Sonic Puke
It's all fun and games until somebody pokes out an eye


North Korea trip
The brainwashing of North Koreans is so strange...

I?ll never forget when I was in grade school in the early and mid-1960s, we were taught how evil communism was, and how the population was brainwashed, and how the government controls the media and controls what people think. You never really understand or appreciate what that means until you experience it firsthand. And being in North Korea, I experienced it very firsthand.

There were only two television stations, for example, both of them 24-hour propaganda. There were only two or three radio stations, all of them totally government-controled propaganda. And the population in North Korea is fed an entirely different base of knowledge in terms of world history. They live in 1952. I?m not being funny; I?m not exaggerating. They still believe and make their population believe that the Korean War is essentially continuing to take place; although it may not be an armed conflict, the population believes that North Korea is still at war with the West in many ways.

According to the North Korean doctrine, the North Koreans won World War II, and defeated Japan. There?s no reference to American involvement. There?s no reference to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to the North Korean government, that never happened; it was North Korea that defeated Japan and ended World War II. That?ll give you an idea of just how brainwashed North Koreans are. That?s what they?re taught in schools.

On the way over to pay homage to the ?Great Leader,? we were informed by our ?cultural attaché? in no uncertain terms that we were not to ?molest? any of the North Korean women. It sounds funny until you realize that that was their fear, because they?re taught that Westerners are barbarians ? that we?re there to rape, kill, burn, destroy. That?s their view of who Americans are -- Westerners in general, but specifically Americans. It wasn?t meant as an insult, it was meant as a warning, because they really thought that that was what we were there to do.

Coincidentally, at that time, I was doing a lot of jogging, and I liked to get up in the morning and run. One morning I got up at about 6 a.m., and just for the fun of it, I decided, ?You know what? I?m not going to wait for that cultural attaché of mine.? I put on a pair of bright red sweatpants and a yellow T-shirt, and went jogging through the streets of Pyongyang, North Korea, during rush hour.

North Korean rush hour is all foot traffic; there are no cars. Just foot traffic and bicycles. The only cars are government or police. It was bizarre. And by the way, my cultural attaché didn?t see me leave the hotel. Evidently, he didn?t expect me to get up quite that early.

All of the North Koreans were going to work. One of the things I found very interesting is that, no matter what your job is in North Korea, you walk to work in a suit. Whether you work in a factory, a dairy or a post office, you walk to work in a suit, and then when you get to work, you change into whatever work clothes you wear. When you?re done, you take your work clothes off, put your suit on and walk back home. So everyone was walking around in a suit ? either dark blue or black.

They?re all wearing black or dark blue, and there is this incarnation of evil, as they?ve been brought up to believe because of brainwashing, jogging down the street in rush hour one Wednesday morning in Pyongyang, North Korea, wearing red sweatpants and a yellow T-shirt. And the people were scared to death. As I?m running down the street, crowds of people were literally parting like the Red Sea. They weren?t rude; they weren?t aggressive in any way. Quite the opposite, they were so taken aback.

North Korea is so poverty stricken that in the countryside they literally eat their dead. That?s been documented by a number of recent news stories and documentaries. They?re famished. They?ve been in a condition of drought for an extended period of time, probably nearly a decade. So there?s very little if any agriculture. They really have no resources. They?re entire economy is built around their military and weaponry. They really don?t have any infrastructure to feed their culture, which is one of the reasons that they?re in such a desperate condition.

But it?s very well hidden. They?re very cognizant of what they let people see, including their own population. They see their population going to work in a suit every day ? even though they?re not making any money, and even though they go home to starving families. You would never see the kind of poverty in Pyongyang that you would see in an American city. You?d never see anybody sleeping in the street in Pyongyang. They?d take you away and probably barbecue you.


Shoulder to shoulder, Blair and Bush nominated for peace prize

One has ordered his forces into battle more times than any other postwar British leader. The other threatens military action against "evil" nations and keeps a scorecard of dead al-Qaida leaders, marking each fatality with an X.
Now, Tony Blair and George Bush have received international recognition for their unswerving willingness to use force: a nomination for the 2002 Nobel peace prize.

Jordan Breathes Sigh of Relief After Iraq War
Domino democracy, it's not just a fantasy...

"We will always have the fear of what instability will happen between the Israelis and Palestinians looking over our shoulder if we don't solve that problem," Abdullah said in a television interview with the BBC two weeks ago. "Therefore, democratic reforms, economic and social reforms in Jordan will never go the way we want until we solve that problem."

With the Iraq war now over, however, the Jordanian government is out to restore public support by taking tentative steps toward liberalization, including elections, after freezing political reform in recent years.

Iranian Reformist MPs call for restoring relations with US
Promising developments in the axis of evil...

IRNA -- Some 154 members of the parliament on
Wednesday called on the Foreign Ministry to adopt active diplomacy to
restore relations with the United States as a "deterrent approach" to
possible threats.
The MPs defended their call for restoring relations with the
United States as being in line with the national interest and a
democratic demand.
The MPs urged the Foreign Ministry to push for confidence
building in the international scene and help remove any
misunderstanding with other nations.
The statement maintained in the meantime that the recommendation
is in line with the aspirations of the Islamic Revolution,
independence of the country and freedom.
Referring to the events going on in Afghanistan and Iraq over
the past two years, the statement said that ignoring the
recommendation may cause disaster for the nation. Such a threat should
be dealt with timely, it said.
Comparing the popularity of the Islamic Republic of Iran with
the Iraqi 30-year-old dictatorship and Iran's eight-year sacred
defense against the Iraqi-imposed war, the statement said that the
Iraqi people did not defend their country against the coalition
invasion because they no longer were willing that their national
wealth being put at Saddam's disposal.
"We believe that the progress and bright prospects will be
available with safeguarding the territorial integrity, independence,
freedom and the Islamic Republic and that no excuse is acceptable to
ignore our recommendation," the reformist MPs said.


U-S recovers 40-thousand manuscripts, 700 artifacts missing from Iraq museum
Artifacts and manuscripts recovered from museum looting...

AP -- The U-S has recovered thousands of manuscripts and hundreds of artifacts missing from Iraq's National Museum. Among the items found are a seven-thousand-year-old clay pot and a cornerstone from King Nebuchadnezzar's ancient palace.

In all, U-S officials say they've found nearly 40-thousand manuscripts and 700 artifacts that disappeared during looting in Baghdad.

Some of the items thought to be missing were actually hidden in vaults before the war in Iraq began. Officials say people returned others once they heard about amnesty and potential rewards.

It's not clear how many priceless artifacts are still missing. Officials know of 38 major artifacts that are gone, but some experts say thousands of items could already have gone out of the country.


Despite Hazards, American Forces Making Progress
Things looking up for the Iraqis

o Soldiers from V Corps continued to remove stockpiled Iraqi ammunition from sites in Baghdad to prevent black marketing. Similar to what's been done in Afghanistan, unserviceable weapons and ammunition are destroyed, while functioning equipment and intact ammunition are being held for future use by the Iraqi military.

o Five out of 14 schools in Safwan reopened. In Al Zabayr, 48 of 60 schools have reopened.

o The Kirkuk government building formally reopened.

o All five hospitals in Najaf are open, and all five have functioning ambulance service.

o Power is fully restored in one-third of 27 key cities. Water supply is at or above pre-war levels in more than half of the cities.

o The security situation in 19 of the key cities is considered "permissive." Iraqi police forces are operating in many of the cities, often with joint Iraqi/coalition patrols.

Forever a Prisoner 'Once you become an enemy of Uday, you are nothing.'
Toture stories of Saddam's evil son Uday coming out now... And how he ruined one womans life

Naadi's trouble began when he barred one of Uday's girlfriends from entering the Babylon Hotel, where he worked, because she was drunk. Soon after, he was accused of stealing videotapes out of Uday's house. Nouman persuaded Naadi to let her represent him. The charges were so obviously false that the court threw them out without much argument. But the clock had begun to run down on Nouman's liberty. "My friends told me I had cut my own neck," she says. "But I thought Uday wouldn't dare to touch a lawyer, a respected member of society."

How wrong she was. Barely a month after the Naadi verdict, in a casual conversation with law colleagues, Nouman said the fateful words, "There's no justice in this country." Someone informed the police, and within hours she was arrested for contempt of court. Taken to al-Zafaraniya police station, she was, she says, brutally beaten for several days in a row, raped and had a hot candle forced into her rectum. "I kept telling the police, 'You can't do this to me. I'm a lawyer,'" she says, smiling sadly at her own naivete. "They said, 'Once you become an enemy of Uday, you are nothing.'"

After a week of near constant torture, Nouman recounts, she was taken to al-Rashad hospital on the outskirts of the city. There she had the first of countless sessions of shock treatment. When she was released a month later, Nouman recalls, she felt "like a nightmare was over." It was just beginning. She had been out only a few months when the police picked her up again, this time for allegedly saying (she denies it) "I hate Saddam." She was taken, she says, to the Khadamiya Prison for women, for a six-month spell with long stretches in solitary confinement. She was tortured and beaten by other prisoners.

"The wardens told the other women that since I was an enemy of Uday, they had permission to do whatever they wanted to me," Nouman says. "The women wanted to please the wardens, so they were constantly slamming me against the walls." Again she was sent back to al-Rashad.

Nouman's life settled into a pattern. She would be arrested, thrown into prison for a few months of torture, then forced to spend a month in the mental hospital. She would be released for a few months, and then the cycle would begin again. Looking back, she has difficulty remembering the chronology and duration of her incarcerations. "There were too many," she says, "and after all those years of taking drugs at the hospital of madness, my memory is mixed up." But if the repeated punishment was meant to silence Nouman, it had the opposite effect. "When I realized that they could arrest me whether or not I did anything wrong, I thought, Why not speak my mind?" She recounts how she tore up Saddam posters in the street, chanted anti-Uday slogans and, on one occasion, refused to take a 100-dinar note in change from a shopkeeper, declaring, "I don't want another picture of Saddam Hussein."

Her most famous act of defiance came in 1988, after Uday personally murdered Kamel Hanna Jajjo, Saddam's majordomo, for acting as a go-between for Saddam and one of his mistresses. Word of the scandal spread through Baghdad?even to Nouman, in prison. At her next court hearing, she stood up and delivered an impromptu speech. Uday had killed a man, she said, and he should be brought to trial and imprisoned. "I said what every Iraqi was thinking," she says. "I just had nothing to lose. What could they do to me that they were not already doing?"

In Baghdad's working-class districts, Nouman gained a certain amount of fame as the crazy woman lawyer who dared to stand up to Uday. Even some of the staff at the mental hospital came to admire her tenacity. "She never stopped speaking against Uday, not even when she was getting shock treatment," says Jabar Rubbaiyeh Lefteh, an ambulance driver at the mental hospital. "She was braver than any man I know."

She has one other ambition. In all the years she suffered his vengeance, Nouman never met Uday. Before the war, she says, she didn't want to. Now she would love to confront her tormentor. "I want to see him, and I want him to see me," she says, thumping her chest. "I want to tell him, 'Look, I am still here, still saying what I want to say. You tried to stop me and couldn't. What can you do now?'"

Fuck you Uday. I hope you have to face this woman one day...

Estekhbarat records reveal monstrous nature of Saddam's regime

The unprecedented persecution and killings of
Iraqi Shiites during the barbarous and inhuman rule of Saddam and his
henchmen clearly demonstrates the monstrous nature of the Baathist
regime, condemned `Iran News' in its editorial on Tuesday.
Iraqi intelligence ministry Estekhbarat records recently made
public after the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime revealed that 182
Shiite dissident clerics were murdered by the former Baath regime
during a 19 year period.
Apparently, these religious figures were either kidnapped or
arrested without any prior warning and never heard from again, it
This tragic news clearly indicates the true wickedness and
monstrous nature of Saddam's brutal tyranny, the extent of which
may never be fully comprehended it said.

Most hospitals in Baghdad well supplied
Things get better and better daily now that Iraq has been liberated...

U.S. military officials charged with rebuilding Iraq's emergency services say that hospitals in Baghdad are in far better shape than previous reports of massive looting had indicated.
Far from having been stripped bare, the majority of hospitals have adequate equipment, and more crutches and medication have arrived than are needed, thanks to contributions from international humanitarian organizations.
Officials also said that, according to private surveys, fewer than half of Baghdad's hospitals had been ransacked. One independent survey said seven of 27 hospitals examined had been looted and that many others were spared because they were guarded by American tanks.
There are more hospital beds available in Baghdad than there are patients to fill them, the U.S. officials said late last week.
The International Committee of the Red Cross provided some independent backing for that claim, reporting that the 250-bed Al Na'uman hospital had 90 patients.
"The staff are generally less busy now, and carry out five to six surgical interventions a day," the report said.
The U.S. team said a lack of electricity and water supplies continues to pose some problems for hospitals, though most are coping either on the city's power or on generators.
Doctors and staff have mostly returned to work, the Red Cross and U.S. officials said.
Doctors at two Baghdad hospitals ? one state-run and the other private ? said in interviews that their main business was attending to people with gunshot wounds or burns caused by antilooter and antitheft vigilante activities, score-settling, handling of unexploded ordnance and general lawlessness.

At St. Rafael's, the private hospital closest to the center of Baghdad, the Iraqi Dominican sisters who run it said they had acted swiftly when looters were gathering after the government collapsed last month.
"We ran out and urged American soldiers to guard us," said Sister Marcia Sultana Hana. "They came right away ? with two tanks and some soldiers. They're still here, and we're very pleased they are."
Lt. Col. Carol Hammes, a spokeswoman on medical affairs for U.S. Central Command, said the United States was coordinating medical efforts with private relief organizations.
"The unfortunate part, the problem we have, is we continue to get these offers and donations that really overwhelm the system," she said.
"Drugs and medications get outdated. The amount is just too much," she added. "We have enough crutches and bandages to last us 10 years."
Large supplies of drugs ? probably diverted from civilian hospitals by Saddam Hussein's regime to be used for military casualties ? were found in at least three warehouses by troops looking for weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officers are looking for ways to upgrade the medical system, especially in the Shi'ite-dominated south, where infrastructure has long been neglected.
Dr. Skip Burkle, a senior medical official with the U.S. Agency for International Development, has proposed a scheme where Western hospitals "adopt" Iraqi hospitals and help them with staff training, equipment and exchange programs.

U.S. Officials 'Confident' of Weapons Lab Find
Will the left shutup now? Not likely...

A vehicle found by Kurdish fighters last week in the northern Iraq city of Arbil may be a mobile weapons laboratory, U.S. officials said.

Senior Defense officials told Fox News they are "confident" the vehicle was used to manufacture biological or chemical weapons agents. The vehicle contained fermenting tanks and dryers, such as those used to make the powder form of anthrax. Initial tests on the interior of the vehicle, which appeared to have been thoroughly cleaned, turned up negative results, but officials said tests were ongoing.

"There are a number of tests going on right now in a number of different locations in regards to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction," officials told Fox News.

The vehicle resembles an 18-wheeler Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a Feb. 5 presentation before the U.N. Security Council was a mobile weapons lab that had been moved around to elude weapons inspectors.

Evidence that the vehicle was used to both manufacture banned weapons and hide them from U.N. weapons inspectors would be a boon to the United States, which has been criticized for the lack of a "smoking gun" pointing to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein's Son Took $1 Billion Just Before War, Bank Aide Says
Saddam and sons stuffing pockets instead of feeding the people of Iraq ;(

In the hours before American bombs began falling on the Iraqi capital, one of President Saddam Hussein's sons and a close adviser carried off nearly $1 billion in cash from the country's Central Bank, according to American and Iraqi officials here.

The removal of the money, which would amount to one of the largest bank robberies in history, was performed under the direct orders of Mr. Hussein, according to an Iraqi official with knowledge of the incident. The official, who asked not to be identified, said that no financial rationale had been offered for removing the money from the bank's vaults, and that no one had been told where the money would be taken.

"When you get an order from Saddam Hussein, you do not discuss it," said the Iraqi official, who held a senior position in a bank under Mr. Hussein's government. He said he had been told about the seizure of the cash by the Iraqi financial officials who had turned over the money to Mr. Hussein's son and the adviser.

The sheer volume of the cash was so great ? some $900 million in American $100 bills and as much as $100 million worth of euros ? that three tractor-trailers were needed to cart it off, the Iraqi official said. It took a team of workers two hours to load up the cash. Their work was completed before employees of the downtown Baghdad bank arrived for work.

The seizure of the money was confirmed by a United States Treasury official assigned to work with Iraqi financial officers here to rebuild the country's banking and financial system.

Iraqi officials said they were uncertain of the effects that the disappearance of $1 billion would have on the Iraqi economy. The Iraqi official said the removal of the money amounted to about a quarter of the Central Bank's hard currency reserves.

Iranian Culture minister calls for freedom of press
Good signs coming from Tehran...

Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ahmad Masjed Jamei said here on Saturday that freedom of the press will prevent the accumulation of negative anxieties in society.

The minister added that freedom of the press is a lengthy process unattainable through political decision-making. Speaking on the World Day of Freedom of the Press commemorated in Iranian Journalists Association, he added that the challenge interfering the promotion of such a freedom can only be tackled by dialogue and proper analysis of the present status of the press in
the country.

The minister said that the close assessment of the press laws,
freedom and limits of its task is effective in institutionalizing
freedom of the press. Referring to `Independence', `Freedom' and `Islamic Republic' as three distinct principles of the constitution, he said that independence and freedom complement one another.

He added that according to the constitution, freedom of the press can be realized.

More looting, but not in Iraq...

Calm has returned to the fishing community of Shippagan after a weekend crab protest caused millions of dollars in damage. Rioters burned boats and buildings on Saturday, but police say the town was peaceful overnight.

Federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault says he was "shocked and saddened" by the arson and vandalism, but says his department bears no blame for the unrest.

The protest began on Friday night when a mob burned about 100 crab traps on the town's wharf and escalated on Saturday afternoon when about 250 people roamed the streets for nine hours, burning boats and buildings.

Saddam killed his top commander as U.S. forces stormed Baghdad
No wonder they collapsed, what an idiot. Possibly the worst "general" ever?

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein killed his leading military commander on charges of treason as U.S. forces captured Baghdad.

The London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily said Saddam and his younger son, Qusay, executed Gen. Seif Eddin Al Rawi on April 8. The newspaper said Al Rawi, commander of the elite Republican Guards, was accused of treason and shot in the head and back.

Al Rawi was summoned by Saddam and executed on the day U.S. marines captured the Iraqi capital. The newspaper said Al Rawi's body was sent to his family.

The newspaper report appeared to indicate that Saddam had not intended to allow the rapid advance of the U.S. military toward Baghdad. Saddam had deployed six Republican Guard divisions around the Iraqi capital, Middle East Newsline reported.
But two of the divisions, the Baghdad and Medina divisions, were neutralized by U.S. air attacks. The four other divisions were said to have failed to put up serious resistance.

On Friday, U.S. Central Command announced the capture of three Saddam aides. The command said two of them were members of the Revolutionary Command Council and the third was the director of Iraq's weapons development program. All three were captured on Thursday.

U.S. Brokers 'Election' Of City Council For Mosul
First taste of Democracy for some Iraqi's...

( & News Agencies) - An assembly of more than 200 people meeting under U.S. "auspices" elected a mayor and council for Iraq's northern capital Monday, May 5.

Amid strong U.S. military security, some 250 delegates listened to a speech by the top U.S. military official in the region before parting to choose the 24-member council, which will select a mayor from three independent candidates.

As the delegates left to choose their representatives, several of them announced to the media that they were withdrawing from the election in protest at the division of delegates along ethnic lines.

Delegates elected an Arab mayor, a Kurdish deputy mayor and two assistant mayors from the Turkmen and Assyrian Christian communities, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said.

A 24-member city council also included representatives of the Yezidi and Shabak communities, two Kurdish sub-groups, and was "carefully" balanced to represent both the city and the surrounding countryside.

The council comprises seven Arabs from inside the city and six from outside, three Kurds, two Assyrian Christians from inside the city and one from outside, one Turkmen and two retired army officers, one from the Shabak community and one Yezidi.

"I congratulate you on your achievement today," Major General David Petraeus, commanding officer of 101st Airborne Division told delegates after the election.

"You have taken a major step forward for Mosul and Iraq. I want to thank the many citizens who worked with us to organize this meeting," he said.

The new mayor, retired army general Ghanim al-Boso, pledged to work "closely" with the U.S.-led troops occupying the city.

"I promise that I will sincerely work with you and with the coalition for the well-being of Mosul and Iraq," he said.

Victims of repression unearthed in Iraq
More victims of Saddams evil regime coming up every day ;(

(Reuters) - Iraqis clawed or shovelled through a mass grave on Sunday to uncover the remains of dozens of people, some with blindfolds and hands tied, who appeared to have been executed in a 1991 Shi'ite Muslim uprising.

Rotting clothes held together little more than skeletons or bones. Witnesses watched them being extracted from the site, about 20 km north of Najaf, then wrapped in white sheets with their plastic-coated identity cards tied on.

By the end of the day, 47 bundles of remains had been reburied in unmarked graves.

Jawbones, thigh or arm bones and skulls with patches of hair jutted from the soil. They wore civilian clothes and shoes.

North Drawing Lessons From Saddam's Fall
DPRK getting scared I think... Executing their leader much like Saddam...

North Korea is evaluating its leaders to confirm their loyalty to the regime, assuming the Saddam Hussein regime fell because its military leaders betrayed it, a private U.S. global intelligence consulting firm said over the weekend.
The consultant, Stratfor, quoted North Korean informed services in Europe as saying high North Korean officials were closely analyzing the Iraq war to learn lessons from it. The North believes that the Saddam regime collapsed due to the betrayal of Iraq's military leaders rather than superior U.S. military capabilities, Stratfor said, adding that Pyongyang thinks it can make a U.S. attack less likely if such internal betrayals do not occur.

Stratfor said Pyongyang would take appropriate actions to prevent such betrayals from occurring within its ranks. North Korea is starting to strengthen the union between its leaders and the public, the consultant said. Pyongyang implemented a new military service law in March under which government officials under the age of 40 who avoided military service will have to go back and fulfill it.

Food Fight

Looting at the UN!!!

When the Food Workers Union stages an impromptu walkout at the U.N., the diplomats start looting for lunch and booze

The decision to make the cafeterias into "no pay zones" spread through the 40-acre complex like wildfire. Soon, the hungry patrons came running. "It was chaos, wild, something out of a war scene," said one Aramark executive who was present. "They took everything, even the silverware," she said. Another witness from U.N. security said the cafeteria was "stripped bare." And another told TIME that the cafeteria raid was "unbelievable, crowds of people just taking everything in sight; they stripped the place bare." And yet another astonished witness said that "chickens, turkeys, souffles, casseroles all went out the door (unpaid)."

The mob then moved on to the Viennese Café, a popular snack bar in the U.N.'s conference room facility. It was also stripped bare. The takers included some well-known diplomats who finished off the raid with free drinks at the lounge for delegates. When asked how much liquor was lifted from the U.N. bar, one U.S. diplomat responded: "I stopped counting the bottles." He then excused himself and headed towards the men's room.

An Aramark executive estimated the food "removed" from the U.N.'s main cafeteria at between $7,000 and $9,000 not including the staff restaurant, the Viennese Café or the Delegate's Bar. The value of the missing silverware has yet to be estimated.

Powell Says Syria Is Taking Action on Terror Groups
More results in from the liberation of Iraq/war on terror...

a senior State Department official said that Syria had shut down the offices of three organizations that the United States considers terrorist. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, identified them as Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Syria has long maintained that the groups only kept information offices in Damascus. The State Department official also said that Syria was taking steps to ensure that members of the groups would limit their television appearances from Damascus.

In his visit to Syria, Mr. Powell said that "a new strategic situation" had emerged with the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. President Bush referred today to some of outstanding business of the war with Iraq, saying that he was confident that proscribed weapons would be found there.

It appeared that the administration's message had already been heard in Syria. Speaking at a news conference in Beirut hours after a visit to Damascus, Mr. Powell said of the Syrian government: "They did some closures. I expect them to do more with respect to access and the appearance of various officials of organizations, and we've provided some other suggestions to the Syrians that they have taken under advisement. And I expect to hear back from them in the future."

Iraq War's Impact Spreads in Arab World
Positive effects of the liberation of Iraq turning up already in the middle east...

Radical regimes in Syria and Iran are suddenly toning down the anti-U.S. rhetoric and urging dialogue. Authoritarian leaders in Egypt and Jordan are talking - with varying degrees of enthusiasm - about democratization, while militants in the streets of Cairo and Amman predict a wave of new recruits to fight the American occupiers and their supporters.

Awed by Washington's display of firepower in Iraq, no one looks likely to claim Saddam's mantle as leader of defiance to the West.

Beirut regards Hezbollah as a legitimate resistance movement against Israel. But Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, seems worried too.

"In the end, we are facing a new reality," he told supporters after the U.S. victory in Iraq.

Iranian hard-liners are signaling a new willingness to consider the possibility of restoring ties with Washington, cut since the 1979 Islamic revolution and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy.

Iran's former president threw his weight last month behind the idea of a referendum on restoring ties - an idea believed to have broad popular support despite official opposition.

After Washington charged Iran was trying to promote an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq, Tehran was quick to deny it.

"Tehran does not want any friction with Washington over issues concerning Iraq," said Hasan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council.

Some have suggested Washington's professed determination to establish a democratic government in Iraq could have a domino effect in the region - depending on how it goes.

Some of those moderate allies have been taking democratic steps, even if small ones.

Bahrain had its first parliamentary elections in three decades last October. Qatari voters approved their first constitution this week and the first parliamentary elections are expected next year.

In Jordan, which has been without a parliament for two years, King Abdullah II promises elections will finally go ahead June 17.

"That'll get us back on the right track as quickly as possible," he said in a CNN interview. "We're not looking over our shoulder. I mean we're looking to the future and moving."

US plots to oust Mugabe with African nations' help
US taking action against another terrible regime...

The United States ? backed by Britain ? is pushing for "regime change" in Zimbabwe that would see President Robert Mugabe replaced by a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The new president would then call a constitutional conference and organise elections to be monitored by the international community.

President George Bush is sending Walter Kansteiner, his special adviser on Africa, to the region next week. The US is persuading African leaders to back its strategy to use regional pressure to bring about the regime change.

Rather than demand an immediate re-run of the March 2002 presidential election, which international observers accused Mr Mugabe of rigging, the US is pushing a so-called "Palestinian strategy". This refers to the sidelining of Yasser Arafat in favour of the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas.

America, Britain and South Africa have indicated that the country's former finance minister Simba Makoni is a suitable interim figure to take over from Mr Mugabe.

Mr Makoni is untainted by the worst excesses of the Mugabe regime and has publicly denounced the chaotic land seizures that have driven the country to the edge of disaster.

Iraqi Shiites Reject Iranian Influence
The title speaks for itself...

A generation after Khomeini left Najaf and led Iran's Islamic revolution, little of his legacy here remains. And as Shiite religious leaders begin to build their own power base in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, many are rejecting Iran's guidance.

Shiites are gathering in this southern Iraqi city - freely, for the first time in years - to mark the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Amid the religious and political maneuverings is a sense that, although mostly Shiite Iran looms large, it and its model of rule by Muslim clerics will not guide Iraq's Shiites toward their future.

``Our relations with Iran will be like with any neighboring country,'' said Sheik Adel Najm al-Saedi, Manwan's husband. ``Of course the special bond of Shiites will connect us. But that is all.''


Bad reporting in baghdad - You have no idea how well things are going.
Many reporters exagerate/focus only on the bad things, reality is much better...

It's things like the way the women old and young flirt outrageously with GIs, lifting their veils to smile, waving from high windows, and shyly calling hello from half-opened doors. Or the way the little girls seem to speak much better English than the little boys who are always elbowing them out of the way. Or the way the troops get a sense of the gender violence endemic in the culture: Yesterday in the poor al Sahliya neighborhood two sweet 12 to 14-year-old sisters on a rooftop who introduced themselves to me and Staff Sergeant Gannon Edgy as Souha and Samaha were chased away by a rock-wielding male relative. His violent anger hinted at problems to come here.

But you won't see much of this on TV or read about it in the papers. To an amazing degree, the Baghdad-based press corps avoids writing about or filming the friendly dealings between U.S. forces here and the local population--most likely because to do so would require them to report the extravagant expressions of gratitude that accompany every such encounter. Instead you read story after story about the supposed fury of Baghdadis at the Americans for allowing the breakdown of law and order in their city.

Well, I've met hundreds of Iraqis as I accompanied army patrols all over the city during the past two weeks and I've never encountered any such fury (even in areas that were formerly controlled by the Marines, who as the premier warrior force were never expected to carry out peacekeeping or policing functions). There is understandable frustration about the continuing failure of the Americans to get the water supply and the electricity turned back on, though the ubiquity of generators indicates that the latter was always a problem. And there are appeals for more protection (difficult to provide with only 12,000 troops in a city of 6 million that has not been placed under strick martial law). But there is no fury.