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The myth of AQI
By Andrew Tilghman, Washington Monthly, October, 2007

This scenario [in Iraq] has become common. After a strike, the military rushes to point the finger at al-Qaeda, even when the actual evidence remains hazy and an alternative explanation -- raw hatred between local Sunnis and Shiites -- might fit the circumstances just as well. The press blasts such dubious conclusions back to American citizens and policy makers in Washington, and the incidents get tallied and quantified in official reports, cited by the military in briefings in Baghdad. The White House then takes the reports and crafts sound bites depicting AQI as the number one threat to peace and stability in Iraq. (In July, for instance, at Charleston Air Force Base, the president gave a speech about Iraq that mentioned al-Qaeda ninety-five times.)

By now, many in Washington have learned to discount the president's rhetorical excesses when it comes to the war. But even some of his harshest critics take at face value the estimates provided by the military about AQI's presence. Politicians of both parties point to such figures when forming their positions on the war. All of the top three Democratic presidential candidates have argued for keeping some American forces in Iraq or the region, citing among other reasons the continued threat from al-Qaeda.

But what if official military estimates about the size and impact of al-Qaeda in Iraq are simply wrong? Indeed, interviews with numerous military and intelligence analysts, both inside and outside of government, suggest that the number of strikes the group has directed represent only a fraction of what official estimates claim. Further, al-Qaeda's presumed role in leading the violence through uniquely devastating attacks that catalyze further unrest may also be overstated.

Having been led astray by flawed prewar intelligence about WMDs, official Washington wants to believe it takes a more skeptical view of the administration's information now. Yet Beltway insiders seem to be making almost precisely the same mistakes in sizing up al-Qaeda in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- The tendency to overstate the size of the al Qaeda threat in Iraq mirrors an exaggerated view of the threat from global terrorism. The simple fact that we can speak of "global" terrorism or jihadist terrorism as though these were phenomena vast in breadth and depth, reflects the extent to which distortions have become deeply embedded in our language and perceptions. Why is it that we should be more concerned (or even as concerned) about terrorism than we should be about international crime, corruption in government, the multiplicity of ways in which corporate interests undermine and threaten the functioning of democracy, the loss of endangered cultures, and the threat to life itself posed by an unfolding global environmental catastrophe?

Fearmongering Islamophobes such as Norman Podhoretz and Daniel Pipes claim that World War IV has already begun and that Islamists pose a greater threat to the West than did either the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Pipes says that:
If Islamists constitute 10 percent to 15 percent of the Muslim population worldwide, they number some 125 million to 200 million persons, or a far greater total than all the fascists and communists, combined, who ever lived.
One wonders, if he perceives the enemy constituted in such a large body of people, how does he imagine it can be neutralized? Genocide, internment, massive repression, or a combination of all possible means?

The alerts from the Islamophobes sound like hysteria boiling up inside febrile brains, but I sense they come from a different source. The clue comes from the fact that the alarmists, by and large, exhibit an unusual calmness. How could someone be genuinely alarmed yet maintain the smug confidence of a man such as Benjamin Netanyahu ("It's 1938 and Iran is Germany")? Those ringing the alarm bells that are meant to alert us to the possible demise of the West, exude their calm confidence for two reasons. They neither believe what they say nor doubt that it will provoke sufficient fear for it to be widely accepted as truth. They have the confidence of accomplished liars.

As for the William F. Buckleys out there who would argue that I am minimizing or dismissing the risk posed by the possibility of nuclear terrorism, I would simply say, nuclear weapons in and of themselves pose an unacceptable risk to the world. The measures through which nuclear terrorism can be prevented, should be pursued, but ultimately the only way of eliminating the nuclear threat from terrorists or anyone else will be through global nuclear disarmament -- a goal much more practical and realistic than the goal of eradicating terrorism.
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From al-Qaeda to al-Quds
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, September 7, 2007

In 2002, in the runup to the war against Iraq, the George W Bush administration changed the subject from its failure to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

In 2007, in the run-up to the coming war against Iran, the administration has changed the subject from its abject failure in Iraq to Iran's also non-existent nuclear weapons. The manufacture-of-consent techniques are exactly the same - the apocalyptic 2007 Bush forecast of an Iranian-orchestrated "nuclear holocaust", echoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's apocalyptic 2002 prediction of a Saddam Hussein-orchestrated "mushroom cloud".

Vastly experienced European diplomats, from Paris to the European Union headquarters in Brussels, confess their helplessness and impotence. They also confirm off the record that Bush's brand-new European poodle, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is convinced the US president will order the bombing of Iran's nuclear sites –not to mention general infrastructure. A number of chancelleries are already working under this premise. [complete article]
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A prosecutorial brief against Israel and its supporters
By William Grimes, New York Times, September 6, 2007

Slowly, deliberately and dispassionately Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt [-- authors of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" --] lay out the case for a ruthlessly realistic Middle East policy that would make Israel nothing more than one of many countries in the region. On those occasions when Israel's interests coincide with America's, it should count on American support, but otherwise not. What Americans fail to understand, the authors argue, is that most of the time the two countries' interests are opposed.

The reason they do not realize this, Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt insist, can be explained quite simply: The Israel lobby makes sure of it. Working closely with members of Congress, public-policy organizations and journals of opinion, energetic, well-financed groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee, along with dozens of political-action committees, perpetuate the myth, as the authors see it, of Israel as an isolated, beleaguered state surrounded by enemies and in need of America's unstinting financial and military support.

This lobby is particularly adept at stifling debate before it begins, the authors argue. "Whether the issue is abortion, arms control, affirmative action, gay rights, the environment, trade policy, health care, immigration or welfare, there is almost always a lively debate on Capitol Hill," they write. "But where Israel is concerned, potential critics fall silent and there is hardly any debate at all." [complete article]
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So, is real debate over Israel possible on the Hill?
By Hilary Leila Krieger, Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2007

...when it comes to Capitol Hill, the focus of many of the Jewish and pro-Israel groups named by Walt and Mearsheimer, even some of those organizations say that it's very rare to hear criticism of Israel or of US policy toward it.

While a few of these groups object to a climate they describe as shutting down debate that would actually be good for Israel, others argue that the limited criticism merely highlights the many reasons for the strong US-Israel relationship and itself rebuts the professors' scurrilous charges.

"There is no debate," said M.J. Rosenberg, director of the Washington office of the Israel Policy Forum, a left-wing organization that pushes for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Then he corrected himself, saying, "The debate is like this: 'I like Israel.' 'Well, I like Israel more.' The next one gets up and says, 'I don't like the Palestinians.' And the next one, 'I don't like the Palestinians more.'"

Rosenberg said there was no other topic on Capitol Hill, a place where contentious issues such as Iraq and gun control are regularly thrashed out, for which words are chosen so carefully.

"Members of Congress are so careful about what they say so as not to anger various pro-Israel organizations," said Rosenberg, who added that he had not read the Walt-Mearsheimer book, due out September 4.

A long-time congressional staffer, Rosenberg said Congressmen who didn't express support for Israel, mostly in the form of votes against nonbinding resolutions, would be faced with a deluge of lobbyists.

"It is easier to debate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Knesset than in the Congress," said another longtime observer of Capitol Hill, who spoke on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

CNN comes under unprecedented attack
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, September 5, 2007

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which represents more than 50 national Jewish organizations, convened a special discussion with its members following the airing of the program [-- CNN's three-episode special, "God's Warriors" --] last month, and has urged them to take up the issue with companies that have bought advertising slots during the show.

In the past, there have been widespread complaints about the media's treatment of Israel, but this appears to be the first time that so many organizations have come together in opposition to a single media outlet.

"This was not an average show," said Jennifer Laszlo-Mizrahi, founder of The Israel Project. "CNN bought full-page ads promoting the show and ran it on prime time. The perspective the show left the viewers with is that Israel doesn't want peace and that Israel's friends in the United States don't want peace." The Israel Project, a group focused on providing information to the press and the public about Israel, broke a five-year tradition of not reacting to media reports on Israel and put out a press release about the Amanpour show, detailing Israel's efforts to promote peace in the region.
The vigorous response appears to be due, at least in part, to the coincidence of the program's screening just before the release of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," a book by scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The book levies serious charges against the power of the Jewish lobby which, it states, influences the United States to choose a foreign policy in favor of Israel against its own interest. [complete article]
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Bush knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, September 6, 2007

Both the French intelligence service and the CIA paid [Naji] Sabri [-- Saddam's foreign minister --] hundreds of thousands of dollars (at least $200,000 in the case of the CIA) to give them documents on Saddam's WMD programs. "The information detailed that Saddam may have wished to have a program, that his engineers had told him they could build a nuclear weapon within two years if they had fissile material, which they didn't, and that they had no chemical or biological weapons," one of the former CIA officers told me.

On the eve of Sabri's appearance at the United Nations in September 2002 to present Saddam's case, the officer in charge of this operation met in New York with a "cutout" who had debriefed Sabri for the CIA. Then the officer flew to Washington, where he met with CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, who was "excited" about the report. Nonetheless, McLaughlin expressed his reservations. He said that Sabri's information was at odds with "our best source." That source was code-named "Curveball," later exposed as a fabricator, con man and former Iraqi taxi driver posing as a chemical engineer.

The next day, Sept. 18, Tenet briefed Bush on Sabri. "Tenet told me he briefed the president personally," said one of the former CIA officers. According to Tenet, Bush's response was to call the information "the same old thing." Bush insisted it was simply what Saddam wanted him to think. "The president had no interest in the intelligence," said the CIA officer. The other officer said, "Bush didn't give a fuck about the intelligence. He had his mind made up." [complete article]
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How to change Iraq
By Madeleine K. Albright, Washington Post, September 6, 2007

The threshold question in any war is: What are we fighting for? Our troops, especially, deserve a convincing answer.

In Iraq, the list of missions that were tried on but didn't fit includes: protection from weapons of mass destruction, creating a model democracy in the Arab world, punishing those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and stopping terrorists from catching the next plane to New York. The latest mission, linked to the "surge" of troops this year, was to give Iraqi leaders the security and maneuvering room needed to make stabilizing political arrangements -- which they have thus far shown little interest in doing.

A cynic might suggest that the military's real mission is to enable President Bush to continue denying that his invasion has evolved into disaster. A less jaded view might identify three goals: to prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for al-Qaeda, a client state of Iran or a spark that inflames regionwide war. These goals respond not to dangers that prompted the invasion but to those that resulted from it. Our troops are being asked to risk their lives to solve problems our civilian leaders created. The president is beseeching us to fear failure, but he has yet to explain how our military can succeed given Iraq's tangled politics and his administration's lack of credibility. [complete article]
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Experts doubt drop in violence in Iraq
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, September 6, 2007

The U.S. military's claim that violence has decreased sharply in Iraq in recent months has come under scrutiny from many experts within and outside the government, who contend that some of the underlying statistics are questionable and selectively ignore negative trends.

Reductions in violence form the centerpiece of the Bush administration's claim that its war strategy is working. In congressional testimony Monday, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks. According to senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month. Unofficial Iraqi figures show a similar decrease. [complete article]

Iraqi Army unable to take over within a year, report says
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, September 6, 2007

Iraq's army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven," according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.

The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is "dysfunctional" and is "a ministry in name only." The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

Although citing recent "tactical success" and favorable "strategic implications" resulting from the Bush administration's current war strategy, the commission recommends that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning internal security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies. [complete article]
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Who lost Iraq?
By James Dobbins, Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2007

In the aftermath of national catastrophes, people have a natural tendency to look for an explanation based on a single point of failure. Such explanations are often unhelpful in devising subsequent policy. Simplistic lessons drawn from World War I persuaded the United States to embrace isolationism and Europe appeasement, both of which contributed to World War II. The lesson many Americans drew from not opposing Hitler sooner -- "no more Munichs" -- became a powerful rationale for the United States' entanglement in Vietnam in the 1960s. The subsequent national rejection of counterinsurgency missions -- "no more Vietnams" -- greatly hampered U.S. military performance in Iraq. If the current debate over the United States' failure in Iraq is to yield constructive results, it will have to go beyond bumper-sticker conclusions -- no more preemption, no more democracy promotion, no more nation building. [complete article]
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How I didn't dismantle Iraq's army
By Paul L. Bremer III, New York Times, September 6, 2007

It has become conventional wisdom that the decision to disband Saddam Hussein's army was a mistake, was contrary to American prewar planning and was a decision I made on my own. In fact the policy was carefully considered by top civilian and military members of the American government. And it was the right decision.

By the time Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003, the Iraqi Army had simply dissolved. On April 17 Gen. John Abizaid, the deputy commander of the Army's Central Command, reported in a video briefing to officials in Washington that "there are no organized Iraqi military units left." The disappearance of Saddam Hussein's old army rendered irrelevant any prewar plans to use that army. So the question was whether the Coalition Provisional Authority should try to recall it or to build a new one open to both vetted members of the old army and new recruits. General Abizaid favored the second approach.

In the weeks after General Abizaid's recommendation, the coalition's national security adviser, Walter Slocombe, discussed options with top officials in the Pentagon, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. They recognized that to recall the former army was a practical impossibility because postwar looting had destroyed all the bases. [complete article]
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U.S. trashes Iran agreement at own peril
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, September 7, 2007

This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was thoroughly trashed by the Western media over its recent agreement with Iran, an agreement that, ironically, was warmly embraced by the majority of nations that are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The North-South gap has turned ballistic, and there is no bridge over this troubled water.

"NAM respects the recent report by the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Iran," the Cuban foreign minister and current head of NAM, Felipe Perez Roque, told the press after the conclusion of a two-day NAM summit in Tehran.

The ministerial meeting was a timely shot in the arm for Tehran, which hopes to avoid a new round of United Nations sanctions come this autumn, even though British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned that new sanctions are inevitable if Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program.

Not surprisingly, little if any of the praise for the IAEA heard at the NAM summit has been echoed in the United States, which is keen on maintaining the delicate coalition at the UN that brought the first two anti-Tehran resolutions and yet is concerned that the IAEA's agreement with Iran could, in the words of a Washington Post editorial, give China and Russia "a pretext to resist another UN sanctions resolution". [complete article]

An Iranian balancing act
By Dilip Hiro, The Guardian, September 5, 2007

Though the election of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts is a memorable event, it is unlikely to lead to power struggle between him and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The chairmanship was more a promotion for Rafsanjani than a new position: since the establishment of the assembly in 1982, he had been its deputy chairman.

Even so, it is remarkable how 74-year-old Rafsanjani - whose religious title of hojatalislam ("proof of Islam") is one rank lower than that of ayatollah ("sign of Allah") - has bounced back from his crushing defeat in the presidential contest by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad two years ago.

This is due partly to Ahamdinajad's failure to put oil money on the table of poor Iranians as he had promised, and partly to Iranian voters' proclivity to rectify a lurch to extremism, be it of the conservative or liberal hue. [complete article]
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The question is, how will Damascus respond?
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, September 6, 2007

Much has been said about and written on this year's "hot summer" in the Middle East. Indeed, Israel, on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon one the other, have spent the past few months disseminating reports and rumors about preparations for war, while simultaneously issuing warnings to the opposite side.

And today we were party to the first significant military escalation in the region for more than a year. But is this the outbreak of war?

According to reports in Syria, this was clearly an isolated incident, not part of a battle or war. Nevertheless, it does raise a number of questions. [complete article]
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Israel's "reckless indifference"
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, September 6, 2007

Human Rights Watch today released a detailed examination of Israel's conduct during last summer's 34-day war with Hezbollah.

And the conclusions are stark:

"In critical respects, Israel conducted the war with reckless indifference to the fate of Lebanese civilians and violated the laws of war," the report states in its executive summary.

Release of this critical study comes one week after Human Rights Watch issued a separate report on Hezbollah's conduct during the war.

In that report, Human Rights Watch determined that there was "strong evidence" that "some Hezbollah commanders and members were responsible for war crimes" for indiscriminately launching rockets at Israeli civilians during the war.

Civilian deaths, especially on the Lebanese side, were one of the biggest issues during last summer's war. Israel repeatedly expressed regret about the large number of innocent Lebanese civilians killed. But Israeli leaders said they were forced to respond when Hezbollah fighters fired rockets at Israel from towns and villages in southern Lebanon.

But the Human Rights Watch investigation found little evidence to support Israel's claims that Hezbollah was routinely using the civilian population as a human shield.

"Out of the 499 Lebanese civilian casualties of whom Human Rights Watch was able to confirm the age and gender, 302 were women or children," the authors write. "This repeated failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants cannot be explained as mere mismanagement of the war or a collection of mistakes. Our case studies show that Israeli policy was primarily responsible for this deadly failure."

During the war, more than 1,100 Lebanese were killed by Israeli air strikes. The "vast majority," Human Rights Watch found, were civilians.

By contrast, 43 Israeli civilians and 12 Israeli soldiers were killed by the more than 4,000 Hezbollah rocket strikes on northern Israel. [complete article]
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The Pakistani road to German terror
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, September 7, 2007

Once again, fingers are being pointed at Pakistan over terror suspects being trained in the country. Men linked to the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London transport system, and others in separate incidents, have been said to have ties to Pakistan, and on Wednesday German prosecutors stated that three men they had arrested on suspicion of planning "massive" attacks in the country had trained at camps in Pakistan.

Two of the men are German nationals who have converted to Islam, while the third is Turkish. German officials said they belonged to a cell of the Sunni Islamic Jihad Union, an al-Qaeda-linked group that is believed to be an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which was active in Afghanistan. Its leader, Tahir Yuldashev, is based in Pakistan.

It is entirely possible that the men trained in Pakistan, in which case their teacher would have been al-Qaeda commander Abu Hanifah, who has a base in the town of Mir Ali in the North Waziristan tribal area. [complete article]
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The next quagmire
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, September 3, 2007

The most effective diplomats, like the most effective intelligence officers and foreign correspondents, possess empathy. They have the intellectual, cultural and linguistic literacy to get inside the heads of those they must analyze or cover. They know the vast array of historical, religious, economic and cultural antecedents that go into making up decisions and reactions. And because of this -- endowed with the ability to communicate and more able to find ways of resolving conflicts through diplomacy -- they are less prone to blunders.

But we live in an age where dialogue is dismissed and empathy is suspect. We prefer the illusion that we can dictate events through force. It hasn't worked well in Iraq. It hasn't worked well in Afghanistan. And it won't work in Iran. But those who once tried to reach out and understand, who developed expertise to explain the world to us and ourselves to the world, no longer have a voice in the new imperial project. We are instead governed and informed by moral and intellectual trolls. [complete article]

Comment -- In the era during which dialogue has been posited as a reward for "good behavior", there has always been a paradox. Those who supposedly we should view with most fear are also regarded by the opponents of dialogue as objects of contempt. This contempt betrays the fabrication of fear. Were the fear not in truth overblown, it would be balanced by respect. The wise have always respected their enemies. If we don't respect ours, perhaps it's because they are not as dangerous as we are meant to believe.
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Iraq, Israel, Iran
By David Bromwich, Huffington Post, September 4, 2007

When John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's article on the Israel Lobby appeared in the London Review of Books, after having been commissioned and killed by the Atlantic Monthly, neoconservative publicists launched an all-out campaign to slander the authors as anti-Semites. Now that their book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy has appeared--a work of considerable scope, carefully documented, and not just an expanded version of the article--the imputation of anti-Semitism will doubtless be repeated more sparingly for readers lower down the educational ladder. Meanwhile, the literate establishment press will (a) ignore it, (b) pretend that it says nothing new or surprising, and (c) rule out the probable inferences from the data, on the ground that the very meaning of the word "lobby" is elusive.

The truth is that many new facts are in this book, and many surprising facts. By reconstructing a trail of meetings and public statements in 2001-2002, for example, the authors show that much of the leadership of Israel was puzzled at first by the boyish enthusiasm for a war on Iraq among their neoconservative allies. Why Iraq? they asked. Why now? They would appear to have obtained assurances, however, that once the "regime change" in Iraq was accomplished, the next war would be against Iran. [complete article]
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Conscience of a conservative
By Jeffrey Rosen, New York Times, September 9, 2007

[Jack L. Goldsmith was head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from October 2003 until he resigned in June 2004. His new book, "The Terror Presidency," will be published later this month.]

In Goldsmith's estimation, the unnecessary unilateralism of the Bush administration reached its apex in the controversy over wiretapping and secret surveillance. Goldsmith says he did not originally intend to mention the surveillance controversy in his book. But he says he was infuriated, soon before finishing his manuscript, to be handed a subpoena in Cambridge by F.B.I. agents ordering him to testify in a criminal investigation into the leaks that resulted in stories by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau in The New York Times about the National Security Agency's warrentless wiretapping. After having a public conversation with the F.B.I. in the middle of Harvard Square about aspects of the terrorist-surveillance program, Goldsmith concluded he could discuss the same topics in his book.

Goldsmith emphasizes that he was not opposed to investigating the leak, which he agreed with President Bush did "great harm to the nation." In addition, he shared the White House's concern that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act might prevent wiretaps on international calls involving terrorists. But Goldsmith deplored the way the White House tried to fix the problem, which was highly contemptuous of Congress and the courts. "We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court," Goldsmith recalls [David] Addington [then Vice President Cheney's legal adviser and is now his chief of staff] telling him in February 2004.
Comment -- Addington's "one bomb away" remark makes it clear that those inside the administration who professed the greatest eagerness to sharpen the instruments for fighting terrorism were fully aware that acts of terrorism would help them accomplish their purpose. That doesn't imply a conspiracy but reveals the extent to which terrorism and counter-terrorism can become mutually reinforcing enterprises.
In Goldsmith's view, an indifference to the political process has ultimately made Bush a less effective wartime leader than his greatest predecessors. Surprisingly, Bush, who is not a lawyer, allowed far more legalistic positions in the war on terror to be adopted in his name, without bothering to try to persuade Congress and the public that his positions were correct. "I don't know if President Bush understood how extreme some of the arguments were about executive power that some people in his administration were making," Goldsmith told me. "It's hard to know how he would know."

The Bush administration's legalistic "go-it-alone approach," Goldsmith suggests, is the antithesis of Lincoln and Roosevelt's willingness to collaborate with Congress. Bush, he argues, ignored the truism that presidential power is the power to persuade. "The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense," Goldsmith concludes in his book. "This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise." [complete article]

Comment -- Behind an approach that eschews politics there ultimately seems to have been a drive to end politics and disable all forms of political opposition and dissent.
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No relief from fear
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, September 5, 2007

Driven by fear and desperation, Um Abdullah's parents, who are Sunnis, swapped homes with a Shiite family they have known for years. Her parents moved to a section of Baghdad's Saidiya neighborhood controlled by Sunni insurgents. And their friends moved into her family home in the Risala area, controlled by Shiite militias. Each family left behind their furniture, so they could move swiftly and in secret.

It seemed a perfect solution in a capital whose polarization along sectarian lines has deepened this year, despite the influx of 30,000 U.S. military reinforcements. But within days of the arrival of Um Abdullah's parents two months ago, Shiite militias pushed deeper into Saidiya, driving out hundreds of Sunni families. The parents' fear returned.

"If they leave their house in Saidiya, that means they will lose their house in Risala because they made the exchange," said Um Abdullah, who would allow only her nickname to be used because of safety concerns. "My parents feel trapped." [complete article]
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Bush's new friends: The Sunnis
By Mark Benjamin, Slate, September 5, 2007

With little progress toward national political reconciliation in Baghdad, and Congress poised to reassess the troop surge, the Bush administration is maneuvering to spin its Iraq strategy in a different direction. Essentially, the argument now goes that instead of sectarian reconciliation from the capital, all politics is local. A series of handshake truces between the U.S. military and Sunni tribes -- including some who not long ago fought as insurgents -- is at the heart of the approach to bringing greater stability to Iraq.

"At some point, there was a switch in the terms of reference for how we evaluate this surge," says Brian Katulis at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. "It was that we were going to get the politics running at the national level. Now the key is local progress. It is not national progress." [complete article]

Comment -- Like everyone else, the Sunni tribal leaders see the writing on the wall: it won't be long before the Americans start clearing out. Anticipating the loss of a buffer between them and a Shia-dominated Iraqi military/militias, it's natural that the tribal leaders would want aid from a power that will soon pose no threat. At the same time, whatever the Sunnis might tell Bush ("They were profuse in their praise for America," he told reporters on Air Force One), this newfound "friendship" rests much more firmly on mutual suspicion than mutual interests.
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Conquering sectarianism: Can Ulster be a model for Iraq?
By David McKittrick, The Independent, September 5, 2007

In a way there is hardly a better figure than Martin McGuinness to take the lead in an extraordinary session of Iraqi peace talks which, it has just emerged, secretly took place in Helsinki.

The 16 representatives of Sunni and Shia factions who for four days, sat together in uneasy proximity, know that Mr McGuinness, now Northern Ireland's number two public figure, was an IRA commander.

So when he told them that violence should cease and that inclusive dialogue was the way ahead, they listened. In addition, they agreed a set of principles as a basis for further talks.

While it is an exaggeration to characterise this, as Mr McGuinness has, as "a tremendous breakthrough", it is surely encouraging that the round of talks did not end in bitter recriminations and angry walkouts. [complete article]
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German police arrest 3 in terrorist plot
By Mark Landler, New York Times, September 5, 2007

The German police have arrested three Islamic militants suspected of planning large-scale terrorist attacks against several sites frequented by Americans, including discos, bars, airports, and military installations.

Those arrested -- two German citizens and a Turkish resident of Germany -- were in advanced stages of plotting bomb attacks that could have been deadlier than the terrorist strikes that killed dozens in London and Madrid, police and security officials said Wednesday. At least five lesser figures were still being pursued, they said.

"They were planning massive attacks," the German federal prosecutor, Monika Harms, said at a news conference Wednesday, outlining an intense six-month investigation. She said the suspects had amassed large amounts of hydrogen peroxide, the main chemical used to manufacture the explosives used in the suicide bombings in London in July 2005. [complete article]
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Jihadis strike back at Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, September 6, 2007

The US-inspired move to stabilize Pakistan by bringing together the exiled liberal and secular former premier Benazir Bhutto and President General Pervez Musharraf to form a national-consensus government indicates Washington's overriding desire to maintain Pakistan as an important base in the "war on terror", as well as to secure large infrastructure projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The idea has taken firm root, with talks between representatives of Musharraf and Bhutto continuing, and an announcement expected within a couple of days. No opposition alliance, whether it be the six-party religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or the All Parties Democratic Movement, is in a position to threaten the government.

No political opposition, that is.

Al-Qaeda members based in the Pakistani tribal areas of South Waziristan and North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan see this development as a serious challenge to their survival. In response, they have drawn together the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, jihadist groups and, last but not least, a significant number in the Pakistani security forces to "nip the evil in bud". [complete article]

Musharraf considers state of emergency
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, September 5, 2007

A top adviser to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged Tuesday that the general's options for staying in power are increasingly bleak and said that a declaration of emergency is being considered as a way of keeping him in office.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, said that while a complete military takeover under martial law had been ruled out, a state of emergency that would allow for the postponement of elections for up to a year and the curtailment of individual liberties was still on the table. "Martial law is a very harsh word," Hussain said in an interview. "Emergency rule is not so harsh."

The comments came on the same day that nearly simultaneous bombs tore through a market and a bus in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, killing 25 people and injuring more than 60 others in attacks that seemed to target the Pakistani military. The bus, operated by the Defense Ministry, was taking employees of Pakistan's influential Inter-Services Intelligence branch to work, according to witnesses and officials. [complete article]
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Central government loses clout to regions; Bush skips Baghdad
By Yochi J. Dreazen, Philip Shishkin, and Greg Jaffe, Wall Street Journal, September 4, 2007

In the latest move in the strategy, American commanders are trying to export recent success co-opting Sunni sheiks to the much more strategically important Shiite tribes. American commanders for the first time are pushing these leaders to turn against extremists from their own sect, much like U.S. officers have convinced Sunni chiefs to turn against Sunni extremists in places like Anbar. Among the Shiite tribes south of Baghdad, the Americans' weapon of choice has become the "concerned citizens" agreement. A typical deal involves the U.S. forking over a monthly payment of $350 per tribal guard willing to fight. The money is channeled through local sheiks who in return promise to keep their areas safe from attacks against Americans.

Conversely, senior military officials are worrying less about the dysfunctional central government that has been the focus of so much effort in the U.S. military and political strategy over the last three years. The change is the simple outgrowth of what the summer surge of more than 30,000 troops into Iraq has wrought. The U.S. has been most successful in areas where it has taken an intensely local approach, working with local leaders who share U.S. goals.

The logical result of the new policy is a profound shift away from the Bush administration's original goal of building a multisectarian democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Instead, the new strategy seems likely to lead to an Iraq with a very weak central government and largely self-governing and homogenous regions. Over the long term the goal is to connect these local leaders to the central government by making them dependent on Baghdad for funds. To qualify for U.S. assistance, local groups must pledge loyalty to the central government, though many Sunni leaders who are working with the U.S. complain the Shiite dominated government is illegitimate.

Some military officials say the local focus seems to be leading to an outcome that looks similar to the "soft partition" or federalism approach advocated by a growing number of Democrats, including Joseph Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a longshot candidate for president. Senior Bush administration officials, of course, have never used the phrase "soft partition." Instead President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates often refer to the new approach as "bottom-up reconciliation." Yesterday the president expressed hope that the military successes would "pave the way for political reconciliation." [complete article]

Comment -- Bush's willingness to travel to the isolated reaches of Anbar in search of the holy grail of "success" presents the ultimate irony: He has become so desperate to find something upon which he can pin that name that he now seems willing to watch Iraq itself fall apart in the process.

Troop buildup fails to reconcile Iraq
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, September 4, 2007

Anbar also represents just one particularly homogenous Sunni Arab slice. There is no indication that progress made there can be replicated on a grand enough scale to have a nationwide effect.

"It's always easy to get the prospective loser in a civil war to agree to a cease-fire," said Stephen Biddle, a counterinsurgency expert at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised military commanders in Iraq. Sunnis are a minority and far more open to switching loyalties if it ensures them a future stake in governing Iraq, he said.

"It's a lot tougher to get the prospective winner to agree to a cease-fire," Biddle said, referring to the majority Shiites. "Getting them to sign on is going to be harder because they see themselves in ascendancy." [complete article]

Weighing the 'surge'
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, September 4, 2007

For months, top commanders and Bush administration officials have said that sectarian violence is down, although some U.S. agencies disagree, according to a recent draft report by the Government Accountability Office. Commanders and officials say attacks are also down against U.S. troops in once-treacherous regions such as Anbar province. This year, more than 100 joint security stations and smaller combat outposts have been erected in neighborhoods and villages across the country, which generals say is an indicator that U.S. and Iraqi troops maintain control.

If there is one indisputable truth regarding the current offensive, it is this: When large numbers of U.S. troops are funneled into areas, security improves. But the numbers only partly describe the reality on the ground. Visits to key U.S. bases and neighborhoods in and around Baghdad show that recent improvements are sometimes tenuous, temporary, even illusory. [complete article]

Many trainees are complicit with 'enemy targets'
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, September 4, 2007

Building up the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces has been a pillar of Gen. David H. Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, but the Iraqi army in Kadhimiyah is so thoroughly infiltrated with Mahdi Army militiamen that U.S. and Iraqi soldiers say it is close to useless. Iraqi soldiers in Kadhimiyah have been arrested and accused of attacking Americans and other Iraqi troops. Those who are not affiliated with the militia, which is loyal to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, tend to be too frightened for their families to pursue their corrupt colleagues. [complete article]

Signing up Sunnis with 'insurgent' on their resumes
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, September 4, 2007

Naiem al-Qaisi was imprisoned for four months, beaten, shocked with electric probes and, he said, forced to witness fellow Sunni male prisoners being raped by Shiite soldiers of the Iraqi army.

Now he wants to be a policeman. The American military recruited Qaisi and thousands like him to fight the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, but Qaisi's most feared enemies are soldiers in the Iraqi army's Muthanna Brigade, and his allegiance does not lie with the government he is now being trained to serve. [complete article]
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On body counts, dead zones, and an empire of stupidity
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, September 4, 2007

Whatever brief respite his August embrace of Vietnam may have given him in the polls, it involved a larger concession on the administration's part. Like its predecessors, the Bush administration and its neocon supporters simply couldn't kick the "Vietnam Syndrome" -- much as they struggled to do so -- any more than a moth could avoid the flame. Now, they found themselves locked in a desperate, hopeless attempt to use Vietnam to recapture the hearts and minds of the American people.

It's possible to track this losing struggle with the Vietnam analogy over these last years. Take one issue –- the body count -- on which we know something about administration Vietnam thinking. For Americans of the Vietnam era, a centuries-old "victory culture" -- in which triumph on some distant frontier against evil enemies was considered an American birthright -- still held sway. In Vietnam, when it nonetheless became clear that the promised frontier victory was, for the second time in little more than a decade, nowhere in sight, American military and civilian officials tried to compensate.

One problem they faced was that the very definition of victory in war -- the taking of terrain, the advance into hostile territory that signaled the crushing of enemy resistance -- had ceased to mean anything in Vietnam. In a guerrilla war in which, as American grunts regularly complained, you couldn't tell friends from enemies, no less hold a hostile countryside, something else had to substitute for the landing at D-Day, the advance on Berlin, the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. And so the "whiz kids" of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's Pentagon and the military high command developed a substitute numerology of victory. [complete article]
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Baghdad's new owners
By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Larry Kaplow, Newsweek, September 10, 2007

It was their last stand. Kamal and a handful of his neighbors were hunkered down on the roof of a dun-colored house in southwest Baghdad two weeks ago as bullets zinged overhead. In the streets below, fighters from Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fanned out and blasted away with AK-47s and PKC heavy machine guns. Kamal is a chubby 44-year-old with two young sons, and he and his friends, all Sunnis, had been fighting similar battles against Shiite militiamen in the Amel neighborhood for months. They jumped awkwardly from rooftop to rooftop, returning fire. Within minutes, however, dozens of uniformed Iraqi policemen poured into the street to support the militiamen. Kamal ditched his AK on a rooftop and snuck away through nearby alleys. He left Amel the next day. "I lost my house, my documents and my future," says Kamal, whose name and that of other Iraqis in this story have been changed for their safety. "I'm never going back."

Thousands of other Sunnis like Kamal have been cleared out of the western half of Baghdad, which they once dominated, in recent months. The surge of U.S. troops—meant in part to halt the sectarian cleansing of the Iraqi capital—has hardly stemmed the problem. The number of Iraqi civilians killed in July was slightly higher than in February, when the surge began. According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually "has increased the IDPs to some extent." [complete article]
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Bush can't recall why Iraqi army disbanded
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2007

One of the most heavily criticized actions in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was the decision, barely two months later, to disband the Iraqi army, alienating former soldiers and driving many straight into the ranks of anti-American militant groups.

But excerpts of a new biography of President Bush show him saying that he initially wanted to maintain the Iraqi army and, more surprising, that he cannot recall why his administration decided to disband it. [complete article]

Envoy's letter counters Bush on dismantling of Iraq Army
By Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times, September 4, 2007

A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to "dissolve Saddam's military and intelligence structures," a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been "to keep the army intact" but that it "didn't happen."

The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents. In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr. Bush's comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and concurrence of the White House. [complete article]

"Dead certain" -- a narrative of the Bush presidency
By Robert Draper, Slate, September 4, 2007

[President Bush:]"... you can't fake it. You have to believe it. And I believe it. I believe we'll succeed."

His hot dog arrived. Bush ate rapidly, with a sort of voracious disinterest. He was a man who required comfort and routine. Food, for him, was fuel and familiarity. It was not a thing to reflect on.

"The job of the president," he continued, through an ample wad of bread and sausage, "is to think strategically so that you can accomplish big objectives. As opposed to playing mini-ball. You can't play mini-ball with the influence we have and expect there to be peace. You've gotta think, think BIG. The Iranian issue," he said as bread crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his chin, "is the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans, because Iran is promoting an extreme form of religion that is competing with another extreme form of religion. Iran's a destabilizing force. And instability in that part of the world has deeply adverse consequences, like energy falling in the hands of extremist people that would use it to blackmail the West. And to couple all of that with a nuclear weapon, then you've got a dangerous situation. ... That's what I mean by strategic thought. I don't know how you learn that. I don't think there's a moment where that happened to me. I really don't. I know you're searching for it. I know it's difficult. I do know -- y'know, how do you decide, how do you learn to decide things? When you make up your mind, and you stick by it -- I don't know that there's a moment, Robert. I really -- You either know how to do it or you don't." [complete article]

Comment -- This is the Axis of Peril: A president who claims he has no recollection of why the Iraqi army was disbanded; who sees himself as a strategic thinker; and who claims that "the Iranian the strategic threat right now facing a generation of Americans." Worst of all, Bush's anti-Iranian rhetoric is freely being parroted by presidential candidates who should know better. Less than a week ago, Barack Obama wrote that Iran "now poses the greatest strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Middle East in a generation."
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Pattern cited in killings of civilians by U.S.
AP, September 4, 2007

Newly released documents regarding crimes committed by United States soldiers against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions.

The documents, released today by the American Civil Liberties Union ahead of a lawsuit, total nearly 10,000 pages of courts-martial summaries, transcripts and military investigative reports about 22 cases. They show repeated examples of troops believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens.

The killings include the drowning of a man soldiers pushed from a bridge into the Tigris River as punishment for breaking curfew, and the suffocation during interrogation of a former Iraqi general believed to be helping insurgents. [complete article]
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Hard times help Iran's leaders tighten their grip
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, September 5, 2007

Rents are soaring, inflation hovers around 17 percent, and 10 million Iranians live below the poverty line. The police shut 20 barbershops for men in Tehran last week because they offered inappropriate hairstyles, and women have been banned from riding bicycles in many places, as a crackdown on social freedoms presses on.

For months now, average Iranians have endured economic hardships, political repression and international isolation as the nation's top officials remain defiant over Iran's nuclear program. But in a country whose leaders see national security, government stability and Islamic values as inextricably entwined, problems that usually would constitute threats to the leadership are instead viewed as an opportunity to secure its rule.

Paradoxically, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's economic missteps and the animosity generated in the West by his aggressive posture on the nuclear issue help Iran's leaders hold back what they see as corrupting foreign influences by increasing the country's economic and political isolation, say economists, diplomats, political analysts, businessmen and clerics interviewed over the past two weeks. Pressure from the West over Iran's nuclear program and its role in Iraq, including biting economic sanctions, have also empowered those pushing the harder line. [complete article]
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Rafsanjani picked for top leadership role
By Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, September 4, 2007

Iran's Experts Assembly on Tuesday elected Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as its chairman for the next eight years, in a move that could strengthen the former president's position in the political hierarchy.

The role is not an executive one and the assembly meets only twice a year for two days, but the position carries a great deal of influence. The body has the power to supervise, dismiss and elect the country's supreme leader.

"Legally speaking, Mr Rafsanjani is now in a higher position than Ayatollah Khamenei [the supreme leader] but it is early to say how he will use this position," said Ahmad Zeidabadi, a political analyst.

"This promotion certainly strengthens his hand in particular in relation to challenges with the government [of president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad]." [complete article]
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Rumors of Mubarak's death
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, September 2, 2007

Rumors that Hosni Mubarak had died swept through Egyptian discourse over the last ten days. Unable to squelch the rumors, the Egyptian regime had to resort to releasing (fairly unconvincing) pictures of an alive Mubarak and an interview with Mubarak denying the rumors, and then went on a propaganda offensive accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of spreading the rumors in order to foster instability (it later added Hamas and "Arab media" to the list of conspirators ... and, I kid you not, according to al-Ahram is opening an official investigation into the treatment of the rumors by the opposition press).

The best commentary I've yet seen comes from Egyptian columnist Hassan Nafaa, who argued that the incredibly rapid spread of the rumor and the tenor of private discussions about the possibility that it was true carried extremely important lessons about the current state of Egyptian politics. The power of the rumor mill testifies to the lack of credibility of the official media and of the government, since Egyptians clearly did not feel that they could trust the information on offer from those sources. This is not a new story of course, since Egypt's official media have been in a state of free-fall for quite a while. But as Abdullah al-Sanawi argues this is something quite extraordinary: journalists and citizens and politicians trying to find out if their own President was live were resorting to calling foreign ambassadors. As the official media offered statements devoid of any evidence, which people simply didn't trust, the story quickly spread to the Arab satellite television stations like al-Jazeera and from there to the foreign media - but they couldn't get any reliable information out of the regime either. All in all, the episode demonstrates the dangers of a regime's lost credibility and of a corroded official public sphere. [complete article]
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Abbas issues anti-Hamas election rules
By Maher Abukhater and Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2007

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday decreed new election rules intended to make it harder for his faction's Hamas rivals to win the presidency or keep their majority in parliament.

But the move only widened a rift between Abbas' West Bank administration and Hamas forces running the Gaza Strip, complicating any future effort to reunite the Palestinian territories as a single electoral entity.

Hamas called the decree illegal and accused Abbas of abetting U.S. and Israeli aims to sideline the militant Islamic movement.

In elections under the previous rules, Hamas unseated Abbas' long-governing Fatah faction in January 2006 to win control of parliament. The two groups shared power in a government that served Gaza and the West Bank until Hamas gunmen seized Gaza nearly three months ago, driving out Fatah's security forces. [complete article]

Fatah regroups in Gaza, raising tension with Hamas
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, September 4, 2007

Men keep watch from windows, others guard the street as members of Fatah gather discreetly at a comrade's home in the Gaza Strip to discuss the movement's fate since Hamas seized control of the enclave.

They dominated Palestinian politics for decades under Yasser Arafat and are led by his successor as president, Mahmoud Abbas.

But in Gaza, away from their West Bank power base, Fatah members feel like a clandestine opposition after the rout of Abbas's forces in June by the Islamists of Hamas.

Of the 10 men meeting last week, most said they had been detained by Hamas this summer. None would be identified. Three said they had already been tortured -- a feature of mutual recriminations between the factions over the past three months.

Yet there are signs, including public shows of defiance in the past two weeks, that Fatah is regrouping to challenge the new status quo in Gaza. It is a challenge Hamas leaders say they will resist if it resorts to force. With anger running deep on both sides, the potential for renewed bloodletting is clear. [complete article]
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In Padilla interrogation, no checks or balances
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, September 4, 2007

When admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed complained in a Guantanamo Bay hearing earlier this year that he'd been tortured by US interrogators, the presiding military officer assured him the charges would be investigated.

Two US senators who watched the hearing later praised the officer's action. "Allegations of prisoner mistreatment must be taken seriously and properly investigated," Sens. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina and Carl Levin (D) of Michigan said in a joint statement. "To do otherwise would reflect poorly on our nation."

In contrast, when alleged Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla, a US citizen, claimed in 2006 that he had been tortured, no similar effort was undertaken.

No senators called for an investigation or a hearing. No one promised a Defense Department inspector general inquiry or a Justice Department probe. The federal judge then presiding over Mr. Padilla's criminal case in Miami refused to permit further inquiry into the torture allegation, and instead ordered Padilla's lawyers not to raise the issue during trial.

The difference between Mr. Mohammed's experience and Padilla's experience highlights a near total lack of independent oversight involving the secret military detention and interrogation of a US citizen on American soil. [complete article]
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Cut and run: Bush heralds cut in troops as British forces head for exit
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 4, 2007

President George Bush flew into a US airbase in Anbar province in western Iraq yesterday to announce that recent American military successes would allow a reduction in the 160,000-strong US force in Iraq.

He said that, judging by what he had been told by US commander General David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker, "it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."
Addressing cheering troops, Mr Bush insisted troop withdrawal would be based on a "calm assessment by military commanders on the ground not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media".

But he said that the province was an example of what could happen in the rest of Iraq. He had been told a year ago, he said, that the province was lost. "Today Anbar is really a different place," he said.

In reality, the improvement in the US position in Anbar has nothing to do with the surge and the deployment of 30,000 extra American troops. The change in the military situation in the province is a result of a split in the Sunni guerrilla movement between an al-Qa'ida umbrella organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and the rest of the Sunni guerrillas. [complete article]
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Americans pushing to stop Ahmadinejad's Iraq visit
By Basil Adas, Gulf News, September 2, 2007

The expected visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq in what will be the first ever visit of an Iranian president to the country, has split Baghdad government.

Ahmadinejad's remark that Iran is ready to fill the vacuum that would be left after US troops withdraw from Iraq has also put the trip under spotlight.

Sources in Dawa Party, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, revealed that Americans have notified Al Maliki about their reservations towards Ahmadinejad's expected visit. [complete article]
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As 9/11 draws near, a debate rises: How much tribute is enough?
By N.R. Kleinfield, New York Times, September 2, 2007

Again it comes, for the sixth time now -- 2,191 days after that awful morning -- falling for the first time on a Tuesday, the same day of the week.

Again there will be the public tributes, the tightly scripted memorial events, the reflex news coverage, the souvenir peddlers.

Is all of it necessary, at the same decibel level -- still?

Each year, murmuring about Sept. 11 fatigue arises, a weariness of reliving a day that everyone wishes had never happened. It began before the first anniversary of the terrorist attack. By now, though, many people feel that the collective commemorations, publicly staged, are excessive and vacant, even annoying. [complete article]
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Iraqi PM: Criticism 'signals' militants
By Bassen Mroue, AP, September 2, 2007

Iraq's embattled prime minister defended his government Sunday against American critics, saying they underestimate the problems facing this country and fail to appreciate his achievements "such as stopping the civil and sectarian war."

Criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's leadership has been growing in the run-up to this month's series of reports to Congress on political and security progress since President Bush dispatched nearly 30,000 more American troops to Iraq.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have called for al-Maliki to be replaced. [complete article]
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God and maths convince Ahmadinejad Iran is safe
Reuters, September 3, 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says his calculations as an engineer and his belief in God convince him that Iran will not be attacked by Western powers trying to end its nuclear programme.

Iran is under pressure to halt work that the West believes is part of a covert bid to build nuclear warheads. Tehran's denials and refusal to stop have prompted increasingly tough rhetoric from Western leaders, including refusals by Washington to rule out military action.

Ahmadinejad, who regularly chides the West and talks proudly of his academic skills, brushed off the suggestion that force might be used. [complete article]
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U.S. scholar allowed to leave Iran
By Ramin Mostaghim and Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2007

An American scholar accused of promoting revolution in Iran has been allowed to leave the country and reunite with her family in Austria, ending months of protests by human rights groups and heated exchanges between Tehran and Washington.

Haleh Esfandiari, 67, who was released on bail Aug. 21 after four months in prison, was contacted by Iranian authorities Sunday and told to pick up her passport, her lawyer told reporters today. She flew out of Tehran and arrived in Austria, where her sister lives, to rejoin her husband, Shaul Bakhash, a historian at George Mason University in Virginia. [complete article]
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Mearshimer, Walt and the erudite hysteria of David Remnick
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 31, 2007

First, an illustrative anecdote: A little over a year ago, Iraq's prime minister Nuri al-Maliki arrived in Washington and addressed Congress. The event was supposed to be a booster for the elected Iraqi leadership, showing U.S. support for the new government. But at the time, Israel was pummeling Beirut in response to Hizballah's capture of two Israeli soldiers, so U.S. legislators naively tried -- and failed -- to get Maliki to condemn Hizballah. And, revealing the extent to which Washington is encased in a bubble when it comes to matters involving Israel in the Middle East, Senators Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin wrote Maliki a letter saying the following: "Your failure to condemn Hezbollah's aggression and recognize Israel's right to defend itself raise serious questions about whether Iraq under your leadership can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing stability to the Middle East."

To cut bluntly to the chase, there is scarcely a single politician in the Arab world willing to endorse Washington's definitions of the problems or the solutions when it comes to Israel’s impact on the region -- and that even among the autocrats with whom the U.S. prefers to work, much less that rare breed that Maliki represents, i.e. a democratically elected leader. It is the U.S. leadership that is in denial about what is needed to create security in the region. [complete article]
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Pentagon 'three-day blitz' plan for Iran
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, September 3, 2007

The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranian' military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for "pinprick strikes" against Iran's nuclear facilities. "They're about taking out the entire Iranian military," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- Beware the summertime blockbuster headline. Truth in advertising would have obliged the Sunday Times to tag a little qualification to this headline's declaration, making it: "Pentagon 'three-day blitz' plan for Iran -- unlikely to happen."

The Times' source on Pentagon planning, Alexis Debat, describes a plan whose sheer scope renders it an unlikely event. This sentence gets left right to the end: "Debat believes the Pentagon's plans for military action involve the use of so much force that they are unlikely to be used and would seriously stretch resources in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Is it possible that Pentagon planners are trying to outmaneuver Cheney by planning an action larger than even he dares contemplate?

On two fronts, one nuclear, Iran is defiant
By Michael Slackman and Nazila Fathi, New York Times, September 3, 2007

Iran's leaders issued dual, defiant statements on Sunday, with the president announcing that the nation had 3,000 active centrifuges to enrich uranium and the top ayatollah appointing a new Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander who once advocated military force against students.

The pairing of the messages, just days after the United Nations' top nuclear official said Iran was striking conciliatory poses, appeared intended to reaffirm the country's refusal to back down to pressure from the United States over its nuclear program and its role in Iraq, political analysts in Iran said. And it came as the Bush administration was celebrating progress in its talks with North Korea to shut down that country's nuclear programs.

Indeed, the timing and tone of Iran's declarations may be more politically significant than their content, particularly in the case of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement that Iran had finally reached its stated goal of developing 3,000 centrifuges. [complete article]
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Ignominious end to futile exercise that cost the UK 168 lives
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 3, 2007

The withdrawal of British forces from Basra Palace, ahead of an expected full withdrawal from the city as early as next month, marks the beginning of the end of one of the most futile campaigns ever fought by the British Army.

Ostensibly, the British will be handing over control of Basra to Iraqi security forces. In reality, British soldiers control very little in Basra, and the Iraqi security forces are largely run by the Shia militias.

The British failure is almost total after four years of effort and the death of 168 personnel. "Basra's residents and militiamen view this not as an orderly withdrawal but rather as an ignominious defeat," says a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "Today, the city is controlled by militias, seemingly more powerful and unconstrained than before." [complete article]
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Lebanese army seizes refugee compound
By Alia Ibrahim, Washington Post, September 3, 2007

The Lebanese army seized control Sunday of a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon after a fierce firefight with members of an al-Qaeda-inspired group, ending a siege that lasted more than three months.

At least 37 Fatah al-Islam fighters were killed as they tried to flee the Nahr al-Bared camp at dawn, according to a security source speaking on condition of anonymity.

Local news media also reported the death of the group's leader, Shaker al-Abssi, citing security and medical sources. Security sources said DNA tests were being run to confirm the death. Abssi, a Palestinian linked to the slain leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had not been seen since early in the fighting. [complete article]
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Jailed Fatah leader Barghouti slams Hamas for 'bloody coup'
AP, September 3, 2007

Imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti harshly criticized Hamas for what he called a bloody coup with its takeover of Gaza in remarks released Monday, urging the Islamic group to accept early elections to settle internal Palestinian differences.

Barghouti said in written answers to questions passed on to him by his lawyer that Hamas is the only exception to a national consensus on holding early elections. The answers were given to The Associated Press early Monday. [complete article]
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