Thursday, November 30, 2006

Defense group's millions to arms trafficker

BAE paid millions into accounts linked to billionaire's bank accounts

28/11/2006 23h54

Eurofighter aircraft
©AFP/DDP/File - Timm Schamberger

LONDON (AFP) - Secret payments worth millions of pounds (euros/dollars) from British defence group BAE Systems have been found in the Swiss bank accounts of Syrian-born Saudi arms dealer Wafic Said, a report said.

Citing unnamed legal sources, The Guardian daily reported that investigators from Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) wanted to investigate Said's accounts to see if he passed along any of the cash to members of the Saudi royal family, and if so, when.

It is part of a three-year investigation by the SFO into claims that BAE established a 60-million-pound slush fund for some members of the Saudi royal family, which allegedly provided perks including luxury cars to ensure that they kept doing business with BAE.

According to The Guardian, 68-year-old Said refused to comment on the allegations. He has previously conceded that he was an intermediary on Saudi arms deals over the past 20 years, and is credited with playing a major role in the Al-Yamamah deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia in 1985.

The deal has been the focus of the SFO inquiry. Said has always denied receiving commissions from BAE.

The Guardian reported that SFO investigators are checking to see if any payments were made after 2002, when Britain passed a law criminalising overseas corruption. The country is also party to an OECD agreement under which national interests are not allowed to block efforts to fight bribery.

Saudi Arabia threatened to suspend diplomatic links with Britain over the affair after SFO lawyers persuaded a Swiss magistrate to force disclosure of details about confidential Swiss bank accounts, this week's Sunday Times reported.

And BAE on Tueday hinted that negotiations between the two countries over the kingdom's purchase of 72 new Eurofighter aircraft have stalled, with a BAE spokeswoman telling AFP that the talks "have not moved at pace" since the end of Ramadan in late October.

The Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia has gone as far as suspending the talks over the aircraft made by BAE Systems because of a row over an investigation into an alleged slush fund.

The FT had quoted BAE Systems chief executive Mike Turner as saying:

"We cannot speak on behalf of the two governments. But I do know we are not currently moving forward on finalising the Typhoon contract."

BAE Systems has sealed a series of lucrative deals with Saudi Arabia since 1985. The current Eurofighter deal is initially for 10 billion pounds (19.4 billion dollars, 14.8 billion euros), but the value of the agreement could rise to as much as 40 billion pounds for BAE through maintenance and upgrades.

According to unnamed officials from BAE and the British defence ministry, the Saudis are poised to sign a deal with France to buy 24 or 36 Rafale jets, the Financial Times said on Tuesday.

Justice system is absurd. Broken. Chaotic


2.2 million in US prisons and jails
One in every 32 American adults behind bars, on probation or on parole.

Lord Ramsbotham exclusive

The former prison chief lambasts a justice system in meltdown after Tony Blair's decade of failure on crime and punishment

Published: 30 November 2006

Yesterday's announcement that the prison population now exceeds 80,000 is the latest low point in what one can only describe as the Government's headlong and self-induced race to absurdity as far as the conduct of imprisonment is concerned.

The reasons for this dreadful figure are not hard to find. If you produce legislation that results in longer prison sentences, more people will be in prison. If you do not resource prisons, to enable them to conduct work, education and training, prisoners are more likely to reoffend, as proved by the fact that the reoffending rate among adult males has gone up from 55 per cent to 67 per cent in the past five years. If you continue to have a dysfunctionally organised prison service, you will continue to have dysfunctional organisation of an overstretched system. And so on.

Many people have been warning the Government about this for years but, instead of listening to those with practical experience, it has preferred to take advice from people who know nothing about running large organisations, let alone an operational service. When, as now, the whole is run by a home secretary who, within weeks of taking office, publicly described the Home Office and the overburdened immigration service as not being fit for purpose, and recently disparaged the probation service to prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs, you do not exactly have a recipe for getting out of what is an increasingly dire situation. Leaders undermine the morale of their own troops at their peril. If, at the same time, you continue to bombard them with a continuous torrent of flawed legislation, much of which replaces previous legislation before the ink on it is dry, you create a mess that can only be cleared up by long-term planning, based on discussion with those who understand not only what needs to be done but how it might be done. That requires ditching current plans that are marching the whole system into even greater chaos.

The result of all the upheaval in the Home Office over the past decade is we have a prison service left in a state of shambles. Every time a governor changes in a prison, then the regime in that prison changes, and all the good work that is under way is in danger of being ditched - it's a ridiculous way of trying to introduce systems that are meant to prevent reoffending.

Prisons are split between the public and private sectors - but prisoners are the same whichever institutions they are in. Education is being run by the Learning and Skills Council, without direction from the Home Office. It's all recipe for confusion.

The probation services are overstretched - there are 300 fewer officers and 1,500 more bureaucrats than five years ago. Now they face a new period of uncertainty as the Government threatens to hand some of their services to the private and voluntary sectors.

In addition, they are being asked to focus on the most serious "heavy" offenders, because of pressure from the press, rather than the repeat offenders who cause real concern to the public.

What would I do? It is difficult to know where to start but my first move would be to drop any move towards what is euphemistically called a national offender management service.

That is getting in the way of making essential improvements to imprisonment and probation. Imprisonment needs firstly a reorganisation into regional clusters of prisons, so no prisoner, with the exception of those requiring high security conditions, is held too far from home. Secondly, named individuals, responsible and accountable for each type of prisoner, need to be appointed to see consistent treatment and conditions, including courses designed to help prisoners to live law-abiding lives, are provided in every prison holding that type.

Existing Area Criminal Justice Boards should be made responsible for ensuring that what goes on in prisons in their area is related for conditions in that area, for example in job training. Population management should be delegated to regions, so that both local prison and probation services are responsible for deciding who moves where, for what and when.

That will cut down the vast waste caused by endlessly moving prisoners to where there is a bed in a cell, rather than because of a course that he or she needs.

Local government should be made responsible for establishing adult offender teams, male and female, along the lines of youth offender teams. These are multi-functional including education, health care and the voluntary sector in their set-up. They would cater for the supervision of low-level offenders, leaving high level to specialist probation officers.

Of course much more could follow, but such a foundation could stand the strain of overcrowding much more easily. There are no short-term palliatives to the nonsense the Government's approach has created in the past nine years, but, unless it recognises its long-term thinking and planning is deeply flawed, and the situation is bound to get worse before any palliative can be introduced, there can be no satisfactory solution.

The system

80,000 Prison population today. There are just 317 spare places.

60 Pieces of legislation relating to criminal justice since Labour came to power in 1997.

25,000 10-year rise in prison population.

£100,000 Cost of each new prison place.

4,452 Female prisoners in 2004 compared with 1,804 in 1994

10,089 Foreign national prisoners.

80% Foreign female prisoners who have committed drug offences.

2, 528 15-17 year-olds in prison. There were 100 under-15s in 1992.

78 Self-inflicted deaths in prison in 2005. There were 65 in 1997.

Bonds Say Recession; Stocks Say Soft-Landing. Who's Right? : Bonddad

Schiff: Worse Than Holding Dollars Is Holding Bonds
Nov 30, 2006

The bond market and the stock market are sending contradictory signals about the next 12 months. The stock market is essentially buying into the Goldilocks scenario – that the economy will slow gradually but will not fall into a recession. The bond market is saying a recession has a higher probability of occurring. There is enough information for both markets to maintain their respective viewpoints for now. Only time will tell which outlook is fundamentally correct.

First, here is a chart from the MarketGuage website – which is a great site for basic market information.

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The top line outlines the difference between the ten-year Treasury bond and the 3-month treasury bone. This is called the "spread". Before we get into what this spread says, let’s go over some yield curve basics.

A "normal" yield curve (if there really is such a thing) slops from the lower left to the upper right of a bond yield chart. Here is an example from yesterday’s chart of the Japanese bond market from Bloomberg.

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This graph says a couple of things to an economist. First, the risk associated with longer-term investments is greater than shorter-term investments. This is the natural state of yield curves because there are more things that could go wrong in the long-term in the short-term. Suppose you lent someone money for 6-months and assume they are a good credit risk. There are fewer bad things that can happen to that person to prevent them from paying you back your money. However, if you lent them money for 30-years, there is higher chance that something will happen to prevent them from paying you back. The time horizon is simply too long to calculate all of the negative possibilities. Therefore, you charge a higher interest rate to compensate for the increased risk.

Secondly, this graph says that inflation expectations are higher. It’s important to remember the real rate of return on a bond is the bond’s interest rate minus the prevailing rate of inflation. If traders think inflation is headed higher, they will demand a higher interest rate so they can make more money. Here it’s important to remember that a bond’s price and yield are inversely related: as prices decrease, the interest rate increases and visa verse. So, on the Japanese chart investors are selling the long bond (or at least not buying it), driving longer-term interest rates higher.

Finally, this graph says bond market traders are expecting an increase in interest rates – or, more generally, that the probability of interest rate increases is higher than interest rate decreases. Here’s the reason. If interest rates increase in this environment, people who hold longer-debt will lose money because interest rates across the board will probably increase in one degree or another.

Now, let’s literally reverse everything that’s been said above, with a few changes. First, let’s make the possibility of a rate decrease the most important factor when buying a bond, followed closely by decreased inflation expectations (or reverse them). That would describe the current US yield chart which looked like this at about 3PM EST.

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The above mentioned factors – a decrease in inflation and a decrease in interest rates – are two important factors that happen in an economic slowdown. The central bank lowers interest rates to stimulate borrowing and thereby increase economic activity. Inflation decreases (usually) because there is less demand for products, which lowers the possibility of demand-pull inflation. The general decrease in economic activity lowers the amount of goods business produces, which lowers the purchase of raw materials, which lowers cost-push inflation pressures. Anyway, that is the basic line of thinking involved with the current US yield chart.

Now, let’s turn to the stock markets, which have all enjoyed a rally starting in July of this year (this chart is from the Martindale Capital Website which has some great charts.)

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All three averages have increased since July. Stocks increase when business conditions are good and stocks decrease when business conditions are bad. The latest earnings season was good for stocks. While GDP has slowed it has not gone negative. The latest inflation gauges have shown a decrease in inflation, meaning the Fed doesn’t have to increase interest rates (at least right now). Basically, traders think the economy will have a soft-landing. This means that growth will slow, inflation will slow, but the economy will not contract. In the words of most Federal Reserve bankers, the US economy will not operate at full capacity, but operate below full capacity.

So – who is right? We won’t know until the economy gives a firm set of signals in either direction. However, it’s important to note there is enough evidence for both markets to take their respective positions.

Dangerous reality in Mosul

Colour-coded perception defies dangerous reality in Mosul

Jonathan Steele in Mosul
Thursday November 30, 2006
The Guardian

"Do you agree that security can be colour-coded green?" asked the US colonel. There was an awkward pause. The governor of Mosul, the deputy governor, and the police chief looked at each other, then focused on the piece of paper the Americans had handed them at the start of the meeting.
It was the day's agenda, with six items listed for discussion, coloured circles beside each one. Electricity: half yellow, half amber. Fuel supplies: red. Anti-government activities at Mosul university: yellow. Activities of the judiciary: yellow and amber. Reconstruction and development funding: yellow. The only circle marked green was for security.

The setting was Governor Duraid Kashmoula's fortified compound and a routine meeting with the province's American commanders as Iraqi troops ringed the building. The Americans had arrived in armoured vehicles. Khasro Goran, the deputy governor, had brought The Guardian from Irbil in a convoy of seven deliberately inconspicuous cars, beaten up Mercedes, BMWs and Toyotas, each with two armed men.

"Well, it's true the terrorists cannot stand up to the police on the street during patrols," the governor replied to the colonel's question, somewhat evasively. Then he listed two demands: extra fortification for police posts on two roads and the rescinding of an order for an Iraqi army battalion in Mosul to be redeployed to Baghdad.

The deputy governor decided not to beat about the bush. "I don't agree that security is green and people feel safe. Not one day goes by without someone being killed in Mosul." He added: "The terrorists are a hidden force. They go out in civilian clothes and threaten contractors with death if they start work on reconstruction projects. They kill interpreters. They hand out flyers at the mosques, calling for support for al-Qaida and the Ba'athists. On Thursday when I was visiting people they told me 15 families had been told to leave town. A well-known singer was shot in the street this week."

Mosul, in northern Iraq, is Iraq's second city, with a population of 1.7 million people. Yet unlike Baghdad and Basra it receives minimal media coverage. Car bombs and suicide attacks are relatively rare, but as the city's senior officials make clear, a more complex war is under way.

"Of course the army can do raids, but what we have here is a cat and mouse game," the deputy governor said. "We have 18,000 police now and orders to recruit 3,000 more. It would be good to have them as secret agents, in the mosques and at the university. There are 40,000 students and it's easy to recruit terrorists there. We don't want to be like the Ba'athists and violate human rights, but we need intelligence."

The American colonel conceded the point: "The second and third Iraqi army divisions [stationed in Mosul] are still being trained in intel. They're not ready yet."

Over lunch General Wathiq Mohammed al-Hamdani, a retired army officer who now serves as police chief, complained that judges were afraid to give convicted terrorists long sentences. New ones were being sent from Baghdad in the hope that as outsiders with no family in Mosul they would feel free to be tough.

Back in the meeting room, the police chief's mobile phone rang. His conversation was agitated, and discussion stopped while everyone listened and the American interpreter whispered to the colonel. The police chief finished his call. "A distant cousin of mine is linked to the terrorists," he said. "The police have just raided his house. One policeman was killed in an exchange of fire, another is injured. One terrorist was killed."

The security discussion was over and the colonel summed up. "We'll change the coding to yellow," he said. The US colonel embraced the three Iraqis. His officers picked up their M16 rifles and they all piled back into their armoured vehicles.

"Americans can sometimes be naive," Mr Goran suggested. "At least they now call it yellow. They're moving in the right direction.",,1960216,00.html

GAZA - Israel continues to violate ceasefire: Will someone please tell traditional media to wake the f*** up

Palestine Today - November 29, 2006

IMEMC & Agencies - Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 17:46

Palestine Today, a service of the International Middle East Media Centre, For Wednesday, November 29th, 2006 .|| Click here to Download MP3 file 4.4MB|| time:4m51s

Army shells areas in northern Gaza strip, while in the West Bank several school girls are injured, and the army takes over one house in a village near Hebron, these stories and more coming up stay tuned.

The Gaza Update

Israeli army tanks stationed in the northern Gaza Strip fired several shells hitting open areas in Beit Lahia town on Wednesday morning. No injures or damage were reported but the shelling created panic among the residents, this shelling violates the ceasefire declared three days ago.

There have also been some Palestinian violations of the ceasefire deal, when resistance fighters fired home-made Qassam rockets at Israeli targets yesterday. No injuries or damage were reported. The rockets were in response to the assassination of Palestinian resistance fighter Mahmoud Nasser and an elderly woman, Fatma Shreim, in the town of Qabatiya near Jenin in the northern West Bank on Monday.

Israeli officials said the ceasefire deal excludes the West Bank and that the Israeli army will continue its military activities in the West Bank areas.

On Tuesday, Yassin Saba'na, leader of the Islamic Jihad in Qabatiya escaped an assassination attempt by undercover Israeli troops. Special forces, who entered the town wearing civilian outfit and driving a Palestinian-plated car, kidnapped Amjad hanaysha 25, one of the leaders of Al-Aqsa brigade, the armed wing of Fatah.

Palestinian resistance groups warned that the ceasefire deal will not last if it does not include the West Bank.

On Wednesday morning The Israeli army again closed Rafah border crossing, to the south of the Gaza strip after having opened it on Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday Palestinian sources reported that an agreement had been reached stating that European observers would go back to their positions at the terminal, and the Israeli army would open it until Wednesday afternoon, allowing Palestinians with medical needs to pass in and out of the Gaza strip.

The Rafah border crossing, which is the only link for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the outside world, has been closed for five months since the Israeli offensive 'operation Summer Rain' started in June. Palestinian medical sources said they have sent out calls to many Human Rights organizations to demand Israel open the terminal, as it is a vital route through which the Gaza Strip can get humanitarian supplies.

The West Bank Update

Several school girls were injured when the army fired tear gas bombs at their school in Al Samu'a village, south of the West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday morning.
Eyewitnesses said that Israeli troops stopped and assaulted several villagers at the checkpoint by the village entrance. Soldiers also attacked school boys and fired rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas at the students, who retaliated by throwing stones at the soldiers. Later soldiers attacked the girl's school in the village, and fired tear gas bombs at the classrooms and playground, causing several cases of choking as a result of gas inhalation, medical sources reported.
Eyewitnesses reported that troops attacked the house of Hatem Abu Al Kabash, near the northern entrance of Al Samu'a village and forced him and his family into one room taking over the house and turning it to a makeshift military post,
In the City of Hebron, the Israeli army demolished two houses on Wednesday; one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the army clamed that they were built without permits.

In southern West Bank city of Bethlehem the army took two prisoners today, one from the village of Dar Salah east of Bethlehem. Yousif Al Aref, 38, was taken prisoner as he was crossing one of the military checkpoints setup on the main route between the north and the south of the West Bank, known as "Al Container" checkpoint.
While the other, Munther Al A'raj, 44, was taken prisoner when Israeli forces invaded the town of Beit Jala west of Bethlehem and attacked his house.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces stormed the villages of Dier Ghassanah and Beit Liqia, near the West Bank city of Rammallah, searched scores of residents' houses and took four residents prisoner

Finally, on Wednesday, in the north of the West Bank, Jihad Zied, 25, was taken prisoner by the Israeli army during an invasion of the city of Qalqilia. Eyewitnesses said that undercover army units entered the city, forced Zeid into their car and then left the city, taking him with them to an unknown location.

Thank you for joining us from Occupied Bethlehem. You have been listening to Palestine Today for the International Middle East Media Center, brought to you by Oliver Eacott and Ghassan Bannoura.

Why is an elite accused serial child molester still free and awaiting trial after nearly four years?

A christianist is political designation for someone on the far right and not to be confused with a real Christian.

Yet another Republican Christianist pedophile (though not yet in rehab)
Submitted by lambert on Wed, 2006-11-29 22:07.

pedophiles | Republicans

OC Weekly:

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office claims that sex-crime prosecutions are a top priority. So why is one accused serial child molester still free and awaiting trial after nearly four years? One answer might be connections. Jeffrey Ray Nielsen is not merely a former intern in the DA’s office. He’s a prominent Republican activist in a county controlled by the Republican Party, a man with close ties to the former and current heads of that party; Huntington Beach Congressman Dana Rohrabacher; and Michael Schroeder, adviser to the county’s top law enforcement officials, DA Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Mike Carona. Nielsen preached the Bible, and berated liberals and homosexuals alike.

Naturally. I can't quote the letters to "Billy." Twisted, sad, pathetic, manipulative, and, also naturally, very authoritarian.

“He tried to brainwash me,” says Billy, who is now married. “He was very controlling.”

As authoritarians do tend to be. Another case of Winger Projection Syndrome. NOTE Say, how's that Ethics Committee report on the Foley Affair coming? Or is that another Republican mess the Dems are going to have to clean up?

» Corrente front page | lambert's blog

The healing process begins with you

A reader's comment to:
PBS: Former President Jimmy Carter Examines Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Nov 30, 2006

The healing process begins with you.

Democrats and especially Jewish-Americans should be able to see what's coming if they don't start opening their mouths, rather then join the conspiracy of silence. That's a road that has only one course and it ends up being bad for everybody but the very few.

I'm not convinced it's a global conspiracy that includes every Jewish-American, nor was I convinced it was every Muslim-American.

Shouldn't "we the people" stop fighting each other and ask our government why they continue to stoke, instigate, and divide us?

Jewish-Americans do not have to fear ridiculous, hysterical, and paranoid delusions that somehow, Americans will start opening up gas chambers. So quit with that noise already. That schtick is getting old.

George Washington had a specific warning, the Americans of the 19th century didn't listen. The American Civil War is a historical turning point and far enough away to reflect on the causes, solutions, and lengthy healing process that continues to this day.

Each time Americans have faced a crisis, it's taken less and less to realize that we've gone through this before and from there we can recognize how to get out. Non-Violently.

How easy is it? Open your mouth.

The fact that Jewish-Americans have been integrated into American society needs to be reflected on, when you consider that each and every minority group in the US has gone through some sort of persecution...except Jews.

Thus, when Jewish-Americans apathetically sit by and cheer on policies of does make one wonder if the theories of a global conspiracy are actually true.

Bottom line, America isn't perfect, but it's OUR George Washington said. You either believe that, or you don't. If you don't, do Americans a favor, pack your bags and leave us alone.

In order to begin the healing process, you must first have the courage to stand up and confront the truth with eyes wide open. The pain only becomes more horrific and harder to confront the longer it is ignored.

Rather then prove to the world how apathetic we've become, trusting the lies told to us every day, isn't it better to begin discussing the BLATANT disproportianate affection to Israel's foreign policy?

If you can't see the writing on the wall or you choose NOT to see it, then you will have nobody to blame but yourself when you recognize your going over the cliff and it's too late to do anything about it.

"Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes." George Washington's Farewell Address 1796

Is Israel's new "peace" plan just spin?

Last update - 09:57 30/11/2006

Plan or spin?

By Meron Benvenisti

The prime minister's speech at Sde Boker on Monday did not cause much excitement among Palestinian spokesmen, nor did it stir up a wave of protest from the Israeli right. The lukewarm responses give rise to puzzlement, considering that in his address Ehud Olmert delineated his political plan for the immediate, interim and long-term - a plan that is the most dovish, conciliatory and far-reaching of any offered by an Israeli leader in recent years.

It seems that Olmert collected all the slogans of the "peace camp" and packed them into a single, not-so-clear message, but with wording that is more placatory than normally acceptable in the official positions of Israel. No wonder that the speech was seen by some as a response to the admonishment made by David Grossman during his speech at the rally in memory of Yitzhak Rabin.
It is worth noting the wording of key statements: The Palestinian state, which to date was imagined with temporary borders and partial sovereignty, and in which transportation continuity was to be maintained by tunnels and bridges, was transformed by Olmert into a viable state with contiguous territory, full sovereignty and defined borders. Such a state will be established by "real, open, honest and serious" dialogue, and not, as in the past, on the basis of unilateralism, and after "the evacuation of many territories and communities which were established therein."

Olmert also mentioned the Saudi Arabian initiative, though he did not raise the question of Jerusalem, and he narrowed the debate over the "right of return" to a question only of "implementing" that right. Thus did he hint, or at least wanted to give the impression, that he recognizes the ethos behind the return, even if not the actual return of refugees.

His generosity was evident also on the issue of prisoner release, "including those who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms"; in other words, those with "blood on their hands." He promised the Palestinians "relief" in ways that will improve their quality of life, limit the number of checkpoints and even lead to the creation of joint industrial zones.

All this goodness, of course, is to be granted the Palestinians only after they meet some preconditions that they have until now have refused to fulfill. Nonetheless, the chances of success of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations do not affect the commitment Olmert has made, and on which he will be held accountable.

If this is the case, why then haven't his statements drawn stronger responses, except for the sounds of excitement on the part of the left, whose agenda he adopted? Part of the answer is lodged in the feeling that Olmert is floating a new spin, and that he has no intention of carrying out his plan; just as he shelved the convergence plan, so will he do away with the Sde Boker plan.

With Olmert, the gap between his declarations and actions, in conjunction with the refusal of the Palestinians to meet the preconditions they consider unacceptable, ensure that his plan will not be carried out. In any case, he put forth his leftist plan because he knew it would appeal to the chattering classes, and these (if the trick works) will crown him the leader of the left - just as they did Ariel Sharon once he announced his plan for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. From that point on, Olmert will be subject to kid-glove treatment, and become immune to all criticism.

The leftist slant of his plan is so blatant that it is too good to be true. What led Olmert to suddenly alter the accepted wording of Israeli diplomacy, and even that of the road map? The Palestinians say that Olmert should indeed carry out first a "series of actions to improve the quality of life," something he had promised to do in the past, and in the meantime put aside the questions of the right of return and the permanent borders of the Palestinian state.

Olmert's plan is greeted with suspicion and doubts because of past experience. But the effort to present a plan that is meant to move matters toward a permanent settlement should not be rejected with derision, if for no other reason than the hope it stirs.

Olmert is permitted to enjoy his improved standing in public opinion following the announcement of his bold plan. But, the greater the hope it arouses, the deeper the disappointment will be if it turns out that it was just a spin. Even for a spin doctor, this one will be one too many.

Mystery surrounds F-16, pilot in Iraq crash

Officials say jet belongs to New Mexico-based fighter wing, but all its pilots are accounted for

Stars and Stripes
By Joseph Giordono, Stars

Mideast edition, Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Say, this couldn't be the "shootdown", could it? :

Experts: U.S. National Security Adviser Clueless

Posted on Wed, Nov. 29, 2006

Experts question proposals in leaked Iraq memo

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to implement most of the key ideas for quelling the Iraqi civil war that are outlined in a classified Nov. 8 memo to President Bush from National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, experts said Wednesday.

Trying to push anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr out of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as the memo suggests, would be throwing gasoline on a fire, they said.

Sadr's party is the largest in parliament, with 32 seats, and Maliki became prime minister only with his support. Sadr's Mahdi Army militia controls large parts of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and many Iraqi Shiites hail him as their only protection from attacks by rival Sunni Muslims, which American and Iraqi forces have failed to stop.

"Sadr is aware of the considerable extent to which his forces ... constitute a significant part of the power in the streets, and there is no reason why he would simply want to surrender that leverage," said Paul Pillar, the former top U.S. intelligence analyst on the Middle East.

In what appeared to be a warning from Sadr to Maliki, Sadr followers suspended their participation in the government and parliament to protest Maliki's plan to meet Bush on Wednesday in Jordan. Within an hour of the statement, Jordanian officials announced that the meeting had been postponed.

Hadley's memo was leaked to The New York Times on the eve of the Bush-Maliki talks. He wrote the five-page classified document after meeting with Maliki on Oct. 30 in Baghdad.

Since then, the violence in Iraq has surged to its worst level since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. It's been especially fierce in the capital since bombings last Thursday killed more than 200 people in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad that the Mahdi Army controls.

In the memo, Hadley expressed doubts about Maliki's ability or willingness to go beyond the Shiite sectarian agenda and forge a unity government.

Hadley recommended steps that Maliki could take to curb the violence and measures that the United States could implement to strengthen him, including sending more forces into Baghdad.

Hadley's central suggestion was to bring Maliki's political reliance on Sadr "to closure" and pursue Mahdi Army members who "do not eschew violence."

Trying to force Sadr out of the government - in which his followers control some of the key ministries - and crack down on his militia almost certainly would lead to the government's collapse.

It also would ignite a wave of violence by his militia and supporters in Baghdad and the Shiite-dominated south, much of it probably aimed at the U.S.-led multinational force.

"Sadr is not going to rein in the Mahdi Army," said Vali Nasr of the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, Calif., and the author of a new book on modern political Shiism.

Hadley suggested that Maliki overhaul his Cabinet by replacing key members of Shiite and Sunni religious parties with "nonsectarian, capable technocrats."

But the Iraqi Constitution requires that new ministers be approved by two-thirds of parliament, a vote that Sadr could block. A Cabinet shakeup also would unravel the power-sharing deal on controlling the ministries that took the religious parties months to negotiate.

"The ministries are run like fiefdoms," Nasr said. "Most ministers don't even come to Cabinet meetings."

Experts also were skeptical of a Hadley proposal that the United States provide "monetary support" for forming a new coalition of moderate Shiite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish parliamentarians to keep Maliki in power if he's unable to cut loose from Sadr.

Several experts wondered what moderates Hadley was referring to.

Moreover, such an alliance would require Maliki to forge stronger bonds with Sadr's chief rival, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. He's the head of another Shiite party that belongs to the ruling coalition and whose militia maintains even closer ties to the Islamic regime of neighboring Iran than the Mahdi Army does.

Finding Sunnis to join such a grouping would be impossible, because Hakim has been a leading proponent of purging members of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from the bureaucracy and the military, Nasr said.

Hakim met with Jordan's King Abdullah hours before Bush arrived in Amman, and was scheduled to travel to Washington, where he was expected to visit the White House.

Maliki already has tried unsuccessfully to implement some of Hadley's ideas, several experts noted. These include attempts to purge the police and Interior Ministry of sectarian death squads and to disarm militias.

Phebe Marr, a leading U.S. expert on Iraq, said that some of the more modest ideas that Hadley proposed in the memo - such as appointing technocrats to the government and cleaning up the Interior Ministry - were achievable.

"I think these small steps can be done. I think Maliki is doing them. But we have very different perceptions of time and timetable," Marr said, referring to growing political pressure in the United States to withdraw troops.

As for a "spectacular breakthrough" from the Iraqi government in the near future, "forget it," she said.

Youssef reported from Amman, Jordan. Warren P. Strobel in Washington contributed to this report.


In public, top Bush administration officials have taken a very different view of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki than the one expressed in a classified National Security Council memo:

Sept. 30. Army Gen. George W. Casey in Baghdad: Maliki is "a determined, courageous leader taking on some very difficult issues. ... He has an awful lot of challenges facing him, and I do believe he is very much up to the task."

Oct. 5. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad: "I do think he has the strength. I think he's a very good and strong prime minister."

Oct. 24. Marine Gen. Pete Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "I do know that Prime Minister Maliki is working very hard right now in his five-month-old government - he's working very hard to try to find those political agreements that would reconcile the needs of Sunni, Shia and Kurds so he can get on about being the unifying leader that he's trying to be."

Oct. 25. President Bush: "I do believe Prime Minister Maliki is the right man to achieve the goal in Iraq."

Nov. 8. Memo prepared by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and his aides after a visit to Baghdad: "Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion of Sunni power?

"... Despite Maliki's reassuring words, repeated reports from our commanders on the ground contributed to our concerns about Maliki's government. Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq's most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries - when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi's (JAM) (the Mahdi Army militia of militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr) killings - all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.

"... His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

Nov. 28. Rice in Riga, Latvia: "I think that if you meet these leaders of the central government, you recognize the challenges that they have, you will be quite impressed with what they have achieved and continue to achieve."

-Compiled by researcher Tish Wells

US State Dept. Official On Tony Blair: "We Typically Ignore Them And Take No Notice"

The Times November 30, 2006

Kendall Myers, a State Department analyst, said he felt "a little ashamed" at George Bush's treatment of Tony Blair

'London's bridge is falling down'

Tom Baldwin in Washington and Philip Webster, Political Editor

Damning verdict on one-sided US-UK relations after Iraq

State Department official says Blair is ignored by Bush

See pictures of the Bush/Blair "special relationship" from first meeting to "Yo, Blair"


In a devastating verdict on Tony Blair’s decision to back war in Iraq and his “totally one-sided” relationship with President Bush, a US State Department official has said that Britain’s role as a bridge between America and Europe is now “disappearing before our eyes”.

Kendall Myers, a senior State Department analyst, disclosed that for all Britain’s attempts to influence US policy in recent years, “we typically ignore them and take no notice — it’s a sad business”.

He added that he felt “a little ashamed” at Mr Bush’s treatment of the Prime Minister, who had invested so much of his political capital in standing shoulder to shoulder with America after 9/11.

Speaking at an academic forum in Washington on Tuesday night, he answered a question from The Times, saying: “It was a done deal from the beginning, it was a onesided relationship that was entered into with open eyes . . . there was nothing. There was no payback, no sense of reciprocity.”

His remarks brought calls from British politicians last night for the special relationship to be rethought, but also attracted scathing criticism from one close supporter of the Prime Minister.

Dr Myers had hard words for his own Administration’s record in the Iraq war: “It’s a bad time, let’s face it. We have not only failed to do what we wanted to do in Iraq but we have greatly strained our relationship with [Britain].”

Dr Myers, a specialist in British politics, predicted that the tight bond between Mr Bush and Mr Blair would not be replicated in the future. “What I think and fear is that Britain will draw back from the US without moving closer to Europe. In that sense London’s bridge is falling down.”

The extraordinarily frank remarks will be seen as further evidence of the long-standing unease felt within some parts of the State Department over the direction of White House policy. They may also be an indication of the weakness of President Bush as he struggles to stop Iraq sliding into civil war and faces a Democrat-dominated Congress elected this month.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “These remarks reflect a real sense of distaste among thinking Americans for Mr Blair’s apparent slavish support for President Bush . . . The special relationship needs to be rebalanced, rethought and renewed.”

But Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham and a former Foreign Office minister, who supported the Iraq war, said: “After the Republican defeat in the midterm election, every little rat who feasted during the Bush years is now leaving the ship. I would respect this gentleman, who I have never heard of, if he had had the guts to make any of these points two or five years ago.”

Last night Dr Myers, who is thought to have attended the discussions over the infamous Downing Street memo in 2002 before the Iraq war, was disowned by the State Department. Terry Davidson, a spokesman, said: “The US-UK relationship is indeed a special one. The US and the UK work together, along with our allies in Europe and across the world, on every issue imaginable. The views expressed by Mr Myers do not represent the views of the US Government. He was speaking as an academic, not as a representative of the State Department.”

Privately, US officials are furious about the comments made by a man not even involved in the policymaking process, which can only rock relations at a time of high-wire tension in international diplomacy. Dr Myers himself was said to be considering early retirement.

He said on Tuesday that Mr Blair had been left “ruined for all time” by the Iraq war and that if he had “only read a book” on the last British invasion of Iraq in the 1920s, “he might have hesitated”.,,2-2478925,00.html

Federal agency is set to recommend decertification of all touch screen voting

November 29, 2006
Feds to Toughen E-Voting Standards?
By Michael Hickins

A federal agency is set to recommend significant changes to specifications for electronic-voting machines next week, has learned.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is recommending that the 2007 version of the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines (VVSG) decertify direct record electronic (DRE) machines.

DREs are currently used by more than 30 percent of jurisdictions across the U.S. and are the exclusive voting technology in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and South Carolina.

According to an NIST paper to be discussed at a meeting of election regulators at NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., on Dec. 4 and 5, DRE vote totals cannot be audited because the machines are not software independent.

In other words, there is no means of verifying vote tallies other than by relying on the software that tabulated the results to begin with.

The machines currently in use are "more vulnerable to undetected programming errors or malicious code," according to the paper.

The NIST paper also noted that, "potentially, a single programmer could 'rig' a major election."

It recommends "requiring SI [software independent] voting systems in VVSG 2007."

The NIST is also going to recommend changes to the design of machines equipped with paper rolls that provide audit trails.

Currently, the paper rolls produce records that are illegible or otherwise unusable, and NIST is recommending that "paper rolls should not be used in new voting systems."

The lack of software independence has reared its ugly head in Sarasota's Congressional race, where 18,000 fewer votes were cast than in other races on the same ballot.

A recount was futile in that election because Sarasota uses a DRE-type machine.

This has provoked concerns that someone tampered with that election.

County officials told that the machines themselves are now being examined by a team of computer security experts and that they will finish their work by Friday.

Congress has also been on the case.

Hearings were held throughout the summer and fall, and legislation was introduced that would require the use of some form of voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT).

These efforts have gathered steam in response to reported machine malfunctions during the March 2006 primaries, as well as studies by the Brennan Center and Princeton University professor Ed Felten, as well as pressure from advocacy groups such as

But evidence is emerging to the effect that paper trails may not be of much help.

For instance, a study of the 2006 primaries in Ohio commissioned by Cuyahoga County, Ohio, showed that the results of that election could not be verified despite the presence of VVPAT.

The study concluded that "the election system, in its entirety, exhibits shortcomings with extremely serious consequences, especially in the event of a close election."

Many former advocates of VVPAT, including John Gideon, executive director of VotersUnite, now favor requiring that all votes be recorded on paper ballots.

"DREs are unacceptable as voting devices and ... the addition of a VVPAT on a DRE is only a placebo to make some voters feel more comfortable," Gideon said in an e-mail.

Computer scientists and election experts such as Roy Saltman disagree with the idea of going back to paper ballots. "If you insist on paper you're tying elections to an old technology," he told

Doug Jones of the University of Iowa suggested that election officials consider implementing new technologies that enable independent auditing of votes.

He pointed to a system devised by Ted Selker, co-director of the CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project. "The state of the art systems aren't even on the market."

Shock corridor: Occupation just ain't healthy

Last update - 17:16 29/11/2006

Twilight Zone / Shock corridor
By Gideon Levy

A room on the surgical ward in Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, the largest hospital in the northern West Bank: The beds are empty, the mattresses have disappeared, trash is scattered on the floor, the curtains are torn and the remnants of a meal are in the kitchen. A similar sight is seen in the obstetrics and gynecology department of the city's Al-Watani Hospital. It's not pleasant to see a hospital that has been closed down - especially one in a besieged city that sometimes also comes under fire.

For three months now, the government health services serving Palestinians in the West Bank have been closed down. Dozens of rural clinics are no longer open and government hospitals are barely operating. Health-service workers who have not received most of their salaries for the past nine months - because of the boycott which Israel and the world declared on the Palestinian Authority government - have declared a strike, which has gotten worse: Since Monday the hospitals have only been accepting patients whose life is in immediate danger. Yet another hardship to add to the siege of West Bank locales, with their approximately 1.5 million residents, and the severe economic distress that afflicts them.

Five-year-old Ahmed Subuh is the only patient in the otherwise empty orthopedics ward in Rafidia Hospital. He fell and suffered an open fracture of his arm. He wanders the empty corridors, his arm bandaged and his family tending to him. The boy's grandfather is upset, his voice echoes through the halls: "Let the world see. Let Israel and the Arab states see what they're doing to us."

Has anyone heard about this strike? Is it necessary to repeat that the responsibility for the health of residents who live under occupation is ours? Or to ask again what vital health services have to do with the economic boycott Israel and the world declared on a government that was legally elected in a democratic election?

There are political circumstances surrounding this strike: The new director of Al-Watani Hospital, Dr. Husam Jawhari, a cardiologist, says that a government that is incapable of providing vital services has to go. But the main victim here is the ordinary citizen, and the main culprit is the occupier. "Israel is holding NIS 600 million of our tax money. That's small change for it, and it's our money. That could solve the problem," says Jawhari.

The exacerbation of the strike this week means that a woman in labor who has already managed to get through the cruel checkpoints on the way to Nablus will not be admitted to the delivery room at Al-Watani with a dilation of four centimeters. Six is the minimum.

The checkpoints on the way to Nablus are exhausting. Every five minutes you have to stop and wait, sometimes for hours. The maximum speed limit is one kilometer per hour, and that's on a good day.

The scene at the Hawara checkpoint, overlooking Nablus, is terrible: As usual there, a throng of people is crammed into something that resembles a cattle pen. A compassionate soldier gives right of way to mothers with babies who're caught in the chaos. A short line of cars with permits to leave waits, for hours on end. They say this is nothing compared to the Assira Alshmalia checkpoint, also known as Checkpoint 17, on the Nablus-Jenin road. And these are not crossings into Israel, but rather checkpoints between Nablus and Beit Furik, affecting only people going to work and back.

With all the focus on the bloodshed in Gaza, daily life in the West Bank has been forgotten. At the offices of the Medical Relief organization in Nablus, the medical director, Dr. Ghassan Hamdan, says that his city is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. He foresees epidemics and needless deaths. The clinics in 65 villages are closed, which has dramatic significance: When Nablus is inaccessible these clinics serve as a substitute, albeit a poor one, for the hospitals on the other side of the checkpoints. But now the two big hospitals in Nablus are practically deserted, so most of the burden is falling on nongovernmental organizations like Hamdan's.

The irony: The boycott may end up pushing more of the population into the arms of Hamas, whose clinics are open. Most of the residents in the West Bank have some sort of medical insurance, but this doesn't cover strikes. People of means go to four private hospitals, where hospitalization costs $100 a day; others collect donations to get admitted. Three times more patients than usual are turning to Medical Relief for help, and the situation in Nablus is actually better than elsewhere, such as in Hebron. In Nablus there are refugee camps whose patients are treated by UNRWA. In Hebron there are no refugees and no UNRWA.

The Israeli Physicians for Human Rights organization is also reporting a dramatic increase in the number of people needing its services since the outbreak of the strike. Salah Haj Yahya, director of the organization's mobile clinics, says that the organization is having difficulty meeting the demand for health care. Every Saturday, he organizes a medical day in a different West Bank village. Last Saturday he was with his volunteer doctors in a town near Tul Karm. It was a gynecology day, but 250 men showed up as well, seeking a doctor. The previous Saturday, there were some 350 patients in a village outside Jenin; the week before, 500 people came to the mobile clinic in Beit Furik. Haj Yahya says he's never before seen such huge numbers of needy patients.

Dr. Hamdan already foresees a catastrophe: A serious shortage of vaccines and closed clinics means that children, especially in rural areas, are not immunized; pregnancies won't be monitored; and kidney-transplant recipients are more likely to suffer complications. Some patients have already died due to the lack of medicine and treatment, though exact statistics are not available.

Hamdan: "We are pleading for the boycott to end so that this urgent humanitarian crisis can be solved. The basic right to receive health services is being denied us. This right must not be tied to politics. I think that people have already died because of the strike. Maybe the danger of an outbreak of epidemics near the settlements will frighten the Israelis. I say this with all seriousness."

The director of Al-Watani Hospital, Jawhari, cannot get into the empty gynecological ward of his hospital. The door is padlocked and there is hardly anyone around. This hospital, which specializes in internal medicine, has 94 beds; this past week only 19 were occupied, mostly by cancer and cardiac patients in serious condition. Rafidia, where Jawhari had served as director until last week, and which specializes in surgical cases, has 165 beds. This week fewer than 40 were occupied.

Jawhari was transferred this week to the smaller Al-Watani facility apparently because of his outspoken positions: He thinks that a government that does not provide vital health services to its populace - and a foreign minister who isn't even able to travel to an Arab country like Oman - ought to quit. "If I'm a hospital director and I can't do my job, then I should resign. There's no shame in that."

This elegant doctor takes pains to emphasize that he is not a politician and that politics doesn't interest him. The directive to the striking doctors has been, he says, not to lose a single patient. The dialysis unit at his hospital, which has 15 machines and serves 98 local kidney patients, works four shifts a day. These patients have not been hurt by the strike, nor have the cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. The neonatal unit and the hematological institute are working. There is no radiation treatment anywhere in the West Bank.

Jawhari: "It's not inscribed on the patients' foreheads whether they're Fatah or Hamas, and it's not their fault who was elected. The elections were properly run and the results shouldn't adversely affect the health services. Before I blame Israel and the world, I have to take my own government to task. Our strike is directed against both the Palestinian government and against the world community."

In the past eight months, Jawhari has received only about a fifth of his salary. The more junior employees, who earn about NIS 1,200 a month, have received about half. "It would be a crime if I don't give medical care, but I deserve to be paid. My daughter called today from Bir Zeit and said that I have to pay her tuition. I don't have it. The public might be understanding, but the parents of a sick child cannot accept this."

Al-Watani is half-empty. A little while ago a man of about 40 was rushed in without a pulse. The resuscitation was successful and now he is in intensive care. Jawhari fears that his hospital will collapse completely. Arab donors from the United States have also stopped sending contributions: They say they are U.S. citizens and therefore are prohibited from transferring any money to the hospital. The American Care International organization is now cutting back on the aid it provides to the dialysis unit.

The hospital has merged departments: Male patients now lie near the women. Doctors show up for work, but only treat those seen as emergency cases. The paramedic crews, the cleaning workers and the administration are also on strike. They haven't been paid either. What happens if a person suffers strong stomach pains? Jawhari says that person probably won't come to the hospital, knowing it's closed. And if he comes and the doctors decide it's not an emergency, they'll send him home.

We pass through wards whose doors are unlocked. In one room, a boy who is a heart patient sits chewing on a corn cob. His face is gaunt and his belly is swollen. In the next room is a female cancer patient, unconscious. An oppressive silence prevails.

Hirsh: Why the Iraq Study Is a Bust

Iraq can no longer be won or lost. Why the study group won't solve anything.
By Michael Hirsh
Updated: 3:37 p.m. MT Nov 29, 2006

Nov. 29, 2006 - The forthcoming report by James Baker's Iraq Study Group has enjoyed the biggest public buildup since the Segway. And it is likely to be just as big of a bust.

Here's why the Baker-Hamilton report is destined to land with a thud, after weeks of messianic hype. According to sources who have seen the draft report introduced this week, the group will recommend deeper engagement with Iran and Syria in hopes these countries can help us quell the violence in Iraq. But George W. Bush, who remains a true neocon believer—"It's the regime, stupid"—is very unlikely to cut deals with such evil states, except in the most foot-dragging way. In any case, with each passing week Iraq's sectarian fratricide makes these neighboring countries less and less relevant. One doesn't have to be trained by Hizbullah or the Iranian secret service to grab a few Sunnis off the street every night and shoot them in the head. But until those killings stop, the yes-it-is-a-civil war-no-it's-not-a-civil-war in Iraq will continue to rage out of control.

The James Baker-Lee Hamilton group will also recommend tackling the problem of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But this central issue of Islamist discontent no longer has much to do with the violence in Iraq, just as the violence has less and less to do with Al Qaeda. The neocon fantasists, in their headiest days, used to say that "the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad." This meant that somehow, in ways they could never spell out, the Israeli-Palestinian issue would be resolved after democracy was achieved in Iraq. Now Baker's thought seems to be that the road to Baghdad goes through Jerusalem. This is just as silly as the earlier idea. Take this down: the road to Baghdad goes through Iraq.

Above all, sources indicate the Baker-Hamilton group will fudge the issue of what the size of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq should be, and what a specific timetable for withdrawal should look like. This means that, almost as soon as the report comes out in early December, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will be able to ignore it, and he likely will. Prominent Democrats like Sens. Carl Levin, Jack Reed and Joseph Biden will begin to dismiss it and reintroduce their own plans. Biden, for example, plans to hold six weeks of hearings in January, after he takes over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that will quickly turn Baker-Hamilton into a relic of that long-ago autumn of 2006.

What's happening in Washington right now is the worst sort of cover-your-backside politics. The nation's officialdom, Republicans and Democrats both, continue to indulge in the outer-galactic notion that Iraq is "winnable" or "losable." President Bush still seems to be deluding himself that "Al Qaeda" is behind the violence in Iraq, as he said in Latvia yesterday, and this week he's supposed to meet with Maliki in Jordan in hopes he can get the Iraqi leader to crack down on the violence. This requires the pretense the Maliki doesn't owe his political life to one of the chief authors of the violence, radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Assuming the Bush trip was well-thought-out strategy and not merely a political ploy—not a safe assumption—the only possible explanation for it is that the president wants to split Maliki off from Sadr, forcing him to reform his government. But that is playing with dynamite in the middle of a conflagration. And Sadr, in any case, is probably too smart to give up his political hold on Maliki: his loyalists in Parliament announced today that they would merely suspend their participation in the government.

The biggest reason why Baker-Hamilton will bust big time, however, is that while the diplomatic Baker cautiously forges consensus, the fast-moving events in Iraq are making him look as if he's standing still. Consider: out at Ft. Riley in Kansas, the U.S. Army is engaged in its biggest training of "transition teams"—advisers to be embedded in the Iraqi military—since the Vietnam war. The 11-man transition teams amount to only about 5,000 advisers so far, and some 15,000 are needed to truly professionalize the Iraqi Army, says Lt. Col. John Nagl, commander of the 1-34 Armor. In order to train up those additional U.S. advisers, President Bush must decide to stand down U.S. forces in Iraq and give the Iraqi Army the lead. That would allow regular U.S. Army battalions to park their tanks and artillery pieces, so that U.S. officers and noncoms could become advisers.

This major shift is going to occur no matter what Baker-Hamilton says. The future course of U.S. involvement is set for a long time to come: as the Iraqi Army matures beyond the five or so divisions that are now functioning, very brave American officers will join them, guiding their movements with the latest technology that effectively will give them a proxy air force. This will be a slow, painstaking process, neither cut and run nor stay the course. Just find a medium-term way to extricate yourself with your scalp intact.

Iraq is not winnable or losable. All it is, in the best case, is manageable. What's needed instead of careful consensus building in Washington is a Richard Holbrooke or a Henry Kissinger out in the field, a tough, no-nonsense negotiator who can grapple with the reality of the American failure in the region and simply seek the most honorable way out. Perhaps the best hope for this kind of adult solution now lies with Robert Gates, who served on the Baker-Hamilton group until he was named to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of Defense. Gates, a longtime CIA analyst, is a true big-tent guy who has made a career out of sifting out nonsense. In his 1996 memoir, "From the Shadows: the Ultimate Insider's story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War," Gates took a nonideologue's view, identifying useful elements of foreign policy from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. Both hawks and doves, he says, had part of the cold war equation right. "If presidents had listened only to the hawks, U.S. belligerence and aggressiveness would have been so overwhelming that the Soviets would have been afraid to undertake changes in their system, to have let down their guard at all," he wrote. "If presidents had listened only to the doves, not only would the Soviets have seen many opportunities to gain strategic military advantage and new influence in the Third World; there would have been significantly less pressure on them to change." His interpretation of the victory over the Soviet Union is that it was won through "both confrontation and conciliation, conflict and dialogue."

In the end, the most enduring legacy of the Baker-Hamilton report may be Gates himself, a philosophy of management over vision. At least that's better than what we have now.


Shi'ites, Sunnis amass arms

By Sharon Behn
Published November 29, 2006

Rival Shi'ite and Sunni groups are massing their militias in expectation of major confrontations, Iraqis say, even as President Bush prepares to meet today with the nation's embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Mr. Bush's meeting in Jordan is part of a wider attempt to involve Iraq's neighbors in efforts to end Iraq's vicious sectarian violence before it spills over into a larger regional conflict.
But Iraqis on both sides of their nation's sectarian divide report worrisome signs that the conflict will soon evolve into pitched battles between large armed groups.

One secular Shi'ite speaking on the telephone from Baghdad said Shi'ite militias were massing in preparation for a large offensive against Sunnis in the capital.

"They had a big militarylike ceremony today for the Mahdi militia, to show their force. They are making themselves ready for something big -- protests, fighting, killing," said the Shi'ite.
A secular Sunni in close contact with one insurgent faction, said rebel Sunnis were also trying to form alliances among militias for a big push in the city against the Shi'ites, including more raids on government buildings.

"I am waiting for the Sunnis to launch a 'Tet Offensive.' That is the one plug they have not pulled yet, and I could see that happening," said senior Rand defense analyst Ed O'Connell.
The Tet Offensive was a series of attacks by the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies that many consider a turning point in the war, leading eventually to the U.S. withdrawal.
Any emergence of pitched battles between massed groups of Sunnis and Shi'ites would largely settle a long-running argument in Washington over whether the conflict in Iraq should be described as a civil war -- a description the Bush administration has so far rejected.
However the depth of concern over the rising levels of violence is evident in the flurry of diplomacy leading to Mr. Bush's meeting with Mr. al-Maliki in Amman today.
Vice President Dick Cheney met with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani held talks Monday and yesterday with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Both Iranian leaders pledged to help Iraq, but sharpened the political divisions with the United States by accusing Washington of destabilizing the region by supporting Sunni "outlaws."
King Abdullah II of Jordan, meanwhile, has said that "something dramatic" must come out of the meeting because Iraq is "beginning to spiral out of control."

While the Bush administration has been reluctant to recruit clearly hostile regimes in Tehran and Damascus into the Iraq effort, many analysts have concluded that there is no other choice.
"The only people who are going to be able to put this back into the box are not the American politicians or American military -- it is the Iranians, the Syrians, the Jordanians and the Saudis," said Mr. O'Connell.

An adviser to the Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, said any talks with Iran must deal more with the violence in Iraq than with Tehran's nuclear program.

If Mr. Cheney's meeting with the Saudis "was more about Iraq -- rather than Iran and the nuclear issue -- that would be a more hopeful sign," said the former U.S. military officer who would only speak on the condition of anonymity because of his involvement with the Iraq Study Group.

"There might be some indication that the administration is having dialogue with Iran about Iraq," he said.

Mr. al-Maliki is expected to ask Mr. Bush to set a timetable for removing U.S. troops from Iraq, although there are deep disagreements in Washington whether that would make matters better or worse.

There are also serious questions as to how much control Mr. al-Maliki has over his own government and country.

"Al-Maliki is heavily under the sway of [radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada] al-Sadr. He is afraid of al-Sadr, is kowtowing to the Iranians, has no idea of how to deal with the United States, and is the worst possible candidate to lead the country out of this mess," said Mr. O'Connell.
Iraqis in Baghdad note that Mr. al-Maliki was pelted with rocks on Sunday when he went to visit grieving families in Sadr City -- once the base of his support.

Mr. Bush is expected to publicly reiterate his support for Mr. al-Maliki, but privately push the Iraqi leader to take effective action against the Shi'ite militias, particularly the Mahdi Army of Sheik al-Sadr.

"You are faced with the fact that Sadr has to be stopped, or you have to concede the battle of Baghdad to him," said security analyst Robert Killebrew.

"In the past 30 days, what we've got is the Sadr militia openly trying to take over Baghdad and run the Sunnis out, and we simply can't tolerate Sadr any longer," Mr. Killebrew said. "He has emerged as our number one problem in Iraq."

NATO Rebuffs Bush on Troops for Afghanistan

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Judy Dempsey

The New York Times

Leaders of the 26 NATO nations failed to agree Wednesday on President Bush's demand that member countries with troops in Afghanistan lift their restrictions on how the troops are used. Those rules keep some soldiers from operating in the most dangerous part of the country.

Instead of lifting the restrictions entirely, France, Germany and Italy agreed to allow their troops to be sent in emergencies to bolster the NATO forces in the south, where Taliban forces have fought with renewed vigor.

The NATO leaders also unexpectedly opened the door to membership to Serbia by offering it partnership status, along with Bosnia and Montenegro. Up until now, the United States, Britain and the Netherlands have blocked Serbia because of its failure to arrest two men who led Serbian forces during the fighting in Bosnia - Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who have been indicted for war crimes by the international tribunal in The Hague.

The offer Wednesday of offered partnership status - a step toward full membership - came with the condition that Serbia promise to try to capture the wanted pair and other figures charged with war crimes.


Report: Panel to Call for U.S. Pullback

Thursday November 30, 2006 11:16 AM


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A bipartisan commission next week will unveil long-awaited recommendations for a new U.S. policy in Iraq that a published report said would call for a gradual pullback of U.S. troops there - without a timetable - and direct diplomacy with Iran and Syria.

Such recommendations would require a shift in policy for the Bush administration that President Bush has shown no hint of implementing.

``This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all,'' he said Thursday at a news conference in Jordan.

Without any specific reference to the commission, Bush acknowledged a general pressure for U.S. troop withdrawals but said, ``We'll be in Iraq until the job is complete, at the request of a sovereign government elected by the people.''

The panel's co-chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., said Wednesday that the group has reached a consensus and would announce its proposals next Wednesday.

Hamilton declined to disclose any specifics about the group's decisions. The much-anticipated report is coming out amid spiraling violence in Iraq that has raised questions about the viability of the Iraqi government.

``This afternoon, we reached a consensus ... and we will announce that on Dec. 6,'' Hamilton told a forum on national security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.

``We're making recommendations,'' said Hamilton, who led the Iraq Study Group with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Republican.

The New York Times reported on its Web site Wednesday night that the study group will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American brigades now in Iraq, but will stop short of setting a specific timetable for their withdrawal.

The Times, citing unidentified people familiar with the report, said it does not state whether the brigades, numbering 3,000 to 5,000 troops each, should be pulled back to isolated bases in Iraq or to neighboring countries.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman the National Security Council traveling with Bush in Jordan, said the White House had not yet been given any advance briefing about what the group would recommend and had no comment on the Times report.

Defense officials, meanwhile, said the Pentagon is developing plans to send four more battalions to Iraq early next year, including some to Baghdad. The extra combat engineer units of Army reserves would total about 3,500 troops and would come from around the United States, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deployments have not been announced.

The units would provide support for other combat troops, but their specific missions were not disclosed.

The study group is expected to recommend regional talks involving Syria and Iran. The administration has been reluctant to engage those two countries, which it says have abetted the violence in Iraq.

It was unclear exactly what the group would recommend regarding possible U.S. troop withdrawals, an issue that proved divisive during meetings this week. The members - five Democrats and five Republicans - were split over the appropriate U.S. troop levels in Iraq, and whether and how to pull American forces out, according to one official close to the panel's deliberations.

A second official has said the commission was unlikely to propose a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops, but that some members seem to favor setting a date for an initial withdrawal. That is an idea favored by many congressional Democrats.

There are currently about 139,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; some 20,000 are in and around Baghdad, the capital.

At a news conference Wednesday, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not say whether more troops were planned for Baghdad. He did say that was among the ideas that commanders were debating.

He also said there was no plan to shift all troops from the volatile Anbar province into Baghdad.


Associated Press writers Beverley Lumpkin and Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.,,-6249151,00.html