Pentagon, Republicans kill 9/11 commission bill

When you've been living in a military dictatorship for several years, this kind of thing sends a shiver of recognition:
House Republican leaders blocked and appeared to kill a bill Saturday that would have enacted the major recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, refusing to allow a vote on the legislation despite last-minute pleas from both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to Republican lawmakers for a compromise before Congress adjourned for the year.
The decision to block a vote on the landmark bill, which would have created the job of a cabinet-level national intelligence director to oversee the C.I.A. and the government's other spy agencies, came after what lawmakers from both parties described as a near-rebellion by a core of highly conservative House Republicans aligned with the Pentagon who were emboldened to stand up to their leadership and to the White House.
The bill would have forced the Pentagon, which controls an estimated 80 percent of the government's $40 billion intelligence budget, to cede much of its authority on intelligence issues to a national intelligence director.
"What you are seeing is the forces in favor of the status quo protecting their turf, whether it is Congress or in the bureaucracy," said Senator Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who was the chief Senate author of the failed compromise bill, in what amounted to a slap at her Republican counterparts in the House.
The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, Thomas H. Kean, a Republican and the former governor of New Jersey, said that the lawmakers who blocked the vote should be held accountable by the public, and he blamed senior Pentagon officials as well.
"I think there's no question that there are people in the Pentagon who want the status quo, and they fought very hard with their allies in Congress for the status quo," Mr. Kean said.
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Meeting Anonymous

Choice quotes from Meet The Press with Michael Scheuer, the rather bizarre author of Imperial Hubris:
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers from your book this quote: "U.S. leaders refuse to accept the obvious: We are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency--not criminality or terrorism--and our policy and procedures have failed to make more than a modest dent in enemy forces."
Do you believe we're losing the war on terror?
MR. SCHEUER: I think without question we're losing the war on terror, sir, not because they are stronger than us but because we resolutely refuse to recognize the motivation of the enemy is grounded so thoroughly in their religion and their perception that American policies are a threat to annihilate that religion. And that's not to say we should sympathize or empathize with their position, but certainly if you're going to destroy your enemy, you better understand what he's about.
. . .
MR. RUSSERT: I want to read something else from your book. "The military is now America's only tool and will remain so while current policies are in place. No public diplomacy, presidential praise for Islam, or politically correct debate masking the reality that many of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims hate us for actions, not values, will get America out of this war."
"Actions, not values." What are the actions that created this hatred in the Muslim world?
MR. SCHEUER: Our foreign policy, sir, about six items that bin Laden has isolated. I think if has a genius, that's one of them. He has created an agenda that appeals to Muslims whether they are fundamentalists or liberals or moderates. Our unqualified support for Israel is one. Our ability to keep oil prices low, enough for Western consumers, is another. Our presence on the Arabian peninsula certainly is another. Our military presence in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in Yemen, in the Philippines, in other Muslim countries is a fourth. Our support for governments that are widely viewed as suppressing Muslims--Russia and Chechnya, for example, the Indians in Kashmir, the Chinese in Western China. But perhaps most of all, our policy of supporting what bin Laden and I think much of the Muslim world regards as tyrannical governments from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, whether it's the Al Sauds, the Kuwaitis, the Egyptian government, the Algerian government. He's focused Muslims on those policies and it is a very resonant agenda.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "unqualified support for Israel," I received an e-mail from a former colleague of yours at the CIA and it said that Scheuer's basic premise is blame the Jews, that the reason we're in this fix is because of our support for Israel.
MR. SCHEUER: No, that's hardly the case. Indeed, the Arab-Israeli problem for so long was just a minor annoyance in the terms of our perception in the Muslim world.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say "politically correct debate," what are you talking about?
MR. SCHEUER: Yeah. What I'm talking about is an American landscape littered with politicians who have dared question our relationship with Israel. No one is advocating dumping Israel as an ally. We have, unfortunately for America, a long history of abandoning allies. But there is a perception in the Muslim world, and I think there's a perception on the part of many Americans, that the tail is leading the dog on this case. And perception, for better or worse, is often reality.
MR. RUSSERT: So what would you do?
MR. SCHEUER: I think we need to take a position with Israel that suits American interests.
MR. RUSSERT: Such as?
MR. SCHEUER: Such as perhaps being more insistent on some arrangement with the settlements. Certainly, no one is going to withdraw the protective umbrella of the United States, but at some point, Americans need to look after their own interests first.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you believe that being "tough on Israel" would in any way change Osama bin Laden's agenda or desire to destroy America?
MR. SCHEUER: His agenda is not to destroy America, Mr. Russert. He simply wants us out of his neighborhood. He wants us out of the Middle East. And I'm not--no, it would not change his agenda, but my point here is that America has a choice between war and endless war with the forces led by Osama bin Laden. And at some point, we need to take actions in our own interests that limit his ability to grow in power and popularity in the Muslim world.
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Locusts over Cairo

Locusts over the PyramidsMoritz left a comment in a previous post asking about the locust swarm that came over Cairo a couple of days ago and is making its way to the Mediterranean. I didn't see it myself -- they didn't come to my neighborhood -- and I think it was pretty localized. My pals over at Reuters -- whose Cairo offices in central Cairo are high up with a great view of the city and the Pyramids (if the smog isn't too dense) seem to have gotten a good shot, as you can see from the picture on the right. What was funny is that state TV interrupted normal broadcasts and some minister (I can't remember which) said that people has nothing to worry about as they were not aggressive. My cleaning lady was there when we were watching it, and, in typical Egyptian fashion, assured me the minister was a liar and that she had it on good evidence from a friend of a friend of her sister's that a women in her neighborhood had been attacked and that the locusts had pocked holes in her face. More seriously, the locusts could have done serious damage to crops if it had been slightly hotter -- they don't feed below 30C, apparently. Where they might be causing a famine, however, is in already impoverished Mauritania. If you want to help, donate to Oxfam which has a program to help with the locust attack.
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Arafat's medical files released, but not public yet

Some recent developments on the causes of Arafat's death story:
  • The French government has said that Arafat was not poisoned.
    "If the doctors had had the slightest doubt, they would have referred it to the police. I note that permission was given for him to be buried," government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said after the weekly French cabinet meeting.
  • The Palestinian leadership has been wondering publicly about the cause of his death, but brushed aside allegations that he was poisoned by Israel:
    "The conditions surrounding the death of President Yasser Arafat raises questions," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie's office said in a statement.
    Palestinian leaders have dismissed speculation among ordinary Palestinians that Arafat was poisoned by Israel, which has also denied any involvement. No evidence has been provided to back the allegation of poisoning.
    France's Le Monde newspaper quoted doctors on Wednesday as saying Arafat, 75, a longtime symbol of Palestinian nationalism, suffered from an unusual blood disease and a liver problem.
  • Our favorite Zionist hack, Daniel Pipes, is pushing for the AIDS theory in this ridiculous post where he suggests that Arafat dying of AIDS is "what is really on the minds of serious people" and praises the tabloid for covering this issue while the broadsheets haven't mentioned it. It continue to boggle the mind that this guy has any credibility.
  • Suha Arafat dashed from Paris from her hideaway in Tunisia (she's been living between Tunisia and Paris for the past few years and is very close to Tunisian President Ben Ali's wife -- one of the most corrupt Arab first ladies, by the way) to beat Yasser Arafat's nephew to get the medical files:
    Suha Arafat has been given copies of the medical files of her late husband Yasser Arafat and then flew to Tunisia, as the late Palestinian president's nephew was expected in the French capital to pick up the same documents amid some controversy.
    Defence ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said Arafat's nephew, Nasser al-Qidwa, who was travelling to Paris, had the right to access to the information if he requested it.
    But the Paris lawyers of Suha Arafat had said the dossier should only be given to "the children and the widow."
    Bureau told AFP that it was not up to the ministry to confirm or deny what the lawyers believed but in any case Qidwa had the right to see the file if he so wished.
  • So hopefully this will mean she'll make the causes of his death public soon -- unless there's something embarrassing to hide.
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    Bin Talal backs Murdoch

    It would seem weird if an Arab prince and business would save Fox News from slipping from Rupert Murdoch's hands, wouldn't it? Well, that may very well happen:
    The Australian Financial Review said Thursday that Prince Alaweed bin Talal, listed by Forbes as the world's fourth-wealthiest individual, had thrown his support firmly behind Murdoch.
    The prince owns about three percent of non-voting shares in News Corp. and offered to boost his stake if needed, the newspaper said in a report from New York.
    "I have the utmost confidence in Mr Murdoch, his management team and his succession plan," bin Talal said, as quoted by the Review, saying that Saudi companies would be willing to boost their stake to defend his position.
    "If necessary, the kingdom companies and I will convert currently owned shares and purchase additional ones to increase ownership of voting shares in News Corp. in support of Mr Murdoch and his plans."
    The prince added that Murdoch's sons Lachlan and James were qualified to run News Corp.
    At least with Murdoch Bin Talal can be sure he can buy positive coverage...
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    So long Safire

    In this dark, tenebrous world, a little piece of good news: the New York Times' leading conservative editorialist, William Safire, is retiring. Over the past few years there has been nothing as consistently infuriating as a Safire column. There are many reasons for this -- his dogged pursuit of a mythical Iraq-Al Qaeda meeting in Iraq, which he continued to refer to even after President Bush and the CIA denied it, or his insinuations against the UN in the oil-for-food scandal we admittedly still know too little about, or his professed love of the Kurdish people for no other reason, apparently, that they are against Arabs. True, he did not always support the conservative orthodoxy, and took progressive stands on stem cell research, privacy rights and media consolidation. It's said his Sunday column, On Language, was learned and well-written, but I didn't read it often enough to tell. He'll be continuing that one every Sunday anyway. But what I'll remember him most for was his shocking hatred of Palestinians (who unlike the Kurds did not have a national cause worth worrying about, apparently) and tendency to write press releases straight from the office of the Prime Minister of Israel. Perhaps his old habits -- he ran his own PR companies in the 60s before he joined the Nixon administration as spinmeister -- die hard. Two particularly grating examples of Safire hackery are below:
    A Chat With Sharon, October 21, 2002
    He's an unabashed admirer of this President Bush. "Thank God, at this historic moment, the U.S. is leading the free world toward liberation from fear of terror."
    And his unwavering confidence under sustained pressure makes me an unabashed Arik Sharon admirer. "We go back many years," he says. "Call me more often." I may just do that.
    His schoolgirl crush on Ariel Sharon -- surely one of the most grotesque and unsavory politicians in a region which has its shares of assholes -- made me want to throw up at the time. This was a regular Safire shtick -- phone calls to his old pal Arik -- that befits Pravda or Tishreen (the appalling Syrian daily) more than the New York Times. But there's worse to come:
    Sharon, Trusting Bush, May 26, 2003 (no link available)
    Especially sticky is the claim of refugees to land fled from a half-century ago, which Arabs call a "right of return." Palestinians want to kick hundreds of thousands of Jewish "settlers" out of a future Palestine while inserting an even greater number of Muslims into Israel. Jews find that a deal-breaker.
    So-called "settlers," is it? Safire takes the single issue that has done the most to propagate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tries to spin it into a Palestinian myth. William Safire is a morally bankrupt hack when it comes to the Middle East. Good riddance.
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    Islam in the world

    This is from last week, but worth mentioning. Jonathan Steele in the Guardian reviews a new book by Olivier Roy called "Globalised Islam." According the the review, Roy offers a comprehensive snapshot of Islam as it is practiced (in Muslim and in European countries) across the world today, with all its contradictions, nuances and different gradations. Roy argues against reducing Islam to the "a religion of hate" stereotype, and argues that the problems and violence of the Middle East are not based in religion. I'm not sure I agree with the argument that Islamic fundamentalism is in its death-throes. And I find the "Islam is really a religion of peace" argument used very disingenuously at times. While I can attest from my daily life here in Egypt that the great majority of Muslims have nothing extremist about them, the truth is that all religions contain a good dose of potential intolerance. What's true is, as Roy apparently writes, that "The key question is not what the Koran really says, but what Muslims say the Koran says." The Koran is an unescapable legitimizing reference point in Muslim debate, but it is used to argue very different points. If you read (Moroccan feminist Islamic scholar) Fatima Mernissi on the Koran, and you come away withe respect and fascination for a meaningful, multi-faceted text which contains the seed of some radical and inspiring ideas. Read some of the contemporary sheikhs handing out fatwas based on the Koran, and you come away thinking it's one great compendium of bigotry. It's worth noting that Roy is French. The French may well end up being at the forefront of a movement to understand and integrate Islam into the West (10% of the population in France is Muslim). Europe in general is grappling with Islam in a much closer and I would say much more mature and nuanced way than America is. There are great perils ahead (racism on the part of Europeans, extremism on the part of immigrant Muslims) but if an educated, empowered Muslim community emergese in Europe they could have a real impact on world affairs and on their home countries.
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    PA officials still don't know why Arafat died

    There have been a few responses on the recent post on the causes of Arafat's death, so I thought I'd post this here rather than in the comments:
    Palestinian prime minster Ahmed Qorei has asked France to provide him with a medical report detailing the cause of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, his office said.
    "We officially demand that the Palestinian leadership be informed about the medical report on the death of the president and the reason for his death," Qorei's office said in a statement.
    Arafat died in a French military hospital last Thursday at the age of 75 after sinking into a coma, but no information has been released about the exact cause of death.
    The veteran Palestinian leader was admitted to a French hospital on October 29 with a "blood disorder" and the lack of any clear explanation has sparked speculation that he was poisoned by Israeli agents.
    His personal physician Ashraf al-Kurdi is among those who have called for an investigation into the death.
    "I demand an official inquiry and an autopsy... so the Palestinian people can learn in all transparency what caused the death," he said, although Islam forbids autopsies out of respect for the sanctity of the dead.
    He said his suspicions were aroused by the absence of any information about Arafat's health after he was admitted to hospital given that he had been conscious when he left his Ramallah compound.
    The French have said that under their laws, Arafat's medical files can only be handed over to family members. So, what is Suha Arafat waiting for?
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    CPJ on Iraq press freedom

    From the Committee to Protect Journalists:
    The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by a new directive from Iraqi authorities that warns news organizations to reflect the government's positions in their reporting or face unspecified action.
    The warning came in a statement released Thursday but dated November 9 by the government regulatory Media High Commission. The commission cited the 60-day state of emergency, declared when U.S.-led forces began their offensive in Fallujah this week, The Associated Press and Reuters reported. The state of emergency covers all of Iraq except the Kurdish north, giving the prime minister additional powers to quash the insurgency before elections in January.
    Directing the news media to differentiate between "innocent citizens of Fallujah" and insurgents, the commission instructed journalists not to attach "patriotic descriptions to groups of killers and criminals," according to the statement, obtained by CPJ. The statement also asked the media to "set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear."
    "You must be precise and objective in handling news and information," the statement said. "We hope you comply ... otherwise we regret we will be forced to take all the legal measures to guarantee higher national interests," it added.
    "We are very troubled by this directive, which is an attempt to control news coverage through government coercion," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "It damages the government's credibility in establishing a free and democratic society."
    In August, Iraqi authorities closed the Baghdad office of the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera and barred the Qatar-based station from newsgathering in Iraq after deeming its coverage to be against the Iraqi people and government. The government extended the ban indefinitely a month later.
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    Kuwait goes fundie

    The Arab Times reports that Kuwait, perhaps America's most unflinching ally in the Middle East since it was liberated from Iraqi troops in 1991, is becoming increasingly fundamentalist:
    In the past, men and women mingled and dated in Kuwait. The country had mixed beach clubs for nationals. No longer. Most now have separate swimming days for women and men. Like other Gulf states, Kuwait is witnessing a rising tide of fanatical Islam. More and more women wear the veil and more men grow beards to display their religious fervour. Islamist extremism indoctrinated by the Sunni Salafi and Wahhabi movements is spreading from Saudi Arabia to neighbouring Kuwait, influencing its youth and affecting all aspects of life. Many Kuwaitis, like other Arabs, denounce the United States and its allies for backing “corrupt” rulers and what they see as Washington’s war against Islam and plans to control their region’s oil wealth.
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    Ignatieff on terrorism

    Michael Ignatieff (that philosophical vagabond: he went from Oxford to the London School of Economics to Harvard in just a few years, and from Isaiah Berlin to war, peace and terrorism in even less time) offers an essay on the terrorist as an auteur, and draws the lesson that he is tempting us to join him in infamy:
    An accomplished terrorist -- al-Zarqawi is undoubtedly one -- understands us better than we seem to understand him. He knows that the only chance of forcing an American withdrawal lies in swaying the political will of an electorate that, already divided and unwilling, has sent its sons and daughters there. This is where his images become a weapon of war, a way to test and possibly shatter American will. He is counting on our moral disgust and on the sense of futility that follows disgust. Moral disgust is the first crucial step toward cracking the will to continue the fight.
    Now let's not be sentimental about American virtue or scruple. Democracies can be just as ruthless as authoritarian societies, and Americans haven't been angels in the war on terror, as the images from Abu Ghraib so plainly show. But the willingness of American democracy to commit atrocity in its defense is limited by moral repugnance, rooted in two centuries of free institutions. This capacity for repugnance sustained the popular protest that eventually took us out of Vietnam. Al-Zarqawi is a cynic about these matters: the truths we hold to be self-evident are the ones he hopes to turn against us. He thinks that we would rather come home than fight evil. Are we truly willing to descend into the vortex to beat him? He has bet that we are not.
    But his calculation is that either way, he cannot lose. If we remain, he has also bet -- and Abu Ghraib confirms how perceptive he was -- that we will help him drive us into ignominious defeat by becoming as barbarous as he is. He is trailing the videos as an ultimate kind of moral temptation, an ethical trap into which he is hoping we will fall. Everything is permitted, he is saying. If you wish to beat me, you will have to join me. Every terrorist hopes, ultimately, that his opponent will become his brother in infamy. If we succumb to this temptation, he will have won. He has, however, forgotten that the choice always remains ours, not his.
    (Thanks, Negar!)
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    Black cloud blues

    As I look out of my window, a dense, soupy fog envelops the city. At least half the people I know are sick with some kind of flu, and since I've moved to Cairo nearly five years ago I've gotten an average of four flus a year. When I leave the city, exposure to clean air gives me a sore throat for a day or so, and when I come back the same thing happens. And I live in a relatively upscale, leafy neighborhood (although close to a major road). They say Cairo traffic cops have the lowest sperm counts in the world because of the lead they inhale, and that the pollution results in a Cairene baby "losing" at least eight points of IQ because of early exposure to heavy metals in the air. Beyond the black cloud that strikes at this time of the year, it's becoming increasingly urgent for to do something about the pollution in Cairo -- it's reaching 19th century London proportions.
    "Out of each 10 people you'll meet in Cairo this time of year, six or seven of them will have this sort of flu-like cough," says Dr Ashraf Hatem, professor of chest diseases at Cairo University Hospital, referring to the symptoms so many Cairenes suffer from during the period from late October through November.
    "Usually it starts with a soreness or itching in the throat, pains in the eye, itching in the nose, low-grade fever, and sneezing," Hatem explains. "Then there is a cough, which may come in sporadic attacks that worsen in the evening and at dawn, when the pollution is worst. While these symptoms usually indicate a viral infection of the kind which is passed on so easily in heavily-populated areas like Cairo, the condition is increased significantly by air pollution and what we call the 'black cloud'."
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    More Gamaa Islamiya members freed

    The independent newspaper Masri Al Youm is reporting that over 700 members of Gamaa Islamiya have been released in recent days. This is the second large release of Gamaa members over the past two years, after the fundamentalist renounced terrorism and denounced the killings it was responsible for during the 1980s and 1990s. This would be yet another sign that the state and Gamaa Islamiya have buried the hatchet, while the other main fundamentalist group, Islamic Jihad, has not operated in the country in years as most of its members joined Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
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    Dahlan targeted?

    Take it with a grain of salt, but Danny Rubinstein of Haaretz has an interesting theory on who was behind last year's attack on three American security guards in the Gaza Strip, which he says was intended to kill Muhammad Dahlan. Dahlan, of course, is the Palestinian security supremo that is favored by Israel and the US for control of the Palestinian security forces.
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    An internet for empire

    The New York Times explains the Pentagon's plans to build a "Global Information Grid" that will put instant coverage of the entire world in the hands of military commanders:
    Many new multibillion-dollar weapons and satellites are "critically dependent on the future network," the agency reported. "Despite enormous challenges and risks - many of which have not been successfully overcome in smaller-scale efforts" like missile defense, "the Pentagon is depending on the GIG to enable a fundamental transformation in the way military operations are conducted."
    According to Art Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation, "What we are really talking about is a new theory of war."
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    A mujahid's tale

    The Washington Post has a rare insight into the life of a Yemeni man who left his country to fight the occupation of Iraq in Falluja:
    Abu Thar turned 30, and might never have tried to reach Iraq again but for the photographs that emerged of U.S. military police abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. Seeing the photos, his wife, also a religious student, urged him to leave everything and go to Iraq to fight jihad. She was pregnant with their sixth child.
    "She told me, 'If they are doing this to the men, imagine what is happening to the women now,' " Abu Thar recalled. " 'Imagine your sisters and I being raped by the infidel American pigs.'"
    He said he spent the night crying, tormented that he did not persevere earlier. In the morning he started making the rounds of friends, borrowing money to travel.
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    "Humiliating Our Friends"

    Marc Lynch takes a look at the Bush administration's efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East:
    The problems with Bush’s approach to democratic reform in the region run deeper than a lack of seriousness or poor execution. The core problem lies in the administration’s clear contempt for Arab public opinion, a contempt which is keenly felt by those Arab moderates who actually share the goals of political, economic and cultural reform. The administration is divided between hawks, who believe that Arabs respect force and can be either browbeaten into submission or else easily repressed by friendly dictators; and neoconservatives, who believe that greater democracy will naturally produce pro-American attitudes. Both theories have been painfully disproven over the last few years, as repeated demonstrations of American strength combined with soaring democracy rhetoric have produced only ever-greater levels of anti-American sentiment. But faced with clear evidence of failure, the administration refuses to change course.
    There are a few other good passages in that piece, it's worth reading.
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    What did Arafat die of?

    As I watched today his funeral on TV and then went to see the protests after the Friday sermon at Al Azhar mosque (which were surprisingly small, but then again the mood of the day was sadness rather than anger), this question kept coming back: what is the cause of Arafat's death. As this story on the rumors that he was poisoned by the Israelis -- a rumor started by Hamas -- shows, we still don't know. I wouldn't give much credence to the poison theory, but I think we need to know what happened. Did they pull the plug on him? Who made that decision? Or was it simply the result of the brain hemorrhage he was suffering from? If these questions aren't answer, the rumors are just going to keep spreading.
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    Allawi family kidnapped

    I just received some news that three members of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's family were kidnapped today, including his wife. This is not confirmed yet, but it just keeps getting worse and worse, doesn't it? Update: Here's the first item I see. It's not his wife, but his cousin and his cousin's wife, as well as another relative. Here's another report:
    A posting on an Islamic Web site by a group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad group claimed responsibility for kidnapping three Allawi relatives, and threatened to behead them in 48 hours if their demands aren't met.
    They demanded that Allawi and his government release all female and male detainees in Iraq, and lift the siege on Fallujah.
    "We promise Allah and his messenger that if the agent government doesn't respond to our demands within 48 hours, they (the hostages) will be beheaded."
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