Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Iraq War News 20.Nov 2006 -- Attack on Iran Analysis

Regarding the coming attack on Iran, jump to The Next Act By Seymour M. Hersh further down this page...


Al Anbar Province

Bring 'em on: One Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5 died Sunday from wounds sustained due to enemy action while operating in Al Anbar Province.

Babil Province

Assailants shot to death Fulayeh al-Ghurabi, a Shiite professor at Babil University in the province south of Baghdad, as he was driving home from the school at midday, police said.

Professor Ali Feleeh Hassan was killed in the Mahaweel area near Babel, 100 kilometres south of Baghdad.


Bring 'em on: A soldier from 89th Military Police Brigade was killed by injuries sustained when his vehicle struck an Improvised Explosive Device southeastern Baghdad at approximately 8 p.m. Nov. 18

Gunmen attacked the convoy of an Iraqi deputy health minister on Monday, killing two of his guards, but the minister was unhurt. Hakim al-Zamily was the second Health Ministry official to be targeted in two days. Another deputy health minister was seized from his home by men in uniform on Sunday.

Another 45 bodies were found in Baghdad yesterday, police said, most apparent victims of kidnappers and death squads. More than 100 deaths were reported around Iraq in the past 24 hours.

The bodies of 56 murder victims, many of them tortured, were dumped in three Iraqi cities. In Baghdad alone, 45 were found.

On Monday, a roadside bomb exploded near a convoy carrying Iraq's minister of state, missing him and slightly wounding two of his bodyguards. Minister of State Mohammed Abbas Auraibi, a member of Iraq's Shiite majority, said in a telephone interview that the bomb exploded about 9:30 a.m. as his convoy was on a highway in eastern Baghdad.

In Baghdad on Monday morning, the bodies of 14 Sunni Arabs who had been kidnapped from their homes by men disguised as policemen were found. The victims, who were taken hostage in the mostly Sunni area of Dora of southern Baghdad on Sunday night, were found lying on a street in nearby Oreij, a mixed Sunni-Shiite neighbourhood of the capital.

At 10 a.m. in the mixed Iskan neighbourhood in northwestern Baghdad, police found four bodies of men who had been tortured and shot. The identities of the victims were not known.

The civilian victims of Monday's widespread attacks in Iraq included actor Walid Hassan, a famous comedian on al-Sharqiya TV who was shot while driving in western Baghdad. He had performed in a comedy series called Caricature, which mocked coalition forces and the Iraqi governments since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Three Iraqis were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded on the Mohammad al-Qasim highway in central Baghdad.

Iraqi official television channel al-Iraqiya announced the death and injury of numerous Iraqis in an explosion in Gameela al-Kabeer market in eastern Baghdad.

A roadside bomb in a crowded food market killed three people and wounded five others in Jamila district in eastern Baghdad, police said. An interior ministry source put the death toll at two, with seven wounded.

Christians in Baghdad fear yet another priest has been kidnapped. Fr Doglas Yousef Al Bazy - 34 years, Chaldean – left his parish yesterday morning and has not yet returned home.

In central Baghdad, a policeman was killed and three were wounded in an explosion in front of a local restaurant.


In Baquba, unknown gunmen killed a senior policeman in front of his house.

Gunmen opened fire at another senior police officer killing him and his personal driver.

Gunmen killed a police officer from the Facility Protection Services (FPS) along with his driver in Baquba.

Six civilians were killed in random gunfire attacks across the city.

Also in Baquba, gunmen attacked a police patrol killing a policeman and wounding three other Iraqis.


The bodies of 25 Iraqis who had been kidnapped and tortured were found on the streets of the capital and in Dujail, north of Baghdad (7 bodies in Dujail--18 in Baghdad).


A roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed two civilians and wounded three others in the town of Iskandariya.


A suicide car bomber rammed his car into a joint Iraqi police-army patrol and killed three soldiers and wounded four others, including a policeman, on Sunday in a town west of Mosul.

Professor Ahmed Hamid al-Taie, head of clinic department in Mosul University was gunned down by unidentified armed men at about 1:30 p.m. (10:30 GMT) in downtown of Mosul city while he was heading for home.


U.S. forces conducted an air strike and killed two suspected insurgents on Sunday in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, the U.S. military said in a statement.

A mortar round landed near a court and wounded three people in Ramadi.

A suicide car bomber exploded his vehicle near a police check point and killed two people, including a policeman, and wounded six others, including four policemen, in Ramadi.

The numbers are staggering: In the past eight days, at least 715 Iraqis have died in the country's sectarian bloodbath.

They've been beheaded, tortured and blown up while looking for work.

They've been shot, kidnapped and felled by mortars.

The number of killings in the past eight days is more than all but a few U.S. states see in a year. Iraq's death toll has reached at least 1,320 already in November, well above the 1,216 who died in all of October, which was the deadliest month in Iraq since The Associated Press began tracking the figure in April last year.

In a cycle that has been tracked by the American military since May and June, after months of apparently random sectarian violence the pattern has become one of attack and counterattack, with Sunni militants staging what commanders call "spectacular" strikes and Shiite militias retaliating with abductions and murders of Sunnis.

Militias come to funerals and offer to carry out revenge attacks. Gunmen execute blindfolded people in full public view. Mortars are lobbed between Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. Sometimes the killers seem to be seeking specific people who were involved in earlier attacks, but many victims lose their lives simply to even out the sectarian toll.

"The problem is that every time there’s a sensational event, that starts the whole sectarian cycle again," said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for the American command in Iraq. "If we could stop the cyclical nature of this in Baghdad, we could really change the dynamics here."

And if we could just get everyone – Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, al-Qaeda, George W. Bush and the Joint Chief of Staff – to sit down, hold hands, sing a verse or two of Kumbaya – why then peace would flower, we could all have a nice cup of warm milk, and go to bed to dream of ponies. It’s good to see our tactical thinking has evolved so much since the days of welcoming flowers and chocolates. -m

Regional Politics

With pressure also growing on U.S. President George W. Bush for a change of tack and his allies urging him to approach Washington's adversaries Syria and Iran to help stabilise Iraq, Syria's foreign minister visited Baghdad for the first time since the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein March 2003.

The past week has seen sectarian tensions come to a head inside Iraq's national unity government, which has yet to make headway on key issues six months after taking office on May 20 on a pledge to reconcile communities and avert civil war.

At a news conference uniting ministers who have been openly at odds over the fate of dozens of civil servants kidnapped by suspected Shi'ite militiamen, Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim said the security forces were hunting the kidnappers: "We are in a state of war and in war all measures are permissible."

Gee, that quote could have come straight from Abu Gonzales. Good to see our Iraqi puppets are on the same wavelength. -m

Sunni Arab sheiks from volatile Anbar Province denounced a powerful Sunni cleric on Saturday, calling him "a thug" for supporting the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and urging the Iraqi government to issue an arrest warrant against him.

The sheiks, the founders of a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, which they formed in September to resist foreign militants in Iraq, were reacting to statements that the cleric, Harith al-Dhari, had made in interviews last week in which he criticized Sunni tribal leaders who had recently decided to take a stand against Al Qaeda.

Anbar, a vast western desert province with Ramadi as its capital, is the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency, with various militant groups working to topple the Shiite-led government and end the American presence in Iraq. But as the fundamentalist members of Al Qaeda have tried imposing Taliban-like rule on areas of Anbar, some Iraqi tribes have turned against the group, leading to a further fracturing of what at least initially seemed to be a united resistance to the American invasion.

Mr. Dhari leads the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of conservative clerics that is outspoken in its criticism of the American occupation and the Iraqi government. In the interviews last week, he accused the Anbar council of trying to cozy up to the Iraqi government in return for money.

The trial of Saddam Hussein was so flawed that its verdict is unsound, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch says.

HRW said "serious administrative, procedural and substantive legal defects" meant the 5 November trial for crimes against humanity was not fair.

The Iraqi government has dismissed the report, telling the BBC that the trial was both "just and fair".

The ex-Iraqi leader has two weeks to lodge an appeal but his lawyer claims he has been blocked from doing so.

Iraqi, Syrian Officials Discuss Border Security

Iran calls for summit with Iraq, Syria

U.S. says 100 fighters a month enter Iraq from Syria

Rice warns Iraqis: 'Unite or you don't have a future'

US Strategerizing

The race is on to solve Iraq.

Since President Bush ordered a rush review of Iraq plans Tuesday, top officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA have huddled behind closed doors with deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch II to pull together ideas for the president to see when he gets back from Asia, officials said.

The independent Iraq Study Group, meanwhile, wrapped up its probe last week by interviewing former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright. It now begins the tough job of finding consensus among five Republicans and five Democrats to weld together recommendations.

A curtain has been drawn tightly around both efforts. But the difficulty in finding a way to salvage the most embattled U.S. policy since the Vietnam war is reflected in the fact that participants inside both reviews are still far from agreement -- with only a few weeks before their reports are due, according to sources familiar with both efforts.

The White House goal is to avoid being beaten to the punch, to finish either just as or slightly before the Iraq Study Group makes its recommendations, officials say.

That last sentence really says it all, doesn’t it? All politics all the time. -m

The United States should push for available and trained Iraqi security forces to be sent to the front lines of the fight to stabilize the wartorn country, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter said Monday.

"We need to saddle those up and deploy them to the fight" in dangerous areas, primarily in Baghdad, Hunter, a California Republican who is interested in his party's 2008 presidential nomination, told The Associated Press in an interview.

I guess Rep. Hunter doesn’t read TiI or he would know how many Iraqi security units have refused to deploy outside of their home areas. Another strategical genius. -m

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who returns to Iraq next month to take charge of the day-to-day fight as commander of the Multinational Corps-Iraq, says he departs for Baghdad with a clearer, perhaps even diminished, set of expectations of what the military can be expected to accomplish now, more than three years after the invasion.

"You have to define win, and I think everybody has a different perspective on winning," General Odierno said during an interview at the Army’s III Corps headquarters here.

"I would argue that with Saddam Hussein no longer in power in Iraq, that is a partial win," he said. "I think what we need is an Iraqi government that is legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi population, an Iraq that is able to protect itself and not be a safe haven for terror. That’s what I think winning is."

As a bugle sounded across Fort Hood with the call to lower the flag at dusk, General Odierno paused, and added, "Notice I left out a few things, such as a democracy in the sense that we see a democracy in the United States. We have to allow them to shape their own democracy, the type of democracy that fits them and their country."

What can you say? Three years into this fiasco and our top leadership openly admits they don’t even know how to define winning. God, what a waste. -m

The Bush administration is preparing its largest spending request yet for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a proposal that could make the conflict the most expensive since World War II.

The Pentagon is considering $127 billion to $160 billion in requests from the armed services for the 2007 fiscal year, which began last month, several lawmakers and congressional staff members said. That's on top of $70 billion already approved for 2007.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $502 billion for the war on terror, roughly two-thirds for Iraq. The latest request, due to reach the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress next spring, would make the war on terror more expensive than the Vietnam War.

The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.

…The military's study, commissioned by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, comes at a time when escalating violence is causing Iraq policy to be reconsidered by both the White House and the congressionally chartered, bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Pace's effort will feed into the White House review, but military officials have made it clear they are operating independently.

…"Go Big," the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in U.S. troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence. A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional U.S. and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police. That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the U.S. military and not enough effective Iraqi forces, said sources who have been informally briefed on the review.

…"Go Home," the third option, calls for a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown and bloody civil war.

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one -- "Go Long" -- and calls for cutting the U.S. combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of the training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the U.S. presence in Iraq, currently about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period, the officials said.

The purpose of the temporary but notable increase, they said, would be twofold: To do as much as possible to curtail sectarian violence, and also to signal to the Iraqi government and public that the shift to a "Go Long" option that aims to eventually cut the U.S. presence is not a disguised form of withdrawal.

Even so, there is concern that such a radical shift in the U.S. posture in Iraq could further damage the standing of its government, which U.S. officials worry is already shaky. Under the hybrid plan, the short increase in U.S. troop levels would be followed by a long-term plan to radically cut the presence, perhaps to 60,000 troops.

That combination plan, which one defense official called "Go Big But Short While Transitioning to Go Long," could backfire if Iraqis suspect it is really a way for the United States to moonwalk out of Iraq -- that is, to imitate singer Michael Jackson's trademark move of appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward. "If we commit to that concept, we have to accept upfront that it might result in the opposite of what we want," the official said.

Pelosi, Hoyer Say House Won't Consider Resuming Military Draft

Bush won't commit to Iraq troop changes

The Money Machine

The Pentagon has led the way in privatizing jobs once done by regular soldiers. The logistics provided by Brown & Root — now part of KBR, the engineering and military-services contractor unit of the Halliburton Co. — were central to the American deployment in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Halliburton's chief executive at the time, Dick Cheney, said: "The first person to greet our soldiers as they arrive in the Balkans and the last one to wave goodbye is one of our employees."

The Pentagon also has used private firms to train other countries' armies.

The nebulous aid provided to Croatia by one firm, Military Professional Resources Inc., is widely linked with that country's success in the final phase of Bosnia's war.

Using private contractors not only allows governments to conduct politically sensitive operations at arm's length, it also cuts the political cost of direct military operations. Dead contractors mean fewer protests than dead soldiers. Military casualties in Iraq are carefully recorded, but there are no firm figures for security contractors, though hundreds have died.

This year's Quadrennial Defense Review treats private contractors as an integral part of the "total force" at the Pentagon's disposal. But contractors have drawbacks. They are accused of profiteering, poaching experienced soldiers from regular military units and being less accountable than soldiers. Private contractors were involved in the torture scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but only the military interrogators have been prosecuted.

War, instability, and high oil prices have created a perfect storm of profit for the world's weapons manufacturers. This year, military analysts predict the biggest arms bonanza since 1993 … which is saying something because in the aftermath of the first Gulf War the global industry reaped the benefits of a $42 billion arms race.

As the world's largest producer and exporter, the United States is riding the wave. For fiscal year 2006, which ended on September 31, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency churned out notices for $21 billion in arms sales offers . In most cases, that agency is required to notify Congress of all potential major arms deals worth more than $14 million. In one typical day—September 28—the DSCA issued notification on $5.5 billion in agreements. South Korea would get $1.5 billion in Patriot missile equipment and other hardware, Turkey was offered a $2.9 billion package including 30 F-16 fighter planes, while Jordan and Chile were also offered weapons packages.

While not all deals are finalized with arms deliveries, these notifications are a way of taking the pulse of the weapons market … and it is racing. U.S. a rms sales offers for 2006 appear to be roughly twice the levels of any other year during the Bush administration.

Our Creeping Stalinism

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) spelled out his agenda for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, promising not only to look back at issues such as the surveillance of overseas phone calls, CIA detention activities and the use of prewar Iraq intelligence but also to look ahead at emerging global terrorist threats. Rockefeller will become chairman of the committee in January.

… Partisan disagreements have kept the panel from concluding the second phase of its review of prewar Iraq intelligence. The report includes a contentious section dealing with how information was used in public speeches to build support for the invasion. Rockefeller called that assessment one of "our core oversight responsibilities." He said it can be taken up "without raking over the old coals again."

The U.S. military called no witnesses, withheld evidence from detainees and usually reached a decision within a day as it determined that hundreds of men detained at Guantanamo Bay were "enemy combatants," according to a new report.

The analysis of transcripts and records by two lawyers for Guantanamo detainees, aided by more than two dozen law students, found that hearings that determined whether a prisoner should remain in custody gave the accused little opportunity to contest allegations against him.

"These were not hearings. These were shams," said Mark Denbeaux, an attorney and Seton Hall University law professor who along with his son, Joshua, is the author of the report. They provided an advance copy of the report to The Associated Press late Thursday and planned to release it Friday on the Internet.

Their report, based on an analysis of records of military hearings of 393 detainees, comes as the U.S. government seeks to severely restrict detainee access to civilian courts, arguing that the Combatant Status Review Tribunals should be their main legal recourse.

Interviews, Commentary, Opinion

Interview with Representative Dennis Kucinich: TRUTHDIG: I was just reading up on your [Nov. 15] appearance on Democracy Now!, in which you talked about cutting off the funds to Iraq as being the only way to make any progress there. Do you want to comment on that?

KUCINICH: Today, it was announced that 2,000 more Marines are being sent to Anbar province—a place which was already declared "lost" for the purposes of military occupation. Why are we sacrificing our young men and women? Why are we keeping them in an impossible situation? Why are we stoking a civil war with our continued presence? We have to take a new direction in Iraq, and that direction is out.

Now, there are many plans out there. The people talking about phased redeployment, the president as the commander in chief ultimately has the authority to determine the placement of troops. Congress’ real authority, and Congress’ constitutional [mandate] as a co-equal branch of government, requires that it be heard from, and I believe that Congress must exercise its authority to protect the troops by bringing them home. And the only way we can do that effectively is to vote against supplemental appropriations—which has kept the war going, or to vote against appropriation bills which fund the war. That’s Congress’ ultimate power—the power of the purse.

If we truly care about our troops, we’ll get them out. It’s the phoniest argument to say that a cut-off of funds will leave troops stranded in the field. There’s always money in the pipeline to pay for an orderly withdrawal. But those who favor continuing the war or escalating the war are using the troops as a tool to further policies that are against the interests of the troops, against the interests of [the] American people, and against the interests of peace in the world.

Ron Suskind: Oddly, Iraq may be the last place that Democratic investigators want to go, precisely because it is the arena from which the party's key above-the-fray "action plan" must emerge. So much is known from this year's host of Iraq books and stream of media disclosures that hearings would mostly unearth common knowledge -- a patience-trying prospect for a war-fatigued public.

Some Republicans would disagree. The goal of an investigation, and public hearings, they argue, is to destroy the targets. Ruin them, and whatever public purpose they champion is ruined as well. You have to make it personal. That's what people understand -- and that's what will create a public "moment" at a hearing table, one that will echo forward, even if the events in question are long passed.

Over in the people's chamber, some House investigators are quite clear on how to make things personal: Force administration officials to say that they lied or to take the Fifth Amendment. Two areas of modest public purpose, but fierce public passions, are the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch and the death of NFL star-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman. In both cases, government officials willfully distributed false information. To show how that sort of thing happens -- who crafted and authorized the release -- would lead to the question of whether the practice is part of approved policy, an issue that drives at the very character of this administration. (Suggested witnesses: Jim Wilkinson, deputy national security adviser from 2003 to 2005 and spinmeister for the Iraq war; Dan Bartlett, special assistant to Bush for communications; and Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command.)

Indeed, the results of the midterm elections suggest that people's eyes are adjusting to the Bush administration's message management innovations. Recent polls show that public concerns over how the government is handling the terrorism threat now surpass concerns over the handling of the Iraq war, which may mean that the administration's overall credibility problems are bleeding into what was once an area of relative strength for the president. Add the foiled terrorist attacks in London in August, and Americans can quite naturally be wondering what we're not being told on the terrorism front.

Unfortunately, as I've encountered repeatedly in my own reporting, discernible reality in the war on terrorism is mostly locked in a vault marked "classified." There is no realm in which more misinformation has been passed to the public, a result of the creative license that a largely secret war affords this -- or any -- government.

A mission of the Democratic Congress that would please both the gods of politics and of public purpose (they don't always intersect) may be to drag that war from the shadows.

Nir Rosen: Some realignment of power was inevitable after Saddam’s removal, and perhaps not even shared opposition to the American occupation could have united Sunnis and Shias. As it happened, the occupation divided Iraqis between those seen as anti-occupation and those seen as pro-occupation. The Shias I spoke with proudly pointed to the attacks of Muqtada’s militia on Americans in the spring and summer of 2004 as proof that they were as anti-occupation as the Sunnis. Nevertheless, Sunnis viewed Shias as the primary beneficiaries of the American occupation. And they were right: the Sunnis had been pushed to the side, dismissed from the security forces and the government, replaced in the government by Shias and Kurds, and treated as the enemy by the American military, which punished them collectively first for Saddam’s crimes and then for the insurgency.

After Saddam’s fall, the Sunnis were vulnerable. They had no leader; Saddam had gotten rid of the competition. Sunni clerics formed the Association of Muslim Scholars to protect Sunni interests and unite their leadership under the command of Baathists-turned-clerics. These clerics would soon call for boycotts of the Iraqi elections and would eventually control much of the insurgency, harboring the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, and other foreign fighters who targeted not only Shia civilians in markets, buses, and mosques but Iraq’s new security forces, which were filled with young Shia men.

Three years later, Shia religious parties such as the Iran-supported Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (its name a sufficient statement of its intentions), or SCIRI, controlled the country, and Shia militias had become the Iraqi police and the Iraqi army, running their own secret prisons, arresting, torturing, and executing Sunnis in what was clearly a civil war. And the Americans were merely one more militia among the many, watching, occasionally intervening, and in the end only making things worse. Iraqis’ hopes for a better future after Saddam had been betrayed.

This is a very extensive, detailed and informative article. This brief excerpt does not do it justice. -m

Senator Joe Biden: Our current policy in Iraq is a failure. We are past the point of an open-ended commitment. We are past the point of adding more troops. We are past the point of vague policy prescriptions. It is not an answer just to stay. Nor is it an answer -- though it may become a necessity -- just to go with no concern for what follows. The fundamental question we must answer is whether, as we begin to leave Iraq, there are still concrete steps we can take to avoid leaving chaos behind.

Six months ago Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I proposed a detailed answer to that question, which can be found at http://www.planforiraq.com. We had two fundamental premises: first, that the main challenge in Iraq is sectarian strife, for which there is no military solution; second, that putting all of our chips on building a strong central government cannot pay off because there is no trust within or of the government and no capacity on the part of the government to deliver basic services to the Iraqi people.

We argued instead for a strong federal system, as provided for in the Iraqi constitution, that gives its main groups breathing room in regions while preserving a central government to deal with truly common concerns; a fair sharing of oil revenue to make those regions economically viable; a jobs program to deny the militia new recruits; and a major diplomatic effort to secure support for a political settlement from Iraq's neighbors.

Doing all those things would enable most of our troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2007, with a small residual force to contend with concentrations of terrorists.

Mark Kleiman: The fundamental fact the country is going to have to confront over the next decade is our catastrophic defeat in Iraq. The fundemental political challenge for the Democrats is to fend off the "stab-in-the-back" narrative that worked so well for the Republicans after Vietnam (and for which the Republicans have never acknowledged their debt to the Nazis, who invented it). That narrative gave the Swiftboat attack on Kerry its power: whether or not he was a war hero was secondary to the undisputed fact that he was an anti-war hero, and thus in the view of many of his fellow Vietnam vets one of the authors of our defeat and thus partly responsible for dimming their glory as warriors and making their sacrifices meaningless.

A truthful narrative about Iraq would be "We were arrogant, and overestimated our capacity to shape the world to our visions." But that's not a story the country wants to hear. An alternative narrative, equally truthful, is "We took on a tough but potentially manageable challenge and blew it due to the incompetence and corruption of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress."

I would therefore nominate as the prime investigative targets for the next Congress:

1. Corruption and patronage in the CPA.
2. Corruption and crony capitalism in contracting in Iraq, especially for support of the troops but also for reconstruction.
3. Corruption and earmarking in the award of defense contracts.
4. Corruption and earmarking in the award of intelligence contracts.
5. Corruption and patronage in DHS and its White House predecessor office under Tom Ridge.

The goal should be to establish the following proposition in the public mind:

For all their tough talk, the Republicans are too incompetent and too crooked to entrust with the national security.

Suzanne Nossel: So what do we do next:

In short, develop a withdrawal scenario that includes whatever steps can reasonably be taken to minimize the chaos in our wake. A regional conference, talks with Syria and Iran, improved training and reconstruction efforts, political mediation and efforts to bolster the security of less violent regions should all be part of the package. To the extent we can engage Iraq's neighbors as well as any other global powers who are willing to step up to the plate and help us and Iraq, we should. We should be honest with ourselves and with the Iraqis about what we are doing and why, acknowledging all of the above rather than pretending that we're handing off a country that's in better shape than it is. But we should commit to getting out of there regardless of how the diplomacy and mediation progress.

Our exit should be as responsible and forthright as our entrance was wanton and misleading. The best thing we can promise troops who are now being asked to put their lives at risk for an all-but-declared failure is that they are taking risks to enable the US to make the best out of a terrible situation, preserving what can be saved of both Iraqi stability (in geographic pockets) and of American credibility. Its by no means the mission they signed up for, but its an important one nonetheless.

Arthur Silber: "The dreadful truth is that, no matter what strategy our leaders now settle upon, the fate of Iraq is slipping inexorably out of their hands."

And that is the "dreadful truth": we have unleashed forces that no one can now control, probably not for years to come. Moreover, we are now, as we have been for several years, an inextricable and significant part of the problem as long as we remain. There is no point whatsoever in our staying, not in the sense that it will improve the situation. But more Americans and Britons will be slaughtered -- just as countless Iraqis are slaughtered every hour of every day.

I actually think it was true almost immediately after the toppling of Saddam that there was no good solution to what we have done by invading Iraq immorally and illegally. I said just that in October of 2003 (see the second half of that entry in particular, where I republished an entry from over three years ago [It's Your Goddamned Mess. You Be "Constructive."]). Yet despite this blindingly obvious fact -- a fact which was clear to some of us before the invasion began, which is why we so strongly opposed it -- our governing class still searches for a miracle to save them. There will be no such miracle, and the chaos and death will continue into the foreseeable future. But they refuse to admit this -- for one unforgivably shabby, despicable reason: they will not admit they were wrong.


A Marine corporal who was based in Twentynine Palms and died in Iraq shielding others from a grenade will receive the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest decoration for valor. On Nov. 10, the day Cpl. Jason L. Dunham would have turned 25 and the day the United States Marine Corps turned 231, President George W. Bush announced he would confer the Medal of Honor onto the Marine.

Casualty Reports

A funeral was held in Manchester (New Hampshire) this morning for a Marine killed in Iraq earlier this month. Friends and family remembered 19-year-old Lance Corporal Ryan Mc-Caughn during a funeral Mass at Saint Anne/Saint Augustin Catholic Church. Mc-Caughn was killed by a roadside bomb two months after being posted overseas.

A UK security worker shot dead while travelling in a convoy in southern Iraq has been named as Simon Hall. Mr Hall, who was married and from Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was working for Securiforce International and had been in an armoured vehicle. The shooting happened on 17 November as the workers entered the country from Kuwait at a border point at Al Zubayr.

A 22-year-old Marine from Green Springs has been killed in Iraq. The Department of Defense is reporting that Lance Corporal Jeremy Shock has been killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah. Officials say Shock was riding in a Humvee with four other Marines when he was killed. He only joined the Marines a year and a half ago, and was just married in April.



The Next Act
By Seymour M. Hersh
The New Yorker
Monday 20 November 2006

Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?

A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting "shorteners" on the wire - that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put "shorteners" on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.

The White House's concern was not that the Democrats would cut off funds for the war in Iraq but that future legislation would prohibit it from financing operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government, to keep it from getting the bomb. "They're afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, à la Nicaragua in the Contra war," a former senior intelligence official told me.

In late 1982, Edward P. Boland, a Democratic representative, introduced the first in a series of "Boland amendments," which limited the Reagan Administration's ability to support the Contras, who were working to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. The Boland restrictions led White House officials to orchestrate illegal fund-raising activities for the Contras, including the sale of American weapons, via Israel, to Iran. The result was the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-eighties. Cheney's story, according to the source, was his way of saying that, whatever a Democratic Congress might do next year to limit the President's authority, the Administration would find a way to work around it. (In response to a request for comment, the Vice-President's office said that it had no record of the discussion.)

In interviews, current and former Administration officials returned to one question: whether Cheney would be as influential in the last two years of George W. Bush's Presidency as he was in its first six. Cheney is emphatic about Iraq. In late October, he told Time, "I know what the President thinks," about Iraq. "I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory." He is equally clear that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran. "The United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime," he told an Israeli lobbying group early this year. "And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."

On November 8th, the day after the Republicans lost both the House and the Senate, Bush announced the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the nomination of his successor, Robert Gates, a former director of Central Intelligence. The move was widely seen as an acknowledgment that the Administration was paying a political price for the debacle in Iraq. Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group - headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman - which has been charged with examining new approaches to Iraq, and he has publicly urged for more than a year that the U.S. begin direct talks with Iran. President Bush's decision to turn to Gates was a sign of the White House's "desperation," a former high-level C.I.A. official, who worked with the White House after September 11th, told me. Cheney's relationship with Rumsfeld was among the closest inside the Administration, and Gates's nomination was seen by some Republicans as a clear signal that the Vice-President's influence in the White House could be challenged. The only reason Gates would take the job, after turning down an earlier offer to serve as the new Director of National Intelligence, the former high-level C.I.A. official said, was that "the President's father, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker" - former aides of the first President Bush - "piled on, and the President finally had to accept adult supervision."

Critical decisions will be made in the next few months, the former C.I.A. official said. "Bush has followed Cheney's advice for six years, and the story line will be: 'Will he continue to choose Cheney over his father?' We'll know soon." (The White House and the Pentagon declined to respond to detailed requests for comment about this article, other than to say that there were unspecified inaccuracies.)

A retired four-star general who worked closely with the first Bush Administration told me that the Gates nomination means that Scowcroft, Baker, the elder Bush, and his son "are saying that winning the election in 2008 is more important than the individual. The issue for them is how to preserve the Republican agenda. The Old Guard wants to isolate Cheney and give their girl, Condoleezza Rice" - the Secretary of State - "a chance to perform." The combination of Scowcroft, Baker, and the senior Bush working together is, the general added, "tough enough to take on Cheney. One guy can't do it."

Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State in Bush's first term, told me that he believed the Democratic election victory, followed by Rumsfeld's dismissal, meant that the Administration "has backed off," in terms of the pace of its planning for a military campaign against Iran. Gates and other decision-makers would now have more time to push for a diplomatic solution in Iran and deal with other, arguably more immediate issues. "Iraq is as bad as it looks, and Afghanistan is worse than it looks," Armitage said. "A year ago, the Taliban were fighting us in units of eight to twelve, and now they're sometimes in company-size, and even larger." Bombing Iran and expecting the Iranian public "to rise up" and overthrow the government, as some in the White House believe, Armitage added, "is a fool's errand."

"Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there" - in the White House - "and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell - the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."

Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld's resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President's father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn't fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. "A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?" the former senior intelligence official said. "Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move - 'You're right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we're looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.' " But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran's weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, "He's not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he'll be taken seriously by Congress."

Once Gates is installed at the Pentagon, he will have to contend with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Rumsfeld legacy - and Dick Cheney. A former senior Bush Administration official, who has also worked with Gates, told me that Gates was well aware of the difficulties of his new job. He added that Gates would not simply endorse the Administration's policies and say, "with a flag waving, 'Go, go' " - especially at the cost of his own reputation. "He does not want to see thirty-five years of government service go out the window," the former official said. However, on the question of whether Gates would actively stand up to Cheney, the former official said, after a pause, "I don't know."

Another critical issue for Gates will be the Pentagon's expanding effort to conduct clandestine and covert intelligence missions overseas. Such activity has traditionally been the C.I.A.'s responsibility, but, as the result of a systematic push by Rumsfeld, military covert actions have been substantially increased. In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as "part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran." (The Pentagon has established covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri, and Baluchi tribesmen, and has encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime's authority in northern and southeastern Iran.) The government consultant said that Israel is giving the Kurdish group "equipment and training." The group has also been given "a list of targets inside Iran of interest to the U.S." (An Israeli government spokesman denied that Israel was involved.)

Such activities, if they are considered military rather than intelligence operations, do not require congressional briefings. For a similar C.I.A. operation, the President would, by law, have to issue a formal finding that the mission was necessary, and the Administration would have to brief the senior leadership of the House and the Senate. The lack of such consultation annoyed some Democrats in Congress. This fall, I was told, Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that finances classified military activity, pointedly asked, during a closed meeting of House and Senate members, whether "anyone has been briefing on the Administration's plan for military activity in Iran." The answer was no. (A spokesman for Obey confirmed this account.)

The Democratic victories this month led to a surge of calls for the Administration to begin direct talks with Iran, in part to get its help in settling the conflict in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke ranks with President Bush after the election and declared that Iran should be offered "a clear strategic choice" that could include a "new partnership" with the West. But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. "It's a classic case of 'failure forward,'" a Pentagon consultant said. "They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq - like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state."

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, "the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran's nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb - and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq." (Sadr, who commands a Shiite militia, has religious ties to Iran.)

In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Joshua Muravchik, a prominent neoconservative, argued that the Administration had little choice. "Make no mistake: President Bush will need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities before leaving office," he wrote. The President would be bitterly criticized for a preëmptive attack on Iran, Muravchik said, and so neoconservatives "need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes."

The main Middle East expert on the Vice-President's staff is David Wurmser, a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Like many in Washington, Wurmser "believes that, so far, there's been no price tag on Iran for its nuclear efforts and for its continuing agitation and intervention inside Iraq," the consultant said. But, unlike those in the Administration who are calling for limited strikes, Wurmser and others in Cheney's office "want to end the regime," the consultant said. "They argue that there can be no settlement of the Iraq war without regime change in Iran."

The Administration's planning for a military attack on Iran was made far more complicated earlier this fall by a highly classified draft assessment by the C.I.A. challenging the White House's assumptions about how close Iran might be to building a nuclear bomb. The C.I.A. found no conclusive evidence, as yet, of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency. (The C.I.A. declined to comment on this story.)

The C.I.A.'s analysis, which has been circulated to other agencies for comment, was based on technical intelligence collected by overhead satellites, and on other empirical evidence, such as measurements of the radioactivity of water samples and smoke plumes from factories and power plants. Additional data have been gathered, intelligence sources told me, by high-tech (and highly classified) radioactivity-detection devices that clandestine American and Israeli agents placed near suspected nuclear-weapons facilities inside Iran in the past year or so. No significant amounts of radioactivity were found.

A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the C.I.A. analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House's dismissal of the C.I.A. findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. "They're not looking for a smoking gun," the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. "They're looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission." The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency also challenged the C.I.A.'s analysis. "The D.I.A. is fighting the agency's conclusions, and disputing its approach," the former senior intelligence official said. Bush and Cheney, he added, can try to prevent the C.I.A. assessment from being incorporated into a forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear capabilities, "but they can't stop the agency from putting it out for comment inside the intelligence community." The C.I.A. assessment warned the White House that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran merely meant that the Iranians had done a good job of hiding it. The former senior intelligence official noted that at the height of the Cold War the Soviets were equally skilled at deception and misdirection, yet the American intelligence community was readily able to unravel the details of their long-range-missile and nuclear-weapons programs. But some in the White House, including in Cheney's office, had made just such an assumption - that "the lack of evidence means they must have it," the former official said.

Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, under which it is entitled to conduct nuclear research for peaceful purposes. Despite the offer of trade agreements and the prospect of military action, it defied a demand by the I.A.E.A. and the Security Council, earlier this year, that it stop enriching uranium - a process that can produce material for nuclear power plants as well as for weapons - and it has been unable, or unwilling, to account for traces of plutonium and highly enriched uranium that have been detected during I.A.E.A. inspections. The I.A.E.A. has complained about a lack of "transparency," although, like the C.I.A., it has not found unambiguous evidence of a secret weapons program.

Last week, Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced that Iran had made further progress in its enrichment research program, and said, "We know that some countries may not be pleased." He insisted that Iran was abiding by international agreements, but said, "Time is now completely on the side of the Iranian people." A diplomat in Vienna, where the I.A.E.A. has its headquarters, told me that the agency was skeptical of the claim, for technical reasons. But Ahmadinejad's defiant tone did nothing to diminish suspicions about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"There is no evidence of a large-scale covert enrichment program inside Iran," one involved European diplomat said. "But the Iranians would not have launched themselves into a very dangerous confrontation with the West on the basis of a weapons program that they no longer pursue. Their enrichment program makes sense only in terms of wanting nuclear weapons. It would be inconceivable if they weren't cheating to some degree. You don't need a covert program to be concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions. We have enough information to be concerned without one. It's not a slam dunk, but it's close to it."

There are, however, other possible reasons for Iran's obstinacy. The nuclear program - peaceful or not - is a source of great national pride, and President Ahmadinejad's support for it has helped to propel him to enormous popularity. (Saddam Hussein created confusion for years, inside and outside his country, about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, in part to project an image of strength.) According to the former senior intelligence official, the C.I.A.'s assessment suggested that Iran might even see some benefits in a limited military strike - especially one that did not succeed in fully destroying its nuclear program - in that an attack might enhance its position in the Islamic world. "They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon," the former senior official said. In both cases, a more powerful military force had trouble achieving its military or political goals; in Lebanon, Israel's war against Hezbollah did not destroy the group's entire arsenal of rockets, and increased the popularity of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

The former senior intelligence official added that the C.I.A. assessment raised the possibility that an American attack on Iran could end up serving as a rallying point to unite Sunni and Shiite populations. "An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we'll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us - and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West. It's an analyst's worst nightmare - for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East." (An Islamic caliphate ruled the Middle East for over six hundred years, until the thirteenth century.)

According to the Pentagon consultant, "The C.I.A.'s view is that, without more intelligence, a large-scale bombing attack would not stop Iran's nuclear program. And a low-end campaign of subversion and sabotage would play into Iran's hands - bolstering support for the religious leadership and deepening anti-American Muslim rage."

The Pentagon consultant said that he and many of his colleagues in the military believe that Iran is intent on developing nuclear-weapons capability. But he added that the Bush Administration's options for dealing with that threat are diminished, because of a lack of good intelligence and also because "we've cried wolf" before.

As the C.I.A.'s assessment was making its way through the government, late this summer, current and former military officers and consultants told me, a new element suddenly emerged: intelligence from Israeli spies operating inside Iran claimed that Iran has developed and tested a trigger device for a nuclear bomb. The provenance and significance of the human intelligence, or HUMINT, are controversial. "The problem is that no one can verify it," the former senior intelligence official told me. "We don't know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms" - simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials - "but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead - a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don't have that." And yet, he said, the report was being used by White House hawks within the Administration to "prove the White House's theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can't find it." Still, he said, "The agency is standing its ground."

The Pentagon consultant, however, told me that he and other intelligence professionals believe that the Israeli intelligence should be taken more seriously. "We live in an era when national technical intelligence" - data from satellites and on-the-ground sensors - "will not get us what we need. HUMINT may not be hard evidence by that standard, but very often it's the best intelligence we can get." He added, with obvious exasperation, that within the intelligence community "we're going to be fighting over the quality of the information for the next year." One reason for the dispute, he said, was that the White House had asked to see the "raw" - the original, unanalyzed and unvetted - Israeli intelligence. Such "stovepiping" of intelligence had led to faulty conclusions about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction during the buildup to the 2003 Iraq war. "Many Presidents in the past have done the same thing," the consultant said, "but intelligence professionals are always aghast when Presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read 'Ulysses.' "

HUMINT can be difficult to assess. Some of the most politically significant - and most inaccurate - intelligence about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction came from an operative, known as Curveball, who was initially supplied to the C.I.A. by German intelligence. But the Pentagon consultant insisted that, in this case, "the Israeli intelligence is apparently very strong." He said that the information about the trigger device had been buttressed by another form of highly classified data, known as MASINT, for "measuring and signature" intelligence. The Defense Intelligence Agency is the central processing and dissemination point for such intelligence, which includes radar, radio, nuclear, and electro-optical data. The consultant said that the MASINT indicated activities that "are not consistent with the programs" Iran has declared to the I.A.E.A. "The intelligence suggests far greater sophistication and more advanced development," the consultant said. "The indications don't make sense, unless they're farther along in some aspects of their nuclear-weapons program than we know."

In early 2004, John Bolton, who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control (he is now the United Nations Ambassador), privately conveyed to the I.A.E.A. suspicions that Iran was conducting research into the intricately timed detonation of conventional explosives needed to trigger a nuclear warhead at Parchin, a sensitive facility twenty miles southeast of Tehran that serves as the center of Iran's Defense Industries Organization. A wide array of chemical munitions and fuels, as well as advanced antitank and ground-to-air missiles, are manufactured there, and satellite imagery appeared to show a bunker suitable for testing very large explosions.

A senior diplomat in Vienna told me that, in response to the allegations, I.A.E.A. inspectors went to Parchin in November of 2005, after months of negotiation. An inspection team was allowed to single out a specific site at the base, and then was granted access to a few buildings there. "We found no evidence of nuclear materials," the diplomat said. The inspectors looked hard at an underground explosive-testing pit that, he said, "resembled what South Africa had when it developed its nuclear weapons," three decades ago. The pit could have been used for the kind of kinetic research needed to test a nuclear trigger. But, like so many military facilities with dual-use potential, "it also could be used for other things," such as testing fuel for rockets, which routinely takes place at Parchin. "The Iranians have demonstrated that they can enrich uranium," the diplomat added, "and trigger tests without nuclear yield can be done. But it's a very sophisticated process - it's also known as hydrodynamic testing - and only countries with suitably advanced nuclear testing facilities as well as the necessary scientific expertise can do it. I'd be very skeptical that Iran could do it."

Earlier this month, the allegations about Parchin reëmerged when Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest newspaper, reported that recent satellite imagery showed new "massive construction" at Parchin, suggesting an expansion of underground tunnels and chambers. The newspaper sharply criticized the I.A.E.A.'s inspection process and its director, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, for his insistence on "using very neutral wording for his findings and his conclusions."

Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran who is the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a conservative think tank, told me that the "biggest moment" of tension has yet to arrive: "How does the United States keep an Israeli decision point - one that may come sooner than we want - from being reached?" Clawson noted that there is evidence that Iran has been slowed by technical problems in the construction and operation of two small centrifuge cascades, which are essential for the pilot production of enriched uranium. Both are now under I.A.E.A. supervision. "Why were they so slow in getting the second cascade up and running?" Clawson asked. "And why haven't they run the first one as much as they said they would? Do we have more time?

"Why talk about war?" he said. "We're not talking about going to war with North Korea or Venezuela. It's not necessarily the case that Iran has started a weapons program, and it's conceivable - just conceivable - that Iran does not have a nuclear-weapons program yet. We can slow them down - force them to reinvent the wheel - without bombing, especially if the international conditions get better."

Clawson added that Secretary of State Rice has "staked her reputation on diplomacy, and she will not risk her career without evidence. Her team is saying, 'What's the rush?' The President wants to solve the Iranian issue before leaving office, but he may have to say, 'Darn, I wish I could have solved it.' "

Earlier this year, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert created a task force to coördinate all the available intelligence on Iran. The task force, which is led by Major General Eliezer Shkedi, the head of the Israeli Air Force, reports directly to the Prime Minister. In late October, Olmert appointed Ephraim Sneh, a Labor Party member of the Knesset, to serve as Deputy Defense Minister. Sneh, who served previously in that position under Ehud Barak, has for years insisted that action be taken to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. In an interview this month with the Jerusalem Post, Sneh expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of diplomacy or international sanctions in curbing Iran:

The danger isn't as much Ahmadinejad's deciding to launch an attack but Israel's living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction... . Most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with families, and Israelis who can live abroad will ... I am afraid Ahmadinejad will be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs.

A similar message was delivered by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader, in a speech in Los Angeles last week. "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs," he said, adding that there was "still time" to stop the Iranians.

The Pentagon consultant told me that, while there may be pressure from the Israelis, "they won't do anything on their own without our green light." That assurance, he said, "comes from the Cheney shop. It's Cheney himself who is saying, 'We're not going to leave you high and dry, but don't go without us.' " A senior European diplomat agreed: "For Israel, it is a question of life or death. The United States does not want to go into Iran, but, if Israel feels more and more cornered, there may be no other choice."

A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt - all led by Sunni governments - would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves. The Bush Administration, if it does take military action against Iran, would have support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Senators Hillary Clinton, of New York, and Evan Bayh, of Indiana, who are potential Democratic Presidential candidates, have warned that Iran cannot be permitted to build a bomb and that - as Clinton said earlier this year - "we cannot take any option off the table." Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has also endorsed this view. Last May, Olmert was given a rousing reception when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, "A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die - the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail."

Despite such rhetoric, Leslie Gelb, a former State Department official who is a president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said he believes that, "when push comes to shove, the Israelis will have a hard time selling the idea that an Iranian nuclear capability is imminent. The military and the State Department will be flat against a preëmptive bombing campaign." Gelb said he hoped that Gates's appointment would add weight to America's most pressing issue - "to get some level of Iranian restraint inside Iraq. In the next year or two, we're much more likely to be negotiating with Iran than bombing it."

The Bush Administration remains publicly committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear impasse, and has been working with China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain to get negotiations under way. So far, that effort has foundered; the most recent round of talks broke up early in November, amid growing disagreements with Russia and China about the necessity of imposing harsh United Nations sanctions on the Iranian regime. President Bush is adamant that Iran must stop all of its enrichment programs before any direct talks involving the United States can begin.

The senior European diplomat told me that the French President, Jacques Chirac, and President Bush met in New York on September 19th, as the new U.N. session was beginning, and agreed on what the French called the "Big Bang" approach to breaking the deadlock with Iran. A scenario was presented to Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian negotiator on nuclear issues. The Western delegation would sit down at a negotiating table with Iran. The diplomat told me, "We would say, 'We're beginning the negotiations without preconditions,' and the Iranians would respond, 'We will suspend.' Our side would register great satisfaction, and the Iranians would agree to accept I.A.E.A. inspection of their enrichment facilities. And then the West would announce, in return, that they would suspend any U.N. sanctions." The United States would not be at the table when the talks began but would join later. Larijani took the offer to Tehran; the answer, as relayed by Larijani, was no, the diplomat said. "We were trying to compromise, for all sides, but Ahmadinejad did not want to save face," the diplomat said. "The beautiful scenario has gone nowhere."

Last week, there was a heightened expectation that the Iraq Study Group would produce a set of recommendations that could win bipartisan approval and guide America out of the quagmire in Iraq. Sources with direct knowledge of the panel's proceedings have told me that the group, as of mid-November, had ruled out calling for an immediate and complete American withdrawal but would recommend focussing on the improved training of Iraqi forces and on redeploying American troops. In the most significant recommendation, Baker and Hamilton were expected to urge President Bush to do what he has thus far refused to do - bring Syria and Iran into a regional conference to help stabilize Iraq.

It is not clear whether the Administration will be receptive. In August, according to the former senior intelligence official, Rumsfeld asked the Joint Chiefs to quietly devise alternative plans for Iraq, to preëmpt new proposals, whether they come from the new Democratic majority or from the Iraq Study Group. "The option of last resort is to move American forces out of the cities and relocate them along the Syrian and Iranian border," the former official said. "Civilians would be hired to train the Iraqi police, with the eventual goal of separating the local police from the Iraqi military. The White House believes that if American troops stay in Iraq long enough - with enough troops - the bad guys will end up killing each other, and Iraqi citizens, fed up with internal strife, will come up with a solution. It'll take a long time to move the troops and train the police. It's a time line to infinity."

In a subsequent interview, the former senior Bush Administration official said that he had also been told that the Pentagon has been at work on a plan in Iraq that called for a military withdrawal from the major urban areas to a series of fortified bases near the borders. The working assumption was that, with the American troops gone from the most heavily populated places, the sectarian violence would "burn out." "The White House is saying it's going to stabilize," the former senior Administration official said, "but it may stabilize the wrong way."

One problem with the proposal that the Administration enlist Iran in reaching a settlement of the conflict in Iraq is that it's not clear that Iran would be interested, especially if the goal is to help the Bush Administration extricate itself from a bad situation.

"Iran is emerging as a dominant power in the Middle East," I was told by a Middle East expert and former senior Administration official. "With a nuclear program, and an ability to interfere throughout the region, it's basically calling the shots. Why should they coöperate with us over Iraq?" He recounted a recent meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who challenged Bush's right to tell Iran that it could not enrich uranium. "Why doesn't America stop enriching uranium?" the Iranian President asked. He laughed, and added, "We'll enrich it for you and sell it to you at a fifty-per-cent discount."

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