Reporting Near the Gates of Hell

There are some days when you wish that they would just put out the real damn story for a change. But now, let's go to the Laci Petersen case. You can always tell when the narrative is dissolving, because somehow Scott Petersen's symbolic crucifixion becomes the hottest thing in American cable news. *CLICK*

While the Bush administration visibly flakes into a dozen pieces on TV under fire from the Clarke Battleship, we have a whole menu of items from the post-9/11 bloodsphere. From the furthest 'Bled al-Siba' (Lands of Insolence), we learn that the wicked Governor of Herat in western Afghanistan has regained control of his city, after someone killed the Aviation Minister and everyone ran a little amuck. Roughly 50 to 100 factional warlord fighters were killed fighting each other over this historic (formerly besieged) gateway to Persia. See it fall again next Thursday on live satellite!!

The problem with Afghanistan is that it's more an aggregate of ethnically jarred city-states than a coherently governed nation. The U.S. plan pretty much hyper-Balkanized it by installing worthless factional warlords with no oversight in every major city, kind of a government glued together like toothpicks. Wildly xenophobic, tribal toothpicks.

Meanwhile the hi-value baddies got away and Pakistan's military took quite a toll (roundup) in the mountain campaign. Strong counterattacks from guerillas, and it seems Muslim leaders there are quite angry, reports the Asia Times:

Flames of war loom large
The present offensive in South Waziristan is not merely a hunt for a few fugitive guerrilla fighters (including Osama bin Laden and his number two, Ayman al-Zawahri). It is a fight to control their bases in the whole eastern tribal belt that borders Afghanistan. Any ceasefire, therefore, assuming even that it holds, will be temporary at best, and a prelude to the next battle.

On Sunday, 70 of the country's most popular religious clerics, in a religious ruling issued from the federal capital Islamabad, called the Wana operation (Wana is the headquarters of South Waziristan agency) an "unjustified war" by the Pakistan army on their Muslim brothers. The clerics said that since the war had been unleashed on the mujahideen in support of the US cause in the region, anyone who died resisting the Pakistani forces would be a martyr, and any Pakistani soldiers killed would die "Motul Haram" - in other words, they would go to hell. The ruling also prohibits funeral prayers for soldiers killed in the conflict.

The ruling is a major setback for the Pakistani ruling class, and even information minister Sheikh Rasheed, who is famous for his outspoken nature, has refused to comment.

What began, therefore, as an operation to force al-Qaeda and the Afghan resistance from their base in Shawal - a no man's land .... is rapidly escalating into a major crisis for the whole country.

Meanwhile in Iraq, it is interesting that despite all the professed technocratic skill of the new administration, somehow they cannot supply the military and police equipment necessary to police and defend Iraq from hostile forces and secure the Syrian border. Among the missing items include "Life Saving Body Armor" of talking points fame, guns, radios, etc.

I find it incomprehensible that in today's titanic military-industrial complex, with its many satellites and airplanes and assorted schemers, it cannot fill in a few thousand police stations and medium-level military divisions with some kind of expediency. If this were the Roman days, you would just shoot a few pokey arms traffickers and things would move along.

14 British soldiers in Basra, Iraq were injured when 'petrol bombs,' as they call them, were launched during a protest over jobs, although some protesters supported the late Sheik Yassin or Saddam Hussein, as well. The Guardian says, "One soldier was seen with his head and shoulders covered in flames." The British forces, having a modicum of rigour about their techniques, claim to have fired only baton rounds but not live ammo or tear gas.

Among the wake of the Madrid bombings, the 9/11 commission's tidbits, the Afghans riding every which-way, and an expanding inquiry into Ariel Sharon's shady finances, Israel somehow saw the time was right to wipe out HAMAS' Sheik Yassin. Why not round out this curious March with a good heap of civil disorder moving into an April of profound anarchy in the Holy Land?

The latest spot reports from a constantly updating page at the Israeli paper Haaretz, which unlike other Israeli media tends not to become totally anesthetized when Israel launches major operations. It is 11 AM there now, but today will surely hold more news.

Five Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, were killed and dozens injured, Palestinian sources said, in riots that broke out in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip...

Also Monday, Palestinians fired a series of mortar shells and rockets at Gaza Strip settlements and the Negev. Four Qassam rockets fell in the Negev Monday evening. Palestinians also fired several home-made rockets at an IDF checkpoint in Gaza, two mortar shells at a settlement in the Gush Katif settlement bloc, and an anti-tank rocket at an IDF outpost near Rafah in the south of the Strip, close to the Egyptian border. Two apartments in the Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim were damaged due to rocket attacks earlier in the day.

IDF tanks moved into northern Gaza late Monday, Israeli security officials said. Palestinian security officials said the tanks were moving toward the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

In the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza, IDF soldiers shot and killed three Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, during clashes with hundreds of angry protesters. The demonstrators flocked to a roadblock west of the refugee camp, near [Jewish settlement] Neveh Dekalim, and threw stones at the soldiers guarding it. Witnesses said the soldiers fired live ammunition at the crowd, which consisted mostly of schoolchildren.

In the West Bank refugee camp of Balata in Nablus, hospital officials said soldiers shot dead a Palestinian journalist. They said Mohammed Abu Khalimi, a 22-year-old reporter for Al Najah University radio, had just broadcast a report about the army entering the camp when he was shot. They said he was standing near a group of stone-throwing youths.

Some 15,000 people, including more than 40 armed men, gathered in the center of Nablus. About 15 armed men, wearing masks and Hamas headbands, fired shots into the air.

"Dozens of people came to us this morning volunteering to be suicide bombers," said one masked militant. "We will send them in the right time."

A Palestinian man was shot and wounded in the West Bank city of Bethlehem after throwing firebombs at IDF troops, Army Radio reported.

In Jenin, another militant stronghold in the West Bank, more than 10,000 people demonstrated. Several dozen armed men from the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades joined the crowd.

"Dozens of people came to us this morning volunteering to be suicide bombers," said one masked militant. "We will send them in the right time."

Ten Palestinians were injured in the West Bank city of Hebron in clashes with IDF troops. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. Twelve demonstrators were injured in Bethlehem during clashes with IDF forces near the Tomb of Rachel near the city.

Calls for revenge emanated from mosque loudspeakers. One Hamas activist said that a new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian fighting had begun.

Shopkeepers called a one-day strike throughout the West Bank, closing virtually all stores. Palestinian schools were closed.

Jerusalem Post analyst simply says "Assassination will increase anarchy."

The settlers have an ethical code. Yay. Thanks, guys.

Hezbollah attacked Israeli positions from Lebanon.

Now Hamas could align with Al-Qaida.

Israel is barring journalists with Israeli citizenship from the Gaza Strip.

I am on a few odd Israeli e-mail lists, but one of the most interesting is surely GAMLA, a settler newswire featuring the insights of DEBKAfile. There's a certain direct style in today's analysis:

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has fired the Israel-Palestinian war up to a new plane. The targeted assassination of Hamas founder, leader and moving spirit, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Monday, March 22, was the prime minister's thunderous reply to the critics who argue that his disengagement strategy would hand the Gaza Strip over to Hamas control. It signals his determination to purge Gaza of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists ahead its evacuation. Yassin's death is but the precursor to liquidating the violent movement he founded in 1987 to "cleanse" Middle East of Jewish sovereignty and replace it with an Islamic republic.

This cleanout of Hamas strength will take time. Until it is done, Israel cannot pull out of the Gaza Strip or even begin the process of disengagement.

Nothing else is quite as wretched today as David Brooks: "Understanding what the phrase 'one nation under God' might mean -- that's the important thing. That's not proselytizing; it's citizenship."

You wanted a Global War on Terror, Mr President.

You got one.

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