Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Woollacott, Dowd, Australian, AIPAC, Iraq, Tikrit, Israeli Justice,

1) While I don't completely agree with Woollacott's characterization of the role Sunni-Shi'i relations play in Middle East politics, in general I think this op-ed is one of the few I've seen in major publications that actually seems to get it -- and to understand the scale of the mess Bush has dropped us all into:,3604,1545861,00.html

We miscalculated and now history has us by the throat

The west profoundly misunderstood how the Middle East works

Martin Woollacott
August 10, 2005
The Guardian

Nobody now disputes that misunderstanding has paved every step of the way in Iraq. The misunderstanding, or the lie, about Saddam's weapons continues to be central to western arguments about the war. But, important as that issue remains, there was a more profound set of misunderstandings of the social, political and religious processes at work within the Middle East.

They included especially the tense balance between Sunni and Shia, a loss of diversity and tolerance in the
Sunni lands, the real impact of Sharon's long reign in Israel, and the effect of demographic changes altering the politics of many countries in the region. It was not that these things were not seen by experts, governments or even journalists, but that they were not added up, or were added up in the wrong way. Some, such as the Shia majority in Iraq, were seen by many only as an asset for an invader. Others, such as the collapsing peace process, were categorised as requiring remedy but not, in spite of much rhetoric, urgency. Above all, the interaction between these processes, still continuing, was only partially foreseen.

For example, Iran's resumption of its nuclear programme this week is the act of a government that, although it has serious internal weaknesses, is in a position of strength in its international dealings. The argument going on next door in Iraq over the constitution is also one in which Shia Muslims are in a strong position. In Lebanon, Syrian withdrawal may ultimately benefit an already strong Shia community. In the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, suppressed Shia aspirations may not remain so for ever. These are all aspects of a shift in power between Sunnis and Shias that always had some potential for violence. But the way in which the Iraqi intervention triggered a violent Sunni reaction - at least as much among Sunnis outside Iraq as among those inside - to a potential Shia gain may come to be seen as its most important, and its most tragic, effect. To gloss this only as "terrorism", and to see it mainly in terms of a conflict between terrorists and the west, is to miss a large part of its meaning.

The Iranian revolution had given the region a new kind of state, specifically religious and specifically Shia in a way that the Shah's regime had never been. Much of what Saddam did during his years in power was aimed at staving off a Shia succession, but, especially with Iran's weight on the scales, change in Iraq could not be delayed for ever.

That such a succession would have come anyway in Iraq, and would undoubtedly have been accompanied by violence, is not a defence of the war. It could well have been much less violent, and it might well also have taken place - notwithstanding the existence of significant jihadist groups - without inducing such an angry Sunni reaction, for the American intervention gave an inevitable change: the aspect of a western-assisted Shia seizure of power from Sunnis in the best-endowed of all Arab states.

Jihad groups, initially more interested in expelling Americans from Saudi Arabia, could also increasingly point to the deterioration in Palestine as proof of encirclement and encroachment on the Sunni world. They can still do so: Netanyahu's resignation this week portends a political contest in Israel, making it even less likely that Gaza withdrawal will be followed by genuine negotiations about the West Bank.

The failure of the peace process took place in a region that had lost some of its old diversity and tolerance, because of the migration of minorities to the west, and because of the emergence of more schematic forms of Islam. And it took place in a world in which Europe had, as the American academic Robert S Leiken recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine, "in a fit of absent-mindedness ... acquired not a colonial empire but something of an internal colony, whose numbers are roughly equivalent to the population of Syria."
The limbo in which some of Europe's Muslims live has suddenly become an object of intense interest, for obvious reasons, again a case of something often seen in the past, and indeed sometimes intensely discussed, but rarely put into the larger context.

The reaction of some Sunnis - not just jihadists but people of all classes, in Muslim lands and in the diaspora - has been to see mainly and sometimes only that in Iraq a Sunni place is under siege. It is a view that blanks out the fact that Iraqi Shias and Kurds are Muslims, and that a majority of Iraqi Sunnis want to see the back of the insurgency, although of course they want to see the back of the Americans too. And it also blanks out the democratic argument, which suggests another western misunderstanding.

The Americans in particular are wont to see nothing underneath a bad government except a people yearning to be free, and to regard the secular middle classes of countries such as Iraq or Iran as the authentic representatives of everybody else. Like it or not, this is not always the case. In Iraq's war conditions, apart from Kurdistan, these classes have been brutally targeted in Sunni areas and may well end up being outflanked by clerics in the Shia south. In Iran the recent election was a reminder that there is a third party in what from the outside is often seen as a conflict between authoritarian rulers and a liberal middle class. This third party may find itself deceived in its choice in Iran, but it is a constituency of more ordinary folk, with conservative Islamic leanings, a desire for clean government and not much interest in issues of cultural freedom. It is a constituency visible everywhere in the Middle East, in countries that have democracy, such as Turkey, where it sustains the ruling party, and in those that have little.

The historian David Fromkin has recorded that he set out to write an account of how Europe changed the Middle East in the early decades of the last century and ended up writing just as much about how the Middle East changed Europe, mainly by wearing it down. Among the things seen but not understood before Iraq were how our own societies would react, mainstream as well as minority. The majority have shown a surprising willingness to operate on the basis of what's done is done. They even seem resigned to the fact that, as Ayman al-Zawahiri's words made clear last week, our freedom from terrorist attack is now specifically dependent on events in Palestine as well as in Iraq. But the readiness of Americans and British to invest more in the enterprise is diminishing almost by the week, and the otherwise incomprehensible plans for partial military withdrawal by both nations are a reaction to that. As the American Iraqi expert Phebe Marr says: "If you can't garner adequate resources - and public opinion at home and abroad - to rebuild a nation, do not start." But we did start, and now history has us by the throat.

2) Maureen Dowd on Cindy Sheehan, and the teflon cowboy:

August 10, 2005
Why No Tea and Sympathy?

W. can't get no satisfaction on Iraq.

There's an angry mother of a dead soldier camping outside his Crawford ranch, demanding to see a president who prefers his sympathy to be carefully choreographed.

A new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll shows that a majority of Americans now think that going to war was a mistake and that the war has made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism. So fighting them there means it's more likely we'll have to fight them here?

Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged yesterday that sophisticated bombs were streaming over the border from Iran to Iraq.

And the Rolling Stones have taken a rare break from sex odes to record an antiwar song called "Sweet Neo Con," chiding Condi Rice and Mr. Bush. "You call yourself a Christian; I call you a hypocrite," Mick Jagger sings.

The N.F.L. put out a press release on Monday announcing that it's teaming up with the Stones and ABC to promote "Monday Night Football." The flag-waving N.F.L. could still back out if there's pressure, but the mood seems to have shifted since Madonna chickened out of showing an antiwar music video in 2003. The White House used to be able to tamp down criticism by saying it hurt our troops, but more people are asking the White House to explain how it plans to stop our troops from getting hurt.

Cindy Sheehan, a 48-year-old Californian with a knack for P.R., says she will camp out in the dusty heat near
the ranch until she gets to tell Mr. Bush face to face that he must pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq. Her son, Casey, a 24-year-old Army specialist, was killed in a Sadr City ambush last year.

The president met with her family two months after Casey's death. Capturing W.'s awkwardness in traversing the line between somber and joking, and his love of generic labels, Ms. Sheehan said that W. had referred to her as "Mom" throughout the meeting, and given her the sense that he did not know who her son was.

The Bush team tried to discredit "Mom" by pointing reporters to an old article in which she sounded kinder to W. If only her husband were an undercover C.I.A. operative, the Bushies could out him. But even if they send out a squad of Swift Boat Moms for Truth, there will be a countering Falluja Moms for Truth.

It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Mr. Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W., who has spent nearly 20 percent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his five-week vacation and two-hour daily workouts. He may be in great shape, but Iraq sure isn't.

It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation. His rigidly controlled environment allows no chance encounters with anyone who disagrees. He never has to defend himself to anyone, and that is cognitively injurious. He's a populist who never meets people - an ordinary guy who clears brush, and brush is the only thing he talks to. Mr. Bush hails Texas as a place where he can return to his roots. But is he mixing it up there with anyone besides Vulcans, Pioneers and Rangers?

W.'s idea of consolation was to dispatch Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, to talk to Ms. Sheehan, underscoring the inhumane humanitarianism of his foreign policy. Mr. Hadley is just a suit, one of the hard-line Unsweet Neo Cons who helped hype America into this war.

It's getting harder for the president to hide from the human consequences of his actions and to control human sentiment about the war by pulling a curtain over the 1,835 troops killed in Iraq; the more than 13,000 wounded, many shorn of limbs; and the number of slain Iraqi civilians - perhaps 25,000, or perhaps double or triple that. More people with impeccable credentials are coming forward to serve as a countervailing moral authority to challenge Mr. Bush.

Paul Hackett, a Marine major who served in Iraq and criticized the president on his conduct of the war, narrowly lost last week when he ran for Congress as a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in Cincinnati. Newt Gingrich warned that the race should "serve as a wake-up call to Republicans" about 2006.
Selectively humane, Mr. Bush justified his Iraq war by stressing the 9/11 losses. He emphasized the humanity of the Iraqis who desire freedom when his W.M.D. rationale vaporized.

But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.


3) This is a posting on Juan Cole's website, discussing the opinion of a recently retired Australian general
concerning the difficulties of operating in concert with US forces in Iraq:

The former chief of Australia's armed forces, Gen. Peter Cosgrove, has called for an end to foreign troop presence in Iraq by the end of 2006: ' "I think we've got to train the Iraqis as quickly as we can and to a point where we take one of the focal points of terrorist motivation away, and that is foreign troops," said Cosgrove, who retired from the top military post a month ago. '

Now that he is retired he can speak freely, and has. Why does he think that "foreign troops" are a motivation in Iraq for terrorism? Remember, this is not some soft civilian Green Party member speaking from a bar in Melbourne. This is a high-ranking general of a highly rated military. Perhaps what he has in mind is explained in the next article:

" AUSTRALIAN and British military legal advisers frequently had to "red card" more trigger-happy US forces to limit civilian casualties during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to one of the Australian advisers.
Colonel Mike Kelly, writing in the Australian Army Journal, says the junior partners in the coalition forces succeeded in reducing civilian casualties and reinforcing the legitimacy of the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

In the most detailed insight yet into the secret rules Australian forces operated under during the conflict in 2003, Colonel Kelly, who went on to become a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, said for Australian forces to open fire the enemy was "required to visibly carry weapons while deploying for an attack".

Defence sources said that under more relaxed US rules there only had to be a "reasonable suspicion" that the person was an enemy combatant and a threat . . .

"During Operation Iraqi Freedom legal differences in assessing legitimate targets, tended to be resolved by the use of the 'red card'," Colonel Kelly writes.

"This card involved the coalition partners being able to indicate their disapproval in their targeting or tactics in any mission that ran contrary to their legal obligations."

He added: "The United States generally accepted these decisions ... (it was) prepared to modify its approach in the interest of harmony with its military partners . . . "

I think there is a problem here when professional and hard-fighting Australian and British troops routinely feel that the US military does things that are frankly illegal, and might drag them into illegality. And that this difference in attitude has political implications seems clear--the British and the Australians are chomping at the bit to get out of Iraq ASAP. It is clear that they have often felt in the past two years that American recklessness has put them needlessly at risk. Proud of their own community policing skills, when British forces were briefly moved up to Babil province (the "triangle of death"), they complained that they were going to a place that the Americans had already ruined and made dangerous. Whether it is a fair perception or not, it has consequences.

4) AIPAC controversy, covered in Tom Paine. The investigation and implications seem to be growing, to the consternation of...absolutely noone:

Bigger Than AIPAC
Robert Dreyfuss
August 09, 2005

Robert Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. His book, Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, will be published by Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books in the fall.

Important new details of the U.S.-Israeli espionage case involving Larry Franklin, the alleged Pentagon spy, two officials of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and an intelligence official at the Embassy of Israel emerged last week. Two AIPAC officials—who have left the organization—were indicted along with Franklin on charges of "communicat[ing] national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it." In plain English, if not legal-speak, that means spying.

But as the full text of the indictment makes clear, the conspiracy involved not just Franklin and the AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, but at least several other Pentagon officials who played intermediary roles, at least two other Israeli officials, and one official at a "Washington, D.C. think tank." It's an old-fashioned spy story involving the passing of secret documents, hush-hush meetings and outright espionage, along with good-old-boy networking.

But the network tied to the "Franklin case"—which ought to be called the "AIPAC case," since it was AIPAC that was really under investigation by the FBI—provides an important window into a shadowy world. It is clear that by probing the details of the case, the FBI has got hold of a dangerous loose end of much larger story. By pulling on that string hard enough, the FBI and the Justice Department might just unravel that larger story, which is beginning to look more and more like it involves the same nexus of Pentagon civilians, White House functionaries, and American Enterprise Institute officials who thumped the drums for war in Iraq in 2001-2003 and who are now trying to whip up an anti-Iranian frenzy as well.

Needless to say, all of this got short shrift from the mainstream media when it was revealed last week.
The basic facts of the case have been known for a while. Lawrence Anthony Franklin, a Department of Defense official, was caught red-handed giving highly classified papers to two officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, of AIPAC—in part, concerning U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq and the war on terrorism. But from the carefully worded indictment, it is clear that a lot more may have been going on. All in all, along with revealing tantalizing new information, the indictment raises more questions than it answers. To wit:

First, the indictment says that from "about April 1999 and continuing until on or about August 27, 2004" Franklin, Rosen and Weissman "did unlawfully, knowingly and willfully conspire" in criminal activity against the United States. So far, no one has explained what triggered an investigation that began more than six years ago. But it reveals how long the three indicted conspirators and "others, known and unknown to the Grand Jury," engaged in such criminal activity. In any case, what appeared at first to be a brief dalliance between Franklin and the two AIPAC officials now—according to the latest indictment, at least—spans more than five years and involves at least several other individuals, at least some of whom are known to the investigation. What triggered the investigation in 1999, and how much information has FBI surveillance, wiretaps and other investigative efforts collected?

Second, the indictment makes it absolutely clear that the investigation was aimed at AIPAC, not at Franklin. The document charges that Rosen and Weissman met repeatedly with officials from a foreign government (Israel, though not named in the indictment) beginning in 1999, to provide them with classified information. In other words, the FBI was looking into the Israel lobby, not Franklin and the Defense Department, at the start, and Franklin was simply caught up in the net when he made contact with the AIPACers. Rosen and Weissman were observed making illicit contact with several other U.S. officials between 1999 and 2004, although those officials are left unnamed (and unindicted). Might there be more to come? Who are these officials, cited merely as United States Government Official 1, USGO 2, etc.?

Third, Franklin was introduced to Rosen-Weissman when the two AIPACers "called a Department of Defense employee (DOD employee A) at the Pentagon and asked for the name of someone in OSD ISA [Office of the Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs] with an expertise on Iran" and got Franklin's name. Who was "DOD employee A"? Was it Douglas Feith, the undersecretary for policy? Harold Rhode, the ghost-like neocon official who helped Feith assemble the secretive Office of Special Plans, where Franklin worked? The indictment doesn't say. But this reporter observed Franklin, Rhode and Michael Rubin, a former AEI official who served in the Pentagon during this period and then returned to AEI, sitting together side by side, often in the front row, at American Enterprise Institute meetings during 2002-2003. Later in the indictment, we learn that Franklin, Rosen and Weissman hobnobbed with "DOD employee B," too.

Fourth, Rosen and Weissman told Franklin that they would try to get him a job at the White House, on the National Security Council staff. Who did they talk to at the White House, if they followed through? What happened?

Fifth, the charging document refers to "Foreign Official 1," also known as FO-1, obviously referring to an Israeli embassy official or an Israeli intelligence officer. It also refers later to FO-2, FO-3, etc., meaning that other Israeli officials were involved as well. How many Israeli officials are implicated in this, and who are they?

Sixth, was AEI itself involved? The indictment says that "on or about March 13, 2003, Rosen disclosed to a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C., think tank the information relating to the classified draft internal policy document" about Iran. The indictment says that the think tank official agreed "to follow up and see what he could do." Which think tank, and who was involved?

The indictment is rich with other detail, including specific instances in which the indicted parties lied to the FBI about their activities. It describes how Franklin eventually set up a regular liaison with an Israeli official ("FO-3") and met him in Virginia "and elsewhere" to communicate U.S. secrets.

It is an important story, arguably one that has greater implications for national security than the scandal involving the churlish outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. So far, at least, the media frenzy attending to the Plame affair is matched by nearly total silence about the Franklin-AIPAC affair? Can it be true that reporters are more courageous about pursuing a story that involves the White House than they are about plunging into a scandal that involves Israel, our No. 1 Middle East ally?

5) This is a solid, if long, analysis of the dangers of the Iraq quagmire for the region and world:

Middle EastAug 10, 2005
Weapons of self-destruction
By W Joseph Stroupe

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

Iraq is dangerously close to the threshold - the point of no return at which an ideological-sectarian chain reaction is triggered and a rapidly accelerated disintegration along sectarian lines occurs. The blinding flash of Iraq's disintegration will be followed closely by a powerful shockwave radiating outward in all directions, then by an irresistible reverse force that will pull Iraq's neighbors into the vortex. That is the point at which the US begins to suffer an irreversible forfeiture in Iraq.

The political detonation described here, in which Iraq's enriched, fissionable sectarian factions or elements are rammed together forcefully by the current US-driven political process, finally reach critical mass and then detonate to cause Iraq's violent disintegration, is imminent. Consequently, not only has the US finally uncovered Iraq's political WMSD (weapons of mass self-destruction) but it is also, knowingly or unknowingly, racing toward the triggering of a political fission bomb of enormous yield with widespread regional and even global fallout.

Enrichment of ideological-sectarian fissionable elements To achieve a fission detonation you must start with highly enriched fuel in which the concentration of the radioactive elements is very high in relation to the inert elements.

Several important factors have resulted in the ideological-sectarian elements in Iraq becoming very highly enriched. When the US collapsed the entire Saddam Hussein regime, at one and the same time it removed the damper block that kept Iraq's sectarian factions under control. It removed the force of suppression that had kept Iraq's primary three disparate ideologies from becoming concentrated, potent, radicalized or enriched enough to be politically fissionable. After the removal of Saddam's regime the US replaced it with nothing to act as a suppressor or damper. Therefore, the political-ideological enrichment process, long suppressed, began to flourish out in the open as each of Iraq's sectarian factions dreamed of establishing (or, in the case of Sunnis, reestablishing) itself in a position of freedom and of control over Iraq and its oil-rich regions.

Thus, the Kurdish faction became highly enriched politically and ideologically as respects its demand for an independent Kurdistan in Iraq's north. Today, that faction proclaims that it will not compromise on its demands for Kurdish autonomy, retention of its own heavily armed militias and control of oil-rich Kirkuk. Neither will it submit to an Iraq governed by Islamic law.

Likewise, the Shi'ite faction is intent on establishing autonomous control over Iraq's south and appears determined to put forth Islamic law as the basis for Iraq's judiciary and system of laws. It is allying itself closely to Iran. The Shi'ite element has thus become very highly enriched.

Finally, the Sunni faction fears that federalism or outright autonomy in the oil-rich north and south will cause
Iraq's breakup, leaving the Sunnis holding the comparatively worthless central regions of Iraq. It disdains Islamic law and has taken to violent means to try to prevent an Iraqi scenario that would leave it on the outside looking in. The Sunni element has thus become very highly enriched also.

Each of Iraq's ideological-sectarian elements increasingly displays a high concentration of radioactive elements as compared to those elements that are inert. Radicalism flourishes in an environment of instability, violence and hopelessness. Such conditions prolonged for nearly two-and-a-half years after the destruction of the Saddam regime are causing Iraqis to revert to their respective ideological-political roots, to distrust, resent and even to despise rival sectarian factions and increasingly to push for the interests of one's chosen sectarian faction to the exclusion of all others. Iraq's three-way polarization is increasing, deepening. The ideological positions of each sectarian element are acutely hardening. That is akin to the enriching of Iraq's ideological-sectarian elements, making those elements highly fissionable. Iraq does have extremely potent, highly enriched fissionable elements that have been uncovered by the US invasion and occupation. As such, Iraq already has all the elements and know-how for the production of a very potent political WMD, one that will result quickly in its self-destruction. It has only to be assembled and triggered.

However, as is often the case with the development of WMD, Iraq is receiving outside help to propel it along the destructive path. How so?

State of critical mass The achievement of an actual fission detonation occurs when highly enriched fissionable elements are quickly compressed together by outside forces to reach a state of critical mass. This can be accomplished by ramming those elements together or by spherically imploding the fissionable elements together. The result is a catastrophic fission detonation that releases far more energy than that used to achieve the initial implosion.

The US-driven political process in Iraq seeks to prevent the breakup of the country by creating a new democratic Iraqi government and constitution that bind Iraq's sectarian elements together. That is a noble goal. However, the means employed by the US in an attempt to achieve that goal are very problematic and are inherently dangerous. So is the highly compressed timeframe for its achievement currently being pushed upon Iraq by the US. In effect, the US-driven means and timeframe amount to ramming or imploding Iraq's fissionable sectarian elements together, rather than carefully and methodically binding them together. The US is foolishly risking a catastrophic political, ideological-sectarian fission detonation in Iraq. It is not only assembling the political fission bomb, but it is also flicking the trigger mechanism to see if it can get a light.

The US massively over-reached in Iraq when it launched its invasion, occupation and nation-building effort (collectively, "regime change") in March 2003. Its costs (to the US) in terms of lives, money, political and diplomatic capital, global credibility and goodwill and military readiness have been colossal, and such costs continue to mount. The US is desperate, therefore, to significantly reduce its military presence and to try to put the Iraq crisis and all its implications and repercussions behind itself. That desperation is driving the extremely short, highly compressed timeframe for the achievement of political goals in Iraq. That highly compressed timeframe is entirely impractical and acutely dangerous. You simply cannot thrust Iraq's highly enriched sectarian elements together so rapidly without risking an enormous and potent detonation.

Not only that, but the actual methods being employed by the US to try to consolidate Iraq's ideological factions are far too dangerous and forceful. When the US drove the process of the drafting of the interim Iraqi constitution in 2004 when it handed sovereignty back to the interim Iraqi government, it pitted Iraq's factions against one another out of fear one faction might rise to the ascendancy. Thus the interim constitution played well to Kurdish hopes, goals and interests but it simultaneously sought to undermine those of the larger Shi'ite faction. Sunni interests were largely ignored, or at least, grossly understated. At the same time, for fear that the Kurdish faction would gain inordinate potency, the document denied certain rights and goals sought with great determination by the Kurdish faction. The US has played the Kurdish and Sunni factions against the Shi'ite in various ways for fear the Shi'ite would gain the ascendancy. Such shortsighted methods bring to birth increased frustration, resentment and violence between factions.

Additionally, US policies and actions in Iraq have all too often employed inordinate force and even cruelty. The brutal and indiscriminate siege of Fallujah and the widespread Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal are notable examples. Such methods sow the seeds of deeper and wider resistance to the presence of foreign forces and foreign influence over domestic political processes. Far too large a percentage of Iraqis view the US as the oppressor rather than the liberator, and that percentage is growing rather than declining. Consequently, attempting to promote democracy at the barrel of a gun tends to fundamentally undermine the credibility of the invading force, resulting in eventual forfeiture of that political objective as the sectarian factions succumb to deep-seated suspicion of the real motives of the occupying forces. And as Iraq's environment slides ever faster toward greater sectarian violence and less security and stability, the US-driven political processes become less and less relevant and increasingly serve merely to showcase the fundamental incompatibility between Iraq's factions. That fact greatly increases the tension and resentment between factions.

That was the case with respect to the Iraqi elections in January. Rather than serving to alleviate Iraq's sectarian rivalries as hoped, the election results announced on February 13 significantly added fuel to the already raging fire in Iraq. The prospect of Shi'ite dominance, the Sunni minority status and Kurdish strength in the north were demonstrated by those election results. The incompatible goals and ideologies of Iraq's three main factions were thus showcased. The result? Iraq's insurgency kicked into high gear, Kurdish radicals launched more deadly attacks against Turkey and Turkish interests and Shi'ite militias resorted to revenge attacks against Sunnis. Some of Iraq's most prominent leaders have recently stated without equivocation that
Iraq is already descending into the beginnings of a civil war. While the political process is not dead yet, each of Iraq's main sectarian factions has moved outside that process in significant ways to secure its interests and goals as hopes for success of the political process fade into oblivion.

Draft constitution as the final trigger?Against that background the US is driving Iraq's factions hard to complete by the August 15 deadline the drafting of Iraq's new constitution. The US has openly entered the fray, pushing hard to ensure the document reads as it wishes. But such political pressure merely amounts to more of the same - a forced imploding together of Iraq's highly enriched sectarian elements, elements that are now easily fissionable. The US is playing with nuclear fire in a political sense, therefore.

In the current situation in Iraq it will not require much additional in the way of outside pressure and force to finally implode Iraq's highly enriched sectarian elements into a state of critical mass, resulting in a detonation no sane person wants. The imminent end of the process of the drafting of Iraq's new constitution, or the failure of that process, is very likely to constitute the trigger for the detonation of Iraq's political WMD. Whether that process of drafting a new constitution "succeeds" (highly unlikely) or fails, it will signal Iraq's arrival at the threshold of an ideological-sectarian state of critical mass and a resulting detonation. How so?
The process of drafting Iraq's constitution is ramming, or imploding together its fundamentally incompatible, highly enriched, fissionable sectarian factions. No workable solution to Iraq's sectarian divisions exists – at least not in the acutely accelerated timeframe being pushed hard by the US.

On the issues of autonomy and federalism, the role of Islamic law, survival of Iraq's sectarian, heavily armed militias and a number of other important issues Iraq's factions have hardened their respective positions, are far apart, and are getting even further apart. Any "breakthrough" that might be achieved in the foreseeable future will be nothing more than an attempt to paper over such fundamental differences. Such a breakthrough will do nothing to alleviate Iraq's volatile sectarian tensions. In fact, it would likely accomplish the precise opposite, outraging each faction because cherished, non-negotiable interests and goals of the respective factions would be watered down for the sake of an agreement that satisfies few if any fundamental goals and demands of those respective factions. Such an agreement would most likely be seen merely as an attempt to pacify the US occupier. Subsequently, abandonment of the US-driven political process in favor of strident self-interest would be the most likely course for each of the three main factions. In effect, a political fission detonation in the form of a breakup of Iraq, likely under conditions of a full-blown civil war, would quickly ensue.

If, as is most likely, Iraq's factions come to the conclusion by the August 15 deadline that the political process is dead or dying and that the drafting of a new constitution has failed or is in serious trouble, then what? US pressure for the Iraqi representatives to go back to the table to iron out their differences and complete the drafting of the constitution will be enormous, but also very counter-productive, again amounting to a dangerous ramming or imploding together of Iraq's fissionable elements. Such US pressure could actually trigger a nationwide political detonation.

As the August 15 deadline approaches Iraq is nearing the threshold, the point of no return, when a political chain reaction starts under rapidly building US pressure and moves quickly to a full-blown detonation. The US has removed all the safety mechanisms and is going for broke, as it were, with respect to Iraq's political process. Iraq is therefore like a nuclear weapon that is already fully armed, and the countdown to detonation begins when parliament receives word on the state of the draft constitution. Iraq, as a nation, cannot survive the coming detonation.

Repercussions for Iraq, the US and the region A breakup of Iraq along sectarian lines, most likely violent and bloody, is becoming ever more likely as the political process advances. That is because Iraq is itself an artificial creation composed of sectarian factions that are fundamentally incompatible with each other. And as the political process advances those fundamental incompatibilities are brought painfully to the surface to be showcased for all to see. The participants in that process are becoming ever more convinced that their future lies along the path of regional autonomy, or even secession.

However, a Kurdish-dominated autonomous or independent Kurdistan in the north that lays claim to Kirkuk will spark intervention by Turkey and perhaps Syria. Against the backdrop of increasing terrorist attacks on Turkish interests, ongoing ethnic reconfiguration of north Iraq in favor of the Kurdish faction but detrimental to Turkomen and Arabs, and the growing restiveness of Kurdish minorities inside Turkey, Syria and Iran, Turkish-Syrian intervention is imminent. It could occur at any time.

In the south of Iraq the Shi'ite faction already is moving much closer to Iran. It also is prepared for Shi'ite autonomy, or even secession, if it deems that action to be in its best interests. It has Iran's promise of economic, energy and security assistance. Thus, the formation of a new Islamic state governed by Shi'ite ideology is becoming a very high probability, whereas not long ago that eventuality was considered somewhat unlikely.

In the Sunni triangle the anger, frustration and violence is the greatest, and that will only worsen as the Sunni faction becomes ever more disenfranchised and isolated from Iraq's oil wealth potential. With all three factions heavily armed and intent on preserving their respective interests at all costs, a full-blown civil war simultaneous with Iraq's breakup is a high probability.

The US will either be stuck in the middle with the Sunnis, trying in vain to keep the warring factions separated or it will be forced by events to withdraw its forces under fire, letting Iraq go in whatever direction it may go. Either way, the US loses in a colossal way. Its democratic goals and energy security interests in the entire region will be forfeited as Iraq disintegrates and its neighbors (Turkey, Syria and Iran) rush in to pick up the pieces, discounting completely US interests in the process.

The rise of Turkey, of Syria, and most notably of Shi'ite Iran allied closely with a new Shi'ite Islamic state in south Iraq will receive a giant push forward. The rise of Iran in particular will have far-reaching consequences for the US and the world. And insurgents and terrorists now operating in Iraq will be flung far outside Iraq, region-wide, to threaten the safety and stability of oil-rich pro-US regimes in Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. These developments and others like them will constitute the toxic fallout of Iraq's political fission detonation.

The US considers this to be the true nightmare scenario, and for very good reason. However, not only it is now powerless to stop that scenario from coming true, it is foolishly helping to bring it about! The US cannot possibly face a withdrawal of its forces from Iraq under fire in the scenario detailed above and at the same time leave Iran intact, enabling it to be catapulted to the status of the new Islamic nuclear superpower at the head of the Persian Gulf. However, the risks of hitting Iran militarily on the way out of Iraq are enormous, even colossal. The after-effects of such a strategy are almost too terrible to consider when one looks at the political, ideological and economic repercussions. Yet, the Bush administration will soon have to choose which of its self-made evils is the lesser, and it is not yet safe to conclude there will be no US or Israeli military hit on ascendant Iran.

The imminent forfeiture and disintegration of Iraq will live up in every way to the analogy used here of a detonation of a weapon of mass self-destruction. The approaching August 15 deadline for the completion of Iraq's draft constitution will likely be an important marked point in time, when the shortened countdown to that detonation begins.

W Joseph Stroupe is editor in chief of Global Events Magazine at, and online magazine specializing in strategic analysis and forecasting.

(Copyright 2005 W Joseph Stroupe)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

6) Another characterization of the Iraq front, from near Tikrit. Does seem like Vietcong in the desert:

DANGERS OF THE SUNNI TRIANGLE: South Shore at the front - Massachusetts National Guard troops in insurgent hotbed
For The Patriot Ledger

Editor's note: Peter Dolan, a 38-year-old stockbroker from Arlington, spent June 27 through July 4 as an embedded journalist in Iraq.

For most of that time, he was at Forward Operating Base Speicher, a former Iraqi Air Force base just northwest of Tikrit.

The commander of the garrison, Col. Francis McGinn, 42, is from Braintree. Among the 950 Massachusetts National Guard soldiers and airman now in Iraq, two units are stationed at Speicher.

I arrived at Forward Operating Base Speicher after a 110-mile helicopter ride from the Green Zone in Baghdad. To avoid missiles, the heavily armed Blackhawk helicopter rarely flew above 150 feet on the trip into the Sunni Triangle, the most dangerous part of Iraq.

During my first night at Speicher, Col. Francis McGinn received a midnight phone call and raced off.
A Humvee patrolling the perimeter of the base had taken small arms fire, and had been unable to locate its origin.

Two Apache helicopters were scrambled and were above the scene in four minutes. Despite using their advanced night vision equipment, they were also unable to locate the enemy.

Nothing causes an Army base commander in Iraq to lose more sleep.

‘‘My first priority is avoiding a catastrophic event,'' the 42-year-old McGinn, a Braintree resident, said. ‘‘For example, an insurgent penetrating the base perimeter at night wearing a suicide vest of explosives.''
Promoted to colonel on June 9, McGinn is responsible for overseeing a sprawling base in hostile territory. Tikrit is the hometown of Saddam Hussein.

Speicher and base Danger, in a former palace site overlooking the Tigris River eight miles away, are prime targets for insurgents.

Among the troops under McGinn's command are National Guard units from Massachusetts, part of the 42nd Infantry Division.

For McGinn, the bottom line is ‘‘force protection,'' military jargon for getting through each day without losing any of his men. On a desert base outside Tikrit, that is no easy task.

‘‘The enemy we face here is vicious. He has absolutely no regard for the value of human life. They always come up with something new,'' he said.

One soldier stationed at Speicher, Sgt. Manny Hornedo, 27, of Sunset Park, N.Y., died on June 28 when a car bomb exploded as he passed by in a Humvee on his way back to the base.

Hornedo, a machine gunner, had been credited with saving many lives by spotting six cars loaded with bombs before they could be detonated.

McGinn's family knows the cost of war.

His grandfather and namesake, 1st Lt. Francis McGinn, died in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Phillippines in 1944. He left behind a wife and six children in Dorchester.

A magnet for attacks

Like most bases in the Sunni Triangle, Speicher has received its share of attention from the enemy.
‘‘We have taken mortar and rocket fire,'' McGinn said. ‘‘The mortars are not particularly accurate, and rockets are essentially mortars, but fired from farther away and even less accurate. When it happens, we have radar which locks in on the point of origin. If it will not involve civilian casualties, we then return fire with artillery. Otherwise, we deploy a (base reaction force). The enemy adapts, and now they use egg timers and are long gone by the time we actually take fire.''

On May 4, an American ground force working with Apache helicopters from Speicher captured 22 insurgents preparing a rocket attack.

In addition to 122mm rockets and a launcher, they possessed a global positioning system and a diagram with coordinates to buildings located on Speicher, Danger and another nearby base, Summerall, where most members of the Quincy-based 1st Battalion, 102nd Field Artillery unit are stationed.

The dining facility at Summerall had been marked with a fork and spoon.

Apaches inspire confidence

Late one afternoon on the way to a meeting, we passed a squadron of Apaches, a reassurance to everyone on the base.

Described as a flying tank, the helicopter is designed to survive most attacks and is able to take out heavily armored ground vehicles and tanks. It has laser-guided Hellfire missiles and a 30mm automatic cannon.
That evening, when the 125 degrees of the afternoon had given way to a balmy 90, I returned to the airfield and found Chief Warrant Officer Danny Heggie, 56, a veteran Apache pilot from Canton who was based in Texas before he was deployed.

Walking with him from the landing zone into the tactical operation center of his unit, I noticed a sticker on the door that read, ‘‘Cheat Death.''

Despite the awesome power of the Apache, the sticker is perfectly appropriate. On June 27, an Apache was
shot down 20 miles north of Baghdad, killing both pilots.

It was the 13th helicopter shot down since the war began, and the second Apache.

Heggie, an affable sort and quick with a laugh, shrugged off the danger, preferring to discuss the National Hockey League than the lethal capabilities of his $20 million Apache. At one point in our conversation, though, he became thoughtful.

‘‘Listen, when we go into Mr. Haji's neighborhood,'' he said, using a common term for insurgents, ‘‘we are the hammer. Those kids on the ground can get into some real tough situations, and I feel a responsibility to them, and to their families back home.

‘‘If the enemy tries to kill them, then you can be damned sure that I will kill the enemy. When we are around, generally, our guys are safe.

‘‘You can hear the tension in their voices melt away when they hear us radio back to them that we are on the way,'' Heggie said. ‘‘When we get that call, the enemy is usually gone when we arrive on scene. They've learned - the hard way.''

With that, Heggie's smile returned, and he launched into an enthusiastic assessment of the Dallas Stars.
Paying the price

As I sat in McGinn's office one morning, he received a disturbing report. One of the few locals audacious enough to work on the American base had been murdered by insurgents the night before, in reprisal.

The colonel decided to visit the victim's home that afternoon to offer his condolences.

The garrison commander does not typically go on patrols in the Sunni Triangle, but the man's death had clearly angered him.

At noon, we attended a patrol briefing. In a scene reminiscent of a pep talk given by a profane and fiery coach, a major barked out instruction to 30 men. But the serious countenances of the men, many of them friends of
Sergeant Hornedo, were a sharp reminder that this was no game.

At 1 p.m., we left Speicher in a two- Humvee patrol, headed northwest into the desert. Every half mile or so, we passed a clay home, and one of the drivers, Sgt. Craig Carrigan of Amesbury, pointed out which were friendly and which were not. It was his beat, and he knows it well.

At one point, we bypassed a small town.

‘‘If a patrol drove through there, it would probably be met with small arms fire and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). Nope, two Humvees ain't gonna cut it in there. Personally, I'd like to go in heavy, but that's not my call.''

When we arrived at the home of the victim, a one-story, clay home, seven or eight young boys walked out to greet us, all staring with wild curiosity.

Several women emerged from the home and eyed us warily. As the two teams dismounted the Humvees, the women ran to the back, out of sight.

Carrigan noticed my reaction.

‘‘It's all right, sir, that's just the way they are,'' he said. ‘‘In some of these homes, they might stay in the same room as we speak with the men, but if you even glance at them, they will at least cover their faces and look away, if not run out the door altogether.''

The dead man's brother and cousin led us to a car covered by a tarpaulin. They removed the covering to show three bullet holes in the windshield and blood stains on the front seat.

Despite their grief and at considerable risk, the older of the two men asked us to stay for dinner,

‘‘Please, colonel, you and your men, stay and we eat. We will kill a sheep.''

McGinn begged off, and we resumed our patrol.

Two hours later, the gunner in the other Humvee called over on the radio about a suspicious car that had been popping up every 15 minutes from behind a sand berm a mile or two away.

We were being watched, and Carrigan knew why.

‘‘Every home we stop at, the insurgents will come by some time over the next few days, drag the men outside,
threaten all, and beat some,'' he said. ‘‘They will try and find out if we were just questioning them, or are they cooperating with us?''

Soon, McGinn gave an order to pursue the car, and on the gravelly, makeshift road of the desert, the Humvees quickly overtook it.

The two men inside stopped, and soldiers surrounded their vehicle with M-16s leveled. McGinn drew his pistol and ordered the men out of the car.

He instructed them to empty out the trunk. A thorough search of the men and the vehicle turned up nothing, and they were released.

‘‘Those were very probably insurgents on reconnaissance, but they had nothing on them and we have no reason to detain them,'' McGinn said.

At 5 p.m., McGinn ordered the Humvees back to the base, and 45 minutes later we passed through the front gate.

Inside the base, above the barracks, a Red Sox World Series pennant flapped in a stiff desert wind.
Copyright 2005 The Patriot LedgerTransmitted Wednesday, August 03, 2005

7) Justice in Israel -- this article refers to the shooting of several Palestinians on a minibus by an Israeli extremists, and the justice efforts resulting from the event:

Punishment depends on nationality
By Amira Hass

Shortly after the murders in Shfaram, it was reported that those wounded and the families of the murder victims would receive recognition as victims of terrorism, dealt with and compensated accordingly. And the question immediately arose, since when do you highlight as a news item something that is self-explanatory and common sense? Except that equality among Jews and Arabs in Israel is not something self-explanatory. Therefore the news item, which should never have been a news item, was appropriate.

The news item - and the atmosphere of disgust which led to it - can challenge bureaucrats in the ministries of finance and health and the National Insurance Institute, who operate according to customs and laws that discriminate against Arab citizens.

A news item like this affords an opportunity to examine other layers of inequality among Jews and Arabs, which undermine the definition of the State of Israel as a democracy. One such "obvious" layer of inequality is the attitude of the judicial and prison system toward Arab Israeli defendants and inmates being held on security grounds, and the discrimination made between them and Jewish defendants and inmates.

Security prisoners who are Israeli Arabs are subject to discrimination, on three levels, compared with Israeli Jews who have harmed Arabs: In the severity of the punishment meted out by Israeli judges; in their chances for early parole (as a result of amnesty or time off for good behavior after serving two thirds of their sentence); and their conditions of incarceration.

In 1993, Yoram Skolnik murdered an Arab who was bound hand and foot, and was given a life sentence. President Ezer Weizman twice reduced his sentence: first to 15 years, and then to 11 years and three months. He was ultimately released seven years after his arrest.

Skolnik is part of a list of Jews who murdered Arabs and were released by the judicial system. In contrast, Arab prisoners are sentenced to life or lengthy prison terms, even if they were not convicted of murder. For example, Mukhles Burghal and Mohammad Ziade were given life sentences 18 years ago. They were convicted of tossing a grenade at a bus carrying soldiers. The grenade failed to explode. Burghal, who threw the grenade, had his sentence reduced to 40 years. The sentence imposed on Ziade, who had signaled him when the bus approached, remained unchanged: life in prison.

David Sharvit of the settlement Bracha was sentenced in 1994 to five years in prison, after being convicted of causing grievous bodily harm to a 13-year-old Arab boy. Aryeh Chelouche was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted for attempted murder of Arabs in 1990. Menachem Livni was among those convicted for murdering students at a college in Hebron in 1984, and was sentenced to life. All are walking around free today. But Othman Meragha and Mahmoud Zahra of Jerusalem were sentenced in 1989 to 27 years in prison for throwing Molotov cocktails and damaging property. They are still in prison.

Burghal, Ziade, Zahra and their friends, who did not murder, are living under much harsher prison conditions than the murderer Ami Popper, who has the blood of seven Arab laborers on his hands: his life sentence was reduced to 40 years, he was permitted to marry, have conjugal visits, bring five children into the world, visit them, go on furlough and phone home daily. Security prisoners who are Israeli citizens and residents of Jerusalem cannot make use of the public pay phone, are not permitted to go on leave with their families, not even when a parent or other relative is dying or has died, are allotted fewer hours than criminal inmates for walking in the prison yard, their family visits take place behind iron grates and plastic and glass divisions, and they are forbidden even to hug their children and touch their wives.

A long chain of Israelis are complicit in the inequality entailed in every such day in prison: the judges, who imposed on Arabs much tougher sentences than those imposed on Jews who have commited similar and grave offenses; the members of parole boards, who reduced the sentence of Jewish murderers and know that the "time-off committees" generally refuse to release Arabs, including murderers; presidents of Israel, who reduced sentences and granted amnesty to Jews; and their advisers, the heads of law schools, who do not raise a hue and cry and demand constant reexamination of a system which has different standards of judging and imprisoning, depending on a person's nationality.

Let not the lynch in Shfaram serve as a excuse for ignoring this inherent structural discrimination within the Israeli judicial and prison system.

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