Friday, August 20
Police 'take control of Najaf mosque'
Guardian, August 20, 2004

Agency Reports--Iraqi police were today believed to have taken control of the Najaf mosque that served as the nervecentre of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's rebellion against the country's interim government.

An initial statement from the information ministry said Iraqi police had entered the Imam Ali mosque, one of the most revered sites in Shia Islam, to find that Mr Sadr and his militia fighters had left.

Later reports suggested 400 members of the cleric's Mahdi army militia were arrested.

If confirmed, the takeover of the mosque would suggest that Mr Sadr's two-week rebellion was either over or approaching its end, but Reuters reported there was still fighting outside the site.

Haidar Salahuddine, a cameraman for the news agency, said gun battles were blocking his route to the mosque. "Fighting is continuing near the Imam Ali mosque. We can't approach the shrine because of the clashes," he said.

The Guardian correspondent Luke Harding, in Najaf, earlier expressed scepticism that the fighting would end with any peace deal. "The problem is that the old city is totally under Mahdi army control, and is heavily boobytrapped," he said.

At least 77 Iraqis have been killed and 70 wounded during fighting in Najaf over the past 24 hours, according to Iraq's health ministry.

US warplanes this morning pounded the Shia rebels after Mr Sadr rejected a final order from the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, for him to leave the mosque and disarm.
[... more]

Desecration as Tactic of Imperial Conquest: Holy Places
Diane Christian, Counterpunch, August 20, 2004

"The holy shrine will remain safe from all attacks that could possibly harm its sacredness." --Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Allawi, about the Najaf Mosque

Despoiling holy places is often a deliberate tactic of war. In ancient Sumer, Iraq 5000 years ago, regime change was often reported by the phrase 'the holy shrine was destroyed and the city overrun.

' When Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C. he, like the later Roman conqueror Trajan, carried off Temple treasures. When the Greeks entered the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem a few centuries later, they slaughtered a hog in the Jewish temple's most sacred place, the Holy of Holies. In the French Revolution a naked whore was placed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Osama Bin Laden deliberately brought down the twin towers which he identified as shrines to the American god-money.

Desecration makes the point that new gods rule, and demonstrates contempt for what you hold sacred. In most codes of war sacred places are supposed to be respected. They sometimes serve as sanctuaries for transgressors who must be held harmless, sacrosanct, in the sacred area. The customs of holy places are ancient and widespread. Many stories tell of divine retribution against those who violate holy places.
[... more]

Who is Muqtada al-Sadr?, August 13, 2004

How has Muqtada al-Sadr gained so much attention?

Believed to be about 30 years old, al-Sadr is the son of a grand ayatollah and a man with a mission.

The firebrand cleric was little known outside Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion.
Now with fighters loyal to him holed up in Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque -- one of the most holy places in Shiite Islam -- he has become the focal point of anti-American sentiment.
Al-Sadr has promised to fight to the death against U.S. forces in Najaf.

"I will continue to defend Najaf as it is the holiest place. I will remain in the city until the last drop of my blood has been spilled."
These are powerful and symbolic words that resonate with the Shiite community, its history and tradition.

"It evokes the idea of the Karbala paradigm which is martyrdom, death, commitment, sacrifice and passion," says Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic scholar at the American University in Washington.

About 1,300 years ago, Imam Hussein uttered similar words before he battled his enemies in Karbala, knowing he would be killed but willing to die fighting.
[... more]

Kerry 'ex-flame' in web backlash, August 19, 2004

A woman who claims to be an old flame of US presidential hopeful John Kerry says she plans to take down details of their relationship she put on the web.

Lee Whitnum, an aspiring novelist writing under the surname Roystone, said she had received 500 hate e-mails from Democrats and Republicans.

She said she had hoped it might help her sell her novels, but realised it was an "experiment that did not work".

There has been no public word from Mr Kerry about Ms Whitnum's claims.
Ms Whitnum says she had a 20-month romance in the early 1990s, when Mr Kerry was a single man.

She has told the US media that their secret relationship came to an end when it became clear he would not marry her.

Her website includes the 'John Kerry Scrapbook' with photographs of the two together, some notes purported to be from Kerry and an account of their romance. She also encourages readers to vote for him in the November elections.

She said she hoped it might help publicise her books 'Hedge Fund Mistress' - about a woman who has a relationship with a US state senator - and 'What About the Dead?'

She said that despite 16,000 hits she had "absolutely zero book orders".

"I was so sure that I'd sell some books, buy a house, not have to spend the next 20 years in a windowless cube... living paycheck-to-paycheck. Silly me," she wrote.

She said she wanted to remove the scrapbook but could not right now, without giving more detail.

In an interview in the September issue of GQ magazine, the 60-year-old Massachusetts senator describes single life after his first marriage failed as "not good days".

"Thank God I found Teresa," he said, referring to the billionaire heiress to the Heinz food empire he married in 1995.

In the interview, he also reveals a soft spot for movie stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Charlize Theron, as well as Marilyn Monroe.

Maldives Unrest Worries International Community
by Feizal Samath, IbterPressService, August 20, 2004

COLOMBO – Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest running autocratic leader, is under international pressure to stop the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Colombo-based diplomats, who declined to be named, said a high-powered European Union delegation from EU-member missions based in Colombo was expected to fly to the capital Male at the weekend to urge the Maldives government to stop its harassment of political opponents.
Gayoom's government, which does not allow opposition political parties in the country, justified the crackdown and the state of emergency saying it was in danger of being toppled.

"Gayoom has to step down. That's the only way," Mohamed Latheef, founder and spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), told IPS. The MDP is a political party in exile based in the Sri Lankan capital – which is just an hour's flight away from Male.

Latheef's call has been echoed by many young Maldivians, some of whom recently carried banners saying, "Gayoom Should Quit" – a rare sight in a nation of some 340,000 people living for 25 years under a one-party government headed by Gayoom.

But observers point to the fact that unless economic pressure is exerted on Maldives, it will be business-as-usual for Gayoom.

Gayoom has attributed the economic boom since he took office to his policy of encouraging wealthy Westerners to stay at the Maldives' upmarket island resorts.
Maldives' economy is dependent on tourism, which accounts for 20 percent of GDP and brings in 60 percent of foreign exchange revenue.

But last week's demonstrations have had little impact on tourist arrivals. Visitors who arrive at the country's only airport situated on another small island near Male, are whisked by boat or seaplanes to their destinations far away from the capital.

"Tourism has been unaffected by the incidents in Male," noted Gehan Perera, a spokesman for Sri Lanka's Aitken Spence group, which has a couple of top-class resorts in the Maldives.
"However if the situation escalates and if there is an international dimension, then there would be some problems," Perera told IPS.

Niranjan Deva Addithya, member of the European Parliament, urged tourists not to visit the Maldives saying that by doing so they would be supporting a "tyrannical regime".

"The 77,400 British, 106,451 Italian and 77,642 German tourists, who visited the Maldives in the past year alone, paying an average of $200 a night in plush hotels, are supporting a tyrannical regime while 329,000 people are scrounging out an existence on less than one dollar a day," the Sri Lankan-born MP who lives in Britain was quoted as saying.

Monkeywrench Hope: An Interview with Jeffrey St. Clair, August 20, 2004

Joshua Frank: Jeff, thanks for agreeing to this interview. So many progressives I've talked to, who admit John Kerry offers no alternative to the Bush Administration on almost every issue -- often justify their support for the Kerry ticket by saying that there is at least a stark difference between Bush and Kerry on the environmental front. They point out such things as Bush's disregard for science, his horrible forest plan, his roll-back of Bill Clinton's roadless rule -- while they see Kerry as an environmental crusader who has received ringing endorsements from all the major environmental groups. Having covered environmental politics since the early 1990s, how do you respond to this rationale? Do you agree that indeed there are major differences between Bush and Kerry regarding the environment?

Jeffrey St. Clair: Let's get some things straight up front. The environmental movement bears very little relationship to the "major environmental groups." The big groups, aka Gang Green, function politically as little more than green front for the Democratic Party. Of course, they inflate Kerry as an environmental crusader. They would say, and indeed have said, the same thing about any Democratic nominee. That's their job. They do it very well, indeed.

They should, because the Beltway Greens aren't really environmentalists any more in the way we used to think of enviros 15 or 20 years ago.

These aren't activists, but lawyers and lobbyists, mainly from Ivy League schools, overwhelmingly white and liberal, who could (and perhaps will) just as easily be lobbying on health care, abortion rights, trade policy. They come packing with a PhD in deal making. There's no driving commitment to wilderness or burning rage about cancer alley or passionate concern about the fate of the grizzly. It's all very congenial, nicely compensated, prefabricated and totally uninspired. [... more]

Briton victim of 'atrocity'
John Innes,, August 19, 2004

A BRITISH oil executive shot dead in a suspected al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia was the victim of a "cold-blooded atrocity", according to his devastated wife. The full horror of the attacks on 29 May in which 61-year-old Michael Hamilton and 21 others died, emerged at his inquest.

The father-of-two, originally from Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, was shot at least nine times as he sat in his car at the headquarters of a major oil firm in Al Khobar where he had worked since 1989. The Islamic militants shot him in the chest at close range and then tied his body to the back of their car before dragging it through the streets for more than a mile.

Mr Hamilton’s body was found near a roundabout after the rope snapped, the inquest heard. Moments before the 7am killing, Mr Hamilton, who lived in Rye, East Sussex when visiting the UK, dropped his wife, Penelope, at a residential compound near the Araba Petroleum Investments Corporation, where he worked. [... more]

The Chávez Victory: A Blow to the Bush Administration
JUAN FORERO Juan Forero, New York Times, August 20, 2004

ARACAS, Venezuela, Aug. 19 - When President Hugo Chávez was ousted in a coup two years ago, the Bush administration celebrated, calling the ouster his own doing. The rest of Latin America was left fuming by the overthrow and expressed strong support for Mr. Chávez as he was almost immediately swept back into power in a popular uprising.

On Sunday, when Mr. Chávez triumphed over his adversaries in a referendum on whether he should be recalled from office, countries from Brazil to Argentina, Colombia to Spain heartily congratulated him. The United States remained silent for more than a day, until a State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, offered tepid backing for the "preliminary results."

The resounding victory was a blow to the Bush administration, which has struggled with how to deal with Mr. Chávez, a leftist firebrand who presides over the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and has opposed Washington on every major initiative in Latin America. "There's no doubt in my mind that at least in the White House - I don't know about the State Department - there was a deep desire to see Chávez lose," said former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center monitored the election and who has briefed American officials on his efforts to broker a peace between the government and its opponents. [... more]

Ex-US banker to become Pakistan premier
Tahir Ikram, Reuters, August 19, 2004

ISLAMABAD - Plucked from Citibank in New York to become finance minister after a 1999 military coup in Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz is just days away from becoming the 23rd prime minister of the turbulent South Asian nation.

The urbane former banker, 55, got a taste of the challenges ahead when he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that killed his driver and eight others as he campaigned for a seat in the lower house of parliament on July 30.

Undeterred, Aziz won his seat on Wednesday by a big margin, clearing the way for him to become prime minister next week.

Colleagues say the media-savvy and soft-spoken Aziz has shown his leadership qualities by turning round an economy that was virtually bankrupt when General Musharraf seized power in 1999.

He is expected to have a more hands-on role as prime minister than his predecessor, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, especially when it comes to running the economy.

But analysts say ultimate power will remain in Musharraf's hands, while political affairs will be managed by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who has been filling in as a temporary prime minister since June. [... more]

How the Media Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Rumsfeld
by Norman Solomon,, August 20, 2004

The nation's top dog of war is frisky again. Donald Rumsfeld has returned to high visibility – after a couple of months in the media doghouse following revelations about torture at the Abu Ghraib prison – now openly romancing the journalistic pack with his inimitable style of tough love as he growls and romps across TV screens.
[... more]

Monday, August 9
TomDispatch - Surprise!
Tom Engelhardt,, August 2004

Among Bush administration opponents -- and not just those on the Internet either -- there's a deep-seated, Florida-inspired, and not unreasonable fear of an October or even November 2nd 'surprise.' Over the last year, for instance, there have been spasms of Diebold-mania (in honor of one of the Republican-donor firms making the paper-trail-less, touch-screen-computer voting machines, considered quite capable of producing a Florida II).

Or what about those 'felon lists,' endlessly purged in Baby Bush's state of perfectly un-felonesque African-American Floridians but not of (usually Republican-voting) Hispanics, felonious or otherwise? Michael Moore is heading for the state on Election Day, camera in hand, but who isn't?

Then there have been those conspiracy-theory rumors that Osama bin Laden is already an administration captive held in a spiderhole somewhere in Pakistan until needed at the end of October? " ... [...more]


I'm sure all of you could come up with your own lists of ways this administration has been and may continue to be ambushed, but here's a little starter-list of my own -- ten surprises this administration proved remarkably unprepared for.

1. "Mission Accomplished": On May 2, 2003, Bush officials halted, the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier on its way home, some thirty miles off San Diego, so that our warrior President, instead of walking up a gangplank, could arrive far more dramatically by jet, mug with the troops, get photo ops galore, and then address his "fellow Americans" on the carrier deck against the backdrop of a specially prepared banner that proclaimed "mission accomplished."
The first sentences of his now-infamous speech included: "[M]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country."

The Case Against George W. Bush
by Ron Reagan, Esquire, September 2004

The son of the fortieth president of the United States takes a hard look at the son of the forty-first and does not like what he sees

It may have been the guy in the hood teetering on the stool, electrodes clamped to his genitals. Or smirking Lynndie England and her leash. Maybe it was the smarmy memos tapped out by soft-fingered lawyers itching to justify such barbarism. The grudging, lunatic retreat of the neocons from their long-standing assertion that Saddam was in cahoots with Osama didn't hurt. Even the Enron audiotapes and their celebration of craven sociopathy likely played a part.

As a result of all these displays and countless smaller ones, you could feel, a couple of months back, as summer spread across the country, the ground shifting beneath your feet. Not unlike that scene in The Day After Tomorrow, then in theaters, in which the giant ice shelf splits asunder, this was more a paradigm shift than anything strictly tectonic. No cataclysmic ice age, admittedly, yet something was in the air, and people were inhaling deeply.

I began to get calls from friends whose parents had always voted Republican, "but not this time." There was the staid Zbigniew Brzezinski on the staid NewsHour with Jim Lehrer sneering at the "Orwellian language" flowing out of the Pentagon. Word spread through the usual channels that old hands from the days of Bush the Elder were quietly (but not too quietly) appalled by his son's misadventure in Iraq.

Suddenly, everywhere you went, a surprising number of folks seemed to have had just about enough of what the Bush administration was dishing out. A fresh age appeared on the horizon, accompanied by the sound of scales falling from people's eyes. It felt something like a demonstration of that highest of American prerogatives and the most deeply cherished American freedom: dissent.

Oddly, even my father's funeral contributed. Throughout that long, stately, overtelevised week in early June, items would appear in the newspaper discussing the Republicans' eagerness to capitalize (subtly, tastefully) on the outpouring of affection for my father and turn it to Bush's advantage for the fall election. [...more]

Does anyone really favor an administration that so shamelessly lies? One that so tenaciously clings to secrecy, not to protect the American people, but to protect itself? That so willfully misrepresents its true aims and so knowingly misleads the people from whom it derives its power? I simply cannot think so. And to come to the same conclusion does not make you guilty of swallowing some liberal critique of the Bush presidency, because that's not what this is.

This is the critique of a person who thinks that lying at the top levels of his government is abhorrent. Call it the honest guy's critique of George W. Bush.

THE MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLES OF distortion and misdirection—which the administration even now cannot bring itself to repudiate—involve our putative "War on Terror" and our subsequent foray into Iraq. [...more]
Dirty politics
John Sutherland, The Guardian, August 9, 2004

The US election is, as they promised, getting very dirty. Karl Rove (Bush's Svengali) is said to have predicted, "By November, they won't even know whose side he fought on." "He", of course, is John Kerry - the would-be next president of America whose Svengalis (less gifted in the black arts than Rove) chose to package him as Lieutenant John, intrepid Swift Boat skipper, acknowledging the ovation of the delegates with a military salute and a crisp "reporting for duty".
Shortly afterwards, the other side hoisted (yet again) the national-security level to orange and releasing their propaganda torpedo. The Democrats can count on the sell-out movie (Fahrenheit 9/11); the Republicans, a book (Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry) that is already No 1 on Amazon's bestseller list a week before publication. [...more]

... It's Godzilla versus King Kong fighting it out in the cesspit of US politics. If you believe Michael Moore's film, Bush was in cahoots with the Bin Laden clan. If you believe the Swiftvets' book, the man who wants to replace Bush is a poltroon - incapable of commanding a small plastic boat, let alone the most powerful nation on the planet as it faces the greatest crisis in its history. As usual in politics everywhere, it will come down to who is telling the truest lies.
Tuesday, August 3
The Oligarchs: Or How the Virgin Became a Whore
Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, August 3, 2004

This is a TV series about Russia. But it could have been about Israel. Or about the United States. It is entitled "The Oligarchs" and is now being screened on Israeli television.

Some of its episodes are simply unbelievable--or would have been, if they had not come straight from the horses' mouths: the heroes of the story, who gleefully boast about their despicable exploits. The series was produced by Israeli immigrants from Russia.

The "oligarchs" are a tiny group of entrepreneurs who exploited the disintegration of the Soviet system to loot the treasures of the state and to amass plunder amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars. In order to safeguard the perpetuation of their business, they took control of the state. Six out of the seven are Jews.

In popular parlance they are called "oligarchs"--from the Greek word meaning "rule of the few".

In the first years of post-Soviet Russian capitalism they were the bold and nimble ones who knew how to exploit the economic anarchy in order to acquire enormous possessions for a hundredth or a thousandth of their value: oil, natural gas, nickel and other minerals. They used every possible trick, including cheating, bribery and murder.

Every one of them had a small private army. In the course of the series they are proud to tell in great detail how they did it.
... [..more]

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