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[casi] from today's papers: 10-04-02

A. Blair sees no need for new UN mandate to attack Iraq, Guardian, 10 April
B. Labouring over Iraq, Guardian, 10 April [leading article]
C. Is this man leading us to war with Iraq?, Guardian, 10 April
D. Mr Blair must reassure his critics that he will not rush into war in
Iraq, Independent, 10 April [leading article]


[Letter writers: remember to include your address and telephone number!]

The title of A. should be self-explanatory. Apparently Mr Blair does not
believe that his Party fears illegal (as opposed to 'precipitate') action.
Given the historical record, he may well be right.

The following passage, concerning the infamous UK 'dossier' on Iraq's WMD
capabilities, reinforces earlier reports that it contains little or nothing
in the way of hard evidence about the situation post-UNSCOM:

'In the battle to prepare public opinion the UK dossier will be vital. It
refers to Saddam's success in developing chemical weapons, and biological
ones, including anthrax. *But there is no clear idea what he has tried to
do, and how far he has succeeded, as the UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998.*'
(emphasis added)

Indeed, according to 'Whitehall sources'  'the promised dossier on Saddam
Hussein's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programme [i]s being kept
under wraps precisely because of a lack of hard evidence.'

B. suggests that the distance between the Government and many 'dissenting'
MPs may not be very wide - an assessment which may be correct.

C. is an upbeat profile of Ahmed Chalabi, whom Porter describes as a 'humane
optimist ... who wants nothing more than to give his people the freedoms
enjoyed in the west.'

Porter states that Chalabi 'is responsible for alerting the west to the
build-up of weapons of mass destruction since the Unscom inspectors left
Iraq four years ago. The information is not just rumour; it is high-grade
intelligence, concerning plans, locations, expenditure and named personnel'
as well as making the absurd claim that Iraq 'is now immeasurably better
armed than [it] was in 1990'!

Finally, D is an editorial from the Independent, where a couple of
anti-sanctions / anti-war letters also appeared today. Keep on writing!

Best wishes,

voices uk

A. Blair sees no need for new UN mandate to attack Iraq
by Richard Norton-Taylor and Michael White

Wednesday April 10, 2002
The Guardian

Tony Blair will refuse to commit Britain to seeking a fresh UN mandate
before any escalation of military action against Iraq, Labour MPs were
warned last night.

As Downing Street moved to calm backbench Labour fears of "precipitate"
action, Whitehall sources claimed that the promised dossier on Saddam
Hussein's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programme was being kept
under wraps precisely because of a lack of hard evidence, that would only
serve to deepen concern.

British intelligence sources say that despite attempts by the CIA and FBI to
find links between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and Iraq, the British
dossier does not refer to them because there is no evidence to back up the
US claims - such as the meeting between Mohammed Atta, the September 11
hijacker, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.

The prime minister will meet his critics at the weekly session of the
parliamentary Labour party today. He is determined to face them down and see
off those leftwingers who have predicted doom and disaster over previous
international interventions.

But senior Labour MPs familiar with thinking in Downing Street and
Washington warned colleagues last night that if the Bush administration did
try to effect a "regime change" in Baghdad, it would do so on the legally
flimsy grounds of existing UN resolutions, some dating from the 1991 Gulf

One Labour MP, who does not dispute the idea that Saddam is highly dangerous
and could obtain nuclear and medium-range rocket capability within five
years, claimed there would not be a UN vote "next time", and that any
military option would be highly risky.

The view is widely shared among Whitehall policy makers, and Labour MPs
believe public opinion would side with them. Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham
South, said Mr Blair had not grasped that on this issue the public was not
likely to side with "a gung-ho prime minister".

Whitehall departments and agencies, worried about other Arab countries and
the Muslim community in Britain, are deeply concerned about Washing's talk
of invading.

A full-scale war against Iraq would, in any case, be daunting. "The US
military will say yes sir, then find 1001 reasons why it's too risky," said
a senior Labour MP.

Whitehall officials insist they are not complacent about the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction. "One of these days someone is going to use
something, a hothead or as a result of miscalculation," a well-placed source

The source added that Iran, Libya, North Korea, India and Pakistan have all
acquired or sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Labour MPs also point to double standards. Today Mr Blair can expect to
explain why the UK is not enforcing UN resolutions against Israel.

The Foreign Office's policy has been to engage with those countries rather
than threaten them, but the Bush administration is publicly torn between its
hawks who want to topple Saddam, and its doves.

In the battle to prepare public opinion the UK dossier will be vital. It
refers to Saddam's success in developing chemical weapons, and biological
ones, including anthrax. But there is no clear idea what he has tried to do,
and how far he has succeeded, as the UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998.

UK intelligence sources believe, however, that Iraq is years away from being
able to deliver a nuclear weapon. Labour MPs have been told in Washington
that North Korea could sell Iraq the rockets that would extend Saddam's
lethal capacity within five years - unless action is taken.

B. Labouring over Iraq
Blair and his MPs need a new approach

Wednesday April 10, 2002
The Guardian

Tony Blair and Labour backbenchers bring out the worst in one another. Mr
Blair ignores his own MPs too much, so the MPs start to grumble about Mr
Blair. Grumbling gets Mr Blair impatient, so he ignores the MPs afresh, and
so it goes on. Or at least it has done until now. Today, if both sides are
sensible, they will try to break the vicious circle. If they do not, the
Labour government could find itself in a whole heap more trouble than both
it and the country can afford at this time.

Mr Blair is due to meet his MPs this evening to discuss his weekend talks
with George Bush and prospects for war with Iraq. Such meetings often
threaten greater dramas than in fact take place, but things could be
different this time. Suspicion of Mr Blair's intentions, and about the style
in which he has handled the Iraq issue, is running high. At the last count,
146 MPs had signed Alice Mahon's parliamentary motion on Iraq, the vast
majority of them Labour. Mr Blair seemed to up the ante in Texas, when his
speech parroted Mr Bush's views on Iraqi "regime change", prompting some
gung-ho reporting that Britain was poised to join the US in hitting Iraq.
Everything seems set for a fine old confrontation.

Except that the gap between Ms Mahon's motion and Mr Blair's position is not
as great as some on both sides pretend. The motion says an attack on Iraq
would be "unwise at this time"; Mr Blair in Texas said no precipitate action
need be feared. The motion says an attack would disrupt support for the
anti-terror campaign among Arabs; Mr Blair has made clear that his priority
now and for some time to come is also the Arabs' priority, the Middle East.
The motion calls for UN weapons inspections to resume; Mr Blair called for
inspectors to be allowed back in "any time, any place that the international
community demands". It ought to be possible, in other words, to find common
ground on the undesirability of Saddam's regime, the danger of his weapons
programmes, the need for effective new inspections under UN authority and,
other things being equal, threats of force to back them up. Mr Blair needs
to acknowledge the concern that an attack on Iraq has little to do with the
war on terror. His critics need to recognise that Saddam's Iraq is a threat
to world peace and to its own people. Common ground here is not only
possible, but also desirable. Neither Mr Blair nor his critics should be too
proud to seek it out. The onus is on them both.

C. Is this man leading us to war with Iraq?

When Dr Ahmad Chalabi talks about toppling Saddam Hussein, the US hawks
listen. Henry Porter meets the Iraqi dissident who wants to free his country
by any means

Wednesday April 10, 2002
The Guardian

Saddam Hussein will go. George Bush has decided, and Tony Blair, after
commuting between positions of support and relative caution through the
winter, has given his wholehearted backing. Regardless of what Labour MPs
say, or what happens in Europe and the UN, it seems likely that by the end
of the year the greatly enhanced missiles of America's arsenal will be
raining down on strategic sites throughout Iraq.
Whatever we think about the prospect of a war in the Middle East at this
extremely fragile moment, the statements over the weekend from Crawford,
Texas, represent a considerable victory for Dr Ahmad Chalabi, who is one of
six members of the leadership council of the dissident Iraqi National
Congress (INC), its chief strategist and head of intelligence.

Chalabi goes unrecognised as he walks in the spring sunshine in London,
which is probably a good thing because the last count put the number of
attempts on his life at nine. There have probably been others he hasn't
known about and it is certain that there is never a moment when Saddam's
intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, is not dreaming up a way of killing

Under this threat, Chalabi is relaxed and purposeful. "I don't like to talk
about attempts on my life. The details are sordid - thallium, rockets, car
bombs, snipers. Many of our people have been killed by thallium [poison].
There have been many deaths in northern Iraq - that's what matters."

He leads me through the foyer of an anonymous office block in central
London, talking about the works of ancient Assyrian art looted by Saddam. We
take the lift up to a floor where there are two security doors and more
cameras than you would expect. At length we come to another door and are let
into a study. There is a leather suite, contemporary Iraqi paintings and two
walls of books which include the World of Parrots, Plato, Isaiah Berlin and
many volumes of history. He spends a lot of his time in this room, plotting,
but when he really needs to get away he vanishes into the stacks of the
London Library and reads whatever his eye happens to fall upon.

Chalabi, an MIT graduate with a PhD in mathematics from the University of
Chicago, is a promiscuous and retentive reader. It shows in his conversation
which typically darts between number theory, ancient cultures and current
espionage techniques. As he talks his mouth forms a boomerang smile that
reaches up to a pair of glittering eyes.

In many ways he is like a character from 19th-century fiction, improbably
lit with intelligence, charm and sensibility and at the same time blessed
with the darker gifts of the spy and master of intrigue. Among the things he
does very successfully from the room where we talk is to run a spy network
across Iraq.

More than anyone he is responsible for alerting the west to the build-up of
weapons of mass destruction since the Unscom inspectors left Iraq four years
ago. The information is not just rumour; it is high-grade intelligence,
concerning plans, locations, expenditure and named personnel.

INC information is by far the best coming out of Iraq, but the CIA under
director George Tenet won't have anything to do with him. And when Chalabi
saw Colin Powell in the distance at the state department the other day, the
US secretary of state waved weakly and made off in the opposite direction.
Even now, as Bush prepares for war with Saddam, the state department does
everything in its power to hinder Chalabi and limit his influence.

He has some friends in Washington DC, principally at the Pentagon and among
the staff of the Defence Intelligence Agency. According to the former CIA
officer Bob Baer, whose book See No Evil was published last month, Chalabi's
influence is now stronger than it was because, as Baer puts it: "He talks
their language. He knows how to make himself clear and knows what they want
to hear. He doesn't go round in circles like every Arab you ever sat down
with in the Middle East."

Of much greater importance are the defectors the INC has smuggled out of
Iraq and served up to the Americans. Recently the product of these
debriefings has been hitting the desk in the oval office. But it has been
around for a while. In 1995 the head of military intelligence, General Wafic
Sammarai, defected with Dr Khidir Hamza, head of the nuclear programmes who
worked on Saddam's bomb. Late last year a building contractor and engineer -
still unidentified - came out with information that the DIA called

Chalabi couldn't be more pleased by the outcome of the Crawford summit. He
is unabashed by his part in engineering the current state of high alert
because of one simple reason: he is a freedom fighter and wants nothing more
than to introduce democracy to his country. "We want a government that
respects human rights, based on a constitution, free elections and a federal
structure. But it is an oddly revolutionary idea. It leads to a great deal
of disquiet among US allies. That is reflected in the hordes of
organisations that talk to the state department and CIA about repressive
Arab regimes, chiefly Saudia Arabia." He refers to the lobbyists who are at
pains to reinforce the orthodoxy that Arab states can only be run by strong
men and platoons of psychopaths, armed with electrodes and scalpels.

This is the third time I have met Chalabi. I am always struck by the clarity
and reasonableness of his ambitions, but it is important to remind oneself
that he is a skilled manipulator who spends his time thinking how to hasten
a war against a man who a) is now immeasurably better armed than he was in
1990; b) will probably strike at Israel the moment he is attacked; and c)
will use anything he can when the chips are down - including dirty nukes and
biological warfare.

As Chalabi admits, if Saddam can go out having killed 100,000 Israelis, his
ambition to live on in Arab memory as a modern Saladin will be achieved. The
stakes are high, which accounts for the pallor of British ministers and
officials who have seen some of the recent estimates of Saddam's arsenal and
his plans.

Chalabi feels that the single greatest mistake of the western governments is
that they haven't communicated their fears and knowledge to the public.
Besides this, he also points out that the US is bound by an act of congress
to seeing democracy introduced in Iraq.

Little happened after the bill was passed by congress during the last
Clinton administration because of what Chalabi believes to be deep-rooted
prejudice. "It's an attitude which nearly borders on racism. There is an
infernal circle working which says the Iraqi people must be savages because
they allow Saddam to rule them. Ergo they cannot be democrats and Saddam has
to be replaced by another strong man.

"The myopia of the left when it thinks of Iraq is principally caused by
residues of third-worldism. But they also think that because the US is
targeting Saddam, Saddam must have redeeming features. Let me tell you,
Saddam has no redeeming features."

One of the defectors brought out by the INC last year, General Abu Zenab of
the Mukhabarat, underlines this. With his stories of torture, random arrests
and the killings of thousands of young men after the 1995 uprising, he
evoked a landscape of unending darkness for the American team sent to
debrief him. He spoke without the slightest whisper of conscience or any
sense, for instance, that raping a woman in his custody was not a perk of
the job enjoyed by security boys the world over. Another defector has
recently told how children have been tortured to gain confessions from their

But between now and any realisation of Chalabi's dream almost certainly
stands a war - and one which could sprawl through the Middle East - and then
an arduous unification process involving two Islamic sects (the Sunni and
Shi'a), three racial groups (Arab, Turkoman and Kurdish) and numerous clans.
As the former CIA director Richard Helms advised: "Pay attention to the
things that are hundreds of years old - the religious sects and the tribes."
Three quarters of Iraqis are members of one the country's 150 tribal clans.

Chalabi is a Shi'a but says he has no special brief for the Shi'as and
anyway does not harbour ambitions of standing for office if and when Saddam
is overthrown. "This is about creating a civil society, liberating Arab
history from despotism. The thing about a civil society is that there are
common ideas about how it should be run - what people think of taxation,
health and education services. That is what binds them now."

This is the vision of a cunning and humane optimist. It will be greeted with
scepticism by many, but it is extremely difficult to argue with an Arab
intellectual who wants nothing more than to give his people the freedoms
enjoyed in the west.

D. Mr Blair must reassure his critics that he will not rush into war in Iraq

10 April 2002

Whatever else Tony Blair's trip to the Bush family ranch may have achieved,
it is not likely to have won the hearts and minds of critics in his own
party. Indeed, as the Prime Minister faces them at the regular weekly
meeting of the Labour MPs today, he may well have cause to wonder what he
can do to allay their fears on military intervention in Iraq, or "regime
change" as it euphemistically known.

True, some of the more assiduous of Mr Blair's allies will have pointed to
some careful diplomatic distance being placed between British and American
policy. Compared with President George Bush, Mr Blair's remarks about Saddam
Hussein have been much more hedged around, with many more references to the
United Nations, and military action being taken against the Iraqi regime
only "if necessary and if justified".

Of course, some of this is simply a product of Mr Blair's instinctively
cautious approach to such issues, but it would be unfair, as one Egyptian
commentator observed colourfully, to see the British Prime Minister as
simply the American President's belly dancer.

For, earlier than Mr Bush, Mr Blair rightly identified progress in securing
a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians as a condition for American
intervention in Iraq. Without that, Arab support  always difficult to
secure  would be impossible. The alarming sight of Kuwaiti and Saudi
delegates warmly embracing their Iraqi counterparts at the recent Arab
League summit must have given the Bush administration cause to wonder about
the reliability even of those states that have most to fear from President

Mr Bush does now seem to share the view that outside intervention is
necessary to find a settlement in the Middle East, and that some movement
here is essential before he turns to Iraq. That is progress. However, it may
well prove insufficient to placate Mr Blair's critics, who, due to the
subtleties of his approach and his eagerness to echo the rhetoric of his
host, will have formed the impression that he is unconditionally shoulder to
shoulder with Mr Bush. Such internal opponents as George Galloway are
irreconcilable. But others, say Chris Smith or Glenda Jackson, cannot be so
easily dismissed, are not "naive" as Mr Blair called them, and it is they
who must be convinced.

The message that any military action is at least a year away seems to have
infiltrated the debate, and Mr Blair would do well to signal that the United
Nations should be given that sort of time to see if it can possibly
reinstate the weapons inspectors. President Saddam, we would guess, will
fail to comply, but he must be seen to do so if military action is to carry
opinion here, in the rest of Europe and in the Arab world behind it.

Mr Blair should also indicate that, if it comes to it, military action is
unlikely to consist of a mass ground invasion of Iraq involving thousands of
tanks and ground troops. In other words, he needs to say that we are not
about to re-make the Gulf War, and complete the "unfinished business" of
1991. Above all, Mr Blair needs to pledge that he will consult his MPs if
and when military action becomes a serious option, and that deployment of
British forces will not automatically follow any American move.

That last may be the most difficult. Mr Blair declared in Texas: "We don't
shirk our responsibility. It means that when America is fighting for those
values, then, however tough, we fight with her. No grandstanding; no
offering implausible advice from the comfort of the touchline". Stirring
stuff, but it is rhetoric like that which has alienated many. A British
Prime Minister has to put British interests first. Mr Blair should say as
much to his MPs.

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