Sunday, February 18, 2007

This scapegoating is rolling back the gains of anti-racism

Anti-terror stunts and a barrage of propaganda are demonising Muslims and making Islamophobia the acceptable face of racism

Martin Jacques
Thursday February 15, 2007
The Guardian

Predictably enough, the action of the police in last year's Forest Gate raid has been excused with the mildest of rebukes. Out of more than 150 complaints, only a tiny number were upheld. The whole operation, you will recall, was a figment of the security services' imagination. A fortnight ago, there was another spectacular anti-terrorist operation, this time in Birmingham, concerning an alleged plot to kidnap a Muslim member of the armed forces. The pattern of these operations is now well established. The police swoop on an area, make dozens of arrests, accompanied by lurid media reports about the would-be plotters' intentions. There have now been charges, although an innocent party who was arrested and then released has given a disturbing account of his experience in custody. The most alarming example was last summer, when it was alleged there was a plot hatched in Pakistan to blow up as many as 10 aircraft, which resulted in a huge security clampdown at Heathrow and new hand-luggage rules. But, despite a number of charges, a degree of scepticism would be wise, given the experience of cases such as the ricin plot that never was.

Just what are these operations about? You may remember MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller suggested last November that the intelligence services had discovered 30 "plots to kill people and to damage our economy", often with "links back to al-Qaida in Pakistan and through those links al-Qaida gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale". The authority for such a statement, I assume, comes from MI5 agents. The quality of such reports, though, must be treated with profound scepticism, dependent as they are on the doubtful calibre and knowledge of these agents and the tendency of such people to live in a semi-fantasy world of endless conspiracy. The fact remains that, notwithstanding the huge security operations and the large numbers arrested, relatively few people have actually been charged. The test of justice is, fortunately, more demanding than the criteria used to justify headlines and political hyperbole.

Of course, we must take terrorist threats seriously - but also the price we pay for these alarums. They magnify our sense of trepidation and persuade people the worst is about to happen: it is under the cloak of such fear that governments on both sides of the Atlantic have been able to impose swingeing restrictions on civil liberties. The fact remains, however, that deaths in the UK from Islamist terrorism have been far fewer than those perpetrated by the IRA. Meanwhile, the price for these constant security operations is paid, above all, by our Muslim communities. Every such operation tars them with the brush of terrorism, an intimation to rest of society that extremism lurks within their ranks.

The scapegoating of the Muslim community has become the stock in trade of politicians, the Conservatives recently accusing the Muslim Council of Britain of separatist tendencies, and New Labour all too frequently indulging in the same kind of refrain - notably during the most disgraceful period of its domestic rule last autumn, when cabinet ministers were falling over themselves to make disparaging remarks about the Muslim community.

The argument typically starts from the global terrorist threat and ends up by suggesting the Muslim community nurtures and sustains such a terrorist mentality by its failure to integrate. Jack Straw squirmed about the veil, Ruth Kelly inveighed against imams, Alan Johnson proposed that faith schools admit up to 25% not of the same faith (patently directed against the Muslim community), and John Reid warned a Muslim audience of "fanatics looking to groom and brainwash [your] children ... for suicide bombing". Amid this panic-inducing rhetoric, there was little acknowledgment that Muslims suffer more discrimination than any other section of society, no recognition that every attack on their community can only intensify that prejudice. Imagine what it feels like to be a Muslim, stalked by a constant sense of distrust and suspicion? As a society we may condemn racism, but when it comes to Muslims, it seems to be somehow acceptable, from the cabinet downwards.

And what is to blame for this failure to integrate? Prejudice, perhaps? Discrimination? Racism? No, according to David Cameron, Ruth Kelly and many others, the cause would appear to be multiculturalism. Pause for a moment and spot the slippage in the argument. It is no longer only about Muslims but all our ethnic minorities. For enshrined in the principle of multiculturalism is the idea that the white community does not insist on the assimilation of ethnic minorities but recognises the importance of pluralism. It is not about separatism but a respect for difference - from colour and dress to customs and religion. The attack on multiculturalism is the thin end of the racism wedge. It seeks to narrow the acceptable boundaries of difference at a time when Britain is becoming ever more diverse and heterogeneous.

None of this is to deny the importance of finding ways of integrating the Muslim community. It is hardly surprising, though, that many young Muslims feel alienated. They face worse discrimination in education and employment than any other ethnic minority, Anglo-American policy in the Middle East has had the effect of demonising the Muslim world, and the Muslim community here finds itself the victim of a barrage of hostile propaganda. A major assault on discrimination involving the government, the media and the Muslim community is long overdue. But while British foreign policy so profoundly discriminates against the Muslim world, and New Labour remains in denial about the connection between domestic Muslim attitudes and its foreign policy, there seems little prospect of making a new start.

Antipathy towards Muslims, meanwhile, threatens to roll back hard-fought anti-racist gains, which, over the decades, have won a degree of respect for ethnic minorities and an acceptance of the principle of difference. These gains have always been fragile. Important ground is now being ceded as Islamophobia becomes the acceptable face of racism and the attack on multiculturalism finds important new recruits.

· Martin Jacques is a visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics.

Where's the Accountability?

By Dan Froomkin

Special to
Friday, February 16, 2007; 12:52 PM

It seems almost inconceivable: The White House actually invites the press corps to hold it accountable -- but when the time comes, and a key benchmark is missed, the press is silent.

And yet that's exactly what has happened.

Back in January, when President Bush announced that in spite of the public opinion against the war in Iraq he was going to send in more troops, he repeatedly insisted that what was different this time was that the Iraqis were finally serious about stepping up.

Responding to reporters who were skeptical -- after all, they'd heard this many times before -- White House officials urged them to judge for themselves whether that would happen

"You're going to have to -- you're going to have some opportunities to judge very quickly," one senior administration official said at an official background briefing on January 10, a few hours before Bush's prime-time announcement.

"The Iraqis are going to have three brigades within Baghdad within a little more than a month. They have committed to trying to get one brigade in, I think, by the first of February, and two more by the 15th," the official said.

"So people are going to be able to see pretty quickly that the Iraqis are or are not stepping up. And that provides the ability to judge."

I'm no military expert, and as I indicated on the Nieman Watchdog Blog on Wednesday and in yesterday's column, it isn't entirely clear to me whether the Iraqis are living up to their word.

And President Bush yesterday insisted that everything's going according to plan: "Our new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is now on the ground in Baghdad," Bush told the American Enterprise Institute. "He says the Iraqi government is following through on its commitment to deploy three additional army brigades in the capital."

But at a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace acknowledged that only two of those three Iraqi brigades are there: "You've got two of the Iraqi brigades in -- that were going to plussed up in Baghdad in Baghdad now. The third one is moving this month," Pace said.

Other press reports suggest that even those two brigades are not anywhere near full strength.

And action in Baghdad seems thus far to be almost entirely led by Americans, in stark contrast to what was promised.

David Lerman writes for the Hampton Roads (Va.) Daily Press: "The Democratic chairman and former Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the credibility of President Bush's new security plan for Baghdad Thursday, citing news reports of an overwhelmingly American-led operation despite administration promises to let Iraqi forces take the lead.

"Virginia Sen. John Warner, a senior Republican, used a committee hearing to call attention to a New York Times report that the first major sweep of the Iraqi capital under the new security plan used only 200 Iraqi police and soldiers, but 2,500 Americans.

"Warner, who has warned against sending more Americans to combat a low-grade civil war, expressed surprise that the first major security sweep of Baghdad under the new plan would be conducted by so few Iraqi forces. Defense officials had stressed in recent weeks that U.S. troops would be deployed in phases over coming months - with time allowed to measure the commitment of the Iraqi government to beef up its own security.

"Gen. Peter Schoomaker, chief of staff of the Army, and Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told Warner Thursday they were not familiar with the details of the described security sweep. But Conway added, 'It is counter to what I understand to be the plan as well.'"

As Lerman explains: Pace "described the new security plan as an Iraqi-led operation during an appearance before Levin's committee earlier this month.

"'We will not be out front by plan,' Pace said of U.S. forces. 'The Iraqis would be the ones going door-to-door, knocking on doors, doing the census work, doing the kinds of work that would put them out in front for the first part of the - if it develops - firefight. Our troops would be available to backstop them and to bring in the kind of fire support we bring in."

That was the plan.

Where's the accountability?

A Rogue Briefer? Hardly


Targeting Tehran


[from the March 5, 2007 issue]

At this critical moment when most Americans seek to extricate US forces from the fighting in Iraq as swiftly as possible, George W. Bush appears determined to construct a new rationale for intervention whose logical conclusion is not withdrawal but a wider war, possibly involving attacks on Iran later this year. Like an inveterate gambler who has lost every previous round and now faces insolvency, Bush seems poised to wager everything on one last throw of the dice. Before more lives are put at risk in this reckless bid, the flimsy props of Bush's new rationale must be exposed to rigorous scrutiny and strict limits placed on his warmaking capacity.

The President's new approach was unveiled in his January 10 speech on Iraq. After giving a lifeless, almost robotic rendition of his plan for an increase in US troop strength, Bush suddenly caught fire, turning his attention to the threat purportedly posed by Iran and Syria. Both, he claimed, are allowing insurgents to use their territory as launching pads for attacks on Iraq, but it is Iran that poses the greatest danger, by "providing material support" to Shiite gunmen in Baghdad. At a February 14 press conference he said that "when we find devices in [Iraq] that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it, pure and simple."

Since then, the Administration has stepped up its campaign against Iran, claiming that Iranian forces are providing equipment and know-how for the manufacture of advanced explosive devices to Shiite militias in Iraq. Though the evidence for such aid remains inconclusive, the White House appears determined to lay the blame for increased American casualties at Tehran's door, thus providing a fresh pretext for escalation.

The Administration has also sought to entwine this new pretext in a larger strategic framework, claiming that the United States faces a coordinated threat from radical Shiite forces throughout the region. Al Qaeda no longer poses the only significant threat to US interests in the Middle East, Bush declared in his State of the Union address. "It has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America." Many of these extremists, he averred, "are known to take direction from the regime in Iran."

And so a new "axis of evil" is being constructed in Washington: In place of the old axis of Saddam Hussein-cum-Al Qaeda, against which we went to war in the first place, we now confront a new alliance between rogue states and terrorist organizations, linking Tehran to Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Baghdad.

And, once again, the possibility that this evil network will acquire and share weapons of mass destruction may be used as the justification for "preventive" strikes against a hostile power. "The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology," the Bush Administration avowed in the 2002 edition of its National Security Strategy report. Because it is too risky to sit by and allow rogue states like Iran to acquire WMD capabilities so they can pass them on to like-minded terrorists, the Administration insisted, "America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed." This, in essence, was the rationale given for the invasion of Iraq. Even though it was later determined that the Iraqis had not acquired WMDs, there is no reason to assume that Bush has repudiated this precept.

Indeed, Bush has made it very clear in his comments on Iran that while he prefers to resolve the WMD issue through diplomacy, the deadline for a negotiated outcome will happen "sooner rather than later" and that "all options are on the table." Has Bush, in fact, set a specific time limit on his patience? Although it is impossible to know, there are a number of indications that such a limit has been set, possibly for later this year. These include:

§ The deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region, along with an accompanying array of cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Several additional US and British naval minesweepers are also being sent to the Gulf--a clear indication that senior commanders anticipate Iranian efforts to block vital oil routes in response to any US airstrikes.

§ The decision to replace the outgoing head of the US Central Command--which oversees US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and the surrounding region--with a Navy officer, Adm. William Fallon. It makes no sense to put Fallon, a former carrier group commander, in charge unless the next phase of combat in the region will emphasize air and naval operations against Iran.

§ The recent announcement of plans to double the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, providing a growing buffer to any Iranian effort to punish the United States by blocking oil exports from the Gulf.

It is possible, of course, that these moves are intended largely as bargaining ploys, to bludgeon the Iranians into abandoning their plans for enriching uranium. But since these moves are coupled with elaborate efforts to establish a rationale for escalation, they should be viewed as signs that Bush has indeed set a deadline--perhaps known only to himself and a few associates--for Iranian compliance. This being so, opponents of the war have a dual responsibility: to contest the strategic context for a wider war and to bar specific acts of escalation by the President.

As for the strategic context, many of the allegations raised by Bush are dubious at best and easily refuted. There simply is no evidence of a grand Shiite conspiracy against the United States, only of a centuries-long struggle by the oft-maligned Shiite population to be accorded greater respect within the Islamic world. Other issues, however, require closer scrutiny, and the best way to accomplish this is through a series of comprehensive hearings by the relevant committees of Congress, featuring testimony by well-informed witnesses from both within and outside the Administration. The witnesses should be required to address such questions as:

Iran's nuclear capabilities

§ What is the evidence that Iran seeks a nuclear weapons capability, as distinct from nuclear enrichment for civilian purposes?

§ How far in their nuclear endeavors have the Iranians come?

§ What are the options for a diplomatic resolution of the crisis?

Iran's role in Iraq

§ What is the evidence for Iranian military support of militant Shiite factions in Baghdad?

§ Can Tehran play a constructive role in Iraq as part of an overall settlement of outstanding issues (as proposed by the Iraq Study Group)?

The larger strategic equation in the Middle East

§ How does the resurgence of Shiite Islam truly affect US interests?

§ Should the United States help forge an anti-Shiite alliance in the region, or does peace between Israelis and Palestinians take precedence?

These are only some of the questions that must be answered fully and convincingly before Congress, or the American people, assent to any plan to widen the war in the Middle East. And until we receive such answers, Congress should adopt legislation banning the use of federal funds for any attacks on Iran or Syria without its prior authorization. This would separate the question of funding a wider war from the emotional issue of funding for the forces now in Iraq (which a majority of Senate Republicans seem to consider sacrosanct). Surely, if there is one thing most Democrats and Republicans can agree on, it's the need to stop a reckless President from doubling his bet in the war and using the lives of US soldiers as playing chips.

Spain furious as US blocks access to Madrid bombing 'chief'

February 15, 2007

Exclusive: on the first day of the Madrid bombing trial, the splits that have emerged between Spain and the US over the War on Terror, which have their roots in the Iraq conflict, are laid bare

The al-Qaeda leader who created, trained and directed the terrorist cell that carried out the Madrid train bombings has been held in a CIA “ghost prison” for more than a year.

Spanish officials told The Times last night that they are furious to have been denied access to Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a Syrian-born terrorist who has been part of the al-Qaeda leadership since the late 1980s.

"This is Spain's most wanted man in the terrorist world - it is galling to know that he is in the hands of an ally and they will not help us," a Spanish official said.

Madrid’s anger became known on the day that 29 men went on trial in the Spanish capital in connection with the bomb attacks which killed 191 people in March 2004.

Setmarian, 49, who lived in Madrid, married a Spanish woman and holds Spanish citizenship, inspired and established Spain’s first Islamist terror cells.

Searches after the March 2004 bombings uncovered documents which appeared to link the terrorists to Setmarian and he his thought to have issued a coded order giving the go-ahead for the attack.

Setmarian was in Afghanistan in late 2001 when the Taleban regime fell and moved with his family to Pakistan where he continued to be active in al-Qaeda.

A tall man with a pale complexion and flame red hair, Setmarian travelled widely and was often mistaken for a Westerner. He was frequently described as having “Irish looks”.

During the mid-1990s he lived in London where he associated with Abu Hamza al-Masri and succeeded the radical cleric as editor of al-Ansar, a propaganda magazine for Algerian terror groups. He also associated with Abu Qatada, the extremist Jordanian cleric currently in prison in Britain.

His suspected role in the Madrid attacks and his knowledge of London meant that he was initially suspected of having played a part in the planning of the 7/7 suicide bomb attacks in 2005.

At the time of those attacks he was still at large in Pakistan where two of the London bombers are known to have received military and explosives training.

Setmarian, who pledged lifelong allegiance to bin Laden and the global jihad, has boasted on al-Qaeda websites of training thousands of foreign recruits at camps where he specialised in bombmaking and the use of poisons.

He was detained in October 2005 as he shopped for breakfast in Quetta, close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Pakistani intelligence agents shot Setmarian’s Saudi bodyguard dead but were under specific instructions to take Setmarian alive.

The FBI had offered a $5 million reward for his capture and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan stated in his recent memoirs that his country has received substantial sums in bounties from the US authorities.

Within a month of his capture Setmarian was handed over to the United States authorities and spirited away for interrogation at one of their secret prisons. His first stop was probably Bagram airbase, near Kabul, but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Setmarian’s wife and three children moved from Pakistan following his detention and are now believed to be living in Qatar where she is reported to be an English teacher at a private school.

Spanish intelligence agents were said to have been allowed to question inmates of Guantanamo Bay about Setmarian in 2002. But access to suspects in US custody was blocked after Spain withdrew its troops from Iraq following the Madrid bombs.

Spain has made repeated requests to both Pakistan and the US to locate and speak to Setmarian about the train bombings but to no avail. The Spanish courts have discovered that they cannot issue an extradition request because the man they want to talk to has not been officially arrested.

U.S. charges against Iran just like Iraq WMD hype

Posted on Sun, Feb. 18, 2007

By Trudy Rubin

TOO BAD THE trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, is getting only a fraction of the media fuss stirred up by the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

No question, Smith's passing is more titillating. But Libby's perjury trial is crucial to U.S. security. It has laid bare how the White House skewed the intel on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and sold these distortions to the media. What makes the tale even more unnerving is the possibility that the process is being repeated -- with Iran.

The trial revolves around a 2003 White House campaign to defame a retired diplomat and Africa expert, Joseph Wilson. Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA in 2002 to check reports that Niger had sold uranium to Iraq in the 1990s. The White House was promoting the Niger story to strengthen its case that Saddam Hussein had revived his nuclear program.

But Wilson found no evidence of such a sale, nor did the U.S. embassy in Niger. And from the beginning, CIA analysts doubted the story. The State Department's intelligence arm, which saw the foreign documents that had provoked the story, considered them to be blatant fakes.

And yet the story wouldn't die. Despite the fact that CIA director George Tenet personally got President Bush to remove a reference to Niger uranium in a 2002 speech, the tale lived on. The reason: relentless White House efforts to promote the story and relentless White House pressure on the CIA to confirm it. Dissenters in the intelligence community were brushed aside.

Bush made the Niger claim a centerpiece of his 2003 State of the Union speech to justify the coming war, citing British intelligence as the source. (The British intel was apparently based on the same set of fake foreign documents.)

By early 2003, White House claims about Iraq's WMD had crumbled. The U.S. National Intelligence Agency said the Niger story was baseless. The Niger forgeries had been unmasked.

As White House claims about Iraq's WMD crumbled, Wilson finally went public in July 2003 with the story of his mission to Niger. In retaliation, Cheney organized a smear campaign against Wilson.

A number of White House officials, including Libby, were dispatched to tell reporters (inaccurately) that Wilson had been sent to Niger by his wife, Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent. The implication was that the trip was nothing but a nepotistic junket.

To further deflect any focus on flawed intelligence, reporters were told that any false information was the fault of the CIA. Bush even declassified a top-secret, pre-war national intelligence estimate on Iraq's WMD so Libby could quote it to selected reporters. But Libby misrepresented the contents of the brief -- falsely claiming it supported the Niger charge.

In the end, Libby was indicted not for leaking Plame's name -- a potential felony -- but for lying about who told him about her existence. He claims he learned it from NBC's Tim Russert. But Russert denies this, and Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who investigated and is prosecuting the case, says Libby got the information from Cheney.

Why would Libby lie about this? According to Fitzgerald, Cheney and his aides saw Wilson as a threat to "the credibility of the vice president (and the president) on a matter of signal importance: the rationale for the war in Iraq."

This brings us up to the present. In a build-up of tension that resembles a replay of the Iraq war run-up, the White House is claiming that Iran is America's chief problem in Iraq.

Bush has authorized the U.S. military to "kill or capture" Iranian agents who are plotting attacks on U.S. troops, and U.S. special forces have raided Iraqi government offices and arrested visiting Iranians. We have moved more ships to the Persian Gulf and armed Iran's Arab neighbors with Patriot missiles.

Last Sunday, U.S. military briefers in Baghdad made a long-delayed presentation of evidence that Iran provides weapons to Iraq's Shiite militias, weapons they claimed have killed 170 coalition troops since 2004. But even if that figure were correct, the fact that more than 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq since March 2003 underlines that Iran is not the main problem facing the U.S. military there.

Iran does present serious security problems in the region. But the drumbeat of new U.S. charges against Iran is disturbingly similar to the hype about Iraq in 2002 and early 2003.

The difference this time is that the intelligence community is holding firm against promoting claims that aren't fully backed up with reliable data. A new intelligence estimate on Iraq downplays the overall significance of Iranian interference there.

The Libby trial is a salutary reminder that the same officials who cherry-picked Iraq intelligence are still in the White House. The Niger charge was patently false, yet Bush, Cheney -- and Libby -- promoted it. Perhaps they auto-hypnotized themselves into believing it. Hopefully, they can't hypnotize the country again.

Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. E-mail her at trubin@

US acting like terrorists: ex-premier

Last Update: Saturday, February 17, 2007. 1:04am (AEDT)

A former Western Australian Labor premier has lashed out at the Australian and US governments over the treatment of terrorism suspects like David Hicks.

Peter Dowding says the US has acted like terrorists by "virtually kidnapping" suspects and using the "rendition" process to take them to countries outside the US justice system where they can be tortured.

Mr Dowding, who is campaigning for justice for Guantanamo Bay detainee Hicks, has told ABC TV Stateline in WA the Government stands condemned for endorsing the US actions.

"It's tolerating outrageous international conduct, the conduct of terrorists is really what the United States Government is engaged in," he said.

"It's tolerating kangaroo courts. Our Prime Minister and our Attorney-General, firstly I believe they have misled the Australian community and not told the truth about the circumstances of Hicks's position and they've done nothing to protect him.

"Moving these people into a position where the courts are not allowed to supervise their incarceration is an absolute outrage and our Prime Minister and our Attorney-General have accepted that that's appropriate conduct.

"It's not appropriate conduct for anybody, it doesn't matter whether they're bank robbers, we don't do that."

He says the activities of the US are also disturbing Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

"We are behaving as best we can through our present Federal Government to offend our nearest neighbours, now that is a silly act which puts us in some jeopardy," he said.

"I would like the community to understand just how much jeopardy that puts us in."

Iraq Resolution: Senate Roll Call

Iraq Resolution: Senate Roll Call

Iranian special ops force aligned with US allies in Iraq?

The Elusive Quds Force

The Iranian Special Ops unit accused of meddling in Iraq has a fierce history and powerful friends.

By Christopher Dickey and John Barry

Feb. 26, 2007 issue - The Iranian Special Operations unit called the Quds Force has for years been accused, with or without evidence, of assassinations and terrorist attacks as far away as Argentina. But its specialty is different: striking fear in the hearts of generals. Over the past 25 years, the Quds Force has proved ferociously effective at organizing, training and equipping guerrillas to confront the world's most vaunted armies. Quds played a vital role in creating Hizbullah to fight the Israelis in Lebanon. It supported the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud against the Russians and his Taliban rivals in Afghanistan. Quds helped the Bosnians hold back the Serbian war machine. And now—it's in Iraq.
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"What matters is that they're there," President George W. Bush said last week. Precisely why, at whose direction or invitation, and with what long-term goals: all that remains in doubt. Bush, even as he said the group had "harmed our troops," suggested how much remains unknown: "I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of [the Iranian] government. But my point is: what's worse—them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?"

Actually, what's worse is that the unit appears to be as close to America's Shiite and Kurdish allies as to splinter groups accused of killing perhaps 170 of the more than 3,000 American soldiers who've died in Iraq. The relationship between the Quds Force and figures like Iraqi President Jalal Talabani or Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (both of whom have been received in the White House recently) goes back two decades to the days when only Tehran was aiding Saddam Hussein's enemies. "Do the Americans think they would stop working with us because Americans told them so?" says an Iranian intelligence official who is not authorized to speak on the record. Quds operatives captured recently were working directly under the protection, respectively, of Talabani and Hakim.

Because of the bad intelligence that the Bush administration used to pave the way to war with Iraq in 2003, skeptics worry it may be using similar tactics to provoke a fight with Iran. But when it comes to the Quds Force, the American military's concerns are much more down to earth. The weapons known as "explosively formed penetrators" or EFPs, which Quds allegedly helped design and supply to some Shiite factions in Iraq, send a molten slug at phenomenal speed through heavy armor. Each one costs perhaps $50, but is capable of crippling an Abrams tank that costs more than $4 million, and they are increasingly common.

Meanwhile, since the beginning of the year, U.S. helicopters have been shot out of the sky with unprecedented frequency. Although none of the five confirmed shootdowns have been linked to the Quds Force, or to Iran, U.S. commanders are worried about their troops' ability to move on the ground and in the air. So they're looking for any way to relieve the pressure—to stop the flow of Iranian arms—three Army sources told NEWSWEEK on condition of anonymity. Publicizing the threat and pushing back against Iran is one idea. But taking aim at this new enemy will be a challenge, given the risk of hitting a friend.

With Mark Hosenball in Washington and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.

The Plame leaker 'you've never heard of'

The Mystery Man in Scooter Libby Trial

Richard Hohlt is the heavy hitter you've never heard of.

By Michael Isikoff

Feb. 26, 2007 issue - Robert Novak, as usual, had a scoop to unload—only this time, it was from the witness stand. Testifying last week in the trial of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, the conservative columnist gruffly described how he first learned from two top Bush administration officials that Valerie Plame, wife of Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA officer. But then Novak injected a new name into the drama—one that virtually nobody in the courtroom knew.

Asked by one of Libby's lawyers if he had talked about Plame with anybody else before outing her in his column, Novak said he'd discussed her with a lobbyist named Richard Hohlt. Who, the lawyer pressed, is Hohlt? "He's a very good source of mine" whom I talk to "every day," Novak replied. Indeed, Hohlt is such a good source that after Novak finished his column naming Plame, he testified, he did something most journalists rarely do: he gave the lobbyist an advance copy of his column. What Novak didn't tell the jury is what the lobbyist then did with it: Hohlt confirmed to NEWSWEEK that he faxed the forthcoming column to their mutual friend Karl Rove (one of Novak's sources for the Plame leak), thereby giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.

The trial of Libby—who is charged with lying about his own alleged role in the disclosure of Plame's identity—has revealed much about how government officials and journalists swap secrets. But Hohlt's outing was especially revealing. Unlike many of the high-profile Washington players who have populated the Plame affair, Hohlt is a Beltway power broker of a different sort. He works quietly, rarely makes the papers and likes it that way. Hohlt, 58, came to Washington more than 30 years ago as an aide to Sen. Richard Lugar. He now represents A-list clients like Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase and the Nuclear Energy Association. At the same time, he raises buckets of cash for the Republican Party: he was designated a "Super Ranger," a fund-raiser who raked in more than $500,000 for President Bush's re-election.

But Hohlt's more significant role may be his leadership of a secretive social group of GOP heavy hitters and, occasionally, White House officials, who convene to smoke cigars and mull over politics. The group's name: the Off The Record Club. Hohlt is the club's "keeper of the flame," says one participant who, like others contacted for this story, didn't want to be named because it violates the group's rules. Each month or so for more than 15 years, Hohlt has booked a room at a posh Washington hotel or restaurant and invited the guests for dinner. Among the regulars, according to three participants: fellow lobbyists Ken Duberstein, Charlie Black and Vin Weber. Rove and White House chief of staff Josh Bolten "have both attended these meetings on occasion," says a White House spokesperson. (Duberstein and Weber did not respond to requests for comment. Black wouldn't talk about the club because "one of the purposes of it is to be off the record," he says.) "It's really just a bunch of old-timers who like to shoot the breeze," Hohlt tells NEWSWEEK. "We can complain about our clients, complain about what's going on on the Hill." (Hohlt's most recent gripe: a new D.C. smoking ban that has snuffed out the after-dinner stogies.) The club, participants say, helps the White House with damage control—they prodded GOP pols to back the president's post-Katrina cleanup—and thinks up ways to get the party's message across to the press.

That's where Hohlt has proved most valuable. An accomplished information trader, Hohlt serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all. "He's known as the person you go to to try to get stuff in Novak's column," says one semiregular OTR participant. (Novak says it is "ridiculous" to suggest he writes what Hohlt wants.)

After Novak first told Hohlt that he was working on a hot story about ex-ambassador Joe Wilson, Hohlt says he e-mailed Rove to expect a phone call from Novak. Then Hohlt began pressing Novak to learn the juicy details. On July 11, 2003, three days before the column was published, Novak gave him a preview copy. (Unknown to Hohlt, Rove had already confirmed to Novak that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.) That same day, Hohlt e-mailed details about the column to Rove, and later faxed him the entire unpublished article. (Rove's lawyer confirms this account.) "I was just trying to be helpful," Hohlt says. His role as a go-between later earned him a visit from the FBI, but it stayed secret until now. And that was just fine with Hohlt, who says that his greatest accomplishment as a lobbyist has been "staying out of the press." Thanks to last week's testimony, his cover—like Valerie Plame's—is now blown.

41% Percent of Your 2006 Taxes Go to War

Issues: Budget Priorities and Tax Policy

Updated: 2/15/2007Posted: 2/15/2007

This chart shows FCNL's calculations of how much of your 2006 tax dollars go to pay for current and past military activities.

(In millions of dollars)

2006 Percent
(Of federal funds budget)

Current Military Spending



Cost of Past Wars



Total Percent


Interest on Non-Military Share of Federal Debt



Health Research & Services



Responses to Poverty



General Government



Community & Economic Development



Social Programs



Science, Energy, & Environment



Non-Military International Programs



More on Budget Priorities and Tax Policy

Frm. Bush NSC Dir. says US provoking pretext for Iran war

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A former NSC Director is saying that the Bush administration is trying to provoke Iran into creating a pretext that would spark a US war on Iran. Hillary Mann was NSC director for Iran and the Persian Gulf area until she left the Bush Administration post in 2004.

Who are the Useful Idiots?

This lack of a real context for argumentation is perhaps the biggest strike against a media system such as ours, which prides itself in dumbing down debate to the point where evidence and facts are considered liabilities, rather than virtues.

By Anthony DiMaggio

While Vladimir Lenin may have originally popularized the label "useful idiots" in reference to Western sympathizers with the Soviet Union, the term may be more relevant today when applied to those within the American media who unconsciously (and through their own ignorance) further government propaganda. But we shouldn't deceive ourselves when we talk of these useful idiots by pointing exclusively to reactionary right-wing pundits. Increasingly, those who identify themselves within the "respectable," "fair-minded" and political "middle" use the similar types of distortions, with minimal public accountability. A recent Op-Ed in the Chicago Sun Times by Mary Laney is a case in point, as the article symbolizes much of what is wrong with mainstream media punditry that masquerades as "moderate" political analysis.

Laney's February column, "Quit Blaming America: We Didn't Earn Islamofascists' Hatred," relies heavily on not-so-subtle racist stereotypes against Muslims, as well as a series of distortions and blatant lies against what she calls the "Extreme Left." In this sense, the piece is not important so much for its uniqueness, but for how extraordinary representative it is of the generic, vitriolic rhetoric often disseminated by the punditry. Such rhetoric is useful in downplaying, ignoring, or attacking substantive challenges to U.S. foreign policy (most specifically the Iraq war), while saturating Americans with superficial debates which have little practical relevance to their every day lives.

In the tradition of media personalities such as Michael Medved, Christopher Hitchens, and Michael Savage, Laney expounds upon the dangers of "Islamofascists" who hate American freedoms and engage in terrorism against the United States. Supposedly, "Islamofascists hate us because we are not Muslims. They hate us because they do not rule us. They hate us because we live with freedom and equality." Such an argument, of course, conveniently neglects the fact that Muslims themselves also died in the 9/11 attacks, and that Islamists (sometimes referred to as Islamic fundamentalists) have not hesitated to kill fellow Muslims in pursuit of their own radical political goals. Of course, to point out such facts takes us out of the world of pure fantasy in which Laney and others would prefer Americans remain, and into the realm of real, reasoned discourse.

As with other uninformed pundits, Laney would prefer to rely on racist anti-Muslim stereotypes rather than to engage in a constructive dialogue about major issues of day. She explains, erroneously, that "In the Quran, Islam's holy book, the Prophet Muhammad tells his followers to offer non-Muslims three things: conversion, second-class citizenship, or war." The attempt to frame extremism and terrorism as characteristics intrinsic within Islam itself, should be rejected out of hand, as anyone with even the most basic familiarity with the Quran knows that Islam is based upon the importance of one's voluntary, rather than coerced acceptance of the faith. Furthermore, Islamism itself represents merely one strain, or interpretation within the religion. It no more represents what is "essential" to Islam than does any interpretation within Christianity or Judaism inherently represent a single "core" of what it means to be a Christian or Jew. Any attempt to conflate Islam as inherently terrorist makes about as much sense as efforts to portray pro-lifers who murder abortion doctors as representing what it "means" to be Christian.

Aside from the systematic misrepresentations of Islam, we should also note that any equation of Islamism with Fascism represents more of a racist scare tactic than an exercise in legitimate intellectual thought. The notion that Islamism and Nazism are somehow interrelated is, to put it simply, fraudulent. As American journalist Eric Margolis explains: "There is nothing in any part of the Muslim World that resembles the corporate fascist states of western history…The Muslim world is replete with brutal dictatorships, feudal monarchies, and corrupt military-run states, but none of these regimes, however deplorable, fits the standard definition of fascism. Most, in fact, are America's allies."

The notion that terrorist Islamist movements and corrupt governments throughout the Middle East have been wholeheartedly supported and nurtured by the United States is rejected out of hand by many American pundits, not because of a lack of evidence, but primary due to ignorance regarding the nature of U.S. foreign policy. As Laney herself argues, "I will never agree with anyone who blames America for the rise in Islamofascism or radical Muslims' violent and inhuman actions or their hate-filled rhetoric." Such intransigence is difficult to defend when one understands that the United States has supported Islamist movements against secular governments in covert operations throughout the Middle East over the last half century (the Taliban and the Mujahideen being only two examples). Such facts are best left unmentioned within much of media commentary, as they are of little value for propaganda purposes.

Laney's misrepresentations also target the political left, which she and numerous other pundits lambaste for failing to support the troops and blaming all of society's woes on the Bush administration. She would rather cite Saddam Hussein's gassing of thousands of Kurds (U.S. financial and military support for which, is conveniently omitted from her arguments) as a justification for the war in Iraq. Never mind the false pretenses upon which the war was based, such as the long debunked ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and the long refuted conspiracy theory that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction which threatened the U.S. What good are such facts if one is to effectively pedal official propaganda?

One might ask, what evidence Laney cites that "leftists" hate the troops or that they believe George Bush is personally responsible for all of America's troubles? Such a question, while vital in any legitimate debate, is beyond the scope of those who prefer name-calling over real analysis of the issues. Predictably, Laney sights no evidence for any of the arguments she makes. This lack of a real context for argumentation is perhaps the biggest strike against a media system such as ours, which prides itself in dumbing down debate to the point where evidence and facts are considered liabilities, rather than virtues.

Laney would do well to learn from her own insight that "it's difficult to have calm discussions" about U.S. foreign policy at a time when passion, rather than reason guides many debates. So long as the useful idiots in the American punditry are showered with attention, prestige, and praise – not due to any sort of enlightened understanding of foreign affairs, but because to their ability to out-shout and demonize critics - it is unlikely that we will move toward any relevant discussion of the issues at hand. What is needed, rather than one-dimensional caricatures and glittering generalities, is a call for informed discussion of debates, and a genuine tolerance and respect for those with whom one disagrees. Then again, this has clearly been too much to expect from within a system where corporate media conglomerates view it as their responsibility to promote the lowest common denominator of infantile debate, rather than to constructively engage those posing serious challenges to U.S. foreign policy.

-Anthony DiMaggio has taught Middle East Politics and American Government at Illinois State University. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Palestinian Christians offer seldom-heard perspective

Jerusalem-based group is meeting on city's West Side
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Robert L. Smith
Plain Dealer Reporter

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often described as a struggle between Muslims and Jews, much to the chagrin of Arab Christians, whose numbers and moderate views make them easy to overlook.

This weekend, voices of Palestinian Christians dominate an unusual peace conference on Cleveland's West Side. The gathering in support of Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based group that calls itself the "voice of Palestinian Christians," has drawn nearly 300 people and prominent Palestinians to the St. Joseph Center on Rocky River Drive.

Organizers say the two-day 2007 Middle East Peace Conference, which began Friday, is meant to balance the American view of Mideast dramas by adding the Christian perspective.

"Theirs is a voice that really is not heard very often," said Jeff Abood, a Lebanese Christian from Akron and a member of the Interfaith Council for Peace in the Middle East, a local interfaith group that helped organize the conference.

But critics of the gathering contend the Palestinian Christian view closely parallels the Palestinian Muslim view. They say an essential perspective is missing, that of the mainstream Jewish community.

Representatives of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and other Jewish leadership groups here say they are ignoring the conference because Sabeel is neither balanced nor objective.

"They paint themselves as just wanting to support peace and justice in the Middle East," then blame Israel for all the problems and do not address terrorism, said Shari Kochman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Opening remarks Friday, while critical of Israel alone, showed some differences in Palestinian Christian opinion.

Afif Safieh, the Palestine Liberation Organization's representative to America and a Roman Catholic, said he has no problem with the Islamic movement Hamas controlling the Palestinian parliament. He blamed Israel and its occupation of Palestinian villages for the continued emigration of Palestinian Christians, who he said account for only about 2 percent of all Palestinians in the Holy Land.

But the Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest who founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, expressed concern about the aims of Hamas, which the United States calls a terrorist group.

"An Islamic state, we don't like it," Ateek said. "But we also don't like a Jewish state. We want a totally democratic state."

He added that extremism "is not acceptable to people like us."

The conference continues today with workshops titled "Challenging Christian Zionism," "Pal estine: Peace not Apartheid" and "Global Perspectives: Similarities in Palestine, Ireland and South Africa."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4024

StratCom and the Plan To Attack Iran

February 15, 2007

Posted By Tim Rinne : 1:09 pm

Reports of a possible U.S. air assault against Iranian nuclear facilities have been circulating in the media for more than a year and a half now. Former CIA agent Philip Giraldi (The American Conservative, 8/1/05), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh (New Yorker Magazine, 4/17/06) and most recently, investigative reporter Craig Unger in the March 2007 Vanity Fair, have all warned of the White House’s plans for an air- and sea-based strike against Iran.

But such an assault has been in the planning since before November 2003, when U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska completed its preparations for waging offensive and preemptive strikes against Iran and North Korea (William Arkin, Washington Post, 5/15/05). Under “CONPLAN 8022″ (Contingency Plan 8022), the Omaha-based command center is now commissioned to strike anywhere in the world within minutes of detecting a target deemed a threat to the United States’ national security. And the projected attack against Iran-which could well include nuclear as well as conventional weapons-will be planned, launched and coordinated by StratCom.

For over half a century, this remote Air Force Base in the American heartland served strictly as the command center for the U.S.’s nuclear deterrent. After 9/11, however, StratCom underwent a massive transformation of its role and mission, becoming in effect the ‘war room’ for waging the White House’s “War on Terror.” StratCom retained its historic responsibility for overseeing the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. But it acquired the additional charges of “full-spectrum global strike” (staging offensive, preemptive attacks); combating weapons of mass destruction; space and computer warfare; ballistic missile defense; and surveillance and reconnaissance (the “warrantless wiretaps” conducted by the National Security Agency, for instance, were a StratCom project).

According to the Vanity Fair article, StratCom could be ready to launch a “massive” aerial attack against the hundreds of nuclear facilities in Iran as soon as the end of this month (February). The possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons to penetrate the reinforced bunkers protecting the Iranian nuclear research facilities is also apparently real.

Today, U.S. Strategic Command in suburban Omaha, Nebraska is the most dangerous place on the face of the earth. Thwarting this wrong-headed and potentially catastrophic assault on Iran by StratCom will require nothing less than a mobilization by the world community. The Bush/Cheney Administration must be publicly challenged in the court of world opinion, and international media coverage of StratCom’s leading role is integral to rallying opposition.

Can you imagine the public reaction-particularly in the Muslim world-if the war plans taking shape at StratCom were common knowledge?

Here we have the command center for the world’s largest nuclear arsenal orchestrating an unprovoked attack (possibly even with nuclear weapons) on a Muslim nation, in order to keep that country from even developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes, for fear it might someday make a bomb.

This is a morally hideous double standard. And StratCom in particular is begging to be turned into a ‘bully pulpit,’ from which opponents can expose this hypocritical behavior.

It will be absolutely illegal under international law if the United States again launches an unprovoked attack against a Muslim nation-like it did with Iraq. But if the U.S. were to also use tactical nuclear weapons, it would be only the second time in over 61 years that a nuclear weapon has been used militarily. And on each of those occasions, it will have been the United States that used them.

The role and mission of StratCom has changed so dramatically in the past five years that most of the world community has no idea of what is currently going on there. At this critical moment in history, the international media could provide no greater service to the nations of the earth than to publicize the deadly and destabilizing acts being plotted at StratCom.

But if the media is going to do it, they need to act quickly, before something irrevocable in human events occurs.

Tim Rinne
NFP State Coordinator

Filed under: Stratcom, News Star

December sees $11 billion net capital outflow


WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. monthly capital flows reversed in December to an outflow for the first time since June 2005, the Treasury Department reported Thursday.

The U.S. recorded an outflow of $11 billion in December, compared with an inflow of $70.5 billion in November, the Treasury said.

The U.S. economy has required big inflows of capital of about $70 billion every month to fund its large current account deficit, which totaled $225.6 billion in the third quarter -- about 6.8% of gross domestic product.

The large inflows of foreign capital have kept U.S. interest rates lower than they would otherwise be, boosting the real-estate sector and other asset markets with cheap money.

The dollar fell against yen and the euro following the report, which, according to Action Economics, "didn't sit too well" with the markets after Tuesday's report on the nation's growing trade gap and a Wall Street Journal report that China is considering shifting some of its $1 trillion in foreign reserves into riskier assets, such as corporate bonds, stocks and even commodities. See full story on currency markets.

The December flows data include both long- and short-term securities. The outflow resulted from total sales of $42.5 billion in securities by private investors, partially offset by $31.5 billion in purchases by official institutions.

U.S. residents purchased a net $47.4 billion in long-term foreign securities.

Net long-term capital inflows, meanwhile, fell to $15.6 billion in December from $84.9 billion in November. This marked the lowest inflow since January 2002.

Foreign private investors sold stocks in December, and they bought fewer Treasury bonds and corporate bonds.

Foreign central banks bought a record amount of government agency bonds to close out 2006.

Overall, foreign private investors bought $39 billion in long-term securities in December, compared with $115.7 billion in November. They purchased only $4.5 billion in Treasury bonds and notes in December, compared with $33.1 in the previous month, according to the data.

Foreign private investors sold $11.1 billion in equities in December, after having purchased $9.1 billion in November.

Foreign official institutions bought a record $15.5 billion in government agency bonds, up from $4 billion in the previous month.

A senior Treasury official noted that the monthly data are volatile and should be viewed over longer terms.

By Greg Robb
End of Story
Greg Robb is a senior reporter for MarketWatch in Washington.

Iran - Ready to attack

Published 19 February 2007

American preparations for invading Iran are complete, Dan Plesch reveals. Plus Rageh Omaar's insights from Iran and Andrew Stephen on fears George Bush's administration will blunder into war

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran's military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

British military sources told the New Statesman, on condition of anonymity, that "the US military switched its whole focus to Iran" as soon as Saddam Hussein was kicked out of Baghdad. It continued this strategy, even though it had American infantry bogged down in fighting the insurgency in Iraq.

The US army, navy, air force and marines have all prepared battle plans and spent four years building bases and training for "Operation Iranian Freedom". Admiral Fallon, the new head of US Central Command, has inherited computerised plans under the name TIRANNT (Theatre Iran Near Term).

The Bush administration has made much of sending a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf. But it is a tiny part of the preparations. Post 9/11, the US navy can put six carriers into battle at a month's notice. Two carriers in the region, the USS John C Stennis and the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, could quickly be joined by three more now at sea: USS Ronald Reagan, USS Harry S Truman and USS Theodore Roosevelt, as well as by USS Nimitz. Each carrier force includes hundreds of cruise missiles.

Then there are the marines, who are not tied down fighting in Iraq. Several marine forces are assembling, each with its own aircraft carrier. These carrier forces can each conduct a version of the D-Day landings. They come with landing craft, tanks, jump-jets, thousands of troops and, yes, hundreds more cruise missiles. Their task is to destroy Iranian forces able to attack oil tankers and to secure oilfields and installations. They have trained for this mission since the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Today, marines have the USS Boxer and USS Bataan carrier forces in the Gulf and probably also the USS Kearsarge and USS Bonhomme Richard. Three others, the USS Peleliu, USS Wasp and USS Iwo Jima, are ready to join them. Earlier this year, HQ staff to manage these forces were moved from Virginia to Bahrain.

Vice-President Dick Cheney has had something of a love affair with the US marines, and this may reach its culmination in the fishing villages along Iran's Gulf coast. Marine generals hold the top jobs at Nato, in the Pentagon and are in charge of all nuclear weapons. No marine has held any of these posts before.

Traditionally, the top nuclear job went either to a commander of the navy's Trident submarines or of the air force's bombers and missiles. Today, all these forces follow the orders of a marine, General James Cartwright, and are integrated into a "Global Strike" plan which places strategic forces on permanent 12-hour readiness.

The only public discussion of this plan has been by the American analysts Bill Arkin and Hans Kristensen, who have focused on the possible use of atomic weapons. These concerns are justified, but ignore how forces can be used in conventional war.

Any US general planning to attack Iran can now assume that at least 10,000 targets can be hit in a single raid, with warplanes flying from the US or Diego Garcia. In the past year, unlimited funding for military technology has taken "smart bombs" to a new level.

New "bunker-busting" conventional bombs weigh only 250lb. According to Boeing, the GBU-39 small-diameter bomb "quadruples" the firepower of US warplanes, compared to those in use even as recently as 2003. A single stealth or B-52 bomber can now attack between 150 and 300 individual points to within a metre of accuracy using the global positioning system.

With little military effort, the US air force can hit the last-known position of Iranian military units, political leaders and supposed sites of weapons of mass destruction. One can be sure that, if war comes, George Bush will not want to stand accused of using too little force and allowing Iran to fight back.

"Global Strike" means that, without any obvious signal, what was done to Serbia and Lebanon can be done overnight to the whole of Iran. We, and probably the Iranians, would not know about it until after the bombs fell. Forces that hide will suffer the fate of Saddam's armies, once their positions are known.

The whole of Iran is now less than an hour's flying time from some American base or carrier. Sources in the region as well as trade journals confirm that the US has built three bases in Azerbaijan that could be transit points for troops and with facilities equal to its best in Europe.

Most of the Iranian army is positioned along the border with Iraq, facing US army missiles that can reach 150km over the border. But it is in the flat, sandy oilfields east and south of Basra where the temptation will be to launch a tank attack and hope that a disaffected population will be grateful.

The regime in Tehran has already complained of US- and UK-inspired terror attacks in several Iranian regions where the population opposes the ayatollahs' fanatical policies. Such reports corroborate the American journalist Seymour Hersh's claim that the US military is already engaged in a low-level war with Iran. The fighting is most intense in the Kurdish north where Iran has been firing artillery into Iraq. The US and Iran are already engaged in a low-level proxy war across the Iran-Iraq border.

And, once again, the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute have a plan for a peaceful settlement: this time it is for a federal Iran. Officially, Michael Ledeen, the AEI plan's sponsor, has been ostracised by the White House. However, two years ago, the Congress of Iranian Nationalities for a Federal Iran had its inaugural meeting in London.

We should not underestimate the Bush administration's ability to convince itself that an "Iran of the regions" will emerge from a post-rubble Iran.

Dan Plesch

Dan Plesch is a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies

Articles from this issue on Iran
This, Mr President, is how wars start by Andrew Stephen
Sheer incompetence could be the trigger.

We are asking the wrong questions of Iran by Rageh Omaar
Rageh Omaar finds a country more complex than most in the west have ever realised

Fear of NATO strikes keeps Afghan villagers from their homes

by Nasrat Shoiab Sat Feb 17, 12:52 AM ET

Villagers who fled a small Afghan town captured by Taliban two weeks ago say fear of NATO strikes and being mistaken for militants are keeping them from their homes, even though supplies are running low.

Around 1,500 families from Musa Qala, in the southern province of Helmand, have collected in surrounding areas since the remote town was overrun by Taliban fighters, the provincial refugee head Abdul Satar Mazhari told AFP.

The United Nations said this week it had confirmed there were 600 displaced families and its partner agencies have started ferrying in food and other aid. An average family is said to number six people.

Most of the refugees were with friends and relatives, although some were in camps for people already displaced by the Taliban-linked unrest gripping southern Afghanistan and by drought, officials said.

"We are afraid of bombings and war," Musa Qala resident Akhtar Jan told AFP by telephone from Gereshk, where he and his family were staying with relatives.

He took his family to Gereshk, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Musa Qala, soon after Taliban fighters overran the area on February 2.

"Taliban are there. If they (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF) attack the Taliban, we will suffer," he said.

The government, wary of more civilian deaths in an area in which ordinary people have already become victims of fighting between militants and the security forces, wants to use negotiations to persuade the rebels to leave.

A tribal elder told AFP last week, however, that the rebels had rejected talks.

ISAF has used precision air strikes to take out two leaders of the uprising but this seems to have failed to dislodge the rebels.

Shopkeeper Haji Nasim said he brought his family to Gereshk the day after the fighters arrived -- according to some reports in their hundreds.

"I came out the second day Taliban took over. I closed my shop and we've nothing to eat," he said, also by telephone from the remote area.

Another Musa Qala resident, Tor Jan, took his family to the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, 90 kilometres south of Musa Qala, and said money was beginning to run low two weeks after their departure.

"We haven't got anything," Tor Jan said by phone from a refugee camp. "Our cash savings are running out. If the situation continues this way, we will have to (get) back home as soon as it's OK," he said.

Tor Jan said he was concerned about being mistaken for a Taliban fighter because of his appearance and customs.

Most men in southern Afghanistan wear turbans and beards, as do the Taliban. Many may also be Taliban sympathisers, even though they have not taken up arms against the government and its foreign allies.

"If we go home and bombing starts on Taliban, there is no difference between us and Taliban," Tor Jan said. "They would take us to Guantanamo, Bagram or Kandahar," he said, referring to US military detention facilities.

A controversial deal last year gave authority in Musa Qala to the town's elders, who said they wanted Taliban and British ISAF soldiers to keep out, after fighting there caused severe damage and disrupted normal life.

Defence Minister Rahim Wardak said Thursday that troops were ready for action to take the town but were awaiting the outcome of negotiations.

"We will be continuing to observe developments in Musa Qala but whenever the time is right and we get the approval of the political authorities, we'll launch an operation," he told reporters in the capital, Kabul.

Foreclosures surge 42 percent in 2006

One out of every 92 households filed for foreclosure in 2006, suggesting that many homeowners are overextended in mortgage debt, group says.

January 25 2007: 8:30 AM EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The number of homes in the United States foreclosed by lenders rose 42 percent in 2006 from a year earlier in a sign that many homeowners have became overextended in mortgage debt, a real estate information service reported Thursday.

More than 1.2 million foreclosure filings were reported nationwide during 2006, which is a rate of one foreclosure filing for every 92 households, according to RealtyTrac, Inc.

The jump in foreclosures last year marks a return to normal levels as the housing market cools from multiyear highs of sales and appreciation, the company said.

Recent homeowners who believed the housing market would continue its break-neck pace or used flexible mortgages to make a purchase may be feeling a sting, the company said.

As much as $1.5 trillion in adjustable-rate mortgages are due to have their rates reset this year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Many recent homeowners are already struggling to make those higher payments and are drifting toward loan default and foreclosure, said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

"As more and more of these loans re-set, we saw a surge to finish the year, with the fourth quarter producing more foreclosure filings than any of the three previous quarters," Saccacio said.

While the increase in foreclosures could add to a glut in housing stock, "most local markets have been able to re-absorb foreclosure homes without seeing any major damage to the local economy," Saccacio said.

Colorado, Georgia and Nevada saw the highest foreclosure rates, the study found.

More proof the Israelis were shadowing the 9/11 hijackers

February 16, 2007
The High-Fivers

by Justin Raimondo

It was the tail-end of a bleak November, 2001: a pall of shocked numbness hung over the country, and a rising war hysteria had nearly everyone cowed. Americans were just beginning to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and focus on what had happened, and how to react. It was very early on the morning of the 23rd when, scanning the headlines, I came across a Washington Post story by John Mintz: "60 Israelis Detained on Tourist Visas Since Sept. 11." Odd, I thought, why go after the Israelis, probably the least likely suspects?

The subhead was even more intriguing: "Government Calls Several Cases 'of Special Interest,’ Meaning Related to Post-Attacks Investigation." Apparently organized groups of Israelis had been arrested, and "dozens" held without bond. Inquiries to the Justice Department had yielded this response:

"In several cases, such as those in Cleveland and St. Louis, INS officials testified in court hearings that they were 'of special interest to the government,’ a term that federal agents have used in many of the hundreds of cases involving mostly Muslim Arab men who have been detained around the country since the terrorist attacks.

"An INS official who requested anonymity said the agency will not comment on the Israelis. But he said the use of the term 'special interest’ means the case in question is 'related to the investigation of September 11th.’"

It wasn’t some anti-Semitic conspiracy crank sitting in his parents’ basement, or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who first linked Israeli nationals to the events of 9/11: it was the U.S. government, specifically its law enforcement arm.

This I found utterly astonishing, because it was clear to me, at that point, that there was a link, albeit one largely unknown in its specifics. Why else were the feds casting their nets around for Israelis rather than Arabs, Persians, and, yes, Muslims?

There was more. The original Post piece was updated: the number of detained Israelis had risen to 120. I had been following the story in this space, and noting its significance, in the weeks before Carl Cameron broadcast his famous four-part report on Fox News, which exposed the extensive Israeli spy network in this country and opened with this electric charge:

"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 – quote – 'tie-ins.' But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, – quote – 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information.'"

The story, as it developed in the months – and years – to come, sent me down an investigative path that has yet to reach its endpoint. What we know is this: in the months prior to 9/11, bands of Israelis posing as "art students" [.pdf] had carried out what seemed like a coordinated probing of U.S. government facilities, including locations not known to the public. A secret government report detailing the activities of the "art students" – and their background as highly trained in explosives and the art of telecommunications interception – was leaked to the media, and the story was again in the headlines. But not for long.

This is potentially one of the most important 9/11-related stories ever reported, and yet the number of serious investigative pieces done on it can hardly be counted on the fingers of one hand. has been following this from the outset, and you can go here for a complete archive of my columns on the subject, plus mainstream media pieces.

Of particular interest is the coverage by The Forward, the oldest newspaper of the Jewish community in North America. They reported on one key aspect of the Israeli-9/11 connection: the story of the five employees of a moving van company apprehended hours after the twin towers were struck. They had been observed in Liberty State Park, New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson, with a clear view of the burning towers. A woman had seen them from the window of her apartment building overlooking the parking lot: they came out of a white van, and they were jumping up and down, high-fiving each other with obvious glee. Their mood, it could be said, was celebratory. They were also filming the towers as they burned, and taking still photos.

The woman called the cops, who put out a "be on the lookout" alert. I’ll let Christopher Ketcham, author of a blockbuster new report appearing in Counterpunch, tell the rest of the story:

"At 3:56 p.m., twenty-five minutes after the issuance of the FBI BOLO, officers with the East Rutherford Police Department stopped the commercial moving van through a trace on the plates. According to the police report, Officer Scott DeCarlo and Sgt. Dennis Rivelli approached the stopped van, demanding that the driver exit the vehicle. The driver, 23-year-old Sivan Kurzberg, refused and 'was asked several more times [but] appeared to be fumbling with a black leather fanny pouch type of bag’. With guns drawn, the police then 'physically removed’ Kurzberg, while four other men – two more men had apparently joined the group since the morning – were also removed from the van, handcuffed, placed on the grass median and read their Miranda rights. 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.'"

This is, I believe, the most detailed account yet published of what actually happened that fateful day, and Ketcham clearly shows that the Israelis were certainly aware of why they had been stopped. The cops practically had to drag them out of the van at gunpoint, and it is surely suspicious that they immediately starting denying any role in "the incident." How did they know they weren’t being stopped for a traffic violation? No wonder they were held for 71 days, mostly in solitary confinement, and interrogated. Some repeatedly failed polygraph tests when questioned about possible surveillance activities. The FBI agents who interrogated them reportedly called them "the high-fivers," because of their odd behavior at Liberty State Park.

The Forward confirmed that the company they ostensibly worked for, Urban Moving Systems, of Weehawken, New Jersey, was in all likelihood a Mossad front. Dominik Suter, the owner, fled to Israel the day after a police raid on his office. The five detained Israelis were sent back to Israel, where they claimed to be innocent victims of harassment. Here they are on an Israeli talk show. Of course they don’t mention any of the above, or that they were found to have multiple passports in their possession, along with $4,700 stuffed in a sock and maps of New York City highlighted in certain spots. Ketcham quotes one local law enforcement official as saying

"It looked like they’re hooked in with this, it looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park."

Ketcham, utilizing the public record, news reports, and his own sources, has painted the clearest portrait yet of the "urban mover" Mossad cell, and how they shadowed the five hijackers who took over American Airlines flight 77, which struck the Pentagon to such devastating effect. Living, working, and socializing within a six-mile radius of Bergen County, these two groups circled each other until, on 9/11, as a dark pall fell over Manhattan and much of the rest of the world, one applauded the others’ handiwork.

Ketcham’s story of how the FBI investigation was scotched by high-ups ought to outrage every patriotic American citizen. He cites a source at ABC News – which covered this story on 20/20 in a treatment I consider a whitewash – as saying "They feel the higher echelons torpedoed the investigation into the Israeli New Jersey cell. Leads were not fully investigated."

The same source agrees with the general assessment of CIA officers, and intelligence experts such as James Bamford and Vincent Cannistraro, that Urban Moving Systems was a covert Israeli intelligence-gathering operation, most likely engaged in electronic interception and other means of spying on radical elements within Northern New Jersey’s Muslim milieu.

In the course of this, and given their geographical proximity, it is not beyond reason to posit that the Urban Movers were watching the future hijackers, listening to their phone conversations, reading their emails, and otherwise keeping fully apprised of their activities. What made the Israelis jump for joy, as one counterintelligence officer is said to have put it, is that "The Israelis felt that in some way their intelligence had worked out – i.e., they were celebrating their own acumen and ability as intelligence agents."

The story of how this line of investigation was suppressed, both in the law enforcement community and in the media, is a saga in itself. I know that Ketcham worked on this story long and hard, and had supposedly firm commitments from both and The Nation to publish his work. Both projects were killed at the last minute, in one case an hour before it was scheduled to run. What’s particularly stupid, in the case of Salon, is that they ran his previous piece, on the "Israeli Art Student Mystery," years ago – and now refuse to follow up their own story.

As for why the government investigation into the Israeli connection was scotched, Ketcham cites a former CIA counter-terrorism officer: "There was no question but that [the order to close down the investigation] came from the White House."

I have to tell you that it hasn’t been easy following this story over the years. I was told in the beginning, and in no uncertain terms, that this line of investigation is forbidden, that it’s "too hot to handle," and, implicitly, that the truth and the facts have to take second place to political correctness. To even mention this story, in certain quarters, is considered prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism. Case closed.

In spite of a determined effort on the part of some to redefine anti-Semitism to constrain critics of Israeli government actions, there is an equally determined pushback – a real movement to treat Israel as a nation like any other. That is, as a nation with its own interests, which, if truth be told, it pursues aggressively, and not only in the occupied territories and Lebanon, but also right here in the U.S. The story of Israel’s underground army in America – and its foreknowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks – is based on facts, not fantasies, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism – and everything to do with establishing the full context of the worst terrorist attack in our history.

9/11 was the opening shot of a battle we are still fighting to this day, as our soldiers fall in Iraq, and the hints of a new front in our endless "war on terrorism" – Iran – are hardly subtle. That signal event launched the war hysteria that has only lately begun to peter out.

One of the major reasons why the public has turned against the Iraq war has been the revelation that the "intelligence" we acquired about Iraq’s alleged "weapons of mass destruction" was manipulated, cherry-picked, and outright falsified in order to make the case for the invasion. If it turns out that the Israelis really did know – that they picked up "chatter" from the groups they were watching, and gained fairly detailed knowledge of the hijackers’ plans – it will alter how we think about 9/11, and change our perception of the perpetual war that ensued.

Go here to order the Ketcham piece, which is not yet online. You can only get it on dead-tree, but, believe me, it’s worth it.

And, while you’re doling out cash, remember the fundraising drive is going into high gear. I won’t tout our fearlessness in covering this controversial story all these years, because the record speaks for itself, and far more eloquently than any sales pitch. In a era when the "mainstream" media has failed, and failed miserably, isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. You know you ought to contribute today – so, go ahead, do it.