Monthly Archives: September 2007

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As we crossed the Syrian border and saw the last of the Iraqi flags, the tears began. How can such a small distance separate life from death?

As we crossed the Syrian border and saw the last of the Iraqi flags, the tears began. How can such a small distance separate life from death?

Editor’s note: Baghdad Burning, the blog written by a young Iraqi woman named “Riverbend,” has given readers around the world an intimate, and devastating, look at the situation in Iraq. Salon occasionally runs postings from her blog.

Sept. 21, 2007 | Two months ago, the suitcases were packed. My lone, large suitcase sat in my bedroom for nearly six weeks, so full of clothes and personal items that it took me, E. and our 6-year-old neighbor to zip it closed.

Packing that suitcase was one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do. It was Mission Impossible: Your mission, R., should you choose to accept it is to go through the items you’ve accumulated over nearly three decades and decide which ones you cannot do without. The difficulty of your mission, R., is that you must contain these items in a space totaling 1 m by 0.7 m by 0.4 m. This, of course, includes the clothes you will be wearing for the next months, as well as any personal memorabilia — photos, diaries, stuffed animals, CDs and the like.

I packed and unpacked it four times. Each time I unpacked it, I swore I’d eliminate some of the items that were not absolutely necessary. Each time I packed it again, I would add more “stuff” than the time before. E. finally came in a month and a half later and insisted we zip up the bag so I wouldn’t be tempted to update its contents constantly.

The decision that we would each take one suitcase was made by my father. He took one look at the box of assorted memories we were beginning to prepare and it was final: Four large identical suitcases were purchased — one for each member of the family — and a fifth smaller one was dug out of a closet for the documentation we’d collectively need: graduation certificates, personal identification papers, etc.

We waited … and waited … and waited. It was decided we would leave mid- to late June — examinations would be over and as we were planning to leave with my aunt and her two children, that was the time considered most convenient for all involved. The day we finally appointed as THE DAY, we woke up to an explosion not 2 km away and a curfew. The trip was postponed a week. The night before we were scheduled to travel, the driver who owned the GMC that would take us to the border excused himself from the trip — his brother had been killed in a shooting. Once again, it was postponed.

There was one point, during the final days of June, where I simply sat on my packed suitcase and cried. By early July, I was convinced we would never leave. I was sure the Iraqi border was as far away, for me, as the borders of Alaska. It had taken us well over two months to decide to leave by car instead of by plane. It had taken us yet another month to settle on Syria as opposed to Jordan. How long would it take us to reschedule leaving?

It happened almost overnight. My aunt called with the exciting news that one of her neighbors was going to leave for Syria in 48 hours because their son was being threatened and they wanted another family on the road with them in another car — like gazelles in the jungle, it’s safer to travel in groups. It was a flurry of activity for two days. We checked to make sure everything we could possibly need was prepared and packed. We arranged for a distant cousin of my mom’s who was to stay in our house with his family to come the night before we left. (We can’t leave the house empty because someone might take it.)

It was a tearful farewell as we left the house. One of my other aunts and an uncle came to say goodbye the morning of the trip. It was a solemn morning and I’d been preparing myself for the last two days not to cry. You won’t cry, I kept saying, because you’re coming back. You won’t cry because it’s just a little trip like the ones you used to take to Mosul or Basra before the war. In spite of my assurances to myself of a safe and happy return, I spent several hours before leaving with a huge lump lodged firmly in my throat. My eyes burned and my nose ran in spite of me. I told myself it was an allergy.

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We didn’t sleep the night before we had to leave because there seemed to be so many little things to do. It helped that there was no electricity at all — the area generator wasn’t working and “national electricity” was hopeless. There just wasn’t time to sleep.

The last few hours in the house were a blur. It was time to go and I went from room to room saying goodbye to everything. I said goodbye to my desk — the one I’d used all through high school and college. I said goodbye to the curtains and the bed and the couch. I said goodbye to the armchair E. and I broke when we were younger. I said goodbye to the big table over which we’d gathered for meals and to do homework. I said goodbye to the ghosts of the framed pictures that once hung on the walls; the pictures had long since been taken down and stored away, but I knew just what hung where. I said goodbye to the silly board games we inevitably fought over — the Arabic Monopoly with the missing cards and money that no one had the heart to throw away.

I knew then as I know now that these were all just items — people are so much more important. Still, a house is like a museum in that it tells a certain history. You look at a cup or stuffed toy and a chapter of memories opens up before your very eyes. It suddenly hit me that I wanted to leave so much less than I thought I did.

Six a.m. finally came. The GMC waited outside while we gathered the necessities — a thermos of hot tea, biscuits, juice, olives (olives?!) that my dad insisted we take with us in the car. My aunt and uncle watched us sorrowfully. There’s no other word to describe it. It was the same look I got in my eyes when I watched other relatives and friends prepare to leave. It was a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, tinged with anger. Why did the good people have to go?

I cried as we left — in spite of promises not to. The aunt cried, the uncle cried. My parents tried to be stoic, but there were tears in their voices as they said their goodbyes. The worst part is saying goodbye and wondering if you’re ever going to see these people again. My uncle tightened the shawl I’d thrown over my hair and advised me firmly to “keep it on until you get to the border.” The aunt rushed out behind us as the car pulled out of the garage and dumped a bowl of water on the ground, which is a tradition — it’s to wish the travelers a safe return … eventually.

The trip was long and uneventful, other than two checkpoints being run by masked men. They asked to see identification, took a cursory glance at the passports and asked where we were going. The same was done for the car behind us. Those checkpoints are terrifying, but I’ve learned that the best technique is to avoid eye contact, answer questions politely and pray under your breath. My mother and I had been careful not to wear any apparent jewelry, just in case, and we were both in long skirts and head scarves.

Syria is the only country, other than Jordan, that was allowing people in without a visa. The Jordanians are being horrible withrefugees. Families risk being turned back at the Jordanian border, or denied entry at Amman Airport. It’s too high a risk for most families.

We waited for hours, in spite of the fact that the driver we were with had “connections,” which meant he’d been to Syria and back so many times, he knew all the right people to bribe for a safe passage through the border. I sat nervously at the border. The tears had stopped about an hour after we’d left Baghdad. Just seeing the dirty streets, the ruins of buildings and houses, the smoke-filled horizon — all helped me realize how fortunate I was to have a chance for something safer.

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By the time we were out of Baghdad, my heart was no longer aching as it had been while we were still leaving it. The cars around us on the border were making me nervous. I hated being in the middle of so many possibly explosive vehicles. A part of me wanted to study the faces of the people around me, mostly families, and the other part of me, the one that’s been trained to stay out of trouble the last four years, told me to keep my eyes to myself — it was almost over.

It was finally our turn. I sat stiffly in the car and waited as money passed hands; our passports were looked over and finally stamped. We were ushered along, and the driver smiled with satisfaction. “It’s been an easy trip, Alhamdulillah,” he said cheerfully.

As we crossed the border and saw the last of the Iraqi flags, the tears began again. The car was silent except for the prattling of the driver, who was telling us stories of escapades he had while crossing the border. I sneaked a look at my mother sitting beside me and her tears were flowing as well. There was simply nothing to say as we left Iraq. I wanted to sob, but I didn’t want to seem like a baby. I didn’t want the driver to think I was ungrateful for the chance to leave what had become a hellish place over the last four and a half years.

The Syrian border was almost equally packed, but the environment was more relaxed. People were getting out of their cars and stretching. Some of them recognized each other and waved or shared woeful stories or comments through the windows of the cars. Most importantly, we were all equal. Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds — we were all equal in front of the Syrian border personnel.

We were all refugees — rich or poor. And refugees all look the same. There’s a unique expression you’ll find on their faces: relief, mixed with sorrow, tinged with apprehension. The faces almost all look the same.

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The first minutes after passing the border were overwhelming. Overwhelming relief and overwhelming sadness. How is it that a stretch of only several kilometers and maybe 20 minutes so firmly segregates life from death?

How is it that a border no one can see or touch stands between car bombs, militias, death squads and … peace, safety? It’s difficult to believe — even now. I sit here and write this and wonder why I can’t hear the explosions.

I wonder at how the windows don’t rattle as the planes pass overhead. I’m trying to rid myself of the expectation that armed people in black will break through the door and into our lives. I’m trying to let my eyes grow accustomed to streets free of roadblocks, Hummers and pictures of Muqtada al-Sadr and the rest …

How is it that all of this lies a short car ride away?

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Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued a tough warning to any country considering an attack on Iran.


President Ahmadinejad and military leaders

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued a tough warning to any country considering an attack on Iran.

He said Iran’s forces were just for defence, but that anybody who attacked would experience nothing but regret.

He urged those he called the occupiers in the region – an apparent reference to the US and its allies in Iraq – to admit defeat and withdraw their troops.

Mr Ahmadinejad was speaking at a huge annual military parade marking the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq War.

On display at the parade was Iran’s latest military hardware, including new long-range missiles and Saegheh fighter jets.

According to the Associated Press news agency some of the lorries carrying Iranian missiles bore anti-US and anti-Israeli slogans.

“Those who prevented Iran, at the height of the [1980-88 Iran-Iraq] war from getting even barbed wire must see now that all the equipment on display today has been built by the mighty hands and brains of experts at Iran’s armed forces,” Mr Ahmadinejad said.

“Learn lessons from your past mistakes. Don’t repeat your mistakes,” he added.

UN address

His comments come ahead of his high-profile visit to the US next week, where he will address the UN General Assembly in New York, amid continuing tension over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Mr Ahmadinejad said that neither threats nor economic sanctions would curb Iran’s technological advances.

“Those [countries] who assume that decaying methods such as psychological war, political propaganda and the so-called economic sanctions would work and prevent Iran’s fast drive toward progress are mistaken,” the president said.

The speech comes at the end of a tense week, with the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, warning of the danger of war with Iran over its nuclear programme.

The BBC’s Jon Leyne in Tehran says Mr Ahmadinejad believes he is winning the battle for world opinion – a fight he is now taking to the UN General Assembly in New York.

The US has called for a third round of UN economic sanctions to pressure Iran into halting uranium enrichment, which it says is part of a secret plan to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran has denied the charge, declaring that its nuclear programme is peaceful and solely aimed at producing energy.

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This is a very dangerous situation for the dollar," said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas. "Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management.

Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East.
China threatens ‘nuclear option’ of dollar sales
Ben Bernanke has placed the dollar in a dangerous situation, say analysts

“This is a very dangerous situation for the dollar,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas.

“Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management. They face an inflationary threat and do not want to import an interest rate policy set for the recessionary conditions in the United States,” he said.
The Saudi central bank said today that it would take “appropriate measures” to halt huge capital inflows into the country, but analysts say this policy is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to the collapse of the dollar peg.
As a close ally of the US, Riyadh has so far tried to stick to the peg, but the link is now destabilising its own economy.

The Fed’s dramatic half point cut to 4.75pc yesterday has already caused a plunge in the world dollar index to a fifteen year low, touching with weakest level ever against the mighty euro at just under $1.40.

There is now a growing danger that global investors will start to shun the US bond markets. The latest US government data on foreign holdings released this week show a collapse in purchases of US bonds from $97bn to just $19bn in July, with outright net sales of US Treasuries.
The danger is that this could now accelerate as the yield gap between the United States and the rest of the world narrows rapidly, leaving America starved of foreign capital flows needed to cover its current account deficit – expected to reach $850bn this year, or 6.5pc of GDP.
Mr Redeker said foreign investors have been gradually pulling out of the long-term US debt markets, leaving the dollar dependent on short-term funding. Foreigners have funded 25pc to 30pc of America’s credit and short-term paper markets over the last two years.
“They were willing to provide the money when rates were paying nicely, but why bear the risk in these dramatically changed circumstances? We think that a fall in dollar to $1.50 against the euro is not out of the question at all by the first quarter of 2008,” he said.
“This is nothing like the situation in 1998 when the crisis was in Asia, but the US was booming. This time the US itself is the problem,” he said.
Mr Redeker said the biggest danger for the dollar is that falling US rates will at some point trigger a reversal yen “carry trade”, causing massive flows from the US back to Japan.
Jim Rogers, the commodity king and former partner of George Soros, said the Federal Reserve was playing with fire by cutting rates so aggressively at a time when the dollar was already under pressure.
The risk is that flight from US bonds could push up the long-term yields that form the base price of credit for most mortgages, the driving the property market into even deeper crisis.
“If Ben Bernanke starts running those printing presses even faster than he’s already doing, we are going to have a serious recession. The dollar’s going to collapse, the bond market’s going to collapse. There’s going to be a lot of problems,” he said.
The Federal Reserve, however, clearly calculates the risk of a sudden downturn is now so great that the it outweighs dangers of a dollar slide.
Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan said this week that house prices may fall by “double digits” as the subprime crisis bites harder, prompting households to cut back sharply on spending.
For Saudi Arabia, the dollar peg has clearly become a liability. Inflation has risen to 4pc and the M3 broad money supply is surging at 22pc.
The pressures are even worse in other parts of the Gulf. The United Arab Emirates now faces inflation of 9.3pc, a 20-year high. In Qatar it has reached 13pc.
Kuwait became the first of the oil sheikhdoms to break its dollar peg in May, a move that has begun to rein in rampant money supply growth.

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"America must not ignore the counsel of Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Reporting on Iraqi benchmarks in mid-September, US President George W Bush and his team of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker sought to pin some of the blame on Iran. Eschewing diplomatic language during his testimony, Crocker boldly said, “Iran plays a harmful role in Iraq.” Petraeus added that Iran is fighting a “proxy war” in Iraq by aiding Shi’ite extremists and providing weapons that are killing US troops.

Anyone doubting that Bush is not serious about taking on Tehran   should note his words from last month: “We will confront this danger before it is too late.” On September 17, The Daily Telegraph in London reported that the Pentagon has already drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 2,000 targets across Iran.

The great irony is that while these accusations toward Tehran are supported by thin evidence, plenty of evidence does exist that another of Iraq’s neighbors, US ally Saudi Arabia, is supporting resistance groups in Iraq, and intends to continue to do so.

A neighborly mess: Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia
“Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene” in Iraq, wrote Nawaf Obaid, neo-conservative ally and a former security adviser to the Saudi government, in a shockingly frank editorial for the Washington Post last November.

He warned the Bush administration, sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of Iraq: “America must not ignore the counsel of Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”

Obaid’s warning, in response to talk of a possible US withdrawal from Iraq, noted the current Saudi political stance of “I am my brother’s keeper” toward fellow Sunni Arabs in Iraq. Clearly, the Saudis do not consider all Iraqis their brothers, particularly the Shi’ites.

The editorial said, “As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world’s Sunni community, constituting 85% of all Muslims, [Saudi Arabia’s] options are to provide Sunni military leaders [primarily members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency] with the same types of assistance – funding, arms and logistical support – that Iran has been giving to Shi’ite armed groups for years or to help establish new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias.”

Obaid admitted that Saudi involvement in Iraq carried great risk and “could spark a regional war, but the consequences of inaction are far worse”, and that his country had “pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council … Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman – to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq”.

Arming the neighborhood
Last month, the Bush administration announced new arms packages for Israel and seven Arab nations comprising military equipment worth US$20 billion to Saudi Arabia, more than $30 billion in military assistance to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt.

To some extent, the arms packages are an extension of US policies that have been in place for years in the Middle East. For example, since 1998, Saudi Arabia alone has received more than $15 billion in US weapons.

But these sales have had little impact in the region other than arming everyone to the teeth. In her article “The Saudi arms deal: Congressional opposition grows”, Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, points out, “The United States has had little success in the past using arms sales to buy leverage in the region.”

From Washington’s viewpoint, the sale has two objectives: bucking up the Saudi-dominated six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and countering Iran’s influence. But the sales will likely cause Iran to respond by boosting its arms caches.

A dangerous side-effect of the sales is the addition of more arms into a region where each country has distinct objectives in the region and inside Iraq. The sales set the stage for Iraq to be the flashpoint for a potential proxy and/or regional war.

But most dangerous for Iraqis and US troops, the sales reward a country that is providing an estimated 45% of all foreigners fighting US troops and Iraqi government forces.

Destabilizing Iraq: The Saudi role
A “clear” view of Iraq is now visible only through a blood-soaked kaleidoscope of contradictory and conflicting US policies. While the Bush administration regularly lashes out at Syria and Iran for aiding militias and foreign fighters in Iraq, according to official US military figures reported in the Los Angeles Times on July 15, about 45% of all foreign militants targeting US troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia. Fighters from the kingdom are believed to have carried out the majority of suicide bombings in Iraq.

Who is to blame for the influx of fighters? General Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, blames forces inside Iraq for the flow of Saudi human bombs into Iraq. If he is to be believed, “Saudis are actually being misused. Someone is helping them come to Iraq. Someone is helping them inside Iraq. Someone is recruiting them to be suicide bombers. We have no idea who these people are. We aren’t getting any formal information from the Iraqi government.”

But Iraqis are quick to point the finger across the border. Lawmaker Sami Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accuses Saudi officials of following a deliberate policy of sowing chaos in Baghdad: “The fact is that Saudi Arabia has strong intelligence resources, and it would be hard to think that they are not aware of what is going on.”

Askari claims that imams at Saudi mosques regularly call for jihad against Iraq’s Shi’ites and that the Saudi government has funded groups to cause chaos and bloodshed in Iraq’s predominantly Shi’ite south.

But in large part this continues to be conveniently overlooked by the Bush administration so that massive arms packages can be sold to Saudi Arabia, access to the vast oil reserves continues unabated, and the Saudi royal family’s long-standing connections to the Bush family remain unmentioned in mainstream circles.

There are rare days, however, when the boat does get rocked. Just days before the $20 billion arms package was handed to the Saudi monarchy, Bush administration officials voiced their anger at the “counterproductive” role of Saudi Arabia in Iraq. They accused the kingdom of regarding Maliki as an Iranian agent and actively working to undermine his government and of offering financial backing to various Sunni groups inside Iraq.

Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq and now Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in the New York Times recently, “Several of Iraq’s neighbors, not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States, are pursuing destabilizing policies there.”

But this is the exception rather than the rule. The cozy

relationship between Washington and Riyadh continues, largely unscathed.

And destabilizing they are …
“Mosul is where the Saudis are the most active today because it is already primarily Sunni and there are a few Kurds,” said Sureya Sayadi, a 46-year-old Kurdish-American woman who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Sayadi, from Kirkuk, Iraq, fled to the United States with her family when the US left Kurds in the lurch after encouraging them to rebel against Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the 1991 war against Iraq.

A teacher and a medical doctor, Sayadi fills the rest of her time facilitating the work of an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that assists Kurdish orphans and victims of honor killings. She is busier than ever as the number of both has escalated dramatically in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. She believes Bush administration policies “have empowered Islamist political parties whose clerics promote honor killings” and have “destroyed Iraq’s judicial system and altered its laws to justify the killings”. She said, “One of our Kurdish employees has heard from the community that the Saudis are taking over parts of Kurdistan by promising people education.”

In recent conversations with her NGO colleagues, Sayadi has found that within the past two years, the Saudi government has financed the construction of at least 50 mosques in Irbil and Suleimaniya alone. They are also active on the Turkish-Iraqi border and in Kirkuk and Halabja. She explained, “They go to areas where there is the most poverty and suffering, stepping in to offer services that people are not getting from the government – health care, education and sometimes employment – and in the process implant[ing] their fundamentalist ideology.”

Sayadi believes the Saudi monarchy is directly involved in funding “at least four new Islamic groups in Kurdistan. They are exploiting the fact that Kurds are mostly Sunni.”

During the summer of 2005, members of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunna cells were among several extremists arrested in Irbil, and most of them were Kurds. Prior to this, Saudi mosque-building in the area during the 1990s combined with the return of Kurdish militants who had fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan is believed to have led to the emergence of such groups as Ansar al-Sunna.

The perception was that these men aspired to radicalize the general population by replicating the Afghan model in Kurdistan. Reinforcing this trend around that time, Saudi Arabia established links with these Kurds to counter the power of Saddam. In 1992-93, Islamist Kurdish groups worked under the Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization and other “charities”, which pumped $22 million a month into Kurdish areas. Today, Saudi names have been replaced with Kurdish names.

In the decade following the 1991 war, when Saudi “charities” constructed 1,832 new mosques, alarmed Kurdish officials instituted restrictions. Wahhabi teachings followed in Saudi Arabia had been translated into Kurdish and imported into the region, accompanied by the Salafi strain, a puritanical, strict interpretation of the Koran adhered to by al-Qaeda.

In 2003, US air strikes targeted bases of Ansar al-Sunna on Iraq’s northeastern border with Iran. These same radical groups, thanks in large part to Saudi backing, are now alive and flourishing in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

“Islamists from Saudi Arabia are offering money to young Kurds, visiting their schools, marrying Kurdish girls and taking them back to the kingdom,” Sayadi said. “Kurds have always been quite secular – none of us practiced the hijab [body covering] – but now Kurdish women are being forced to do this. There is segregation of men and women. People in sheer desperation and hope for aid are turning more fundamentalist. The environment is ripe for fundamentalism, and Saudi influence is increasing rapidly. They are creating a hope-filled impression among the people that Islamic assertion is the way to resist the West.

Kurdish girls assisted by Sayadi’s NGO have revealed that Saudi Islamists are pressuring Kurdish women to adopt a fundamentalist ideology in exchange for free religious studies in Kurdish universities. From her experience with Kurdishrefugees in southeastern Turkey, she said, “In both Iraq and Turkey, Islamists are operating in a similar fashion, leaving no stones unturned to convert people to fundamental Islam. They are buying poor Kurds desperate for survival and feeding them ideology.”

Sayadi’s 35-year-old unemployed nephew Mushtaq, with a Kurdish mother and a Shi’ite Arab father, used to drive a taxi between Beji and Baghdad. “A man with a Saudi dialect called his mother, my stepsister Gailas, and ordered her to raise $2,500 to free Mushtaq. They called from his cell phone and had him appeal to his mother to give them the money. She raised the money and brought it to a suburb in Baghdad where they had instructed her to go, only to find her son’s burned taxi and his hacked body wrapped in his prayer rug. The men said they did it because he was Shi’ite.”

The Middle East is floating in the violence and chaos bred by failed Bush administration policies. Generations are now being raised in occupations and war zones, which were caused, or supported by, Washington. Anti-American sentiment in the region is quite likely higher than it has ever been in history.

The primary sword in the belly of the Middle East – the US occupation of Iraq – needs to be immediately and unconditionally removed. The United States would simultaneously pay full compensation to all Iraqis who have lost a loved one or suffered damages as a result of the US-led invasion and occupation.

Second to this, the massive weapons packages should be canceled; there is no need to attempt to douse the raging fires in the Middle East with yet more sophisticated weaponry.

In addition, if Iran is to be sanctioned, is it not inherently hypocritical not to be sanctioning Saudi Arabia in the same way, since there is more than ample evidence indicating that fighters, funding and most likely weapons are pouring across its borders into Iraq?

The solution must, finally, include diplomacy and even-handed dealings among all of the countries in the Middle East, as opposed to the current model where countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia in effect have carte blanche to do what they may.

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is a Middle East expert.

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The two top Al-Qaeda leaders opened fire at Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in two separate messages broadcast on Thursday, September 20, declaring war at his regime.


Publication time: 21 September 2007, 15:05

The two top Al-Qaeda leaders opened fire at Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in two separate messages broadcast on Thursday, September 20, declaring war at his regime.

“Pervez, his ministers, his soldiers and those who help him are all accomplices in spilling the blood of Muslims,” Osama bin Laden said in an audiotape produced by Al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab and monitored by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group.

“It is obligatory on the Muslims in Pakistan to carry out jihad and fighting to remove Pervez, his government, his army and those who help him,” he claimed.

The recording was accompanied by video footage of the Western world’s most wanted man, including scenes of him firing a machine gun and walking in a mountainous area with his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In another video, Zawahiri warned that Musharraf would be “punished” over the bloody commando operation against Islamabad’s Red Mosque in July, which claimed the lives of scores of women and children.

“Let the Pakistani army know that the killing of Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his male and female students and the demolishing of his masjid and two madrasahs has soaked the history of the Pakistan army in shame and despicableness which can only be washed away by retaliation against the killers of Abdul-Rashid Ghazi and his students.”

In the 81-minute tape, the bearded and bespectacled Zawahiri branded Pakistani security forces as US President George Bush’s “hunting dogs.”

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, remains chief of the Pakistani army.

He is Washington’s key ally in its so-called “war on terror”.


Experts believe the latest audiotape, the third posting featuring a new message from bin Laden to appear this month, might further complicate the situation for Musharraf.

“The imminent call by bin Laden to fight against Musharraf demonstrates Al-Qaeda’s long-standing and deep hatred for the Pakistani regime, its principal enemy in the region,” said Yasser Serri, director of the London-based Islamic Observatory.

“The message shows Bin Laden is getting desperate and it could be a signal to sleeper cells in Pakistan to get active,” a senior Pakistani security official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity.

“We may see an escalation in the continuing attacks against the security forces but this statement does show the network is feeling seriously threatened by our sustained action against them.”

A series of recent suicide blasts have targeted the Pakistani military, and officials say the attacks were carried out by militants with links to Al-Qaeda and pro-Taliban fighters in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

A bomber blew himself up in an army canteen not far from Islamabad a week ago, killing 20 elite commandos from an anti-Al-Qaeda unit that was involved in the Red Mosque raid.

Earlier this month another bomber killed around two dozen people on a bus carrying officials from the military’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The threat from bin Laden was swiftly dismissed by Pakistan.

“We are already committed to fighting extremists and terrorists — there is no change in our policy,” chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.

“If someone is hurling threats at us, that is their view. The whole nation is behind us and the Pakistan army is a national institution.”

Musharraf survived at least two al Qaeda inspired assassination attempts in 2003 and there was an attempt to shoot down his plane earlier this year.

Embattled Musharraf, who derives most of his support from the army, is seeking re-election for a five-year term as president-in-uniform.

Opposition groups have threatened to quit parliament if his nomination is accepted, and have street protests planned.

Musharraf has been facing a plummeting popularity, especially since an ill-judged attempt to sack the Supreme Court chief justice last March.

Source: Agencies

Kavkaz Center

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Iranophobic US politicians and pundits have no doubt been heartened by the simultaneous attack on Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the UN’s atomic watchdog agency, the IAEA, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has in undiplomatic tone warned ElBaradei to "butt out of Iran diplomacy".

In the run-up to Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United Nations in New York next week, the Iran-bashing sentiment in the US media has escalated to new, unprecedented levels, with presidential hopefuls such as former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, adding fuel to the fire with their increasingly incendiary rhetoric against Iran.

Thus, whereas Romney has written to the UN requesting

Ahmadinejad’s arrest on arriving on US soil, citing the Geneva Conventions, Giuliani has used his European tour to second the warmongering sentiment of French leaders, promising to set Iran back “five to 10 years” if it refuses to comply with demands that it suspend uranium-enrichment activities.

And as for the US media, in their seemingly stiff competition on who will win the Iran-bashing trophy, New York’s Daily News was the winner, with its full-front-page photo of Ahmadinejad circled in red with the accompanying write-up that he should “go to hell” for daring to request a visit to the former site of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York known as Ground Zero. [1] Another New York daily, Newsday, has been equally venomous, referring to Ahmadinejad as a “madman”.

Such vicious, unbounded personal attacks on Iran’s president recall earlier manifestations of US jingoism perpetrated against, among others, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and, during the Cold War, various Soviet and Eastern European leaders.

With such a long and rather unsavory tradition, the US media have once again fallen victim to an orchestration of “enemy image” that aims to vilify, intimidate, deface and demonize a Middle Eastern leader who, ironically, has been unusually forthcoming in his expressions of warm feelings toward the American people (though not the US government and its policies).

Never mind that Ahmadinejad has released a few Iranian-Americans who were suspected of instigating a “velvet revolution”, or that he has broken the ice of diplomatic non-dialogue with the US by consenting to direct meetings between Iranian and US ambassadors in Iraq, or that he has made the most far-reaching Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to date.

None of this matters the least to frenzied pundits and politicians who want to cash in on the feverish anti-Iran mood in the US, whose government has done nothing to quell this Iranophobic frenzy and, instead, is fanning the flames by escalating accusations against Tehran.

The latest was the arrest of an Iranian “officer” by US forces at a hotel in Baghdad who is identified by Iraq’s government as part of a trade delegation on an official visit. It remains to be seen whether the United States’ allegations against this individual turn out to be correct or a tissue of disinformation timed with Ahmadinejad’s New York visit.

Iranophobic US politicians and pundits have no doubt been heartened by the simultaneous attack on Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the UN’s atomic watchdog agency, the IAEA, by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has in undiplomatic tone warned ElBaradei to “butt out of Iran diplomacy”.

ElBaradei’s bold anti-war language is, of course, behind all the recent attacks on him, which dates to 2002 when he was similarly vilified for opposing an invasion of Iraq. ElBaradei’s other guilt is that he has dared to draw comparison between the anti-Iran war hype today and the pre-Iraq-invasion circumstance, when his agency’s failure to find weapons of mass destruction was repudiated by most of the “respected” media pundits in the US, including those writing in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Sadly, history repeats itself, and the US media frenzy against Ahmadinejad, rooted in the US government’s failures in Iraq and Iran’s defiance of international pressures on the nuclear issue, will undoubtedly gear up to even higher levels once Ahmadinejad sets foot in New York. He has reportedly agreed to debate the president of Columbia University, and that too may become a casualty of the Iran-bashing campaign that succeeded in last year’s cancellation of a similar event at Columbia.

What is disturbing about this tidal wave of Iran-bashing in the US is the cowardice of more moderate elements of the US media and politics to speak against the irrational tone of such attacks on Tehran, which many leading US politicians who helped draft the Iraq Study Group (ISG) Report have called on the US government to “engage” diplomatically.

Yet instead of speaking out against the opposite policy of “isolating” Iran by the White House, most of those politicians – with the sole exception of Lee Hamilton, a co-chairman of the ISG – have opted to stay silent.

But that does not make sense, given the United States’ national interests and the fact that the onset of US-Iran dialogue on Iraq has been a positive development requiring a timely deepening, for example via next month’s conference on Iraq and its neighbors in Turkey, where Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will have an opportunity to discuss the issues dividing their two countries, which have a large pool of (non-zero-sum) shared interests in the region.

In light of the US media’s reports on Rice’s preference for diplomacy, as opposed to warfare, with Iran, which has been seconded by President George W Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it is indeed surprising that the US Department of State has not weighed in on the issue of Ahmadinejad’s request to lay a wreath at Ground Zero.

Sure, such a gesture provides a “photo op”, as claimed by some New York City officials, but then again it is a small yet concrete step by Iran to reinforce and bolster its anti-terrorist image, given its steady cooperation with the anti-terrorist committee at the UN Security Council, and the US government is dreadfully wrong not to seek such visible signs of Iran’s commitment.


1. Daily News, Thursday, September 20, 2007.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.)

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President George W. Bush and the US Congress registered record-low approval ratings in a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

President George W. Bush and the US Congress registered record-low approval ratings in a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

New monthly index measuring the mood of Americans has dipped slightly on deepening worries about the economy.

Only 29 percent of Americans gave Bush a positive grade for his job performance, below his worst Zogby poll mark of 30 percent in March. A paltry 11 percent rated Congress positively, beating the previous low of 14 percent in July.

The Reuters/Zogby Index, a new measure of the mood of the country, dropped from 100 to 98.8 in the last month on worries about the economy and fears of a recession, pollster John Zogby said.

The national survey of 1,011 likely voters, taken September 13 through September 16, found barely one-quarter of Americans, or 27 percent, believe the country is headed in the right direction. Nearly 62 percent think the country is on the wrong track.

About two-thirds of Americans think the value of their homes will stay the same or drop in the next year, and about one-third expect a recession in the next year amid a housing slump and credit crunch.

The poll also found little confidence in US foreign or economic policy, with 68 percent of Americans rating economic policy as just fair or poor and 73 percent calling foreign policy either fair or poor.

Most of the polling was done after a speech by Bush and testimony to Congress by the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, indicating the United States would make some reductions but planned to keep high troop levels in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Zogby said continuing uncertainty about Iraq contributed to the bad public mood and helped push down ratings for Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

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Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has suffered an embarrassing blow to his prestige after his own party attacked him for adopting a jocular tone towards inflation at a time of rampant price rises.

Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has suffered an embarrassing blow to his prestige after his own party attacked him for adopting a jocular tone towards inflation at a time of rampant price rises.

The Islamic Revolution Devotees Society — a fundamentalist grouping of revolutionary veterans co-founded by Ahmadinejad — has added its voice to a rising chorus of economic discontent by warning the president that spiralling living costs are hurting the poor and undermining his stated goal of social justice.

The society says the government is to blame because it embarked on extravagant projects while failing to control the money supply. “Unrestrained inflation increases the pressure on the weak and leads to the poor becoming poorer as owners of non-monetary assets get richer,” it says in an economic report. “The result is counter to the goals, plans and slogans of Dr Ahmadinejad’s government.”

The report also accuses Ahmadinejad and other officials of refusing to acknowledge the problem and of making light of it with inappropriate jokes. It says: “Sometimes some high-ranking government officials deny the growth of prices and deal with them through making jokes. To deny the current inflation or ignoring it through jokes is totally unacceptable.”

Ahmadinejad has frequently dismissed complaints of rising prices as the invention of a hostile media and blamed “secret networks” for rising house prices. This year he responded to MPs’ protests over the rising price of tomatoes by urging them to visit his local greengrocer in Narmak in east Tehran. He also answered recent criticism of his policies by saying he took advice from his local butcher. “There is an honourable butcher in our neighbourhood who knows all the economic problems of the people. I get my economic information from him,” he said.

The latest report implicitly criticises his contemptuous view of economics by describing it as a “specialised science” and says Iran’s inflationary problems cannot be solved by “ad hoc decisions”. That may partly refer to one of Ahmadinejad’s most controversial recent moves in which he ordered banks to cut interest rates to 12% — below inflation, which is estimated at between 20% and 30%.

Ahmadinejad is on record as saying, “I pray to God I never know about economics”. That echoes a comment attributed to the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, who is alleged to have said that “economics is for donkeys”.

– Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007

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Once a mighty war god, Bush has run out of tricks, troops and time. Will Americans finally rise up to stop his endless war?

Sept. 18, 2007 | The Iraq war has moved into a weird purgatorial endgame. Almost no one believes in it anymore, but it keeps going. Americans keep dying, Iraq continues to fall apart, there is no end in sight, but nothing changes. Much of the country wants the war to end, but the political system is deadlocked. As George W. Bush’s presidency winds down, there will be a crucial struggle between two opposed forces: inertia vs. outrage, resignation vs. engagement. At stake is not just what we do in Iraq but a deeper question: Do we care?

If history holds, the war will just keep rolling along as an anesthetized nation watches dumbly from the sidelines. Bush has succeeded in making an endless, pointless war seem normal. He just won another tactical victory, convincing wavering GOP politicians to sign off on his stay-the-course policy. A great lassitude seems to have descended over the country. The debate has gone on for too long, and the outcome is always the same. No one even wants to think about it anymore. The war is invisible.

But beneath the surface, something may have changed. Most Americans have been skeptical of Bush’s war and everything he has said about it for a year or more. Still, they have entertained hope that the situation in Iraq would improve. Bush’s “surge” was his last gambit: Everyone knew that there were no more troops to throw in. It had to work. Now that it is clear that it didn’t, there is nothing else Bush can do.

This is an unprecedented situation. Bush always had another trick up his sleeve, another milestone to point to, another winning tactic to propose. But he has run out of tricks. The thing he dreaded most has come to pass: He is now completely at the mercy of events in Iraq.

Of course, Bush was always hostage to the harsh reality of Iraq. But he was able to counter that reality by invoking his master narrative about how Iraq was the front line of the war on terror, a battle of good vs. evil, a crucial battle on which the fate of the West depended. Even though Americans increasingly rejected that narrative, it had enough resonance to perform its function. At least Bush came across as consistent.

Now not ony has Bush’s grand war story been discredited by reality, he himself has been forced to adjust it in ways that make him look both hypocritical and powerless. His aura as an aggressive winner has been destroyed. This fact has not sunk in yet, but it could lead to the final erosion of American support for the war.

Bush has justified the war by arguing that it’s necessary to fight terrorism, and that we’re winning. Gen. Petraeus bought more time for Bush by arguing that the surge had resulted in some minor tactical victories. But by declining to say whether the war in Iraq was making us safer, Petraeus did more damage to Bush’s justifications for the war than all of the experts who have concluded that the war has made America less safe. Both Petraeus and Iraq ambassador Ryan Crocker admitted that we are not winning the real war in Iraq, the political one, and there are no realistic expectations of doing so.

Only dead-enders still believe that Bush’s Iraq war either is winnable or constitutes “the front line of the war on terror.” Most Americans see it as a terrible blunder that has thrown Americans into the middle of a civil war, and that is breeding far more terrorists than it is eliminating. Petraeus and Crocker’s reports only confirmed these beliefs. Bush has no recourse. These are his people. And he doesn’t have any more to trot out.

Trapped by reality, Bush can no longer use his time-tested rhetoric to rally America. Instead, he is forced to contradict his own grand ideological claims. His pathetic speech last week was a preview of what we are likely to see in the diminished last phase of his presidency. The grand rhetoric about “victory” was replaced by the weird CEO-like phrase “return on success,” an expression so plastic it radiated “corporate bullshit spin” from every syllable. Worse, Bush had to acknowledge the destructive facts on the ground. He had to deal with the painful reality that unless he extends tours of duty, which would be political suicide, he has to start bringing troops home, no matter what the situation in Iraq is. This forced him to make the absurd claim that the surge’s “success” in Iraq has made it possible to bring home 5,700 troops by Christmas. Disregarding the fact that these troops were slated to come home anyway, not even Bush’s most ardent supporters could believe that there is any actual connection between the allegedly “improving” situation in Iraq and the redeployment of 5,700 troops.

By insisting that the stakes in the war are nothing less than the fate of Western civilization, yet refusing to impose a draft or ask Americans to make real sacrifices, Bush has painted himself into a corner. If the war in Iraq is really the vital front line of the war against terror that Bush claims it is, he should not be pulling troops out, but pouring more in — even if it means reinstating the draft. For the first time, Bush’s actions explicitly belie his words. Bush, once the great and powerful war god, now comes across as a desperate politician hiding behind a curtain, trying to score popularity points by bringing troops home while simultaneously warning of apocalypse if we lose the war. Bush’s obvious hypocrisy and powerlessness, exacerbated by his lame-duck status, have caused him to lose his image of invincibility — the only thing he ever had going for him.

In short, we’re now in the endgame, and everyone knows it. Even the entropic force of war eventually runs out. The fact that even staunchly conservative GOP senators like Elizabeth Dole are edging away from Bush shows how much the ground has shifted.

Unless a miracle happens to stabilize Iraq in the next six months, the end of Bush’s presidency will be slow-motion political death for him. Each bombing, each sectarian murder, each failure of the Iraqi factions to reach agreement will be another nail in his coffin. If the situation in Iraq worsens, which is, sadly, the most likely scenario, Bush cannot send more troops in, because there are none to send. But if he pulls them out, as he will be under enormous pressure to do, he will look like a weakling and a hypocrite. There is no way for him to get out of this self-created box — except by ratcheting up tensions with Iran and Syria in the hopes of provoking an accidentally-on-purpose regional war that would serve as a do-over for his entire misguided Middle East adventure. Insane as that idea would be, he might grab at it to save himself.

Assuming that this nightmare doesn’t materialize, the best-case scenario would be a
political breakthrough, in which moderate GOP politicians, terrified of losing their seats in 2008, join with Democrats to force Bush to begin ending the war. The time has never been more propitious.

But America is being pulled in opposite directions. The failure of the war, and Bush’s meltdown, could lead Americans to turn decisively against it. But it could also heighten the exhausted passivity, the resignation, and the sheer apathy that have marked America’s response to the war.

The deepest, darkest fear of those opposed to the war is that Americans simply don’t care enough to end it. The dead and the maimed are hidden from view. The war’s economic impact goes unnoticed. The lack of a draft means that the rich and powerful have no personal stake in the war. Its effect on most Americans, in short, is zero. It is almost as if it is being fought by a mercenary army on behalf of some unknown entity. It may go down in history as the first war that never ended because people forgot its existence.

So America needs to wake up. Those opposed to the war, of whatever political persuasion, need to appropriate that old World War II chestnut, “Don’t you know there’s a war going on?” We need to think about what we could do with the $550 billion the war has cost so far. We need to remember that every day that this war goes on, jihadis rejoice, the chances of a devastating regional confrontation increase and our national security is jeopardized. Above all, we need to remember that real people are dying every day in this war — Americans and Iraqis.

One of the many tragedies of Bush’s response to 9/11 was that he squandered the sense of national unity that sprang up after the terror attacks. The country today is more bitterly divided than at any time since Vietnam. But we can regain that unity — not through partisanship, not through Bush-hating, but through a renewed acknowledgment of our responsibility to each other. We need to remember that every American who falls in Iraq is someone’s son or daughter. We need to commit ourselves to working with the Iraqis, whom we have so terribly wronged, and with the rest of the world to ensure that our departure will not cause Iraq’s people to suffer even more. We need to remember that war is not normal, that it is the worst thing in the world, to be undertaken only in extreme need. And we need to remember that a nation that does not rise up when arrogant and foolish leaders sacrifice its less privileged members is in danger of becoming a nation in name only.

This is no longer about Bush. This is about remaking America.

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Despite saber-rattling, and the Washington buzz that a strike is coming, the president doesn’t intend to bomb Iran. Cheney may have other ideas.

Despite saber-rattling, and the Washington buzz that a strike is coming, the president doesn’t intend to bomb Iran. Cheney may have other ideas.

Sept. 19, 2007 | WASHINGTON — During a recent high-powered Washington dinner party attended by 18 people, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft squared off across the table over whether President Bush will bomb Iran.

Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, said he believed Bush’s team had laid a track leading to a single course of action: a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Scowcroft, who was NSA to Presidents Ford and the first Bush, held out hope that the current President Bush would hold fire and not make an already disastrous situation for the U.S. in the Middle East even worse.

The 18 people at the party, including former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, then voted with a show of hands for either Brzezinski’s or Scowcroft’s position. Scowcroft got only two votes, including his own. Everyone else at the table shared Brzezinski’s fear that a U.S. strike against Iran is around the corner.

In the national debate about America’s next moves in the Middle East, an irrepressible and perhaps irresponsible certainty that America will attack Iran now dominates commentary across the political spectrum. Nerves are further frayed by stories like this one, about the Pentagon making a list of 2,000 military targets inside Iran.

The left — and much of the old-school, realist right — fears that Bush means to bomb Iran sometime between now and next spring. Both would like to rally public opinion against the strike before it happens. The neoconservative right, meanwhile, is asserting that we will bomb Iran but that we need to get to it posthaste.

But both sides are advancing scenarios that are politically useful to them, and both sides are wrong. Despite holding out a military option, ratcheting up tensions with Iran about meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, and deploying carrier strike-force groups in the Persian Gulf, the president is not planning to bomb Iran. But there are several not-unrelated scenarios under which it might happen, if the neocon wing of the party, led by Vice President Cheney, succeeds in reasserting itself, or if there is some kind of “accidental,” perhaps contrived, confrontation.

One of the reasons so many believe action is near is the well-known neoconservative preference that it be so. There is still a strong neoconservative faction within the Bush team, and their movement allies outside the administration, such as Michael Ledeen, John Bolton and Norman Podhoretz, have openly advocated striking Iran before it can develop nuclear weapons. The neoconservatives believe that in the end, Bush’s team will indeed launch a military strike against Iran, or will nudge Israel to do so.

There is also evidence that the administration has given serious thought to the bombing option. In June 2006, I helped organize a round table on Iran for the New America Foundation, where I work, that attracted some heavy hitters in the national security world, including some of the names associated with the Aspen Strategy Group co-chaired by Brent Scowcroft and former National Intelligence Council chairman and Harvard Kennedy School dean Joseph Nye. As at the Aspen Strategy Group, comments made in my session were on a “not for attribution” basis. Several current and former Bush administration officials were in attendance.

I moderated the session. The task of those participating was to think and talk through the “unthinkables.” On the one hand, was an Iran with nukes so hard to live with that the potentially disastrous consequences of an attack, even if it negated Iran’s nuclear gains, would be worth it? Would an Iran with nukes be less paranoid about its security and thus less prone to meddling in other countries, or would it use the nukes as a shield to protect itself while continuing to finance terrorism?

Alternatively, if we bombed Iran would we be prepared to cede American primacy over the world’s fossil fuel regime and see Iran, China and Russia develop what Flynt Leverett calls a “new axis of oil”? Would we be prepared for a post-bombing terrorist superhighway to erupt from Iran and race through Iraq, Syria and Jordan to the edge of Israel? America might not just see its global geo-energy position undermined, but could see a set of falling dominoes among Sunni Arab states that could dramatically remake the map of the Middle East — and not in America’s favor.

In other words, the task was to ponder what each of these bleak binary choices meant for America. They are often framed as “bombing” vs. “appeasement.” The emerging polite term for the appeasement option is “strategic readjustment.”

After the session, two Bush administration senior officials who were not present sent me letters, one to say the binary “to bomb or not to bomb” scenario was premature, the other to say it was not premature.

But a former administration official who was present at the session vigorously and emphatically embraced the either/or formula. He also had this to share about the inner workings of the Bush White House on Iran and the inevitability of military action:

The President is going to receive a memo — some time in the next 6 to 12 months — that presents a “bleak binary choice”. Either he takes action to preempt Iran from reaching a nuclear threshold and calls for a military strike or he stands down and accepts a future with Iran with nuclear weapons.

Condi’s job is to develop a “third option”. She will dance round and round, waltzing with that third option. She will dance faster and faster with it, spinning and spinning, all around she’ll go — but when she’s done she’ll see that she’s dancing with a corpse.

This President is the kind of president who believes it is his moral responsibility to address serious problems now and not to leave these tough actions to a successor.

Those are the cold, harsh realities that we face — and to me, as I look ahead, I don’t see how we come out of this without military action. Unless Iran abandons its nuclear weapons intentions, which I don’t see happening, there will be a war.

So 15 months later, the president has now, presumably, received that memo, and those who hold the deterministic view that bombing Iran is around the corner could argue that they are in good company.

To try to discern what the president himself thinks, however, is very difficult. It’s particularly hard when Bush is trying to convince Iran that the military option is real, and that if Iran doesn’t work out a mutually acceptable deal with the U.S., he will launch a strike.

To date, however, nothing suggests Bush is really going to do it. If he were, he wouldn’t be playing good cop/bad cop with Iran and proposing engagement. If the bombs were at the ready, Bush would be doing a lot more to prepare the nation and the military for a war far more consequential than the invasion of Iraq. There is also circumstantial evidence that he has decided bombing may be too costly a choice.

First, journalist Joe Klein documents a December 2006 meeting in which Bush met in “the Tank” with his senior national security counselors and the military’s command staff and walked out with the impression that either the costs of military action against Iran were simply too high, or that the prospects for success for the mission too low.

Klein writes:

Then Bush asked about the possibility of a successful attack on Iran’s nuclear capability. He was told that the U.S. could launch a devastating air attack on Iran’s government and military, wiping out the Iranian air force, the command and control structure and some of the more obvious nuclear facilities. But the Chiefs were — once again — unanimously opposed to taking that course of action.

Why? Because our intelligence inside Iran is very sketchy. There was no way to be sure that we could take out all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Furthermore, the Chiefs warned, the Iranian response in Iraq and, quite possibly, in terrorist attacks on the U.S. could be devastating. Bush apparently took this advice to heart and went to Plan B — a covert destabilization campaign reported earlier this week by ABC News.

After this meeting, Bush immediately tilted away from the Cheney-dominant view that military action was the most preferable course and empowered and released other parts of his administration to animate a third option.

Secondly, we know via material first reported on my blog, the Washington Note, and subsequently confirmed by the New York Times, Time and Newsweek, that Cheney and his team have been deeply frustrated by the “engage Iran team” that the president empowered and felt that they were losing ground to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and the president’s new chief of staff, Joshua Bolten.

One member of Cheney’s national security staff, David Wurmser, worried out loud that Cheney felt that his wing was “losing the policy argument on Iran” inside the administration — and that they might need to “end run” the president with scenarios that may narrow his choices. The option that Wurmser allegedly discussed was nudging Israel to launch a low-yield cruise missile strike against the Natanz nuclear reactor in Iran, thus “hopefully” prompting a military reaction by Tehran against U.S. forces in Iraq and the Gulf. When queried about Wurmser’s alleged comments, a senior Bush administration official told the New York Times, “The vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff.”

We know Bush rebuffed Cheney’s view and is seeking other alternatives. That is the most clear evidence that Bush is not committed to bombing Iran. Even if Bush wanted to make the Iranians believe that he could go either way — diplomacy or military strike — Bush would not so clearly knock back one side in favor of the other to the point where the “bad cops” in a good cop/bad cop strategy would tell anyone on the outside that they did not enjoy the favor and support of the president.

Bush is aware that America’s intelligence on Iran is weak. Even without admitting America’s blind spots on Iraq, the intelligence failures on Iraq’s WMD program create a formidable credibility hurdle.

Bush knows that the American military is stretched and that bombing Iran would not be a casual exercise. Reprisals in the Gulf toward U.S. forces and Iran’s ability to cut off supply lines to the 160,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq could seriously endanger the entire American military.

Bush can also see China and Russia waiting in the wings, not to promote conflict but to take advantage of self-destructive missteps that the United States takes that would give them more leverage over and control of global energy flows. Iran has the third-largest undeveloped oil reserves in the world and the second-largest undeveloped natural gas reserves.

Bush also knows that Iran controls “the temperature” of the terror networks it runs. Bombing Iran would blow the control gauge off, and Iran’s terror networks could mobilize throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and even the United States.
In sum, Bush does not plan to escalate toward a direct military conflict with Iran, at least not now — and probably not later. The costs are too high, and there are still many options to be tried before the worst of all options is put back on the table. As it stands today, he wants that “third option,” even if Cheney doesn’t. Bush’s war-prone team failed him on Iraq, and this time he’ll be more reserved, more cautious. That is why a classic buildup to war with Iran, one in which the decision to bomb has already been made, is not something we should be worried about today.

What we should worry about, however, is the continued effort by the neocons to shore up their sagging influence. They now fear that events and arguments could intervene to keep what once seemed like a “nearly inevitable” attack from happening. They know that they must keep up the pressure on Bush and maintain a drumbeat calling for war.

They are doing exactly this during September and October in a series of meetings organized by the American Enterprise Institute on Iran and Iraq designed to reemphasize the case for hawkish, interventionist deployments in Iraq and a military, regime-change-oriented strike against Iran. And through Op-Eds and the serious political media, the “bomb Iran now” crowd believes they must undermine those in and out of government proposing alternatives to bombing and keep the president and his people saturated with pro-war mantras.

We should also worry about the kind of scenario David Wurmser floated, meaning an engineered provocation. An “accidental war” would escalate quickly and “end run,” as Wurmser put it, the president’s diplomatic, intelligence and military decision-making apparatus. It would most likely be triggered by one or both of the two people who would see their political fortunes rise through a new conflict — Cheney and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That kind of war is much more probable and very much worth worrying about.…an/index1.html

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The U.S. is selling billions in weapons to Iraq. Is the Pentagon’s plan making the country secure or arming it to the teeth for civil war?

The U.S. is selling billions in weapons to Iraq. Is the Pentagon’s plan making the country secure or arming it to the teeth for civil war?

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Sept. 18, 2007 | WASHINGTON — The grand debate about Gen. David Petraeus’ Capitol Hill testimony last week on U.S. strategy in Iraq focused primarily on troop levels, withdrawal dates and whether Bush’s so-called troop surge was succeeding. But widely overlooked was Petraeus’ sales pitch to lawmakers for one initiative he said will help save the war-torn country: massive arms sales from the U.S. government to Iraq.

“Iraq is becoming one of the United States’ larger foreign military sales customers,” Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 11, noting that Iraq has inked deals to buy $1.6 billion in arms from the U.S., with the “possibility of up to $1.8 billion more.” Data obtained by Salon shows the arms sales could rise far higher than even the amount the general suggested last week.

Petraeus said that the arms sales are an important part of the initiative to keep the Iraqis “rapidly expanding their security forces.” But Petraeus himself presided over an arms debacle in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 in which nearly 200,000 weapons went missing. And while U.S. arms might help the Iraqi security forces “stand up” in the short term, experts warn that the U.S. military could easily lose control over what may follow. Some fear a war zone flooded with weapons that could be turned on U.S. soldiers, or supply huge firepower for a full-blown civil war.

The Pentagon confirmed that this fiscal year, the United States has finalized $1.6 billion in arms sales to Iraq, placing the country in an elite club of weapons buyers. For example, in recent one-year periods Saudi Arabia bought $800 million and Egypt bought $1 billion in arms from the U.S., while Pakistan spent $3.5 billion, including the purchase of jet fighters. “This would put [Iraq] right up there with the top handful of arms buyers,” said William Hartung, a weapons proliferation expert at the New America Foundation.

In fact, the numbers Petraeus presented on Iraq were the tip of the iceberg. According to data obtained by Salon from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency at the Pentagon, which manages the arms sales, the military has alerted Congress to up to $4.3 billion in arms sales that have been under discussion since at least 2006 between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

The arms deals come as the U.S. has shifted strategy to enlist Sunnis in western Iraq — some of them former insurgents — into all-Sunni units of the Iraqi security forces. The fear is that these newly trained and armed units will ultimately turn against the Shiite-dominated central government or against U.S. forces again. “I think this is kind of crazy,” Hartung said about the arms sales. “Now we are making deals with some of these Sunni groups. Well, what if they turn around and go back to being insurgents after we have built them up? I think the danger of these arms being misused, even in the short term, is fairly high.”

The weapons are sold through what is called the Foreign Military Sales program, which handles direct, government-to-government arms sales. Federal law requires the Pentagon to notify Congress of deals under development through that program, even if final contracts have not yet been signed. On Sept. 19, 2006, for example, the Pentagon alerted Congress of one pending deal with Iraq, worth $500 million, including 100,000 M-16 and M-4 rifles, the models carried by U.S. troops; 10,000 heavy machine guns; more than 10,000 Glock pistols; almost 3,500 M-24 sniper rifles and 1,300 night vision goggles; and tens of millions of rounds of ammunition.

Plans to sell billions in small arms to the Iraqis could come back to haunt the United States, agrees Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information at the World Security Institute. “I don’t know if it makes sense to pump more weapons into the hands of actors that we have absolutely no idea about what their angles are and how those weapons are going to be used,” she said. “It is such a chaotic situation … I’m not sure at this point that that is the best policy.”

Losing control of weapons once they are out of U.S. hands is a risk Petraeus knows about. In July, a Government Accountability Office released a critical report showing that the military had lost track of 190,000 weapons the U.S. military was supposed to hand out to Iraqi security forces, including 110,000 AK-47 rifles. That report received widespread attention in the media. (These weapons, purchased by the United States and handed out to Iraqis, are in addition to these new arms deals with Iraq.)

What received less attention was that the report was highly critical of Petraeus himself, though not by name. He was the first commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq from when the command was set up in June 2004 until September 2005. That command was in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces. According to the GAO report, Petraeus’ command “did not maintain a centralized record of all equipment distributed to the Iraqi security forces from June 2004 until December 2005.” As a result, the whereabouts of 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets are unclear. The military, the report added, “cannot ensure that Iraqi security forces received the equipment as intended.”

Late last month, a report from National Public Radio revealed that Glock pistols were part of a growing black market in Turkey for weapons of U.S. origin.

“I think he has gotten off easy on this,” Stohl said about Petraeus’ role in the missing weapons. “Obviously you have to place the blame somewhere and I think that he should take some of it.”

When Petraeus was pressed about his role in the missing guns, he argued that the weapons had to be handed out quickly to Iraqis willing to fight against insurgents. There was no time to wait around for tracking systems to be implemented, he said.

Petraeus is now emphasizing speed once again. The Iraqis “have put a lot of stock into Foreign Military Sales, and we have to come through for them,” he said in response to questioning by Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor during last week’s Senate hearing. “It can’t be business as usual. It has to be really moved very quickly.”

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Iraq, said the military now carefully records the identity of each member of the Iraqi security forces who gets a weapon. “That means you take a serial number. You take a retinal scan. You take fingerprints of all 10 fingers. Those all get compiled in a database together,” explained Garver. Lost weapons can now be traced back to their original recipients, Garver said.

Garver conceded, however, that the improved tracking system will be of little use in a civil war. “It does provide a measure of control,” he said. “In terms of loyalties lying where they lie, will that prevent someone from going to do something? No.”

On the home front, American arms companies stand to gain from the arms deals with Iraq, since Pentagon contracting practices favor domestic arms manufacturers. But good business doesn’t necessarily equal good foreign policy. According to Stohl, the arms sales to Iraq are part of a troubling pattern of the Bush administration’s supplying weapons to unstable regimes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Early this month, her organization released a report on arms sales to 25 countries considered to be key allies in the so-called war on terror, including many with clear human rights or stability issues, including Ethiopia, Chad and Pakistan. The report showed that since 9/11, arms sales to those 25 countries were worth four times more than sales to those countries in the five years before 9/11. It added that the State Department had reported serious, grave or significant human rights abuses committed by the governments of more than half of the countries on the list.

“I think the United States has made the mistake, since 2001 in particular, of looking at short-term benefits rather than long-term strategic gains,” said Stohl. “It is not just with these sales we are talking about in Iraq. It is also from a global perspective in terms of increasing military assistance to governments that probably have not been very much on our side in the past.”

With respect to Iraq, most experts agree that it very much remains an open question as to who in that country might be on our side in the future.

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In an early August interview with National Public Radio, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the White House deputy national security advisor, said that a draft is worth considering and that it “has always been an option on the table.” Some see the draft as an eventual necessary measure in order to maintain current combat levels and continue the War on Terrorism.

Taqrir Washington – Anne Marie Brooks

During the Vietnam War, the population of the United States was up in arms over what it considered an unjust war in which young American men were forced to fight. Some of the most adamant protestors were students, who organized teach-ins at their universities, shut their schools down for weeks at a time with protests, and even bombed facilities that carried out government work.

Now students approach the Iraq War very differently than Vietnam. In the general population as well, people do not feel as affected unless they personally know soldiers. Although many adorn their cars with bumper stickers stating “support our troops” and others tack “bring them home” onto this slogan, few citizens take an active role in showing their opinions on the war.

Perhaps the most well-known protestor of the Iraq War has been Cindy Sheehan, a Californian whose son was killed in Iraq. She camped outside President Bush’s home in August of 2005 to demand a meeting with the President and founded the Gold Star Families for Peace. Although she has now decided to leave the anti-war movement, disenchanted by a lack of action on the part of Democratic politicians, she remains a symbol of how people with personal connections to the conflict have led the anti-war movement.

While college students during the Vietnam War, whose draft deferments expired after graduation, protested the war they would soon be forced to fight in, college students today do not see the personal effects of the war. Since the start of the Iraq War, and particularly since the conflict has turned increasingly sour, college students are less and less likely to enlist, leaving military ranks composed of recruits who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have fewer options for their future.

Military Recruitment Challenges

Since the beginning of the Iraq war, the United States has lost over 3700 soldiers to death in combat and thousands more potential recruits. With a four-year-long war that shows few signs of soon ending, fewer recent high school graduates and other targets for recruitment in years past are eager to join the armed forces. While in 2004 traditional high school graduates made up over 90 percent of the military, that number dropped to 84 percent in 2005 and just 73 percent in 2006. In reaction to the decline in traditional recruits, the military has offered more waivers and changed its standards in order to retain recruitment numbers.

To counteract these losses, the U.S. military has begun changing its standards for recruits and offering additional incentives for those willing to serve. One of the first standards to go was graduation from high school. Instead, recruits that have not graduated from high school are now offered a three week class in order to pass their GEDs. Through this measure, the military is not only able to accept recruits that would not otherwise be able to serve, it can also increase recruitment by marketing military service as a way to obtain a GED and improve job prospects after service.

The army has also bgun accepting many more recruits that score in the lowest 30 percent on the armed forces aptitude test. These recruits, known as Category IV recruits, have long been kept out of the army – or at least kept at a very low percentage of the troops. A RAND Corporation report found that on average, they perform significantly below other recruits in military activities.

Starting in 2004 with the Defense Department’s “Moral Waiver Study,” an attempt to prove past activity would not have an effect on a soldier’s ability to serve, the military began accepting recruits with criminal records indicating “serious criminal misconduct.” The number of recruits with waivers for misdemeanors, health problems, and alcohol and illegal drug waivers has increased sharply over the past few years. There are also higher numbers of recruits accepted that are suspected to be involved in gangs, and some fear the reasons these individuals wish to gain access to military training and weapons.

Finally, in a last effort to meet recruitment goals for Fiscal Year 2007 (FY07), which ends October 1st, the military has been offering a $20,000 bonus to recruits who are willing to start combat training in September. This bonus is above the $17,000 average yearly salary for a newly-recruited soldier.

Unable to attract high enough numbers of new recruits to keep up the surge in Iraq, the military has taken other measures to ensure an adequate number of troops in combat. The military has called up soldiers who have not served in decades, assigned multiple deployments, and even recently increased the time of deployments to Iraq from 12 months to 15 months. As these measures are putting increasing stress on current soldiers, the debate over reinstating a military draft has risen to new levels.

The Politics of a Draft

In an early August interview with National Public Radio, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, the White House deputy national security advisor, said that a draft is worth considering and that it “has always been an option on the table.” Some see the draft as an eventual necessary measure in order to maintain current combat levels and continue the War on Terrorism.

Many people believe that Democrats are more likely to oppose a draft and Republicans are more likely to support it based on their respective stances on the Iraq War in general. However, this is not always the case. In 2001, two Republican Representatives introduced a bill that would have required men registered in the Selective Service to receive a year of military training and education. A year later, anti-draft measures have crossed party lines. In March 2002, a Republican Congressman introduced a bill against the possibility of a future military draft, which was then cosponsored by five democrats.

In a striking example, some Democrats are calling for a draft not to help the armed services, but rather in order to create public outcry against the war. Democratic representative Charles B. Rangel of New York has repeatedly introduced legislation calling for a reinstitution of the draft. He has noted that a draft would ensure equal service from people of all economic levels in society and that he believes government officials and the population in general will be less eager to go to war if there is a shared sacrifice.

The first time Rangel introduced the draft, in 2003, the bill would have applied to men and women aged 18-26, and the second draft of the bill, introduced in 2006, applied to men and women aged 18 to 42. While during the Vietnam War men who were full-time students were deferred from the draft, if this draft were to take effect, a college student would only be able to defer until the end of the semester, or in the case of a senior, until the end of the academic year. Rangel and other Democrats believe that if a draft were put in place, citizens in power would immediately call for an end to the war rather than have their children or themselves serve in combat.

Public Opposition to a Draft

A 2005 Associated Press poll found that seven in ten Americans oppose the draft and over half strongly oppose it. Of the twenty-five percent that said they would support a reinstatement of the draft, most were above age 50 and would never be called upon to serve under any draft proposed thus far. A poll conducted in the same year found draft opposition to be even higher, concluding that 85 percent of American adults opposed a draft at that time.

A 2006 poll delved deeper into the issue, asking respondents if they would favor or oppose a military draft in general and in order to provide soldiers for the Iraq conflict. While 68 percent opposed a reinstatement of the military draft in general, a full 76 percent opposed the draft if it were for the Iraq conflict.

The 2005 Associated Press poll also found that parents are unlikely to want their children to enlist in the armed forces. The majority of Americans polled would discourage a son and two-thirds would discourage a daughter from enlisting.

The strong public opposition to a draft, and particularly to an Iraq War draft, demonstrates the public’s overall feelings toward the war: they do not wish to be called upon to serve in Iraq, and they would not want their children to be forcibly conscripted. Perhaps if a draft were to be reinstated, the level and forms of public protest against the war would eventually rise to those so prevalent during the Vietnam War.

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Iraq’s Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater Security Consulting, an American firm whose contractors are blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Iraqi officials Monday condemned the weekend killings of eight civilians during a Baghdad street battle involving American security contractors and said they would shut down Blackwater, the company involved.

Blackwater said its employees acted in self-defense. The U.S. State Department said it plans to investigate what it calls a “terrible incident.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to express regret for the weekend killings, both governments said.

In addition to the fatalities, 14 people were wounded, most of them civilians, an Iraqi official said.

Sunday’s firefight took place near Nusoor Square, an area that straddles the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhoods of Mansour and Yarmouk.

The ministry said the incident began around midday, when a convoy of sport utility vehicles came under fire from unidentified gunmen in the square. The men in the SUVs, described by witnesses as Westerners, returned fire, the ministry said.

Blackwater’s employees were protecting a U.S. official when they were hit by “a large explosive device, then repeated small-arms fire — and to the point where it disabled one of the vehicles, and the vehicle had to be towed out of the firefight,” said Marty Strong, vice president of Blackwater USA.

A senior industry source said Blackwater guards had escorted a State Department group to a meeting with U.S. Agency for International Development officials in Mansour before the shootings.

A car bomb went off about 80 feet (25 meters) from the meeting site and the contractors started evacuating the State Department officials, he said. A State Department report on the attack said the convoy came under fire from an estimated eight to 10 people, some in Iraqi police uniforms.

The guards called for backup, at one point finding their escape route blocked by an Iraqi quick-reaction force that pointed heavy machine guns at one vehicle in the convoy. A U.S. Army force, backed by air cover, arrived about half an hour later to escort the convoy back to the Green Zone, the report states.

A team from another security company passed through the area shortly after the street battle.

“Our people saw a couple of cars destroyed,” Carter Andress, CEO of American-Iraqi Solutions Groups, told CNN on Monday. “Dead bodies, wounded people being evacuated. The U.S. military had moved in and secured the area. It was not a good scene.”

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, said, “We have revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq. As of now they are not allowed to operate anywhere in the Republic of Iraq. The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday’s killing will be referred to Iraqi justice.” 

Watch why the Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license »

Company and State Department officials said they had not been notified of any order to that effect.

Rice and al-Maliki agreed to conduct “a fair and transparent investigation into this incident” and punish those responsible, the prime minister’s office said.

The Diplomatic Security Service has launched an official investigation, a review that will be supported by the Multi-National Forces-Iraq, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

“The secretary wants to make sure we do everything we possibly can to avoid innocent loss of life,” he said.

McCormack said that while the United States tries to avoid innocent casualties, “we are fighting people who don’t play by any rules” and have no problem killing innocent civilians.

The weekend’s incident raised concerns in the U.S. Congress about the use of private security guards. Rep. Henry Waxman, whose House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings on contractor operations in February, said he will hold new hearings into the issue in light of Sunday’s shootings.

“The controversy over Blackwater is an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors,” said Waxman, D-California.

Blackwater, founded in 1997 and based in Moyock, North Carolina, is one of many security firms contracted by the U.S. government during the Iraq war. An estimated 25,000 employees of private security firms are working in Iraq, guarding diplomats, reconstruction workers and government officials. As many as 200 are believed to have been killed on the job, according to U.S. congressional reports.

Some Blackwater personnel died in a grisly attack in Iraq more than three years ago that sparked shock and outrage in the United States.

Four Americans working as private security personnel for Blackwater, all of whom were military veterans, were ambushed, killed and mutilated in March 2004 in Falluja, west of Baghdad.

People close to the company estimate it has lost about 30 employees during the war.

Iraqi authorities have issued previous complaints about shootings by private military contractors, the Congressional Research Service reported in July.

“Most recently, a news article discussing an incident in which a Blackwater guard shot dead an Iraqi driver in May 2007 quoted an Iraqi official’s statement that the Iraqi Interior Ministry had received four previous complaints of shootings involving Blackwater employees,” the congressional service report said.

The Congressional Research Service report cited other concerns, such as “the apparent lack of a practical means to hold contractors accountable under U.S. law for abuses and other transgressions and the possibility that they could be prosecuted by foreign courts.”

The reported added, “Iraqi courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute contractors without the permission of the relevant member country of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.”

Contractors fall under Justice Department and FBI jurisdiction for alleged crimes, said a Pentagon official, who confirmed the accuracy of the congressional report.

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Americans of European ancestry are also declining as a share of the U.S. population, down from near 90 percent into 1960 to 66 percent today. Anglos, as they are called now, are now minorities in our two largest states, Texas and California, and, by 2040, will be a minority in the nation that people of British and European stock built.

In Russia’s Ulanovsk region, Sept. 12 is Conception Day.

Workers are given the day off and encouraged to go home and do their best to conceive a new Russian. The hope is to have a bumper crop of babies on Russia’s national holiday, nine months off.

Conception Day has occasioned much mirth and ribald humor. But for Mother Russia, the issue of her children is no laughing matter.

Two decades ago, the Soviet Union was three times the size of any of the other giant nation – the United States, Canada, China, Brazil – and the third most populous, with nearly 300 million people. Came then the great crack-up of 1990-91.

The Baltic republics – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – broke free first. Next were Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova in the west; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus; and Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

These amputations removed a third of the territory and half the population of the Soviet Union. Yet the remnant, Russia, remained twice as large as any other nation and still boasted a population of 150 million.

Since the 1990s, however, Russia has been losing population at a rate of 750,000 a year – not to emigration, but to death. By one count, the Russian population is down to 143 million. President Putin has predicted that only 124 million Russians will be alive in 2015. In 2000, the United Nations projected that, at its present birth rate, by 2050 Russia’s population would fall to 114 million.

In a 2005 study, the United Nations estimated that, together, Ukraine and Russia will lose 50 million people – 25 percent of their combined populations – by mid-century. The Slavs are dying out, and the geostrategic implications are enormous.

In a few decades, Turkey, which seeks entry into the European Union, will become Europe’s most populous nation. Like Xerxes’ bridge of boats across the Hellespont, Turkey will be the Asian land bridge into Europe, the Bridge of The Prophet into the homeland of the Christians.

As critical, the vast majority of Russians live west of the Urals, while east of Novosibirsk (New Siberia City), all the way to Kamchatka, the tiny Russian population is departing or dying out. Yet, in timber, oil and minerals, this is the most resource-rich region on earth. And south of Siberia lies the most populous and resource-hungry nation on earth.

American children born today may have Chinese for neighbors across the Bering Strait from Alaska.

Nor is it only the Slavic peoples who are expiring. So, too, are the native-born populations of Western and Southern Europe, as the empty nurseries of Europa fill with bawling Muslim babies.

Americans of European ancestry are also declining as a share of the U.S. population, down from near 90 percent into 1960 to 66 percent today. Anglos, as they are called now, are now minorities in our two largest states, Texas and California, and, by 2040, will be a minority in the nation that people of British and European stock built.

Last month, the Census Bureau projected the U.S. population would grow by 167 million by 2060, to 468 million.

And immigrants and their children will constitute 105 million of that 167 million. That would be triple the 37.5 million legal and illegal immigrants here today, which is itself the largest cohort of foreigners any nation has ever taken in.

With the 45 million Hispanics here to rise to 102 million by 2050, the Southwest is likely to look and sound more like Mexico than America. Indeed, culturally, linguistically and ethnically, it will be a part of Mexico.

Like Russians, Americans of European ancestry are failing to reproduce. Yet, a closer look reveals that population growth remains healthy among the religiously devout – evangelical Christians, Catholic traditionalists, Muslims and Mormons. Among the secularists, however, birth rates are far below Zero Population Growth – and the possibility of extinction looms.

One recent study found that the Jewish population in the United States fell by 6 percent in the 1990s, from 5.5 million to 5.2 million. Orthodox Jews, however, are known for families of five, eight or 10 children.

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and have dominion … over every living creature.” So reads Genesis. And so European Man once preached and practiced. But having lost his empires along with his faith, European Man no longer sees himself as commissioned by God.

Indeed, he no longer believes in God. Among our best and brightest are many whose purpose is to enjoy life to the fullest and to end it, when the time comes, as painlessly as possible.

Which seems to suit the rest of the world – China, India, Islam, Africa, Latin America – fine, as all look forward to a magnificent inheritance.

If demography is destiny, the West is finished. And, if so, does it really matter all that much who rules in Baghdad?

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Saudi Arabia ordered 72 Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes from the U.K. at a cost of 4.43 billion pounds ($8.86 billion), the biggest export order ever for the aircraft. The price of each plane is similar to the cost of Eurofighters sold to Britain’s Royal Air Force, the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation said today in a statement published on the official Saudi Press Agency Web site.

Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) — Saudi Arabia ordered 72 Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes from the U.K. at a cost of 4.43 billion pounds ($8.86 billion), the biggest export order ever for the aircraft. The price of each plane is similar to the cost of Eurofighters sold to Britain’s Royal Air Force, the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation said today in a statement published on the official Saudi Press Agency Web site.

The contract will boost revenue for U.K.-based BAE Systems Plc and hundreds of component and engine suppliers across Europe. The program is the continent’s largest military-aircraft project and employs about 100,000 people at BAE, two other primary companies and smaller manufacturers.

“This is a very significant win for the group and should be followed by other orders from the region,” said Steve East, a Credit Suisse analyst in London who has an “outperform” recommendation on the stock. “Signing this program further extends BAE’s earnings growth,” he said. The deal may include 25 years of maintenance work, East said before the announcement.

A U.K. defense ministry spokeswoman said that negotiations continue and will conclude by the year’s end.

                        EADS, Finmeccanica

European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co., with a 46 percent stake, is the largest shareholder in Hallbergmoos, Germany- based Eurofighter GmbH. London-based BAE has a 33 percent stake and Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA holds 21 percent through its Alenia Aeronautica subsidiary. Shares of BAE were trading down 10.25 pence, or 2.1 percent, at 472.75 pence as of 1:43 p.m. in London. The stock has added 11 percent this year, giving a market value of 16.6 billion pounds. EADS shares traded down 0.8
percent at 20.25 euros and Finmeccanica was down 1.9 percent at 20.21  euros.

“This is a government-to-government contract,” BAE spokesman Scott Hailstone said by telephone. “The company has nothing to say at this time.”

The first Middle East order for the Eurofighter comes nine months after the U.K. Serious Fraud Office dropped a probe of alleged corruption tied to BAE weapons sales in Saudi Arabia, citing national security concerns. The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating potential illegal payments.

                      Military Modernization

Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s largest economy, is using higher oil revenues to modernize its military. The country agreed with the U.K. government in 2005 that defense improvements are necessary to promote regional stability and fight terrorism.
     That agreement said BAE would invest in Saudi companies, train thousands of Saudi pilots and military personnel, and maintain and repair equipment. The details of the contract are confidential, the governments said.

“It’s a relationship that goes back to the 1960s,” Anthony Harris, a former U.K. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said in a telephone interview. “There is a huge tradition of British training and it would have been a tragedy if that had come to an end. I think its excellent news for Saudi-British relations.”

BAE has provided Tornado fighter jets, Hawk trainer aircraft, components and air-base management to Saudi Arabia since 1985. About 4,600 BAE employees work in the kingdom.

“I would imagine the Saudis would probably retire the Tornados from front-line service and a lot of the pilots will want to go on to the Typhoons,” said Harris, who has also served as a diplomat in Saudi Arabia.

                        Cold-War Project

The Eurofighter program, conceived 20 years ago during the Cold War for air defense against Soviet MiG warplanes, is jointly owned by the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain. The four countries are scheduled to buy a total of 620 aircraft, led by Britain with an order for 232 planes. The first aircraft went into production in 1998 with manufacturing at four plants in the partner countries. Deliveries began in 2003 and are expected to extend until 2014. BAE is making the front and rear fuselages
of the plane. Engines for the planes are supplied by Eurojet Turbo GmbH, a venture of Rolls-Royce Group Plc, MTU Aero Engines Holding AG, Carlyle Group Inc.’s Avio SpA and Spain’s Industria de Turbo Propulsores.

                          Export Markets

Eurofighter is also competing for export orders in India, Greece, Japan, Turkey and South Korea. Its first export order came from Austria for 15 jets. A total of 127 Eurofighters have been delivered so far, the
company said in July. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating transactions linked to Saudi Arabia after the U.K. Serious Fraud Office dropped a similar probe. The Guardian newspaper and British Broadcasting Corp. reported in June that BAE made secret payments of 1 billion pounds to Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, citing the U.K. investigation. BAE denied wrongdoing and Bandar called the reports “false.” Prince Bandar was
ambassador to the U.S for 20 years.

BAE appointed Harry Woolf, former chief judge of England and Wales, on June 15 to lead a panel that will investigate BAE’s ethical standards after the allegations of secret payments. While the panel will examine “policies and processes,” it won’t look into Saudi arms sales because they have been “exhaustively” investigated, BAE Chairman Dick Olver said at the time.

Britain dropped its probe in December after a review by Attorney General Peter Goldsmith and intervention by Tony Blair, then prime minister. The probe threatened to have “devastating” consequences for relations with Saudi Arabia and for national security, Blair said a month later.

“Had we proceeded with this investigation it would have significantly damaged our relationship with Saudi Arabia and that relationship is of vital importance, including fighting terrorism in this country,” Blair said.

In March, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development criticized the decision to drop the probe. “There are investigations but no prosecutions,” Mark Pieth, a spokesman for the organization, said on
March 14.

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While the White House seeks to exploit any given opportunity to unite the global community against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program, the Bush administration is struggling to agree on a new course of action over Iran.

While the White House seeks to exploit any given opportunity to unite the global community against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program, the Bush administration is struggling to agree on a new course of action over Iran.

US president George W. Bush in his Thursday speech used the issue of US troops in Iraq to up the pressure on Iran and justify Washington’s military presence in the region by claiming that the American army should stay in the region to contain Iran’s threat.

However, the White House staffs do not completely agree with Bush’s way of thinking. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney have clashed on a new approach towards Iran.

While officials in Cheney’s office are in favor of a tougher strategy against the Islamic Republic that includes greater consideration for a military strike, Rice has advocated a continuation of a diplomatic approach, a view the State Departments pushing for a more restrained tone in dealing with the world in general.

Iran’s peaceful nuclear program has been used as the head of the blame arrow by the West aimed towards the Islamic Republic.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran’s nuclear activities are in fact under the rules of the agency, the United States has raised further dispute over a pact reached between Tehran and the IAEA.

While the Iranian officials have repeatedly declared the program is solely aimed at the peaceful use of the nuclear technology, and rejecting the US allegations that the Islamic Republic is pursuing atomic bomb, the White House has chosen to accuse Tehran, as a mean to confront Iran’s influence in the region.

Dick Cheney’s attempt to encourage Israel to consider a military strike on Iran’s nuclear sites is a flashback of a policy used by Washington to initiate invading Iraq in 2003, false pretences of Iraqi owned WMDs.

However, the invasion was actually intended to rob the oil-rich Iraq of its national wealth.

Furthermore, the Petraeus-Crocker report to the US congress, which was in line with neoconservative objectives for the next presidential election, accused Iran of meddling in Iraq.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker and the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus chose to blindly follow Washington’s footsteps by putting the blame of the Iraq failure and the crisis in the war-ravaged country on Iran.

The testimony of top US officials in Iraq has been dismissed by many US congressmen. The Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has demanded an end to the ‘disastrous foreign policy mistake.’

In the report, Crocker accuses Iran of a harmful influence in Iraq. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s transparent endeavors in restoring stability and peace in Iraq are appreciated by the Iraqi nation and government.

Iranian government has denied the charges of interfering in Iraq, dismissing the Petraeus report as it ‘does not compensate for the loss of life, the humanitarian tragedy, the burden imposed on US taxpayers, and grievances of families of US soldiers serving in Iraq.’

Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has warned the US that the White House and its chief executive should be tried for the ‘atrocities they have committed in Iraq.’

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Russian and Italian officials have warned against any US military intervention in Iran over the country’s nuclear standoff.

Alexander Losyukov (l) and Massimo D’Alema

Russian and Italian officials have warned against any US military intervention in Iran over the country’s nuclear standoff.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov warned of the catastrophic consequences of any US attack on Iran.

“Generally speaking, bombings of Iran would be a bad move that would end with catastrophic consequences,” Losyukov told the daily Vremya Novosti.

“We are convinced that there is no military solution to the Iranian problem. It’s impossible. Besides, it is quite clear that there is no military solution to the Iraq problem either,” he said.

Losyukov added that the use of force would only “worsen the situation in the Middle East” and “bring a very negative reaction from the Muslim world”.

“Of course I cannot know what is being thought in the United States,” Losyukov said, but their military intervention in Iran “would be a big diplomatic and political error”.

Meanwhile, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday the United States remains “determined to use diplomacy” to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.

“We have said all along the United States government position has been that we are determined to use diplomacy to resolve this matter,” Bodman told reporters at a meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran denies Western allegations it seeks atomic weapons, saying its nuclear drive is aimed at providing electricity for a growing population whose fossil fuels will one day run out.

Also, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said Monday that talks about going to war over Iran’s nuclear program served no purpose and the international community should instead give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work.

D’Alema said a new war in the region “wouldn’t resolve the problem and would only create new tragedies and new dangers”.

The Italian minister was responding to journalists’ questions about comments by the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who warned that the international community had to be prepared for the possibility of war if the diplomacy fails.

Italy has good relations with Tehran and remains Iran’s leading trading partner in the EU, with a strong presence in its gas market through Italian oil and gas giant Eni SpA.

“Before talking about war, we have to give political and diplomatic initiatives necessary time,” D’Alema said. “It doesn’t strike me as a happy thing to talk about war at this moment.”

“We shouldn’t talk about war, which doesn’t serve any use,” he said.§ionid=351020104

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The rising tensions between the United States and Iran represent a serious threat to regional and global peace that, if not remedied by prudent conflict reduction mechanisms, may lead to war.

The rising tensions between the United States and Iran represent a serious threat to regional and global peace that, if not remedied by prudent conflict reduction mechanisms, may lead to war. Those tensions, reflected in the considerable ratcheting up of Washington’s anti-Iran rhetoric, have been framed by various US officials and pundits as symptomatic of a “new cold war”, giving the US the necessary alibi for an indefinite military presence in Iraq under the guise of an Iran “containment policy”.

Indeed, both US President George W Bush’s policy speech on Iraq last Thursday and the past week’s congressional testimony of the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, have made it abundantly clear that there is a shift in the strategic outlook for the US military mission in Iraq pertaining to Iran, couched in the language of containment and deterrence.

As expected, Iran has lambasted the reports by Petraeus and Crocker, and Iran’s spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has lashed out at Bush as a “war criminal” who should be put on trial for the United States’ atrocities in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Iranian media are awash with reports of the United States’ “hypocrisy” in embracing Sunni extremist and terrorist groups in Iraq, who hate the current Shi’ite-led government. And Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hossein Kazemi Qomi, has told CNN that the US has committed “two strategic errors … The first mistake is their effort to return, to bring back to power, people accused of murders from the previous regime.” And the second error is “arming some Sunni groups and terrorist groups that operate against the Iraqi government”.

Both Qomi and National Security Chief Ali Larijani have reacted to the anti-Iran tone of Petraeus’s testimony by pointing out that most of the terrorists “come from countries friendly with America”. According to Qomi, “Not even one Iranian citizen has ever participated in the terrorist attacks on American forces.”

The Faustian bargain of the US military with Sunni extremists does not bode well for the United States’ simultaneous pressure on the Iraqi government to reach the “political benchmark” of creating a trans-sect government of national unity. But then again, that is only one of many inconsistencies and contradictions of the United States’ hitherto disastrous Iraq policy.

Yet somehow that policy, costing the US in the region of US$300 million a day, [1] as well as an average of two US casualties and 15 US wounded per day, per Petraeus’s testimony, has been declared a winning strategy by the White House. It has reframed the Iraq debate now less in terms of Iraq’s nation-building and more in terms of anti-terrorism and anti-Iran priorities, thus setting itself an entirely new benchmark that is beyond the control of the government in Baghdad. Or is it?

The United States’ nominal lip service to Iraq’s sovereignty means that the Iraqi government and Parliament must approve Washington’s planned base-building near the Iran-Iraq border. Yet Iraqi officials were apparently not even consulted prior to an announcement on this issue. Larijani predicts that the Iraqi government will veto the plan, but this may not be so in light of a recent statement by an Iraqi government spokesman accusing Iran of “meddling in Iraq”.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Larijani stated that Iran is not in favor of immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. This echoes an earlier statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, in his recent interview with the London Financial Times, that Iran favors an orderly, gradual withdrawal of US troops.

Thus President Bush’s announcement – of modest troop withdrawal and the retention of the bulk of US forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future – does not necessarily represent an affront to Iran, which is highly concerned about the threat of conflict spillover and mass refugees following a chaos-generating premature departure of US forces. On the other hand, Washington’s new accent on the Iran threat in Iraq translates into new Iranian worries about the United States’ true intentions. [2]

Consequently, the troubled ship of US-Iran diplomacy is deeply anchored in a sea of mutual suspicion and acrimony, with numerous potential flash points on the horizon, ranging from Lebanon to Syria, to Iraq and the Persian Gulf, that could quickly sink the nascent tide of “engagement” recommended by the Iraq Study Group, and feebly adopted by the Bush administration. The next question is, where does one go from here?

Former Iranian foreign minister Kemal Kharazi, now heading a newly formed Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, illuminated Iran’s thinking in a recent interview with the Iranian press. According to Kharazi, the US-Iran dialogue on Iraq’s security is “tactical and not-strategic” and Iran “is not prepared for comprehensive talks” with the US. Citing “serious conflicts of interests” between Iran and the US, Kharazi called for exploring “ways for exiting this environment”, and declaring Iran’s willingness to continue dialogue with the US only if the US “accepts the principle of mutual respect”.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Hosseini, on the other hand, has stated that if the Iraqi government makes an official request for a fourth round of US-Iran dialogue, Iran will participate irrespective of its misgivings about anti-Iran provocations in Washington.

But not everyone in Washington is sold on the idea of upping the ante against Iran. The New York Times has reported of a growing rift between the hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, and the doves, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, over Iran policy. This has been reflected in the US media, with hawks such as Max Boot defending the Cheney line by anticipating a “catastrophic” victory for Iran and al-Qaeda if the US withdraws from Iraq, and more moderate voices such as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, calling for “cooling” US-Iran tensions, eg by endorsing a growing call by various US military leaders for an “incident at sea agreement” with Iran.

The idea of such an agreement, like ones the US previously signed with the Soviet Union and with China, is timely and worth pursuing in light of the potential collision of the US and Iranian navies in the Persian Gulf. Already the two navies are in almost daily contact, alerting each other to their approaching ships and boats, but that is not enough and to avoid accidental warfare – both sides need to deepen their military-to-military communication.

The aim of this, which could be formalized through a working committee that is an offshoot of the working committees set up as a result of the US-Iran dialogue in Baghdad, would be to adopt concrete measures or steps to avoid unwanted maritime collisions or conflicts in the Persian Gulf and vicinity waters.

Yet the US is disinclined to reach such an agreement with Iran because it may restrict the US Navy’s ability to conduct maneuvers in the heavy traffic areas of the Persian Gulf. Iran’s reservation, on the other hand, is that any agreement with the US military may be misread as tacit approval of the United States’ military presence in the region.

But the fact on the ground is that US forces are there partly as a result of bilateral agreements with various Arab states that are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and a watered-down version an “incident-at-sea agreement” is called for. The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

However, an important prerequisite for such an agreement is an improved Iran-GCC relationship, principally between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Regarding the latter, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has made this a top priority, and in his latest telephone conference with King Abdullah, he reportedly offered to share Iran’s nuclear know-how with the Saudis.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have a low-security agreement and may need to upgrade it, for example by an Iran-GCC multilateral agreement built around a search-and-rescue agreement. Clearly, confidence-building measures between Iran and its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf go hand-in-hand with similar measures between the US and Iran.

An incident-at-sea agreement between the US and Iran touches on the least contentious of the military-security dimensions of US-Iran competition, while providing a small opening for bigger opportunities should they remain constructively engaged.

By widening the scope of non-contentious issues and delinking navy-to-navy transactions from the ups and downs of political and diplomatic relationships, such an agreement could prove an important vehicle for confidence-building between Iran and the US. Should it be adopted, it would then serve as an important barometer of progress in the poisoned environment dominating relations between the two countries.

Other confidence-building measures include anti-terrorism, given their shared interests against the threat of anti-Shi’ite al-Qaeda terrorism. Unfortunately, the misleading usage of cold-war terminology has contributed to the deteriorating climate precisely at a time when neither country can afford such a deterioration. After all, in the United States’ other “containment” strategy, vis-a-vis the threat of al-Qaeda (or the Taliban in Afghanistan), Iran is not on the opposite side of the equation, and that, indeed, goes to the heart of paradoxes of Bush’s new Iraq strategy.

Notes 1. The economic cost of the Iraq war has been projected to reach US$1.8 trillion in the near future, per the calculations reflected in a new documentary on the Bush administration’s serious blunders, No End in Sight, directed by Charles Ferguson.
2. In the US press there has been much talk of “Iran’s intentions” while taking for granted the United States’ intentions, warranting this letter by the author in the Washington Post (September 14) in response to an article by Robin Wright: “Regarding Robin Wright’s September 11 Fact Check item ‘What Are Iran’s Intentions’?: Iran’s intentions are to contain interventionist US power in the region, to form an alliance with the Shi’ite-led Iraqi regime to promote the idea of collective security in the Persian Gulf and to neutralize the national-security risks posed by the encircling US military, which plans to build a base near the Iranian border. The latter undertaking is ostensibly to disrupt the flow of Iranian arms into Iraq, but from Iran’s vantage point, the plan is a convenient excuse for a long-term US presence and continued military occupation of Iraq. Ms Wright failed to ask the pertinent question: What are the United States’ true intentions?”

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd.)