Iraq war and occupationThe ISG learned of the funding through a number of interviews with key Iraqi officials, from government representatives to the truck drivers who have carried boxes of cash into Iraq for the insurgents. Two high-ranking Iraqi officials say that most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities. Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq's insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anti-coalition forces. The Iraqis say that money has been pouring into Iraq from Saudi Arabia since the Iraq invasion toppled the Sunni-controlled regime of Saddan Hussein in March 2003. Last month, the New York Times reported that a classified US government report said Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency had become self-sufficient financially, raising millions from oil smuggling, kidnapping and Islamic charities. The report did not say whether any money came from Saudi Arabia. Last week, a Saudi who headed a security consulting group close to the Saudi government, Nawaf Obaid, wrote in the Washington Post that Saudi Arabia would use money, oil and support for Sunnis to thwart Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq if American troops pulled out. The Saudi government denied the report and fired Obaid. (AP/Yahoo! News)
Iraq war and occupationMost Democrats and a few Republicans are pressuring Bush to announce a major change in his war policy, and some are expressing their frustration at Bush's obstreporousness. "Someone has to get the message to this man," says Senator Harry Reid, the incoming majority leader. Reid has praised the work of the ISG. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 7, Baker urged Congress to accept most if not all of the report's 79 recommendations as part of a comprehensive strategy and said Bush should do the same. "I hope we don't treat this as a fruit salad, and say, 'I like this but I don't like that,'" Baker said. But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the ISG report would be considered along with internal reviews being conducted by the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. Bush says he hopes to outline a shift in policy by Christmas, but says two key recommendations -- talks with Syria and Iran, and pullbacks of troops by early 2008 -- are not going to be considered. The latest polls show that only 27% of Americans support Bush's war policies. Bush intends to meet with senior Pentagon and State Department officials next week, along with outside experts on Iraq. For Democrats, who take over Congress in January, rhetoric isn't enough. "The time for change is now and is apparent to the American people," says incoming House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Senator Richard Durbin says when he heard Bush speak, Bush didn't seem to reject the report outright, "[b]ut when he talked about his approach to Iraq, there was no indication of a change in basic strategy. He talked about changing some tactics." (Reuters/Yahoo! News)
Iraq war and occupationIn separate meetings with Bush, several Democrats stress the critical need for his administration to revamp its Iraq policy, though they don't expect him to embrace all 79 recommendations made this week by the panel. In his meetings with Congressional Democrats, Bush says he discussed "the need for a new way forward in Iraq...and we talked about the need to work together on this important subject." But Democrats aren't convinced by Bush's bipartisan rhetoric. "I just didn't feel there today, the president in his words or his demeanor, that he is going to do anything right away to change things drastically," says incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "He is tepid in what he talks about doing. Someone has to get the message to this man that there have to be significant changes."
Mark Foley scandalNo rules had been broken and no one should be punished, neither Foley nor the senior Republican leaders and their aides who failed to protect the teenagers vulnerable to his advances. The committee report calls Foley a "ticking time bomb" for his sexual come-ons to male pages, and harshly criticizes outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert, saying that Hastert knew about Foley's activities months before he acknowledged learning of Foley's X-rated e-mails. It concludes that Hastert lied about not recalling warnings from two other House Republican leaders. Hastert says he is pleased that the committee found "there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff," and continues to lie about his and his fellow Republicans' knowledge and participation in Foley's predations, saying once again that no evidence has surfaced showing that anyone in the House knew about Foley's salacious instant messages and e-mails before the scandal went public.
Iraq war and occupationBush officials have chosen the report's own title, "A New Way Forward," for their revamped marketing strategy for the occupation of Iraq. The decision is all too typical of the administration, with a vaunted change in the public relations and marketing strategies being touted as real change in the policies.
Middle East unrest"Our Arab region is besieged by a number of dangers, as if it was a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode," he tells his fellow Gulf State leaders, gathered in Riyadh for a two-day meeting. The Palestinians are reeling from "a hostile and ugly occupation" by Israel while the international community watches their "bloody tragedy like a spectator," Abdullah says. But "most dangerous for the [Palestinian] cause is the conflict among brethren," he says, referring to the differences between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement that have blocked the formation of a unity government. In Iraq, "a brother is still killing his brother," Abdullah says of the killings between the Sunni Arab former elite and the ruling Shi'ite majority. He also warns that Lebanon, which was rocked by civil war in 1975-1990, risked sliding into renewed civil strife as a result of the current standoff between pro- and anti-Syrian camps. "In Lebanon, we see dark clouds threatening the unity of the homeland, which risks sliding again into...conflict among the sons of the same country," he says. The meeting involves the heads of state of the various Gulf Cooperation Council members, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It is the first time in years that all six rulers have attended the bloc's year-end summit. Gulf Arab leaders are also concerned about Shi'ite Iran's growing role in Iraq and its standoff with the West over Tehran's nuclear program, although GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah says the GCC states do not feel threatened by the Islamic republic. "The United States talks openly of the danger of Iranian military activity in the region, but our countries do not feel threatened by Tehran. Iranian officials assure us that their nuclear program is peaceful," Attiyah says. A GCC source says that "Gulf states are worried by the possibility of a US-Iranian confrontation" over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, and adds that "a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would create environmental dangers" for the region. During their summit, GCC leaders will also discuss steps toward economic integration, chiefly moves to establish a common market by 2007 and launch a monetary union and a single currency by early 2010. (AFP/Yahoo! News)
Iraq war and occupationThe talks are aimed at forming a new parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government, a voting bloc that would likely exclude supporters of the Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a vehement opponent of the US military presence. The new alliance would be led by senior Shi'ite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who met with Bush last week. Al-Hakim, however, is not expected to be the next prime minister because he prefers the role of powerbroker, staying above the grinding day-to-day running of the country. A key figure in the proposed alliance, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, has left to meet with Bush three weeks ahead of his original schedule. "The failure of the government has forced us into this in the hope that it can provide a solution," says Omar Abdul-Sattar, a lawmaker from al-Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic Party. "The new alliance will form the new government." No new leader has yet been agreed on, but another strong candidate is Iraq's other vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi'ite who was al-Hakim's choice for the prime minister's job before al-Maliki emerged as a compromise candidate and won. Al-Maliki is perceived as vulnerable, too compliant with more hardline Shi'ite groups and militias such as al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and no longer having the trust of the US government. Al-Maliki is said to be livid at the attempt to unseat him. "We know what's going on and we will sabotage it," says an aide to al-Maliki. A senior aide to al-Sadr says the proposed alliance was primarily designed to exclude the cleric's backers and they will resist. Al-Sadr's supporters have been among al-Maliki's strongest backers, ensuring his election as prime minister. Relations have recently frayed, however, with the 30 Sadrist lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers boycotting the government and parliament to protest al-Maliki's meeting with Bush in Jordan. The al-Sadr aide says recent contacts with the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of most Iraqi Shi'ites, indicated the Iranian-born al-Sistani was not averse to replacing al-Maliki.
Iraq war and occupationThe report is, he says, "insult to the people of Iraq" insamuch as it recommends deadlines for achievement of certain goals. "If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on," says Talabani. "We are a sovereign country." The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, with little real power in the government headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, but Talabani is one of the strongest voices for his people, the Arab Kurds of Iraq. Talabani is the most senior government official to take a stand against the Iraq Study Group report, which has come under criticism from leaders of the governing Shi'ite and Kurdish parties. Talabani says the report "is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution." Talabani strongly opposes the recommendation for a de-Ba'athification law that would allow thousands of officials from the ousted Ba'ath Party to return to their jobs. He also criticizes the idea of embedding thousands more US troops into Iraqi units for training purposes: "It is not respecting the desire of the Iraqi people to control its army and to be able to rearm and train Iraqi forces under the leadership of the Iraqi government," he says. An aide to al-Maliki says the Iraqi leader has reservations about the report but has yet to form a detailed response. Representatives of Iraq's third major religious group, Sunni Arabs, say they agree with the report's grim assessment of the problems in Iraq, but not with the report's recommendations. Kurds have been the strongest critics so far of the report and Talabani says he backs a statement by the president of the Kurdish region who objects to recommendations on sharing the oil wealth, reinstating Saddam loyalists in their old government jobs and giving Iraq's neighbors a role in efforts to end the violence. However, Talabani says he has already made contact with officials in Syria and Iran in hopes of gaining help for his fragmenting country.
Terrorism detainees and "enemy combatants"Four years after al-Marri's detention, government officials have still not decided what, if any, threat he poses to American citizens. Ashcroft has an answer. According to Ashcroft's new book Never Again, al-Marri was sent to the United States a day before the 9/11 attacks to plan strikes on West Coast targets, including the tallest building in Los Angeles, the US Bank building (formerly the Library Tower). Citing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured and interrogated, Ashcroft writes. "I believe KSM had planned to use Al-Marri to help facilitate this next wave of attacks focused on Los Angeles." This is the first time any US official has directly linked al-Marri to the West Coast attacks that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden allegedly hoped would follow the East Coast attacks. The problem with Ashcroft's allegations is that no federal law enforcement officials know anything about it. Three senior FBI officials say they are mystified by Ashcroft's assertions, and court documents alleging that al-Marri, a US-educated citizen of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has deep ties to al-Qaeda makes no mention of any role in an assault on the West Coast.
Conservative media slantKristol, demanding that more troops be sent to Iraq, says during the discussion, moderated by Brit Hume, "[S]ome of the Republicans are going wet or squishy...." Hume then says of Bush, "if the political support ebbs away at the rate that it's going -- it will be very difficult indeed and it will also leave the insurgents with the idea that all they gotta do is wait for this guy to leave office and they're going to be in the land of mild and honey in Iraq and will run the place...." Williams has had enough. "Squishy, impatient, you know, they'll be in the land of milk and honey? The insurgents will be. What do you imagine, an American administration is coming in, Republican or Democrat, after President Bush that's just going to lay down and run away like scared little --" Hume cuts in with the patronizing rejoinder, "It will not be phrased that way. but if you listen, listen, Juan, it's very simple." Williams finally lets loose: "This is really -- I tell you sometimes i just want to scream. You guys have been going on since this thing began. I mean, you don't give credit to people, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, Barbara Lee, people who said from the start this is a mistake. You put 'em down. Now it's everybody's a surrender monkey or impatient or squeamish or weak. Why can't you say, hey, there's a real problem in Iraq?" (Fox News/Crooks and Liars)
Global warming and the environmentThe melting is caused primarily by carbon emissions, known colloquially as "greenhouse gases." Some ice would still be found on coastlines, notably Greenland and Ellesmere Island, but the rest of the Arctic Ocean, including the pole, would be open water. In between 30 and 50 years, they conclude, summer sea ice will have vanished from almost the entire Arctic region. But the British Antarctic Survey's Chris Rapley, head of the project, believes the findings are already out of date and over-optimistic. Rapley says a recent study suggests emissions are rising far faster than in 2000, when the climatologists' data was primarily collected, and ice-loss will be resultingly more speedy. "The study findings may be an underestimate of when the Arctic summer ice might be all gone," says Rapley. "It could well be their assumptions are more optimistic than they might be." The effect on the Arctic ecology will be devastating. Polar bears will be driven into extinction, and other wildlife, including seals, will suffer. The traditional lifestyle of the Inuit peoples, or Eskimo, will be ravaged. But oil companies are already planning for explorations of the newly ice-free areas to tap into possible new reserves, and entertainment companies are considering the option of cocktail cruises over the North Pole. "We have already witnessed major losses in sea ice, but our research suggests that the decrease over the next few decades could be far more dramatic than anything that has happened so far," says Professor Marika Holland, who led the UN study. "These changes are surprisingly rapid. As the ice retreats, the ocean transports more heat to the Arctic and the open water absorbs more sunlight, further accelerating the rate of warming and leading to the loss of more ice. This is a positive feedback loop with dramatic implications for the entire Arctic region."
Iraq war and occupationAlthough the three retired generals and two academics were highly critical of Bush's Iraq policies, they share Bush's skepticism over the recommendations of James Baker's Iraq Study Group. In particular, the experts disagree with the ISG's plans to reduce the number of US combat troops in Iraq and to reach out for help to Iran and Syria.
Lewis Libby perjury trialLibby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters that allegedly outed undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby has attempted to bring the trial to a halt by threatening to disclose classified information about terrorist threats and foreign nuclear programs, ostensibly to support his defense that he had more pressing issues on his mind than outing Plame. Prosecutors had accused Libby of demanding so much sensitive information that the government could not safely release it -- which would have possibly led to a dismissal -- but US District Judge Reggie Walton appears to have resolved that dispute. Walton has accepted special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's proposal to limit the details Libby and his attorneys can discuss. The ruling helps keep the trial on track for next month. That could still be delayed, however, if Cheney and Bush aide Karl Rove claim they cannot testify because of separation-of-powers issues. While the case hinges on whether Libby knowingly lied about his conversation regarding Plame, testimony could offer a behind-the-scenes look at how the Bush administration handled intelligence and criticism in its march to war. Plame believes the administration leaked her name to reporters as retribution for her husband's criticism of prewar intelligence. Nobody has been charged with the leak, though the Bush administration has promised for years to find and prosecute the perpetrator. (Washington Post)
Conservative smear campaignsConservative pundits and bloggers have already tried to make hay out of Obama's middle name -- Hussein -- but have attracted little attention outside of the enclaves of the far right, but Greenfield expands the attack onto the national airwaves. Greenfield describes what he calls "the classic Obama look...business casual, a jacket, a collared shirt, but no tie." After comparing Obama's dress style to John Kerry (country club casual) and George W. Bush (a homage to Ronald Reagan), Greenfield says, "But, in the case of Obama, he may be walking around with a sartorial time bomb. Ask yourself, is there any other major public figure who dresses the way he does? Why, yes. It is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, unlike most of his predecessors, seems to have skipped through enough copies of GQ to find the jacket-and-no-tie look agreeable. And maybe that's not the comparison a possible presidential contender really wants to evoke." Greenfield even evokes the coincidence in names: "Now, it is one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful." He concludes, "But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the axis of evil, why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread. Or is that threads?" Talking Points Memo host Josh Marshall says simply, "Not the first connection I would have thought of. You?" The eminent Columbia Journalism Review is more direct, calling Greenfield's comments "character assassination." The media watchdog site Daily Howler compares Greenfield's bit to the media attacks on Al Gore's "earth tones" in 2000. Greenfield later claims that he was just making a joke, and that he is floored anyone would have taken his apparent comedy routine seriously. He then blames Marshall and other bloggers, whom he says have too much time on their hands and too much bandwidth to fill.