IRAQ: ‘Soldiers of Heaven’ Scare Wagged the Dog?

When the governor of Najaf called on U.S. air support for an Iraqi Army attack on a heavily fortified compound, the target was originally described as an al Qaeda-affiliated Sunni group — and then later a Shia doomsday cult — that sought to massacre Shia imams and pilgrims during a religious festival. But the Institute for War & Peace Reporting now cites “security officials” who claim no attack on imams and pilgrims was planned, and quotes Najaf’s deputy governor as stating that regional Shia leaders simply wanted to eliminate a rival militant Shia sect. “Shia rivalry sparked battle of Zarqa”
Institute for War & Peace Reporting, February 15, 2007
“Rebel Muslims longed for doomsday / ‘Heaven’s Army’ battled near Najaf with high-tech arms”
Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2007


A Peace Plan’s Ambition
A “blueprint” for stability in Iraq, proposed by former defense minister Ali Allawi, would replace American troops with an international security force, negotiate security treaties, and establish a “Middle Eastern Confederation of States” to bolster civil society and establish a collective supreme court. The Independent, which published Allawi’s original proposal, reports that the plan also calls for a decentralized Iraqi government divided into regions, and a World Bank-funded reconstruction council. Sources:
“The Iraqi proposals”
Independent (U.K), January 5, 2007
“From all corners, support grows for Iraq peace plan”
Independent (U.K), January 6, 2007

Christians & the War Staff Report
The latest al Qaeda terror attacks have sparked renewed media coverage of Islam’s relationship with violence, and have spurred questions about the role of moderate and liberal Muslims in preventing the spread of extremism. In America, the same schism plays out between Christian conservatives who invoke the “just war” theory of saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and pacifists who identify with Christ’s nonviolent example and teachings. The just war theory lays out criteria for Christians to follow when making the decision on whether or not to wage war. The BBC provides a detailed history of the just war theory, its Christian origins, and its basic proscriptions that such a war:
— must be for a just cause,
— is declared by a proper authority,
— is pursued with a righteous intention,
— is a last resort,
— has a reasonable chance of success,
— has an end proportional to the means used,
— should not cause innocents harm. Christian denominations such as evangelicals, Lutherans and Calvinists have drawn on the theory for centuries, according to Darrell Cole, a theologian at Drew University and a student of the Christian writer C.S. Lewis.

Who Are the Terrorists?

By Martin Leatherman, staff
When considering ways to curb terrorism after last week’s London bombings, some analysts say that Western leaders aren’t looking closely enough at the terrorists’ historical context and long-term goals. Professor Robert Pape, director of the University of Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, argues that strategic rather than religious issues are behind al Qaeda’s terror campaigns — specifically, the removal of Western powers from the Arabian Peninsula. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Pape said that of the 71 individuals who killed themselves in suicide attacks for al Qaeda from 1995 to 2004, the vast majority came from Sunni Muslim countries where the U.S. has stationed combat forces since 1990. In contrast, he said, Sudan and Iran, both deeply fundamentalist Islamic nations, have yet to produce an al Qaeda suicide bomber. Regardless, followers of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden see the strategic issues as serving a distinctly religious goal — the creation of a larger state, or caliphate, governed by Islamic law.

The Patriot Act

By Martin Leatherman, staff
This Fourth of July weekend, Americans will descend on their local parks and fire up the barbecues for a celebration of independence and liberty packed with fireworks and patriotic zeal. The Patriot Act, just four years old, has asked Americans to relinquish some of those hard-earned liberties in exchange for greater security. Passed by Congress in the emotional aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the controversial bill expanded the federal government’s investigative and intelligence-gathering powers to fight terrorism. Among other things, it allows secret searches of private property, defines terrorism broadly, expands the government’s ability to watch people, and opens Internet use and personal reading habits to federal scrutiny. Now, with portions of the bill due to “sunset” or expire, Congress has begun debating its reauthorization — and critics are targeting provisions they say are too easily abused.

Selling Weapons to the World staff report
A new report claims that America’s commitment to peace and security is belied by its status as one of the world’s leading arms dealers. “U.S. Weapons at War,” a study released this month by the New York City-based World Policy Institute, an affiliate of the New School University, finds that American weapons were sold to 18 nations currently involved in “active conflicts” — from U.S.-backed operations against Islamists in the Philippines and narco-militarists in Colombia, to regional power struggles in Angola, Nepal, Algeria, Indonesia, India and Pakistan. This comes in the same breath as a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which finds that in 2004 the nations of the world gave $1.035 trillion to the global arms industry — up 25 percent from 2003. The “primary driver” was the U.S., according to the BBC, which spent $235 billion on the war on terror from 2002-2004. The United States is also one of the leading sellers of weapons.

A Back-Door Draft?

By Martin Leatherman,
On May 12 the Pentagon won the latest in a series of legal battles over its “stop-loss” policy, which keeps soldiers on active duty after their contracts have expired. Critics call the policy a “back door draft,” since volunteers must serve against their will. The U.S. 9th district Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) that Emiliano Santiago, a National Guard Reserve sergeant, had to follow orders to remain with his unit after completing his eight year contract. The court said that since Santiago’s unit was mobilized before his contract expired, it was legal to keep him. An executive order activated stop-loss in November 2002, according to

‘Nuclear Earth Penetrators’

By Martin Leatherman,
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty meeting at the U.N. this month has spurred contentious debate about America’s pursuit of new, smaller nuclear weapons. The treaty was signed in 1968, and went into effect in 1970. President George H.W. Bush enacted a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1992, but the current Bush presidency’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review paved the way for today’s efforts to fund new testing. The president’s 2006 budget asks for $8.5 million — split between the departments of Energy and Defense — for research into a nuclear bunker buster. Supporters say Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators would be useful in the war on terror against hardened targets such as bunkers or underground chemical weapons arsenals.

Focus: Agent Orange Aftermath

Jodi Wynn,
Thirty years after the end of the Vietnam War, many seriously ill Vietnamese blame their conditions on exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed suit in February 2004 against 37 U.S. companies that produced the substance during the conflict in Vietnam, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto Company. Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the case on March 10, ruling that there was no expressed rule against the use of herbicides or poisonous gases at the time. Plaintiffs in the suit told the Associated Press they planned to appeal. The drive to appeal was bolstered by a March 11 conference hosted in Paris by the France-Vietnam Friendship Association.

FOCUS: Bolivia — a Talent for Upheaval Staff Report
Natural gas, cocaine, water, racism, widespread poverty, and a legacy of almost 200 coups in almost as many years are the prime motives behind Bolivia’s perpetual political unrest. In the latest chapter, the current president, Carlos Mesa, faces exactly the same kind of populist protests that unseated his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, in 2003. It was Lozada’s strict, World Bank-driven economic policies of privatization, government austerity and foreign investment that cost him his job. Fossil fuels dispute
Angry over what they saw as a giveaway of natural resources to non-Bolivian interests, a powerful coalition of impoverished Aymara Indians, labor unions, coca farmers and peasants, led by a charismatic socialist legislator, Evo Morales, undertook a series of protests, roadblocks and deadly riots that led to Lozada’s downfall. Mesa, at the time the vice president, took up the job as chief executive.