..CENTER FOR WAR, PEACE, AND THE NEWS MEDIA, April 5 - 12, 2006
Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University


 



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INDEX OF RECENT TORTURE DOCUMENTS

 

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TARGET IRAN?

New reports suggest the U.S. has planned a massive air campaign to take down Iran's nuclear facilities, posisbly even using tactical nuclear weapons

Nuking Iran?
Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration, despite its public commitment to diplomacy, is preparing a comprehensive series of air strikes -- that would include using tactical nuclear weapons to penetrate hardened underground facilities -- to eliminate Iran's nuclear facilities, as well as much of its capacity to retaliate. He reports that the fevered thinking at the top of the administration includes a belief on the part of President Bush and Vice President Cheney that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is a "new Hitler" who seeks to eliminate Israel, and that "saving Iran" must be Bush's legacy because none of his successors will have the courage to take the necessary steps. (It is difficult not to ask why these scenarios are being tossed out there, since the White House presumably knows that whereas Hitler actually ran Germany, Ahmedinejad's power in Iran is limited by a structure that puts more than one clerically appointed authority above him in the executive branch -- Iran's security forces don't actually report to their president, but answer instead to the Supreme Leader.)

But what Hersh is reporting involves a lot more than fevered rhetoric. He suggests members of Congress have been briefed on the strike plans, and that there have been resignations at the top tier of the military to express protest against the plans to use nuclear weapons. Military and intelligence personnel are alarmed at the assumption that a massive air strike will humiliate the Iranian leadership and force its collapse. European diplomats warn that the result of such a course of action will be many years of chaos. (The New Yorker, April 10, 2006)

  • The Washington Post's sources echo some of Hersh's claims but they also make clear that part of the rationale for putting the story out there is to intimidate the Iranians into retreating from their defiant posture. (Washington Post, April 9, 2006)
  • Britain's Sunday Times reports a similar finding, that the claims made in Hersh's report about the Bush administration's intention to bomb Iran unless it satisfied international demands on its nuclear program squares with leaks to their own reporters. The very fact of this apparently coordinated set of leaks implying that attack plans are already laid suggests that the White House is seeking to convey this message to the public. It remains to be seen whether the intention of this media campaign is to simply to rattle Iran or to prepare the American public for a military strike. (Sunday Times, April 9, 2006)
  • Joseph Cirincone explains how the current reality of Iran's nuclear program is being systematically overstated in order to make a case for war. And, he warns, any strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is sure to strengthen, rather than weaken the grip on power of the current regime. (Council on Foreign Relations, April 7, 2006)
  • U.S.-Iran Talks Amid Rising Tensions
    Even as Western media carries new revelations about U.S. plans to attack Iran, Washington is nonetheless still going ahead with plans to hold talks with Tehran over the situation in Iraq. And many of the allies on which the U.S. relies in the diplomatic struggle over Iran see those as the best hope for the sort of wide-ranging U.S.-Iranian strategic dialogue for which Tehran is pushing, and which the Europeans would prefer to see, but which Washington is resolute in rejecting. Kaveh Afrasiabi offers a thoughtful look at the challenges facing both sides as they enter talks on Iraq: The U.S. has to resolve the question of whether its Iran policy is, in fact, regime change, in which case there is nothing to be gained from talks. The Iranians have to figure out a modus vivendi with a U.S. presence in Iraq despite their insistence that the purpose of the talks is simply to urge it to leave. "At this stage the most important thing the two parties can do is set the ground rules for a constructive dialogue, one that will be something more than a 'dialogue of the deaf' where both sides talk past each other." He suggests a series of ground rules, including the requirement that each side understand the other side's interests, that each side clarify its own interests (and in the case of Iran, he says, this requires a debate about normoalizaiotn of relations with the US, just as it does on the U.S. side), and an analytical approach to differences which aims to distinguish between differences that preclude normalization and those that can be accommodated on the basis of normal diplomatic relation. And also the opening of a good-faith channel of open ended dialogue designed to avoid the escalation of conflict. (Asia Times, April 7, 2006)

  • Abbas William Samii parses the perspective within Iran's corridors of power on the issue of talking to the U.S.. Just as the Bush administration has been strongly divided over the question of engaging with Iran, so has the issue of engaging with the U.S. become a focus of the intense factional rivalry within the clerical regime. While the competing factions remains united behind Iran's insistence on the right to enrich uranium, the more pragmatic element in the conservative camp -- including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani -- as well as reformers such as former President Mohammed Khatami have criticized the current government of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's for its reckless postures, which have weakened Iran's diplomatic position. That may be why the negotiations are being handled by Ali Larijani, who reports directly to Khameini. Still, talking to the US about Iraq has been condemned by Ahmedinejad's faction. And the demand by Iraqi politicians to be able to participate -- which would have to wait for the formation of a new government -- may suit the agenda of those in Iran trying to balance the positions of the different factions. By agreeing to talks it can show the West a responsible face; by seeing those talks postponed because of Iraqi political infighting, it can dodge the fallout from the conservatives. (Daily Star, April 7, 2006)
  • The Financial Times reports that Iran has made new approaches to Washington to initiate a comprehensive dialogue to resolve the nuclear standoff and other points of contention. The initiative has the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, but so far it is being rebuffed by the U.S. European allies are, however, raising the pressure on Washington to talk directly to Tehran. Germany's foreign minister made a public statement this week saying Germany and Britain wanted the US to talk to Iran, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is believed to have raised the idea in talks with President Bush. (Financial Times, April 7)
  • Ray Tayekh argues that if the U.S. is serious about finding a diplomatic solution the crisis it will agree to direct talks with Tehran. Only the U.S. is in a position to provide the sort of security guarantees the Iranians may require to step back from the nuclear brink. (Council on Foreign Relations, April 7, 2006)
  • Interviewed by Al-Ahram, IAEA chief Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei offers some thoughtful observations on the issue of nuclear double standards in response to a question on whether Iran and North Korea would have been better off simply working outside of the NPT, as India, Pakistan and Israel did. "Until we see serious movement towards nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon states and a security system that does not rely on nuclear deterrence, there will continue to be a sense of double standards," he notes. "As I have said before, a world of nuclear 'haves and have- nots' is not sustainable. Eventually, some countries -- particularly those in areas of conflict -- will start to ask whether they are better off leaving the NPT. This would be a terrible development, because a world with more nuclear-weapon states is a much more dangerous world. What we need is to move away from nuclear weapons and not to increase the number of those who have them. This could be the beginning of the end of our world." (Al Ahram, 6-12 April, 2006)
  • Tony Karon suggests that the diplomatic deadlock on Iran is beginning to resemble the Six-Party process on North Korea, in which the other parties to the talks agree with the U.S. that North Korea should abandon nuclear weapons, but at the same time insist that the U.S. take "regime-change" off its agenda, offer Pyongyang security guarantees and enter direct talks. (Time.com, April 6, 2006)
  • Background Material on Iran
  • The Center for Defense Information has posted extracts from the IAEA report on Iran which is to be discussed by the Security Council. (CDI, March 6, 2006)
  • Iran's UN ambassador Javad Sarif, in a New York Times op ed, sets out sets out Tehran's negotiating position on the nuclear issue. Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, he insists, and is willing to negotiate on the basis providing new guarantees to win Western confidence in this assertion, including expanded inspections and the creation of an international consortium to supply Iran's reactor fuel. (New York Times, April 7, 2006)
  • Christopher de Bellaigue offers a comprehensive analysis of the Iranian regime's nuclear intentions and its strategy for handling the standoff with the U.S. (New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006)
  • The International Crisis Group sees two possible diplomatic solutions to prevent a breakdown from which Iran would quite likely emerge nuclear-armed. The first is that Iran would agree to refrain entirely from enriching uranium on its own soil, but for that to happen, warns the ICG, the U.S. would have to offer a far greater political incentive than is currently on the table. If the U.S. is unlikely in the near term to offer full recognition and rehabilitation of the regime in Tehran, the only other plausible outcome is for the West to back down on the principle of Iranian enrichment but in exchange for Iran agreeing to delay its onset by a number of years and submit to a far more intrusive inspection regime. As imperfect as this solution would be to all sides, the alternative is worse, the ICG argues. (International Crisis Group, February 28, 2006)
  • George Perkovich warns that proposals allowing limited enrichment in Iran simply defer a confrontation and make it more difficult to rein in what will then be a fait accompli in Iran. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 7, 2006)
  • In an interview with TIME's Scott MacLeod, Iran's top nuclear negotiator suggests his regime remains open to a deal, even direct talks with the U.S.. But they would not be willing to be "harangued" by President Bush, and they insist that their right to uranium enrichment be recognized. (TIME, March 1, 2006)
  • As in the case of North Korea, China's position may prove to be the critical influence on how the Iran standoff plays out. Dingli Shen suggests Beijing is caught in the dilemma of balancing its emerging status as a global diplomatic power, maintaing stqability and the nuclear status quo, and protecting Iran's sovereign right to civilian nuclear program and China's bilateral energy relationship with Tehran. Beijing's view is that Iran must account for its nuclear past under NPT commitment before it can demand full cycle rights under the treaty. Of course if it withdrew from the treaty, it could legally puruse both energy and weapons. Beijing's own concerns militate against support for a strategy of confrontation by either side. (Washington Quarterly, Spring 2006) 2006)
  • Stephen Sestanovich assesses the Russian posture on Iran, parsing its likely course against the backdrop of the current geopolitical posture of President Putin. (Council on Foreign Relations, March 3, 2006)
  • The Oxford Research Group assesses the effectiveness of military options against Iran, and concludes they are unlikely to restrain Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons but will promote chaos and instability. (Oxford Research Group, February, 2006)
  • Ray Tayekh explains the factional disputes at the heart of the Tehran regime, suggesting that the path of confrontation is preferred by a new generation of conservatives hardened during the Iran-Iraq war, and that the current atmosphere of crisis strengthens their hand domestically. (The National Interest, Spring, 2006)
  • Henry Sokolski suggests that the current debate over how to stop Iran going nuclear is fruitless. Instead, he offers a long-term strategy for managing Western rivalry with a nuclear-armed Iran. (Transatlantic Institute, March 16, 2006)
  • Previously on Iran:
    -- 03.29.06: Bush Iran Strategy Hits a Wall

    -- 03.22.06: Has Britain Put U.S. on the Spot?
    -- 03.15.06: Regime Change or Normalization?
    -- 03.01.06: Nuclear Standoff Escalates
    -- 02.21.06: Dangers of a Military Option
    -- 02.28.06: Tehran Raises the Stakes
  • Hamas Power Forces All Sides to Alter Their Positions
    Hamas's power became a reality last week as the new Palestinian government assumed the reins of power amid mounting political turbulence. Its first cabinet meeting had to be conducted by videoconference, because Israeli restrictions prevent members traveling between the West Bank and Gaza -- and the extent of Israeli control was made clear by the arrest of the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs when he tried to enter the West Bank. At the same time, the EU suspended financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, joining the U.S. and Israel in a financial blockade that has left government coffers empty -- and the new administration unable to pay the salaries on which one third of the population survives. That, together with Israel's stranglehold on Gaza border crossings has restricted food supplies in Gaza, and threatened a humanitarian crisis. But an even more pressing problem for Hamas is the armed challenge of rival factions, particularly Fatah, whose militants have been firing rockets into Israel and even launching suicide attacks in the West Bank, provoking Israeli artillery and air strikes. Fatah, whose structures have been shattered by its electoral defeat and over which President Abbas exercises negligible authority, is using attacks on Israel and displays of weaponry on the streets as a means of undermining the authority of Hamas, underlining the urgency of the new Hamas-led government enforcing law and order. (That, in itself remains a source of friction as Abbas is refusing to cede control of the security forces to the government.)

    The International Institute for Strategic Studies sees the ascent of Hamas as signaling a new, democratic phase of Palestinian politics. "Despite endorsing the 1993 Oslo Accords and committing to mutual recognition and co-existence with Israel," the IISS concludes, "Fatah failed to change from guerilla movement to civilian party and neglected to use its executive power or majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to address poor governance, insecurity and economic decline. Hamas, which Israel and the West associate most with suicide bombings and implacable opposition to Oslo, in contrast has a reputation among Palestinians for effective social welfare programmes and honesty. And its astute election campaign suggested that Hamas is more comfortable than Fateh in the conduct of civilian party politics."

    Thus the fundamental flaw of the U.S.-Israeli effort to reverse the Palestinian elections, which the IISS warns is encouraging Fath "to make it impossible for Hamas to govern." But Fatah is no longer a credible opposition party. "Fatah is incapable of the one thing that could alter its prospects: reinventing itself as something akin to a social democratic party and learning to act in effective but peaceful opposition. The lure of retaking government and the power of patronage through quicker, coercive means is too strong. Yet there is no assurance that Fateh would be able to achieve much greater internal discipline or present a more united front if new elections are held. It does not help Fateh that its main strength - a political platform based on pursuing the peace process with Israel and on attaining Palestinian statehood within borders approximating the pre-1967 'Green Line', a capital in East Jerusalem, and a reasonable deal on refugees - has been substantially eroded by the collapse of the peace process and by the Israeli refusal to acknowledge the Fateh-dominated PA or Abbas as a genuine or capable partner. Hamas has further reduced Fateh's comparative advantage by accepting much the same platform, even while renewing its commitment to the eventual destruction of Israel after a 'truce' that could last decades. The main difference is that Hamas promises to govern better, at least until allowed to prove otherwise."

    Even if a political deadlock forced new election, there's little doubt that Hamas would trounce Fatah even more heavily now than it did in January. Which makes the positions of Israel, the U.S. and Europe untenable, although the same is true for Hamas. "The international community faces a delicate task, therefore," the IISS argues. "It is right to set conditions for political dialogue and material assistance in order to compel Hamas to make clear choices and then take full responsibility for them. But the Palestinian political system, economy and governing structures have become too fragile to withstand the impact of a coercive strategy aimed at bringing down the Hamas government and restoring Fateh rule. Civil strife and uncontrollable violence could then result, leaving the international community with a humanitarian crisis on its hands." (International Institute for Strategic Studies, April 7, 2006)

  • Hamas appears keenly aware of the need to alter its image in the minds of the international community and even of the Israeli public: Not only is it moving steadily towards advocating a two-state solution and de facto recognition of Israel (see below); Hamas activists have told the Observer that the organization plans to end the use of suicide bombing as a tactic. "The suicide bombings happened in an exceptional period and they have now stopped," a Hamas legislator told the paper. "They came to an end as a change of belief." Suicide bombings are the face of Hamas to much of the international community, and analysts see them as having cost the Palestinians the moral high ground in the battle for international public opinion. If, indeed, Hamas has dispensed with the practice in principle, it would signal a remarkable shift under way as a result of its entry into political institutions. (The Observer, April 9, 2006)
  • The new Palestinian foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, appeared to advance a version of a two-state solution in an interview with the Times of London last week. (The Times, April 7, 2006)
  • The Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas is preparing to present its own version of a two-state solution that would allow it to recognize Israel. Although the shift has come about as a result of international pressure on the organization -- the Arab regimes who have promised to support the new government financially have nonetheless insisted that it pursue a negotiated settlement on the basis of the 1967 borders, for example. But if Hamas takes this step, it forces Israel and the West to reassess their own hands-off approach, which may not be what the Israeli government had in mind. (Jerusalem Post, April 7, 2006)
  • Ze'ev Schiff reports that finds that Hamas has, in fact, made a new offer to Israel -- not simply the "long term truce in exchange for withdrawal to 1967 borders" that its leaders have floated for some time now, but a "calm for calm" deal proposed through Egyptian intermediaries that would involve the following: "Hamas would pledge not to carry out any violent actions against Israel and would even prevent other Palestinian organizations from doing so," writes Schiff. "Israel, for its part, would pledge by means of a third party not to take action against the organizations operating in the territories. Hamas is even prepared to declare a unilateral hudna (cease-fire), should Israel not want to appear to be maintaining contact with a body that calls for its destruction. According to this offer, Israel is supposed to respond with positive measures of its own." But, says Schiff, Israel's security chiefs see the offer as a trap, designed to give Hamas a breather from the international and domestic pressure it faces. And the Jewish State is therefore unlikely to accept such offers from Hamas until it is ready to accept the full set of conditions demanded by the Quartet. (Haaretz, April 7, 2006)
  • Helena Cobban, in a thoughtful appraisal, reveals the strategic logic of Hamas's shift in position on Israel: Rather than embrace existing agreements or the "roadmap", Hamas is moving towards what might be described as an "international law" position, i.e. demanding that the Israelis withdraw to 1967 lines etc. in keeping with relevant UN resolutions. These international law principles are cited as the basis of the existing agreements, including the "roadmap," but they don't tie Hamas to agreements concluded by its predecessors in quite the same way. (Dar al-Hayat, April 7)
  • Given the untenability of the current deadlock over how Israel and the West relate to a Hamas-led government, all sides will be forced to alter their positions. Hamas appears to be seizing the strategic initiative by redefining its goals in order to answer the questions over its intentions posed by the international community, and turn the tables on Israel. Ze'ev Schiff warns that Hamas has a strategy for dealing with Israel, but Israel has no strategy for dealing with Hamas. Even if Hamas fails, it's not clear that Israel wants to revert to a peace process with the old Fatah leadership that it helped to fail, whose leader Mahmoud Abbas is essentially a lame duck. Some Israelis favor responding to Hamas on the basis of deeds rather than declarations, and Hamas itself prefers that option because it gives it time to realign itself tactically in the wake of its unexpected win. Others see that as dangerous, and favor "regime-change," although that would not be likely to restore Abbas to power, but instead bring on anarchy in the territories in which power would revert entirely to armed formations. The problem for Israel is that the waiting game in a policy vacuum works to Hamas's advantage, because the humanitarian consequences of the sanctions being adopted by Israel and Western governments are untenable. (Haaretz, April 7, 2007)
  • If Hamas is looking to restrain other factions from attacking Israel from within its domain, it will be on a collision course not only with Fatah, but also with Al-Qaeda. Marie Colvin reports that Qaeda cells are being created in Gaza, and that they will take advantage of any move to moderation on the part of Hamas. (Sunday Times, April 9, 2006)
  • Bir Zeit professor Ali Jarbawi warns that the infighting between Hamas and Fatah leaves the playing field open to Israel to unilaterally redefine its boundaries. It has thus far prevented the Palestinians from fashioning a credible challenge to Israel's unilateral agenda. Hamas's wait-and-see attitude on negotiations with Israel will allow it to reject Israel's own plans, but it won't enable the movement to stop them. "Palestinians will be preoccupied by the domestic tensions, leaving Israel to decide the Palestinians' destiny," he writes. "After that, Palestinians may well decide to begin a new intifada. Unfortunately, Palestinians oscillate between favoring negotiations at times and the intifada at others, and offer no creative alternatives." His own version of a creative alternative is for the Palestinians to dissolve the PA, which will underscore the continuing occupied-status of the West Bank and Gaza and prevent Israel from retreating behind borders of its own making. Certainly counterintuitive. (Daily Star, April 6, 2006)
  • John Robertson suggests that although the new Israeli government will likely be a center-left coalition, Israeli resistance to any further West Bank withdrawal will likely elicit support from pro-Israel quarters in the U.S. That, together with the flimsy nature of this coalition, like its forebears, suggests that despite his best intentions, Ehud Olmert may not be capable of the "Forward" movement implied by the translation of his party's Hebrew name, Kadima. (The War in Context, April 6, 2006)
  • Chris McGreal provides an insightful look at the cultural policies of the new Hamas government. Belly dancing is out, but cinema is okay, says the minister. ("We're not the Taliban.") Curiously enough, Hamas appears to have had as much of a problem with the Palestinian film "Paradise Now" as the Israelis and their supporters in the U.S. had -- for Hamas, the problem may be that the film questions the use of suicide bombings. (Guardian, April 6, 2006)
  • Donald McIntyre reports on the emergence of Combatants for Peace, a remarkable initiative that brings together Israeli soldiers from elite forces and retired militants from Palestinian armed formations to press for non-violent conflict resolution. (The Independent, April 7, 2006)

  • Previously on Israel and Palestine:
    --Hamas Inherits a Policing Dilemma

    --Israel Hopes to Negotiate its Borders with U.S.
    --Jericho Raid Humiliates Abbas
    --Hamas and Israel: An Unspoken Peace?
    --Rice Fails to Secure Hamas Blockade
    -- Is the U.S. Trying to Reverse the Palestinian Election?

  • Iraq: The Magnitude of Failure

    With spring in the air, Secretaries Rice and Straw took a trip to Baghdad to urge the Iraqis to get on with forming the government for which they voted last winter. Among those with whom they met was Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, with Secretary Rice reportedly appearing "stiff" before the encounter -- hardly surprising, really, given the fact that Washington has told the Shiite alliance that it will not accept Jaafari's nomination for a new term as Prime Minister. That message now appears to have been echoed, even, by members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is the biggest party in the alliance. That suggests that Jaafari's vow to fight to the end may be fruitless if the Shiite alliance splits, although such an outcome will very likely provoke a strong reaction against the U.S. from Jaafari's key ally, Moqtada Sadr, whose militiamen may make their displeasure felt on the streets. Nonetheless, even if the U.S. manages to work the opposition to Jaafari from diverse rivals into a successful blocking maneuver, the prospects for a strong central government in Iraq right now look bleak. The U.S. may manage to block the ascension of those politicians it most detests in Iraq, but it remains unable to put its own allies such as Iyad Allawi into power, or to influence political events in Iraq towards a satisfactory outcome.

    As Shibley Telhami notes, what is most palpable in Iraq is the failure of the world's only superpower to impose its will despite an unprecedented investment in its attempt to do so. "Consider the stunning magnitude of the failure," Telhami writes. "Iraq has been the top priority for the world's only superpower for the past three years, and a central one for many regional and international powers. The United States, intent on keeping Iraq together, has spent more resources in that country than any state ever has spent on another in the history of the world.

    "All of Iraq's neighbors, for their own reasons, sought to avoid a divided Iraq. All of the major factions in Iraq have an interest in preventing civil war - the Shiites, preferring to have the majority voice in a unified Iraq; the Sunnis, fearing being left with a resource-poor region; and the Kurds, who didn't want to risk Turkish intervention.

    "Arab states feared the breakup of Iraq, and Arab public opinion identified division as the biggest concern. All major international organizations, from the United Nations to the Arab League, sought the preservation of a unified Iraq.

    "Yet the prospect of civil war and a divided Iraq are now greater than they had been at any time." (Brookings Institution, March 27, 2006)

  • Patrick Cockburn offers a vivid account of the multiple fissures plaguing Iraqi politics and propelling it towards civil war. While Sunni parties oppose Jaafari because they see him as complicit with rampaging Shiite militias that threaten their physical survival in mixed cities, the Kurds -- whose opposition has proved decisive, since they originally governed in coalition with Jaafari -- see him as a threat to their quasi-separatist ambitions in the north, particularly their aim of folding Kirkuk into what would then be an oil-rich Kurdish entity. But, of course, some of the Shiites opposed to Jaafari are also those with the most notorious sectarian militias, while the Sunnis actually share Jaafari's position on Kirkuk. Whatever the outcome of the specific political dispute, the same basic fissures look likely to keep the country in a downward spiral. (London Review of Books, April 6, 2006)
  • The New York Times reports that thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled mixed neighborhoods to take refuge in areas dominated by their own sect or group, often under militia protection. It is at this neighborhood level, rather than on the political stage, that the civil war is taking shape. (New York Times, April 2, 2006)
  • In a similar vein, Megan K. Stack reports that Sunni civilians with no previous connection with the insurgency have begun stockpiling weapons and preparing neighbhorhood militias to repel attacks by Shiite militias on their neighborhoods and mosques. (Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2006)
  • Michael O'Hanlon argues that repeatedly ruling out military action against Iran, The Telegraph reports that the U.S. strategy of pushing Iraqi forces to the forefront of efforts to avoid a civil war is dangerously misguided. The make-up of those forces is such that they will not stand above and outside ethnic and sectarian conflict, and the country will break apart unless U.S. forces are deployed as an active deterrent to civil strife.(Washington Post, March 22, 2006)
  • The shifting pattern of U.S. deployments seems evident in figures cited by the Washington Post that show U.S. troop casualties at their lowest in two years even as the overall level of violence in Iraq is near an all-time high." (Washington Post, April 1, 2006)
  • Abbas Khadim reports that Iraq's Shiites see in U.S. political interventions an attempt to deprive them of the victory they won at the polls, and he predicts a sharp deterioration in relations between the U.S. and the Shiite community. (Al Ahram, March 29-April 4, 2005)
  • Kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll sets the record straight in a statement following her release, in which she explains that a video made shortly before her release and an interview conducted in the offices of a Sunni political party shortly after don't reflect her views -- she remains deeply angry at the men who held her for two months. (Christian Science Monitory, April 1, 2006)
  • Previously on Iraq:
    -- A Generational American War?

    -- What's Left of Iraq?
    -- Civil War and the Region
    -- Is Sadr the Key to Avoiding Civil War?
    -- Mounting Anger at Coalition Forces in Iraq


  • ______________________________
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    and criticism of international coverage in U.S. media
    ______________________________



    Beirut Takes a Time Out From the 'Clash of Cultures'
    In the not too distant past, the observation that Beirut "has a lot of secret stuff going on" would have referred to clandestine political and military operations of radical factions, espionage duels, kidnappings and the plotting of a bloody civil war. Today, it's the raison d'etre offered by the publishers of Time Out Beirut, the local edition of the London-based magazine franchise that showcase hedonistic delights of all the world's great metropolises for a weekly readership. The idea that Beirut will have its own edition, starting as a monthly, may be the surest sign that the city has put the scars of civil war behind it, and epitomizes a new optimism in the wake of the Syrian withdrawal. And it also blows something of a raspberry in the direction of those who insist that we're in the throes of a clash of cultures. (Daily Star, April 7, 2006)


    Hamas's cabinet is sworn in

    Should the West Engage With Radical Islamists?
    Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke are former Western intelligence officials who have, along with a number of their colleagues, been holding talks with officials from Hamas, Hezbollah and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. These officials, who worked at the highest levels of British and U.S. intelligence, have recognized that the political momentum in the Arab world is with the Islamists, but in the course of their discussions they have recognized a profoundly important distinction between the interests and agendas of nationally-based groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and the transnational jihadists of al-Qaeda. (Indeed, the same distinction was clearly on view recently when Hamas firmly rejected Al Qaeda's demand that it fight on and reject compromise -- the premise of the brusque rebuff by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was that the Palestinians don't need Al-Qaeda's advice. Crooke and Perry believe that the West is making a tragic mistake if it continues to conflate these two groups, rather than recognizing the considerable basis for dialogue and even common interests (particularly in democracy) with some of the nationally-based Islamist groups. They sought to brief the U.S. government on their discussions but were rebuffed, on the grounds that such a briefing would be seen to be legitimizing talks with terrorists. They write:

    "The question of legitimacy is important because for democracies, legitimacy is not conferred, but earned at the ballot box. Hamas and Hezbollah would welcome a dialogue with the West not because it would confer 'legitimacy' - they already have that - but because such a dialogue would acknowledge the differences between Islamist movements that represent actual constituencies from those (such as al-Qaeda and its allied movements) that represent no one....

    "There is no question that two of the groups with whom we spoke - Hamas and Hezbollah - have adopted violent tactics to forward their political goals. They are not alone: Fatah (whose candidates for election the US supported with US$2 million in campaign funds) continues to use violence (and kidnap Westerners), so do the Tamil Tigers, so did the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the African National Congress. So too does the United States. America's insistence that Hamas and Hezbollah 'renounce violence' and 'disarm' is dismissed by these groups as not only an invitation to surrender but, in light of the continuing and increasingly indefensible use of alarmingly disproportionate US and British firepower in Iraq, the rankest hypocrisy.

    "The West's seeming abhorrence of violence is derived from its deeply rooted belief that political change is possible without it. But defending this proposition requires an extraordinary exercise in historical amnesia....

    "The leaders of major Islamist organizations view the issue of violence in the same way Americans do - as a legitimate option that is applied to establish deterrence and stability and to defend and promote their interests. For Hamas and Hezbollah, 'armed resistance' is a way of balancing the asymmetry of force available to Israel. Both groups place their use of violence in a political context.

    " 'Armed resistance is not simply a tool that we use to respond to Israeli aggression,' a Hamas leader averred. 'It gives our people confidence that they are being defended, that they have an identity, that someone is trying to balance the scales.

    "Hezbollah puts this idea in the same political context: 'It may be that some day we will have to sit down across from our enemies and talk to them about a political settlement. That could happen,' reflected Nawaf Mousawi, the chief of the Hezbollah's foreign relations department. 'But no political agreement will be possible until they respect us. I want them to know that when they're sitting there across from us that if they decide to get up and walk away, they'll have to pay a price.'

    "The West's insistence that opening a political dialogue be preceded by and conditioned on disarmament is simply unrealistic: it suggests that we believe that 'our' violence is benevolent while 'theirs' is unreasoning and random - that a 19-year-old rifle-toting American in Fallujah is somehow less dangerous than a 19-year-old Shi'ite in southern Lebanon.

    "In fact, political agreements have rarely been preceded by disarmament. United Nations demands for the disarmament of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 1978 unraveled a conflict-ending political agreement (a situation put right when the rebels were allowed to keep their weapons), and Northern Ireland's 'Good Friday Agreement' allowed the IRA to keep its weapons until a political process (leading to 'decommissioning') reflecting their concerns was put in place.

    "The West often views Islamic violence as random and unreasoning, but Hamas and Hezbollah believe that violence can shift practical political considerations to create a psychology in which armed groups can use the tool of de-escalation as a way of forwarding a political process. That is to say, absent a political agreement, Hamas and Hezbollah will not voluntarily abandon what they view as their only defense against the overwhelming weight of Israeli military power.

    "Disarmament (or 'demilitarization') is possible: it worked in Northern Ireland and South Africa. When coupled with substantive political talks, the unification of armed elements into a single security or military force - demilitarization - provides the best hope for increased stability and security in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza."
    (Asia Times, March 30, 2006)


    Abdul Rahman states his faith, posing a problem for both Karzai and Bush

    Kabul Christian Convert Puts Afghanistan's Karzai in a Bind
    Under pressure from his patron, the U.S. government, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai intervened personally to secure the release of Abdul Rahman, a 41-year-old convert to Christianity who faced a potential death sentence under Sharia law for apostasy. And, predictably, thousands took to the streets to protest and demand that he be put to death. The case highlights not only a contradiction in Afghanistan's constitution between its endorsement of international human rights conventions guaranteeing freedom of worship, and its codifying of Sharia law, but also a political tension that exposes the limits of Karzai's own authority -- and a domestic problem for his U.S. backers.

    Karzai's power remains limited, and entirely dependent on a combination of U.S. and NATO forces, and the consent of various warlords -- some of them radical Islamists -- who have been drawn into government. For the Bush administration, the persecution by a U.S.-backed regime of a Christian for having chosen the same faith as the President of the United States is untenable: Washington was pressed to demand Abdul Rahman's release by a clamor of protest from the Evangelical activist base of the Republican Party. But for Karzai, caving in to the U.S. on a matter of faith and identity is a risk option. And the case has inflamed the passions of religious activists on both sides, and the Taliban is using it as a rallying point to build a coalition against Karzai. Nor is it over, for Abdul Rahman's release was engineered on the grounds of evidentiary technicalities and insinuations about his sanity, rather than any question over the legitimacy of the law that makes it possible to charge him for converting from Islam to another faith. The fact that Abdul Rahman has reportedly applied for asylum in a third country underscores the problem. The Bush administration likes to point to Afghanistan as a poster child for its promotion of democracy abroad; the Abdul Rahman case will have alerted Americans at home to the limits of the freedom that is being defended in Afghanistan.
    (TIME, March 26, 2006)



    President Bush addresses AIPAC

    America's Israel Lobby
    If social security has long been the "third rail" of U.S. domestic politics, then its equivalent in the sphere of foreign policy has been the U.S. alliance with Israe. John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy school tackle the taboo head on, in a provocative research study that assesses the impact of the Israel lobby on decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East. And it asserts that the Israel lobby's influence on U.S. policy has been bad both for the U.S. and even for Israel:

    " The Lobby’s influence causes trouble on several fronts. It increases the terrorist danger that all states face – including America’s European allies. It has made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a situation that gives extremists a powerful recruiting tool, increases the pool of potential terrorists and sympathisers, and contributes to Islamic radicalism in Europe and Asia.

    "Equally worrying, the Lobby’s campaign for regime change in Iran and Syria could lead the US to attack those countries, with potentially disastrous effects. We don’t need another Iraq. At a minimum, the Lobby’s hostility towards Syria and Iran makes it almost impossible for Washington to enlist them in the struggle against al-Qaida and the Iraqi insurgency, where their help is badly needed.

    "There is a moral dimension here as well. Thanks to the Lobby, the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians. This situation undercuts Washington’s efforts to promote democracy abroad and makes it look hypocritical when it presses other states to respect human rights. US efforts to limit nuclear proliferation appear equally hypocritical given its willingness to accept Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which only encourages Iran and others to seek a similar capability.

    "Besides, the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy. Silencing sceptics by organising blacklists and boycotts – or by suggesting that critics are anti-semites – violates the principle of open debate on which democracy depends. The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic deliberation. Israel’s backers should be free to make their case and to challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned.

    "Finally, the Lobby’s influence has been bad for Israel. Its ability to persuade Washington to support an expansionist agenda has discouraged Israel from seizing opportunities – including a peace treaty with Syria and a prompt and full implementation of the Oslo Accords – that would have saved Israeli lives and shrunk the ranks of Palestinian extremists. Denying the Palestinians their legitimate political rights certainly has not made Israel more secure, and the long campaign to kill or marginalise a generation of Palestinian leaders has empowered extremist groups like Hamas, and reduced the number of Palestinian leaders who would be willing to accept a fair settlement and able to make it work. Israel itself would probably be better off if the Lobby were less powerful and US policy more even-handed... "What is needed is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about US interests in this vital region. Israel’s well-being is one of those interests, but its continued occupation of the West Bank and its broader regional agenda are not. Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided US support and could move the US to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well. (London Review of Books, March10, 2006)




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