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[casi] from today's papers: 20-03-02



A. CIA chief accuses Iraq of links with al-Qaeda, FT, March 20
B. Action on Iraq must not bypass UN, says Russia, FT, March 20
C. Cheney's tour adds to doubts over Iraq action, FT, March 20
D. Does Blair know what he's getting into?, Guardian, March 20

Financial Times: letters.editor@ft.com
Guardian: letters@guardian.co.uk

The Times: letters@the-times.co.uk [see below for extract]

[Remeber to include your address and telephone number and that all letters
to The Times are supposed to be exclusive!]

This time there really *isn't* much in the way of Iraq-coverage in today's
papers (I bought them this time!), except the FT which has three pieces.

A. (which appeared on the front page) is probably the most important. No
evidence is mentioned in the piece itself, however which simply reports
allegations of unspecified 'contacts and linkages.'

D. is a piece by Christopher Hitchens, in which he repeats the (in reality
non-existent) 'Czech conncection' between Iraq and September 11 as fact (see
ARROW's briefing 'War Plan Iraq', available on the voices homepage:
www.viwuk.freeserve.co.uk for details and sources). Hitchens also writes
that 'the [Iraqi] regime certainly has nerve gas and chemical weapons',
though he provides no evidence to support this claimed 'certainty'. Recall
that the 10-page briefing document given to Labour backbenchers at  Jack
Straw's private meeting last week acknowledged that 'that there is no firm
evidence that President Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction at
present' (Telegraph, 13 March).


Finally, today's Times contains an extract from Margaret Thatcher's new
book, which they've run under the title
'Why we must topple Saddam.' I couldn't find it on the web-site though.
Probably the most pertinent passage for anti-sanctions campaigners is the
following:

'While the Iraqi people are still living with the consequences of
international sanctions, Saddam has recently opened a huge resort on the
shore of Lake Tharthar, 85 miles west of Baghdad, at which he and his
friends can cavort in luxury ...

'[It is] essential to enforce strictly teh international sanctions which
were imposed at the end of the Gulf War. If Iraqis are malnoursihed or
deprived of medicine, that is Saddam's fault not ours. The UN Sanctions
Committee has approved all the so-called 'oil for food' contracts submitted
by Iraq and there is no obstacle to the import of medicines. But Saddam is
determined to break free of all these constraints in order to rebuild his
military machine, and he uses every propaganda opportunity to do so. That is
why we have to scrutinise minutely any proposal that the Iraqis make, even
though we open ourselves up to accusations of callousness. A regime which
puts palaces before people cannot enjoy the benefit of the doubt.'

Best wishes,

Gabriel
voices uk
*****************************************************
A. CIA chief accuses Iraq of links with al-Qaeda
Financial Times; Mar 20, 2002
By RICHARD WOLFFE

US intelligence has traced a series of "contacts and linkages" between the
al-Qaeda terrorist network and Saddam Hussein, it was claimed yesterday as
the White House continued to seek international support to overthrow the
Iraqi leader.

George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told senators
yesterday that the US was investigating whether either Iraq or Iran had
sponsored the September 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

His comments represent the clearest statement of the administration's fear
that Iraq could be supporting terrorists who are seeking to acquire its
nuclear, chemical and biological technologies and his testimony is sure to
lend weight to calls for action against Iraq.

However, Britain's decision to send 1,700 troops to Afghanistan was taken,
in part, to increase London's leverage with Washington over the conduct of
the international war against terrorism - including military action against
Iraq.

"If you want to have influence over the Americans, you have to be on the
ground with them," said a senior Whitehall insider. He added that Britain
responded to the US request for more troops primarily because there was a
real need, but standing "shoulder to shoulder" was a motive.

Tony Blair has been generally hawkish on action against Iraq, but service
chiefs have concerns about the weakness of the Iraqi opposition and lack of
Arab support.

Mr Tenet also warned yesterday that traditional animosity between the Sunni
muslims of Iraq and Shia muslims of Iran was being set aside as al-Qaeda
terrorists planned attacks on their common enemies, the US and Saudi Arabia.

"Baghdad has a long history of supporting terrorism," he told the Senate
armed services committee. "It has also had contacts with al-Qaeda."

Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, arrived in Turkey yesterday to continue
to build support for action against Iraq. Turkey's military bases could
prove critical in any military action but the Turkish government has voiced
opposition to the prospect of a US attack.

Speaking in Israel earlier in the day, however, Mr Cheney insisted the
administration had made no decision about military action against Iraq.

*************************************************
B. Action on Iraq must not bypass UN, says Russia SADDAM HUSSEIN RUSSIAN
FOREIGN MINISTER AGREES IN LONDON TALKS THAT PRESSURE MUST BE MAINTAINED ON
BAGHDAD TO P:

Financial Times; Mar 20, 2002
By JUDY DEMPSEY and BRIAN GROOM

Russia warned yesterday that any military action against Iraq must not
bypass the United Nations, but agreed to keep up pressure on Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein to allow a full weapons inspection.

Igor Ivanov, Russia's foreign minister, said after talks in London with Jack
Straw, UK foreign secretary, that UN leaders must "make sure their watches
are showing the same time" over what action to take if the Iraqi leader
carries on refusing to let inspectors in.

Britain is trying to bridge the gulf between the US and many of its allies
over potential military action against Iraq. Russia opposes a unilateral US
strike, but has made clear it would not pull out of the international
coalition against terrorism if that happened.

Mr Ivanov said there was "still no evidence that Iraq has, or may have,
weapons of mass destruction or nuclear weapons". Russia was "against any
attack on a country, be it Iraq or any other country, which bypasses the UN
Security Council." He added: "We must have a consistent plan to ensure that
Iraq implements appropriate Security Council resolutions which would
convince the international community that Iraq does not possess weapons of
mass destruction."

Britain is attempting to encourage what a government spokesman called the
"continuing conversation" about potential action in the Gulf within the
coalition against terrorism. But Tony Blair, UK prime minister, and Mr Straw
have found most of their European partners less than willing to discuss how
the west should deal with Mr Saddam.

Despite attempts by Belgium to raise the matter at last weekend's EU summit
in Barcelona, Spain, which holds the presidency, was unwilling to open up a
topic likely to pit several of the 15 EU governments against their public.
With elections due in France next month, the Netherlands in May and Germany
in September, governments want to keep Iraq off the domestic agenda.

For Chancellor Gerhard Schroder in particular, Iraq is seen as one of the
contentious issues that could destroy Germany's Social- Democrat/Green
coalition. "I want to say clearly that there is no majority in the German
parliament for a German military participation," said Joschka Fischer,
foreign minister, this week. Berlin has asked the US to delay any military
campaign until the autumn.

Nevertheless, the signs, unofficially at least, are that most governments
are edging towards supporting Washington. One reason is that the Bush
administration is re-engaging in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something
repeatedly demanded by the Europeans.

Belatedly, said a European diplomat, the US is realising that if it wants to
maximise European and Arab support in taking its fight against terrorism to
Iraq, it has to tackle the Middle East crisis.

The other reason is that the Europeans have little choice but to support
Washington, diplomatically, politically or militarily. "If we do not, we
risk being further marginalised by the US and perceived as weak when dealing
with rogue states," said another EU official.

***********************************************************
C. Cheney's tour adds to doubts over Iraq action:

The US hopes that progress in containing the conflict in Israel may
strengthen Arab support for action against Saddam.

Financial Times; Mar 20, 2002

By EDWARD ALDEN and ROULA KHALAF

Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, returns to Washington today from his
10-day Middle East tour to face increasingly difficult questions about the
White House strategy for the next phase of the war on terrorism

Mr Cheney's visit, which included 10 Arab states and Israel, was intended as
an opportunity for the Bush administration's most experienced foreign policy
leader to assess regional views on any action aimed at ousting Saddam
Hussein, the Iraqi leader.

The response can hardly have been encouraging. One Arab leader after another
urged the US not to mount a direct attack against Iraq, and emphasised that
the growing violence between Israel and the Palestinians was a more serious
problem that must take priority.

Sheik Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, clearly
summed up the Arab position in a joint press conference with Mr Cheney on
Sunday. "The people who are dying today, on the streets, are not a result of
any Iraqi action. The people who are dying on the streets today are dying as
a result of an Israeli action," he said.

Many of the region's rulers agree with Washington's objectives, but not
necessarily with the means to achieve them. Arab rulers share US concerns
about Mr Saddam's efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction and would
like to see a change of regime in Baghdad. But they favour diplomatic
pressure to force the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq,
and fear that military action would further inflame anti-US sentiment in the
region. Officials across the region say they have yet to see a military plan
that would lead to the successful overthrow of Mr Saddam.

Some of the same concerns, although in a far milder form, have begun to
creep into the debate in Washington. John Warner, the hawkish Republican on
the Senate armed services committee, warned yesterday that a US invasion of
Iraq by the US could so antagonise the region that many other terrorists
would be inspired to attack the US.

"It is a major, major decision and we've got to prepare the American people
for what the consequences could be," he said. Several other moderate
Republicans and many Democrats have voiced similar views.

For the administration, growing scepticism abroad and at home poses a
serious dilemma. US officials have repeatedly warned that the Iraqi regime
poses a growing threat to US interests, and cannot be allowed to survive.
Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary, said last weekend that the US
would not wait while the threat from Iraq grows.

"With 20/20 hindsight, I think we can see that if we'd taken more seriously
the threat from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan five years ago, we might have
prevented September 11," he said on CNN television. "What the president is
talking about is how to prevent a much greater tragedy that would come from
the linkage of weapons of mass destruction with terrorists."

George Tenet, the CIA director, further emphasised that point yesterday,
warning in Senate testimony that Iraq had had contacts with al-Qaeda members
and a long history of sponsoring terrorism. US officials insist that the
public response from the Arab states does not necessarily mean they would
oppose US action against Iraq. "You've often get a public face and a private
face on these discussions," said Mr Tenet. Senior Arab officials, however,
caution against such an assessment, insisting they shared genuine sentiment
with Mr Cheney.

"There is no difference between the public and private position," said one
Arab official.

If US plans about Iraq remain as murky they were before Mr Cheney's visit,
one apparent change is Washington's approach to the Israeli- Palestinian
conflict.

Arab officials familiar with the discussions in Middle East capitals last
week said Mr Cheney showed both an understanding of the Arab position and a
willingness to push for a greater US role. His trip coincided with unusual
US pressure on Israel to end its biggest offensive against Palestinians in
17 months of violence, and a renewed US effort to mediate a lasting
ceasefire.

The US last week also backed the first United Nations resolution ever to
call for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Washington is also keen to ease tensions in Israel and the occupied
Palestinian territories ahead of an Arab summit later this month during
which leaders are expected to adopt a Saudi peace initiative.

The US is hoping a ceasefire would strengthen the hand of Arab rulers
calling for moderation, and would undermine the radical Arab voices pushing
for a summit resolution that backs the continuation of the Palestinian
intifada, or uprising against occupation.

Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert with the Council on Foreign Relations,
says that if the Israel-Palestinian conflict can be contained, many of the
Arab states would be likely to support tougher action against Iraq, as long
as the US demonstrates that it will finish the job this time.

"The key thing for everybody in the region is US credibility," she says. "Is
the US prepared to do the job and ensure that whatever comes after Saddam
will be a stable regime?"

*************************************************
D. Does Blair know what he's getting into?

Christopher Hitchens
Wednesday March 20, 2002
The Guardian

The term "poodle" has now become so universal, as an easy description of
Tony Blair's relationship with George Bush, that it has begun to lose both
bite and bark. The truth of the matter is that, by speaking plainly and with
intelligence, the British government could make an actual difference not
just to the way that Washington decides what to do about Iraq, but also to
what Washington decides to do.
One has to try to keep several different arguments in some sort of
alignment. If the arguments were phrased as questions, they would run much
like this:

1) Is Saddam Hussein preparing the use of weapons of mass destruction?

2) Is he susceptible to United Nations or international diplomatic pressure,
or does he just use such interludes to gain time?

3) Does he have any serious connection to the Bin Laden forces?

4) Do the surrounding states mean what they say in public, or would they
secretly welcome his overthrow?

5) Can or should the US proceed to act militarily on its own?

6) Can any attack on Iraq be justified without a parallel settlement for the
Palestinians?

The British voice in all this need not be counted in advance as a mere
contemptible ditto to be taken for granted, nor as a bleat of misgiving that
would impatiently be ignored. The prime minister's prestige in all sectors
of Washington is unusually high because of the forward position he took on
Afghanistan and al-Qaida, and there are many professionals who have
misgivings of their own which a Blairite dissent would help to amplify. In
addition, the British presence in Oman, and historic connection with the
region, and comparable expertise with special forces, weighs somewhat in the
minds of American planners.

Now to the questions. The answer to the first one is yes. Not only that, but
according to Dr Khidhir Hamza, the most senior Iraqi physicist to have
defected, the date by which Saddam will have usable bombs - "clean" or
"dirty" - is not much more than a year or so away. Hamza is in no doubt that
Saddam wants them in order to use them. Meanwhile, the regime certainly has
nerve gas and chemical weapons, which can be used against Israel (and
inevitably, though few people point this out, against the Palestinians
living under Israeli occupation). The answer to the second question is, so
far, yes. The answer to the third is somewhat opaque, but one would still
like to know why Mohammed Atta, chief pilot of the September 11 death
squads, met an Iraqi diplomat in Prague last year. The Iraqi National
Congress, the leading anti-Saddam opposition group, says that this officer,
Ahmed al-Ani, is well known to it as a liaison between the Ba'ath Party and
the Islamists. On my desk is also a very persuasive report from the
Christian Science Monitor, describing Saddam Hussein's recent sponsorship of
a Bin Laden-type group to destabilise Kurdistan.

To the fourth question, no definite answer is available but, if Saddam were
to become an ex-despot, cease to be, and join the choir invisible, there
would be few tears among Syrians, Saudis or Turks. (To the Turks, who
publicly say they prefer the status quo, the Kurds are more of a problem
than Saddam.) The real question is: how stable is the status quo, with or
without an intervention? While this dithering persists, the US - likeliest
target of any nasty business - considers itself entitled to act as if in
pre-emptive self-defence, and to suspect the motives of countries such as
France and Russia which benefit from commercial deals with Baghdad, or which
stand to gain if sanctions are lifted. That takes care of the fifth
question, at least in the minds of most American legislators and policy
makers.

The final question is, in reality, the most toxic of them all. Many Arab
governments fear that if the US attacks Iraq, and if Iraq responds by
hitting Israel, and if Palestinians are again shown applauding the attack,
then the Israeli right will seize the moment to reoccupy or even ethnically
cleanse the West Bank. In other words, Blair and Straw are failing in their
duty if they do not insist that any drastic action in Iraq comes as part of
a regional settlement. What is the point of the US being a superpower if it
cannot discipline a government for which it is the armourer and paymaster?
The current pseudo-Augustinian answer - that we all wish for a Palestinian
homeland, but not yet - is utterly inadequate.

The whole thing was rammed home to me the other night, at one of those
Washington dinner parties where one of those national-security suits was
banging on. Iraq would be invaded in strength, he was saying, and then we
would have proof of the Nazi character of the regime because it would try to
unleash horror weapons against Israel and... at that point my wife broke in
rather softly to say: "You mean - we would be bringing it on?" That wasn't
exactly the way the suit would have phrased it, but he said quite calmly,
"Yes. We would be bringing it on."

I can imagine certain very drastic and urgent circumstances where that might
be justifiable, but the fact is the US is currently readying an invasion and
occupation force, and running the risk of dire consequences, without
revealing any of its political or strategic aims to Congress, or to its
formal military allies, or to the Iraqi opposition, or to the Kurds, or to
the neighbouring states. It is doing so, moreover, without much evident
regard for the unfolding calamity, for which it bears some direct
responsibility, in Palestine and Israel.

I speak as one who supports the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi opposition, and
feels that we owe a debt to the population for encouraging an uprising in
1991 and then abandoning it. The danger now is that the Bush administration
will go ahead anyway because of some concept of "credibility": in other
words because it dare not risk looking weak.

The British historical experience in Mesopotamia contains enough experience
of that kind to encourage circumspection. If Labour wants to share in the
distinction of liberating Iraq, it had better assure itself that it knows
what it is getting.

 Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.

********************************************************************




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