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 Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Malaysia: A Christian Convert Asked by Civil Court to Face Islamic Court


A Malaysian blogger wrote:

" The irony of this case is that, in the eyes of the law, Azlina Jailani MUST remain a Muslim and her religion cannot be changed in her identity card.

Her religious freedom is not to be protected by the Federal Constitution but rather to be determined by the Syariah Court, for the simple reason she has the bad luck or the unfortunate life of being born and raised as a Malay Muslim in this country.

Azlina Jailani, although a Malay Muslim by birth, had made a life-choice for herself to be a Christian and had been a practising one for over a decade. She took the less-travelled long hard road to face her fellow Muslims in the judiciary, to ask to be left alone to chart her spiritual destiny of her own choosing, not one to be imposed upon her by her fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.

In her heart and to her God in prayer, Azlina Jailani is Lina Joy, a Christian, in every sense of the word.

No amount of legal dictum in the Malaysian Civil courts or the Syariah Court can change that fact of her personal/religious life.

It is HER life, and nobody else's, which Azlina Jailani/Lina Joy chooses to live; NOT a life to be dictated by the decisions of the Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim or by Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff, or for that matter by the National Registration Department or by the muftis or the religious leaders in the Syariah Court.

The sad epilogue to this drama is that there is such a document called a Federal Constitution, to which every Malaysian, irrespective of race, religion and sex looked upon for sanctuary, yet to which the two Muslim judges sitting in the Federal Court in this case seemed to be blind and deaf to.

Malaysia is NOT a country meant for Azlina Jailani, although born a Malay. It is not even a country suitable for any Muslim Malay who wants to have a freedom to believe in a God of his/her chosen religion."

Read here full article

Malaysia's top secular court on Wednesday rejected a Muslim convert's appeal to be recognized as a Christian, in a landmark case that tested the limits of religious freedom in the moderate Islamic country.

A three-judge Federal Court panel ruled by a 2-1 majority that only the Islamic Shariah Court has the power to allow Azlina Jailani, who changed her name to Lina Joy after becoming a Christian, to remove the word "Islam" from the religion category on her government identity card.

Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said the panel endorsed past legal judgments stating that the Shariah court -- not the civil legal system -- has the jurisdiction to hear cases of Muslims who want to renounce Islam.

"This appeal is rejected," Ahmad Fairuz said. "Apostasy is a matter linked to Islamic laws. It's under the jurisdiction of the Shariah court. ... Civil courts cannot interfere."

Activists have warned that a ruling against Joy could strengthen non-Muslims' fears that they are discriminated against in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has substantial Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities.

However, conservative Muslims would have considered a ruling for her as an erosion of Islamic values.

Joy was not at Wednesday's hearing.

Judge Richard Malanjum was the only one on the panel who sided with Joy, saying it was "unreasonable" to ask her to turn to the Shariah Court because she could face criminal prosecution there.

Apostasy is punishable by fines and jail sentences. Offenders are often sent to prison-like rehabilitation centers.

Joy's case is the most prominent in a recent series of religious disputes, some involving custody of children born to parents of different faiths, and one involving a deceased Hindu man who converted to Islam without his family's knowledge and whom Islamic authorities ordered to be buried as a Muslim.

The Malaysian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens, suggesting it is a secular state. But the Shariah courts have not allowed Muslims, who comprise nearly 60 percent of the country's 26 million people, to legally leave their religion.

Personal and family rights of Malaysian Muslims are decided by Shariah courts. Civil courts govern such matters among those of minority religions.

Joy, 42, argued she should not be bound by Shariah laws because she is no longer a Muslim.

She began going to church in 1990 and was baptized eight years later. She then applied to change her name on her identity card, and the National Registration Department obliged -- but refused to drop "Islam" from the religion column.

In May 2000 Joy went to the High Court, which told her she should take it up with the Shariah courts. She challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal but lost, and took it to the Federal Court in 2005. The trial ended in July 2006.

Joy has been disowned by her family and forced to quit her computer sales job after clients threatened to withdraw their business.

She and her ethnic Indian Catholic boyfriend, known only as Johnson, went into hiding in early 2006 amid fears they could be targeted by Muslim zealots, Joy's lawyer has said.

Joy's case sparked angry street protests by Muslim groups and led to e-mail death threats against a Muslim lawyer supporting her.

Her case is the most prominent in a string of recent religious disputes, some involving custody of children born to parents of different faiths, and one involving a deceased Hindu man who converted to Islam without his family's knowledge and whom Islamic authorities ordered to be buried as a Muslim.

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 Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why America Was Attacked : From Former Chief of CIA's Osama bin Laden Unit

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The following is a letter from Michael F. Scheuer, former Chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden Unit about why the Al-Qaeda network has targeted the United States.


In the dozen-plus years I have been active in matters relating to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, I have watched them go from a small Islamist organization to a worldwide insurgent movement, while bin Laden has established himself as the primary source of inspiration and leadership for tens of millions of Muslim Islamists.

This process has been made possible by two things:

(a) the skill, courage, patience, and ruthlessness of bin Laden and his ilk, and

(b) the refusal of the U.S. government to understand the motivation of bin Laden and his allies.

Last week, Representative Paul did all Americans an immense service by simply pointing out the obvious: Our Islamist enemies do not give a damn about the way we vote, think, or live.

Though any country they ruled would surely not look like ours, they are motivated by the belief that U.S. foreign policy is an attack on Islam, its lands, and its believers.

This, of course, is not to say that America is to blame for the war it is now engaged in, but it is to say that it is foolish – and perhaps fatal – for Americans to believe that are we are being attacked for such ephemera as primary elections, R-rated movies, and gender equality.

If our Islamist enemies were motivated by such things their numbers would be minuscule and they would be a sporadic lethal nuisance, not, as they are, the most serious national security threat we face today.

Of the eighteen presidential candidates now in the field from both parties, only Mr. Paul has had the courage to square with the average American voter.

We are indeed hated and being warred against because we are “over there,” and not for what we are and how we live. Our failure to recognize the truth spoken by Mr. Paul – and spelled out for us in hundreds of pages of statements by Osama bin Laden since 1996 – is leading America toward military and economic disaster.

At day’s end, Mr. Paul has at least temporarily shaken the pillars of the bipartisan consensus on U.S. foreign policy.

Neither party, and none of the candidates, want to discuss the Islamists’ motivation because they would have to deal with energy policy, support for Israel, and the 50-year record of U.S. support and protection for Arab tyrannies.

These holy cows of U.S. politics have long been off limits to debate, but Mr. Paul has now accurately identified them as the source of motivation for our Islamist enemies, and implicitly has said that the obsessive interventionism of both parties has inspired al-Qaeda and its allies to kill 7,000-plus U.S. civilians and military personnel since 11 September 2001.

The war we are engaged in with the Islamists is a long way from over, but it need end in America’s defeat only if Mr. Paul’s frank statements are ignored.

And no matter how you view Mr. Paul’s words, you can safely take one thing to the bank.

The person most shaken by Mr. Paul’s frankness was Osama bin Laden, who knows that the current status quo in U.S. foreign policy toward the Islamic world is al-Qaeda’s one indispensable ally, and the only glue that provides cohesion between and among the diverse and often fractious Islamist groups that follow its banner.

Michael F. Scheuer
Falls Church, VA

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 Friday, May 18, 2007

Wolfowitz RESIGNED as President of World Bank - Effective June 30, 2007

  Read here article by William McQuillen and Christopher Swann

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz quit less than halfway into his five-year term, bowing to an international furor sparked by his involvement in a pay raise for his companion.

``I have concluded that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership,'' Wolfowitz, the former U.S. deputy defense secretary and Iraq war architect, said in a statement today in Washington.

His departure is effective June 30.

Wolfowitz resigned after three days of negotiations with the bank's directors yielded a compromise that allowed him to avoid sole responsibility for his involvement in a pay-and- promotion package for his companion, Shaha Riza.

``He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that,'' the directors said in a statement.

Wolfowitz, 63, faced rising calls to leave from donor governments and staff members, who said he had hobbled the credibility of the world's largest development institution just as it geared up to raise $28 billion in fresh funds.

Wolfowitz was the first president to resign under fire since the group was founded in 1944. President George W. Bush, the only world leader to say he should stay in office, yielded to pressure from European nations including France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands.

``There's no way he could have remained an effective leader because of the acrimony and rancor,'' said George Ayittey, an economist at American University in Washington and a former World Bank consultant. ``There was too much animosity within the bank.''

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that Bush would name a replacement ``soon.''

Admirers praised Wolfowitz's devotion to helping the poor, especially in Africa, which he made a priority. Wolfowitz ``has shown a strong will to help Africa,'' Burundi's finance minister, Denise Sinankwa, said in an interview on May 15. ``I feel sorry for what has happened.''

A panel of seven directors on May 6 told Wolfowitz that he had violated staff rules and his employment contract when he dictated the terms of a 36 percent pay increase for Riza, along with guarantees of further 8 percent annual increases. The panel, in its report, told the full 24-member board that it should consider firing him.

Wolfowitz argued that the package represented a good-faith effort to carry out the instructions of the bank's ethics committee, and that the bank should bear some of the responsibility. That was an argument that the board accepted today, saying that ``mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter.''

Wolfowitz initially apologized for the scandal, which overshadowed last month's twice-yearly meeting of the World Bank's 185 members in Washington. He later adopted a more belligerent tone, hiring attorney Robert Bennett to represent him and saying he was the victim of a ``smear campaign.''

Even before the controversy erupted in April, Wolfowitz aroused hostility by pushing aside senior managers in favor of advisers recruited from the Bush administration. His proposal to beef up the bank's presence in Iraq exposed him to charges he was using the World Bank to further U.S. foreign policy goals.

Wolfowitz on May 15 appeared before the board and delivered a final plea to keep his job. He conceded he had relied ``much too long'' on advisers brought in from the White House and promised to put more trust in bank vice presidents.

``It is quite apparent that this matter has ceased to have much to do with the case itself --
and everything to do with issues about my management style and my policy choices,'' he said.

Wolfowitz, a former political science professor who also worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as a diplomat and policy maker, came to the World Bank bearing the baggage of his role in the Iraq conflict. He was often heckled by anti-war protesters during trips around the U.S. and abroad.

``For those who disagree with the things that they associate me with in my previous job, I'm not in my previous job,'' Wolfowitz said in an April 12 statement. ``I'm not working for the U.S. government, I'm working for this institution and its 185 shareholders.''

His anti-graft campaign also ruffled feathers. Wolfowitz failed to consult bank directors when he suspended loans to Chad, Kenya, India and Bangladesh in his drive to ensure aid money didn't line the pockets of corrupt politicians.

Detractors said the campaign had gone too far and had distracted the bank from its primary mission of fighting poverty.

Last year, the U.K. briefly withheld about $94 million from the World Bank, saying too many conditions had been attached to its loans.

Wolfowitz said he was surprised by the criticism.

``There's a little more resistance than I would have expected, and it doesn't come from the poor countries, it comes from the rich ones, which is kind of odd,'' he said in a March 9 interview in Kinshasa, Congo.

A former professor of political science at Yale, he served as ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the 1980s.

Yet he had scant experience running large organizations, unlike predecessors such as James Wolfensohn, a former Salomon Brothers executive, and Robert McNamara, the Vietnam-war era defense secretary and one-time president of Ford Motor Co.

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 Thursday, May 17, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz as President of World Bank: The End Game is Here


Andrew Leonard

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The endgame is here.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Paul Wolfowitz "is now negotiating over the conditions of his resignation."

The Financial Times is reporting that "the U.S. asked the World Bank board to adjourn its deliberations on the fate of Paul Wolfowitz for several hours on Wednesday amid mounting indications that a divided Bush administration could be close to conceding that the bank president will have to stand down."

There's far more at stake here: The presumably successful effort by Europe, Latin America and other regions to dislodge Wolfowitz represents a profound recalibration of global realpolitik.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has reigned alone as the supreme superpower. The absence of any countervailing force enabled and encouraged the Bush administration to pursue its spectacularly self-destructive foreign policies.

The very appointment of Paul Wolfowitz, key architect of the Iraq war, as president of the World Bank, reeked of imperial arrogance.

But for every action there is a counterreaction. The rest of the world is fed up.

As economic power in the world becomes more diffused across the globe, the ability of any one nation to call all the shots will progressively weaken. Understanding that fact will be key prerequisite to successfully negotiating future global challenges.

Which makes the following gem from a hot-off-the-presses Financial Times story on how divisions within the Bush administration on how to handle the Wolfowitz debacle have led to "complete internal dysfunction" at the White House all the more poignant.

The situation has been complicated by the fact that few people within the Bush administration understand what the World Bank does, says another official.

This has meant that the administration's shifting calculations have been mostly guided by day-to-day political deliberations rather than by an assessment of what would be in the longer-term interest of the U.S.
- Andrew Leonard

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 Monday, May 07, 2007

Douglas Feith and George Tenet: Teaching Recent History From Opposite Perspectives


Dafna Linzer

Read here full article in Washington Post

On Douglas Feith's first day as a visiting professor at Georgetown last year, he dropped in on another new professor down the hall. George Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, was friendly and welcoming, Feith recalled. Feith, who as the No. 3 at the Pentagon had served in the Bush administration with Tenet, suggested they get together for lunch.

Not long afterward, Tenet moved his office, four floors down. He told friends he wanted to be as far away as possible from Feith.

The tale of the two professors is shaping up as a reproduction in miniature of the Bush administration's titanic struggle over Iraq.

The two men, who played key roles in building President Bush's case for war, had spent countless hours together in meetings in 2002-2004, poring over intelligence and hammering out policy. Feith recalls the relationship as amicable, even if they often disagreed.

No longer. Tenet and Feith are teaching rival versions of recent history and taking their disagreements public. Each is teaching a class that reflects his own worldview and experience in institutions -- the Defense Department and the CIA -- that saw the world in starkly different terms. Both classes concentrate on al-Qaeda and the events preceding Sept. 11, 2001, as well as on Iraq.

"They come from such different points of view, the way they argue is so different, it is hard to imagine they worked for the same president," said David Salvo, a graduate student and one of only two students admitted to both classes.

In his new memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet draws an unflattering portrait of Feith as a man eager to manipulate intelligence to push the country to war. Last week, Feith, who is completing his own memoir, shot back. In a critical review published in the Wall Street Journal, he highlighted factual errors in Tenet's account while defending the work of his Pentagon office.

Feith said his memoir will portray an administration filled with intelligent people who expressed contrasting views about Iraq and al-Qaeda. Of Tenet, he said: "There was no animus between us. His experience came from inside the intelligence world, mine from the policy world. But obviously, we are writing books that are of a very different species."

Salvo said neither professor used the class to defend his record. "They stood on their principles but acknowledged where things went wrong," he said. They also blamed one another, with Feith noting the faulty CIA intelligence on Iraq's weapons program and Tenet lashing out at the Pentagon for questioning CIA analysts' work.

"There was definitely some tension over DOD's work where Tenet really resented the fact, and he made it clear, that DOD was challenging the CIA's assessments," Salvo recalled. "And Feith on so many occasions really was challenging the CIA's assessment, and he insisted that his office was not doing alternative intelligence work, but doing policy work."

The readings in Tenet's class, "Intelligence in Practice," focus on Bush administration policy and the history of intelligence. Feith's course, "The Bush Administration and the War on Terror," covers the Iraq war and the battle against al-Qaeda.

Each professor asks his students to play the role he gave up in 2004. Assignments include briefing the president on threats and preparing plans for war. At one point, Tenet played the president, grilling students about terrorism threats and chastising them for being unprepared for rigorous inquiry, Salvo recalled.

Both classes' reading lists include the 2004 report by the Sept. 11 commission. Tenet asks students to read the entire report. Feith assigns two early chapters on the rise of the al-Qaeda threat, leaving out portions elsewhere that criticize the work of his Pentagon office. Both rely on the writings of Bernard Lewis, a Princeton historian who has written extensively on the rise of fundamentalist Islam.

Two of the required readings on Tenet's syllabus are books by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, chronicling the administration's views of its first years in office. Woodward, who reviewed Tenet's memoir in yesterday's Book World in The Post, was also a guest lecturer in Tenet's class. Woodward's 2004 book, "Plan of Attack," said that Tenet assured Bush in December 2002 that the intelligence on Iraq's weapons was a "slam dunk."

In his memoir, Tenet called that a misrepresentation and said that he used the phrase to describe the ease with which a case for war could be made to the public.

" 'Slam dunk' came up on the very first day of class," Salvo said of Tenet's course. "He didn't really address it, but I remember him telling us that you own every word you say or write down and that it's with you forever."

Feith's longer reading list is focused more on al-Qaeda than on the Bush administration, but Salvo said the class discussion always veered toward the policies Feith helped formulate.

Students in Feith's class took their final exam Friday, and Tenet's students must complete a 10-to-15-page final paper this week. Tenet has declined newspaper interviews since his book was published, relying on television appearances to promote the memoir.

"I think both of them honestly said there are things they got wrong," Salvo recalled. "Tenet said on multiple occasions, 'We just got WMD wrong,' and from a professional standpoint that really bothered him. From Feith's point of view, I think the Iraq strategy and the policy are things he will believe in until the day he dies, but he readily acknowledged that the plans on the ground did not go well and that the Bush administration hasn't done the best job setting benchmarks for what is success in Iraq. They were both pretty honest."

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 Sunday, May 06, 2007

US Politics Playing with Iraqi Bllood


Nicola Nasser
(Nicola Nasser is based in Birzeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and has dedicated readership in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine)

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Bracing for the 2008 presidential election, US Democrats in opposition and the ruling Republicans have embroiled the American public in a political crisis between the executive and legislative powers over deadlines for combat operations in Iraq that could develop into a constitutional showdown.

For Arabs and Iraqis in particular it is merely playing electoral politics with Iraqi blood for oil because the Democratic alternative for President George W Bush's strategy, when scrutinised, promises them no fundamental change to the bloody status quo.

Building on the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group of James Baker and Lee Hamilton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engaged Syrian leaders amid cautious Arab diplomatic and media welcome (refer the UAE's Khaleej Times editorial on April 4, 2007) after her arrival in Damascus on Tuesday in a visit that enraged President George W Bush, in the latest manifestation of Democrat-Republican colliding approaches to secure American national interests in Iraq.

Pelosi said she hoped to rebuild lost confidence between Washington and Damascus, but American politicians of both mainstream parties have a long way to go before they could win over the hearts and minds of the wider Arab masses and redress the negative public image of their country among Arabs, an image that the occupation of Iraq has damaged probably beyond repair for a long time to come.

Democrats were perceived by Arabs as promising to offer an alternative to Bush strategy in Iraq, but so far have merely proved themselves responsive to their voters' anti-war sentiments: 60 per cent of the public wants to get out of Iraq, the election defeat of the Republicans was a strong indication of public sentiment, expectations have risen, yet the killing goes on, and in some ways gets worse.

Yet the Democrats' supplemental budget bill provides funding to continue the war, while setting a controversial date to end it, and there is disagreement on its strategic effect. They could neither raise the "mission accomplished" banner nor could promise to do so in the near future, not even after Bush's constitutional mandate expires. How do frustrated Iraqis and Arabs make sense of "this" Democratic alternative?

Large majorities of Arabs want US troops to leave Iraq sooner rather than later. According to a recent survey conducted between late February and early March in five pro-US Arab countries, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon, and released in Washington DC on March 28 by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Zogby International, a polling firm, 68 per cent of Saudi respondents said they considered Washington's influence in Iraq as negative, 83 per cent in Egypt, 96 per cent in Jordan. Earlier two surveys in late November and early December conducted by Zogby International in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco found not only that Washington's standing in the Arab world had hit rock bottom, but also that Iran was the principal beneficiary.

Nearly three out of every four respondents in Egypt and Jordan said they favoured an immediate withdrawal of US troops, while large pluralities in the other three countries favoured that option over withdrawal only after Iraq's unity and stability are assured, maintaining current US troop strength, or increasing it, as the Bush administration is currently doing. Indeed, support for the latter two options was less than 10 per cent in every country except Saudi Arabia. In addition, 47 per cent of Jordanian and 38 per cent of Egyptian respondents said they worried more about the prospect of a permanent US occupation of Iraq than about its partition, the spread of its civil war, or about the strengthening of Iran.

Similarly, 57 per cent of Americans support a withdrawal from Iraq according to a recent Newsweek poll. The findings from the Pew Research Center earlier this week said 59 per cent of Americans supported a withdrawal deadline. The Democrats rode to power last November on the public's discontent with the war in Iraq.

The growing public opposition in the United States to the war, the Democrats' electoral victory on an exit platform, which led them to the control of the Congress, and the American debate on the deadlines for exiting Iraq are all indeed public knowledge in Iraq as well as in Arab countries. However the Democratic "alternative" has yet to make its impact felt in a way that could improve the US image among Arabs and potentially this "alternative" will blacken that image further if and when it receives more scrutiny.

Would the Democrats' alternative end the occupation? Nothing is concrete and on record so far to indicate it would. Would it end the civil war? On the contrary it will make it worse as all statements by Democrat leaders point only to a "military redeployment" to extricate their troops out of the harm's way. How could a sectarian ruling elite, which is an integral part of the sectarian divide, end a sect-based strife on its own when they were unable to do so with the combined US-Iraqi forces? Moreover, is this so-called alternative essentially different from the Republicans' strategy? On the unity of Iraq, oil, long-term US military presence, civil war and the "benchmarks" set for the new Iraqi rulers both alternatives are essentially the same. Their looming showdown over deadlines for combat operations in Iraq would neither set a deadline for the end of Bush era in Iraq nor herald an end to the US era in the country.

True the House on March 23 voted 218 to 212 to stop paying for US combat operations in Iraq as of August 31, 2008; on March 27 the Senate voted 50-48 for a deadline on March 31, 2008. The narrow margin of both votes emboldened Bush to confirm he will veto both. Congress obviously doesn't have the two-thirds majority necessary to override his veto. It is almost certain Bush is going to keep his combat troops in Iraq for as long as he wants, until the deadline set by the US constitution for his exit on January 20, 2009.

Only then the Bush era will end in Iraq to make room for carrying on the US era in the country either by a new Republican or Democrat administration, which will depend on the outcome of playing politics with more Iraqi blood. The congress will continue the deadline play after its recess for two weeks.

Meanwhile Bush, in defiance of American public opinion and his Democratic rivals, is sending more troops to Iraq instead of bringing some back home, in a race against time to achieve a military success on the ground to pre-empt a Democratic electoral success next year, while the Democrats are manoeuvering to bet on his failure in Iraq to secure a victory in the US. Under the Bush administration's new Iraq policy announced earlier this year, the Pentagon has increased force levels in Iraq by about 30,000 troops. The United States has about 1,45,000 troops in Iraq.

Arab observers could not miss facts like that the Democrat-approved $124 billion supplemental funding was more than Bush himself requested; "We gave him more than he asked for, we gave him every dime that he asked for," said House Majority Whip Democratic Rep James E Clyburn. The Senate's March 27 vote on a withdrawal schedule was non-binding on the President. Democrats only require Bush to seek Congressional approval before extending the occupation and spending new funds to do so. All these factors and more boil down to simply empowering Bush to continue his bloody war for at least one more year, until the eve of the next election; the Democratic leadership is viewed merely to appear to oppose the war while continuing to fund it.

Common ground on 'Benchmarks'

Nor Arab observers, especially Iraqis, are missing the fact that the Democrats have adopted the same benchmarks laid out by Bush for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki. The House bill of March 23 mandates these benchmarks for the Iraqi government. If the Iraqi government fails to meet those benchmarks, US troops would be withdrawn at an earlier date. These benchmarks and the bipartisan consensus on them could only be interpreted as a bipartisan decision to empower the pro-US ruling Iraqi coalition to serve as Washington's proxy to combat the Iraqi anti-occupation resistance and terrorism, which boils down to nothing less than a decision to "Iraqise" the war, forgetting that the "Vietnamisation" was a bad precedent that failed to save the American neck in the Vietnam war.

"Iraq must take responsibility for its own future, and our troops should begin to come home," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The difference is only one of approach: Democrats seek to extricate US troops from the civil war militarily by redeploying them out of population centres and assigning their mission to Iraqis and diplomatically by engaging regional powers particularly Syria and Iran; Republicans want US military to enforce security first and install their Iraqi protagonists in the secured community centres before redeploying.

A second Bush-set and Democrat-adopted benchmark that the government of al-Maliki must meet concerns Iraq's oil industry and Iraqi multi billion-dollar oil revenues. Both rivals agree that the new Iraqi oil law should be adopted this year to favour investing foreign oil companies with 70 per cent of oil revenue to recoup their initial outlay, then companies can reap 20 per cent of the profit without any tax or other restrictions on their transfers abroad. Both parties seek to distribute the oil revenues on ethnic and sectarian basis in accordance with the new draft hydrocarbon law. The Democrats had proposed that by July 1 of this year Bush must certify that progress is being made on these issues or US "withdrawal" will begin within 180 days. The wide spread Iraqi opposition to this law is a major contributor to the civil war.

On maintaining the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq there is also a Democratic - Republican consensus on "federalism," which is also another contributor to civil war. Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat in the Senate on foreign relations matters and a presidential prospect for 2008, envisions an Iraqi "confederation" and not an Iraqi republic: "On Iraq, there is a Democratic alternative. And the bottom line of the alternative is that we're going to have to figure out how this president or the next president, whoever it is, how long it goes, turns around and makes sure there's more autonomy for each of the sectors that are there, the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds," he said. As per MSNBC report (March 31, 2006) the Arab leaders during their summit meeting in Riyadh on March 29-30 demanded the US-sponsored Iraqi constitution that stipulates federalism be reconsidered because it adversely affects the Iraqi national unity and the Arab identity of Iraq.

Similarly both electoral rivals want a US long-term military "presence" in Iraq. The White House certainly isn't expecting to maintain 1,60,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely, but it is planning a long-term occupation anchored in what the Pentagon has described as "enduring bases" and continues to construct these huge, imposing bases. Democrats too are on record as saying they want a long-term similar presence. The March 27 Senate resolution provides for a "limited number" of troops after the pullout date, which would be devoted to training and to "targeted counter terrorism operations". Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had this to say: "I think we're going to be left with the reality of something the size of a brigade, somewhere in the region, to make sure that the terrorists cannot occupy territory."

Biden says the "least important part" of the Iraq spending bill that recently cleared the US House and Senate is its target date for withdrawal of troops. More importantly "it redefines the mission of our troops from fighting in the midst of a civil war to doing what is rational for them to do, which is to continue to train Iraqi Army, to deny Al-Qaeda occupation of swaths of territory... and three for so-called source protection -- protecting our own forces," Biden said.

Another presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, who voted for the Iraq war resolution in October 2002, said she would retain a significant residual occupying force in Iraq to "contain the extremists", "help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north", "provide logistical support, air support, training support" to the Iraqi government, and to carry out larger geopolitical responsibilities like trying "to prevent Iran from crossing the border and having too much influence inside of Iraq". According to John B Judis, senior editor at The New Republic journal, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim, who has developed a strikingly similar plan, estimates that 75,000 American troops would be needed to carry out his plan. That's about half of the current force stationed in Iraq.

Democrats, Republicans or whoever regardless, to quote Noam Chomsky in an interview earlier this year, "the point in the Middle East… is that this is center of the world's energy resources. Originally the British and secondarily the French had dominated it, but after the Second World War, it's been a US preserve. That's been an axiom of US foreign policy, that it must control Middle East energy resources. It is not a matter of access, as people often say. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. In fact if the United States used no Middle East oil, it'd have the same policies. If we went on solar energy tomorrow, it'd keep the same policies. Just look at the internal record, or the logic of it, the issue has always been control. Control is the source of strategic power."

Bush remains delusional. He insists that he'll keep US forces in Iraq until they achieve "victory". Democrats challenge him to achieve the same "victory" differently! What does that mean?

Anti-war protesters in Washington and outside Pelosi's home in San Francisco were denouncing her and other congressional Democrats for not cutting off the money to fight the war in Iraq. If the war in Iraq is such an unnecessary and futile expenditure of blood and treasure as Pelosi and other Democrats have been saying, why not put an end to it? Their congressional resolutions put them on record as being against the war without taking the responsibility for ending it, they said.

A successful conclusion of Bush's new strategy in Iraq war before the 2008 elections can be a political disaster for Democrats; his failure can doom Republican electoral prospects. Many American analysts expect the civil war in Iraq to seriously shape the US presidential election next year. Both Democratic and the Republican approaches simply seek to leave it to the Iraqis to fight it out among themselves, which will inevitably exacerbate "that" civil war: For Americans it is the usual political power struggle.

For Arabs it is playing American politics with Iraqi blood for oil.

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