Wednesday, September 19, 2007
  Iraqi leader urges U.S. to cancel Blackwater contract

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on the U.S. government Wednesday to end its contract with Blackwater USA after a lethal shooting incident this week.

Blackwater employees patrol Baghdad by air in a February 2005 photograph.

Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats in Baghdad are banned from leaving the Iraqi capital's Green Zone for a second day after the U.S. government halted all civilian ground movements outside the heavily fortified section.

Iraqi officials have expressed outrage at eyewitness accounts that Blackwater contractors "initiated random and indiscriminate shooting at civilians" Sunday in Baghdad's Mansour area, according to an Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf.

The ministry said Wednesday that at least 10 Iraqis were killed and 10 wounded -- all civilians except for a traffic policeman killed while rushing to the aid of a family caught in the crossfire.

U.S. officials have not disclosed any casualty figures. The Blackwater USA contractors were guarding a State Department convoy.

Blackwater has denied the Iraqi government's account of events, saying its contractors "acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack."

The North Carolina-based company added that "the 'civilians' reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies, and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire."

Blackwater employees are part of an estimated 25,000-strong corps of private military contractors who protect diplomats, reconstruction workers and government officials in Iraq.

"We see the security firms ... doing whatever they want in the streets. They beat citizens and scorn them," one Baghdad resident, Halim Mashkoor, told AP Television News.

"If such a thing happened in America or Britain, would the American president or American citizens accept it?" Video Watch why Iraq's Interior Ministry wants to suspend Blackwater's license »

The State Department and U.S. Embassy officials refuse to offer any details on the incident, citing the ongoing investigation. But an initial State Department report said the convoy came under fire from eight to 10 people "from multiple nearby locations, with some aggressors dressed in civilian apparel and others in Iraqi police uniforms."

Sources: CNN, The Associated Press

The guards held off the attackers and called for backup, at one point finding their escape route blocked by an Iraqi quick-reaction force that pointed heavy machine guns at one vehicle in the convoy. A U.S. Army force, backed by air cover, arrived about half an hour later to escort the convoy back to the Green Zone, the report said.

At a Wednesday news conference, an Iraqi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, blamed Blackwater for "a number of violations" over the past month, citing reported incidents in two squares in central Baghdad.

On Monday, the Interior Ministry announced it was suspending Blackwater's license and halting the security contractor's operations in Iraq.

On Tuesday, the State Department issued a warden's message advising that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad "has suspended official U.S. government civilian ground movements outside the International Zone" -- the formal name of the central Baghdad district that houses the embassy -- "and throughout Iraq."

Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said Wednesday it is not clear if the ban on civilian ground movement applies to the entire country or just Baghdad.

En route to the Middle East for talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described her Monday conversation with al-Maliki regarding the Blackwater episode as "cordial."

Rice said she expressed Washington's regret over the loss of life and "committed to him that we were as interested as the Iraqi government in having a full investigation, a transparent investigation."

She also said the United States was working with the Iraqi government to make sure nothing such as this happens again.

A U.S. congressional report estimates that 200 private security guards have been killed in Iraq.

In one of the more highly publicized incidents, four American Blackwater contractors were mutilated and killed in March 2004 in Falluja, west of Baghdad. Two of their bodies were hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River, setting off two battles to reclaim the city from insurgents.

Several major newspapers in the Arab world tackled the Blackwater incident, with some treating it as a major story with accompanying comment pieces.

The London-based, pan-Arab daily papers, like Al Quds Al Arabi and Al Hayat, published the story on their front pages. They focused on Rice's phone call with the Iraqi prime minister and her "personal apology" -- not an official one -- for the incident.

Al Hayat wrote: "In an attempt to apologize for the Iraqis, Condoleezza Rice called the Iraqi minister and apologized personally for the killing of 11 Iraqis, and promised to take action and stop such things."

Al Quds Al Arabi wrote: "A lot of analysts believe that the Iraqi government cannot stop issuing licenses to these companies as they provide security to diplomatic delegations, and a lot of Iraqi officials."

Al Khaleej, based in the United Arab Emirates, accused those behind the incidents of being members of the Israeli secret service, Mossad.
  Congressman faces heat for comments on Jewish lobby

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, is under fire from members of his own party for recent comments claiming a major Jewish public action committee was behind the push to invade Iraq in 2003.

In the September issue of the Jewish magazine Tikkun, Moran is sharply critical of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), saying "AIPAC is the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning. I don't think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized… they have been able to exert power."

AIPAC tells CNN it has taken no position on the Iraq war.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, was quick to dispute Moran's charge.

"I think he certainly ought to retract the remarks, and indicate he believes that he was inaccurate on the facts," Hoyer said Tuesday.

“His remarks…recall an old canard that is not true, that the Jewish community controls the media and the Congress," Hoyer added.

A spokesman for Moran told CNN Tuesday, "It is not the Jewish people, but an organization aligned with the Bush Administration… that he critiqued."

In 2003, Moran apologized for saying Iraq would not have been invaded without the Jewish community's support. He survived a primary and got re-elected in 2004, but his latest remarks could prompt another challenge.

– CNN's Brian Todd Contributed to this report
Monday, September 17, 2007
  Alan Greenspan claims Iraq war was really for oil
Graham Paterson

Greenspan on the 'irresponsible' Bush

AMERICA’s elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.

In his long-awaited memoir, to be published tomorrow, Greenspan, a Republican whose 18-year tenure as head of the US Federal Reserve was widely admired, will also deliver a stinging critique of President George W Bush’s economic policies.

However, it is his view on the motive for the 2003 Iraq invasion that is likely to provoke the most controversy. “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,” he says.

Greenspan, 81, is understood to believe that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of oil supplies in the Middle East.

Britain and America have always insisted the war had nothing to do with oil. Bush said the aim was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam’s support for terrorism.
  Madonna: I'm an 'ambassador for Judaism'

STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM - Madonna toasted the Jewish new year with Israeli President Shimon Peres and declared herself an "ambassador for Judaism," local newspapers reported Sunday.

The singer, who is not Jewish, arrived in Israel Wednesday on the eve of Jewish new year to attend a conference on Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism.

Madonna met Peres at his official Jerusalem residence on Saturday evening and the two exchanged gifts, with Madonna receiving a lavishly bound copy of the Old Testament.

She gave Peres a volume of "The Book of Splendor," the guiding text of Kabbalah, inscribed "To Shimon Peres, the man I admire and love, Madonna," the Yediot Ahronot daily reported.

A Peres aide confirmed the meeting but had no details.

"You don't know how popular the Book of Splendor is among Hollywood actors," Yediot quoted Madonna as telling Peres. "Everyone I meet talks to me only about that. I am an ambassador for Judaism."

Madonna, who was raised a Roman Catholic, has taken the Hebrew name Esther, and has been seen wearing a red thread on her wrist in a Jewish tradition to ward off the evil eye.

But her interest in Kabbalah in recent years has been criticized by Orthodox Jews, who say it is an abomination.

Other celebrities who flew in for the Kabbalah conference included movie star Demi Moore and her husband, actor Ashton Kutcher, Rosie O'Donnell and fashion designer Donna Karan. Madonna came with her film director husband Guy Ritchie.

The Haaretz daily quoted Kutcher as telling a group of Israeli businessmen and entertainers on Saturday that Kabbalah had answered fundamental questions in his life and made him a better actor.

Rabbis who specialize in Kabbalah have criticized the interest by non-Jewish celebrities in the subject.

Jewish tradition holds that Kabbalah is so powerful and complicated that only bonafide students may begin to approach it and then only after age 40. Among the elements of Kabbalah are mystical revelations drawn from holy books by recombination of letters and other signs.

Rabbis were particularly incensed by Madonna's song, "Isaac," about the revered 16th-century Kabbalist rabbi Yitzhak Luria, which featured on her 2005 album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor."

During her visit, Madonna plans to visit sites sacred to Kabbalists. It was not known how long she intends to stay.

Madonna paid her first visit to Israel three years ago on another Kabbalah-centered trip.

"I can't believe that I'm celebrating the new year with you in Israel," Maariv newspaper quoted her as telling Peres on Saturday. "It's a dream come true."

Friday, September 14, 2007
  Giuliani Advisor: Raze Palestinian Villages BY Ken Silverstein
From Harper's Magazine: http://harpers.org/archive/2007/09/hbc-90001213

On September 11, staffers for Barack Obama had a campaign ad taken down that had appeared as a “sponsored link” on Amazon.com’s web page for The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the controversial new book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Obama’s campaign didn’t place the ad; it apparently appeared on the Amazon page because his campaign, like those of other presidential candidates, pay to have their ads pop up when people do searches for key words like “politics.”

That same day, in the face of questions from the media, Obama’s campaign released a statement saying that while he had not actually read the book, its conclusions were “dead wrong” and that the senator “has stated that his support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, which includes both a commitment to Israel’s security and to helping Israel achieve peace with its neighbors, comes from his belief that it’s the right policy for the United States.”

Yet just five days earlier, Daniel Pipes–who, as I first reported here, has signed on as a foreign policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign–essentially argued for war crimes against Palestinians, and there was no cry of protest from the media or anywhere else.

“Believing that if you don’t win a war, you lose it, I have long encouraged the Israeli government to take more assertive measures in response to attacks,” Pipes wrote on his blog on September 6.

In a Jerusalem Post piece six years ago, “Preventing war: Israel’s options,” I called for shutting off utilities to the Palestinian Authority as well as a host of other measures, such as permitting no transportation in the PA of people or goods beyond basic necessities, implementing the death penalty against murderers, and razing villages from which attacks are launched. Then and now, such responses have two benefits: First, they send a strong deterrent signal “Hit us and we will hit you back much harder” thereby reducing the number of attacks in the short term. Second, they impress Palestinians with the Israeli will to survive, and so bring closer their eventual acceptance of the Jewish state.

The Geneva Conventions label collective punishments as a war crime. “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed,” according to Article 33. “Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”

For the record, there’s much I disagree with in the Mearsheimer/Walt Book. But there’s something terribly wrong with the American debate on the Middle East when, due to public criticism, Obama’s campaign flees from an unintentional link to that book, while a Giuliani advisor argues for a policy of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians and his comments pass unremarked.
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