Saturday, February 10, 2007

9/11 — What Did the Israelis Know?

Editor's note: I am moving over to the other blog. Also see the new aticles below.

Friday, February 9th, 2007

A new piece by the talented Christopher Ketcham in Counterpunch relates a story well-known to longtime readers of we were, after all, the first to write about the Israeli connection to the events of 9/11. A month later, Carl Cameron came out with his famous four-part series which opened with these chilling words:

There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9/11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are ‘tie-ins’. But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, ‘evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. ‘I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’

Ketcham, author of a previous piece detailing the “Israeli art student” phenomenon, offers up intriguing new insights and information from inside sources about the story that won’t die — in spite of repeated attempts by the Lobby to quash it. Amy Goodman interviews Ketcham, Alexander Cockburn, and Forward reporter Marc Perelman (one of the first to break this story in 2002).

Easily the most interesting aspect of Ketcham’s story is his description of the five Israelis, employees of a Weehawken, New Jersey, moving company, who were observed, on the morning of 9/11, cheering and laughing in the parking lot of Liberty State Park, overlooking the Hudson — and with a clear view of the burning twin towers. A radio alert went out to police officers, and the white 2000 Chevie van they were in was spotted shortly afterwards, and apprehended. As Ketcham relates: They had not been told the reasons for their arrest. Yet, according to DeCarlo’s report, “this officer was told without question by the driver [Sivan Kurzberg],

‘We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.’ Another of the five Israelis, again without prompting, told Officer DeCarlo – falsely – that ‘we were on the West Side Highway in New York City during the incident.’

Ketcham cites a former CIA counter-terrorism expert as saying:

One story was that [the Israelis] appeared at Liberty State Park very quickly after the first plane hit. The other was that they were at the park location already.

“Either way,” avers Ketcham, “investigators wanted to know exactly what the men were expecting when they got there.”

Indeed. This story was originally written as a follow-up to Ketcham’s original piece in Salon, and then rejected — an hour before it was to be posted — in the dubious grounds that it reported “nothing new.” Then The Nation was supposed to publish it, but backed down at the last moment. Ketcham’s piece isn’t online yet, but if you want to find out how to get a copy (yes, on dead tree!), go here.

(I wrote a short book, The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection, published in 2003. Go buy it. And you might want to check out’s archive of documentary materials in our “Israeli Art Students Files.”)

in News by Justin Raimondo

'NYT' Reporter Who Got Iraqi WMDs Wrong Now Highlights Iran Claims

By Greg Mitchell

Published: February 10, 2007 10:30 PM ET updated Saturday

NEW YORK Saturday’s New York Times features an article, posted at the top of its Web site late Friday, that suggests very strongly that Iran is supplying the “deadliest weapon aimed at American troops” in Iraq. The author notes, “Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile.”

What is the source of this volatile information? Nothing less than “civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.”

Sound pretty convincing? It may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

Gordon wrote with Miller the paper's most widely criticized -- even by the Times itself -- WMD story of all, the Sept. 8, 2002, “aluminum tubes” story that proved so influential, especially since the administration trumpeted it on TV talk shows.

When the Times eventually carried an editors’ note that admitted some of its Iraq coverage was wrong and/or overblown, it criticized two Miller-Gordon stories, and
noted that the Sept. 8, 2002, article on page one of the newspaper "gave the first detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unidentified senior administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program."

This, of course, proved bogus.

The Times “mea-culpa” story dryly observed: "The article gave no hint of a debate over the tubes," adding, "The White House did much to increase the impact of The Times article." This was the famous "mushroom cloud" over America article.

Now, more than four years later, Gordon reveals: “The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.”

Gordon also wrote, following Secretary of State Colin Powell's crucial, and appallingly wrong, speech to the United Nations in 2003 that helped sell the war, that "it will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington's case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information."

Today, in contrast to the Times' report, Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post simply notes, "Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said serial numbers and markings on some explosives used in Iraq indicate that the material came from Iran, but he offered no evidence."

For some perspective, here is how that "mushroom cloud" Gordon-Miller story of Sept. 8, 2002, opened:

“More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.

“In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

“The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq's nuclear program, officials said, and that the latest attempt to ship the material had taken place in recent months.

“The attempted purchases are not the only signs of a renewed Iraqi interest in acquiring nuclear arms. President Hussein has met repeatedly in recent months with Iraq's top nuclear scientists and, according to American intelligence, praised their efforts as part of his campaign against the West.

“Iraq's nuclear program is not Washington's only concern. An Iraqi defector said Mr. Hussein had also heightened his efforts to develop new types of chemical weapons. An Iraqi opposition leader also gave American officials a paper from Iranian intelligence indicating that Mr. Hussein has authorized regional commanders to use chemical and biological weapons to put down any Shiite Muslim resistance that might occur if the United States attacks….

"'The jewel in the crown is nuclear,'' a senior administration official said. ‘The closer he gets to a nuclear capability, the more credible is his threat to use chemical or biological weapons. Nuclear weapons are his hole card. The question is not, why now?' the official added, referring to a potential military campaign to oust Mr. Hussein. 'The question is why waiting is better. The closer Saddam Hussein gets to a nuclear weapon, the harder he will be to deal with.'

”Hard-liners are alarmed that American intelligence underestimated the pace and scale of Iraq's nuclear program before Baghdad's defeat in the gulf war. Conscious of this lapse in the past, they argue that Washington dare not wait until analysts have found hard evidence that Mr. Hussein has acquired a nuclear weapon. The first sign of a 'smoking gun,' they argue, may be a mushroom cloud.”

Greg Mitchell (

Bombing campaign intensifies in Afghanistan

Updated 2/8/2007 8:57 PM ET

By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY

SEVILLE, Spain — The Pentagon is ramping up its bombing campaign in Afghanistan as it plans a major offensive against the resurgent Taliban in the spring.

Close-air-support missions flown by U.S. Air Force pilots increased nearly 80% in the first five weeks of 2007 compared with the same period last year, records show. The Air Force plans to send in dozens more precision bomb-targeting systems that allow troops on the ground to call in airstrikes within a few hundred yards of their own position.

That technology, called ROVER (Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver), allows troops on the ground to share video with pilots in attack aircraft so they both see the target simultaneously, said Lt. Col. Greg Harbin, one of the lead officers on the Air Force ROVER program. He plans to deliver 50 systems to coalition forces in Afghanistan in March.

Along with increasing the effectiveness of airstrikes, the systems will reduce the number of "friendly fire" incidents that have strained relations between U.S. and allied militaries, Harbin said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said NATO allies agreed Thursday on an Afghan strategy that includes fighting the Taliban, developing the government and economy and training and equipping the Afghan army.

The Taliban gains strength each spring, Gates said. The fundamentalist Islamic movement ran Afghanistan until it was ousted by U.S. and allied forces in October 2001.

"It's important we knock that back," Gates said of the Taliban's resurgence. He spoke to reporters after meeting in Seville with defense ministers from NATO countries.

Last month, President Bush asked Congress to spend $10 billion in Afghanistan over the next two years — $8 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces and $2 billion to fund reconstruction projects. The Pentagon also announced Jan. 25 that 3,200 U.S. soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division will stay in Afghanistan four more months to bolster the force there.

There are about 21,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan: 13,000 of them work with NATO troops in the International Security Assistance Force; 8,000 train Afghan troops and mount counterterrorist operations.

Two NATO nations, Denmark and Lithuania, agreed Thursday to bolster their small contingents in Afghanistan.

Franz-Josef Jung, Germany's defense minister, questioned the need to send more troops to Afghanistan.

"I do not think it is right to talk about more and more military means," Jung said. "When the Russians were in Afghanistan, they had 100,000 troops and didn't win."

Gates said some NATO nations lifted restrictions on how and where their troops are used. He did not provide specifics on the restrictions, also called caveats.

The caveats placed on allied troops have stymied U.S. efforts to counter the Taliban insurgency. Some restrictions involve a refusal to fight in bad weather or in certain parts of the country, said a November report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Gen. James Jones, who heads the U.S. European Command, asked Germany last fall to send troops to southern Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, but Germany declined, according to the report.

NATO asked France, Turkey, Italy and Spain to send troops to the south, but they, too, declined. The countries said that they had committed troops to peacekeeping forces in Lebanon or that their own areas of responsibility in Afghanistan remained "restive," according to the CRS report.

Though the report noted that problems with caveats remain in Afghanistan, it said the Netherlands had increased its fighting role despite the move's unpopularity with Dutch voters.

Coalition nations have been involved in friendly-fire incidents in which their troops have been killed by U.S. or other forces.

Harbin, the Air Force officer, said the ROVER system can prevent incidents such as one in which a U.S. pilot mistakenly fired on a British convoy in Afghanistan, killing one British soldier. Other friendly-fire incidents include four Canadians being killed in 2002 and one Canadian killed last September.

The Air Force has loaned 12 ROVER systems to British troops.

Posted 2/8/2007 8:50 PM ET

Intelligence community doesn't buy White House 'proof' of Iran involvment in Iraq

February 09, 2007

Just out: "The Politics of Iran Intelligence," at National Journal. Unfortunately, it's subscription only, but here's a brief excerpt:

Amid the continued political fallout over the faulty intelligence case for going to war in Iraq, the Bush administration is newly cautious about the specific intelligence it plans to present to the public to back up its claims that Iran is fighting a kind of proxy war with the United States in Iraq.

At least twice in the past month, the White House has delayed a PowerPoint presentation initially prepared by the military to detail evidence of suspected Iranian materiel and financial support for militants in Iraq. The presentation was to have been made at a press conference in Baghdad in the first week of February. Officials have set no new date, but they say it could be any day.

Even as U.S. officials in Baghdad were ready to make the case, administration principals in Washington who were charged with vetting the PowerPoint dossier bowed to pressure from the intelligence community and ordered that it be scrubbed again. The officials understand that the press will scrutinize the information intensely, that the intelligence "dots" that the administration has assembled about Iran in Iraq can be connected multiple ways, and that the public is wary of any possible intervention in Iran. "The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times on February 2.

A White House official who declined to be named told National Journal that the presentation was sent "back into the interagency process ... with all the usual agencies involved, both in Washington and Baghdad." Asked if it was the intelligence community that was most cautious about how to interpret the facts in the Iran dossier, the White House official said only, "It's, frankly, their job to be sure of the facts and to make sure the information is accurate, and to give their best advice about how to interpret it."

The delay in the briefing demonstrates the crosscurrents running through the administration, the intelligence agencies, and Congress over Iran. ... The debate is still simmering over who was at fault in the prewar intelligence failures: the policy makers or the intelligence community.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for example, is moving aggressively to vet the intelligence community's analytical products on Iran. [...]

"Even if this PowerPoint presentation eventually gets made public ... what does this show us as to where Iran is really coming from?" [former National Intelligence Council Middle East analyst Paul] Pillar asked. "What is the larger significance? Even if Iranian assistance to an Iraqi group is proven to everyone's satisfaction, the [administration's] policy never rested on that. The policy [is being driven by a] much larger sense of Iran as the prime bete noire in the region, and that is why the administration is trying to put together these coalitions with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Sunni states, that we've been reading about. None of this hinges [on the Iran dossier]. We are not going to call this off if we can't prove that Iran is furnishing munitions to Iraqi groups. ..."

From the February 10, 2007 issue. Posted by Laura at February 9, 2007 01:56 PM

Al-Qaeda Suspects Color White House Debate Over Ira

By Dafna Linzer

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 10, 2007; A01

Last week, the CIA sent an urgent report to President Bush's National Security Council: Iranian authorities had arrested two al-Qaeda operatives traveling through Iran on their way from Pakistan to Iraq. The suspects were caught along a well-worn, if little-noticed, route for militants determined to fight U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, according to a senior intelligence official.

The arrests were presented to Bush's senior policy advisers as evidence that Iran appears committed to stopping al-Qaeda foot traffic across its borders, the intelligence official said. That assessment comes at a time when the Bush administration, in an effort to push for further U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic, is preparing to publicly accuse Tehran of cooperating with and harboring al-Qaeda suspects.

The strategy has sparked a growing debate within the administration and the intelligence community, according to U.S. intelligence and government officials. One faction is pressing for more economic embargoes against Iran, including asset freezes and travel bans for the country's top leaders. But several senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials worry that a public push regarding the al-Qaeda suspects held in Iran could jeopardize U.S. intelligence-gathering and prompt the Iranians to free some of the most wanted individuals.

"There was real debate about all this," said one counterterrorism official. "If we go public, the Iranians could turn them loose." The official added: "At this point, we know where these guys are and at least they are off the streets. We could lose them for years if we go down this path."

The administration's planned diplomatic offensive is part of an effort to pressure Tehran from multiple directions. Bush has given the U.S. military the authority to kill or capture Iranian government agents working with Shiite militias inside Iraq. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said serial numbers and markings on some explosives used in Iraq indicate that the material came from Iran, but he offered no evidence.

With the aim of shaking Tehran's commitment to its nuclear program, Bush also approved last fall secret operations to target Iranian influence in southern Lebanon, in western Afghanistan, in the Palestinian territories and inside Iran. The new strategy, a senior administration official said, aims to portray Iran as a "terror-producing country, instead of an oil-producing country," with links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and death squads in Iraq.

U.S. officials have asserted for years that several dozen al-Qaeda fighters, including Osama bin Laden's son, slipped across the Afghan border into Iran as U.S. troops hunted for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. and allied intelligence services, which have monitored the men's presence inside Iran, reported that Tehran was holding them under house arrest as bargaining chips for potential deals with Washington.

Last fall, Bush administration officials asked the CIA to compile a list of those suspects so the White House could publicize their presence. For years, the administration has not revealed their names, in part because it sought to protect its intelligence sources but also because at the time the U.S. government was concealing the identities of suspects it was holding in secret CIA custody.

But the names of some of the men in Iran have become public, including "high-value" targets such as al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith of Kuwait and Saif al-Adel of Egypt. U.S. intelligence officials said they are members of the "al-Qaeda operational management committee." U.S. intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of them may have been involved from afar in planning an attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May 2003. Intelligence officials said bin Laden's son Saad is also being held with the other men in Iran.

Five administration officials were made available for interviews for this story on the condition that they not be identified. Other officials who spoke without permission -- including senior officials, career analysts and policymakers -- said their standing with the White House would be at risk if they were quoted by name.

The State Department, Pentagon and CIA referred all questions about the story to the National Security Council. In a written response to questions, NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "Iran's sponsorship of terrorism is one of the reasons for the sanctions now against it. We note that U.N. Security Council resolutions already oblige all states to ensure that members of terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, are brought to justice."

Since al-Qaeda fighters began streaming into Iran from Afghanistan in the winter of 2001, Tehran had turned over hundreds of people to U.S. allies and provided U.S. intelligence with the names, photographs and fingerprints of those it held in custody, according to senior U.S. intelligence and administration officials. In early 2003, it offered to hand over the remaining high-value targets directly to the United States if Washington would turn over a group of exiled Iranian militants hiding in Iraq.

Some of Bush's top advisers pushed for the trade, arguing that taking custody of bin Laden's son and the others would produce new leads on al-Qaeda. They were also willing to trade away the exiles -- members of a group on the State Department's terrorist list -- who had aligned with Saddam Hussein in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government.

Officials have said Bush ultimately rejected the exchange on the advice of Vice President Cheney and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who argued that any engagement would legitimize Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism. Bush's National Security Council agreed to accept information from Iran on al-Qaeda but offer nothing in return, officials said.

But no information has been forthcoming, intelligence officials said. One official said the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency have disagreed over how effectively the Iranians are controlling al-Qaeda members and whether the Tehran government is aware of the extent of al-Qaeda movements through the country.

Nevertheless, administration officials said they are determined to press Iran on the matter.

"We are not convinced that the Iranians have been honest or open about the level or degree of al-Qaeda presence in their midst," said one Bush adviser who was instrumental in coming up with a more confrontational U.S. approach to Iran. "They have not made proper accounting with respect to U.N. resolutions, have not been clear about who is in detention and have not been clear as to what is happening to individuals who might be in custody."

Bush administration officials pointed to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1267 and 1373, which state that harboring al-Qaeda members constitutes a threat to international peace and security, and authorize force to combat that threat. The resolutions compel nations to share any information on al-Qaeda suspects and give the United Nations authority to freeze the assets of suspects and those who provide them with safe haven.

Two U.S. officials said the administration plans to argue that Iran is violating those resolutions. A team of senior U.S. officials has been holding briefings for visiting European diplomats on the issue while administration lawyers prepare options for holding Iran in violation of U.N. resolutions.

"We've started a more aggressive and major attempt to try to convince other countries to use their influence on this issue," a senior U.S. diplomat said. "Until now, the Europeans have been focused on the nuclear issue and we want this high up on the agenda."

But another government official predicted that no European country would support a call on Iran to turn the al-Qaeda group over to U.S. military detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a facility widely condemned by Washington's closest allies. In the past year, U.S. officials said they successfully pushed Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to seek extradition of their citizens held in Iran, but Tehran rebuffed the requests. Administration officials said they interpreted the refusal as evidence of cooperation between the Iranian government and the group.

"We'd be happy to see them face trial anywhere," a senior administration official said.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Cheney Authorized Leak Campaign: "Get The Full Story Out"

Trial exposes White House crisis machine

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer Fri Feb 9, 9:22 PM ET

David Addington, chief legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, says he was taken aback when the White House started making public pronouncements about the CIA leak investigation.

In the fall of 2003, President Bush's press secretary was categorically denying that either Karl Rove or I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was involved in exposing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee married to a critic of the war in Iraq.

"Why are you making these statements?" Addington asked White House communications director Dan Bartlett.

"Your boss is the one who wanted" them, Bartlett replied, referring to Cheney.

With that, "I shut up," Addington recalled recently for jurors in Libby's CIA leak trial, which begins its fourth week on Monday with Libby's lawyers calling their first witnesses.

So far, the testimony of Addington and other administration aides, along with documents and Libby's audiotaped grand jury testimony, have provided a rare glimpse of how the Bush White House scrambled to respond to a political crisis as it intersected a criminal investigation.

At the intersection was Cheney, along with Rove and Libby, who were working in the summer of 2003 to rebut claims by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that Bush had misled the nation about prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The White House denials on behalf of Rove and Libby came just before Rove secretly began acknowledging to the FBI that he had confirmed Plame's identity for conservative columnist Bob Novak, who first published her name and relationship to Wilson.

About the same time, Libby came under suspicion because NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert had talked to the FBI, contradicting Libby's version of a conversation between the two men that would become the heart of the perjury and obstruction charges against Libby.

Bush and Cheney made a common mistake in their public handling of the Plame affair, says presidential scholar and University of Texas government professor Bruce Buchanan, who has watched Bush's career since his days as Texas governor.

"They're in a high-stakes game of poker, the immediate pressure is political and the people in charge are political people," Buchanan said. "If there is a legal issue it will dawn, but by then someone is out on a limb."

Testimony and documents in the trial show Rove joining Cheney in trying to undercut Wilson's claim that the administration had twisted prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

"We're a day late in getting responses to the story," Rove told a staff meeting, according to Libby's notes.

"Get the full story out," Cheney told aides, according to Libby's grand jury testimony.

There were glitches in the leak campaign against Wilson.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller never wrote a story about it, even after Cheney persuaded Bush to declassify prewar intelligence so it could be shared with Miller. The intelligence report said Iraq was vigorously trying to acquire uranium from the African nation of Niger.

"It was a totally failed effort," Libby told the grand jury of his meetings with Miller.

But there were successes too.

Libby recalled asking Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to reach out to The Wall Street Journal.

"I don't have as good a relationship with The Wall Street Journal as Secretary Wolfowitz did," Libby told the grand jury. "I talked to Secretary Wolfowitz about trying to get that point across, and he undertook to do so."

The Journal ran an editorial focusing on the theme Libby wanted. The editorial stated that the prewar intelligence the newspaper was describing had not come from the White House, "which to our mind has handled this story in a hamhanded fashion."

In the Libby trial, Bush comes across mostly as an interested observer.

According to Libby's notes, some of which surfaced at the trial, Bush expressed interest in a May 6, 2003 New York Times column critical of the administration and referencing an unnamed former ambassador, who turned out to be Wilson.

In questioning Libby before the grand jury, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald juxtaposed Bush's public statements condemning leakers and Libby's contacts with reporters, some of whom have testified against him.

"Were you at all concerned that while the president was stating that there's no White House involvement in any leaks whatsoever, that you were one of the people who may have been referred to" in press reports about possible White House leakers? asked Fitzgerald.

In the grand jury recordings, the prosecutor also asked Libby about his interaction with Rove a few days before Novak exposed Plame's CIA identity. Libby said Rove "was animated that Novak was animated about this." Libby added that Rove "thought it was a good thing that somebody was writing about" Wilson and his wife.

Cheney told Libby early in the effort to deal with Wilson that his wife worked at the CIA. And while the Cheney-Libby team worked in lockstep attacking Wilson in July 2003, Libby said he faced a somewhat distant vice president when the affair came under investigation, first by the Justice Department, then by Fitzgerald.

Regarding his discussions with reporters about Wilson's wife, "I would have been happy to unburden myself" to Cheney, Libby told the grand jury, but "he didn't want to hear it."

Baghdad Operation Turns Up Little As US, Iraqi Commanders Clash

Posted on Fri, Feb. 09, 2007

Infighting hampering Baghdad crackdown

Associated Press

Iraqi commanders are urging the Americans to go after Sunni targets as the first focus of the military push to secure Baghdad, displaying a sectarian tilt that is delaying full implementation of the plan to drive gunmen from the streets, U.S. officers say.

American officers, interviewed at the sprawling Camp Victory base at the western edge of the capital, also acknowledge they are finding little in their initial searches of Baghdad neighborhoods - suggesting either they received faulty intelligence or that the massive publicity that preceded the operation gave militants time to slip away.

The chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, said Wednesday that the much-anticipated Baghdad security operation was under way. His remarks came about a month after President Bush announced he was dispatching 21,500 more troops to curb sectarian bloodletting.

Under the plan, Baghdad is to be divided into nine zones, with Iraqi and American soldiers working side-by-side to clear each sector of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents so that reconstruction programs can begin in safety.

Although Iraqis have seen an increase in the number of checkpoints and other security measures, there is little sign of a "surge" of troops in the streets. U.S. officials insist the public will see a big increase soon.

U.S. officers told The Associated Press that the delays in implementing the plan were in part a result of disagreements between American and Iraqi commanders about what neighborhoods should be cleared first.

During joint planning sessions, the Iraqis have been urging U.S. officials to focus on neighborhoods believed to harbor Sunni insurgents, according to officers familiar with the discussions. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive.

Several U.S. officers said the Iraqis, especially representatives of the Shiite-run Interior Ministry, played down the threat posed by the biggest Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army. They blamed much of the violence against Sunnis on fringe elements.

That led some U.S. officers to conclude that the Iraqis were afraid that confronting the Mahdi Army, led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, would undercut support for the Shiite-led government and trigger even more violence.

"The targeting focus from our (Iraqi) counterparts indicates a leaning toward Sunni al-Qaida-based targets as opposed to Shiite militias," one U.S. officer said.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, however, has offered assurances that the security operation will not target any specific religious or ethnic group and that the law will be enforced evenhandedly.

"Some say that the plan targets Shiites, and others say it targets Sunnis. I want to say it targets all, but all those who break the law," al-Maliki said last month.

But one Iraqi general, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged there were differences between U.S. and Iraqi planners on the best way to conduct the operation, with each side insisting on the final say. The Iraqi said his colleagues have the feeling the Americans "don't trust us."

The U.S. officers said they had no intention of knuckling under to the Iraqi demands and were confident the Iraqis would come around in the end. But the dispute has resulted in delays, they said.

Those differences have also held up a final decision how to carve up the city into the nine zones and where to deploy Iraqi units that are being sent in for the operation, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

Iraqi commanders are supposed to send about 8,000 mostly Shiite and Kurdish troops into the city from southern and northern Iraq. Although Iraqi units have been arriving on schedule, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that they were coming with only 55 to 65 percent of their intended troops.

Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for the U.S. military command in Baghdad, said the district plan was still evolving, but insisted that last-minute changes do not suggest failure. He said such adjustments were to be expected.

"This is a collaborative planning process. The adjustments are going to be slight," Bleichwehl said.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is under intense pressure from the United States to crack down on Shiite militias, many of which maintain close links to members of his political alliance. Al-Sadr, for example, controls 30 of the 275 parliament seats and six ministries and has been a strong ally of the prime minister.

Shiite politicians have long maintained that Sunni militants pose the greater threat. Thousands of Shiite civilians have been killed in bombings and suicide attacks carried out by al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni groups.

Shiite leaders insist that the Shiite militias flourished because the U.S. and its allies could not protect civilians. They say if the Sunni insurgents were crushed, the threat from Shiite hard-liners would go away.

U.S. officials believe extremists in both Islamic sects must be routed to halt the tit-for-tat kidnappings and killings which have plunged this country into civil conflict.

Some U.S. officials suspect the Shiites are more interested in solidifying their grip on Baghdad after Shiite militias forced many Sunnis from the city.

Many Iraqis of both sects have been complaining that the security operation has been slow in taking off, enabling extremists to launch more attacks, such as a devastating truck bombing that killed 137 people on Feb. 3 in a mostly Shiite area of central Baghdad.

Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers have been stepping up the search for militants and weapons, including a sweep through Hurriyah, a Baghdad neighborhood where rampaging Shiite militiamen drove hundreds of Sunni families from their homes last December.

Paratroopers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, the first of the new U.S. commands to arrive for the operation, have begun moving into some of the cleared areas.

But the results of some operations have been less than expected.

This week, a joint U.S.-Iraqi force swept through Shaab, a largely Shiite neighborhood in northeast Baghdad where militiamen clashed with American soldiers last year.

The search was the largest so far since the new operation began. Most Iraqis welcomed soldiers into their homes with offers of tea.

But the troops managed to capture only 16 suspects and seize three Kalashnikov rifles in a neighborhood that intelligence said was a hotbed of bomb-makers.

"I don't know if it's bad information, bad intelligence, of if they knew we were coming and left," said Capt. Isaac Torres of the Army's 3rd Brigade Stryker Combat Team. "They were all dry holes."


Associated Press reporter Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

An alliance of Palestinian-Israeli dialogue groups will lobby Congress

Let us coexist

Dialogue groups to lobby

An alliance of Palestinian-Israeli dialogue groups will lobby Congress for funding.

The Alliance for Middle East Peace will host a conference for its 36 member groups March 13-15 in Washington, on the heels of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy forum.

The representatives will train in writing applications for grants from private foundations and government.

They will spend March 15 on Capitol Hill lobbying for greater U.S. funding of
Arab-Jewish encounters.

The outside world has to grasp that Palestinian infighting is the product of an intolerable blockade

We are being suffocated

Sami Abdel-Shafi in Gaza City
Saturday February 10, 2007
The Guardian

It was a surreal but telling reflection of how lonely Palestinians have become as their leadership has seemingly been pushed into breakdown and failure, while Israel watched from the sidelines. Late one night, I was suddenly yelled at to stop my car, turn the lights off and roll down the windows. Two masked men, without any identifying insignias, closed in from the sides; one pointed his machine gun at me while the other, two steps behind, shouldered a loaded rocket-propelled grenade launcher. That was a week last Thursday, hours after fierce clashes erupted between Hamas and Fatah, ending the seventh ceasefire between the factions, and ushering in the deadliest power struggle yet.

To Palestinians it seemed sadly clear that the moral credit of their cause was being eroded: how must it look to the outside world that they had flip-flopped in one year between democratic elections and internecine violence?

A day before this incident, a House of Commons development committee report warned of drastically deteriorating conditions in the occupied territories as a result of the US-led economic embargo in the wake of last year's elections. The report questioned the proportionality of Israel's own blockade and its implications for the prospects of a lasting peace. The Palestinian infighting only underlined the sense of those warnings.

The militiamen I had run into had no clear lines of authority. One turned out to be a recent accountancy graduate who had never been able to find a job and had been given no weapons training. Many such armed men simply need an income. Without any means to provide for their families, they join one of the many security outfits to secure a salary. The international community needs to grasp the dire consequences of maintaining what is the largest regional prison in the world: Camp Gaza Strip.

Thursday's agreement between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas in Mecca has contained the conflict and Gaza is now calm. But as Palestinians resumed constructive dialogue, Israel employed its classic approach of shifting the pressure between Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. For Israel to have begun an inflammatory dig at one of the entrances to the holy city of old Jerusalem - on the first day of the talks in Mecca - was clearly not without calculation. Yesterday, the morning after the Palestinian agreement had been reached, Israeli forces attacked Jerusalemites protesting at the project and barred Muslims from the al-Aqsa mosque.

Despite all this, the Quartet (the group, consisting of the US, EU, UN and Russia, entrusted with advancing Palestinian-Israeli peace) still appears unable to accept that no positive developments can be hoped for as long as the Gaza Strip remains sealed off, or the West Bank wall continues to be built. The current stance of the US and the EU is in practice an endorsement of Israel's policy of blockading the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, and gobbling up West Bank and east Jerusalem territory. This can only guarantee the flight of the very people the international community says it counts on to forge peace: Palestinian "moderates".

It is one thing for the Quartet to demand a Palestinian rejection of violence, but unless pressure is brought to bear on Israel to release its military grip from the Palestinian territories - which long predates the election of Hamas - it will suffocate Palestinian hope and show that the world is only chasing a phantom of peace. No political initiative can compensate the suppression of an entire people's potential to develop in freedom.

· Sami Abdel-Shafi is the co-founder of Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City

The American Jewish community's pretence of consensus on Israel is crumbling

Cracks in the wall

February 10, 2007 11:00 AM

Richard Silverstein

Reading the Independent Jewish Voices manifesto and other posts written by signatories, I've been struck by the similarity in themes and similarity of political developments within the American and British Jewish communities.

Over the past six months, two notable developments have set Israel and diaspora Jewry adrift. The first was Israel's war in Lebanon, whose failure caused grave paralysis both in the military and within the government. The second was publication of the Walt-Mearsheimer essay about the Israel lobby's influence on US Mideast policy.

This has become a multi-front war now, with new fronts emerging in seemingly spontaneous fashion. One of the new fronts is Jimmy Carter's new book, which Old Guard Jewish organisations seem to have in their shorthairs. Another is an essay, sponsored by the American-Jewish Committee, purporting to analyse the phenomenon of the "new" anti-semitism professed by liberal Jews who criticise Israeli policies. On yet a third front, three American Jewish peace groups, Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum, and Brit Tzedek, fought an epic battle against an AIPAC-sponsored Congressional bill to criminalise contact with Hamas - the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Bill.

Perhaps realising the importance of this victory, George Soros and other wealthy liberal Jews have been meeting for months to plan for the establishment of an independent Jewish lobby that will counter AIPAC's strident nationalist advocacy.

AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have enjoyed virtual hegemony as the voice of American Jewry on Israel. It is why presidents, senators and Congress members have voted AIPAC's way (until recently) on virtually all legislation of interest to the group.

But now, if you put your finger to the wind, you can sense a change. Jimmy Carter's book is a sensation, having sold 200,000 copies as of January 14. The more Jewish greybeards attack it, the more it sells. The book seems to have struck a chord.

The old Israel "consensus" and leadership approaches are ineffective. When AIPAC speaks, politicians no longer salute quite as crisply as they once did.

Enter a relatively obscure recent internal political battle within a group called the Israel Campus Coalition. The group is composed of American Jewish groups active on college campuses. The liberal Union of Progressive Zionists hosted a national tour by the Israeli refusenik group, Break the Silence. At its speaking engagements, the refuseniks criticised the occupation.

The hard-right Zionist Organisation of America took special offence that Israeli soldiers who supposedly had shirked their responsibility to serve their country were telling Jewish college students that Israel behaved badly. The group moved to have UPZ expelled from the ICC. Last week, after wide coverage in the Jewish media, ICC voted not to expel UPZ.

On the heels of this, Israel's consul general in Los Angeles, Ehud Danoch wrote a foreign ministry report attacking not only Break the Silence, but another refusenik group currently touring the US, Combatants for Peace. Announcing the report, Yediot Ahronot claimed (only in the original Hebrew version of the story) that the refusenik tours were "funded by US Palestinian organisations." Further, the report stated that such tours "damaged Israel" and "must be stopped". The most incendiary language was eliminated from the English version of the story published at Ynetnews.

Both UPZ and Brit Tzedek affirm they have neither sought nor accepted funding from Arab organisations for their tours.

The consul general's report also takes the unusual step of criticising Hillel by name for hosting events on the Break the Silence tour because "the willingness by Jewish communities to host these groups and even fund them is painful". It is highly unusual, and some might say inappropriate, for Israeli diplomats to single out American Jewish organisations by name for criticism.

The report reserves its harshest judgment for Israelis:

These refuseniks are cynically using their reserve soldier status and causing damage to the state of Israel. It's possible that these organizations aren't aware that they have turned, over time, into tools in the hands of North American Muslim campus organizations and that they have crossed the line between their aspiration to be an influential force within Israel to becoming a clearly anti-Israel force causing Israel great damage in the world.

One wonders what political purpose was fulfilled by the internal Israeli publication of these spurious charges. I think it's an issue of the political powers that be losing their footing and no longer being able to place their political priorities in proper perspective. They are deeply afraid of the potential moral power of the refusenik message of saying "No" to the current policy of endless conflict. They ascribe more power to this movement than it has and more danger than it represents.

Recently, Joel Beinin, a Stanford University Mideast specialist, was to speak at a San Jose school. The Silicon Valley Jewish Community Relations Council got wind of the program and enlisted school parents and students to protest. Beinin's invitation was rescinded the day before he was to speak.

The JCRC director explained her opposition to Beinin's presentation by saying that the professor "opposed Israel's existence". Any presentation he gave must be balanced, on the same programme, by a countering perspective. The Israeli-Arab conflict, she contended, is too complicated to allow such an "extreme" perspective to go unanswered.

This is an impoverished view of the Israeli-Arab debate. I call it the "balance syndrome": people are allegedly so prone to the blandishments of the anti-Israel crowd that its every public utterance must be monitored and countered by someone representing the "right" perspective.

The Beinin incident mirrors Tony Judt's cancelled speaking engagement at the New York Polish consulate where he was due to talk about the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Such strong-arming makes Jewish pressure groups look weak and frightened. They do a great disservice because the ideas espoused by Judt, Beinin, Carter or Israeli refuseniks are debated freely within Israel itself.

Why must we here be treated as if we are invalids in need of spoonfeeding when it comes to policy debates about Israel?

What are we afraid of? Do we not do Israel an injustice by viewing her as so delicate that entertaining a few "unpopular" ideas will lead to her extinction? The Israel I know and love can withstand such debate. In fact, I believe that Israel is only strengthened by the free exchange of ideas.

A new weapon in the battle for that free exchange of ideas has been a burgeoning culture of American Jewish blogs devoted to Israeli-Arab peace. Tikun Olam (my own blog) and Muzzlewatch broke several of the stories mentioned above.

These blogs and a score of others - because they are independent of communal consensus or pressure - have proven to be a useful tool in questioning the established order of American Jewish leadership and its priorities.

Click here for a full list of articles in the Independent Jewish Voices debate.

Pentagon unit defied CIA advice to justify Iraq war

. 'Alternative' agency set up to link Saddam to al-Qaida
· Mainstream intelligence was cast aside, Senate told

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Saturday February 10, 2007
The Guardian

An "alternative intelligence" unit operating at the Pentagon in the run-up to the war on Iraq was dedicated to establishing a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, even though the CIA was unconvinced of such a connection, the US Senate was told yesterday.

A report presented to the armed services committee by the Pentagon's inspector general, Thomas Gimble, exposes the Bush administration to new charges of manipulating intelligence to make its case for going to war against Saddam nearly four years ago.

Article continues
Mr Gimble described a unit called the Office for Special Plans, authorised by then Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and overseen by the former policy chief Douglas Feith, to review raw intelligence on Iraq. The main focus of the unit was establishing a link between Saddam and al-Qaida - going against the consensus in the intelligence community that the Iraqi leader had nothing to do with the September 11 2001 terror attacks.

"The office of the under-secretary of defence for policy developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community, to senior decision-makers," the report says.

Mr Feith's office was the source for some of the most glaring examples of faulty intelligence during the run-up to the war. In 2002 it promoted the idea that there had been a meeting between the lead September 11 hijacker, Mohammed Atta, and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001. The intelligence community has never established this.

The unit deliberately undermined the work of intelligence agencies in briefings in August 2002 for the vice-president, Dick Cheney, and officials at the national security council, Mr Gimble said. The briefings repeated the claims about the Prague meeting but did not mention the CIA's extreme scepticism. Instead, the briefings alleged "fundamental problems with the way that the intelligence community was assessing the information".

Such actions were not illegal but they were "inappropriate", Mr Gimble said in his report. "A policy office was producing intelligence products and was not clearly conveying to senior decision-makers the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community."

Senator Carl Levin, who heads the committee, said the assessments produced by Mr Feith were of "dubious reliability" and created to bolster the case for war. "They arrived at an alternative interpretation of the Iraq/al-Qaida relationship that was much stronger than that assessed by the intelligence community and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the administration," Mr Levin told the committee. "I can't think of a more devastating commentary."

In 2002 Mr Feith was one of the most ardent proponents of a war on Iraq and a close associate of the other neo-conservatives of the administration: Mr Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and the vice-president, Dick Cheney. His work was authorised by Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Wolfowitz, and he coordinated with Mr Cheney's office.

Mr Feith, who left the Pentagon in 2005 for a post at Georgetown University, yesterday played down the influence of his unit. "This was not an alternative intelligence assessment," he told the Washington Post. "It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance."

Despite denials, Pentagon plans for possible attack on Iran nuclear are sites well advanced

Tehran's surprising allies
US able to strike Iran in the spring

Ewen MacAskill in Washington
Saturday February 10, 2007
The Guardian

F18 Hornet jet
A second battle group has been ordered to the Gulf and extra missiles have already been sent out. Meanwhile oil is being stockpiled. Photograph: Reuters

US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.

The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.

Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. The state department and the Pentagon are opposed, as are Democratic congressmen and the overwhelming majority of Republicans. The sources said Mr Bush had not yet made a decision. The Bush administration insists the military build-up is not offensive but aimed at containing Iran and forcing it to make diplomatic concessions. The aim is to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear weapons programme and abandon ambitions for regional expansion.

Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, said yesterday: "I don't know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran."

But Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst, shared the sources' assessment that Pentagon planning was well under way. "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place."

He added: "We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous."


Mr Cannistraro, who worked for the CIA and the National Security Council, stressed that no decision had been made.

Last month Mr Bush ordered a second battle group led by the aircraft carrier USS John Stennis to the Gulf in support of the USS Eisenhower. The USS Stennis is due to arrive within the next 10 days. Extra US Patriot missiles have been sent to the region, as well as more minesweepers, in anticipation of Iranian retaliatory action.

In another sign that preparations are under way, Mr Bush has ordered oil reserves to be stockpiled.

The danger is that the build-up could spark an accidental war. Iranian officials said on Thursday that they had tested missiles capable of hitting warships in the Gulf.

Colonel Sam Gardiner, a former air force officer who has carried out war games with Iran as the target, supported the view that planning for an air strike was under way: "Gates said there is no planning for war. We know this is not true. He possibly meant there is no plan for an immediate strike. It was sloppy wording.

"All the moves being made over the last few weeks are consistent with what you would do if you were going to do an air strike. We have to throw away the notion the US could not do it because it is too tied up in Iraq. It is an air operation."

One of the main driving forces behind war, apart from the vice-president's office, is the AEI, headquarters of the neo-conservatives. A member of the AEI coined the slogan "axis of evil" that originally lumped Iran in with Iraq and North Korea. Its influence on the White House appeared to be in decline last year amid endless bad news from Iraq, for which it had been a cheerleader. But in the face of opposition from Congress, the Pentagon and state department, Mr Bush opted last month for an AEI plan to send more troops to Iraq. Will he support calls from within the AEI for a strike on Iran?

Josh Muravchik, a Middle East specialist at the AEI, is among its most vocal supporters of such a strike.

"I do not think anyone in the US is talking about invasion. We have been chastened by the experience of Iraq, even a hawk like myself." But an air strike was another matter. The danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon "is not just that it might use it out of the blue but as a shield to do all sorts of mischief. I do not believe there will be any way to stop this happening other than physical force."

Mr Bush is part of the American generation that refuses to forgive Iran for the 1979-81 hostage crisis. He leaves office in January 2009 and has said repeatedly that he does not want a legacy in which Iran has achieved superpower status in the region and come close to acquiring a nuclear weapon capability. The logic of this is that if diplomatic efforts fail to persuade Iran to stop uranium enrichment then the only alternative left is to turn to the military.

Mr Muravchik is intent on holding Mr Bush to his word: "The Bush administration have said they would not allow Iran nuclear weapons. That is either bullshit or they mean it as a clear code: we will do it if we have to. I would rather believe it is not hot air."

Other neo-cons elsewhere in Washington are opposed to an air strike but advocate a different form of military action, supporting Iranian armed groups, in particular the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), even though the state department has branded it a terrorist organisation.

Raymond Tanter, founder of the Iran Policy Committee, which includes former officials from the White House, state department and intelligence services, is a leading advocate of support for the MEK. If it comes to an air strike, he favours bunker-busting bombs. "I believe the only way to get at the deeply buried sites at Natanz and Arak is probably to use bunker-buster bombs, some of which are nuclear tipped. I do not believe the US would do that but it has sold them to Israel."

Opposition support

Another neo-conservative, Meyrav Wurmser, director of the centre for Middle East policy at the Hudson Institute, also favours supporting Iranian opposition groups. She is disappointed with the response of the Bush administration so far to Iran and said that if the aim of US policy after 9/11 was to make the Middle East safer for the US, it was not working because the administration had stopped at Iraq. "There is not enough political will for a strike. There seems to be various notions of what the policy should be."

In spite of the president's veto on negotiation with Tehran, the state department has been involved since 2003 in back-channel approaches and meetings involving Iranian officials and members of the Bush administration or individuals close to it. But when last year the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sent a letter as an overture, the state department dismissed it within hours of its arrival.

Support for negotiations comes from centrist and liberal thinktanks. Afshin Molavi, a fellow of the New America Foundation, said: "To argue diplomacy has not worked is false because it has not been tried. Post-90s and through to today, when Iran has been ready to dance, the US refused, and when the US has been ready to dance, Iran has refused. We are at a stage where Iran is ready to walk across the dance floor and the US is looking away."

He is worried about "a miscalculation that leads to an accidental war".

The catalyst could be Iraq. The Pentagon said yesterday that it had evidence - serial numbers of projectiles as well as explosives - of Iraqi militants' weapons that had come from Iran. In a further sign of the increased tension, Iran's main nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, cancelled a visit to Munich for what would have been the first formal meeting with his western counterparts since last year.

If it does come to war, Mr Muravchik said Iran would retaliate, but that on balance it would be worth it to stop a country that he said had "Death to America" as its official slogan.

"We have to gird our loins and prepare to absorb the counter-shock," he said.

War of words

"If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly"
George Bush, in an interview with National Public Radio

"The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are in position to press us in many ways. They are doing nothing to be constructive in Iraq at this point"
Robert Gates

"I think it's been pretty well-known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters"
Dick Cheney

"It is absolutely parallel. They're using the same dance steps - demonise the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is Iraq redux"
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counter- terrorism specialist, in Vanity Fair, on echoes of the run-up to the war in Iraq

"US policymakers and analysts know that the Iranian nation would not let an invasion go without a response. Enemies of the Islamic system fabricated various rumours about death and health to demoralise the Iranian nation, but they did not know that they are not dealing with only one person in Iran. They are facing a nation"
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Putin blasts U.S. for its use of force

By DAVID RISING, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 37 minutes ago

Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the United States Saturday for the "almost uncontained" use of force in the world, and for encouraging other countries to acquire nuclear weapons.

In what his spokesman acknowledged were his harshest attacks on the U.S. since taking office in 2000, Putin also criticized U.S. plans for missile defense systems and NATO's expansion.

Putin told a security forum attracting top officials that "we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations" and that "one state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way.

"This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law," Putin told the gathering.

Putin did not elaborate on specifics and did not mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But he voiced concern about U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe — likely in Poland and the Czech Republic — and the expansion of NATO as possible challenges to Russia.

On the missile defense system, Putin said: "I don't want to accuse anyone of being aggressive" but suggested it would seriously change the balance of power and could provoke an unspecified response.

"That balance will be upset completely and one side will have a feeling of complete security and given a free hand in local, and probably in global, conflicts..." he said. "We need to respond to this."

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (news, bio, voting record), D-Conn., said the charge that the U.S. "aspired to get unipolar power or acted unilaterally is just not borne out by the facts."

"Even our involvement in Iraq, certainly Afghanistan, is pursuant to United Nations resolutions," Lieberman said at the conference. "So that was provocative and wrong."

Asked if he had any reaction to Putin's charges, Defense Secretary Robert Gates just shook his head and said no.

Putin's spokesman Dimitry Peskov said the Russian leader did not intend to be confrontational, but acknowledged it was his harshest criticism of the United States since he was elected in March 2000.

Putin also criticized NATO expansion.

"The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe," Putin said. "On the contrary, it is a serious factor provoking reduction of mutual trust."

Putin's comments to a weekend forum attended by 250 officials, including Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the international community is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Merkel said Tehran needed to accept demands made by the U.N. and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"There is no way around this," Merkel said. "What we are talking about here is a very, very sensitive technology, and for that reason we need a high degree of transparency, which Iran has failed to provide, and if Iran does not do so then the alternative for Iran is to slip further into isolation."

Merkel, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, emphasized the international community's support for Israel and said there was a unified resolve to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"We are determined to prevent the threat posed by an Iranian military nuclear program," she said.

The annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, now in its 43rd year, is often used as an opportunity for officials to conduct diplomacy in an informal setting.

Some 3,500 police were on hand to provide tight security for the conference and kept the usual throng of demonstrators away. This year, several thousand protesters were expected, protest organizers said.

Heading in to the conference, Larijani, who is scheduled to speak on Sunday, said he planned to use the conference as an opportunity to talk about Iran's nuclear program. Those would be the first talks with Western officials since limited U.N. sanctions were imposed on the country in December, which fell short of harsher measures sought by the United States.

Larijani was expected to meet with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign policy envoy.

At the opening dinner on Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged international solidarity in putting pressure on Iran to prevent it from producing a nuclear weapon.

"It is a regime that mocks the Holocaust while threatening the world with a new one, while trying to develop a weapon to do so," she said. "Iran is a threat not only to Israel ... but to the world. The international community cannot show any hesitation ... Any hesitation on our part is being perceived as weakness."

The conference this year focuses on "Global Crises — Global Responsibilities," looking at NATO's changing role, the Middle East peace process, the West's relations with Russia and the fight against terrorism.

Merkel opened the conference telling the delegates that one of the major threats facing the world today is global warming, urging a combined effort to combat it.

"Global warming is one of the major medium- to long-term threats that could have a dramatic effect," Merkel said.

Gates, who planned to talk Sunday on trans-Atlantic relations, was expected to press allies for more troops and aid for a spring offensive in Afghanistan.

He delivered the message Friday to a NATO defense minister's meeting in Seville, Spain, but got a lukewarm response.

France and Germany are questioning the wisdom of sending more soldiers, while Spain, Italy and Turkey have also been wary of providing more troops.