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Hello TPM readers. This

Hello, TPM readers. This is editorial assistant Zander Dryer with a quick update. As Spencer announced below, John B. Judis will take over guest blogging later today. He'll be followed tomorrow afternoon by Ruy Teixeira. Hosting two great political minds in two days is an honor for TPM, and Josh is delighted to have John and Ruy fill in for him during the remaining few days he's away. He has said that they are two of the people whose political analysis he respects most.

As for Josh himself, he sends his greetings from Antigua. He is having great luck learning to snorkel, but he managed to embarrass himself in front of the locals by getting seasick on a deep sea fishing exploration. He'll be back at the keyboard soon. In the meantime, enjoy our guests.

One final word about

One final word about "Shakir," and thanks to reader R.S. for pointing this out to me. The al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist known as Hambali--Riduan Isamuddin, the commander of Jemaah Islamiyah--is not, as I mistakenly wrote, dead. This jihadist murderer was captured last August and turned over to the tender loving care of U.S. interrogators. That means we have three actual attendees of the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur terrorism summit in custody, whose accounts of "Shakir" we should be able to use to determine Saddam Hussein's links, if any, to the meeting.

Anyway, TPM readers, this will be my last post. It's been a blast, and I'd like to thank Josh for providing me with the opportunity to guest-host. Thanks as well to TPM behind-the-scenes wizard Zander Dryer, who ensured that I did no lasting technical damage to the site and fixed my mistakes. Thanks especially to all of you who wrote in with your kind words and your criticism. I hope to see you over at my TNR blog, IRAQ'D.

I leave you in the extremely capable hands of my TNR colleague John B. Judis. Judis is occasionally willing to gamble with his formidable reputation by collaborating with me, so let me show my gratitude by sneaking in a plug for his truly excellent forthcoming book. It's called The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and it examines both the historical precedents for our occupation of Iraq and how two great American presidents dealt with and learned from them. You can read an excerpt in the just-released issue of Foreign Policy magazine. Take it away, John...

Stories out today by

Stories out today by Newsday's Knut Royce and The Washington Post's Walter "A13 but should be A1" Pincus and Dan Eggen (as well as yesterday by Jonathan S. Landay of Knight Ridder) have more on Shakir. According to these three pieces, sourced to anonymous intelligence and senior administration officials, the Shakir identified in recovered Fedayeen documents is unlikely to be the individual who met with the 9/11 hijackers in Kuala Lumpur. Royce quotes an administration official as saying the CIA concluded "a long time ago" they weren't the same people: for starters, their names are different. (Laura Rozen has a handy chart to help clarify this.) The individual identified as a Fedayeen lieutenant colonel is Hikmat Shakir Ahmad, while the individual identified as present for the Kuala Lumpur meeting is Ahmad Hikmat Shakir Azzawi.

The Post quotes John Lehman, who floated the prospect that new evidence indicates Hikmat Shakir Ahmad was a "very prominent member of al-Qaeda" as saying the issue "needs to be run into ground." He seems to discard the importance of Ahmad as a Fedayeen officer, one of the components of the prospective connection in Steve Hayes's account. As Lehman says, "The most intriguing part of it is not whether or not he was in the Fedayeen, but whether or not the guy who attended Kuala Lumpur had any connections to Iraqi intelligence. . . . We don't know."

But, as I wrote this morning, this is something we probably can know. We have three individuals in custody who either were directly present at the Kuala Lumpur meeting or pulled its strings: 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Kuala Lumpur attendees Khallad bin Attash and Yazid Sufaat. Between them, the 9/11 Commission stands a good chance of finding out what, from al-Qaeda's perspective, Azzawi was doing at the meeting--i.e., whether he was an emissary from Saddam Hussein. This is something we should be able to run into ground, as Lehman put it. What do their debriefings indicate? Have they been interrogated on this connection? If they haven't, can they be re-interrogated? The 9/11 Commission has a month and four days before it has to deliver its final report (and then go through what one commissioner told me would be one of the Commission's "battles of Armageddon" with the administration: declassifying it for the public). With the "Shakir" story taking on surprising importance; with the administration determined to hew to elusive Iraq-al Qaeda links as a central justification for the Iraq war; and with the 9/11 Commission probably being the last opportunity for such a broad and comprehensive exhumation of al-Qaeda's history of planning against America, that needs to be enough time to settle the question once and for all.

Buried at the end

Buried at the end of a Saturday New York Times piece is a blind quote that carries a lot of explanatory heft when it comes to the Bush administration's attempts to keep the Iraq-al Qaeda link alive:

One outside adviser to the White House said the administration expected the debate over Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda to be "a regular feature" of the presidential campaign.

"They feel it's important to their long-term credibility on the issue of the decision to go to war," the adviser said. "It's important because it's part of the overall view that Iraq is part of the war on terror. If you discount the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then you discount the proposition that it's part of the war on terror. If it's not part of the war on terror, then what is it--some cockeyed adventure on the part of George W. Bush?"

Now, the absence of a Saddam-bin Laden link doesn't make Iraq ipso facto irrelevant to the war on terrorism. In fact, as Josh among others has documented, the Bush administration has argued that the establishment of a democratic Iraq will have a transformative effect throughout the Middle East, where radical Islam presently stands as the most compelling and accessible alternative to the region's ossified tyrannies. This is what Bush means when he says,"A free Iraq will stand as an example to reformers across the Middle East." Of course, with Iraq lapsing more and more into Hobbesian chaos, Bush's talk about establishing stable democracy there makes me want to ask him for a urine sample. And it's much more concrete to talk about "contacts" between al-Qaeda and Saddam to frame the Iraq war in the context of the war on terrorism. But, as the 9/11 Commission's fifteenth staff statement reported, Iraq's furtive contacts with al-Qaeda do not appear "to have resulted in a collaborative relationship." So for the Bush administration to cling to "contacts" that don't appear to have gone anywhere as its reason for placing Iraq in the context of the war on terrorism, it will be deemphasizing its strategic rationale for launching the invasion in favor of an easier to understand but more tenuous argument.

But that seems to be the war the administration is going. Which brings us to the case of Ahmed Hikmat Shakir.

If you haven't heard of Shakir, that's because the administration has never brought him up publicly. The most prominent attention given to Shakir has come from Stephen F. Hayes of The Weekly Standard. Shakir, an Iraqi, was a greeter for Malaysian Airlines, a job that, according to Hayes, he boasted of landing thanks to a contact at the Iraqi embassy. In early January 2000, the four al-Qaeda operatives originally intended by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to carry out what would become the attacks met in Kuala Lumpur with jihadist colleagues Hambali and Yazid Sufaat. According to Hayes, Shakir escorted Khalid al-Mihdhar into a car at the airport, then accompanied al-Mihdhar--one of the 9/11 pilots--to the terrorist meeting. Shakir was picked up by Qatari authorities in October 2001, reportedly with contact information for al-Qaeda operatives and associates in his possession, but he was released. Later that month, en route to Iraq, Jordanian intelligence detained him. According to Hayes, the Jordanians and the CIA tried to get Shakir to spy on Baghdad for them, but Shakir never reported back when he was allowed to return to Iraq. Hayes goes on to report that in February of this year, Christopher Carney, one of Douglas Feith's deputies in the Pentagon's policy shop, discovered Shakir's name on a recovered list of officers in the Fedayeen Saddam, identified as a Lieutenant Colonel.

On Sunday, 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman told Tim Russert that since the 9/11 staff statement asserting no operative link between Iraq and al-Qaeda was written, "new intelligence [has been] coming in steadily from the interrogations in Guantanamo and in Iraq and from captured documents. And some of these documents indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al-Qaeda. That still has to be confirmed." Why this intelligence should just be coming to the 9/11 Commission now is unclear. According to Hayes, Carney found Shakir on the Fedayeen officers list in February, and it would stand to reason that Carney would find that information pertinent enough to deliver to the 9/11 Commission, which is mandated by law to review all documents in the possession of the bureaucracy relating to the 9/11 conspiracy. It could be that new information suggesting Shakir "was a very prominent member of al-Qaeda" has recently been found. I don't pretend to know. But Lehman's disclosure on Meet The Press was the first public, on-the-record reference to Shakir as a possible link from Baghdad to al-Qaeda.

There were, however, off-the-record references floated by the Bush administration. Newsweek's Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball reported the tale of Shakir's imprisonment and release (though not that the Jordanians and CIA tried to flip him) in an October 7, 2002 story. They obtained an intelligence document putting Shakir at the Kuala Lumpur meeting. The story carried a quote from an administration official: "Shakir connects to both Iraq and 9-11." But the reporters cautioned, "It's a startling claim--though far from proven." As best as I can tell, the administration didn't return to Shakir as a prospective link between Iraq and al-Qaeda until Feith sent his famous memo to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in October 2003. Leaked to Hayes shortly thereafter, the memo said Shakir "facilitated the arrival of one of the Sept 11 hijackers for an operational meeting in Kuala Lumpur (Jan 2000). Sensitive reporting indicates Shakir's travel and contacts link him to a worldwide network of terrorists, including al Qaeda. Shakir worked at the Kuala Lumpur airport--a job he claimed to have obtained through an Iraqi embassy employee."

Again, I don't know what intelligence the 9/11 Commission has obtained about Shakir. Nor do I know why the Commission is still receiving new intelligence about him now--specifically, whether it's just getting all the information about Shakir now, or whether it's now getting new information indicating Shakir is, as Lehman said, "a very prominent member of al-Qaeda." Now, there would have to be some additional information on Shakir to indicate that he's an al-Qaeda member, as nothing public to date indicates that he is. It's possible. But, even assuming that Saddam authorized Shakir to attend the Malaysia meeting, which we don't yet know, it's also possible that Saddam was trying to gather intelligence on terrorist operations.

But even without Shakir in custody, it should at least be theoretically possible to advance our understanding of his connection to the plot, to Saddam, and to Saddam's heretofore-elusive connections to al-Qaeda: While three of the attendees of the meeting are dead (al-Midhar, fellow hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hambali), and Shakir's whereabouts are unknown, two other attendees, Sufaat and Khallad bin Attash are in custody. If Shakir was acting as Saddam’s delegate to the meeting, theoretically Sufaat and Attash would know, though I freely concede that this might not necessarily be the case. Perhaps if they were kept in the dark, the al-Qaeda operative who arranged the meeting would know: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. KSM, as he's known, was captured in Pakistan in 2003. The 9/11 Commission, staff director Philip Zelikow told me in January, has had full access to debriefings of his interrogations, and clearly they've informed the staff reports. (KSM has told interrogators that Iraq was not in any significant way tied to al-Qaeda.) It would stand to reason that at least one of these three detained terrorists involved with the Kuala Lumpur meetings would know if Shakir attended on behalf of Saddam Hussein--after all, is it really plausible that Saddam was involved with the meeting if the terrorists involved were unaware who, if anyone, Shakir was working for? I suppose it's possible, but it would seem a stretch. Lehman told Russert that Shakir's link to al-Qaeda "still has to be confirmed." It may be possible to get an answer to this question based on detainees to whom the 9/11 Commission supposedly has access. The quote from the informal Bush adviser suggests that the White House isn't going to let the Iraq-al Qaeda connection go quietly into that good night, and Shakir appears to be at the heart of the newest White House push to demonstrate ties of any significance. An answer, or at least more of an answer, to the question of Shakir should be possible by the Commission's final report next month.

(One last thing: As I write this, Steve Hayes is on The Daily Show. Congratulations, dude! You're famous! You have an important advantage over me in the Iraq-al Qaeda debate: My girlfriend just pointedly asked me, "So why don't you get to go on The Daily Show ?")

A valuable addition from

A valuable addition from reader J.:

<$NoAd$>There are many indigenous forces that push for liberalization and democratization [in the Middle East]. These range from the moderate Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to the old leftists--most of whom are quite tired by now--and the newer, human rights-oriented generation of activists and sympathizers. There are, in other words, plenty of people who are willing to make the sacrifices for democracy that this process will require, and are doing so now.

Perhaps because of distance, one tendency is to go for name recognition. ... In the case of the Arab world, Saad Eddin Ibrahim has come to fill that role. And he has a certain heroic air about him in the U.S. in particular. But it should be made clear that he is primarily disliked not for heroically espousing freedom, but for accepting funding from foreigners and then apparently espousing their causes. This is more like U.S. congressmen and women accepting special interest funding and then moving legislation through government that benefits those interests. Ibrahim is linked especially to the deeply unpopular American policies that have had enormously negative impact on the lives of millions of Arabs.

At one point, while I was an impoverished graduate student here in Cairo, I freelanced as a translator for an NPR reporter who was asking people their opinions about the imprisonment of Saad Eddin. Nobody would speak to us. In fact, one man became enraged, saying, "why are you focused on Saad Eddin, go report on what is happening to the Palestinians." This point isn't worth more effort than this, but I just want to argue that people ... should perhaps consider not making Saad Eddin Ibrahim the poster boy of democratization and liberalization. Shirin Ebadi of Iran is much more convincing as a poster girl, if we need such a person. Others exist, as well and should be given, as you say, very discreet support by people who are genuinely sympathetic to them and to their causes, not by intelligence types who are hoping to use them as wedges to crack open their respective societies.

Anonymous makes several arguments

Anonymous makes several arguments in Imperial Hubris for why we're losing the war on terrorism. Some are a matter of keeping score in the military ventures we've undertaken. He sees our intervention in Afghanistan as a disaster. While not as strident, a host of mostly liberal critics generally agree, arguing that the Bush administration has allowed Afghanistan to slip back into warlord-dominated instability. The prescription this critique implies is a vigorous nation-building effort. Anonymous rejects this entirely. Expanding Hamid Karzai's writ across the country is a recipe for violence, he writes: "After twenty years of war and ineffective or alien government in Kabul, the regions, subregions and tribes have never been more autonomously minded and jealous of their prerogatives." Democratization in Afghanistan, he believes, is a mirage. "We focus on issues that don't matter to Afghans--women's rights, democracy--and we denigrate those things that matter to Afghans--Islam, tribal and clan relationships, ethnic pecking orders," he says. Sometime soon, "you're going to have a government back in Kabul that looks like the Taliban, perhaps under a different name." The proper purpose of the 2001 war, he believes, was to use U.S. forces to annihilate the Qaeda presence in the country and do no more. With our inability to do that, our garrisoning of troops in Afghanistan and support of a weak central government of ethnic minorities provides little aside from an Islamist rallying cry against U.S. occupation--what he terms "an unmitigated defeat."

Then there's Iraq. "[T]here is nothing bin Laden could have hoped for more than the American invasion and occupation of Iraq," he writes.

All Muslims would see each day on television that the United States was occupying a Muslim country, insisting that man-made laws replace God's revealed word, stealing Iraq's oil, and paving the way for the creation of a "Greater Israel." The clerics and scholars would call for a defensive jihad against the United States, young Muslim males would rush from across the Islamic world to fight U.S. troops, and there--in Islam's second holiest land--would erupt a second Afghanistan, a self-perpetuating holy war that would endure whether or not al-Qaeda survived.

The reason we've made these mistakes, he argues, is that we fail to understand that bin Laden doesn't hate us because of our freedom. Or, rather, while he does hate the licentiousness and modernity that the U.S. represents, it's not what compels him to declare war on us. Nor does an anti-modernist bent explain bin Laden's appeal across the Muslim world. Instead, it's what Anonymous identifies as six points bin Laden repeatedly cites in his communiqués: "U.S. support for Israel that keeps the Palestinians in the Israelis' thrall; U.S. and other Western troops on the Arabian peninsula; U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. support for Russia, India and China against their Muslim militants; U.S. pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low; U.S. support for apostate, corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments." Combined with his charismatic biography, bin Laden's strategic success has been to frame these arguments through a Koranic prism, "to convince everyone that U.S. policy is deliberately anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic," he says. Bin Laden's critique presents in resonant Islamic terminology a coherent jihadist explanation for practically everything Muslims can find offensive about the U.S.--the most deadly slippery slope there is. And the more Americans insist on treating bin Laden's anger with the U.S. as a pure hatred of freedom, the less equipped we'll be to answer him in a battle of ideas.

But Anonymous doesn't really consider it possible for the U.S. to answer bin Laden in a battle of ideas throughout the Islamic world: U.S. support for what many Muslims may see as unjust policies has drained us of our credibility, he argues. He combines that critique with a rejection of anything resembling democracy promotion. Woodrow Wilson, to Anonymous, is a "bloody-handed fantasist." Insisting on democratic reform in the Muslim world then becomes naïve futility--even though one of Bin Laden's rallying cries is, as Anonymous puts it, U.S. support for "tyrannical Muslim governments."

Without the option to work for reform, a large portion of what Anonymous advocates is essentially a policy of brutal and unforgiving war.

To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing …

Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. … [S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.

While military force will surely be necessary in the war on terrorism, a scorched-earth policy of warfare, especially in the age of Al Jazeera, seems tailored to play into Bin Laden’s arguments about U.S. desires to destroy Islam, to say nothing of transforming the U.S.'s war on terror into something resembling Russia's dirty war in Chechnya, or the Indian or Chinese responses to Islamic extremism. (Which, as Anonymous observes, is something Bin Laden denounces the U.S. for supporting.) I asked him about this.

<$NoAd$>ANONYMOUS: The war we need to conduct is simply to protect America. It's to stop the enemy, to have him cease and desist from attacking us. It is not--I hope it's not--to make them democratic, or to make them become libertarians or whatever, whereas the Indian intention in Kashmir is to install Hindu domination. The Chinese intention in western China is genocide: a silent genocide as they're doing in Tibet by inundating the Uighurs with Han Chinese. And the Russians are intent on doing what they tried to do in Afghanistan: to subject the population and eliminate whatever percentage of that population is necessary.

TPM: But isn’t it enough like those governments, or certainly like Russia in Chechnya, in that you’re calling for scorched-earth tactics? And isn't that at the heart of what the Islamic resistance in Chechnya views as Russia’s attempt to destroy Chechnya--and what in fact fuels the Islamicization of Chechnya?

ANONYMOUS: I think that's a good argument. My argument, I think, taken from the whole book, is that we've left ourselves with no option but the military option, and our application of military force against our foe, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else, has not been particularly intimidating. They've ridden out two wars. They're on the offensive at the moment. What are we left with? If we don't use our military power, we really just sit and take it. …

TPM: But isn't the argument that we'd be using our military force disproportionately?

ANONYMOUS: The question is survival. What are we going to do, dive an airplane into the Grand Mosque at Mecca? No, we're not going to do that. Proportional war ends up being war forever, because they'll never stop being able to attack us, and if the cost they pay is minimal, it just goes on forever. That's where we are now.

TPM: When you say that we're left with few options besides military options, what are the other options we should be pursuing?

ANONYMOUS: I try to outline them in the book. I don’t think very many of them will even be debated. I think we should look somewhat at our relationship with Israel. Clearly we need an energy policy, not just in the United States but in the West, that makes us less dependent on oil out of the Gulf. For myself, I can't figure out what American interest we would have in Saudi Arabia if it wasn't for oil. If they all killed each other to their heart's content, it wouldn't affect America at all.

TPM: Is there an ideological war America can wage against al-Qaeda?

ANONYMOUS: I think the whole idea of public diplomacy is finished. For a long time, America was indeed viewed as a broker, as a mediator. Franklin Roosevelt helped ensure the British empire went away. [Eisenhower] stopped the Israelis and the French and the British at Suez. Ronald Reagan supported the mujahideen. There's none of that left anymore. No one gives us the benefit of the doubt. Partially, I think a large part, because of our policies. But also because of the domination of Arab satellite television. Our words are never going to be listened to while Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera is broadcasting live every day from the West Bank, as homes are being bulldozed and the Israelis are fighting the Palestinians and the Palestinians are blowing up the Israelis. No one's out there to listen.

Our ideology of democracy and personal freedoms and civil liberties can have an effect in the world--by example, not by transfer. … [Not] by our trying to transfer it, by putting it on a CD-ROM and giving it to Chalabi and saying, "Here, you have three months to install this."…

TPM: But can't we support, and materially support, Arab liberals? And in the case where it would hurt Arab liberals to be associated with us, to say "We'll back away and give you what you need?" In order [for them] to seek an open path according to [their] local circumstances?

ANONYMOUS: I'm not sure if there is a liberal element out there anymore in the Arab world, insofar as someone who would stand up and say "We want to adopt Western society or democracy." I think we're so viewed as malignant in the Islamic world that there aren't that many people who would say that, first because they're mad at us, and second because they'd risk being killed by people who disagree with them. So I'm not so sure we can talk our way out of this one. I think that's probably one of the most important points of this crossroads we're at. No one's going to listen. It doesn't matter what we say. It doesn’t matter how many Madison Avenue people we hire to put out the word, to put out magazines. Ain’t no one out there listening anymore.

As the above exchange illustrates, I think relinquishing the promotion of democratic reform in the Muslim world limits our options in the war on terrorism to basically military measures that stand a significant chance of spiraling out of control. And there are Muslim liberals and reformers out there--just ask Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim. After the occupation of Iraq, and especially after Abu Ghraib, it's hard to disagree with the proposition that our credibility is in serious disrepair, but that's not an argument for cutting our losses and ceding the intellectual battlefield to the jihadists. In order to sharpen this point and chart a course forward in what Anonymous rightly identifies as a war of survival, Imperial Hubris is worth examining and debating.

Julian Borger has a

Julian Borger has a story in The Guardian that paints the anonymous intelligence professional who penned the forthcoming Imperial Hubris: How the West is Losing the War on Terror as animated in no small measure by "contempt for the Bush White House and its policies." That's a bit wide of the mark. Does the book exhibit contempt for the administration's policies? Certainly. It also takes a dim view of the White House's conception of what motivates al-Qaeda and how to fight it. But in the book and in an interview, Anonymous doesn't traffic in Bush-bashing. He has much harsher words to say about the leadership of the intelligence community, whom he faults for bending too far to the predispositions of the policymakers they serve.

<$NoAd$>ANONYMOUS: The intelligence community, and especially the CIA, serve the president. I think the mistakes that were made [in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terrorism broadly] were probably made by the intelligence community not having the balls to stand up and to say any number of things that were knowable. "Mr. President, the people we're backing in Afghanistan will not be able to form a government and will ensure continued war and instability." "Mr. President, if you attack Iraq you will be giving bin Laden a gift." "Mr. President, we don't have enough [intelligence] officers and people to run two wars at a time." "Mr. President, all of the reporting about Iraqi WMD is coming from opposition politicians, and you have to take it with a massive grain of salt.”

I tend to blame, as I do in the book, a leadership generation in the intelligence community that is more interested in its next promotion and its career prospects than it is in talking about hard issues. Somebody needed to go and say, not just to Mr. Bush, but to Mr. Clinton, "Mr. President, this is a war about Islam. You can say all you want that it's not a war about religion, but it is." And it's much more so now than in 1992, and still no one will say it.

More to come shortly about Anonymous's critique of how the U.S. is waging the war on terrorism.

From national treasure Trent

From national treasure Trent Lott's Q&A in the Sunday Times Magazine:

<$NoAd$>You recently created a stir when you defended the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib.

Most of the people in Mississippi came up to me and said: ''Thank Goodness. America comes first.'' Interrogation is not a Sunday-school class. You don't get information that will save American lives by withholding pancakes.

But unleashing killer dogs on naked Iraqis is not the same as withholding pancakes.

I was amazed that people reacted like that. Did the dogs bite them? Did the dogs assault them? How are you going to get people to give information that will lead to the saving of lives?

Somewhere in Tashkent, as he's schmearing his morning bagel over the cries of prisoners being submerged in boiling water, Uzbek President Islam Karimov is nodding in approval, relieved to have found a kindred spirit.

For an indication of

For an indication of how rapidly sectarian divisions in Iraq can inflame the country, read this New York Times story. Not long ago I spoke with a prominent Iraqi leader, and he left me with little doubt that the Kurds were deeply unsatisfied with U.S. intransigence over resolving Kurdish displacement in the north--something Saddam engineered preceding and during his genocide of the Kurds in 1987-8--and that Iraqi Arabs would not react to unilateral Kurdish actions passively. Such a situation appears, dangerously, to be coming to pass:

<$NoAd$> Thousands of ethnic Kurds are pushing into lands formerly held by Iraqi Arabs, forcing tens of thousands of them to flee to ramshackle refugee camps and transforming the demographic and political map of northern Iraq.

The Kurds are returning to lands from which they were expelled by the armies of Saddam Hussein and his predecessors in the Baath Party, who ordered thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed and sent waves of Iraqi Arabs north to fill the area with supporters.

The new movement, which began with the fall of Mr. Hussein, appears to have quickened this spring amid confusion about American policy, along with political pressure by Kurdish leaders to resettle the areas formerly held by Arabs. It is happening at a moment when Kurds are threatening to withdraw from the national government if they are not confident of having sufficient autonomy.

In Baghdad, American officials say they are struggling to keep the displaced Kurds on the north side of the Green Line, the boundary of the Kurdish autonomous region. The Americans agree that the Kurds deserve to return to their ancestral lands, but they want an orderly migration to avoid ethnic strife and political instability.

But thousands of Kurds appear to be ignoring the American orders. New Kurdish families show up every day at the camps that mark the landscape here, settling into tents and tumble-down homes as they wait to reclaim their former lands. The Kurdish migration appears to be causing widespread misery, with Arabs complaining of expulsions and even murders at the hands of Kurdish returnees. Many of the Kurdish refugees themselves are gathered in crowded camps.

American officials say as many as 100,000 Arabs have fled their homes in north-central Iraq and are now scattered in squalid camps across the center of the country. With the anti-American insurgency raging across much of the same area, the Arab refugees appear to be receiving neither food nor shelter from the Iraqi government, relief organizations or American forces.

"The Kurds, they laughed at us, they threw tomatoes at us," said Karim Qadam, a 45-year-old father of three, now living amid the rubble of a blown-up building in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad. "They told us to get out of our homes. They told us they would kill us. They told us, `You don't own anything here anymore.' " …

The biggest potential flash point is Kirkuk, a city contested by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. Kurdish leaders want to make the city, with its vast oil deposits, the Kurdish regional capital and resettle it with Kurds who were driven out in the 1980's.

To make the point, some 10,000 Kurds have gathered in a sprawling camp outside Kirkuk, where they are pressing the American authorities to let them enter the city. American military officers who control Kirkuk say they are blocking attempts to expel more Arabs from the town, for fear of igniting ethnic unrest.

"The Kurds are pushing, pushing," said Pascal Ishu Warda, the minister for displaced persons and migration. "We have to set up a system to deal with these people who have been thrown out of their homes."

Arabs will not react passively if they perceive the Kurds expelling Arabs from the north. Already, in heavily-armed Falluja, anti-Kurdish sentiment pervades. The Washington Post recently quoted one Iraqi who blamed the U.S. and the Kurds--participants in the April attack by the U.S. on the city--for the death of his daughter. "I will send my brothers north to kill the Kurds," he said . The displacement of Arabs from the (oil-drenched) north might be all the spark that the (resource-light) Sunni areas require to lead to an all-out civil war.

And in that situation, what will the U.S. do? The Kurds are our allies in every significant sense: One of the most betrayed people in the history of the world, they fought with us to overthrow Saddam. We may well find ourselves having to deploy forces to separate Iraq's different ethnicities, a very dangerous situation for our troops. How this will play out in practice in a place like Kirkuk--multiethnic, resource-rich and claimed by Arabs and Kurds alike--is incredibly difficult to determine. And it puts the U.S. in something close to a worst-case scenario.