the mercy of the rivalry between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement. [complete article]
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The next war in Iraq
By Joe Klein, Time, August 23, 2007

It has been clear for months that Nouri al-Maliki's National Unity government is, as a senior U.S. official said, "none of the above." Senator Carl Levin called for it to be replaced after his and Senator John Warner's mid-August Iraq jaunt. And Ambassador Ryan Crocker told me,"The fall of the Maliki government, when it happens, might be a good thing." But replace it with what? The consensus in the U.S. intelligence community is that there's going to be lots of bloodshed, including fighting among the Shi'ites, before a credible Iraqi government emerges. It also seems that the U.S. attempt to build an Iraqi army and police force has been a failure. Some units are pretty good, but most are unreliable, laced with members of various Shi'ite militias. This was clear from my conversations with U.S. combat officers on the ground in Baqubah, Baghdad and Yusufia. It became clearer when seven enlisted men serving in Baghdad wrote a very courageous Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on Aug. 19 in which they said, "Reports that a majority of Iraqi army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric." [complete article]

See also, Iraqi premier rebuts Senators Clinton and Levin (AP) and Iraqi prime minister's isolation growing (McClatchy).

Comment -- As the anti-Maliki chorus grows, it's worth remembering what happened just a year ago when a foreign official -- Mark Malloch Brown, then U.N. deputy secretary general -- had the audacity to make a few remarks critical of the U.S. government.

John Bolton -- then U.S. ambassador to the U.N. -- called the matter "very, very grave" and sternly told Kofi Annan that "this is the worst mistake by a senior UN official that I have seen" since 1989.

But I guess when the boot's on the other foot and American officials are bashing in the head of the leader of another government, it's different. After all, if an Iraqi prime minister can only enter office once he's been duly stamped, "U.S. approved," it's only fitting that he can later get stamped, "U.S. disapproved." Which is to say, this must all look perfectly in accordance with the natural order of the world if you happen to be a senior U.S. official or one of their media mouthpieces.

One such mouthpiece -- David Ignatius -- is less than enthusiastic about Maliki's presumptive replacement, Ayad Allawi. "Allawi has bundles of money to help buy political support, but it comes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, rather than the United States." No good getting a new prime minister if he's not in your debt and you can't tell him what to do. How frustrating it is trying to rig a democracy in the middle of a civil war!

But there is one particularly interesting glimpse that Ignatius provides inside the convoluted process of administration thinking (keeping in mind that this is an administration afflicted with multiple personality disorder). It is that the "contain Iran" faction (read, Rice et al), now anticipates the possibility that U.S. policy towards Iraq will also become one of containment.

Containment? Haven't we been there before?
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Challenging the generals
By Fred Kaplan, New York Times, August 26, 2007

On Aug. 1, Gen. Richard Cody, the United States Army's vice chief of staff, flew to the sprawling base at Fort Knox, Ky., to talk with the officers enrolled in the Captains Career Course. These are the Army's elite junior officers. Of the 127 captains taking the five-week course, 119 had served one or two tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly as lieutenants. Nearly all would soon be going back as company commanders. A captain named Matt Wignall, who recently spent 16 months in Iraq with a Stryker brigade combat team, asked Cody, the Army's second-highest-ranking general, what he thought of a recent article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled "A Failure in Generalship." The article, a scathing indictment that circulated far and wide, including in Iraq, accused the Army's generals of lacking "professional character," "creative intelligence" and "moral courage."

Yingling's article -- published in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal -- noted that a key role of generals is to advise policy makers and the public on the means necessary to win wars. "If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means," he wrote, "he shares culpability for the results." Today's generals "failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly," and they failed to advise policy makers on how much force would be necessary to win and stabilize Iraq. These failures, he insisted, stemmed not just from the civilian leaders but also from a military culture that "does little to reward creativity and moral courage." He concluded, "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war." [complete article]

Comment -- While the constraints on innovation inside the military are obviously embedded in military culture and the promotions process, there seem to be a number of other factors worth considering.

As self-contained as military culture might be, it is surely influenced by trends evident in society at large. In late 2002 and early 2003, opposition to the imminent war was marginal. Not once was the American antiwar movement able to match Louis Farrakhan's crowd-pulling power and mobilize a million-strong gathering in Washington. While most of the nation either actively or passively supported the war, it seems unrealistic to imagine that there would be many serious expressions of dissent from inside the military.

The uniformed leadership of the U.S. military are part of the Pentagon's political culture. They might defer to civilian policymakers but they are an integral branch of the military industrial complex. As such, they have a vested interest in promoting and sustaining those programs that serve this matrix of political, commercial and budgetary needs. Innovation is likely to be deemed good, only to the extent that those needs continue being well served. Pen-pushing generals inside the Pentagon, once retired, slide easily into the boardrooms of a defense industry that ultimately has more interest in who places purchase orders than who uses their products.

The next major test of the moral courage of the generals will probably be whether they are willing to resign en masse rather than follow orders to attack Iran. Rumor has it that a number of generals are ready to rise to the challenge, but I have no confidence that this will happen. The heroism that promises a pension cut and no medals can only appeal to a rare minority. How many people can say that they achieved great success in this world by being true to their conscience?
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No big shifts planned after report on Iraq
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, August 25, 2007

Despite political pressure for a change of course in Iraq, the White House hopes to keep in place its existing military strategy and troop levels there after the mid-September report from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, administration officials said.

Even as the administration faced a new call this week from Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a leading ally, to begin at least a symbolic withdrawal of troops by Christmas, White House officials said privately that they are not contemplating making major shifts before early next year. They said that next month's report is likely to highlight what they see as significant improvements in security over the past year and that they expect the president to assert that now is not the time to dramatically change approaches. [complete article]
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Hear a general, hug a sheik: Congress visits Iraq
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Damien Cave, New York Times, August 26, 2007

The meal was just one stop in a jam-packed tour that included visits with Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders ("a sheik engagement," the Pentagon itinerary said), a chat with the Kurdish deputy prime minister and the all-important photographs with hometown soldiers to show constituents at election time. Just another day in Baghdad in August, high season for Congressional travel to Iraq.

The trips, highly choreographed affairs known as codels, for Congressional delegations, are an annual rite of summer for lawmakers, but they have taken on fresh urgency. With Democrats running Congress and Mr. Bush's troop increase due for an intense re-evaluation in September, roughly 50 lawmakers have tromped through Iraq this summer, and their impressions are having a profound effect on the debate. [complete article]

Comment -- I don't imagine Congressional tourism is much different from tourism in general: it's about the convenience packaging of experience for those who lack the time or interest to accumulate real depth of understanding and a true sense of place.
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Brzezinski embraces Obama over Clinton for president
By Janine Zacharia, Bloomberg, August 24, 2007

Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the most influential foreign-policy experts in the Democratic Party, threw his support behind Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, saying the Illinois senator has a better global grasp than his chief rival, Hillary Clinton.

Obama "recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America's role in the world," Brzezinski said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital with Al Hunt." [complete article]
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Spying program may be tested by terror case
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, August 26, 2007

The case is significant in a second way, as a vivid illustration of a new form of pre-emptive law enforcement intended to stop terrorism before it happens, even at the expense of charges of entrapment.

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has an obligation to use all available investigative tools," prosecutors wrote in a brief urging the court to impose harsh sentences in February, "including a sting operation, to remove those ready and willing to help terrorists from our streets."

The lead prosecutor, William C. Pericak, an assistant United States attorney, said the sting had worked perfectly.

"You can't put a percentage on how likely these guys would have been to commit an act of terrorism," Mr. Pericak said in an interview in his office at the federal courthouse here. "But if a terrorist came to Albany, my opinion is that these guys would have assisted 100 percent." [complete article]

Comment -- The idea of "pre-emptive law enforcement" comes straight out of movies like "Minority Report" (representing a future in which criminals are caught before they've committed a crime). Anyone who finds comfort in this kind of security should kiss goodbye to democracy. This approach to national security doesn't present the risk of leading to an authoritarian state; it exemplifies the operation of such a state.
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Israelis said to be mediating between Hamas and Fatah
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, August 26, 2007

The London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported Sunday that Israeli mediators are involved in efforts to reconcile rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

The southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by MK Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur, is involved in the mediation efforts, according to the report.

The newspaper also reported that the Hamas leadership is considering an initiative proposing it hand back Gaza Strip security compounds seized from Fatah in June in order to achieve reconciliation with the rival group. [complete article]

Abbas opposes exchange of populated territory with Israel
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, August 26, 2007

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday he opposes the exchange of populated territory between Israel and the PA within the framework of a peace deal.

At a meeting with Hadash Chairman MK Mohammad Barakeh,
Abbas stated he is against a final status accord under which areas in Israel containing Arab Israelis would become part of a future Palestinian state's territory. This would be in return for settlement blocs in the West Bank remaining under Israeli sovereignty. [complete article]
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Taliban raise poppy production to a record again
By David Rohde, New York Times, August 26, 2007

Afghanistan produced record levels of opium in 2007 for the second straight year, led by a staggering 45 percent increase in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province, according to a new United Nations survey to be released Monday.

The report is likely to touch off renewed debate about the United States' $600 million counternarcotics program in Afghanistan, which has been hampered by security challenges and endemic corruption within the Afghan government.

"I think it is safe to say that we should be looking for a new strategy," said William B. Wood, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, commenting on the report's overall findings. "And I think that we are finding one." [complete article]
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Has Iran paused its uranium enrichment program?
By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy, August 25, 2007

Iran appears not to have significantly expanded its uranium enrichment program this summer, a development that has many experts wondering whether the threat of sanctions finally has had an impact on the Iranian government.

Experts won't know for sure if Iran has paused its program until a report this week from a team of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, who were in Iran last week for the third round of inspections this summer. A public debate on the report is scheduled for the IAEA's Sept. 10 meeting.

But after five years of frustration at a lack of Iranian cooperation, those who closely follow Iran's nuclear program believe that Iran's resumption of IAEA inspections coupled with the apparent halt in expansion may signal that the Islamic Republic is willing to compromise. [complete article]
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Dissent threatens U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal
By Emily Wax and Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post, August 26, 2007

After two years of painstaking negotiations, a historic nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and India appears to be unraveling as a broad spectrum of political parties calls on the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to scrap the deal, saying it limits the country's sovereignty in energy and foreign policy matters.

The landmark accord that just weeks ago looked like a major foreign policy triumph for this energy-starved subcontinent has become a political liability for India's fragile ruling coalition.

The brouhaha over the deal has surprised some nuclear analysts in Washington, partly because the Bush administration was widely perceived as having caved in to key Indian demands. The administration had assured the government here that it could receive uninterrupted nuclear supplies from the United States and maintain the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel -- a potentially dangerous prospect because reprocessing technology can also be used to make weapons-grade plutonium. To many Western observers, India already had the upper hand in the deal, a testament to its growing international influence. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

Maliki's fate and America's
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 24, 2007

Pitching the imperial republic
By Juan Cole, TomDispatch, August 23, 2007

The sole superpower in decline
By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch, August 20, 2007

Asking the wrong questions on Iran
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 21, 2007

The Terrorism Index
Center for American Progress, August 20, 2007

No refuge here: Iraqis flee, but where?
By Joseph Huff-Hannon, Dissent, Summer, 2007

Hamas is ready to talk
By Mousa Abu Marzook, The Guardian, August 16, 2007
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