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[casi] News, 27/4­11/5/02 (1)

News, 27/4­11/5/02 (1)


*  Annan Reports Progress in Iraq Talks
*  Security Council vote on Iraq sanctions delayed


*  Saddam agents in Australia: exiles
*  The exiles [A long article. I have given extracts on the British mandate
and on politics among the Iraqi exile community.]


*  Iraqi Opposition Group Halts TV Broadcast
*  Harassing the Iraqi National Congress [Extracts. Some still rather vague
background details suggesting that the shutdown of the INC radio was a
result of State department opposition. Apparently the SD wants to support
the Middle East Institute, but its director has declared that Mr Bush¹s
Œaxis of evil¹ phrase is ridiculous. Since the INC is supposed to include
the Iran-backed SCIRI, we may assume that¹s what they think too but in the
Land of Free Speech you don¹t get grants for saying what you think ...]
*  US action on Iraq slowed by rift over whom to support [Fuller account of
the problems surrounding support for an Iraqi opposition and on the
conference that was much talked about a few months ago, which was supposed
to show that there was a coherent and credible alternative to Saddam. Not
stressed here that it was supposed to consist mainly of Sunni military men
(or was that another conference?). We learn in passing that the INC advocate
Œ a constructive policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict¹. What, we wonder, does
that mean, and is it likely to enhance the groups democratic credentials
within Iraq?]


*  Newsweek: Czech Officials Say Story That Sept. 11 Hijacker Atta Met with
Iraqi [Its taken quite a long time for this to get out, though it should
have been obvious six months ago to anyone following these newsmailings.]
*  Czechs assert Atta met with Iraqi spy [Its still just an assertion that
he was in Prague in April 2001, still no apparently convincing evidence.]


*  Baghdad's 'flourishing' art scene [But why, if Iraq ³is the 'cradle of
civilizations', once home to the Sumerians, the Assyrians, Abbasids and
others² should Iraqi artists boast of going to Europe to learn to paint,
especially since the best European art of the century has been an effort to
recover the values that were current among Œthe Sumerians, the Assyrians,
Abbasids and others¹.]
*  British Museum welcomes Iraq library project


*  Oman: Baghdad will not be bombarded from our lands
*  Moussa: Iraq will return back archives and documents for Kuwait


*  Iraqi oil shipments to start tomorrow: Official
*  U.S. probes cigarette sales to Iraq


*  Annan Reports Progress in Iraq Talks
The Associated Press, 4th May

UNITED NATIONS (AP) ‹ U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported progress
during meetings with Iraq's foreign minister that ended Friday and said he
hopes at the next round of talks within a month Iraq will have ``some
positive news.''

The three-day meeting focused on Iraq's disarmament and the return of U.N.
weapons inspectors after three years, a key demand of the U.N. Security
Council and especially the United States, which has accused Iraq of trying
to rebuild its banned weapons programs and of supporting terrorism.

``We did move forward,'' Annan told reporters after briefing the Security
Council on the talks. ``I hope once they've reported back ... they can take
some decisions and come back to us with some positive news.''

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri called the talks ``useful,'' saying ``We
continued to debate in the same spirit of cooperation and positive spirit
which characterized our meeting last time in March.''

While there was no breakthrough on the return of weapons inspectors, Annan
said there was a ``thorough discussion'' of disarmament issues by technical
experts for the first time since the inspectors left in December 1998.
Council diplomats said the Iraqis asked a lot of serious questions about the
definition of terms and the practicalities of inspections.

``If these series of meetings will advance what we want ‹ which is to get
the inspectors back in ‹ then that's a good thing and we support the
secretary-general,'' said U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham. ``But
there wasn't any breakthrough made this time. We'll see what happens.''

Annan said Iraq still wants answers to questions it raised about ending U.S.
and British enforcement of ``no-fly'' zones over northern and southern Iraq
and U.S. threats to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iraq wants to know ``if the inspectors were to go in, would it make any
difference'' he said, alluding to U.S. and British policy.

Annan said he told the Security Council that these questions can only be
answered by ``council members,'' without naming the United States and

But the United States and Britain didn't reply to a letter from Annan
soliciting comment from the council to the 19 questions Iraq raised in
March, and Cunningham reiterated Friday night: ``We're not going to provide
any other answers.''

Asked whether questions about U.S. threats and the no-fly zone were
hindering real progress on returning the inspectors, Annan said, ``We will
know about that when they come back next time.''

The secretary-general said he wanted the next round of talks within a month
‹ ``I don't want to drag this thing out'' ‹ and the meeting could be in New
York or elsewhere. Diplomatic sources said Vienna was a possibility.

Sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted
until inspectors certify that Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear
weapons have been destroyed, along with missiles to deliver them.

But arms inspectors left Baghdad ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes in
December 1998 and Iraq has barred them from returning. Iraq maintains it has
fully complied with U.N. resolutions.

*  Security Council vote on Iraq sanctions delayed
Times of India (from AFP), 9th May

UNITED NATIONS: A vote in the Security Council that had been expected this
week to reform UN sanctions against Iraq has been delayed for a few days at
the request of Russia, council diplomats said Thursday.

Noting that Russia is a co-sponsor of a draft resolution to free up the flow
of non-military goods to Iraq, one diplomat said: "We are not expecting any

The draft resolution, also sponsored by the United States, said the reforms
would take effect on May 30.

Russia and the United States are among the five permanent members of the
council, which agreed Monday on a new mechanism for vetting imports under
the United Nations oil-for-food programme in Iraq.

"The Russians are awaiting final instructions from Moscow," the diplomat
said, noting that President Vladimir Putin was busy this week with
ceremonies commemorating the end of World War II.

Two other council diplomats said a vote was expected early next week.

The diplomats also said that Syria wanted to postpone the vote on the
reforms, which have implications for its cross-border trade with Iraq.

But Syria, a non-permanent member of the council, has no power of veto and
cannot block its activities.


*  Saddam agents in Australia: exiles
by Paul Daley
The Age (Australia), 28th April

Agents of Saddam Hussein's secret intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, are
among asylum seekers being smuggled to Australia and other Asia-Pacific
countries, according to Iraq's exiled opposition.

Recent high-level defectors from Mukhabarat have told the Iraqi National
Congress - an umbrella organisation of Iraqi opposition groups established
by the American Central Intelligence Agency in 1992 - that Iraq gleans its
best intelligence from agents posing as asylum seekers across the world,
including Australia.

The defectors have claimed that Mukhabarat agents posed as asylum seekers in
order to spy on dissidents in their host countries and to raise cash for
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.

In an interview with The Sunday Age, Nabeel Masawi, a senior congress member
who has procured several high-level defections from Mukhabarat in recent
years, stressed that the vast majority of Iraqi asylum seekers were genuine
and deserved compassion.

"We've discovered that a part of the Mafia that smuggles Iraqis into
Australia from Asia is operated and funded by the Iraqi regime, by Iraqi
intelligence," he said. "We've recently been able to make a link between a
network that begins in Baghdad under the direct supervision of the
intelligence service, and extends to Jordan and all the way to South-East
Asia, bringing people to Australia."

Mr Masawi says it is part of an Iraqi strategy to place Mukhabarat agents
among large numbers of dissidents who are seeking asylum in countries such
as Australia.

"I have to emphasise that the very vast majority of Iraqi asylum seekers are
genuine refugees who have suffered oppression and deserve compassion. But
all you need to do is have five agents in the middle of 100 genuine refugees
and you've got your network, basically.

"We don't suspect, we know some of them are in Australia. We have had a
recent (Mukhabarat) defector who said: 'The best intelligence we gather is
through Iraqis seeking asylum. You know the advantage of places like
Australia and New Zealand - they are so out of the way, they are so outside
everyone's focus, people can go there and gain legitimacy and then travel
again and do work on Saddam's behalf.' "

Since September 11, the Iraqi National Congress has also focused on links
between Iraq and extremist cells - mainly radical Islamic rebel militias -
throughout the world, including South-East Asia.

"South-East Asia, they have active cells there - Thailand, Malaysia,
Singapore, Indonesia," Mr Masawi said. "They have different levels of agents
ranging from people who work illegally on undermining the UN (arms embargo
and cash for arms embargo) program, all the way to people who have the
training to carry out other violent operations.

"There is definitely an agreement between Iraq and some of these radical
groups . . . The Iraqis provide the training and the facilities in exchange
for getting a job done when they want it done."

Despite Australia's growing concern about Middle Eastern asylum seekers,
neither the Federal Government nor Australian intelligence agencies have had
any significant contact with the congress, which says it could help them to
determine genuine asylum seekers.

"We could be of help here. We could help Australia and other countries
establish who is not a genuine case and who might be using asylum as a cover
for something else," Mr Masawi said.,3604,707379,00.html

*  The exiles
The Guardian, 30th April


In fact, the modern state called Iraq is a British creation. Before the
first world war, the fertile triangle around the rivers Tigris and Euphrates
was simply three provinces in the Ottoman (Turkish) empire, and was known in
Europe as Mesopotamia. When the Ottoman empire entered the war on the German
side in 1914, Britain sensed a threat to its interests in the region -
British trading companies already dominated local commerce - and quickly
landed troops on the coast several hundred miles south of Baghdad. After a
protracted campaign, the British finally captured all of Mesopotamia by late
1918. Two years later, the League of Nations declared the territory a
British mandate: in effect a colony, occupied by British troops and largely
administered by British officials as a single entity called Iraq (the
ancient Arab name for the region), with independence promised in the long

The British ended up staying for more than 30 years. Officially, Iraq became
independent in 1932, but the reprimands were swift and fierce whenever Iraqi
governments challenged London. Oil had been discovered north of Baghdad by a
British company in 1927, and Iraq was considered a strategic point on the
route to India. In 1941, Britain invaded Iraq again when it seemed that a
new regime might tilt towards Germany and Italy in the second world war. As
late as 1948, the British tried and narrowly failed to impose a treaty on
Iraq allowing them to use air bases in the country, in time of war, for the
next 25 years.


But while Britain was safer than the Middle Eastern countries also favoured
by Iraqi dissidents, the smart west-London hotels, mansion-block flats and
cool pavements they frequented, along with the rest of the capital's growing
Arab population, were not completely beyond the reach of Saddam's secret
police. "I remember vividly that you would wear a carrier bag on your head
with two holes in it for your eyes when you demonstrated outside the Iraqi
embassy," says a former Kurdish activist who, like many exiles with friends
and relations still in Iraq, would prefer his personal details to be left
unstated. "The embassy would be filming you through the windows."

The Iraqi government also used some of the students on its scholarships as
spies, and set up a London surveillance network based at a "cultural centre"
on Tottenham Court Road. There were sporadic assassination attempts against
dissidents: in 1995 Latif Yahia, a defector previously employed by the Iraqi
government as the official double of Saddam's brother, alleged that he had
been attacked with knives by five men speaking Arabic while stuck in traffic
on the capital's Edgware Road.

In recent years, though, according to the Iraqi Community Association and
other exile groups in Britain, the machinery of the dictatorship has been
running down at home and abroad, gummed up by sanctions and its own internal
flaws. Harassment of dissidents has dwindled. The "cultural centre" is long
gone. Instead, Iraqi expatriates have become vulnerable to subtler torments.
"There's depression and nostalgia," says Al-Ali. "People always talk about
an Iraq that never was. They speak about the cafes and the cultural life and
walking by the Tigris. Even the early days of Saddam, when things were
supposedly better."

Two years ago, a study of the health of Iraqis in London found that over
half of them were "concerned" about their mental wellbeing. "You talk to
someone in the pub who's a medical consultant and earns £200,000 but he's
not happy," says Handrin Marouf, director of the Kurdish Information and
Advocacy Centre in north London. "Back home, it's easier in some ways. Our
cities are smaller. An easy, stress-free life does not exist in London."

Nowadays, a growing minority of Iraqis in Britain live away from the
capital. Recent arrivals seeking political asylum have been officially
"dispersed" to other cities: according to Marouf, there are 3,000 Iraqi
Kurds in Hull alone. The differences between such refugees and the
longer-established exiles can be considerable. While there is some mixing
between Kurds and other Iraqis - Marouf and Hasan know each other - Marouf
says that Kurdish culture in Britain is "quite separate and closed". The
latest Iraqi immigrants, moreover, are less likely to be professionals,
political activists or Anglophiles, and more likely to be average citizens
who are simply sick of sanctions and the growing difficulty of everyday life
in Iraq. They are sometimes distrusted by their fellow exiles for enduring
the regime as long as they did. And then there are the frequent and
sometimes bloody feuds in Iraq, encouraged by Saddam, between the political
parties still operating in areas of the country not wholly under his
control; Iraqi community events back in London have been known to end in
perilous arguments.

Finally, there is the waiting. In the Lebanese writer Hanan al-Shaykh's
recent novel Only in London, an Iraqi divorcee recalls endless mornings with
her London flat full of her husband's male friends smoking and discussing
the day's news about Saddam in the Arab newspapers. Everyone is in their
best clothes, as if attending an important meeting in some ideal Iraq
before, or after, the dictatorship; everyone has an unrealistic scheme for
deposing the regime.

Unemployment is surprisingly high nowadays - almost a third of Iraqis in
Britain are out of work - for an immigrant group known for its professional
aspirations. "People get paralysed," says Al-Ali. "They get quite bitter
about the government here, and about their own government." Audiences at the
London meetings of Iraqi political parties can often be counted in mere
dozens. Likewise, confidence in America and Britain's current plans for
deposing Saddam is not strong; every exile I spoke to, without exception,
doubted whether he would be replaced by a more benign leader, if he was
replaced at all. When I asked why, people gave cynical shrugs and thin
smiles, and cited the west's history of supporting the dictator during the
70s and 80s, and its continuing friendship with authoritarian regimes
elsewhere in the Middle East that reliably supply oil.

"Many people believe that Saddam is still their [America and Britain's]
man," says one exile who, as is common, does not want his name attached to
any anti-Saddam opinions. The current sanctions against Iraq are perceived
as having benefited Saddam's close supporters - who have become a "nouveau
riche" elite of "war profiteers", according to a recent Iraqi visitor to the
country - as much as they have weakened his dictatorship. Similarly, there
is little enthusiasm for bombing or an invasion - as opposed to western help
for a genuine national uprising against Saddam. Iraqi exiles are generally
reluctant to mention the dangers that any Anglo-American military action
would bring to friends and relations still in Iraq, but the concern is
there, usually unspoken, whenever you ask them about the future.



*  Iraqi Opposition Group Halts TV Broadcast
VOA News, 2nd May

An Iraqi umbrella opposition group in exile has halted its satellite
television broadcast into Iraq, saying the United States has not released
funds for the project since February.

The London-based Iraqi National Congress or the INC says it is forced to
stop the Liberty TV project, which it calls an important element in efforts
to break Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's "stranglehold" on the media in his
country. The INC says U.S. money has been withheld despite Bush
administration assurances of "full confidence" in the group and its TV

The State Department says the United States continues to support the INC,
including its TV project, but that funds had to be stopped because of
problems with the group's accounting practices. It says it will be happy to
fund the broadcasts but only under conditions that insure the appropriate
use of money.

The U.S. State Department and the INC also differ about arrangements for a
proposed conference of hundreds of Iraqi opposition figures, including
former military officers.

*  Harassing the Iraqi National Congress
by Jim Hoagland
International Herald Tribune (fromThe Washington Post), 6th May


This was no isolated event. The INC television shutdown came immediately
after the White House rebuffed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's
effort to funnel $5 million to the Middle East Institute, a Washington think
tank working to promote rival Iraqi groups. Armitage had failed to notice
that Ned Walker, the head of the institute, had publicly scorned President
George W. Bush's "axis of evil" metaphor as "ridiculous."

A State Department spokesman was quick to deny to me that this remark and
other recent strong criticisms of Bush's Arab-Israeli policy by Walker, who
was director of the Near East bureau in the Clinton administration, resulted
in the withdrawal of the grant for a series of conferences that were to have
been run by Walker's institute. The institute also receives funds from Saudi
Arabia, which opposes the INC specifically and Bush's approach to regime
change in Iraq in general.


The funding cutoff to the INC, an amazingly detailed and fussy set of audits
that the inspector general's office was instructed to perform on the Iraqi
group, and State's abrupt cancellation of the Walker grant are matters of
public record.

State Department animus toward the Iraqi National Congress, much of it
generated by old and festering quarrels between the group's leaders and the
CIA over toppling Saddam Hussein, is also an established reality. Since
Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 to force the Clinton
administration to fund the INC as the core of an effective Iraqi opposition,
the Near East bureau has worked to undo the intent of the legislation while
avoiding responsibility for doing so.


*  US action on Iraq slowed by rift over whom to support
by Michael R. Gordon
Financial Times (from The New York Times), 10th May

WASHINGTON, May 9 ‹ Despite repeated vows by President Bush to force Saddam
Hussein from power, Bush administration officials are still at odds over
which Iraqi opposition groups the United States should support, American
officials and Iraqi opposition leaders say.

Administration officials generally say that American military action would
be needed to oust President Hussein and that Washington could not count on a
coup in Iraq to do the job.

But the question of which Iraqi insurgents to back is a critical issue
because the United States wants to avoid a power vacuum in Baghdad after any
American-led military campaign to topple the Iraqi leader.

Iraqi insurgents would be expected to play an important role in any United
States military strategy, since they could provide a base for American
military operations, help identify targets, conduct sabotage against the
Hussein government and perhaps carry out broader attacks.

But as planning for a possible military campaign proceeds, the State
Department, Pentagon and C.I.A. remain divided over which insurgents to

The issue came to the fore recently when the State Department sought to
arrange a conference of Iraqi opposition leaders that would have given only
a limited role to the leadership of the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella
organization of opposition groups that is headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a former
banker whose headquarters are in London.

State Department officials say the organization has failed to establish
itself as a unifying force for the opposition and has been less than
meticulous with its financial accounting. The group also has poor relations
with the C.I.A.

But it is supported by Defense Department civilians, members of Vice
President Dick Cheney's staff and Richard N. Perle, an influential adviser
to the Pentagon, who insists that the organization's leadership is best
equipped to coordinate Iraqi opposition groups.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the State Department finally
postponed its plans for the conference.

Financing for the Iraqi National Congress has also been a sore point. Late
last week the State Department informed the organization that it was
prepared to provide a short-term grant of about $1.1 million a month on the
condition that a State Department official directly oversee its

But the group informed the State Department this week that it was not
prepared to accept the grant on those terms because the funds were
insufficient and the procedure it proposed was too encumbering.

The group says it has run out of money and has stopped its four-hour daily
satellite television broadcasts to Iraq, ended production of its newspaper
and cut off salaries.

At the heart of the debate are the starkly different assessments within the
Bush administration about Iraqi opposition groups.

The Iraqi National Congress has argued that an Afghan-style military
campaign involving heavy American airstrikes, but only modest American
ground forces, can work in Iraq and insists it is willing to carry out
operations, which is music to the ears of civilians in the Defense

Mr. Perle, who heads the advisory Defense Policy Board, says that the group
should be supported because its platform calls for a democratic Iraq, an end
to Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and a constructive
policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Mr. Perle contends that the failure to stir up opposition to Mr. Hussein in
past years is not a result of the group's shortcomings but of halfhearted
American support.

The C.I.A., however, has viewed the group as ineffectual while the State
Department has sought to establish ties with a broader array of groups, an
approach that it insists provides a better basis for a new government if Mr.
Hussein is ousted.

The dispute over the conference began in February, when the State Department
approached the Middle East Institute, a private group headed by Edward
Walker, a former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. David
Mack, the vice president of the institute and a former senior State
Department official, was asked to develop a proposal for a conference that
would grapple with the problems of governing Iraq if Mr. Hussein were
removed from power.

The plan he presented called for a conference of Iraqi opposition leaders to
be held this summer in Europe. Working groups of Iraqi opposition leaders
and experts would also be established to focus on issues like restoring the
oil industry, the military, public health and education.

The idea, Mr. Mack said, was not to set up a formal government in exile but
to "lay the building blocks for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq." The State
Department earmarked $5 million for the project.

As Mr. Mack set about organizing the conference, it was clear that the
leadership of the Iraqi National Congress was not to play a dominant role.
In preparation for the conference, a small group of Iraqi opposition leaders
were invited to a planning session in Washington.

The nine who attended included representatives from the two main Kurdish
factions as well as the Iranian National Accord, an opposition group that
includes former generals and former officials of the ruling Baath Party. The
groups are members of the Iraqi National Congress, but were invited

The leadership of the Iraqi National Congress was limited to a single
representative. Mr. Chalabi arrived for the session but left when the rule
on a single representative was enforced. He arranged for another member to
represent the group.

Soon, however, the Bush administration discovered that the plan for the
conference had a glaring, political vulnerability. Mr. Walker, of the Middle
East Institute, had criticized Mr. Bush's statements about an "axis of evil"
that consists of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

It did not help that the institute accepts contributions from wealthy Saudis
and Qataris. Staunch conservatives on Capitol Hill moved to block financing.

Yielding to the complaints, the State Department informed the Middle East
Institute recently that it was no longer going to hold the conference. But
that has left the Bush administration without an agreed policy that Iraqi
opposition groups can support. It has also put the American effort to plan
Iraq's future on a slower track.

The State Department insists it has not abandoned the idea of a conference.
The department plans to begin by organizing some working groups with the
help of a variety of private organizations. The working groups could meet as
soon as next month.

"We are going to start this slower and hopefully build to critical mass" an
administration official said.


*  Newsweek: Czech Officials Say Story That Sept. 11 Hijacker Atta Met with
Hoover's (Financial Times), 28th April

NEW YORK, April 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Czechoslovakian government officials have
quietly acknowledged that they may have been mistaken about a supposed
meeting at the Iraqi Embassy last April in Prague between suspected Sept. 11
hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent, Newsweek reports in the current
issue. U.S. intelligence officials now believe that Atta, the hijackers'
ringleader, wasn't even in Prague at the time the Czechs claimed.  "We
looked at this real hard because, obviously, if it were true, it would be
huge," one senior U.S. law-enforcement official tells Newsweek. "But nothing
has matched up."

Still, Pentagon analysts are still aggressively hunting for evidence that
might tie Atta or any of the other hijackers to Saddam Hussein's agents,
reports Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff in the May 6 issue of
Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, April 29).

The story of the meeting came from the Czech Intelligence Agency, the BIS,
when agents looked at surveillance photographs taken from the Radio Free
Europe building in Prague. RFE started round-the-clock video surveillance in
1998, after it began broadcasting anti-Saddam programs into Iraq. The
security measure was taken because Tom Dine, RFE director, says U.S.
officials warned him that "the Iraqis were plotting to blow us up."

The cameras caught a heavyset Middle Eastern man hanging around the RFE
building taking pictures and he was sometimes accompanied by a thinner,
taller man. The Czechs identified the heavier man as Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim
Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi diplomat widely believed to be a spy. The thinner man
was never identified. In late April 2001, al-Ani was again caught casing the
building and was expelled from the country. After Sept. 11, a Czech
intelligence source inside Prague's Middle Eastern community saw Atta's
picture in the media and reported that he had seen the same person meeting
al-Ani at the Iraqi Embassy five months earlier, Isikoff reports.

On closer scrutiny, the evidence became less convincing. Although Atta had
indeed flown from Prague to the U.S. in June 2000, the Czechs had placed the
alleged meeting in April 2001. The FBI could find no visa or airline records
showing he had left or re-entered the United States that month. "Neither we
nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information he was coming or going
[to Prague] at that time," says one U.S. official.

*  Czechs assert Atta met with Iraqi spy
by Brian Whitmore
Boston Globe, 8th May

PRAGUE - Czech officials insist that Sept. 11 hijack suspect Mohamed Atta
met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague last year, dismissing the
contentions of US officials to the media that the meeting might not have
taken place.

In October, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, the Czech Republic's top law
enforcement official, announced that Atta met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim
Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi diplomat believed to be an intelligence officer. But
last week US officials said they no longer believe that Atta met with Ani,
eliminating the only known link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist

''What's been said, we stick to it,'' Libor Roucek, a Czech government
spokesman, told the English-language newspaper The Prague Post in
yesterday's online edition.

Gross said Atta visited the Czech capital on June 2, 2000, and April 8,
2001, and met Ani during the second visit, just five months before the
attacks. He also did not rule out that the two met on other occasions.

The assertion that one of the ringleaders of last September's terrorist
attacks huddled with an Iraqi spy has raised questions about whether Baghdad
established ties to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

The content of the alleged meetings between Atta and Ani is not known, but
some US officials seized on the announcement as evidence that Saddam Hussein
might have been involved in the attacks.

During a visit to the United States in November, the Czech prime minister,
Milos Zeman, told CNN that the two discussed a plot to attack the
headquarters of the US-funded Radio Free Europe. Zeman later backed off on
his statement.

Ani, who is widely believed to be a member of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's feared
intelligence service, was expelled from the Czech Republic on April 22,
2001, for ''activities incompatible with his status as a diplomat,'' a
typical euphemism for espionage. Authorities in the Czech Republic caught
him prowling around and photographing offices of Radio Free Europe in
downtown Prague, and some Czech officials suspected that he was plotting
terrorist attacks against US interests in the region.

On June 2, 2000, Atta arrived in Prague from Germany, where he was a
student, and flew to the United States the next day, Gross said. He visited
the Czech capital again on April 8, 2001, when he was alleged to have met
Ani, and returned to the United States three days later.

But last week, news reports quoted US officials as saying that Atta was not
in Prague in April 2001, casting doubt on the meeting.

''We have no evidence of him having met al-Ani in April of 2001 as had been
previously speculated by the Czechs,'' Reuters quoted an unidentified US
official as saying last week. ''There is no evidence that he left the United
States or came back to the United States.''

The official said Atta was in Prague in June 2000 and may have also been in
the Czech capital in 1999, but ''there was no evidence of who he might have
met with.''


*  Baghdad's 'flourishing' art scene
by Kim Ghattas
BBC, 29th April

When you think of Iraq today, you think of sanctions, dying children and
weapons of mass destruction.

But amidst the misery, the sadness and bitterness of what Iraq has become
after 12 years of embargo, there is a peculiar ray of light and hope in the
streets of Baghdad - art.

Despite the harsh living conditions, art seems to have flourished since the
sanctions hit Iraq in 1990.

Baghdad now boasts several dozen private galleries, up from the two
galleries that existed in the city before the embargo along with several
state-owned galleries including the Saddam Center for Fine Arts.

Thriving art scene

"Before the embargo, artists painted for the sake of art. They produced
maybe three to four paintings a year and often chose not sell them," said
Ghayath el Jazairi, director of the al Inaa' gallery which opened in 1994.

"Today, an artist can produce up to 20 paintings a year because he has to
support his family. But the quality has not diminished to the expense of

"On the contrary, it has given artists more experience, they are
experimenting with different techniques and styles," Ghayath el Jazairiel

In the 1930s when the Iraqi monarchy was put in place, artists were sent to
study in Europe.

They are now regarded as the pioneers of Iraqi art.

Before the embargo, artists were provided with material free of charge and
no conditions were put on their work.

Iraqi artists are still well known around the world today and are thought to
be the best in the Arab world.

"There is great variety in art in Iraq, in every family there is creation
and every week there are openings of exhibits. Even today, art is a
tradition here," said Francis Dubois, resident representative of the United
Nations Development Programme and an aficionado of Iraqi art.

After all, he says, this is the 'cradle of civilizations', once home to the
Sumerians, the Assyrians, Abbasids and others.

"[Iraqi artists] have no paper, no pens, no colours. They suffer, and still
they create and it's really good. Comfort is the enemy of art and creation,
it's the difficult living conditions that create art," he said.

Difficult conditions include a lack of good quality paint or brushes,
colours that are rare and lots of recycling and bartering between the
artists - a canvas for a red oil paint or a thin brush for a canvas.

But the galleries keep receiving more paintings from new, promising artists.

"We're part of the war and embargo generation, we have our own style I
think," says painter Kareem Rissan who is slowly becoming famous outside

After graduating in 1984 from the Fine Arts faculty, Mr Rissan was
conscripted in the army in 1990, just as the Gulf War was starting.

In his own way, he carefully documented his time on the front. "Like a poet
or a writer, I kept a diary, I painted my view of the bombing, of the
destruction of oases. I still have the drawings," he said.

Kareem Rissan incorporates natural material in his paintings such as wood
and twigs and uses mostly earth colours.

"I used to be inspired by figures from epics, from the Iraqi mythology. Now,
it's all symbolic representation of ideas, life, the earth, death," he said.

A lot of Iraqi paintings are quite modern in inspiration, somewhere between
abstract and figurative. There are no state propaganda-style paintings in
the private galleries.

The colours vary, from very dark browns and blacks to bright blues and reds.

Surprisingly one can even see naked bodies, something unthinkable in
neighbouring countries.

Iraq is a relatively secular state, especially compared to countries like
Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Islam, representation of the face or human bodies is forbidden,
restraining artists in some ways.

Nobody is happy today, most of my friends have left the country. But with my
gallery, I'm trying to make people happy

This unrestricted Iraqi world of art is what artist Wadad Orfali has
experienced her whole life.

Married to a diplomat, she lived in Europe and exhibited her paintings
around the world. After she returned to Baghdad, she opened her own gallery
in 1983.

Today, she still owns a gallery and every day of the week, the Orfali
gallery offers a different cultural activity from concerts of classical
Arabic music, lectures about art, psychology and screening of old movies.

There is a bit of a faded glory feel to the gallery and even to the
distinguished 72-year-old lady who sits in the garden of her gallery,
smiling to everybody.

"Nobody is happy today, most of my friends have left the country. But with
my gallery, I'm trying to make people happy," says Wadad Orfali, as she
waits for her guests who are coming for a concert.

"Art, it's in our blood, my dear. Civilization is in our blood and nothing
will change that."

*  British Museum welcomes Iraq library project
by Lawrence Pollard
BBC, 10th May

The British Museum in London has agreed to help the Government of Iraq with
a major cultural project.

Iraqi archaeologists and academics are planning to recreate the earliest
library of the ancient world and want to use material held in London.

Despite the United Nations sanctions on Iraq, the museum says it will
co-operate if permission is forthcoming from the UN.

Iraq is hoping to recreate the famous library of the Assyrian King
Ashurbanipal, who in the 7th century BC ruled an empire stretching from
Egypt to Persia.

His capital and the library were at Nineveh, the modern city of Mosul in
northern Iraq.

Ashurbanipal's library was the first indexed and catalogued collection in
history, and consisted of clay tablets written in what's called cuneiform

Some 25,000 fragments are held in London and Iraqi archaeologists have asked
for replica casts to be made of the most important, as the centrepiece of
the new library.

The British Museum has agreed in principle, saying it sees the matter as a
purely cultural exchange but two major obstacles remain.

One is that the museum would have to be paid for making the copies but no
monetary exchange is allowed with the Iraqi Government under the terms of UN

Secondly, the export of any replica tablets would have to be exempted from
the same sanctions.

Iraqi archaeologists hope that the UN's cultural body, Unesco, will help
fund the library project which has the personal seal of approval of Saddam

Unesco has yet to comment on any Iraqi request.


*  Oman: Baghdad will not be bombarded from our lands
Arabic News, 3rd May


On the other hand, the Omani minister of state for foreign affairs Youssef
Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah -- in a statement to the London- based al-Sharq
al-Awsat issued on Thursday -- ruled out any cooperation with the US in the
context of the possibility of a military operation against Iraq, opposed
strongly by the Sultanate of Oman.

The Omani minister said: "We will not permit striking any Arab state from
Oman." He reiterated Muscat's objection to any military operation Washington
threatens to launch against Iraq under pretexts that Iraq develops mass
destruction weapons. He added that differences between countries are solved
by negotiations and understanding.

He warned Washington against the grave consequences of another adventure in
the Middle East, in remarks [related? - PB] to the policy pursued by the US
in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, which is strongly criticized by the

*  Moussa: Iraq will return back archives and documents for Kuwait
Arabic News, 4th May

The secretary general of the Arab League Amr Moussa said on Friday Iraq will
return what it has of official Kuwaiti documents and a national archive for
Kuwait and asked it to do so through Moussa.

Moussa said in an exclusive statement to the Kuwaiti News Agency from Cairo
that the Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri informed him officially that the
Iraqi foreign ministry coordinated with the other Iraqi ministries and
authorities to get "the special documents relating to the national archive
of the state of Kuwait and other documents and that the Iraqi government
will continue collecting all documents relating to the state of Kuwait until
these documents will be restored back fully."

The Arab League chief said that the Iraqi government asked him to ensure
returning back the documents and the archive to Kuwait, noting that that
this measure is linked to what Moussa held of talks of discussions during
his recent visit to Baghdad and in implementation of the resolutions of the
recent Arab Beirut summit.

He explained he conveyed this important message to Kuwait and to the UN
general secretariat.

Moussa added that the UN chief Kofi Annan greatly welcomed this step
considering it as a positive development and he will inform the UN about


*  Iraqi oil shipments to start tomorrow: Official
Times of India (from AFP), 8th May

BAGHDAD: Shipments of Iraqi oil will start from Thursday following Baghdad's
decision to resume crude exports after a month-long suspension, the oil
ministry said on Wednesday.

"Iraqi oil will be loaded on tankers as of Thursday, May 9," a ministry
official said, quoted by the official INA news agency.

"Tankers will start arriving at Iraqi ports to be loaded with crude in
keeping with Iraq's decision to resume exports," the official said.

The Iraqi cabinet had decided during a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday,
chaired by President Saddam Hussein, to resume exports halted on April 8 in
retaliation for Israel's offensive against the Palestinians and US support
for the Jewish state.

The decision followed the failure of other Arab oil producers to join the

Exports were due to resume through the southern Turkish port of Ceyhan and
the Mina al-Bakr terminal on the Gulf, the two designated export terminals
for sanctions-hit Iraq.

Iraq exports around two million barrels of oil a day under a UN-supervised
oil-for-food program introduced to alleviate the suffering of the population
from crippling sanctions slapped on Baghdad for invading Kuwait in 1990.

*  U.S. probes cigarette sales to Iraq
by Myron Levin and William C. Rempel
International Herald Tribune (from Los Angeles Times), 9th May

U.S. authorities are investigating allegations that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
Holdings Inc. and Japan Tobacco Inc. have violated trade sanctions against
Iraq by channeling billions of dollars' worth of cigarettes into the country
through intermediaries, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

The allegations first surfaced publicly in a civil lawsuit by the European
Union, which accused Reynolds, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris Cos. of
evading hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes by promoting a vast
cigarette-smuggling operation.

U.S. investigators have separately begun a criminal inquiry, tracking
shiploads of cigarettes suspected of being diverted via Cyprus and other
authorized ports into Iraq despite the trade embargo.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service, said he could "neither
confirm nor deny any such investigation." But people familiar with the
inquiry said it involves at least six customs investigators based in the
United States and abroad.

These people said the Customs Service was working with the office of the
chief federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York. A spokesman
for that office also declined comment.

A Reynolds spokesman, Seth Moskowitz, said company executives had not heard
of the probe. If contacted by the authorities, "we'll provide whatever
information is required," Moskowitz said.

Guy Cote, spokesman for JT International SA, the Japan Tobacco subsidiary
that acquired the international cigarette business of Reynolds in 1999, also
said his company was unaware of the investigation. Cote said that as far as
company executives knew, their cigarettes had not been shipped to Iraq.

In court papers and exhibits filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New
York, the EU has claimed that Reynolds's Winston cigarettes and other brands
have flowed into Iraq continuously - and illegally - since August 1990, when
U.S. trade with Iraq was outlawed after it invaded Kuwait. Penalties for
criminal violations range up to 12 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Civil penalties of as much as $275,000 per violation also could be imposed.

A District Court judge dismissed the EU's smuggling lawsuit in February. But
the ruling did not absolve the tobacco companies or address the Iraq
allegations, instead noting that other countries are barred from using U.S.
courts to collect unpaid taxes. The EU has filed an appeal.

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