More News — April 9-14, 2004

"Alliances: Signs that Shiites and Sunnis are Joining to Battle Americans" -- Jeffrey Gettleman in The New York Times, 4/9/04:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 ? When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago, one of its chief concerns was preventing a civil war between Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country, and Sunni Muslims, who held all the power under Saddam Hussein.

Now the fear is that the growing uprising against the occupation is forging a new and previously unheard of level of cooperation between the two groups ? and the common cause is killing Americans.

"We have orders from our leader to fight as one and to help the Sunnis," said Nimaa Fakir, a 27-year-old teacher and foot soldier in the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia. "We want to increase the fighting, increase the killing and drive the Americans out. To do this, we must combine forces."

This new Shiite-Sunni partnership was flourishing in Baghdad on Thursday. Convoys of pickup trucks with signature black Shiite flags flapping from their bumpers hauled sacks of grain, flour, sugar and rice into Sunni mosques.

The food donations were coming from Shiite families, in many cases from people with little to spare. And they were headed to the besieged residents of Falluja, a city that has now become the icon of the resistance, especially after the bombing on Wednesday of a mosque compound there.

"Sunni, Shia, that doesn't matter anymore," said Sabah Saddam, a 32-year-old government clerk who took the day off to drive one of the supply trucks. "These were artificial distinctions. The people in Falluja are starving. They are Iraqis and they need our help."

But it is not just relief aid that is flowing into the city.

According to several militia members, many Shiite fighters are streaming into Falluja to help Sunni insurgents repel a punishing assault by United States marines. Groups of young men with guns are taking buses from Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to the outskirts of Falluja, and then slipping past checkpoints to join the action. "It's not easy to get in, but we have our ways," said Ahmed Jumar, a 25-year-old professional soccer player who also belongs to a Shiite militia. "Our different battles have turned into one fight, the fight against the Americans."

American leaders had been concerned that the rival sectarian groups would not find a common cause. Now, it seems, they have found a common enemy. "The danger is we believe there is a linkage that may be occurring at the very lowest levels between the Sunni and the Shia," Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the occupation forces, said on Thursday. "We have to work very hard to ensure that it remains at the tactical level." . . .

In Baghdad, blood banks were packed. Imams at both Sunni and Shiite mosques put out a message that Falluja residents needed blood fast. On Thursday, a group of Shiite men formed a line at one Baghdad blood bank that wended out the door. The men were ready to get pricked with a needle for their Sunni brothers. "We share a cause now," said Mohammed Majid, a taxi driver. "Why not share our bodies?"

Pentagon officials said Thursday that they had no definitive figures on the size or scale of the Sunni or Shiite militias. That is largely because the militia movement seems too fluid, and it is splintered among several factions. "It's a mob mentality," said one intelligence official. "They are recruiting among a lot of unhappy people."

Shiite extremist groups have a long tradition of hiding their true strength, in large part because their history has been marked by persecution by Sunni elites in many Muslim countries. In southern Lebanon in the 1980's, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency was never able to get solid estimates of the number of Shiite fighters involved in Hezbollah or the Islamic resistance that eventually forced the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, former United States intelligence officials said Thursday.

Those former officials pointed out that the practice of Taqiyya ? dissembling about one's religion, especially in times of danger ? is particular to Shiism. That secretive tradition has made Shiite groups extremely difficult for intelligence officers to penetrate, the former C.I.A. officers said.

Until last week, the Shiite groups had mostly sat out the resistance. Many Sunni fighters were loyal to Mr. Hussein. That alienated Shiites, who had been ruthlessly persecuted by the former Iraqi leader.

All that changed this week when Mr. Sadr activated his militia at the same time Falluja faced its biggest battle. Now, the two sides have joined. There were even reports on Thursday of armed men from Falluja escaping to Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. Mr. Hussein is no longer mentioned. Fighting the infidels is.

"Powell Calls U.S. Casualties 'Disquieting'" -- Dana Milbank and Robin Wright in The Washington Post, 4/9/04:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday gave the administration's most sober assessment yet of the uprising in Iraq, calling the recent rise in U.S. casualties "disquieting" and acknowledging that coalition allies are "under the most difficult set of circumstances."

Powell served as the administration's point man while President Bush spent the second straight day out of public view on his ranch in Crawford, Tex. In congressional testimony, Powell said that despite the troubles in Iraq, the U.S. military will be able to quell both the new Shiite unrest and the Sunni insurgency within "the next few days and weeks." . . .

Bush spent the morning watching national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's televised testimony to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then toured his ranch with Wayne LaPierre Jr., chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and other leaders of hunting groups and gave an interview to Ladies' Home Journal. On Sunday, he is to appear in public at nearby Fort Hood, the home base for seven soldiers recently killed in Baghdad. . . .

This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency. . . .

Powell, in his testimony to the foreign operations subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, conceded that the new provisional Iraqi government is likely to face serious security challenges after the June 30 transfer of power, making it reliant on ongoing U.S. military support. "This will be a new government that is still getting its sea legs, that is still developing institutions of democracy, that has not yet finished a constitution and has not yet held an election to give it full legitimacy," Powell said.

"It will be challenged by the kinds of forces that you see challenging us today," he said.

Powell said U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is exploring three broad options for the handover of power to a new provisional Iraqi government: keeping the current 25-member Iraqi Governing Council; expanding it to bring in broader representation; and holding a "mini loya jirga," or national conference of prominent people, the approach used to select a new government for Afghanistan in 2002. Powell said that expanding the governing council "seems the most practical" option.

U.S. officials hope that Brahimi, who has just started holding talks in Iraq, will come up with a workable formula within the next two or three weeks, although there is growing concern that the unrest will make his ability to travel to other parts of Iraq impossible.

After the handover, Powell predicted, the United States will continue to be able to use its billions in reconstruction aid and political leverage to influence the policies and shape of Iraq as it debates a new constitution and holds its first election.

Powell also held out the prospect that members of the 26-nation NATO alliance might be willing to contribute to security in Iraq, particularly after June 30. "I think that in due course we will be able to structure a role for NATO that may add to the number of nations that are here, but more significantly, will give a collective tone, an alliance tone, to what we are doing," he said.

In a briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels during Powell's trip last week, however, a senior official cast doubt on a NATO role in Iraq soon, since the priority is expanding control of Afghanistan's fragile new government beyond Kabul.

"Temporary Halt to Fighting in Fallujah Announced" -- Pamela Constable, Sewell Chan and Fred Barbash in The Washington Post, 4/9/04:

In Baghdad, coalition troops locked down the center of the city one year to the day after the toppling of the statue of former president Saddam Hussein. No reason was given. But authorities have expressed concern about the possibility of insurgent attacks timed with the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. They are also worried about the potential for violence coordinated with the beginning of Arbaeen among Shiite Muslims.

Traffic of any kind was barred from the area near the statue and loudspeakers warned that anyone wielding a weapon in the area would be shot.

Pre-9/11 Doings Are Coming to Light" -- James P. Pinkerton in Newsday, 4/9/04:

If you knew that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had received a memo a month before Pearl Harbor entitled, "Japanese Determined to Attack the United States in the Pacific," and that he had done nothing about that information, would that knowledge change your perception of FDR as a wise war leader?

Roosevelt received no such memo, of course, but President George W. Bush got a blunt warning five weeks before 9/11 and he did little or nothing. He even presided over a stand- down in preparations, concentrating on other concerns.

The Washington Post reported in May 2002 that Bush had received a President's Daily Brief on Aug. 6, 2001, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But, of course, not everything that's reported becomes widely known, or is necessarily true. And so for most Americans, yesterday's 9/11 hearing provided their first occasion to learn, from the highest sources, just what was in that document.

Condoleezza Rice began her testimony with a statement in which she minimized the possibility that anyone could have known what was happening. All intelligence prior to 9/11 was "not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack," she said. But then 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste pressed her about that PDB memo, still rated as "classified" by the government. Ben-Veniste was legally prohibited from mentioning even the title of the document.

But he wasn't prohibited from asking Rice the title of the PDB. And she obliged: "I believe the title was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'" Ouch. Just moments after she had said intelligence was "not specific" about the place of attack, here's a presidential-level document warning, specifically, that al-Qaida's target wasn't overseas somewhere, but rather the United States itself.

David Colton, Washington lawyer and veteran of the intelligence world, observes of this exchange: "Ben-Veniste hypnotized her." Colton adds, "She fell into the rhythm of a smart lawyer's questions, and so blurted out the single most damning admission of these hearings."

Seeming to realize she had said too much, Rice tried to bury the revelation by piling on words. She insisted that the document, the PDB's title notwithstanding, "did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting." Whereupon Ben-Veniste invited her to seek the declassification of the entire memo. Rice declined.

"U.S. Losing Support of Key Iraqis" -- Alyssa J. Rubin in The Los Angeles Times, 4/10/04:

BAGHDAD ? Tough U.S. tactics in Fallouja and Shiite Muslim cities of southern Iraq are driving a wedge between the Americans and their key supporter ? the 25-member Governing Council that puts an Iraqi face on the occupation and is expected to serve as the basis of a new government.

One council member, angered by this week's heavy fighting in Fallouja and the prospect of a U.S. move against the militia of an anti-American Shiite cleric, suspended his membership Friday. Four others say they are ready to follow suit.

A sixth council member, Adnan Pachachi, a respected former diplomat who less than three months ago had accompanied First Lady Laura Bush to the president's State of the Union address, harshly criticized U.S. actions as "illegal and totally unacceptable." . . .

The council members say the only move that would stop them from suspending or resigning their membership is the U.S. military's agreement to halt military operations in Fallouja long enough for council members to engage in negotiations with the local community to try to forestall further bloodshed.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a Senate subcommittee that the U.S. would prefer to hand sovereignty on June 30 to an expanded version of the Governing Council. Experts said that option might be rapidly vanishing.

"The Governing Council is falling apart, so the hope of the Bush administration to have even a symbolic transition looks remote, especially because they won't have anybody to whom to transfer sovereignty," said Marina Ottaway, a democracy expert at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The council members threatening to suspend their membership are Ghazi Ajil Yawer, a Sunni tribal leader whose base is in Mosul; Salama Khafaji, a Shiite woman from Baghdad; and Hassani, who is acting on behalf of the Iraqi Islamic Party's council member. According to news reports, Abdul Karim Mohammedawi, a Shiite, announced the suspension of his council membership Friday. Fellow council members said Turkmen member Singul Chapuk was considering suspending her membership. Her aide would not confirm that.

Khafaji is among those trying to facilitate negotiations to end the fighting around Fallouja. One of her aides said that Khafaji would work to make negotiations possible even if occupation authorities failed to do so.

But perhaps the most serious development for U.S. authorities was an interview given to the Al Arabiya satellite TV station by Pachachi, a secular Sunni who is widely considered sympathetic to the U.S. and commands respect from many Iraqis.

"We consider the action carried out by U.S. forces illegal and totally unacceptable," Pachachi said. "We denounce the military operations carried out by the American forces because, in effect, it is [inflicting] collective punishment on the residents of Fallouja." . . .

Both Shiite and Sunni members of the Governing Council have criticized U.S. policy, but the week of fighting seems to have most affected the position of the Sunni members.

They have received personal appeals from Fallouja residents, almost all of whom are Sunnis, to intervene to stop the fighting.

Hassani's aide Saif Rahman said that his political party has an office in the city, and that the council member was aware of the deteriorating conditions there.

He said people were unable to bring injured to the hospital because they would have to cross the Euphrates River to do so, and troops had blocked access. The party turned its headquarters into a makeshift field hospital. As of late Friday, the field hospital had treated 367 injured people.

Most galling to the Sunni council members, who met Friday night in Pachachi's office, is that they were not allowed to enter Fallouja to negotiate. They said the Americans backtracked on a promise to let Yawer and Hassani into the city because the U.S. military could not guarantee their safety.

The coalition authority "kept saying we were partners?. If given the chance, we could have solved these problems manageably. But using these military tactics, F-16 bombers and helicopters to bomb shops and homes, how can we explain that to the people?" Hassani said.

"In Mideast, Anger and Solidarity" -- Scott Wilson in The Washington Post, 4/10/04:

AMMAN, Jordan, April 9 -- The U.S. military campaign across Iraq this week infuriated Arabs in the region and brought strident calls for Muslim solidarity against the American-led occupation.

Throughout the week, Arabic-language television networks have repeatedly aired images of U.S. tanks rumbling through Fallujah, a mosque damaged by a U.S. bomb and the corpses of Iraqis killed in the heaviest fighting in almost a year.

Arab commentators have compared the U.S. offensive to Israel's tactics against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, reinforcing long-standing Arab fears that the United States has no intention of leaving the region.

Leading Arab newspapers and clerics have praised Iraqi insurgents and the emerging anti-U.S. alliance among Sunni and Shiite Muslims as a turning point in the fight against the occupation.

One Egyptian opposition newspaper, Al-Ahali, declared on its front page that Fallujah -- a city west of Baghdad that has been at the center of resistance to the occupation -- has secured a vaunted place in Islamic history for its stand against U.S. troops.

"How will the Americans explain to the world the joint Shiite-Sunni intifada?" journalist Abdel Hady Abu Taleb wrote in Egypt's state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper. "Ever since the fall of Baghdad a year ago, the Americans have been making one excuse after another to explain the escalation of the resistance."

In small demonstrations Friday in several capitals, protesters called for their governments to denounce the U.S. military tactics, which Arab leaders have so far declined to do.

"This comes on top of a broad unhappiness with Arab governments from Morocco to Iraq," said Kamel Abu Jaber, a former Jordanian foreign minister. "It seems like these governments are living in one reality and the people in another."

In Sunni-majority countries such as Jordan, many have watched with trepidation as Iraq's Shiite majority has garnered new political power under the U.S. occupation. But many Sunnis appear now to be setting aside fears of a Shiite resurgence, at least for the moment, to express support for a widening anti-occupation resistance. . . .

The frustrations have not been confined to the poor or ardently anti-American segments of the Arab population. Middle-class professionals, some of them already opposed to U.S. policy in the region because of its support for Israel, are also expressing solidarity with the Iraqi insurgents.

"What's so sad is that Arabs are so used to these American actions that nothing seems to shock us anymore" said Lamia Mansour, 34, a marketing consultant in Cairo. "You can't answer back with logic because there is no logic to what the U.S. is doing and you can't fight back because who can fight the tyranny of the Americans?"

"U.S. Targeted Fiery Cleric in Risky Move" -- Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Anthony Shadid in The Washington Post, 4/11/04.

"Text of the President's Daily Brief for Aug. 6, 2001" -- New York Times, 4/11/04:

Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and "bring the fighting to America."

After U.S. missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a . . . service.

An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (E.I.J.) operative told an . . . service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative's access to the U.S. to mount a terrorist strike.

The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the U.S. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the F.B.I. that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaydah was planning his own U.S. attack.

Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.

Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveilled our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993, and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.

Al Qaeda members ? including some who are U.S. citizens ? have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks. Two Al Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior E.I.J. member lived in California in the mid-1990's.

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a . . . service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, F.B.I. information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The F.B.I. is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

"A Warning, but Clear?" -- Douglas Jehl in The New York Times, 4/11/04:

WASHINGTON, April 10 -- In a single 17-sentence document, the intelligence briefing delivered to President Bush in August 2001 spells out the who, hints at the what and points toward the where of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that followed 36 days later.

Whether its disclosure does lasting damage to Mr. Bush's presidency and re-election prospects may depend on whether the White House succeeds in persuading Americans that, as a whole, its significance adds up to less than a sum of those parts.

In a written rebuttal twice as long as the document itself, the White House sought Saturday night to drive home a single major point: that the briefing "did not warn of the 9/11 attacks." The idea that Al Qaeda wanted to strike in the United States was already evident, senior officials argued. They also said that while the document cited fresh details to make that case, they were insufficient to prompt any action.

Still, after two years in which the White House sought to prevent the disclosure of the document, Mr. Bush's critics are bound to seize on those details as evidence that the president had something to hide. While the White House has insisted the document was mostly vague and historical, critics will certainly seek now to paint it as something historic.

At a time, in the summer of 2001, when Mr. Bush and his advisers have said that the vast bulk of intelligence information pointed to the danger of a terrorist attack abroad, the Aug. 6 briefing can be read as a clear-cut warning that Osama Bin Laden had his sights set on targets within the United States and had already launched operations within America's borders. Based in part on continuing investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency, the brief spelled out fresh reason for concern about Qaeda attacks, very possibly using hijacked airplanes and conceivably in New York or Washington.

Depending on which side is arguing the point in this rancorous election year, the "patterns of suspicious activity" cited in the document will be presented either as yet another sign that the pre-Sept. 11 warnings were always too vague to act on, as the White House has argued, or as new evidence that Mr. Bush and his advisers were too slow to sense the danger at hand.

In making their case, White House officials who spoke to reporters in a conference call and issued a three-page "fact sheet" sought repeatedly to minimize the significance of the document.

"None of the information relating to the `patterns of suspicious activity' was later deemed to be related to the 9/11 attacks," the document issued by the White House said. The idea that Mr. bin Laden and his supporters wanted to carry out attacks in the United States, a senior official said, "was already publicly known," while the fresh concerns outlined in the document ? about surveillance of federal buildings in New York, and a telephone warning to an American Embassy in the Persian Gulf ? "were being pursued aggressively by the appropriate agencies."

Still, a preview of a very different assessment could be heard even last week, as Democratic members of the independent commission on the Sept. 11 attacks confronted Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, with pointed questions about the briefing.

Why, Timothy J. Roemer, the former congressman, wanted to know in that session, had not Mr. Bush, vacationing in Texas, responded to the warnings at least by summoning cabinet-level advisers for a meeting on terrorism, something that had not occurred by that point in his administration.

"At a time when our intelligence experts were warning of a possible strike against the United States, it's clear that the administration didn't take the threat seriously enough to marshal the resources that might have possibly thwarted the attack," said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

In deciding to release the portion of the daily briefing document, something no previous White House has ever done, Mr. Bush and his advisers were clearly attuned to the potential political damage that had been caused as its contents began to leak out following Ms. Rice's testimony on Thursday. In taking the step, White House officials seemed determined to head off the protests before accounts in the Sunday morning newspapers and on talk shows inflicted another round of damage.

But in taking the step after 6 p.m. on Saturday, the day before Easter, the White House may also have been seeking to shorten the time that critics might have to offer their own interpretations of the document.

"Apocalypse Now? Part 1: The War Front" -- Patrick Cockburn in The Independent, 4/11/04:

George W. Bush

If Iraq comes to be seen as President George W Bush's Vietnam, this past week may be the equivalent of the 1968 Tet offensive - the moment when America discovered that, for all its overwhelming military superiority, it is not winning the war.

The US civil and military leaders in Iraq discovered that their authority was a house built on sand. It crumbled with extraordinary speed in the face of poorly armed and ill-organised opposition in Fallujah and southern Iraq. The message was that the opponents of the US in Iraq are not very strong, but that the coalition itself is very weak.

Not only are large parts of Iraq outside its control, the US is weaker in Iraq than it was a year ago, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. By yesterday its allies within the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) were accusing it of "genocide". On the ground, the US troops recognise that they have no friends among the Iraqi forces supposedly on their side - and even America's closest allies in Iraq are beginning to run for cover.

Yet the disasters of the past week, the worst in political terms since President Bush decided to invade Iraq, are in large measure self-inflicted. The US suddenly found itself fighting a two-front war because it over-reacted to pressure, political and military, from important minority groups in the Sunni and Shia communities.

In Vietnam a US commander once said of a village: "We had to destroy it in order to save it." In Iraq the same might apply to Fallujah. It is true that since the war Fallujah has been the most militant and anti-American city in Iraq, but it is not entirely typical. Sunni by religion and highly tribal, it has a well-earned reputation among Iraqis as being a bastion for bandits. Iraqis in Baghdad, even those sympathetic to the resistance, spoke of people in Fallujah pursuing their own private feud with the US.

Yet the US responded to the killing of the four US contractors in Fallujah by sending in 1,200 Marines to launch a medieval siege, one in which they initially refused to allow ambulances in or out. If the Americans really believed they were being attacked by a tiny minority, Iraqis asked, why were they attacking a city of 300,000 people? The result has been to turn Fallujah into a nationalist and religious symbol for all Iraqis.

For the first time the armed resistance is becoming truly popular in Baghdad. Previously Iraqis often approved of it as the only way to put pressure on the US. But they were also wary of the guerrillas, because of fear of religious fanaticism or connections with Saddam's deeply unpopular regime. But thanks to Fallujah, this has changed: Iraqi nationalism is back in business. . . .

The US made a similar mistake by driving Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shia cleric, into a corner. His group has always been well organised, and he has a committed core of supporters. His position depends on the reputation of his martyred father, Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, assassinated by Saddam in 1999, but he has never been able to mobilise many people in the past. During his confrontation with the authorities last October he was unable to put more than a couple of thousand marchers on the streets in Sadr City, supposedly his home base.

Muqtada al-Sadr was an irritant for the Coalition Provisional Authority, but he never rivalled the influence of Shia clerical leaders such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. There were no real signs that Mr Sadr's movement was going anywhere. Then on 28 March, Paul Bremer, the head of the CPA, closed Mr Sadr's newspaper, al-Hawza, before arresting one of his lieutenants, Mustafa Yaqubi, in Najaf. This may have been a pre-emptive strike to get Mr Sadr out of the picture before the nominal handover of power to the Governing Council on 30 June, but it has proved a disastrous misjudgement.

The young cleric's black-clad militiamen, known as the Army of the Mahdi, number perhaps 5,000 men. But as soon as they went on the offensive, they exposed the fragility of US support among the Iraqi police and US-trained paramilitary units, such as the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps, which were expected to assume an increasing share of security duties.

About 200,000 Iraqis belong to these forces. However, confronted by the Army of the Mahdi the police faded away, often handing over their weapons to Mr Sadr's men. As soon as the Army of the Mahdi moved on the city of Kut, on the Tigris south of Baghdad, the police disappeared and the Ukrainian soldiers in the city withdrew. Not only have local Iraqi allies showed they are not prepared to fight, the crisis has also put intense pressure on America's foreign allies, such as the Poles, Bulgarians and Japanese as well as the Ukrainians, who have military forces in the south. They had gone there in the belief that they were out of harm's way, only to find they were policing some of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

On Friday a force of 1,000 US Marines counter-attacked and recaptured Kut. When the local police went to see them, the Marines immediately confiscated any of their remaining weapons that had not already been seized by the Army of the Mahdi, then pulled out of the city, leaving no one to keep order.

Revealed: Militants Plotted Iraq Anniversary Rebellion in London" -- David Pratt in The Sunday Herald, 4/11/04:

A secret meeting of senior Islamic activists held in London last month took the decision to ?stir the the Iraqi Shiite resistance? against the US-British led occupation of Iraq which led to the major escalation of hostilities over the last week to coincide with the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

Delegates with affiliations to militant Islamic groups from across the Middle East, including many that are banned as terrorist organisations, travelled from all over Europe for the confidential closed-door sessions at various Islamic centres in central London.

Representative from both Sunni and Shiite groups and from countries such as Syria, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia attended the conference.

According to an Arab source in Paris, among them were representatives of active terrorist organisations, like Lebanese Hezbollah, and some figures close to firebrand young Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr who is behind the current uprising in Iraq and now hunted by the US authorities in Iraq as an ?outlaw and fugitive from justice?.

They also agreed to avoid any armed clashes between Sunnis and Shiites after the handover of power scheduled for June 30, and to grant al-Sadr a greater margin of manoeuvrability on the ground allowing his al-Medhi militia army to confront coalition forces and exacerbate the crisis.

A source in Europe, who asked not to be named, said ?the secret debate and decision to move the Shiite front against the the American occupation in Iraq marked the the most prominent among the recommendations finalised at the conference held on March on 13 and 14?.

The Sunday Herald last night asked the Home Office if it was aware of the meeting and its repercussions. A spokesman would only restate their policy of not commenting on any matter involving intelligence agencies.

"For U.S., Uprising a Startling Turn of Fate" -- Thanassis Cambanis in The Boston Globe, 4/11/04:

BAGHDAD -- The armed struggle that erupted across much of Iraq last week has dramatically shifted fundamental assumptions about the country's future, as insurgents acquired a sense of their power and US authorities confronted their vulnerabilities.

Events have unfolded that would have seemed far-fetched a week ago. Yesterday, American forces came under attack in a downtown Baghdad neighborhood of diplomats and wealthy Iraqis that has long been considered safe. Across the Iraqi capital yesterday, shops were closed and streets were empty on what is usually the busiest day of the week, while gunfire rang out and shells pounded the occupation authority's Green Zone headquarters.

In a return to the visual props of last spring's invasion, the US military briefer pulled out a national map to tally all the of the country's trouble spots, and matter-of-factly listed major cities that were under resistance fighters' control. . . .

From an American perspective, the challenges appear daunting. For a year, coalition officials have blamed a minority of Ba'athists, international terrorists, and Sunni extremists for attacks against soldiers. Last week, it became apparent that coalition forces had little or no authority in at least three Iraqi cities -- Kut, Najaf, and Fallujah -- and that sympathy for anti-American attacks runs deep and wide through many sectors of society. US officials have acknowledged they need more troops to handle the insurgency.

The atmosphere inside Iraq also changed dramatically on other fronts last week.

The 70,000-member police force the US-led coalition has sought hard to promote collapsed in disarray in many parts of the country. Hundreds of police officers and members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps quit during the fighting, as barracks and police stations were taken over by militias. Many switched sides and fought US troops.

In Shuala, a Shi'ite suburb of Baghdad that saw fierce fighting between Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, and US troops last week, police officers pulled up to the Sadr office in pickup trucks throughout the day to get instructions from the clerics.

"We are policemen, yes, but also Mahdi. And the Mahdi is stronger," said Natik Hussein, a 21-year-old policeman busy taping a poster of Sadr to his police truck as his colleagues played with the siren, turning it on and off. "Sadr is the ultimate authority. The Americans are Jews."

"How the Right Gets Taxes Wrong" -- Matthew Miller in The Los Angeles Times, 4/13/04:

Conservatives love to cite facts like these: The top 5% of taxpayers pay more than half of federal income taxes; the top 1% pay more than a third all by themselves; and the bottom 80% of earners pay less than 20%.

If these facts are all you carry in your head, then it's obvious that Ayn Rand was right: We're a nation of freeloaders who enjoy the blessings of liberty thanks to a handful of generous giants.

But this is not the full picture. Any fair-minded person should want to know two other things: What percent of total income do these different slices of earners actually earn; and what share of total federal taxes, not just income taxes, do they pay?

The conservative worldview inexplicably ignores the payroll tax ? predominantly the FICA deductions for Social Security and Medicare ? as well as excise taxes on things like liquor, gasoline and tobacco. Those taxes take their biggest bite, proportionally, from lower-income Americans.

These regressive taxes have quietly and shockingly reached near-parity with the income tax as a source of federal revenue. This year, the income tax will account for 42% of federal revenue; the payroll tax will come to 41% (up from 16% in 1960).

If you count the portion of the payroll tax paid by employers, which economists agree effectively comes out of workers' wages, four out of five workers pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes.

When you look at who pays what based on total federal taxes, the United States doesn't look much like an Ayn Rand novel after all.

The top 1% of American taxpayers earn 17% of the income and pay 23% of total federal taxes; the top 5% earn 31% of the income and pay 40% of the taxes; the bottom 80% of the earners make 41% of the income and pay 31% of the taxes. These numbers are from 2001, the most recent available data; Bush's tax cuts have since made the burden on top earners lower. In other words, for all the conservative whining, we have a modestly progressive federal tax system.

Which brings us to the obvious question, one that could be posed to the president at his press conference tonight: Why do leading conservatives stress only part of the picture? Either they're not that smart, or they think the rest of us ? especially in the media ? aren't that smart.

I'll let you make the call. But the conservatives I know tend to be very smart people.

"Memo Not Specific Enough, Bush Says" -- Dan Eggen in The Washington Post, 4/12/04:

President Bush said yesterday that a memo he received a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks did not contain enough specific threat information to prevent the hijackings and "said nothing about an attack on America."

In his most extensive public remarks about a briefing he received Aug. 6, 2001, titled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," Bush also said that he "was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into" by the FBI and the CIA that summer and that they would have reported any "actionable intelligence" to him.

"I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America -- at a time and a place, an attack," Bush told reporters after Easter services in Fort Hood, Tex. "Of course we knew that America was hated by Osama bin Laden. That was obvious. The question was, who was going to attack us, when and where and with what?"

Bush agreed with a reporter who characterized the memo as containing "ongoing" and "current threat information." But he added that if the FBI or CIA "found something, they would have reported it to me. . . . We were doing precisely what the American people expects us to do: run down every lead, look at every scintilla of intelligence and follow up on it."

" A Scary Performance, and a Signal for Slaughter" -- Matthew Rothstein online for The Progressive, 4/13/04:

George Bush's press conference on April 13 was a scary performance.

Not because his second sentence was ungrammatical: "This has been tough weeks in that country."

Not because he pronounced "instigated" as "instikated" in his fourth sentence.

Not because he said Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of State.

Not because of his foolish comment that before 9/11 "we assumed oceans would protect us." (Ever since the Russians built their first ICBMs fifty years ago, the oceans haven't protected us.)

Not because he said of the August 6 briefing, "Frankly, I didn't think it was anything new"!

Not because he said that even if he had known beforehand that Iraq did not have WMD stockpiles, he still would have gone to war against Saddam Hussein.

Not because he had no coherent answer as to why Dick Cheney must hold his hand when he testifies to the 9/11 commission.

Not because he said that no one in his Administration had "any indication that bin Laden might hijack an airplane and run it into a building," when in fact, at the Genoa G-8 summit, there were precautions taken against incoming airplanes as missiles.

And not because he repeatedly refused to take a shred of personal responsibility for allowing the 9/11 attacks to happen on his watch.

No, his performance was scary because he plunged the United States deeper into a no-win war in Iraq.

"Deaths of Scores of Mercenaries Hidden from View" -- Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn in The Star [South Africa], 4/13/04:

Baghdad - At least 80 foreign mercenaries - security guards recruited from the United States, Europe and South Africa and working for American companies - have been killed in the past eight days in Iraq.

Lieutenant-General Mark Kimmitt admitted yesterday that "about 70" American and other Western troops had died during the Iraqi insurgency since April 1 but he made no mention of the mercenaries, apparently fearful that the full total of Western dead would have serious political fallout.

He did not give a figure for Iraqi dead, which, across the country may be as high as 900.

At least 18 000 mercenaries, many of them tasked to protect US troops and personnel, are now believed to be in Iraq, some of them earning $1 000 (about R6 300) a day. But their companies rarely acknowledge their losses unless - like the four American murdered and mutilated in Fallujah three weeks ago - their deaths are already public knowledge.

The presence of such large numbers of mercenaries, first publicised in The Independent two weeks ago, was bound to lead to further casualties.

But although many of the heavily armed Western security men are working for the US Department of Defence - and most of them are former Special Forces soldiers - they are not listed as serving military personnel. Their losses can therefore be hidden from public view.

The US authorities in Iraq, however, are aware that more Western mercenaries lost their lives in the past week than occupation soldiers over the past 14 days.

The coalition has sought to rely on foreign contract workers to reduce the number of soldiers it uses as drivers, guards and in other jobs normally carried out by uniformed soldiers.

Often the foreign contract workers are highly paid former soldiers who are armed with automatic weapons, leading to Iraqis viewing all foreign workers as possible mercenaries or spies.

"Citing Security, U.N. Rules Out Large Iraq Team" -- Edith M. Lederer in The Washington Post, 4/13/04:

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday virtually ruled out sending a large U.N. team to Iraq "for the foreseeable future" because of the recent upsurge in violence and kidnappings.

He also called for the immediate release of civilians held hostage and greater efforts to reduce the violence so the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to Iraqis can go ahead in a positive political atmosphere.

Speaking to reporters on his arrival at U.N. headquarters, Annan said he did not believe the June 30 date for the transfer could be changed, a view backed by the United States.

"It has been embraced by the Iraqis themselves who are anxious to see the end of occupation as soon as possible, and I believe that it is going to be difficult to pull it back," Annan said.

"That having been said, I hope we are going to be able to bring down the violence and control the situation between now and then because the kind of violence we are seeing on the ground is not conducive for that sort of political process and transition."

Annan said the upsurge in fighting had made things "rather difficult" for the small U.N. team trying to help the Iraqis decide on an interim government that will take power. Team leader Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, has been holding meetings in Iraq for the last nine days with political, religious, academic, professional and civil society leaders.

Annan said he was waiting for Brahimi to return to New York to discuss what kind of transitional government would be most acceptable. He said he also needed to check with U.N. experts now in Iraq on whether the legal framework was in place to hold elections by January.

With the upsurge in fighting and growing opposition to the U.S.-led coalition, some political figures in the United States and other countries have called for a much greater U.N. presence on the ground in Iraq.

Annan, who pulled all U.N. international staff out of Iraq in October following a spate of attacks, including two bombings of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, said Tuesday he was in no hurry for them to return because of the increased violence.

The first bombing, on Aug. 19, killed 22 people, including top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and sparked intense criticism of U.N. security failures.

"For the foreseeable future, insecurity is going to be a major constraint for us and so I cannot say right now that I'm going to be sending a large U.N. team," Annan said. "Obviously, we are monitoring the situation very closely and we are doing the best we can."

To deal with the current crisis, the United States announced plans to increase the U.S. troop strength in Iraq by 10,000, reportedly to about 120,000. Annan was asked whether he believed other countries would be prepared to contribute troops.

"Of course, the deterioration we've seen on the ground doesn't really encourage other governments to go in," he said. "But I think governments are also aware that it is in our collective interest to do everything we can to bring the violence down in Iraq, to stabilize Iraq, and ensure that we have a peaceful Iraq in the midst of that region.

"That collective responsibility, I think, is going to play a major role as we move forward."

"Bush Camp Scales Back Advertising" -- Ronald Brownstein in The Los Angeles Times, 4/14/04:

WASHINGTON ? Despite its unprecedented fundraising success, President Bush's reelection team is scaling back its massive level of television advertising, according to senior Republicans familiar with the campaign's planning.

In the next few weeks, viewers in the 18 states where the ads have aired since early March will see about 30% fewer a week, one ranking GOP strategist said.

Republicans say that the ad reduction was planned all along and that the commercials succeeded in planting doubts about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry. And they say that although Bush's overall advertising budget will shrink, more of the ads that air will criticize Kerry.

In the nation's larger markets, the Bush campaign so far has divided its spending almost in half between ads touting his record and commercials criticizing Kerry, according to tracking conducted for The Times by TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Many Democrats are relieved that the race remains so competitive after a Bush ad barrage that appears to have totaled at least $40 million.

Pointing to recent polls that generally show Kerry at least even with the president, these Democrats say the Massachusetts senator has taken what could be the Bush campaign's hardest punch and is still standing.

The reelection team spent so much so soon "with the intent of putting this thing away early, and it didn't happen," said Erik Smith, executive director of the Media Fund, a group formed by leading Democrats that is running ads in support of Kerry.

Independent analysts agreed with that assessment.

Anthony Corrado, an expert on campaign finance at Colby College in Maine, said that since March 4 ? just after Kerry in effect wrapped up his party's nomination ? Bush has bought about as much television advertising as past presidential candidates purchased for the entire general election campaign.

"And frankly," Corrado said, the president's campaign "didn't move the [poll] numbers that much."

He added: "The Bush campaign came out heavy, both in terms of volume and with some of their strongest attacks, and they didn't get a knockout."

A key factor blunting the ads' impact, analysts said, was the escalation of violence in Iraq and questions that have surfaced about the administration's antiterrorism efforts before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Bush has probably scored some points ? but it's awful hard to cut through events of that magnitude, said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"President Addresses the Nation in Prime Time Press Conference" -- whitehouse.gov transcript, 4/13/04

Q Mr. President, why are you and the Vice President insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 Commission? And, Mr. President, who will you be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30th?

THE PRESIDENT: We will find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi is doing; he's figuring out the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over. And, secondly, because the 9/11 Commission wants to ask us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions.

Q I was asking why you're appearing together, rather than separately, which was their request.

THE PRESIDENT: Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 Commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them.

Let's see --

Q Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a minute. Oh, Jim.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: I've got some "must calls," I'm sorry. . . .

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You've looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?

THE PRESIDENT: I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it. (Laughter.) John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet.

I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we'll find out the truth on the weapons. That's why we've sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm.

One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don't want to be killed. There's a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they're worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they're not going to talk.

But it will all settle out, John. We'll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually -- not only had weapons of mass destruction -- the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.

I hope I -- I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't -- you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.

"Someone Saw This Coming a Long Time Ago" -- Zay N. Smith in The Chicago Sun-Times, 4/14/04:

An early warning about an invasion of Iraq:

"For us to get bogged down in the quagmire of an Iraqi civil war would be the height of foolishness."

It was a very early warning.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warned us in 1991.

And we didn't listen to him.

"Our Last Real Chance" -- Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek, 4/19/04 (online 4/14/04):

The history of external involvement in countries suggests that, to succeed, the outsider needs two things: power and legitimacy. Washington has managed affairs in Iraq so that it has too little of each. It has often been pointed out that the United States went into Iraq with too few troops. This is not a conclusion arrived at with 20-20 hindsight. Over the course of the 1990s, a bipartisan consensus, shared by policymakers, diplomats and the uniformed military, concluded that troop strength was the key to postwar military operations. It is best summarized by a 2003 RAND Corp. report noting that you need about 20 security personnel (troops and police) per thousand inhabitants "not to destroy an enemy but to provide security for residents so that they have enough confidence to manage their daily affairs and to support a government authority of its own." When asked by Congress how many troops an Iraqi operation would require, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki replied, "Several hundred thousand" for several years. The number per the RAND study would be about 500,000.

But the civilian leadership of the Pentagon knew that such troop strength would require large-scale support from allies. Besides, it was convinced that the Clinton administration, the United Nations and the Europeans were feckless and incompetent. Donald Rumsfeld publicly ridiculed the U.N.'s efforts in Kosovo and declared that the administration intended to do its nation-building quite differently?better, lighter, cheaper. Thus America has tried to stabilize Iraq with one half to one third of the forces that its own Army chief of staff thought were necessary.

Even worse, these troops were not asked to make security for the Iraqi people their core mission. After spending a week in Iraq last November, the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack noted that "the single greatest impediment" to the success of the reconstruction efforts was that Iraqis "do not feel safe in their own country. Iraqis resent the fact that American forces take such pains to protect themselves and do so little to protect the Iraqi people." He noted the "constant (and fully justified) complaint of Iraqis: the Americans have no presence and make no effort to stop street crime or the attacks on [Iraqis] by the [insurgents]." Since November, American forces have been moving out of cities into heavily armed base camps in outlying districts, out of sight. In Baghdad, the Army started out with more than 60 small units scattered throughout the city. It will soon be based in eight camps, mostly outside the city. When patrols take place, they are usually quick tours using armored cars and tanks, not the frequent foot patrols that provide order and friendly relations with locals. . . .

America's lack of presence on the ground is even greater when it comes to civilian authorities?political advisers, engineers, agronomists, economists, lawyers and other experts who could help Iraqis as they rebuild their country. The Coalition Provisional Authority has about 1,300 people working for it. Douglas MacArthur had four to five times as many when he was in Japan?and that was in circumstances where the Japanese state was fully intact and functioning. As a result, the CPA has virtually no presence outside Baghdad. Across much of the country, its acronym is jokingly said to stand for "Can't Provide Anything."

If the administration paid little attention to the need to assert power and authority on the ground, it paid even less attention to the need for legitimacy?whether from international or domestic sources. Weeks after formal hostilities ended, France and Germany made clear that they would be willing to provide major support for postwar reconstruction in Iraq. But they asked that it take place under U.N. auspices, as had all recent nation-building, including Afghanistan's. Tony Blair urged that the United States accept these offers, but Washington spurned them, finding the requirement for U.N. control intolerable. "We're utterly surprised," a senior U.N. diplomat told me in June 2003. "We thought the United States would dump Iraq on the world's lap and the rest of the world would object ... The opposite is happening. The rest of the world is saying, 'We're willing to help,' but Washington is determined to run Iraq itself."

Even worse, convinced by Iraqi exiles that Iraq was deeply pro-American, Washington didn't much bother about creating legitimacy inside Iraq. Anyone who had studied Iraq knew that Saddam Hussein had destroyed all rivals. The only political forces that existed in Iraq were tribal sheiks and religious leaders. Given that the Shia constitute a majority, their leaders would be key. One towered above the others: Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a moderate who had tacitly supported the American intervention. He was also a longstanding critic of the Iranian model and argued that clerics should not participate in politics. In other words, he was the key potential ally and should have been the center of American political efforts in Iraq. Yet the U.S. paid insufficient attention to him.

In March 2003, as American and British troops entered Iraq, Sistani issued a fatwa asking the people of Iraq "not to interfere" with the foreign troops. His later statements urged ethnic and religious harmony. Sistani was well aware that America had an image problem in the Arab world and that he could not seem to endorse a naked American occupation. "We had demanded from the beginning that the U.N. play a primary role in the political process," he later explained in an interview. He refused to meet with any American. Yet he held meetings with the U.N.'s representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Once Sistani heard of American plans for transferring power to an unelected Iraqi interim government, he objected. But the United States did not try to satisfy him. Indeed, it did not make many overtures to the aging cleric. Sistani's objections were taken lightly until, finally, after weeks of increasingly critical statements, he issued a fatwa declaring the American transition plan unacceptable. Even then it took months?and street demonstrations?for the CPA to appreciate Sistani's power.

Washington believed that its hand-picked Governing Council gave the occupation legitimacy. In fact, besides the Kurdish leaders and a few others, the members of the Governing Council have little support within Iraq. The Council is stacked with Iraqi exiles who are mostly disliked and suspected by Iraqis. Shia leaders in particular are suspicious that American plans for a phased transition and an unelected interim government are ways to empower exiles like Ahmad Chalabi. Sistani has told gatherings of tribal leaders that it is they who must take power in Iraq, not "those from abroad." In the CPA's own polling, Chalabi has the highest negative ratings of any public figure in Iraq. And yet he continues to get plum positions and generous funding (for intelligence!) from the U.S. government.

In order to make possible a long-term commitment in Iraq, Washington needs to correct its mistakes. First, it must make the lives of Iraqis more secure. The experiment with hasty Iraqification has failed. Iraqi security forces and police should be pulled off the streets and given proper training. In the meanwhile, the United States will have to bulk up its forces?and make those forces engage in patrols and crime prevention and provide a general sense of law and order. The Third Infantry Division should be sent back into Iraq. The option of mobilizing reserves or transferring troops from other theaters of operation should not be ruled out. And after July, if the transition to Iraqi self-rule is administered by the United Nations, it should be possible to get other countries' troops involved. Obviously, the numbers offered will be much lower than they would have been a year ago. But something is better than nothing.

Next, the cpa must find a way to create a legitimate interim government. Ayatollah Sistani can provide that legitimacy. America will have to concede to Sistani's objections to the current plans: he is unlikely to endorse any transfer to the current Governing Council, or even a modestly expanded version of it. He has objected to a three-person presidency, and to giving the Kurds a veto over the constitution. He also wants restrictions on the powers of the interim government, and an understanding that the interim constitution can be amended. Many of Sistani's objections are valid, others less so. But in any event, right now his blessing is crucial.

"Kerry Was Right" -- Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post, 4/14/04:

Don't look now, but is the Bush administration creeping toward John Kerry's position on Iraq?

I am writing this column hours before the president's Tuesday news conference, so I have to allow for the possibility that he will stun us with some radical new departure -- perhaps even articulating a coherent policy. But whatever the president says, the administration has been moving closer to acknowledging the desirability -- and at times, the necessity -- of letting the United Nations do the work of nation-building that George Bush once assumed the United States should undertake.

In fairness, when the president plunged us into this war, he had a plan for converting Iraq into a stable democracy -- a plan so simple that it bore no relation to reality. Dick Cheney argued that we'd be greeted as liberators. The Pentagon war planners said that we could just hand the nation over to Ahmed Chalabi, a businessman with ties to various Beltway neoconservatives, who'd left Iraq as a child in the same year that the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Rumsfeld's minions spirited Chalabi into Iraq right after our troops rolled into Baghdad. The Iraqi people, however, were less than overwhelmed.

In the course of the year-long occupation, we've had several subsequent plans for creating some entity to which we could hand off power. None has come to fruition. Our ability to create a popular, legitimate interim authority to oversee the drafting of a constitution that would win broad support and to negotiate with major population groups that shared a common antipathy to Saddam Hussein was never remotely sufficient. We were an occupying authority that had brought war but had failed to create peace -- not exactly the ideal credentials for nation-building.

And so, our man in Iraq, Paul Bremer, has stood aside and invited U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to put together an Iraqi interim authority with sufficient support to manage the transition until Iraq's first elections. The administration that had proclaimed the United Nations all but irrelevant in its strategy statement of September 2002 now clamors for more U.N. involvement and more NATO troops to do what we cannot do alone: stabilize Iraq.

Bush has, with the greatest reluctance, moved closer to the policy that Kerry has been advocating all along: internationalizing the occupation. In his speech preceding his vote to authorize the war in the fall of 2002, Kerry stipulated that the success of any endeavor to remake Iraq depended on broad international involvement in that effort. Last September Kerry called for Bush to transfer authority in post-Hussein Iraq to the United Nations, as that would "enhance the credibility and legitimacy" of the campaign to create a new Iraqi order in the eyes of Iraq's citizens and the world. And campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday, Kerry suggested that Brahimi should supplant Bremer altogether, because the U.N. envoy would strike Iraqis as a more credible administrator of the occupation than Bremer could be. . . .

By the standard of previous presidential candidates running amid wartime quagmires, Kerry has been unusually forthcoming in his critique and prescriptions for Iraq. All Eisenhower pledged while seeking the office during the Korean conflict was, "I will go to Korea." In 1968 Nixon said that he had "a secret plan" to end the Vietnam War. Kerry, by contrast, foresaw the perils of unilateralism and has consistently proposed a more workable occupation policy than Bush's. By its growing dependence on Brahimi and its increasingly plaintive calls for more nations to send troops, even the administration tacitly acknowledges that Kerry was right.

"Insurgents Display New Sophistication" -- Thomas E. Ricks in The Washington Post, 4/14/04:

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DUKE, Iraq, April 13 -- Insurgents fighting the U.S.-led occupation force have sharply increased the sophistication, coordination and aggressiveness of their tactics over the past week, Army officers and soldiers involved in combat here said.

Most dramatically, as several thousand U.S. troops pushed south this week from the Baghdad area to this new base in central Iraq, one highway bridge on their planned route was destroyed and two others were so heavily damaged that they could not be used by heavy Army trucks and armored vehicles.

Those attacks on convoy routes, which U.S. forces were using for the first time, revealed a previously unseen degree of coordination among insurgent groups, said Army Col. Dana J.H. Pittard, the commander of a brigade-size task force now assembling for possible combat operations against the forces of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr in or near the holy city of Najaf.

"The dropping of the bridges was very interesting, because it showed a regional or even a national level of organization," Pittard said in an interview. He said insurgents appeared to be sending information southward, communicating about routes being taken by U.S. forces and then getting sufficient amounts of explosives to key bridges ahead of the convoys.

With occupation forces battling Sadr's Shiite militiamen south and east of Baghdad and Sunni Muslim insurgents to the north and west, the timing of the Iraqis' tactical development is nearly as troubling for U.S. forces as its effect. But the explanation for the change is not yet clear, military commanders said.

Here in southern Iraq, which is overwhelmingly Shiite, U.S. officers say the best guess is that former soldiers who served under President Saddam Hussein have decided to lend their expertise and coordinating abilities to the untrained Shiite militiamen.

"It's a combination of Saddam loyalists and Shiite militias," Maj. Gen. John R. Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said in a brief interview here at FOB Duke, where he was reviewing combat preparations.

Batiste said the influence of former Iraqi Republican Guard officers was especially apparent in the fighting in the Sunni town of Fallujah, where, he said, many veteran officers made their homes. "You could staff a division with the Iraqi officers living there," he said.

Maj. Kreg Schnell, Pittard's intelligence chief, agreed with Batiste's assessment. "There's been a marriage of convenience between Sadr's militia and Saddam loyalists," he said.

What officers here say they are not seeing is a sharp increase in the number of foreign guerrillas involved in the fighting. That element, said Pittard, is tiny -- perhaps "about 2 percent."

"Roberts Contradicts Frist on Clarke" -- Alexander Bolton at thehill.com, 4/14/04:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says former Bush counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke?s testimony before a joint congressional panel on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks did not contradict his later testimony before a presidentially appointed commission.

Roberts?s comments to The Hill contradict a stinging condemnation of Clarke by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on the Senate floor after Clarke accused President Bush of failing to take Osama bin Laden seriously before Sept. 11.

Roberts said Frist did not consult him before making his floor speech, which has been criticized by Democrats. Roberts?s words make perjury charges against Clarke highly unlikely. . . .

Roberts said Clarke?s 2002 testimony was on small-bore process issues related to the intelligence community while the later testimony took a big-picture view of policymakers? handling of evidence of a pending attack.

He wished that Frist had consulted with him before making his floor statement. . . .

Roberts said Republican staffers on the intelligence panel ?will be in trouble? if he finds out they took the initiative to relate Clarke?s closed-door testimony to Frist?s staff.

Roberts said the appropriate handling of the matter would have been for Senate intelligence staff to brief him and for Roberts to brief Frist directly.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the intelligence panel, said that it would have been inappropriate for Intelligence Committee staffers to contact staff in the leader?s office to relate the contents of Clarke?s 2002 testimony.

Durbin added that Frist?s condemnation of Clarke was excessive and out of character for the leader. ?It?s like he was handed a script from the White House,? Durbin said.

Frist told The Hill he was not contacted by officials at the White House, officials from the intelligence community or members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

When asked if he based his floor criticisms on a transcript of Clarke?s 2002 closed-door testimony and drew his own conclusions from that transcript, Frist said that he had.

"Ambassador: Negroponte Is Expected to Be Picked for Iraq Post" -- Stephen R. Weisman in The New York Times, 4/14/04:

WASHINGTON, April 13 -- President Bush is expected to select John D. Negroponte, a veteran diplomat and current United States representative to the United Nations, as ambassador to Iraq once sovereignty is given over to a government in Baghdad on June 30, administration officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Negroponte's career dates to the war in Vietnam in the 1960's and the turmoil of Central America in the 1980's.

Confirmed more easily than expected as ambassador to the United Nations shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he had been questioned by some for his performance on human rights issues as ambassador in Honduras during the civil war in neighboring Nicaragua.

Now he is nominated for another crucial position in another chaotic place. After the transfer in Iraq, the American occupation authority is to be transformed into the United States' largest embassy, employing at least 3,000 people.

The ambassador will report to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Under the administration's plans, the American military ? which is expected to remain in Iraq after the transfer of power ? will remain under the command of the Defense Department, not the ambassador. Iraqi forces are to report to American military commanders.

The likely choice of Mr. Negroponte is being seen as a victory for Mr. Powell, who argued that the job required a candidate with diplomatic experience, bureacratic skills and experience dealing with military commanders, as well as someone who could quickly be confirmed, administration officials said.

Other possible names that officials said had been under consideration by Mr. Bush, including Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, and Robert Blackwill, director of Iraq policy at the White House, were said by administration officials to be less likely to win quick confirmation.

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