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News, 16-23/3/02 (1) PREPARATIONS FOR WAR * Saddam 'will flee when the war starts' [Views of General Najib al-Salih] * Army fear over Blair war plans [Ends with what appears to be a most feeble argument that Iraq has been doing some little bits and pieces to prepare for its defence in the (unlikely?) case of war.] * Saddam Hussein: He wants war. And he thinks he's ready for it [Account of SHıs character and career. More credible than the account by General Najib al-Salih (Saddam will flee when the war startsı). It mentions that SH executed a third of the leadershipı when he became President, but the reason wasnıt because they objected to his becoming President. the reason was that they wanted a union with Syria in keeping with the original Baıath pan Arab policy. Saddam wanted an independent Iraq. And so did everyone who wanted to keep the Arab world weak and divided, which is presumably why this purge only became general knowledge in 1990 .] * CIA survey of Iraq airfields heralds attack * CIA won't rule out Iraq, Iran [The article is a roundup of Tenetıs views on different countries (Iran, China, North Korea). With regard to Iraq, Tenet doesnıt produce any evidence of any connection - not even the Prague link, though has a connection ever been made between Mohammad Atta and al-Qaida? but he does say, and I would agree, that the ideological difference between Iraq and al-Qaida doesnıt rule out all possibility of collaboration between them.] * All aboard the battle wagon heading for Iraq [Gratifyingly hostile account of article by ex Clinton-adviser-looking-for-a-job, Kenneth M.Pollack in the US journal, Foreign Affairs.] URL ONLY: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,668443,00.html * COUNTDOWN TO A DANGEROUS WAR GAME by Ewen MacAskill, Richard Norton-Taylor and John Hooper in Berlin The Guardian, 16th March [Round-up of the weekıs military speculations. Note that one of the main reasons for hesitating is that, if cornered, SH might unleash a cocktail of chemical and biological weapons. Rather a strong argument for the wisdom of maintaining a chemical and biological weapons capacity.] IRAQI/MIDDLE EASTERN-ARAB WORLD RELATIONS * Algerian delegation arrives in Baghdad * Kuwaiti, Egyptian Detained by Iraq Troops * Iraq Sends Diplomat on North African Tour * Iraqi Envoy Arrives in UAE Hot on Cheney's Heels * Syrian: The Iraqi pipeline is just for a test, to be cancelled [Includes the interesting statement from the Syrian oil minister that: "the oil which reaches Syria during testing the line is used by our refineries and we use it to increase some of our oil exports."] * Cheney Finds Chilly Response in the Gulf to Any Attack on Iraq * Iraq, Bahrain sign agreement * Arab states united in rejecting attack on Saddam [Robert Fisk] * Kuwait opposes strike against Iraq * Qaddafi - Aziz discuss Palestine, Iraq problems * Saddam's enemy says 'no' to US [Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, of the SCIRI] * Don't cling to old Mideast order [Donıt worry about what the locals think. Thy donıt know whatıs good for them.] * Iraq, Lebanon to Sign Free Trade Agreement Next Month [and Sudan signs a free trade agreement straight away] * Kuwait slams Iraq for holding Kuwaiti as 'bargaining chip' * All Arab States Against Military Strikes on Iraq: Lebanese President * Arab leaders concerned by Saddam Hussein: Cheney URL ONLY: http://atimes.com/front/DC20Aa03.html * THE MAN TO WATCH IN SAUDI ARABIA (PART 1) by John Rossant Asia Times, 19th March [I canıt in all conscience give this rather long piece but its an intriguing account of the Saudi royal family arguing that the Red Princeı, Talal bin Abdulaziz, a former associate of Nasser, out of politics for many years, may be about to make a comeback.] PREPARATIONS FOR WAR http://portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/03/17/wiraq117. xml&sSheet=/news/2002/03/17/ixnewstop.html * SADDAM 'WILL FLEE WHEN THE WAR STARTS' by David Wastell Daily Telegraph, 17th March SADDAM HUSSEIN is a weak and cowardly leader who will run away in the face of a new invasion of Iraq, according to a former Republican Guard commander who is tipped for a senior leadership role after the Iraqi dictator has been toppled. Gen Najib al-Salhi, 48, who defected from Iraq in 1995 and is being actively courted by the State Department as a potential conduit between rival opposition groups, has told British and American officials that most of Iraq's military is disloyal to Saddam and is simply "waiting for the right moment" to turn against him. In briefings with American officials in Washington and diplomats at the Foreign Office in London last week, Gen al-Salhi has backed the view of some American officials that it is possible to remove Saddam from power "at very low cost". He believes that it could be done using a combination of coalition air power and special forces on the ground, internal opposition groups and mutinous Iraqi army units. In an interview with The Telegraph, he said: "Without any exaggeration, the Iraqi army hate Saddam and they will not be loyal to him." Nor, in Gen al-Salhi's view, will Saddam find it easy to use his feared arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. "To use such weapons you need capable and technical people to deploy and target them," he said. "Remember, they will not be used by Saddam personally. Iraqi people will have to deploy such weapons against other Iraqi people. If we can convince them that Saddam is really going to go, they will not use them." The general's remarkably upbeat assessment comes as officials of both governments ponder the best moves against the Iraqi leader in the campaign being planned for later this year. Some Pentagon officials believe that the Iraqi opposition may play a role akin to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, cutting the size of the American and British force needed to oust Saddam, but United States generals have said that at least 200,000 ground troops would be needed. President George W Bush has asked for options to be presented to him by the middle of next month. A meeting of former Iraqi military officers is planned to be held in Washington next month, and the State Department is organising a broader opposition conference in Europe in May. According to Gen al-Salhi, the key to success will be convincing the Iraqi army that the opposition to Saddam is serious, by readying a substantial ground force in the region for a possible attack. "Once it is made clear to the Iraqi army that there is a plan to topple him, rather than just launch some air attacks but not follow up, then I think we will see a difference," he said, speaking through an interpreter. "We should also talk about toppling the government of Iraq and installing a democratic government which respects human rights." In the most explicit account yet of how a campaign against Saddam might be waged, he stressed the need to encourage Iraqi military leaders to switch sides by promising that no more than 20 of Saddam's closest henchmen would be treated as criminals by an incoming Iraqi government. He described Saddam as a fearful man who would attempt to flee once it was clear that he was losing his grip on power. "He will try to run away the same as bin Laden did," he said. "Saddam is not a brave man, I have seen him in so many situations. He may change his face or use make-up to try to run, but I feel that the Iraqi people will not give him the chance. They will capture and kill him before we even get to Baghdad." Gen al-Salhi commanded a tank battalion in the Republican Guards and rose to become chief of staff to the mechanised division of the 5th Corps in 1995. He defected to Jordan seven years ago to organise a secret network of colleagues inside and outside Iraq, the Iraqi Free Officers' Movement. He moved to America last year, with his wife and three children, and now lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington. He is seen as a rapidly rising star who is widely acceptable to many Iraqis since the large Salhi tribe to which he belongs spans both Sunni and Shia Muslims, and several ethnic groups within Iraq. He is also an optimist. "By the end of this year we will have won the freedom of the Iraqi people," he predicted. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4375954,00.html * ARMY FEAR OVER BLAIR WAR PLANS by Kamal Ahmed and Gaby Hinsliff The Observer, 17th March Britain's military leaders issued a stark warning to Tony Blair last night that any war against Iraq is doomed to fail and would lead to the loss of lives for little political gain. As the debate over whether to commit British troops alongside American forces intensified, the leaders urged 'extreme caution' over any moves towards war, saying servicemen faced being bogged down in a perilous open-ended commitment. Claiming that the Government had yet to give any clear political direction over committing troops - America has asked for up to 25,000 UK personnel to join an invasion force - the sources warned that Arab countries were likely to rebel over any Western attack on Iraq without a Middle East peace deal. Failing that, the sources said Saudi Arabia was unlikely to allow its bases to be used against Saddam Hussein. Defence sources said that, without Saudi cooperation, it would be difficult to launch a sustained attack by American and British forces. Underlining their fears of a military strike, senior armed forces figures will warn the prime minister this week that without a leader-in-waiting to take over from Saddam, there is little chance of any successful move to overthrow the Iraqi dictator. Opposition forces in Iraq are not as strong as they were in Afghanistan, Blair will be told. There seems to be no potential successor to Saddam that the West and Iraq's Arab neighbours could accept. As it became clear that British troop commitments in Afghanistan would have to be extended beyond the April deadline set by the prime minister, the briefings revealed the level of concern over further military deployment against Saddam. Although Blair has insisted no decisions have been taken, Foreign Office officials have said it was unlikely that America would be satisfied with simply sending United Nations weapons inspectors back to Iraq. This suggests that increased military strikes are the only option being seriously considered by president George W. Bush. He said last week that 'inaction was not an option'. In a further sign of British military anxiety, leaked Ministry of Defence papers reveal the Army is warning it will need a substantially more money in this summer's Comprehensive Spending Review if it is to take on a new military campaign. The briefing papers, prepared for General Sir Michael Walker, Chief of General Staff, warn that future funding for defence 'remains very taut, given the range of operational tasks placed on the MoD and armed forces'. Matching the available money to these tasks 'remains a very significant challenge'. If the Government expects the forces to take on extra tasks as part of the campaign against terrorism, 'then the resources for those tasks will have to be found'. It is believed that the MoD has asked for £500 million in next month's Budget to pay for its increased commitments. The papers reveal that British peacekeeping troops will stay in Afghanistan longer than expected, raising fears of the Army becoming embroiled in yet another long-running commitment overseas, which will drain resources. The UK, which leads the international peacekeeping force in Kabul and has committed more than 5,000 troops, is due to hand over control of the force to Turkey next month. But it will now have to provide at least some troops 'until the end of its [the force's] mandate' - now June. Yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, backed up the warnings by saying he expected British troops to remain in Afghanistan for the rest of the year. The Government has already begun trying to win 'hearts and minds' for the second phase of the war on terror. In a briefing document given to a committee of Labour MPs with expertise in defence and foreign affairs last week - and passed to The Observer - the Foreign Office says Saddam is accelerating Iraq's weapons programme. 'Its ballistic missile programme has made continued progress, and facilities damaged by Operation Desert Fox in 1998 have been repaired; in the absence of inspections, we believe Saddam is planning to extend the range of his missiles beyond the 150km limit imposed by the US. 'We believe the Iraqi regime continues its biological and chemical weapons programmes.' http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/story.jsp?story=275232 * SADDAM HUSSEIN: HE WANTS WAR. AND HE THINKS HE'S READY FOR IT by Patrick Cockburn Independent, 17th March 2002 Saddam Hussein believes that war is coming. He has always had an apocalyptic vision of himself as the Arab hero fighting the foreign enemy to the last bullet. It is one of the few points in which he is in agreement with the Iraqi opposition. They believe he will fight to the end. "Even if the US or their allies ever take Baghdad he will shoot it out from the last bunker," said a veteran opponent of the regime, who has devoted his life to trying to overthrow the Iraqi dictator. Everywhere in Iraq there are signs of the regime girding itself for war. Saddam has ordered more food to be made available in the shops and told people to store it at home. Petrol dumps are being prepared in case US aircraft destroy the refineries as they did during the Gulf War in 1991. Iraqi television and radio are continually pumping out warnings that the Iraqi people must be prepared for war. Saddam thinks he has learnt some lessons from his defeat in Kuwait 11 years ago and the subsequent uprisings of Iraqi Shia Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north which almost overthrew him. This time he plans to crush any rebellion before it gets started. Already he has divided the country into three under the command of loyal lieutenants who will respond instantly to any opposition attack. Emergency committees of army, security services and members of the ruling Ba'ath Party have been set up in every village, town and city. The regular army, though not the elite Republican Guard divisions, is normally kept short of ammunition to prevent it launching a coup. But over the past month observers have noticed that it has received copious supplies of ammunition as it goes on to a war footing. The dreaded security and intelligence agencies, the essential sinews of the regime, have shifted out of the headquarters they occupied at the start of the year to move to new, more secret locations. Saddam's regime is far stronger than the Taliban was. A civilian by background, he has devoted his life to making sure that no ambitious military commander is able to overthrow him. But he has never been good at assessing how the outside world will respond to his actions, and disastrously miscalculated the risks involved in invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait 10 years later. In manipulating political forces within Iraq, though, he is a past master. Now 64, Saddam has spent half his life either as supreme leader of Iraq or among the country's top leaders. A tall, well-built man he now moves stiffly and seldom speaks in public, but nobody in Iraq has any doubt that he is in total control. Iraqi television frequently shows him at the head of a table with his top military leaders, visibly nervous, sitting on either side with their pencils poised over notepads as they wait, like eager students, to take down the words of the leader. In the 1980s official Iraqi accounts of Saddam's career emphasised that, like the Prophet Mohamed, he was orphaned at an early age and succeeded in the face of adversity. This was never quite true. In reality Saddam, born near the city of Tikrit on the upper Tigris river in 1937, was fortunate in his background. His family were Sunni Muslims from a part of Iraq that produced many of the nationalist army officers who were soon to dominate the country. Saddam came from a close-knit family his half-brothers were his first security chiefs. Married early to his cousin Sajidah, he had two sons, Uday and Qusay, who today are his chief lieutenants. In official Iraqi paintings they are usually portrayed as young Arab horsemen loyally riding behind their father, the Sheikh. Family solidarity has been repeatedly shaken by Uday's murderous rages. In 1988 he killed his father's bodyguard and confidante during a drunken row at a party on an island in the Tigris river. For many years his power base, bizarrely, has been the Iraqi Olympic Committee which has a large, fortified headquarters in Baghdad with its own prison cells. The disputes within the ruling family culminated in 1995 when Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, defected with his wife to Jordan. It seemed that familial solidarity was finally breaking up because of Uday's extreme violence. But Hussein Kamel could not get used to exile. After a year he was lured back to Iraq under the impression that he would be forgiven. Within hours of his arrival he found that he was mistaken. Surrounded in a house in Baghdad he was shot down by other members of his clan as he pleaded for the lives of those who were with him. Iraqi politics have always been bloody. Shia Muslims make up more than half the population and Kurds a fifth but power has always been in the hands of the Sunni minority. The three groups have generally detested each other. Soon after modern Iraq was created by Britain from three provinces captured from the Ottoman Turks in the First World War a British official noted presciently that the new country, dominated by the Sunni establishment, could only be "the antithesis of democratic government". He was right. The last king of Iraq was shot dead as he tried to flee his burning palace in 1958. A year later the young Saddam made his first intervention in politics when he was one of a group of gunmen who tried to assassinate the new leader, Abd al-Karim Qassim. They failed. Saddam was shot in the leg but escaped by swimming the Tigris. Many years later, he told King Hussein of Jordan that at the time he believed he was going to be killed and seen every day since the assassination bid as a gift from God. In 1968, still only 31, Saddam engineered a military coup in which members of his clan from Tikrit played a leading role. At first he was cautious, and became president of Iraq only in 1979 when he executed a third of the leadership who objected to his elevation. In some respects Saddam's personality and career recall Stalin. Like the Soviet leader, he is pitiless. He is a good organiser. He is the subject of an extraordinary personality cult. He is also capable of bouncing back from defeat as he did during the Iran-Iraq war in 1982 and after the debacle in Kuwait 10 years later. Unlike Stalin he has repeatedly overplayed his hand. His attempt over 20 years to make Iraq a great power in the Middle East has reduced his country to poverty, its economy strangled by UN sanctions. In private Saddam has sometimes admitted making mistakes. After narrowly escaping overthrow in the wake of the Gulf War he said to a confidante: "In the past our enemies have taken advantage of our mistakes. In future we will sit back and take advantage of the mistakes made by them." It was a strategy which seemed to work after the Gulf War. All the conspiracies against him were crushed. In the past three years he has even found the time to write a romantic novel, a thinly veiled allegory in which the anti-hero represents aggressive America. It was the devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September which, quite unexpectedly, brought Iraq so close to a second war with the US. It is ironic that there is no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with the attacks. But they greatly strengthened those within George Bush's administration who already wanted to topple the Iraqi leader. The last battle may be coming his way, after all. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=275699 * CIA SURVEY OF IRAQ AIRFIELDS HERALDS ATTACK by Patrick Cockburn Independent, 18th March In the first concrete sign that the US is planning military action against Iraq despite objections from its allies, CIA officers have surveyed three key airfields in northern Iraq. The airfields, situated in northern Iraq near the cities of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniyah in Kurdistan the only part of Iraq not held by Saddam Hussein could be used to receive arms and troops in the event of a conflict between the US and Iraq, an Iraqi source has told The Independent. The US is pursuing its military strategy and, at the same time, trying to persuade Iraq to accept UN weapons inspectors back into the country, which could theoretically avert the need for a military campaign. But America has made it clear that it is prepared to act alone, if necessary, against Saddam Hussein, even though the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has heard strong objections to its plans for a military campaign aimed at overthrowing President Saddam during the tour of Arab states that he is currently finishing. The CIA visit, at the end of last month, will deeply worry Baghdad and has infuriated Iran and Syria. Both countries are concerned that an American attack on Iraq will endanger their own security. President Saddam has shown in the last few weeks that he takes American threats to attack him very seriously by telling householders in Baghdad to stockpile food. Militia and paramilitary groups as well as the army have been put on high alert. In addition, the regular Iraqi army has been issued with plentiful supplies of ammunition. Regular units, in contrast with the élite Republican Guard, are usually only given small supplies to ensure that they do not take part in a coup d'état against the government. The largest of the airfields examined by the CIA is near Arbil, the biggest Kurdish city, about 20 miles from the Iraqi front line. "It has good modern runway about 1.6 miles [2.5 km] long, built for the Iraqi airforce in the 1980s," said a member of the Iraqi opposition, who did not want his name published. The other airfields are at Bamarnii outside Dohuk in western Kurdistan, which was used by Gulf War allies in Operation Provide Comfort, launched to help the Kurds after they had been routed by President Saddam's army in 1991. A third airfield is in Sulaimaniyah province in eastern Kurdistan, not far from the Iranian border. The Kurds, who have repeatedly risen against Iraqi governments in the past, have enjoyed de facto independence since the 1991 Gulf War. Protected by US and British aircraft, which maintain a no-fly zone over Kurdistan, they have tried in recent years to steer a neutral course between President Saddam and his enemies. One scenario being pushed in Washington is for the US to try to repeat its success in Afghanistan by using its air power to support opposition forces. But the Kurdish forces number about 15,000 fighters and are no match for the 400,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army. Late last year a high-level delegation from the US State Department visited Kurdistan. They were told by the two most important Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Jalal al-Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan that the Kurds would not act against Saddam Hussein unless they were certain that the US was determined to overthrow him and had a plan to do so. The CIA visit has seriously embarrassed the two leaders. "The news of the CIA visit has created a furore among the Kurds," said an Iraqi source yesterday. Mr al-Talabani has made a rushed visit to Damascus to reassure the Syrians that his party is not joining an attempt to topple President Saddam. Mr Barzani sent two senior members of the KDP politburo, Azad Barawi and Favel Mirani, to make the same point to Syria. http://www.washtimes.com/national/20020320-77280244.htm * CIA won't rule out Iraq, Iran By Bill Gertz The Washington Times, 19th March CIA Director George J. Tenet yesterday refused to rule out the involvement of either Iraq or Iran in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Top Stories "There is no doubt that there have been contacts and linkages to the al Qaeda organization," Mr. Tenet told Congress when asked about Iraqi ties to the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden. "As to where we are in September 11th, the jury's out," Mr. Tenet said. "And ... it would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship, whether Iranian or Iraqi, and we'll see where the evidence takes us." Mr. Tenet said U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Baghdad in particular played a role in the September 11 attacks. The CIA director made the remarks in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which he focused on national security threats to the United States. The comments mark a shift from past statements by intelligence officials who had ruled out any state sponsorship of the al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. On other issues, Mr. Tenet told the panel: China is backing state sponsors of terrorism with arms sales, and its cooperation in the U.S.-led war on terrorism is a "mixed bag." Al Qaeda has been disrupted by U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, but the group still poses a threat to the United States. "We assess that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will continue to plan to attack this country and its interests abroad," Mr. Tenet said. "Their modus operandi is to have multiple attacks in the works simultaneously, and to have al Qaeda cells in place to conduct them." Al Qaeda terrorists are seeking to develop weapons that spread radioactive debris as part of a blast. Iran is continuing to support terrorist groups, including transferring arms to Palestinian extremist organizations and Hezbollah. Tehran also has "failed to move decisively against al Qaeda members who have relocated to Iran from Afghanistan." Anti-terrorism cooperation around the world has resulted in the arrests of more than 1,300 al Qaeda members in more than 70 nations and the disruption of terrorist operations. The spread of nuclear-weapon components may not be detected by U.S. intelligence, and the transfer of long-range and cruise missile technology "has raised the threat to the United States from weapons-of-mass-destruction delivery systems to a critical threshold." North Korea's communist regime is leading the nation toward "state failure," and mismanagement by the Pyongyang government is triggering the return of famine conditions. "Large numbers of North Koreans face long-term health damage as a result of the prolonged malnutrition and the collapse of the public health network," Mr. Tenet said. Regarding the connection between Iraq and the al Qaeda network, Mr. Tenet said the terrorist group is like "a front company that mixes and matches its capabilities." "The distinctions between Sunni and Shia [Islamic denominations] that have traditionally divided terrorist groups are not distinctions you should make anymore, because there is a common interest against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capability wherever they can get it," Mr. Tenet said. Iraq's government has a long history of supporting terrorists and has altered its targets to suit changing priorities, Mr. Tenet said. "It has also had contacts with al Qaeda," he said. "Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides' mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible, even though [Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein] is well aware that such activity would carry serious consequences." U.S. intelligence officials have said Mohamed Atta, one of the 19 suicide hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks, met secretly in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer. The meeting, which was detected by Czech internal security agents, has raised concerns that Iraq played a role in the terrorist attacks. A U.S. official said later that while an Iraqi role in the terror attacks cannot be ruled out, "At this point, there isn't evidence pointing to that." Reflecting the Bush administration's current focus on Iraq, Mr. Tenet also said Baghdad is continuing its program to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile delivery systems. "We believe that Saddam never abandoned his nuclear weapons program," Mr. Tenet said, noting that Iraq has kept "a significant number of nuclear scientists, program documentation and probably some dual-use manufacturing infrastructure that could support a reinvigorated nuclear program." A major fear of the CIA is that Iraq will gain access to radioactive fuel that could be used to create nuclear weapons, he said. On the issue of China, Mr. Tenet said Beijing has tried to cooperate with the United States in the war against terrorism, while also continuing to back terrorist-sponsoring states such as Iran, Libya and North Korea with arms and missile sales. Asked by Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, whether China is "with us or with the terrorists," Mr. Tenet said: "I think that we have a deep concern that the Chinese are engaging in activities that continue to be inimical not just to our interests, but that their activity stimulates secondary activities that only complicate the threat that we face, our forces face and our allies face, particularly in the Middle East and other places where they have these relationships." China is building up its conventional and strategic nuclear forces as part of a drive to become a great power, Mr. Tenet said. Beijing views the United States as "the primary obstacle to the realization of that goal," he said. Since the September 11 attacks, China has changed its approach to the United States but not its long-term strategy. China's standoff with Taiwan continues, and the mainland's military buildup is "increasing the risk to the United States itself in any future Taiwan contingency," Mr. Tenet said. China announced earlier this month that it is increasing its defense spending by 17.6 percent, and if the trend continues, Beijing will double its defense spending between 2000 and 2005. http://www.nst.com.my/z//Current_News/NST/Friday/Columns/20020322082836 * ALL ABOARD THE BATTLE WAGON HEADING FOR IRAQ by Farish A. Noor New Straits Times (Malaysia), 22nd March THE essay by Kenneth M. Pollack entitled "Next Stop Baghdad?" that appeared in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs makes for grim reading. It would be less disconcerting if Pollack was a mere retired armchair strategist who spins off his own war narratives in the comfort of his study. But unfortunately Pollack happens to be the deputy director for National Security Studies at the American Council on Foreign Relations and he has served on the American National Security Council before. Furthermore, Foreign Affairs is no mere journal it happens to be a very influential mouthpiece for the US administration and in many ways it mirrors the mindset of those who actually run the world's only remaining superpower. In his article, Kenneth Pollack makes his case for the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein's Government by whatever means (and whatever costs) necessary. He presents this as a natural progression after America's campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and his recommendations are stark and brutally blunt: "The United States should invade Iraq, eliminate the present regime, and pave the way for a successor prepared to abide by its international commitments and live in peace with its neighbours." Pollack does not pretend that such a campaign has anything to do with the socalled "global war on terror". He openly states that "Saddam Hussein must be dealt with" and that doing so would be in the service of American economic, political and military interests. Pollack knows that he can get away with such sabrerattling rhetoric with impunity as there stands no single country in the world today that can simply say no to the US. Even the Governments of Europe have resigned themselves to the fact that whatever advice and words of caution they might offer at this stage would be like water off a duck's back. Furthermore, the countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa much less the Arab world are hardly in a position to resist either. Indeed, the most frightening thing about the language of people like Pollack is their willingness to talk about the deliberate slaughter of thousands of people as if it was the stuff of dry economics or pulp fiction. Speculating about the costs of such a military campaign, Pollack simply throws up some figures in the air: "All told, the (American) force should total roughly 200,000 to 300,000 people: for the invasion, between four and six divisions plus supporting units, and for the air campaign, 700 to 1,000 aircraft and anywhere from one to five carrier battle groups." Of course, Pollack conveniently forgets to include the total number of Iraqi civilian casualties that would invariably arise in the case of such a conflict a figure of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, should America go all the way and decide to use nuclear weapons as its security services have warned that it would. (Pollack has, after all, dismissed the Iraqi casualty figures of the Gulf war and post-Gulf war period as "ludicrous".) But Pollack's bellicose tenor is matched only by his acute business sense: Later he speculates about the costs of rebuilding Iraq after it has been pounded to rubble by the US: "The United States will also need to repair much of the damage done to the Iraqi economy since Saddam's accession." (Note that it is Saddam who is blamed for Iraq's economic decline as if the numerous economic sanctions slapped on the country from 1991 have had nothing to do with it.) "(The US) could undoubtedly raise substantial funds for this purpose from the GCC and perhaps some European and East Asian countries dependent on Persian Gulf oil. "Current estimates of the cost of rebuilding Iraq's economy, however, range from US$50 billion (RM190 billion) to US$150 billion, and that does not include repairing the damage from yet another major war. The United States should thus be prepared to contribute several billion dollars per year for as long as a decade to rebuild the country." Again, there is a serious omission here: For as any economist will tell you, any country that invests in the rebuilding of the shattered economy of another state will not do so out of charity or goodwill, but for the simple reason that such re-developmental aid is bound to yield massive benefits in terms of development projects, contracts and useful economic partnerships and political alliances. Pollack's essay is nothing less than a blueprint for the deliberate and systematic destruction of the economy and political system of another country, just so that it can be rebuilt anew according to the model pre-set by its invaders. Today the spin doctors have come up with all kinds of fancy terms and labels for such actions: "developmental aid", "political conditionality", "constructive engagement", etc. But in the past there was a much simpler, and more honest, term that was employed: imperialism. The sooner the world comes to terms with these painful realities, the sooner we will be able to address it. IRAQI/MIDDLE EASTERN-ARAB WORLD RELATIONS http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020316/2002031623.html * ALGERIAN DELEGATION ARRIVES IN BAGHDAD Arabic News, 16th March A delegation included more than 200 figures representing Algerian businessmen and more than 77 trade and industry firms led by Algerian Minister of Industry Abdul-Majeed al Manasra arrived in Iraq Thursday for a several-day visit to be present at activities of the Algerian products exhibition which will be opened Saturday in Baghdad International Fair, and to strengthen economic and trade cooperation especially after the two states have signed the free trade zone agreement, INA reported today. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2002-03/16/content_319019.htm * KUWAITI, EGYPTIAN DETAINED BY IRAQ TROOPS KUWAIT CITY, March 15 (Xinhua) -- A source from the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday that a Kuwaiti and an Egyptian were held by Iraqi troops at the border while accompanying a Venezuelan delegation, Kuwait's official KUNA news agency reported. It is the responsibility of the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) to ensure the release of the two detainees, the source was quoted by KUNA as saying. He added that the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry is also in contact with the UNIKOM and the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure the release of them. A UNIKOM statement earlier said that the Iraqi troops detained a Kuwaiti and an Egyptian who were accompanying a Venezuelan delegation when a UNIKOM officer who was driving the delegation's car entered the Iraqi territories by mistake. The delegation's goal is to visit the post of the Venezuelan unit serving with the UNIKOM on the Kuwaiti side of the border, the statement said. It added that contacts between the UNIKOM chief and Iraq resulted in the release of the Venezuelan nationals, but the Iraqi troops refused to release the Kuwaiti and Egyptian nationals. There is a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between Iraq and Kuwait. The DMZ is 10 kilometers long on the Iraqi side and five kilometers on the Kuwaiti side. The DMZ was set up in 1991 after the U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and ended Baghdad's seven-month occupation of the small oil-rich Gulf neighbor. http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectid=8215F4DF-8116-4000 8F1ED0EDA194A732&Title=Iraq%20Sends%20Diplomat%20on%20North%20African%20Tour &CatOID=45C9C78D 88AD-11D4-A57200A0CC5EE46C * IRAQ SENDS DIPLOMAT ON NORTH AFRICAN TOUR Voice of America, 16th March Iraq's President Saddam Hussein has dispatched a senior Iraqi official on a north African tour to try to rally opposition against possible U.S. attacks aimed at deposing him. Deputy Prime Minister Tarek Aziz will deliver messages from President Saddam to the leaders of Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Morocco. The Iraqi leader sent another top emissary - Ezzat Ibrahim - the vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council - to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt earlier this week. The Iraqi missions coincide with the Middle East tour by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney has been consulting with Arab leaders on the global anti-terror campaign and how to deal with Iraq. President Bush has demanded that Iraq permit the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to check reports that Iraq has been working to develop weapons of mass destruction. http://www.reuters.com/news_article.jhtml?type=worldnews&StoryID=708020 * IRAQI ENVOY ARRIVES IN UAE HOT ON CHENEY'S HEELS Reuters, 16th March ABU DHABI: An Iraqi presidential envoy arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, hours after Vice President Dick Cheney heard UAE officials reject a strike on Iraq. The official UAE news agency WAM, which reported the arrival of Izzat Ibrahim, Vice Chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, did not elaborate on the purpose of the visit. Baghdad has been campaigning to rally Arab opposition to possible U.S. military action after President Bush labeled Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, as an axis of evil, raising speculation about a possible strike. UAE President Sheikh Zaid bin Sultan al-Nahayan told Cheney he opposed a military strike against Iraq and urged "prudence for (safeguarding) the interests of America, the region and the world," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamdan bin Zaid al-Nahayan told WAM. [.....] http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020316/2002031613.html * SYRIAN: THE IRAQI PIPELINE IS JUST FOR A TEST, TO BE CANCELED Arabic News, 16th March The Syrian oil minister Ibrahim Haddad said on Friday in Vienna that Syria is still testing the oil pipeline which is extended from Iraq since 20 years, but it will work to cancel this line for using a new line to be used in the framework of the oil-for-food agreement between Iraq and the UN. Haddad explained to a group of journalists in Vienna, on the sideline of the OPEC's ministerial conference that pumping oil in the said pipeline is not regular and is less in its maximum to 100,000 barrels per day because of oil leakage and technical problems. Haddad, who is visiting Vienna to attend meetings of the OPEC as an observer said that "the oil which reaches Syria during testing the line is used by our refineries and we use it to increase some of our oil exports." He explained "we test this line from time to time, from a week or another, but so far it does not work properly, despite the fact we spent money to repair it." The Syrian minister added that Syria is currently producing 550,000 barrels of crude oil and its refineries consume between 250- 3000,000 of this amount. He continued "we also approved making a feasibility study to establish a new pipeline and when it will be ready we will operate it under the umbrella of the UN." He added that Syria will discuss halting testing of the old pipeline as soon as the feasibility study for the new one is completed. He added that "continued or halting the operation of the old pipeline will be decided through negotiations between Syria, Iraq and the US." http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la 000019574mar17.story?coll=la%2Dheadlines%2Dworld * CHENEY FINDS CHILLY RESPONSE IN THE GULF TO ANY ATTACK ON IRAQ by James Gerstenzang Los Angeles Times, 17th March JIDDA, Saudi Arabia -- On a day that began with a personal display of respect for Islam and ended at a palace, Vice President Dick Cheney delved into the thicket of Middle Eastern history and hatreds Saturday, conferring with Crown Prince Abdullah here about the Saudi's proposal to restrain the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence. But as to the centerpiece of his Persian Gulf tour--the future of efforts the United States wants to lead to restrain Iraq--he has been thwarted at each stop, and the only public signals from the Saudis were of outright opposition. Traveling from Oman to the United Arab Emirates to Jidda on Saturday, the vice president arrived at the difficult diplomatic junction where the tragedies of the Middle East encounter the new pressures brought to the region by the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Cheney had dinner with the crown prince, one of the most powerful figures in the region, and then met with him at mid-evening. The crown prince has proposed that if Israel returned to its pre-1967 borders, Saudi Arabia would open normal diplomatic relations with it. Regarding a campaign against Iraq, Abdullah has sent a message of adamant opposition, one reflected by other nations on Cheney's tour, most notably Egypt and Jordan. Using American television to convey this opposition publicly even before the vice president had made his case, Abdullah said the United States cannot overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and in interviews with CNN and ABC, he said Iraq must remain unified. The concern is reflected throughout the region and goes to the heart of a question the Bush administration has had to confront as it contemplates a military campaign against Iraq: What would happen after Hussein? The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al Faisal, said in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters that the United States could not use Saudi bases for an attack against Iraq, as it had during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. At one of Cheney's earlier stops--Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the vice president paused to discuss the Saudi plan with the country's president, Sheik Zayed ibn Sultan al Nuhayyan. A Cheney aide said that the two men, who met in a palace, agreed that the plan had "provided a path" worth exploring. Cheney began the day in Muscat, Oman, at the Sultan Kaboos Grand Mosque. The mosque was a reminder--if the vice president needed one--of some of the many crossroads of the Middle East: The massive rug that covers much of its 60,000-square-foot worship area was made in Iran; the ornately carved marble arches are of Iraqi design. [.....] Wherever Cheney has gone, he has encountered such anxieties as those prevailing in Saudi Arabia regarding Iraq and an aggressive U.S. presence that could rile the populace. In Oman, for example, officials try to keep under wraps their military cooperation with the United States, and White House officials showed great sensitivity in confirming that the vice president visited the island of Masirah, a small U.S. military facility. [.....] http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020318/2002031848.html * IRAQ, BAHRAIN SIGN AGREEMENT Arabic News, 18th March Iraqi Chamber of Commerce and Bahraini Chamber of Industry and Commerce signed an agreement promoting trade ties and enhancing economic relations. It also focused on exchanging visits, information, laws regulating economic activity, implementing joint projects, organizing symposiums, and commercial fairs to expand cooperation, INA reported today. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=275697 * ARAB STATES UNITED IN REJECTING ATTACK ON SADDAM by Robert Fisk in Beirut Independent,18th March Rarely can an American vice-president have met such a rebuff from America's Arab allies. Not a single Arab king, prince or president has been prepared to endorse a US attack on Iraq. Even in Kuwait where Dick Cheney arrives today before going on to Israel an opinion poll suggests that more than 40 per cent of its citizens are hostile to Washington's policies. In every Arab capital, Mr Cheney has been politely but firmly told to turn his attention to the Palestinian-Israeli war, and forget the "axis of evil'' until the US brings its Israeli allies into line. All Mr Cheney's efforts to pretend that the conflict in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel is separate from Iraq or "two tracks" as the American cliché would have it have failed. Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's First Deputy Prime Minister, met Mr Cheney at the end of a long red carpet at Jeddah airport, but the Saudi press were not so polite. One newspaper carried a front-page article condemning US policy in the region almost unheard of in the kingdom while editorials in other Gulf papers uniformly condemned any assault on Iraq. Prince Abdullah has gone out of his way to explain to US television audiences why he opposes military action against the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, while Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister, has told the Americans that they cannot use the Prince Sultan air base for any war against Baghdad. Repeatedly, Arab leaders have turned Mr Cheney's arguments about America's "war on terrorism'' around. For them, the terror is being inflicted upon Palestinians by Israelis. If President Saddam is overthrown, Iraq could break apart, the US Vice-President was told several times, with incalculable effects on Iraq's Muslim neighbours. Even the small United Arab Emirates had no time for the Cheney argument. The Vice President's spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise, said that Mr Cheney "made the point that al Qa'ida can't be allowed to reconstitute'' in the Middle East. The government of the UAE President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, retorted briskly that he was opposed to military action in Iraq. The Arabs might be forgiven their confusion over Mr Cheney's objectives. If America wishes to pursue its "war on terror'', what has Iraq got to do with it? Where is the evidence that Saddam was involved in 11 September? None exists, so Mr Cheney has invented a new dogma for Arabs: "The United States will not permit the forces of terror to gain the tools of genocide'' he said. President Saddam has "weapons of mass destruction'' and they could fall into the hands of Osama bin Laden. Since Mr bin Laden hates President Saddam and has gone on record to say as much, just how the Iraqi weapons, if they exist, would reach America's nemesis is unclear. And the Arabs have been asking who is threatening genocide in the Middle East? Who is being attacked? The one Middle East nation that supports a strike at Iraq is Israel, where Mr Cheney is expected to arrive later today. The Vice-President will therefore hear what he wants to hear from the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, whose reoccupation of Palestinian territory has done so much to destroy his mission. http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5478,3978557%255E401,00 .html * KUWAIT OPPOSES STRIKE AGAINST IRAQ Herald Sun (Australia), 18th March KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait said it would not support strikes on Iraq and urged the Baghdad regime to fully comply with UN resolutions after talks with US Vice-President Dick Cheney. "We will not support this (a strike) against Iraq, not because Iraq is a friend of Kuwait but because the present circumstances are not suitable," said first deputy premier and foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. "The Iraqi regime will not be harmed but the Iraqi people will," he said. "This is why I hope the Iraqi regime could appreciate what would happen to its people if it refused to let the UN inspectors in," Sheikh Sabah said. [.....] http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/020318/2002031849.html * QADDAFI - AZIZ DISCUSS PALESTINE, IRAQ PROBLEMS Arabic News, 18th March Libyan President Moaamar Qaddafi received Sunday Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz. Aziz conveyed a message from President Saddam Hussein concerning coordinating stances between the two states on the issues that will be discussed during the Arab summit due to start in Beirut on March 27. The meeting stressed the necessity of backing the defiant Palestinian Intifada and providing protection for the Palestinian people. The meeting discussed US threats against Iraq. Qaddafi expressed Libya's solidarity with Iraq. He affirmed his country's firm stance calling for ending the decade-old sanctions on Iraq. Aziz arrived in Tripoli Saturday evening in a tour includes Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, The official Iraqi news agency reported today. http://www.dawn.com/2002/03/19/int13.htm * SADDAM'S ENEMY SAYS 'NO' TO US by Jonathan Steele Dawn (from The Guardian), 19th March 2002, 04 Muharram 1423 TEHRAN: The political leader of the most effective guerrilla force in Iraq warned the United States on Sunday not to take unilateral military action against Saddam Hussein without United Nations approval. "We don't agree with an American attack on Iraq. It will cause great damage and suffering to ordinary people," Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the spiritual and political leader of Iraq's Shia community in exile, told the Guardian at his heavily guarded headquarters in central Tehran. The ayatollah fled Iraq in 1980 and, with Iranian government support, set up the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri). Western governments estimate that Sciri has a force of between 7,000 and 15,000 men. The ayatollah provides political leadership but is not involved in military operations or the group's bases and training camps close to the Iraqi border. Sciri's units make sporadic raids on police stations and army positions inside Iraq. Along with the Kurds in northern Iraq, they are the main armed opposition to Saddam Hussein. During the Gulf war they mounted an uprising and fought fiercely against the Iraqi, but felt betrayed when US-led forces pulled out in 1991. This left them at the mercy of Saddam, who exacted massive reprisals, sending a new generation of Shias to death and into exile. The ayatollah's reluctance to endorse US strikes on Baghdad appears to be a retreat from his position last autumn. It is partly in deference to the many Arab governments who have warned the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, on his Middle Eastern tour, not to inflame Arab opinion by taking unilateral measures. Ayatalloh Baqir said that Saddam was weaker than the Taliban. "The Taliban had an ideology and the support of many Afghans who defended them. Saddam does not have any popular support." His remarks were a veiled response to US secretary of state Colin Powell's comment that "Iraqi opposition forces are weaker than the Northern Alliance" and "Saddam Hussein is stronger than the Taliban". http://www.nationalpost.com/commentary/story.html?f=/stories/20020320/389987 .html * DON'T CLING TO OLD MIDEAST ORDER by David Warren National Post (from Ottawa Citizen), 19th March Appearances aren't everything, but they are something, and it appears that Dick Cheney's tour of Middle Eastern capitals has been a dismal failure. He failed to get the "moderate" Arab regimes to listen up about Saddam Hussein; instead they wanted to discuss Palestine, and talked his ear off about that. Rather than contradict what the Vice-President was telling them -- in his practised, culturally sensitive way, for Mr. Cheney is an old Arab hand -- they simply and persistently changed the subject. To these regimes -- we might call Saudi Arabia and Egypt for convenience the "axis of moderation" -- Afghanistan was a side issue. It was inconvenient for them to lose the "summer camp" to which they had been dispatching Islamist terrorists who might otherwise be trouble at home. But otherwise, the new, pro-Western government in Kabul is of less significance to them than the new U.S. allies in former-Soviet Central Asia, since the Afghans don't seem to be sitting on oil. Even to the Saudis, non-Arab Afghanistan, in the mountains beyond the deserts of Baluchistan and Makran, is nowhere. Whereas Iraq is the second-biggest oil well on Arab Street. And a pro-Western regime in Baghdad would change, catastrophically for the old regimes, the whole balance of power in the region. Saddam is not merely the devil they know -- one now far more likely to drop a poison tipped Scud on Israel than on any of them. The prospect of a new regime for such a powerful neighbour, and in particular one which espouses Western-style democracy (which is quite certainly what the United States would install), truly horrifies them. It would be extremely destabilizing, providing their people with the model for a way forward that is neither Sheik-autocratic nor Islamo-fanatic. So it is no surprise that none of them wants to think about it. On the other hand, to be fair to their judgment, when they do think about it, they realize that something could be worse than a successful U.S.-imposed regime-change in Iraq; and that would be an unsuccessful incursion -- a war that spread beyond Iraq's borders, setting fires within their own. Thus, when the Americans do go in, they are unlikely to interfere. Mr. Cheney was there to say, "get ready," and though they pretended not to hear, they heard. There is an element of desperation in their trying to change the subject dramatically to Palestine, after decades of leaving the Palestinians to their fate. And the Palestinians themselves -- who for decades have been treated little better than Filipina maids when guest-labouring in the oil-bearing sheikdoms -- know better than to think their Arab brothers are really standing behind them. Yasser Arafat wouldn't be making his regular supplications to the United States, if he thought he had reliable friends. (As a Palestinian writer in Bethlehem once said to me, "With friends like these, who needs Israelis?") Nevertheless, surrounded by a whole Arab world demanding the United States do something about the crisis in Palestine, and Europeans pretending to be helpful, President Bush and Mr. Cheney found themselves obliged to send the latter to Tel Aviv. Having no new peace script -- I am told several new ones were actually considered, but the actors rejected them all as unspeakable -- Mr. Cheney finds himself trying to bunt the old one, the Mitchell-Tenet one, the one that never makes it to first base. But even the same old words acquire new meanings in new contexts. The Arab states are trying effectively to obtain a trade. In its crudest terms: "You can 'do' Iraq if, first, you 'do' Israel, by forcing them to accept something resembling the Saudi Arabian 'peace initiative.' " The weakness in their position is, of course, that the United States doesn't need Arab permission to "do" Iraq. Turkish bases and aircraft carriers would be adequate; plus Israeli help in a pinch. On the other hand, there is a hint of idealism in this unspoken Arab "offer." For the truth is, democracy in Iraq, plus genuine peace with Israel, would surely spell doom for the House of Saud. The Israeli bête noire is their other prop. They can't really believe it could happen. More likely, it presents itself, thanks to the recent explosion of violence, as the only available delaying tactic; and what appears to be pursued with unprecedented self-confidence, is in fact a grasp for straws. >From the American side, the poverty of ideas is beginning to tell. The overall U.S. strategy is a good one -- Iraq next -- but my sense is that the implications of the strategy have still not been thoroughly digested. The fact that toppling Saddam, however necessary, will be radically destabilizing of the Middle Eastern order, has, to my mind, still not been taken in, at least, not in all of its ramifications. The Bush administration has been ordering elaborate contingency plans, should anything go wrong; they may not be prepared, if everything goes right. In Mr. Cheney's practised hands, regional stability is almost the ultimate goal of U.S. policy. It has become nuanced in a new way. The United States is now pressing its "friends," both overtly and subtly, to become more democratic, to acknowledge human rights, the rule of law, motherhood and apple pie. They are writing conditions into aid agreements, both civil and military, to their military allies. The secretary, Colin Powell, has this year made a much bigger issue of the State Department's human rights reports, and has been willing to say aloud -- about the Uzbeki regime of Islam Karimov, for instance -- things no U.S. administration has ever said before about an ally. Even President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has received an earful, though not publicly. (Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Abdullah, protects himself against such hectoring by going berserk the moment it starts.) But is regional stability in the interest of the U.S. or, more generally, the West? It is only when the question is asked thus directly that the overall strategic situation begins to emerge. For someone of Mr. Cheney's vintage -- an oil man who in business and government has spent much of his adult life coping with Arab eccentricities -- the answer is self-evidently, "yes." For President Bush, who has the inestimable advantage of coming new and fresh to many of these previously insoluble problems, the answer is, perhaps, "maybe." To my mind, the answer is, certainly, "no." The reality is that the United States is both hated and feared throughout the region. The problem is to reduce the hatred, while increasing the fear. Making concessions to the "axis of moderation" has the effect of increasing the hatred, while reducing the fear. What we need is a United States plausibly able to say: "Do what we ask or to hell with you." That requires a willingness to contemplate the collapse of a "moderate" regime in Arabia or Egypt, and therefore an ability to confront the whole Arab world as the agent of democracy, human rights, modernity. In other words, more pain now, less pain later. Instead, the Bush administration is holding on for dear life to anything that remains of the old, more comfortable, Middle Eastern order. This is what is implied in the invitation to Prince Abdullah to be the first unelected world leader let into the ultimate inner sanctum, Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex. It is an unambiguous way to say to him, "We may have our differences, but you are still in the club." I would guess the intention is to use the old club for one last try at peace between Israel and the Arabs. Optimism is a virtue, but confidence would be carrying the appearances too far. http://quotes.freerealtime.com/dl/frt/N?art=C2002032000079h0697&SA=Latest%20 News * IRAQ, LEBANON TO SIGN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT NEXT MONTH BAGHDAD, Mar 20, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Iraq and Lebanon will sign a free trade agreement next month in Beirut, Lebanon, to further boost trade ties between the two countries, a visiting Lebanese official said here on Wednesday. "Lebanon and Iraq have witnessed quick and concrete development in all fields," Jack al Saraf, chairman of the Lebanese Industrialists Union, told the state-run Iraq TV while attending a Lebanese Products Exhibition held in the Baghdad International Fair. Lebanon's trade volume with Iraq stands at some 840 million U.S. dollars under the United Nations oil-for-food program, which has been in effect since 1996 and allows sanctions-hit Iraq to sell oil and use part of the revenues to buy food, medicine and other essentials for its 22 million people. Iraq, which has been under stringent U.N. sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, has so far sealed free trade agreements with Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Algeria. The deals are desired for eventually cancelling import or export tariffs among Arab countries and setting up a common Arab market. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, currently visiting Sudan, on Tuesday signed a free trade agreement with his Sudanese counterpart Ali Osman Taha. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow.asp?art_id=4465809 * KUWAIT SLAMS IRAQ FOR HOLDING KUWAITI AS 'BARGAINING CHIP' Times of India (AFP), 21st March KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait on Thursday blasted Iraq's refusal to free a Kuwaiti held when a diplomatic mission strayed across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between them, describing it as tantamount to hostage-taking. Iraq announced late Wednesday it had freed Egyptian Abdul Aziz Ahmad but would hold Kuwaiti Jassim al-Randi until Kuwait hands over Iraqi citizens detained for entering the emirate. "We have no Iraqis held in Kuwait for entering by mistake ... This is a frivolous accusation, an outrageous lie we're used to (from Iraq)," Kuwaiti State Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammad Sabah al-Sabah told AFP. "This is not detention, it's hostage (taking), they want to exchange our prisoners for ghosts," Sheikh Mohammad said. "To continue detaining him and using him as a bargaining chip, to play with people's lives in this manner just reflects the nature of this (Iraqi) regime," he added. "Kuwaiti Jassem al-Randi will not be freed unless Kuwait frees and returns all Iraqi citizens detained for entering by error" into the emirate, Iraq's foreign ministry said. An Iraqi spokesman could not provide a number for Iraqis detained in Kuwait for illegal entries, but demanded the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) go to Kuwait to see them. Sheikh Mohammad said Iraqis who accidentally cross into Kuwait are mostly shepherds, whom Kuwait then returns to Iraq with the help of the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM). "We don't have Iraqis detained" for mistakenly crossing into the emirate, the Kuwaiti official said. "Our centers are open for the Red Cross which is welcome to check every Iraqi held in our jails," he added, also welcoming Ahmad's release. The two men were stopped Friday morning by Iraqi border police while traveling through the DMZ with a visiting Venezuelan delegation. Ahmad was driving their vehicle while Randi is a Kuwait municipal employee. The Venezuelans were also briefly detained in the incident, for which UNIKOM has taken responsibility. An ICRC official said in Baghdad Wednesday he hoped for a speedy settlement of the case of the Kuwaiti detainee. UNIKOM monitors the DMZ set up along the border after the 1991 Gulf War in which a US led coalition evicted Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The mission reports to the UN Security Council any violation by either side. The DMZ extends 10 km into Iraq and five km into Kuwait. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2002-03/22/content_326799.htm * ALL ARAB STATES AGAINST MILITARY STRIKES ON IRAQ: LEBANESE PRESIDENT Beirut, March 21 (Xinhuanet) -- Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said on Thursday that all Arab countries stand against possible U. S.-led military strikes on Iraq, including those states which have been at odds with Baghdad. During an exclusive written interview with Xinhua ahead of the March 27-28 Arab summit in Beirut, Lahoud said the world community has adopted many resolutions on Iraq and United Nations weapons inspectors has entered the country several times to check alleged weapons of mass destruction. "Iraq is developing ties with its Arab neighbors in an active and constructive way, then why does the United States want to destroy Iraq by military means?" said Lahoud. To this extent, the Lebanese president called for a permanent lifting of the decade-long sanctions imposed on Iraq instead of threatening to use force against the country, adding thousands upon thousands of Iraqi children died due to starvation and illness during years of international sanctions. [.....] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow.asp?art_id=4489085 * ARAB LEADERS CONCERNED BY SADDAM HUSSEIN: CHENEY Times of India (AFP), 21st March WASHINGTON: US Vice-President Dick Cheney on Thursday said that Arab leaders whom he met on a recent tour to the region were concerned by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. "I think (the Arab leaders) are uniformly concerned about the situation in Iraq," Cheney said on Thursday, "in particular about Saddam Hussein's failure to live up to the UN Security Council resolutions... that he pledged to at the end of the (1991 Gulf) war, (saying) he would get rid of all of his weapons of mass destruction." The leaders "are concerned as we are when they see the work that he has done to develop chemical and biological weapons, (and) his pursuit of nuclear weapons," Cheney said. "I went out there to consult with them, seek their advice and counsel to report back to the president on how we might best proceed to deal with that mutual problem," Cheney said. "That's exactly what I've done." Speaking after a working breakfast with Cheney, President George W Bush emphasised that the US is "resolved to fight the war on terror. This isn't a short-term strategy for us," Bush said, noting that Cheney "delivered that message." "It's very important for these leaders to understand the nature of this administration," Bush said. "So there's no dcÄ PgVênd that when_:speak, we mean what we say, that we're not posturing." Cheney's eight-day, nine-stop tour of Arab states, as well as Israel and Turkey, ended on Tuesday. The trip focused on Bush's push to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, as well as on the spiralling violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that has left more than 250 dead since the end of February. Despite his role as defense secretary during Iraq's 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait, Cheney failed to wrest a public commitment from the leaders of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Yemen. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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