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News, 2-9/3/02 (3) BRITISH OPINION contd * Blair faces threat of resignations over Iraq * Ministers step back from new war on Iraq * Galloway apologises for calling minister a liar * Time up for Iraq [Times editorial] * Kennedy tells his members they have to 'grow up' to take on Tories [Some quite sensible comments from Charles Kennedy, who, before going to war with Iraq, requires not just proof that Iraq should possess WMDs but also evidence that there is a willingness to use themı.] URLs ONLY: http://observer.co.uk/comment/story/0,6903,661037,00.html * LET GO OF DUBYA'S COAT-TAILS by Mary Riddell The Observer, 3rd March [A wandering article which eventually winds up with this conclusion: Should an elusive salvation still exist for Iraq, it lies in targeted sanctions, more food aid, plus global co operation on weapons treaties and regional action on oil smuggling. Mr Blair should press for those and unhitch himself fast from the Bush game of swagger and double jeopardy.ı Incidentally, when Mary Riddell refers to Old Testament notions of good and evilı, she indicates that she isnıt very well acquainted with that most morally complex of sacred texts.] http://portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/03/07/wirq07.xm l&sSheet=/news/2002/03/07/ixnewstop.html * COUNTDOWN TO WAR ON SADDAM by Toby Harnden and George Jones Daily Telegraph, 7th March [General roundup of developments which includes this rather touching quote: A Bush administration source told The Telegraph that it had never been doubted that Britain would join the Iraqi campaign. Acknowledging opposition elsewhere in the world, he said: "When we say we might have to go it alone, 'we' really means 'you and us'."ı] WORLD OPINION (from India, Pepe Escobar, Australia, Germany, Georgia, China) * The coming war on Iraq: Protest, don't grovel [A fine article with a clear-eyed view of the major driving force of politics at the present time the US bid for world domination. A short but good account of the weapons inspectionsı in Iraq. One complaint. Richard Garfieldıs figure of 350,000 children under 5 dying since 1990 is quoted (as a conservative estimate) but it isnıt stated that this is twice the 1980s figure so the excess figure is in fact 175,000.] * Bush vs Saddam: The empire strikes back [My admiration for Pepe Escobar fades a little after this fairly routine account of the difficulties facing the US over Iraq. Though it starts well highlighting the central dilemma: how do you affect regime changeı in Iraq without handing it over to its Shia majority, which is unacceptable to Saudi Arabia?] * The lone ranger [Interesting to see anxiety about US imperialism coming from Australia of all places. And quoting Michael Ignatieff of all people. And even George (Lordı) Robertson! Though thereıs still a bit of an atmosphere of Weıd like to kick some ass, too. Please.ı about it.] * Europe must get serious on Iraq [German commentator says what the US wants to hear. Surprise, surprise. He presents his argument as a defence of the authority of the United Nations. These people need to be told that the authority of the United Nations is only worth preserving if it really is the united nations. Alas, the greatest enemy of the united nations is the US and after it the UN Security Council with its five permanent veto wielding powers. Also, when youıve systematically and deliberately murdered hundreds of thousand of people over a period of ten years in peacetimeı, you cease to have any moral authority whatsoever.] * Georgia Won't Allow Its Airfields to Be Used for Attack on Iraq * China Hopes to See Positive Result from UN-Iraq Dialogue URL ONLY: http://atimes.com/front/DC08Aa02.html * ASIA: LOW-HANGING FRUIT IN THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS by Scott B MacDonald Asia Times, 7th March [I havenıt included this for reasons of space but its an interestingly blatant statement from a private consultancy firm of the US intention to establish full hegemony over Asia. This is presented as an exciting opportunity for the Asians.] IRAQI/UN RELATIONS * UN Arms Expert No 'Cosmetic' Inspections in Iraq * Meeting Scheduled on Iraqi Sanctions [Some elements not in the previous article] * If mission is timetabled inspectors could return to Iraq: Paper [The Iraqi position on inspectors hasnıt changed. Nor could it, given the obvious truth of the following two assertions from Babil: "One of the main reasons for our opposition to the return of inspectors is because the Americans want them to remain indefinitely, which means continuing the unfair embargo,"² and "The US administration is determined to attack us whether we authorise the return of inspectors or not,"ı. * 'So Far So Good' Annan Says of Iraqi Talks * Iraq is converting donated aid trucks into rocket launchers, claim US chiefs [Note that the purpose of this is to justify blocking Iraq from having access to trucks. But, given the nature of the weaponry that is being assembled against Iraq, is there no-one out there prepared to hold this sort of thing up to the contempt and derision it deserves?] * U.S. backs new round of Iraq-U.N. talks [Some interesting items here. Russia wants a mechanism for the lifting of sanctions; Blix assures the Iraqis that UNMOVIC is different from UNSCOM (thus confirming that there was something wrong with UNSCOM).] http://news.ft.com/ft/gx.cgi/ftc?pagename=View&c=Article&cid=FT3BPF33JYC&liv e=true&tagid=ZZZPB7GUA0C&subheading=UK * BLAIR FACES THREAT OF RESIGNATIONS OVER IRAQ by Brian Groom, Robert Shrimsley and Cathy Newman Financial Times, 7th March Tony Blair faces the threat of ministerial resignations - including at least one cabinet member - if he backs any US military action against Iraq, government insiders said yesterday. The warning comes as the prime minister is under growing pressure from ministers who say the government is drifting and failing to seize the domestic agenda. On the eve of a special political session of the cabinet at Chequers to discuss next month's Budget, the spending round and public services, ministers said the government was failing to get a coherent message across. Doubts about military action in Iraq surfaced at the cabinet's regular weekly meeting on Wednesday, when some ministers expressed reservations about committing British forces without clear political support and an exit plan. Government whips have warned Mr Blair that backbench unease over Iraq goes well beyond the 60 Labour MPs who have signed a Commons motion opposing military action. Ministers say that to win the party's backing, there would have to be clear evidence of the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Mr Blair would face widespread dissent if he proceeded without it. "People have talked of low-level resignations, but they could go right up into the cabinet," said a government insider. Clare Short, international development secretary - who was in Spain on Wednesday - is thought to be among the most concerned. She resigned from the shadow cabinet in 1991 rather than toe the official line supporting the Gulf war. Robin Cook, leader of the Commons, is also believed to be among the doves. He told the house on Wednesday that no decision had been taken and "none may ever be taken" to attack Iraq. Later he did not deny to reporters that there were divisions inside the government. "Lots of people have sometimes contradictory instincts on this. Nobody likes military action," he said. He spoke warmly of the backbench dissidents, saying many who signed the motion had a "strong and honourable record of condemning proliferation". But he added that doing nothing about Mr Saddam was not an option because he was acquiring materials for chemical and biological weapons. [.....] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,2-229606,00.html March 08, 2002 * MINISTERS STEP BACK FROM NEW WAR ON IRAQ by Philip Webster Times, 8th March [.....] Mr Cook then went on: ³There is a danger that discussion in the press is getting way ahead of where discussion is here and in the United States. There is no decision. There is no immediate prospect of a decision and it does not necessarily follow that there will ever be a decision on the use of military action.² He added, however: ³One option that is not available is doing nothing.² Mr Cookıs words were clearly designed to calm Labour MPs, but ministers believe Mr Bair will have a difficult job to persuade the country of the need for new military action against Saddam. http://news.scotsman.com/politics.cfm?id=259062002 * GALLOWAY APOLOGISES FOR CALLING MINISTER A LIAR by John Innes Scotsman, 8th March A LABOUR MP who branded a Foreign Office minister a liar escaped punishment for unparliamentary language yesterday. George Galloway apologised for his comment, which halted parliamentary proceedings on Wednesday, and withdrew his allegation against Ben Bradshaw in a personal statement to the House of Commons. Meanwhile, Mr Bradshaw offered his own apology for branding the veteran left-winger a "mouthpiece" for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. A debate on Iraq in the Commonsı "parallel chamber", Westminster Hall, was suspended yesterday after the bitter exchange between Mr Galloway and Mr Bradshaw. Mr Galloway, MP for Glasgow Kelvin, was told to retract his comment by Deputy Speaker John McWilliam, and risked suspension from the House by refusing to do so. He told the Commons: "Exchanges on both sides of the argument were decidedly robust. Nonetheless, I would like to say that I am sorry for stepping out of parliamentary order and for my failure to withdraw my remarks when asked to do so, and now do so withdraw them." Mr Bradshaw agreed that "it would have been better if I had not used the phrase that I applied to him [Mr Galloway] and Iım sorry for the offence that was caused." Despite the apology, which was made with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw by his side, Downing Street made clear that Tony Blair did not feel that Mr Bradshaw had "overstepped the mark". Yesterdayıs exchange came during a debate in which Mr Galloway made an impassioned plea for Britain to take no part in military action against Iraq. Mr Bradshaw retorted: "Some good points that he made on the Middle East peace process would, I believe, carry more credibility if he hadnıt made a career of being not just an apologist but a mouthpiece to the Iraqi regime over many years." Mr Galloway, a consistent critic of international sanctions against Iraq, tried to intervene, shouting that the minister was a liar and that he had been slandered. Mr Galloway refused to retract his allegation, which is outlawed under the conventions of Commons debate. Mr McWilliam then suspended the sitting to report the matter to Speaker Michael Martin. Yesterdayıs apologies were expected to bring the matter to an end, but Mr Galloway made clear he would continue his opposition to military intervention. He told BBC Radio 4ıs Today: "The bigger question remains: Are we going to have a proper national debate in this country about whether we are going to war in the Middle East when there is already a war waging there?" More than 50 MPs had signed an early-day motion expressing unease at US President George Bushıs apparent determination to take on Saddam, he said. "They include many names who could not remotely be described as the usual suspects. "It is picking up steam because people donıt trust George W Bush to lead us into a conflagration involving hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers in an Arab country. I think people are very worried about that indeed." http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,542-229472,00.html * TIME UP FOR IRAQ Times, 8th March (editorial) Yesterdayıs meeting at the United Nations brought a senior Iraqi delegation face to face for the first time with the head of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), Hans Blix. The decision that he should be present was Kofi Annanıs; but it is significant that Saddam Hussein, who has for three years refused all contact with UN weapons ³spies², did not then back out of ³discussions² with the Secretary-General. Iraq itself requested these talks. It shows that Saddam realises that he must make a show of taking seriously President Bushıs ultimatum on finally ridding Iraq of its illegal weapons of mass destruction and covert production facilities. Arab governments are anxiously pressing Iraq to stop blocking inspections. So did Russia and China when Iraqıs Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, recently did the rounds of their capitals. Saddamıs invitation to Tony Blair last week to send a British team to Baghdad fell, for once, as flat as it deserved to. In the Security Council, patience with Iraqıs endless evasions has evaporated. That is not least because its more ambivalent members are convinced that full Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions is now the only way to stall an American offensive and keep up the fiction, threadbare as they know it to be, that the potent menace of Saddamıs regime can be ³contained². Washington took a dim view of this meeting; it suspects Saddam of trying to buy time and in this it is almost certainly correct. A seeming readiness to comply would pile pressure on the US to be ³patient² while Iraq multiplied excuses for delaying the start of inspections and led the inspectors, once they arrived, the usual dance. Mr Annanıs staff referred approvingly yesterday to Iraqıs new ³flexibility²; flexibility is exactly what he should be ruling out. The Security Council terms, reiterated for the umpteenth time last December, are clear. There must be no Iraqi veto over the composition of Unmovic; no ³sanctuaries² immune from penetration; no artificial deadlines since there is no way of knowing how much time the inspectors will need or what they will find or be prevented from uncovering and destroying to their full satisfaction. There is no scope for ³discussion² when what is required is Iraqıs immediate and unconditional compliance. Mr Blair has shed his earlier reticence about military action against Iraq, if that is required to deal conclusively with this long-brooding destructive threat. He is now at one with President Bush. Saddamıs known determination to acquire useable biochemical, chemical and nuclear weapons and the mass of intelligence that he is rapidly nearing his goals, means that the gravest danger is that action will come ³too late². To say so publicly, as he has begun to do, has been both necessary and politically courageous. He has gone against perhaps four fifths of Labour MPs, Robin Cook not least, and been rebuked by both France and Germany for breaking the EU ³consensus² that pressure should stop short of military action. It is worth one last attempt to get the inspectors in. The new UN team, set up back in 1999, is more formidably equipped than its predecessor. It has 230 trained inspectors, a vast database with sophisticated cross- referencing and powerful search engines, satellite imagery and extensive testimony from defectors and intelligence agents. When he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix had the wool pulled over his eyes by Iraq. He should not be fooled twice over. But they must start within days if possible, weeks at most. The US and Britain should set a specific, early and non-negotiable date, after which they will deem Iraq to have said no to the UN. When Mr Blair meets Mr Bush again next month, it will be for a council of war in which Iraq, quite rightly, will be firmly on the agenda. Neither fighting in Afghanistan, nor anti-American muttering from Britainıs EU partners, nor Palestinian conflagration, alters that. Afghanistan, as Mr Blair said last week, was ignored for far too long. Policy on Iraq has been a shambles too. The reckoning is unavoidable. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=272044 * KENNEDY TELLS HIS MEMBERS THEY HAVE TO 'GROW UP' TO TAKE ON TORIES by Donald Macintyre and Andrew Grice Independent, 8th March [.....] What about Mr Blair's apparent support for the US over Iraq? Well, Mr Blair had certainly not been a "poodle" of Washington. He had exerted a "benign" influence on the US in the country's interests. But equally "you must not see the Iraq situation as phase two of Afghanistan. After 11 September, all the talk was that we would not walk away from Afghanistan and repeat the mistake the world made in the past. If we suddenly divert ourselves in the direction of Baghdad, there is a danger of doing exactly that." Mr Kennedy said: "If it is proven that Saddam Hussein has amassed weapons of mass destruction and there is a willingness to use them, then you cannot rule out having to take action against Iraq. "That is a quite different category from the war on international terrorism. You have to keep that distinction very very clear. Otherwise, there would be a big danger that [the international coalition] would fracture." [.....] WORLD OPINION (from India, Pepe Escobar, Australia, Germany, China) http://www.dailystarnews.com/200203/02/n2030202.htm#BODY4 * THE COMING WAR ON IRAQ: PROTEST, DON'T GROVEL by Praful Bidwai Daily Star (Bangladesh), 2nd March India and Pakistan will tow the US line. There has been no public comment from India on the "Hate of the Union", or on inhuman treatment of Afghan POWs. New Delhi has completed its U-turn on autonomous policy-making. It is endorsing Mr Bush's use of military force as the preferred instrument in international relations. This cowboy-style militarism is unbecoming of a civilised state. Instead of protesting, the Indian government is grovelling. The United States is about to invade Iraq as part of its "global war on terrorism". According to reports, it plans to topple President Saddam Hussein through a ground-invasion with 200,000 troops. Its Central Command's "forward" components have moved to the Gulf. Characteristically, America's military plans are more advanced than political ones. It is still confused about which ethnic group should replace Mr Hussein: Kurds or Shias (a majority in Sunni-ruled Iraq). The Kurdish option could create trouble in NATO ally Turkey. Supporting Shias risks strengthening Iran, part of America's "Axis of Evil". However, two things are clear. Iraq will make the Afghan war--with its 4,000-plus innocent civilian deaths, aggravated starvation of 5.5 million, and inhuman detention of prisoners- look like a picnic. In Afghanistan, US warplanes ran out of high-value targets within three days. In semi developed Iraq, the fighting will be more intense, with high civilian deaths. Secondly, the US' unjust war will inflict incalculable harm upon global peace and security. The Saddam regime is autocratic and brutal. But it is not in serious breach of any international law or treaty. It has not, unlike in 1990, invaded a neighbouring state. It does not, unlike the Taliban, support a widespread terrorist network. Baghdad three years ago threw out United Nations inspectors. But the inspections were, arguably, excessive and unlimited in space and time. Inspectors could invade government offices, factories, even private bedrooms--on mere suspicion, without warning. Some inspections turned up evidence and material pertaining to Iraq's (very primitive) nuclear programme and (its more advanced) chemical weapons acquisition. But this happened between 1991 and 1994. The materials were destroyed. There was little justification for continuing with the inspections after this. America's vengeful attitude towards Iraq on inspections is all the more bizarre because it itself opposes a biological-weapons verification protocol as the inspections would violate "industrial secrets". Sanctions inflicted terrible suffering on non-combatant Iraqis. According to conservative estimates, 350,000 children under 5 died. (This excludes children over 5, or adults who died for want of food or medicine). For former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, this terrible misery was "worth the price". Iraq's suffering was typical of US military interventions everywhere--some 120 in the past half-century. The coming war is being waged in a new global post-Cold War situation, in which the US is not just the world's sole superpower. It is a Hyperpower, wielding far more force than any nation in history. America's dominance is unalloyed and unchallenged. It is enforced less through consensus than brute force. America has rarely practised any diplomacy other than the gunboat variety. America's gargantuan military budget equals the defence spending of the next 15 highest countries--combined. The US alone has mastered a combination of military technologies: precision-guided missiles and bombs deliverable from "safe" distances; Special Operations groups with night-vision equipment; sophisticated, secure communications; and the logistical ability--large transport aircraft and 200-plus military bases--to deploy troops in far-flung battlefields. No one matches America's awe-inspiring arsenal of mass-destruction weapons. US economic might too is unequalled, thanks to superiority in information technology and biotechnology, and to the recent relative decline of Europe and Japan. America's might is built on great inequalities of wealth and income, and poor social security. It has ecologically disastrous effects, including global warming, deforestation, and oceanic pollution. The combination of military and economic clout allows the US to take an arrogant, imperious, unbalanced, unilateralist stand, and treat the world as its global empire. US ideologue and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski sums up today's dominant vision: The world must consist of only two categories of states, America's "vassals" and "tributaries". The US must be free to pursue its interests without hindrance. It should brook no restraint, respect no authority. It can abuse, manipulate, bypass or simply ignore the United Nations, as it likes. US policy is driven not by this or that interest, but by the overarching goal of world domination. America's response to September 11 was to declare war, not on a particular state, but on "global terrorism". Mr Bush's "State of the Union" address means the US will continue to act like a brigand. He theorised an "Axis of Evil", comprising North Korea, Iraq and Iran. The least that term implies is mutual coordination. But North Korea has little contact with the other two. And these are bitter rivals! Mr Bush declared he would go into Phase-II of the "anti-terrorism" war. But he also said, "I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer, the US will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons". Here, he wasn't talking about a war on "terrorism", but a series of larger wars to stop the spread of mass-destruction weapons--a dangerous new counter-proliferation doctrine. Mr Bush's martial oration has drawn widespread criticism. The New York Times said: "the application of power and intimidation has returned to the forefront of American foreign policy." The Guardian called it the "Hate of the Union" address. Many governments have condemned it as unbalanced for reducing "all the world's problems to terrorism". The European Union's Chris Patten said it was "profoundly misguided". France's Lionel Jospin was equally scathing. However, when push comes to shove, European governments may not actively oppose the US' military plans. They are likely to be ambiguous. India and Pakistan won't even be ambiguous. They will tow the US line. There has been no public comment from India on the "Hate of the Union", or on inhuman treatment of Afghan POWs. New Delhi has completed its U-turn on autonomous policy-making. It is endorsing Mr Bush's use of military force as the preferred instrument in international relations. This cowboy-style militarism is unbecoming of a civilised state. Instead of protesting, the Indian government is grovelling. Praful Bidwai is an eminent Indian columnist. http://atimes.com/c-asia/DC06Ag01.html * BUSH VS SADDAM: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by Pepe Escobar Asia Times, 6th March PARIS - It may be a geopolitical "window of opportunity". In Washington's calculations, Saddam Hussein has to go. As soon as possible. The devil, as usual, is in the details. Geopolitician Francois Lafargue, professor at the Paris Group School of Management, sheds some light on how Washington's view of Iraq and its leader changed from Bush father to Bush son. "Since 1980, Washington has had only one objective - to destroy the emerging powers of the region, Iran and Iraq. Beyond the theological squabbles between Sunnis and Shi'ites, the main political issue in the region is the role of Saudi Arabia. Shi'ites as a whole deny the legitimacy of the House of Saud - which considers itself to be the guardian of the sacred places of Islam. That's why Saudi Arabia in the 1990s was one of the main advocates in favor of Saddam Hussein remaining in power." The main groups of the Iraqi population are 20 percent Sunnis, 55 percent Shi'ites and 25 percent Kurds. During a Kurd rebellion 11 years ago, the aim was to establish an independent state north of Iraq. An independent Kurdistan would be oil-rich, and thus capable of financing other Kurdish independent movements, especially in Turkey. This was the immediate post-Gulf War period in the early 1990s. Although George Bush senior had stigmatized Saddam Hussein as "the new Hitler", the last thing that Washington had in mind at the time was a fragmentation of Iraq and the rise of an independent Kurdistan. Washington privileged the territorial integrity of Turkey against Kurdish aspirations. No wonder. Turkey is the leading army in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after the US. It is an essential strategic ally. Turkey offers the US strategic bases such as Incirlik, listening posts that cover the whole Caucausus, and it also controls access to the Black Sea. Lafargue points out that "a democratic Iraq would most probably imply a Shi'ite Arab in power [because they constitute the majority of the population]. This would be an untenable situation to the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, because a Shi'ite power in Baghdad could find many common grounds with Iran, where two-thirds of the population is Shi'ite". This was the post-Gulf War scenario. In the post-Afghan War scenario, Washington's Iraq approach is something completely different. It is a two-pronged strategy, as Asia Times Online has learned. The first part is already in place: it could be designated as the "diplomatic solution". It involves renewing United Nations sanctions against Iraq, and demanding total access all over Iraq to UN nuclear-weapons inspectors. European diplomats widely agree that this "solution" will inevitably fail. The road in this case would be open to the much-preferred "military solution". The UN Security Council meets in May to renew the already harsh sanctions against Iraq. But Washington does not want to wait until May. Already in mid-December 2001, the headquarters of the US 3rd Army was moved to Kuwait. And the target-planning activity in ultra-high-tech Prince Sultan airbase near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has been nothing short of frenetic. The White House and the Pentagon have been actively considering a "variety of options" - according to Secretary of State Colin Powell - to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Powell recently told the Senate that the US has no plans to start a war - at least for the moment - against two of the other "evils", Iran and North Korea. But the breathing space allowed President Seyed Mohammad Khatami and Great Leader Kim Jong-il does not apply to Saddam Hussein. Most of Washington is still in love with the "Afghan solution": a quick and easy "victory" with practically no loss of American lives. The fact that this "victory" means that Osama bin Laden, all of the al-Qaeda leadership and all of the Taliban leadership are still alive, well and on the loose obviously is not taken into account. Applied to Iraq, the "Afghan model" - Northern Alliance "freedom fighters" supported by US Special Forces and overwhelming aerial supremacy - has led the Pentagon to build the ideal scenario of an Iraqi nationalist - and Kurdish - uprising against Saddam, supported by the US agents who have been roaming northern Iraq gauging possible Kurdish support for this American-incited revolt. A key player in the uprising will be the Iraqi National Congress (INC) - the opposition in exile. But the INC remains extremely disorganized, and is essentially controlled by a bunch of gangsters. The INC has been receiving a lot of attention in Washington lately, but still no promise of military training. According to one particular Pentagon scenario, Kurds, Iraqi Shi'ites and at least 100,000 US troops would be involved in an also two-pronged invasion of Iraq. Half of the US troops would invade from the mini-Kurdistan area set up in northern Iraq, and the other half would invade from Kuwait - everybody of course supported by hellish aerial firepower. The idea, though, is not exactly feasible. The US 3rd Army commander, Lieutenant-General Paul Mikolashek, has already said he would need between 150,000 and 200,000 combat troops, plus another 200,000 for support and logistic operations. Military analysts agree the whole operation would need close to 500,000 troops - roughly the equivalent used during the Gulf War. The "street" in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan - not to mention Syria, Lebanon and everywhere else in the Middle East - would certainly go mad. It took the greatest armada ever almost two weeks to establish "aerial supremacy" over a bunch of bearded mullahs with walkie-talkies. Saddam Hussein's is no ragtag medieval army. According to the latest data, it may have 350,000 combat troops, 2,700 tanks, 90 fighter jets and 100 helicopters. Most of the troops, though, are no more prepared than fleeing Taliban. The cream of the crop are 50,000 soldiers in seven Republican Guard divisions, and 26,000 Special Guards - tribals recruited by Saddam Hussein in his native Tikrit. These people hold 1,200 Russian T-52 tanks, and actually get paid: four times the salary of a regular soldier. They also can lay their hands on 300 mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers - recently paid for with oil money: sanctions or no sanctions, smuggling remains an extremely prosperous industry between Iraq and neighbors Turkey, Syria and Jordan. Saddam Hussein is not just sitting and waiting to be on the receiving end of American wrath. Lafargue says that in 2002, Iraq will export 560 million barrels of oil - two-thirds of its production in 1990. "Some of the revenue is deposited into accounts managed by the UN, but the war machine is back in place thanks to smuggling. And the international embargo was ineffective." Iraq, little by little, is coming back from isolation. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri will meet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan next week in New York. Contemplating the perspective of American strikes, Iraq is now apparently interested in renewing dialogue with the UN. Meanwhile, US Vice President Dick Cheney will personally advance the groundwork for the military solution. This month he will visit three key Iraqi neighbors - Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - plus Britain, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. Cheney's targets: to muster political support and occasional access to airbases, essential for the whole operation. The "Afghan General", Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command and most certainly the man in charge in the case of an attack against Iraq, said that the Pentagon has not opted for a military plan - yet. Sources in Brussels assure Asia Times Online that the Pentagon would need at least a few months to wrap up the New Afghan War and start the New Iraqi War. There are insistent rumors in diplomatic circles that a strike against Iraq could happen as early as May. In this case, it will follow the Taliban spring guerrilla incursions against the Hamid Karzai regime in Kabul. The US is already bombing eastern Afghanistan in an effort to prevent a buildup of opposition forces there. George W Bush and the Pentagon may be itching to reduce one-third of the axis of evil to rubbish. But first they must consider three crucial issues. 1) A mad-as-hell Saddam Hussein may decide to unleash his fabled "weapons of mass destruction" against Americans - and Israelis - if he is attacked at home. 2) No one can tell for sure how many American ground forces are needed: the figure of almost 500,000 is considered exorbitant, and it would take months to assemble. 3) Turkey, the key US ally, is terribly worried about the possibility of an independent Kurdistan rising from the ashes of the Saddam Hussein regime and destabilizing the whole region. To top it all: everybody and his neighbor cannot begin to imagine the fallout from a huge US military operation right "at home". But this is peanuts when you're sitting on top of an unlimited military budget, and you're on a mission of Good against Evil. http://www.smh.com.au/news/0203/09/review/review2.html * THE LONE RANGER by Paul McGeough Sydney Morning Herald, 9th March This is a new and scary world. A scoop in Time magazine this week revealed the post September 11 security nightmare of a US intelligence alert that terrorists were smuggling a 10 kiloton Russian-made nuclear device into Manhattan. It didn't happen - but a bomb that size could kill 100,000. And in The New Yorker, a State Department official told Seymour Hersch: "The last thing we want is to hit Baghdad and have al-Qaeda hit Chicago. We'd look real bad. When we go to Iraq, we'll do it right." Note the "when", not "if". Today's United States is so pumped up on its own military and economic power - not to mention its seething anger at what happened on September 11 - that it is becoming fearless and unnervingly certain as it leads the world to a place that looks like the darker days of the Cold War. The Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, articulates the problem: "A calculated, malignant, devastating evil has arisen in our world. Civilisation cannot afford to ignore the wrongs that have been done." And Vice-President Dick Cheney articulates the solution: "The United States, and only the United States, can see this effort through to victory." And on the road to victory anything can be justified. There is a clamour to give back the CIA's authority to assassinate, and shock troops are being dispatched around the globe as places that were humanitarian cot cases (ie, not of great concern to Washington) become countries of strategic interest (ie, good places from which to start or end wars). A shadow US government has been set up in undisclosed bunkers away from the capital, in the event of a more damaging second terrorist attack on Washington. Civil rights are being crimped; the President tried to argue that prisoners in the Afghan war should not be covered by the Geneva Convention; and White House spinmeister Ari Fleischer cautioned the nation that in times like these "people have to watch what they say, watch what they do". On campus, it is becoming dangerous to say what you think - an intimidating "blame and shame" list of more than 100 academics and students who questioned aspects of the war against terrorism is being circulated. An army of news reporters wanting to cover the Afghanistan war in all its unvarnished detail keeps knocking at the Pentagon's door. But only the infotainment crews from Hollywood, led by Jerry "Top Gun" Bruckheimer, are allowed in. And the Pentagon was only mildly embarrassed by the revelation that the duty list for its new Office of Strategic Influence would include spreading false stories in the foreign press - so now, it outsources the dirty work. But if a multibillion-dollar PR contract to convince the Arab world that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was sexually impotent failed in the wake of the Gulf crisis, what would it take to convince the so-called Arab street that Osama bin Laden is a pedophile or a terrorist? The country's absurd system of farm subsidies - about $A20 billion a year which The Washington Post describes as "the mother of all pork" - has been put beyond question in public debate with a presidential decree that the farmers' cheques are about national security. Ditto this week's dramatic steel tariff decision by the President who says he's a champion of free trade. The key objectives of the war against terrorism have not been met - as best we can tell bin Laden is still alive and, though they have scattered, so too are much of his al-Qaeda leadership and the trained operatives they are assumed to have in place around the globe. But this is not stopping the White House from moving right along to the next target - Saddam. It wants him overthrown and the President reportedly has fixed April 15 as the date on which he wants to see on his desk a plan for how to do it. And, rather bizarrely, at a time when many in Europe believe that Washington's temporary withdrawal from the political and diplomatic process in the Middle East has fuelled the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, exiled Iraqi opposition figures reportedly are doing the rounds of Washington, claiming that France and Russia will support a US attack on Iraq when they are offered access to the rich oil fields of southern Iraq - but only as "junior partners" to the Americans. Of course. The stakes never were this high when they played poker in Texas. Most of the rest of the world doesn't want another war with Iraq. So Bush can go it alone or, more likely, drag the rest of the world into a new conflict - possibly as a response to a cornered Saddam shooting a weapon of mass destruction into Israel. The increasing likelihood of an attack on Iraq provoked barely concealed diplomatic outrage around the world, but a European diplomat tried to hose down the issue in an interview with The Guardian. Taking a line that might have begun with "Dear boy", he continued: "Iraq policy is in process at the moment. What matters is that we agree on the end product and there is every sign that we will." This, an Administration source declared, was "horse shit". He explained: "Relations now are worse than anyone can ever remember. It has become very fashionable in the middle reaches of [the US] Government to beat up on the Europeans as being useless whiners. That's especially true in the Pentagon, but it's true in most of the State Department, too." All of which gives great credence to a claim reported in the The New York Times that the President is fuming about what he calls "weak-kneed European elites". This is worrying stuff, but it is the history in the making of civilisation's most powerful empire, and the Bush camp is supremely confident. Europe was traumatised when Ronald Reagan leaned over the masonry barrier dividing Berlin and ordered Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall". But the wall indeed came down. Last year, much of the world trembled in fear that a US-led attack on Afghanistan might spark a Muslim uprising from the Magreb to the Philippines - it didn't. So Washington becomes even more arrogant. Bush has told the nations of the world that they are with him or against him and, frankly, he doesn't care. And it is this attitude that causes so much offence and disbelief in the capitals of Europe and elsewhere - because it precludes debate, it allows for no compromise. According to Newsweek: "[This] is nothing less than a reassertion of American power in the world - by a greater willingness to use force, with or without the support of allies, even at the cost of American casualties. Some of Bush's top advisers believe that after Vietnam, the pendulum swung too far in the direction of multilateralism and anti-interventionism." But the Europeans want to argue a case that political and economic help to the moderates in Iran will work over time, that economic and diplomatic involvement will do more than beating a war drum at North Korea, and that, for all Saddam's wrongdoing, the CIA has not been able to link him to the attacks on New York and Washington. On September 11, the day commentator Michael Ignatieff likens to the tremor of dread felt in the ancient world when Rome first was sacked, the world and the US were united by sympathy, fear and an early sense of purpose. Now, and especially since Bush's "axis of evil" speech, there are rancour and hurt as it sinks in with the rest of the world that the US is multilateral only when it suits its unilateral agenda. The French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, accused the US of having no particular interest in partnerships and Chris Patten, the EU's foreign affairs commissioner, claimed that the US was in "unilateralist overdrive". But even Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State whom Europe believed to be the brake on White House excess, warned that Europe had to respect the "principles leadership" of the US - even if it disagreed with it. It now is becoming clear that what the US set out to do in Afghanistan - and accomplished - was to go to war alone. Since September 11 it has increased defence spending by $A2 billion a week and its total defence budget now is bigger than the next 20 nations in the world, so it didn't need and didn't want to get bogged down by mealy-mouthed debates at the UN or the humanitarian trip-wires that could be set up around a NATO coffee urn. This is the age of American unilateralism. Offers of help poured in to Washington in September, but they were accepted only according to a carefully executed script that gave a sense of world coalitions at work, but which would not get in the way of the US view of how it should conduct the war. So the UN was sidelined and NATO was acknowledged, but not welcomed in. NATO pretty well is irrelevant in Washington. On September 11 it dropped everything and said, "An attack on one is an attack on all. What can we do?" But when its liaison officers arrived at CentCom (Central Command), the Florida bunker from which the military end of the war on terrorism is prosecuted, they were denied access. Ignatieff writes in The New York Review of Books: "[The US now] is unilateral when it wants to be, multilateral when it must be, and it uses its power to enforce a new international division of labour in which America does the bombing and the fighting, the French, British and Germans serve as police in the border zones and the Dutch, Swiss and Scandinavians provide humanitarian aid. "A new international order is emerging, but it is being crafted to suit American imperial objectives. The empire signs on to those pieces of the transnational legal order that suit its purpose (the World Trade Organisation, for example), while ignoring or even sabotaging those parts (the proposed International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, the ABM treaty) that do not." In background briefings, US diplomats reckon that Ignatieff has got it right. But a French diplomat exploded to the Financial Times: "This kind of complementarity cannot continue in the long term. The Europeans would be very, very uncomfortable with this role. It would mean giving the US carte blanche for its military operations. Frankly, the US neither respects nor appreciates what the Europeans are doing." NATO chief Lord Robertson was a little more earthy, arguing that trans-Atlantic solidarity could not last if "the Americans do the cutting edge while the Europeans are stuck at the bleeding edge, if the Americans fight from the sky and the Europeans fight in the mud". http://www.iht.com/articles/50620.html * EUROPE MUST GET SERIOUS ON IRAQ by Christoph Bertram International Herald Tribune, 9th March BERLIN: The chief objective in dealing with Saddam Hussein's Iraq must be to get the UN inspectors back and working. Whatever the ultimate plans of the Bush administration, the fact remains that U.S. threats of eventual military intervention are helpful towards this goal while European agonizing over it is not. Three facts need to be kept in European minds. The first is that the prohibition of mass destruction weapons in Iraq and respective verification through UN inspectors has as its basis a binding UN Security Council resolution. Second, only when the members of the Security Council, as well as the United States and Europe, are united behind the demand for effective inspections do they stand a chance to get their way. Third, if Iraq should continue to disregard its commitment to allow the inspectors in and let them to do their job, only those who want to weaken the United Nations can turn a blind eye. Perhaps the "smart sanctions" which the Security Council is expected to impose in May will lead to Iraq readmitting the inspectors. But if they do not, other means including military action would be justified. The mere threat of such action by the United States has already had the positive effect of making Saddam Hussein think of the consequences if he continues to flaunt UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. As Europeans should remember from the decades when deterrence of the Soviet Union provided for their security, threats only work if they are credible. There is no doubt that the Bush administration is determined to have in place a serious military option to overthrow the Saddam regime. Those wanting the inspectors back must be grateful for it. It is true that many in Washington want to crush Saddam regardless of whether he honors his UN commitments or not. But the president has not yet endorsed this view, and, even if he had, Iraqi readiness to bow to the UN's demands would make him reconsider. It is one thing to punish Iraqi violations of UN resolutions; it is a totally different one to strike a cooperative Iraq. True, the chances of Iraq becoming cooperative under Saddam are slim. If past behavior is any guide, the cautious feelers which the regime is currently putting out towards the United Nations are likely to be mere tactical maneuvers to gain time and divide the West. In the end, there may be no alternative to using force where international law, diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions and military threats have been to no avail. If it comes to that, will the Europeans really want to stay aside? They can scarcely object to Washington's renewed pressure for a return of the inspectors. At least now European governments are joining in. Unless they want to undermine the UN's authority and the credibility of U.S. pressure, they must not rule out the military option. Indeed, they have no other choice than to support it. Some would claim that clever U.S. tactics have painted Europe into this corner of having to endorse in words what it does not want in deeds. In fact, it is the regime in Iraq which has painted the United Nations, and Europeans who care about its authority, into that corner. There is no escape from accepting the responsibility. European governments must therefore not only reiterate their condemnation of Iraqi stonewalling and the demand for the return of inspectors able to inspect. They must also lobby in the United Nations for using force should Saddam fail to bend to other pressures. This will not come easy to European leaders who share with their voters a deep skepticism toward using force for political ends. Yet standing up for the United Nations and against Saddam now is not only the correct policy, it is also a wise one. It will add to the pressure on Iraq and thus increase the chances for avoiding military intervention. It also puts any subsequent use of force into an established framework of international law. Furthermore, by demonstrating European commitment it will strengthen an Atlantic relationship now strained by suspicion and resentment. Finally, it will allow European governments to shape the issue instead of being hypnotized by what the United States might or might not do. Many countries, most prominently France this summer and Germany this fall, will hold national elections under the shadow of what could be a showdown with Iraq. Whatever their current reservations, it is difficult to imagine major European governments opposing outright a U.S. action justified by Baghdad's refusal to honor UN demands. Unless they offer their own publics the framework of their policy soon, they may find that public opinion has deserted them when they need its support most. The writer, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune. http://www.bloomberg.com/fgcgi.cgi?ptitle=Top%20World%20News&s1=blk&tp=ad_to pright_topworld&T=markets_bfgcgi_content99.ht&s2=ad_right1_windex&bt=ad_posi tion1_windex&middle=ad_frame2_windex&s=APIbBXRXTR2Vvcmdp * GEORGIA WON'T ALLOW ITS AIRFIELDS TO BE USED FOR ATTACK ON IRAQ by Paul Tighe Tbilisi, Georgia, March 7 (Bloomberg) -- Georgia said it won't allow its airfields to be used in any international anti- terrorism operation against Iraq, Interfax cited Georgian Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili as saying. The suggestion Georgia will approve such a move ``is from the realm of science fiction and has no realistic grounds,'' the minister told Interfax. Georgia is accepting assistance from the U.S. as it creates an anti-terrorism unit to deal with members of the al-Qaeda network and other extremists who have taken refuge in its northern Pankisi Gorge. The U.S. will send as many as 200 soldiers to help train the unit, the Associated Press last week cited defense officials as saying in Washington. Iraq's neighbor, Iran, shouldn't have concerns about the presence of U.S. troops, Menagarishvili told Interfax. Improved stability and security in Georgia will benefit the entire region lying to the south of the former Soviet republic, he said. Iran and Iraq are about 900 kilometers (560 miles) from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. The Georgian government said this week a four-battalion anti- terrorism force, trained by U.S. experts, will be enough to deal with criminals in the gorge. Menagarishvili made his comment after media speculation Georgia is willing to allow U.S. aircraft the use of its Marneuli and Vaziani airfields, Interfax said. Russia's parliament yesterday passed a resolution regretting that Georgia turned to the U.S. for military support, China's Xinhua news agency reported. Russia offered to carry out a joint operation with Georgia in the Pankisi Gorge, which borders the Russian republic of Chechnya. The Russian authorities say rebels trying to set up an Islamic state in Chechnya operate in the Pankisi region. The parliamentary resolution, approved by 363 votes to three, said aid to Georgia, such as lower fuel prices, must be linked to Georgian commitments to maintain the balance of military forces in the region, Agence France-Presse said. http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200203/07/eng20020307_91606.shtml * CHINA HOPES TO SEE POSITIVE RESULT FROM UN-IRAQ DIALOGUE Peopleıs Daily, 7th March Wang Yingfan, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, on Wednesday voiced his welcome and support to the upcoming dialogue between U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. China hopes dialogue to pave way for the settlement Wang Yingfan, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, on Wednesday voiced his welcome and support to the upcoming dialogue between U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. Wang expressed his hope that the dialogue will pave the way for the proper and comprehensive settlement of the Iraq issue. In his meeting with Annan here on Wednesday morning, Wang said that the Chinese Government consistently holds that the question of Iraq should be solved on the basis of the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions in a fair and just manner at an early date. Iraq should implement the relevant Security Council resolutions and resume the cooperation with the United Nations on the weapons inspection as soon as possible, he said. Meanwhile, the international community should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq and take into account the reasonable concerns from the Iraqi side, he said. China opposes terrorism in all its forms, and is against wanton expansion of anti-terrorism war without solid evidence, he said. Wang said that he appreciates Annan's opposition to willfully military strikes on Iraq, and stressed that China hopes to see the peaceful solution of the Iraq issue by political and diplomatic means. Annan is scheduled to start his dialogue with the Iraqi foreign minister on Thursday, and the talks are expected to last about three hours and a half, a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday. IRAQI/UN RELATIONS http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=655018 * UN ARMS EXPERT NO 'COSMETIC' INSPECTIONS IN IRAQ by Evelyn Leopold Reuters, 3rd March UNITED NATIONS : Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix will sit at the United Nations negotiating table with Iraqi officials on Thursday and, if asked, will say any arms searches have to be tough, viable and not "cosmetic." With the United States escalating threats against Iraq, the talks U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is holding with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on March 7 have taken on added significance. Annan's office has said he would press Sabri to allow weapons inspectors back for the first time in three years. To underline his point he has asked Blix to sit next to him at the talks, expected to last about three hours. Approaching his second anniversary on the job without setting foot in Iraq, Blix believes his operations would be as intensive as the last team of inspectors, who left on the eve of a U.S.-British bombing raid in December 1998 and have not been allowed back since. "Cosmetic inspections are worse than none because they may lull states into a false confidence and they may wake up in a horrible situation," he said in an interview late on Friday. "Therefore all inspections have to be credible," he said. "It is in Iraq's interest that inspections are effective. Otherwise there is no use in having them." President Bush has made Iraq the key element of his "axis of evil" State of the Union speech in January, demanding that Baghdad accept U.N. inspectors or face the consequences. Without inspections, U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 cannot be suspended. Blix, 73, a lawyer and former Swedish foreign minister, was persuaded to take the post in early 2000, after he had just retired as head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, responsible for the nuclear arms inspections. He now heads the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, which is the successor to the U.N. Special Commission, and is in charge of accounting for Iraq's missile, chemical and biological programs. He has been compiling a list of key remaining tasks for Iraq to fulfill before sanctions are suspended, gathered in a 300-page notebook with some 100 unresolved issues. But Blix says the key ones will be somewhere between five and 20. When the inspectors last were in Iraq, they believed they had found most of Baghdad's long range missiles and almost all of its nuclear arms equipment. But few know what has happened since December 1998 when the inspectors left. "In 1998, the physical (nuclear) infrastructure was gone although there were issues that needed clarification," Blix said. "They also could not produce fissile material, unless they bought it on the black market." Chemical and biological programs are more serious. "There are many open issues, like anthrax for example," Blix said. "They declared that they produced a volume of 8,500 liters but we do not have any evidence of that. Then they have declared they destroyed all of it in 1991 and there is no evidence of that also." Iraq in recent months has given two reasons for not allowing inspectors back and contends it has complied with Security Council demands. One is that U.N. resolutions call for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq emphasizes that this means Israel's nuclear program. The second is that the inspectors were infiltrated by American spies. Blix contends the teams ready to go to Baghdad are vetted and if agents are detected, they would be excluded. But he dismissed any demand from Iraq to exclude U.S. citizens. "Americans can go along," he said. "Iraq cannot exclude anybody from our inspection. They are U.N. groups." Asked what impact the U.S. threats had made, Blix said, "I think Iraq has been quite concerned and I think that is natural. But clearly they have not yet come to the conclusion that they would invite the inspectors back." Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, in a recent interview dampened expectations the meeting would yield a definitive answer, saying inspections would not be the only issue and he hoped for a follow-up session in April. "There will be an exchange of views, but this is only one short session," Aldouri told Reuters. "We will look to the secretary-general to say what issues are still outstanding for the United Nations and we will tell them what is outstanding for Iraq." http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-me/2002/mar/02/030204078.html * MEETING SCHEDULED ON IRAQI SANCTIONS Las Vegas Sun, 2nd March [.....] Iraq challenged Britain on Friday to prove that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, saying the Iraqi government was ready "right now" to receive any British team, according to an unidentified government spokesman quoted in the official al-Thawra newspaper. Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Al-Douri called it "a very positive gesture." But Blix said that gesture was misdirected. "I think it would be a good idea to direct their invitation to us because we are ready," Blix said. "We have had two years in which we have prepared ourselves to go to Iraq and carry out effective and correct inspections." But Al-Douri said Iraq was not inviting the new U.N. weapons inspection agency or Blix to return because of Baghdad's experience with the old inspection agency, which it accused of being compromised by spies. What if the Iraqis keep insisting that only the British can come? "They will remain, then, in noncompliance with the resolutions of the Security Council," said Blix, who has led the weapons inspectors since March 2000. [.....] In December 1999, the council adopted a resolution offering to consider suspending sanctions against Iraq for renewable 120-day periods if inspectors report that Baghdad has cooperated "in all respects" and shown progress toward answering outstanding questions about Iraqi disarmament. [.....] "I would like to warn against the attitude that from the moment that Iraq sends a green light for inspections that we are, as it were, stepping on an escalator ... and then after a while you are on the next floor - and that's suspension of sanctions," Blix said. UNMOVIC must report 120 days of cooperation and progress on key outstanding issues "and the main factor in that is going to be Iraqi cooperation," he said. [.....] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow.asp?art_id=2796169 * IF MISSION IS TIMETABLED INSPECTORS COULD RETURN TO IRAQ: PAPER Times of India (from AFP), 4th March BAGHDAD: Iraq could allow UN weapons inspectors back into the sanctions-hit country if their mission was subject to a precise timetable, an Iraqi newspaper said on Monday. "One of the main reasons for our opposition to the return of inspectors is because the Americans want them to remain indefinitely, which means continuing the unfair embargo," said Babel, run by President Saddam Hussein's elder son, Uday. [.....] "If the US administration and its acolyte Britain were sincere, they would have laid out a timetable for the inspectors' mission, followed by a lifting of the embargo" imposed on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1990, Babel said. "The US administration is determined to attack us whether we authorise the return of inspectors or not," it charged, adding that Iraq had no choice but to "confront the evil by preparing to defend itself." Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro published Monday, reiterated his opposition to the return of UN weapons inspectors, asserting that Iraq was "today 100 percent clean." "It is out of the question that we would choose a surrender as the only way to survive," Aziz said. "Iraq has no other option but to defend itself." http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=675467 * 'SO FAR SO GOOD' ANNAN SAYS OF IRAQI TALKS by Evelyn Leopold Reuters, 7th March 07, 2002 02:15 PM ET UNITED NATIONS: Under the shadow of U.S. threats against Baghdad, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan conducted one-day talks with a high-level Iraqi delegation on Thursday, saying he would press for the return of U.N. arms inspectors. "So far so good," Annan told reporters without elaborating during a break from talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, the first such discussions with a ministerial delegation in a year. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard described the morning session favorably but gave no details. "It was a positive and constructive start, with the secretary-general particularly pleased the talks were focused as he hoped they would be," he said during a lunch break. Sabri did not answer reporters' questions. A similar meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Sahaf in February last year ended in disaster, with Annan receiving a lecture and a sheaf of documents. He decided against a follow-up meeting. Thursday's talks were held amid heightened tensions since President Bush made Iraq the key element of his "axis of evil" State of the Union speech in January. He demanded Baghdad accept U.N. inspectors or face the consequences. "I wouldn't want to see a widening conflict in the region," Annan told reporters before the meeting. "I think we have our hands full with the tragedy that is going on there already," he said in a reference to Israeli-Palestinian violence. "So I would want to see a situation where we are able to solve our differences diplomatically," he said. U.N. arms experts want to determine whether Iraq has continued acquiring weapons of mass destruction -- a key element in any easing of U.N. sanctions, imposed when Baghdad's troops invaded Kuwait in 1990. "We will be pressing for the return of the inspectors, Annan said. "The question of inspectors and the return of inspectors has been one of the key bones of contention between the United Nations and Iraq." At the start of the discussions in Annan's 38th floor office, the secretary-general and the foreign minister met privately for about 20 minutes before being joined by their delegations, Eckhard said. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, who sat next to Annan in the talks spoke, as did a U.N. legal counsel, Ralph Zacklin. Sabri alone spoke for his delegation, which included Gen. Hussan Amin, the Iraqi government's chief liaison official with the U.N. inspectors, Saeed Hasan, a foreign ministry official, and Mohammed Aldouri, Baghdad's U.N. ambassador. [.....] http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=271741 * IRAQ IS CONVERTING DONATED AID TRUCKS INTO ROCKET LAUNCHERS, CLAIM US CHIEFS by Rupert Cornwell Independent, 7th March The US intensified its psychological war against Iraq by showing slides to a United Nations meeting that claim to show trucks delivered to the country for humanitarian aid have been converted into rocket launchers and military vehicles. Washington took the highly unusual step of sharing data on Iraq at a session of the sanctions committee of the 15-nation Security Council -- ostensibly to persuade the committee to ban the import to Baghdad of trucks under the UN's oil-for-food programme, and allay criticism it is unneccessarily holding up vital humanitarian imports. Washington is also seeking to convince sceptical members of the council that Iraq is a genuine menace to its region, with documentary evidence of its continuing military build-up in the absence, since late 1998, of UN weapons inspectors. [.....] http://europe.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/meast/03/08/iraq.un.reut/index.html * U.S. BACKS NEW ROUND OF IRAQ-U.N. TALKS CNN, 8th March UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Despite initial trepidation, the United States joined other U.N. Security Council members on Friday in supporting a second round of talks between the United Nations and Iraq on weapons inspections. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, hoping to avert any military confrontation between Washington and Baghdad, met a delegation led by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on Thursday and agreed to another session in mid-April. Emphasizing he had council support, Annan said it was significant that the inspectors, who left Iraq in December 1988, were discussed at the talks, an indication the Iraqis were taking the issue seriously. "But I don't want us to run ahead of ourselves and declare success. We are at a very, very early beginning but it was a good start," he told reporters after briefing the council. U.S. representative James Cunningham said the United States backed another round of talks in April. "We support the attempt by the secretary-general to get an answer from the Iraqis" about whether they are willing to allow inspections, Cunningham said. He noted Annan had not received a positive response from Sabri on Thursday, but added: "I don't think anyone expected that." Some U.S. officials had scorned the discussions and warned Annan he had no power to negotiate, diplomats said. [.....] Separating U.N. and U.S. policies, Cunningham said: "We have made very clear we think the region would be better with a different regime in Baghdad. That's the American view. The United Nations aspect of this problem is how to get the inspectors back to deal with weapons of mass destruction." U.S. officials said they are considering options for "regime change" in Iraq -- a euphemism for overthrowing Hussein. Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov, however, said a December 1999 resolution had to be changed and clarified on steps inspectors and Iraq had to take to get the sanctions suspended or it would be "impossible to see inspectors in Iraq." The arms inspectors, trying to determine if Iraq has nuclear, ballistic missile, chemical or biological weapons programs, left the country on the eve of a U.S.-British bombing campaign in mid-December 1998. The attacks were aimed at forcing Baghdad to cooperate with the arms experts. The inspectors have not been allowed to return. Inspections are key to easing U.N. sanctions, imposed on Iraq after its troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Iraq, during the meeting, handed Annan its own list of about 20 questions, asking how it could be sure that new U.N. inspection teams would not be used by the United States to spy or to draw up target lists for bombing. U.S. officials admitted in 1998 they had planted agents among the inspectors. Iraq also objected to the U.S. and British-imposed "no-fly" zone over northern and southern Iraq, Annan said. Chief U.N. arms inspector, Hans Blix, the head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, who was at the negotiating table, sought to assure Iraqis inspectors would be impartial, the diplomats said. On Friday, Blix told reporters he explained the difference between the predecessor to UNMOVIC, the U.N. Special Commission "in terms of financing and recruiting." "I also said that the inspection has to be effective in order to be meaningful," said Blix. "The world has to have assurances that there are no weapons of mass destruction left in Iraq." British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock said earlier the continuation of the talks was a hopeful sign but that Iraq could be stalling for time because of the American threat. However, he said it was too soon to draw conclusions. On Friday, he said his government, which shares the tough U.S. policy against Iraq, supported Annan's intention to continue the talks. "We believe the diplomatic route is an extremely important one and we want to see the prospect of Iraqi compliance fully tested." _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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