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News supplement, 12-19/11/00



NEWS SUPPLEMENT, 12-19/11/00

*  U.S. ally Turkey doubting Iraq embargo
*  John Nichol - Back To My Cell (RAF hero John Nichol's emotional return to
Iraq)
*  John Nichol: Ten years ago I tried to bomb your country yet now we're
here as equals. My heart is very full.
*  Back to Iraq: The people [extract from BBC account of John Nichol's visit
to Iraq]
*  Lift the sanctions against Iraq now [article by John Nichol in The
Observer]
*  Analysis: Bashar's slow, steady start [on Bashar Assad in Syria]
*  Degraded policy [attack on sanctions policy by Jeremy Hardy in the
Guardian]


http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/printedition/article/0,2669,SAV
0011120412,FF.html

*  U.S. ALLY TURKEY DOUBTING IRAQ EMBARGO
Ankara joins governments flying to Baghdad despite ban
by Tom Hundley, Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2000

ANKARA, Turkey -- International resolve to maintain stiff sanctions against
Iraq has slipped significantly in recent months, as the Baghdad regime
learned last week when it successfully resumed commercial air service
through no-fly zones in the northern and southern parts of the country.

Russia and France were the first major powers to break the ice on
international flights when they sent aid flights to Baghdad earlier this
fall. Now Turkey, normally a close U.S. ally, has joined the growing list of
nations to challenge the flight ban.

The only member of NATO that shares a border with Iraq, Turkey has been one
of the main bulwarks of the 10-year-old sanctions program--at an estimated
cost to the Turkish economy of $35 billion in lost trade.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, in an interview last week, said the
time had come for the U.S. and its allies "to explore if there can be some
adjustment of the sanctions."

"There is growing reaction against the sanctions," Cem said. "The U.S.
really should consult with others to see what is wrong with the policy and
to see if together we can develop a new one."

The foreign minister argued that the sanctions had been in place for a
decade, but had brought the U.S. and its allies no closer to their goal of
undermining the regime of Saddam Hussein. If anything, Hussein is more
entrenched now than he was when the Persian Gulf war ended.

"We now have in Iraq a whole generation, which is underfed, which doesn't
have enough vitamins, and which is growing up with a hatred toward
everyone--their environment, their parents, their leaders, their neighbors,"
he said. "This generation is going to govern Iraq in five years time, and
this will create an enormous danger for the whole region."

Although the declared goal of U.S. policy is to topple Hussein--and Congress
has set aside $80 million for this purpose--the sanctions imposed by the
United Nations Security Council have a more limited scope: to force Hussein
to give up his existing weapons of mass destruction and prevent him from
adding to his arsenal.

Critics say the Clinton administration's bellicose policy, which includes
flying daily combat missions over the no-fly zones in Iraqi territory,
undermines the supposed purpose of the sanctions.

"If your official policy is to remove the regime, you can't expect the
regime to comply with the UN resolutions," said one diplomat in the region.

The collapse of the Mideast peace process has been another factor
contributing to the rapid erosion of international support for the
sanctions. Escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians has put
pressure on moderate Arab governments and strengthened the hand of more
zealous ones across the region.

"Saddam Hussein is seen as a figure who resisted the West. With the
hostility all across the Arab world toward Israel and the United States, the
political climate is very conducive to being exploited by Saddam," said
Feridun Sinirlioglu, director of the Middle East desk at the Turkish Foreign
Ministry.

The French and Russian aid flights to Iraq were followed in quick succession
by flights from Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates,
Algeria, Syria and Egypt.

France and Russia obtained UN permission for their humanitarian flights, but
Egypt and Syria did not. Although the two Turkish flights were cleared by
the UN, some officials have indicated that in the future Turkey might not
feel the need to ask for UN approval.

Sinirlioglu pointed out that Turkey had stood with the U.S. in enforcing the
sanctions even though it had cost the Turkish economy dearly in lost trade
and contributed significantly to the impoverishment of the country's
troubled southeast region. He also noted that Turkey allows the U.S. to use
a Turkish air base and Turkish airspace for the fighters that enforce the
no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

Echoing Cem's concerns about Iraq's "angry generation," Sinirlioglu said:
"We are not getting Iraq's people to our side by these harsh sanctions. The
reality for us is that Iraq is our neighbor and Iraq will remain our
neighbor. By sending aid, we are trying to gain the hearts of Iraq's
people."

In addition to the aid flights, Turkish officials recently held discussions
with Baghdad about upgrading rail links between the two countries and
increasing the flow of Iraqi oil through a pipeline that crosses Turkish
territory to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Although Iraq is allowed to sell all of its oil under the UN's oil-for-food
program, this and other signs of warming toward Iraq became points of
contention with the U.S. when Ankara linked them to its unhappiness over a
House of Representatives resolution condemning the Turks for the World War I
genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians. The U.S. bowed to Turkish pressure
and the resolution was withdrawn at the last moment.

All of this has emboldened Hussein, who last week began using converted
military aircraft to fly civilians to the northern city of Mosul and the
southern city of Basra.

A State Department official said the U.S. "will continue to monitor closely
any Iraqi aviation to determine whether it poses a threat to our forces,
Iraq's neighbors or the Iraqi people." So far, U.S. military planes have not
challenged the Iraqi flights.

The U.S. and Britain established the no-fly zones after the gulf war to
protect Iraqi Kurds in the north and the Muslim Shiite minority in the
south.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told Arab news agencies that
Baghdad intended to increase the passenger flights until the no-fly zones
were broken.

To encourage other nations to resume flights to the country, Iraq is
offering a free tank of fuel to any incoming aircraft.


http://www.mirror.co.uk/shtml/NEWS/P8S4.shtml

*  JOHN NICHOL - BACK TO MY CELL (RAF HERO JOHN NICHOL'S EMOTIONAL RETURN TO
IRAQ)
The Mirror, Monday 13th Nov 2000

WITH trembling hands, John Nichol touches the graffiti scrawled on the four
walls which once imprisoned him.

When he was last here, the former RAF navigator was a prisoner of war,
suffering torture and interrogation at the hands of his Iraqi captors and
afraid that he would never see his family again.

Now he has gone back to revisit the horrific past and try to make sense of
what happened to him there.

"There were times I thought my life might have ended," he says. "I truly
believed I was going to meet my maker. Words can't describe how I feel.
Emotionally drained... my heart is pounding."

John was a 27-year-old flight lieutenant when his Tornado was shot down by a
missile over the Iraqi desert during his first airborne mission of the Gulf
war in 1991.

He and pilot John Peters ejected safely from the blazing jet, only to be
captured and tortured until they agreed to appear on television and denounce
their actions.

Their battered faces were flashed across the world - lasting images of the
horrors of war.
Blindfolded and handcuffed, John was kicked, punched and whipped. Cigarette
ends were extinguished on his face, tissue paper stuffed down his back and
set alight.

Days after the humiliating TV appearance, John was brought here, to the
Military Police HQ in the capital, Baghdad.

Today, returning with The Mirror and the BBC breakfast news, he crouches in
the dust, examining the empty 9ft-square cell in minute detail.

The smell of decay is unbearable, but John doesn't notice as he slowly works
his way around the discoloured, flaking walls.

Amid the Arabic graffiti left by other prisoners, pictures of women cut from
newspapers have been glued to the plaster. He runs his hand over the rusting
steel door - and jumps visibly at the sound of doors banging shut in the
corridors.

The stone floor is covered with pieces of rubble and rags and the beige
walls are pitted with holes which he used to fear were left by bullets.

Locked up for nearly 24 hours a day, he was allowed just 10 minutes'
exercise every couple of days. His bed was a piece of foam and his one meal
a day was bread, watery soup and occasionally meat or beans.

"I was terrified for my life. I was the most scared human in the world," he
recalls. "In the middle of the night I was kicked awake and brought here.
When they took the blindfold off, I was standing in front of a group of
Iraqi military policemen."

The Iraqi military police who greet him today are smiling and shaking hands
and offering tea.

The prison commander, Brigadier Sa'ad Minim, has offered to help find his
old cell.

John's face flickers as his memory is triggered by a simple band of red,
painted on the white walls.

"There was a small barred window high up in my cell," he explains. "If I
jumped up, I could just make out this red band running around the tops of
the buildings."

Then he stares through a tiny window and turns round, smiling. "Oh, my God!
This is definitely it," he says.

The block has been empty for seven years and the key has long been lost. The
brigadier orders his men to force their way in with sledgehammers.

Then the armed guards watch in amazement as John races around the corridors
and finds his own cell.

Despite his ordeal as a PoW, his stay here was bearable, he says.

"I'm glad we came back to this prison, because I was treated with respect
here," he tells the brigadier. "I wanted to come back and meet the Iraqi
people as real people. It's amazing how friendly they've been.

"I'm pleased I've made myself do this, but I won't be sorry to leave. Seeing
the prison again took me back to some of my darkest days. I don't think I
could have faced revisiting the bad places."

There were a few lighter moments even then. He remembers being summoned by
the guards to play football with them.

"We came out here into the courtyard and they put me in goal," he says.
"They kept shouting: 'Gascoigne' and 'Kevin Keegan' at me, and I'd nod and
say: 'Yes, they are good footballers.' It was bizarre."

Now the brigadier calls his guards - and another impromptu game begins.

It is a bizarre but emotional scene. John, in jeans and a shirt, kicks the
ball to the guards, who throw themselves vigorously into the game despite
the blistering heat and their heavy uniforms.

The courtyard echoes to shouts and laughter and dozens of other officers
crowd in to cheer them on.

Afterwards. the guards hug and kiss John on both cheeks and ask to have
their photograph taken with the curious British airman who was once their
prisoner.

When we are invited to stay for lunch, John jokes: "If we say No, will you
allow us to leave?"

"Of course," smiles the brigadier. "You are free to go."

The last time, John heard those words was on March 5, 1991. He remembers: "A
guard came into the cell one morning and said: 'The war is over. You will be
going home in 20 minutes.'

"I literally got down on my knees and said a prayer of thanks. I couldn't
believe that I had survived. "

John has co-written an account of his ordeal and has left the RAF to write
thrillers.


http://www.mirror.co.uk/shtml/NEWS/P24S1.shtml

*  JOHN NICHOL: TEN YEARS AGO I TRIED TO BOMB YOUR COUNTRY YET NOW WE'RE
HERE AS EQUALS. MY HEART IS VERY FULL.
day 2: RAF hero comes face-to-face with an old enemy
The Mirror, Tuesday 14th Nov 2000

THE British Tornado was skimming over the Iraqi desert at just 50ft when the
missile struck.
Thrown sideways by the blast, the warplane erupted into flames, streaking
through the air like a fireball.

Flight Lieutenant John Nichol screamed at John Peters, his pilot: "We've
been hit! We've been hit!"

Desperately, the airmen battled to control the crippled aircraft, taking it
into a steep climb before preparing to eject into enemy territory.

John says: "This was the start of the end of my war - the start of the worst
seven weeks of my life."

Though they parachuted safely down, they were captured by Iraqi troops and
tortured during a harrowing ordeal as prisoners of war.

Today, John has returned to the southern Iraqi desert with The Mirror and
the BBC breakfast news to try to pinpoint the spot where his wrecked Tornado
has lain for almost a decade.

Now the skies are virtually empty. Only the occasional whine of British and
US jets, patrolling the no-fly zone imposed on Iraq at the end of the Gulf
war, disturbs the silence.

John is standing on the deserted runway of Ar Rumaylah air base, the site he
was trying to destroy seconds before his mission came to a violent end.

Beside him, shrapnel and rubble surround a 40ft crater carved out of the
airstrip by an Allied bomber sent to finish the job.

"This is what we were trying to do when we were shot down," explains John.
The base guarded Iraq's biggest oil field, close to the border with Kuwait.
But now there is nothing left, and Ar Rumaylah is just a ghostly shadow in
the desert.

We have driven hundreds of miles from Baghdad, hoping to find the place
where John was shot down. At Al Basrah, the main city in this area, John
flinches as an air raid siren begins wailing, a stark reminder that Allied
jets still fly missions here.

Armed with letters from the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, we arrive at one of
the few occupied air bases left in the south, Shaibah, to ask permission to
retrace John's steps.

AN IRAQI MiG warplane on display above a portrait of Saddam Hussein
dominates the main entrance, where guards stare incredulously at the
documentation we show them.

But the suspicions of the base commander, Staff Colonel Ala Salman Dawood,
quickly disappear once he and John begin reminiscing about the war.

"You are John Nichol?" he asks, staring intently at John. John nods. "You
fly the Tornado?" John nods again.

"How many hours?" asks the colonel, referring to John's flying record.
"2,000", says John, and the colonel replies: "I also have 2,000."

Ten years ago, they might have come face-to-face in combat. But now the two
laugh and joke as they compare experiences.

Colonel Ala was shot down 10 days after John, ejecting from his MiG when it
was attacked by US Eagles.

"It happens in war," says the colonel, whose forehead still bears the scars
of his ejection. "We are airmen. We are the same. I haven't flown a plane
for six years.

"Now, only the birds are free to fly. It is terrible for a pilot."

John takes out the photographs of his wrecked Tornado taken by British
intelligence officers. In his pocket, he has the co-ordinates he took
seconds before ejecting.

The colonel agrees to help us and orders one of his men to fetch his pistol.
Guards dressed in olive green uniforms and sky-blue berets throw their
Kalashnikov rifles into the back of our car and climb in. As we drive
through the desert, dozens of camouflaged tanks lie partially hidden in the
sand. In the distance, the flames of the Ar Rumaylah oilfields light up the
horizon.

"If you'd told me 10 years ago that I'd be here with an Iraqi pilot, I'd
have thought you were mad," says John laughing." This is incredible.

"Ten years ago, I tried to bomb his country, and now we are here together as
equals. My heart feels very full."

The colonel smiles: "There must be something very special inside you to
return to Iraq."

At another bombed-out air base, Jalibah, the twisted wreckage of several
Iraqi MiGs lies surrounded by the rubble of their hangars.

As Colonel Ala and his men look at the scene in dismay and turn away, John
studies the rusting remnants of the planes. Shards of wing lie next to
battered engines.

With the help of our translator, he turns to one of the soldiers and says:
"How do you feel towards me, knowing that I came to your country to do this
to you?"

With a defiant look, the young guard replies: "It's not a matter of bearing
malice towards you, but I would ask what you think of your country coming
all this way to bomb us?`"

John nods, and says: "Politics aside, I was carrying out orders, as you
carry out your orders." They shake hands, and the guard tells John in Arabic
that he is welcome in his country.

John was 27 when he first set foot on Iraqi soil in 1991. Equipped with a
map and a compass, we drive for an hour through the featureless desert,
towards the spot where he believes he baled out. He knows the chances of
finding his Tornado are slim. It probably crashed at least a mile from his
last known position.

We are finally forced to stop several miles short. The stretch of desert in
front of us is peppered with mines. But we are almost at the point where
John was captured.

"It was somewhere out there," he says, pointing into the distance. "The
vehicles the soldiers came in would have come along this same track."

Harnessed to their orange and white parachutes and visible for miles around,
it was only a matter of time before Iraqi soldiers captured them. He says:
"John Peters and I were laughing, because we couldn't have been more visible
if we'd tried.

"There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It was a terrible feeling - we
were so exposed.

"For a moment, we thought about taking them on and going out in a blaze of
glory, but it was John who made me realise that there is always hope."

For an hour, the two airmen made their way across the desert, praying they
would be rescued. They realised they had been spotted when they saw a red
truck half a mile away and Iraqi soldiers opened fire. Armed with only a
pistol each, the airmen surrendered.

Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were pushed into the back
of the truck and driven to a nearby air base - the first of many locations
they were taken to during their seven weeks as prisoners of war.

John stands for a moment, gazing towards the horizon, before taking a few
cautious steps into the danger area.

AT HIS feet, empty gun cartridges lie rusting in the sand. John picks up a
couple in his hand. "These could even be from the guns they fired at us," he
says.

Back in Baghdad, we visit the Amiriya air raid shelter, now a shrine to the
400 Iraqi men, women and children killed when it was bombed by the
Americans.

The Iraqis call this the most savage crime of the century. The Americans
claimed the shelter was a military target and that the civilians were being
used as a human shield.

Whatever the truth, photographs of piles of bodies hanging on the inside of
the shelter reveal the shocking effects of the bomb. John is uneasy as he
walks in. He is all too aware that once, at the controls of his plane, he
could have caused destruction like this.

A giant hole has been torn through the centre of the shelter. The bodies
were removed and it has been left as it was on the day it was bombed. There
are row upon row of bouquets and flowers beside portraits of the victims.

"You can feel that something hideous happened here," John says. "I don't
think people have any concept of the devastation caused by modern warfare.

"Just because you are sitting at the controls of a plane doesn't mean you
are blissfully unaware of what is going on beneath you. War is not a
computer game.

"I have seen people killed, and when I was a prisoner in Iraq our prison was
bombed. It was a terrifying experience. I know what the reality is. Coming
back here has made me see the wider view. I feel very privileged to have
been able to do that."

On the last day of our trip, John begins packing his bags for the 12-hour
drive across Iraq to Amman in Jordan, from where we will fly home.

He feels depressed and emotionally drained after the events of the past few
days. "Before I came back, I thought it would be exciting. Now I feel quite
strange - melancholic," he says.

"People here have gone out of their way to help me. I feel I've made friends
with them, but I don't know if I will ever come back. I will carry on with
my life and they will carry on with theirs. I wonder if our paths will ever
cross again."

He has thrown away one of the gun cartridges he picked up in the sand,
explaining: "I suddenly thought: 'I don't want that to be my memory of this
trip.'

"Before I came back to Iraq, my strongest memories of this country were
obviously those of being a prisoner here. I look back at the time with a
mixture of feelings. With a degree of horror, but, in a strange way, with
fondness.

"I can't get away from the fact that it was a major part of my life.
Everything changed from that point.

"Now, I have the abiding memory of meeting the Iraqis as a free man for the
first time. I have walked side-by-side with people who were once my enemies.
That is what I will take home with me."


SEE ALSO:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1028000/1028497.st
mlow graphics version | feedback | help
*  BACK TO IRAQ: THE PEOPLE
BBC News Online, Friday, 17 November, 2000
which includes the following:

"I didn't expect anyone to be unpleasant or anything like that," John says
as we stroll.

"But on the other hand, I didn't expect them to be quite as friendly as they
have been. Everywhere we've gone people have said hello and waved."

In the oldest street in Baghdad, dating back to the Ottoman empire, we drink
tea. In the corner of Hassan Adjmi teahouse there's a huge collection of old
brass water boilers, and a row of modern aluminium teapots brewing.

The room is half dark, filled with the sound of conversation, the rattle of
backgammon dice, the clatter of dominoes.

Old men smoke through ancient water cooled pipes, deep in thought.

These are the thinkers of Baghdad: professors, writers and wise old men.

"Iraq won the war," one of them tells John. "You don't believe you lost the
war with Iraq. The future is more beautiful for Iraqi people than English."


http://observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,399683,00.html

*  LIFT THE SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAQ NOW
by John Nichol
The Observer, Sunday November 19, 2000

My hands were visibly trembling when I handed my passport to the border
guard. Standing close by was an armed Iraqi soldier. The last time I had
seen Iraqi guns they were pointed directly at me; some of them had even been
fired.

When I told my friends I was returning to Baghdad after 10 years they all
said I was mad. Why would I want to return to the place where I was abused,
humiliated and nearly died? As I waited at the Iraqi border, I asked myself
the same questions. My journey had begun a few months before with an idea to
make a film for the BBC as the tenth anniversary of the Gulf War approached.
It had been an exciting proposition.

I knew from colleagues in the RAF patrolling the no-fly zone that Britain
and America were still bombing Iraq on a regular basis. This undeclared war
goes largely unreported by the media, something which I find truly
disturbing. More importantly, I wanted to meet real Iraqis and see how the
war and subsequent years of sanctions had affected the 'man in the street'.

Sanctions meant that I could not fly into Baghdad; the only way in is via
Jordan and a 15 hour car journey. Sanctions also control the sale of Iraqi
oil, a fact which seems to have escaped the Iraqis themselves as the only
other vehicles on the road were oil tankers. Completely ignoring the
restrictions, thousands of them plied the route between the Iraqi oilfields
and ports in Syria and Jordan.

Sanctions were imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War in an effort to force the
regime into surrendering its weapons of mass destruction (WMD). United
Nations inspectors were also put in place with a brief to find and destroy
any undeclared weapons. As I entered Baghdad, I drove past the UN compound -
it was deserted. The inspectors were evicted from Iraq during Operation
Desert Fox, the three-day bombing campaign in December 1998. At the end of
that operation, we were told that 'Saddam had been put back in his cage'.
That may have been so, but he was in his cage with his people and his
weapons and we had drawn curtains tightly around the bars. Despite our
overwhelming technological superiority, without UN weapons inspectors on the
ground, we have no real idea what is going on in the darkest corners of
Iraq.

In many ways, Britain and America have painted themselves into a corner,
which really is the nub of the Iraqi problem. Sanctions, weapons inspectors
and the no-fly zones are all inexorably linked. Until the UN is allowed to
return and verify that all WMD have been destroyed, sanctions must stay in
place, argue Britain and America. Iraq denies that it has any WMD and
refuses to accept inspectors. But sanctions are having little effect on the
regime; the only people suffering are the poorest. In a truly ludicrous
state of affairs, even pencils come under the items banned by the sanctions.

And the no-fly zones are in disarray. They were set up to protect from Iraqi
repression the marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and the Kurds in the north. But,
in an obscene piece of hypocrisy, we allow one of our Nato allies to bomb
the very group we claim to protect.

Aircraft patrolling the northern no-fly zone are based in Turkey and our
pilots put their lives in danger on a daily basis to fly into Iraq and
ensure that the Iraqi military is prevented from attacking the Kurds.
However, Turkey itself is also fighting a war with the Kurds, who want an
independent homeland. On a regular basis, the Turkish authorities ground our
aircraft so that their own air force can attack the very Kurds that the RAF
was protecting a few hours before. After the Turkish jets land, our own
pilots get airborne to resume their mission over the still smoking craters.

British and American policy is a shambles. And it is only Britain and
America that maintain the current position. Over the last few months, an
increasing number of countries have flouted the ban on air travel and have
made symbolic flights to Baghdad. At the recent Baghdad trade fair, European
nations were falling over themselves to ensure they would profit if
sanctions are lifted. None of our old allies takes part in the regular
attacks launched into the no-fly zone. Indeed, even Iraq has decided to
ignore the restrictions and has recently begun internal domestic flights
around the country.

After 10 years, the time has come to admit that the current state of affairs
is not working and to review the situation. The great problem is that there
appears to be no means of ending the dispute.

What conditions must be met for the no-fly zones to be removed? No one seems
to know any more. How long can sanctions remain in place? Again, no answer.

No one can deny that parts of the Iraqi regime are repressive and evil. But
we manage to deal with other similar regimes on a daily basis. After 10
years, sanctions have failed to produce the required result. It is time they
were lifted. Perhaps the removal of sanctions can be linked to a return of
some sort of independent weapons inspection team. Whatever the options are,
they have to be better than the current stalemate.

As I travelled around Iraq, I was struck by how friendly and personable the
people were. At an Iraqi airbase, I was given lunch by an Iraqi air force
colonel who might have tried to shoot me out of the sky 10 years ago. It
seemed strange to sit with my former enemy and to talk about the realities
of war. But we both agreed on one thing - there was little that the military
could do to solve the current situation. Only our respective leaders could
do that. It must be an unpalatable thought for our politicians, but perhaps
the time has come for them to talk to their former adversaries.

 John Nichol and John Peters were captured when their RAF Tornado was hit
by a missile over Iraq during the Gulf war early in 1991. Both men were
tortured and forced to appear on Iraqi TV to denounce the war. John Nichol's
latest book, Decisive Measures , is published by Hodder & Stoughton at
16.99.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_1026000/1026836.st
m
low graphics version | feedback | help

*  ANALYSIS: BASHAR'S SLOW, STEADY START
by BBC News Online's Martin Asser, Thursday, 16 November, 2000

It is 30 years since the coup which put Syria's Hafez al-Assad in undisputed
power but the most intriguing questions revolve around the last five months,
under the tutelage of his son Bashar al-Assad.

"Doctor Bashar" promised wide-ranging political, economic and administrative
reforms, and many Syrians hoped he would be a breath of fresh air after the
decades of stifling authoritarian rule.

Mr Assad's grip on power has been strengthened by the people's gratitude
that Syria has not been plunged into chaos since the old man's demise -
there were fears the untested 34-year old opthamologist was ill equipped to
face the challenges from his father's corrupt and secretive old guard.

But, if the succession - a dynastic first among the dictatorial Arab
republics - has been smooth and a new mood of openness is beginning to
emerge, there has little been discernable change in the government's
intrusive control of people's lives and its ultra-cautious approach to
policy making and strategy.

While there has been much talk of plans for economic modernisation and
establishing a stock exchange, visitors to the country remain disappointed
by the stagnation and lack of economic activity.

Bashar has earned a reputation as a hard worker and good listener, and has
taken steps to address Syria's image as a violator of its citizens' human
rights.

But, notwithstanding a sizeable amnesty to celebrate his father's
anniversary - the second batch of prisoner releases since July, Syria's
jails remain packed with political prisoners - more than 1,000 of them from
the Muslim Brotherhood alone.

But there have been public calls for more democracy - something that would
have received short shrift in the days of Hafez.

In September, a group of 99 Syrian intellectuals and artists dared to
petition the president to introduce political pluralism and end Syria's
remarkably enduring "emergency" rule.

More recently, there was damning condemnation of government mistakes and
corruption in a speech at - of all places - Syria's rubber-stamp parliament,
a body which earned international derision when it hastily amended the
constitution in June to allow someone of Bashar's tender age to become
president.

"We must break the economic monopoly and stop government handing out
benefits and making decisions to suits its cronies," MP Riad Seif told his
astonished colleagues.

These moves hardly amount to the promised sea-change in the way Syria is
run, but they are a reflection of frustration and impatience for reform -
and of the government's willingness to allow criticism to be voiced in
public.

Bashar's key partner has been Muhammad Mustafa Miro, the prime minister
appointed a few months before June, the pioneer of anti-corruption and
moderniser of Syria's antediluvian banking sector.

The strongmen of the last decades, Messrs Khaddam, Tlass, Aslan, Suleiman -
though not Bashar's Uncle Rif'at - are waiting in the wings and some of them
could still have their own ambitions to rule Syria.

So what the new ruler still has to do is win policy arguments over such
issues as the economy, Iraq and Israel, and the future of Syria's massive
military presence in Lebanon.

Lebanon is thought to be one of Bashar's strong suits, but he has yet to
come up with a solution to the growing anger of those Lebanese who want to
see the back of the 35,000 Syrian troops stationed there.

At least the Palestinian uprising has relieved some of the pressure from
Israel. As the intifada rages, no-one is talking about Syria's desire for a
peace deal being sidelined by success on the Palestinian track.

But, on the other hand, with peace in abeyance, the diplomatic and economic
salvation that a treaty with Israel would have brought is out of the
question as well.


http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,399317,00.html

*  DEGRADED POLICY
by Jeremy Hardy
The Guardian, November 18, 2000

Monday sees the launch of a national petition against sanctions in Iraq. It
will probably pass unnoticed. Sanctions aside, Britain and America bomb Iraq
whenever they feel like it, and with no news coverage at all. Presumably,
the purpose of the bombing and sanctions is to degrade something. The
something is ourselves.

I'm sure those who are reinventing world politics in the light of a
new-found enthusiasm for western military intervention, are convinced that
Saddam Hussein is about to fall at any moment. If he does at least Iraq will
be newsworthy. Saddam is getting more press these days anyway because he's
sitting on a lot of oil. So are we, if only we had the wit to renationalise
it, but since we gave it all away, we rely on oil companies to make nice
with dictators and help them to crush internal opposition so that we can
keep our hauliers trucking. The oil-for-food programme is one way in which
the west has sought to keep the oil coming.

In fact, the amount of oil which Iraq is allowed to export was set higher
than its much degraded industry was able to produce. Even then the programme
is not as generous as it sounds, because the oil money is held in a
UN-managed account with 30% coming off the top in reparations and imports
subject to approval by the Security Council. Equipment vital to Iraq's
electricity and water supplies are held up. As a result water is frequently
contaminated (there's a biological weapon for you) and the national grid
could completely pack up at any moment.

The British government line is that medical shortages are the result of
stockpiling. Former UN humanitarian co-ordinators, Denis Halliday and Hans
von Sponeck, who resigned in succession over sanctions, both dispute this.
The infrastructure was degraded by the west and distribution suffered. In
addition, some medicines and equipment are useless without others. Much is
lost through spoilage during power cuts. In fact, von Sponeck stated, "We
have found no evidence that there is a conscious withholding of medicines
ordered by the government."

It is possible that such a policy exists. Certainly, Saddam has a cavalier
disregard for the suffering of his own people. He boasts to them of how he
enjoys his lavish lifestyle, free from the ravages that sanctions and bombs
have brought to ordinary Iraqis. He feasts while they suffer. Perhaps he
does withhold medicines. But how would that boost the case of the dwindling
number of politicians who support the sanctions? It further demonstrates
that the 10-year war we have waged against his people, while ostensibly
having "no quarrel" with them, is all grist to the mill as far as he is
concerned. That is why all the voices for change in Iraq, and all Saddam's
opponents in exile, are telling us to stop.

The west certainly has a curious notion of what it is not to have a quarrel
with someone. I suppose in the sense of fisticuffs over a Leylandii tree, it
is not a quarrel. Perhaps extermination is a better word. According to
Unicef, which as a UN agency is forced to tread carefully, sanctions have
contributed to the deaths of 500,000 children since the Gulf war, and
800,000 are chronically malnourished. Asked to comment on such figures,
Madeleine Albright has replied: "We think the price is worth it." And it is
always worth going to her rather than to Robin Cook. The organ grinder
doesn't mess about. She plays a simple tune that's easily recognisable. The
monkey leaps about all over the place, making a lot of silly noises.

So let's listen to Washington rather than Westminster. Albright told us in
1997: "We do not agree ... that if Iraq complies with its obligations
concerning weapons of mass destruction sanctions should be lifted." In 1998,
former weapons inspector Scott Ritter said: "Sanctions only punish the
people of Iraq, they don't punish this regime." In June this year, the
former head of Unscom, Richard Butler, said: "We now know that using
economic sanctions to bring about compliance in the weapons area does not
work." Deputy US national security adviser, Robert Gates, said back in 1991:
"Iraqis will pay the price while [Saddam] remains in power. All possible
sanctions will be maintained until he is gone." That year, Colonel John A
Warden III, of the US air force, said that the wrecking of Iraq's
electricity system "gives us long-term leverage".

According to Mike Horn, who flew F-15s in two tours of duty in the northern
no-fly zone, "You'd see Turkish F-14s and F-16s inbound, loaded to the gills
with munitions. Then they'd come out half an hour later with their munitions
expended." When US pilots flew back over the Kurds whom the no-fly zone
ostensibly protects, they would see "burning villages, lots of smoke and
fire". Instructions were not to interfere. Someone remind me who this
quarrel is with?
--
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