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News, 15-22/6/02 (1) FINGER POINTING AT IRAQ * Iraq accused of smuggling nuclear arms parts on aid flights * U.S. agencies doubt terrorist Atta's meeting in Prague * Al Qaeda find Iraqi escape INSIDE IRAQ * Relics of Iraq's colonial past join the ghosts of other empires * Maintaining war graves in Iraq * Saddam may hand power to his son * Iraq's tortured children IRAQI/INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (RUSSIA, SUDAN, AUSTRALIA) * Russia May Reap Policy Dividends * Sudanese VP Visits Iraq to Boost Ties * US 'Strike First' Strategy Gets Thumbs-Up From Australia FINGER POINTING AT IRAQ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-2725-329580,00.html * IRAQ ACCUSED OF SMUGGLING NUCLEAR ARMS PARTS ON AID FLIGHTS by Michael Evans The Times, 17th June IRAQ is smuggling nuclear-related equipment banned by the United Nations on board aircraft that have been flying relief aid to Syria, intelligence agencies believe. Baghdad has sent more than 24 planes to Syria, carrying humanitarian aid to help victims of a dam collapse that flooded villages and agricultural land. The Zeyzoun dam near the town of Idlib, about 220 miles north of Damascus, burst on June 4, killing more than 20 people and leaving about 30,000 homeless. Intelligence agencies trying to monitor flights in and out of Baghdad believe that the Iraqis took advantage of the disaster to smuggle banned equipment back on the return journey. Some intelligence reports indicate that one of the returning planes was filled with spare parts for sensitive so-called ³flow-forming machines², which are used to produce components for uranium-enrichment systems. Enriched uranium is a key component of nuclear weapons. Similar flow-forming machines were among equipment and materials used in Iraq¹s clandestine nuclear weapon programme that were destroyed under the supervision of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency after the 1991 Gulf War. According to intelligence sources, the suspected spare parts for the nuclear-related machines were initially held at the Syrian port of Tartus and transferred to Damascus international airport, where they were loaded on to the Iraqi aircraft arriving for the Damascus relief effort. Other equipment also flown back to Baghdad was believed to include tank parts and spares for the Iraqi Air Force. The Iraqi aircraft landed in Damascus without checks because the focus had been on helping the victims of the dam disaster. ³This smuggling operation was organised at the last minute, exploiting the window of opportunity that opened up as a result of the humanitarian relief operation,² an intelligence source said. http://www.washtimes.com/national/20020619-29894600.htm * U.S. AGENCIES DOUBT TERRORIST ATTA'S MEETING IN PRAGUE by Bill Gertz THE WASHINGTON TIMES, 19th June U.S. intelligence officials say they have not seen evidence from the Czech government to confirm reports accepted by the State Department that a key al Qaeda terrorist met with an Iraqi agent in Prague five months before September 11. The clandestine meeting between Mohamed Atta ‹ identified as the organizer of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center ‹ and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani was held in April 2001, according to Czech government officials. The CIA and other intelligence agencies, which before September 11 conducted almost no surveillance of Iraqi intelligence agents, are not backing Prague's claims, which were first disclosed to the State Department in October. The differences on the meeting have triggered a dispute within the U.S. defense and intelligence establishment over Iraqi government involvement in terrorism and support for al Qaeda. The Prague newspaper Lidove Noviny, quoting a Czech counterintelligence source, reported June 8 that the Czech security service is "70 percent certain" Atta met the Iraqi intelligence official who was working covertly as a diplomat. The service based its intelligence on a recruited agent who identified Atta from a photograph after September 11. The agent said he met both Atta and al-Ani in the Iraqi Embassy in Prague but was not 100 percent confident about the identities of the men, the newspaper reported. Some U.S. intelligence and defense officials cite the meeting as a key sign of Iraqi government support to the al Qaeda terrorists who carried out the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. One U.S. official with access to sensitive intelligence reports said reports linking Iraq's government to the terrorists behind September 11 are compelling. Those in the U.S. intelligence community who oppose the Bush administration's hard-line policy toward Iraq have sought to dismiss intelligence on the Iraqi connection to September 11. "There is no evidence of Atta having traveled to Europe during that period," a senior U.S. intelligence official said. "The FBI hasn't been able to come up with any such travel [record] and also there are no financial records or credit-card receipts, and thus no evidence of him being in Prague at the time." However, other reports indicate Atta "passed through" Prague in 2000, the senior official said. One reason intelligence officials have been unable to connect Atta to the April 2001 meeting is that other travel by the 19 al Qaeda hijackers was done using "true names and true passports," the senior official said. "This [April 2001 meeting] would be an exception if he were there," he said. Doubts within the U.S. intelligence community about the Atta meeting with al-Ani were first reported in April by Newsweek magazine, which suggested that reports of the meeting were a "phantom link" between al Qaeda and Iraq. The senior U.S. intelligence official said analysts have not dismissed the meeting completely. The lack of evidence does not mean it didn't take place. "We're kind of agnostic on it," the senior official said. "We know [Atta] passed through Prague a year earlier, but we aren't able to confirm this particular visit, or, if it did occur, what the specific significance was. At the time, planning was far advanced" for September 11. Regarding the Czech government officials' comments that the meeting took place,, the U.S. intelligence official said Prague "has yet to provide us with evidence he was there." Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross was the first to state publicly that the meeting took place. Responding to news reports that sought to debunk the meeting, Mr. Gross told the Czech daily Pravo in December that the two men had met. "According to my information, and mainly according to the information of the Czech [Security Intelligence Service], the source of our original stand, there is no reason to change anything in the original stand," Mr. Gross said. The minister said Atta visited Prague twice in 2000 and then met al-Ani, who was expelled from the country on April 22, 2001, for intelligence activities. http://www.washtimes.com/national/20020621-23453916.htm * AL QAEDA FIND IRAQI ESCAPE by Rowan Scarborough The Washington Times, 20th June Al Qaeda terrorists fleeing Afghanistan are using Iraq as an escape route, and an unspecified number remain in Saddam Hussein's country while looking for new bases of operation. Administration officials, citing intelligence reports, said there is insufficient evidence to confirm that the Iraqi dictator has created a safe zone for al Qaeda remnants. Neighboring Iran's hard-line Islamic regime has welcomed al Qaeda fighters to cross the border from Afghanistan and either remain in the country or move on. Some analysts believe Saddam has to know, and that the presence of al Qaeda fighters in Iraq is one more argument for President Bush to order an invasion to topple the Iraqi leader. Mr. Bush has threatened Saddam with military action on the principal argument that his weapons of mass destruction will one day fall into the hands of terrorists. "You cannot convince me Saddam does not know they are in Iraq," a senior administration official said. "It adds up to tacit complicity for Iraq and Iran to serve as safe havens for al Qaeda." Two senior administration officials said recent intelligence reports show al Qaeda members who are Saudi citizens have crossed Iraq to return to their native country. Since U.S.-led coalition forces routed Taliban leaders from Afghanistan in December, hundreds of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror army crossed the country's porous borders into Pakistan and Iran. The United States is not sure how many remain at large, although perhaps 10,000 passed through Afghanistan's terror-training camps. There has been some anecdotal reporting of al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. The New Yorker magazine in March quoted captured members of a Muslim extremist guerrilla group as saying the Kurdish zone of Iraq was home to al Qaeda fighters fleeing Afghanistan. The group, Ansar al-Islam, controls parts of northern Iraq, which is protected from Saddam's forces by an allied-enforced no-fly zone. There is no evidence that Saddam has played host to al Qaeda bases or training camps, officials said. But the Bush administration believes there are links between Iraq's government-dominated businesses and al Qaeda operatives. Iraq also deals with international terror groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which have ties to the al Qaeda network. U.S. intelligence has not directly linked Baghdad to al Qaeda's September 11 attacks on the United States. [.....] INSIDE IRAQ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-3-331397,00.html * RELICS OF IRAQ'S COLONIAL PAST JOIN THE GHOSTS OF OTHER EMPIRES by Richard Beeston The Times, 19th June VIEWED from the busy Baghdad road, the crumbling monuments standing amid the weeds and rubbish of a vast expanse of wasteland look like the remains of some ancient civilisation, a common sight in Iraq where successive empires have come and gone over the past 5,000 years. In fact, this forlorn site close to the centre of Saddam Hussein¹s capital is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. It is the final resting place of nearly 17,000 British soldiers who perished during the First World War campaign in Mesopotamia. ³Britch, Britch,² said my Iraqi driver with a dismissive wave of the hand. Clearly anxious not to abandon the cool of his air-conditioned taxi for the blazing heat of the midday sun, he shook his head and grimaced: ³Old. No good.² For most Iraqis that is a pretty fair description of the most visible remains in Baghdad of the British empire, whose 30-year rule certainly pales by comparison to that of the Abbasids or the Ottomans. Pushing open a rusting gate and disturbing a stray dog cooling itself in a pool of dirty water, I entered what must once have been a truly impressive place. The bleached headstones still stand in long rows of military precision. Properly tended, the cemetery would have made an arresting sight in a city better known for its traffic, dust and giant cement monuments to Saddam Hussein. Instead, it looks sad and desolate after more than a decade of neglect since Britain and Iraq severed relations at the time of the Gulf War. Local boys have dragged the headstone of Sapper T.R. Thomas from his grave and used it as a goalpost for their makeshift football pitch in the middle of the cemetery. Other graves have survived with a little more dignity, those of men from lost regiments who mostly succumbed to disease or incompetence. Only the tomb of Lieutenant-General Sir Stanley Maude, who died of cholera while leading the ill-fated expeditionary force into Iraq, remained defiantly intact. The cemetery is a poignant symbol of the decline of British influence in this country, which until the early 1990s retained strong ties with its former colonial ruler. Iraq¹s military, civil service and other professions modelled themselves closely on their British counterparts. Until recently it was impossible to walk into a hospital, newspaper office or government ministry without being accosted by a British-trained Iraqi fondly recalling undergraduate years spent in Edinburgh, Liverpool or London. For young Iraqis, however, today¹s Britain is a remote country with nostalgic associations only for their parents¹ generation. Only a few speak halting English and those who go abroad tend to travel to other Arab countries. British visitors to Iraq are curiosities. The once grand British Embassy, abandoned 12 years ago, is another relic of that earlier age. Once the envy of the diplomatic community, the imposing Ottoman governor¹s villa on the banks of the Tigris is in a sorry state. The formerly pristine garden looks like an empty lot. Neighbours dump their rubbish against the crumbling walls. British officials fear that the structural damage to the two-storey building is so great that the yellow-brick structure may have to be pulled down. The only British symbol that survives largely intact is the Anglican Church of St George, where Hanna Toma, an Iraqi Christian, tends the little garden, makes repairs when needed, and prays for the day when the British return and services resume. However, there are hints of a thaw in relations between Baghdad and London. British diplomats are making more frequent visits to Iraq. There are rumours that the British Council may reopen some educational services. Dr Kamal Mudher, a historian at Baghdad University, who has studied the arrival and departure of the British, is hopeful that the thaw will continue. ³We differentiate between politics and the country that gave the world Shakespeare,² he says. ³When this unpleasant business is over, maybe we can pick up where we left off.² http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,59-333389,00.html * MAINTAINING WAR GRAVES IN IRAQ Letter from the Director-General of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Times, 21st June Sir, Readers of Richard Beeston¹s ³Letter from Baghdad² (June 19) may be interested to learn that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has recently reached an agreement with the Iraqi Government over a maintenance programme for its cemeteries in the country. There are more than 54,000 Commonwealth war dead buried or commemorated at 13 locations in Iraq. The majority of these casualties occurred during the Mesopotamian campaign against the Ottoman Turks in the First World War. Maintenance became difficult during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, but continued until the onset of the Gulf War in 1990. In recent years some renovation work was possible, but the effects of two wars and years of sanctions have left all of the cemeteries in need of attention. However, there has been no threat to the land or disturbance of the burials. Following persistent visits by our staff, agreement to commence work was received last December. The commission plans a rolling maintenance programme in Iraq with the full agreement and co-operation of the Iraqi authorities. Work has already begun at Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery, where a new perimeter fence has been installed and agreement reached over the construction of staff quarters. This will be followed by a major horticultural and structural renovation programme. The commission takes a long-term view of the situation in Iraq, and although we have suffered many setbacks, we wish to reassure the public that we will do everything in our power to restore the graves to a fitting standard. Yours faithfully, RICHARD KELLAWAY, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-334608,00.html * SADDAM MAY HAND POWER TO HIS SON [QUSAY] TO AVOID ATTACK by Richard Beeston The Times, 22nd June SADDAM HUSSEIN is considering stepping down as the Iraqi head of state in favour of his younger son in an attempt to counter the growing threat to his regime from the Bush Administration. Arab diplomats in Baghdad said that the Iraqi leader may not seek re-election in the presidential vote due later this year but instead allow Qusay Hussein, his heir apparent, to become the country¹s leader. The Iraqi dictator, who has ruled unopposed for three decades, would remain in de facto control, much as the late Chinese leader Deng Xaioping. But the tactic may satisfy the Americans, or at least to delay their planned military action aimed at a change of regime in Baghdad by next year. ³The word in the diplomatic community is that when the elections are being prepared this autumn, Saddam will not put his name forward but instead allow Qusay to go forward,² one diplomat said. ³The aim would be to deflate the American threat.² Because of the obsessive secrecy of the regime and its ruling family, the plan is impossible to verify. The change would probably be used as a last line of defence, only when all diplomatic options were exhausted and a new conflict seemed inevitable. Iraq is to hold talks next month with the United Nations on the return of weapons inspectors to Baghdad. If Iraq relents and allows the team back to search for weapons of mass destruction, the threat of a new conflict would recede. If the talks fail, Washington and London are expected to press ahead with plans to start a new attack on Iraq. By most estimates the country¹s military would be able to offer only token resistance. Certainly Qusay Hussein¹s increasingly powerful role is not in dispute. The secretive and sober younger son, 36, is fast establishing himself as the obvious successor. He controls the Special Security Organisation, the secret police, which has suppressed any opposition to the Baathist regime. The intelligence services, which number several thousand men, are at the forefront of efforts to protect Iraq against the threat of an American attack and in particular to stop any attempt at fomenting an uprising among the disaffected Shia Muslim majority in the south and the rebellious Kurds in the north. Increasingly Qusay has also taken on a leading role in Iraq¹s foreign affairs, and is thought to have been behind the recent successful attempt by Iraq to rebuild its ties with the Arab world. Working through his protégé, Naji Sabri, the Foreign Minister, Qusay has successfully masterminded the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and is now making overtures to Kuwait to patch up ties, a decade after Iraq invaded and destroyed its tiny southern neighbour. The diplomatic effort is intended to blunt American attempts at building a coalition against Iraq in the region. The new foreign policy team has also eclipsed old-time Saddam loyalists like Tariq Aziz, the Deputy Prime Minister, who along with other figures has been marginalised. Although he rarely appears in public seems to lack his father¹s charisma, Qusay is said to be ambitious and shrewd, unlike Uday Hussein, his older brother, who has a reputation as a playboy. However the prospect of Saddam relinquishing power voluntarily still seems unthinkable to some. ³Frankly, I don¹t believe he will ever step down,² one diplomat said. ³He would prefer to die or see his country destroyed rather than give up power to his son.² http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/from_our_own_correspondent/newsid_205 8000/2058253.stm * IRAQ'S TORTURED CHILDREN by John Sweeney BBC, 22nd June The star witness against the government of Iraq hobbled into the room, her legs braced with clumsy metal callipers. "Anna" had been tortured two years ago. She is now four years old. Her father, Ali, is a thick-set Iraqi who used to work for Saddam's psychopathic son, Uday. Some time after the bungled assassination of Uday, Ali fell under suspicion. He fled north, to the Kurdish safe haven policed by Western fighter planes, but leaving his wife and daughter behind in Baghdad. So the secret police came for his wife. Where is he? They tortured her. And when she didn't break, they tortured his daughter. "When did you last see your father? Has he phoned? Has he been in contact?" They half crushed the toddler's feet. Now, she doesn't walk, she hobbles, and Ali fears that Saddam's men have crippled his daughter for life. So Ali talked to us. I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else's migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks. So listening to Ali speak freely was a revelation. He is not exactly a contender to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He has the heft of an enforcer. He told me that he had tortured for the regime. But I don't think he was lying to us. Ali talked about the paranoid frenzy that rules Baghdad - the tortures, the killings, the corruption, the crazy gangster violence of Saddam and his two sons. And the faking of the mass baby funerals. You may have seen them on TV. Small white coffins parading through the streets of Baghdad on the roofs of taxis, an angry crowd of mourners, condemning Western sanctions for killing the children of Iraq. Usefully, the ages of the dead babies - "three days old", "four days old" - are written in English on the coffins. I wonder who did that. Ali gave us the inside track on the racket. There aren't enough dead babies around. So the regime stores them for a mass funeral. He said that he was friends with a taxi driver - he gave his name - whose son had a position in the regime. Ali continued, he told me that he had to go to Najaf - a town 160km (100 miles) from Baghdad - in order to bring children's bodies from various freezers there, and that the smell was unbearable. They used to collect children's bodies and put them in freezers for two, three or even six or seven months - God knows - until the smell got unbearable. Then, they arrange the mass funerals. The logic being, the more dead babies, the better for Saddam. That way, he can weaken public support in the West for sanctions. That means that parents who have lost a baby can't bury it until the regime says so. So how could it be that people would put up with this sickening exploitation of grief? Ali told another story. He had seen Uday kill with his own eyes. This was some years ago, before the assassination attempt left Saddam's oldest son half-paralysed and impotent. Uday's lust is famous in Baghdad. He wanted a woman who played tennis at Baghdad's Sports Club and he and Ali went round to the club. As Uday was turning into the car park, a tennis ball came over the fence and bounced against the car of the woman he desired. The tennis player came into the car park to retrieve the ball, apologised to the woman. Maybe there was a bit of flirting - that does happen at tennis courts, even in England. >From his car Uday watched the two of them. Enraged, he took out a wooden cosh and beat the tennis player's brains out. And then - get this - a few days later, the dead man's relatives apologised to Uday for the distress their son had caused him. Incredible? I don't think so. In northern Iraq - the only part of the country where people can speak freely - we met six other witnesses who had direct experience of child torture, including another of Saddam's enforcers - now in a Kurdish prison - who told us that an interrogator could do anything: "We could make a kebab out of the child if we wanted to." And then he chuckled. In that environment, with that background noise of fear, it is not impossible to imagine that the government of Iraq could have conned the world, inventing numbers of dead babies that the gullible - and that includes the United Nations - accept as reliable. While we were in the north of Iraq, the chairman of the Great Britain Iraq Society, Labour MP George Galloway, was in Baghdad. He popped up on Iraqi TV and bared his soul. "When I hear the word Iraq," he said, "I hear someone calling my name." I don't. When I hear the word Iraq, I hear a tortured child, screaming. IRAQI/INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (RUSSIA, SUDAN, AUSTRALIA) http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2002/06/18/001.html * RUSSIA MAY REAP POLICY DIVIDENDS by Nabi Abdullaev Moscow Times, 18th June Russia could assume a key role under U.S. President George W. Bush's planned "strike first" defense doctrine, providing crucial intelligence information and acting as a go-between with so-called rogue states to deter conflict, experts said Monday. However, they said Moscow must also pragmatically strive to derive as many benefits as possible from its cooperation with the United States while defending its own interests -- such as the billions of dollars owed by Iraq, which is clearly first on the U.S. target list for preemptive action. "We must cooperate with the Americans in fighting terrorism to the extent of joint intelligence and military operations, but only if the United States gives Russia what it needs," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. Chief among Russia's needs, he said, are U.S. assistance in isolating Chechen rebels in the international arena and the lifting of an informal ban on sales of Russian weapons to NATO member states. Other analysts named debt relief and entry into the World Trade Organization as priorities. For the Kremlin to get what it wants, its best bet is to provide passive support for the U.S. led coalition to counter terrorism, said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika think tank. By doing that, it will be less likely to alienate traditional allies such as Syria, Libya, Iran and North Korea, which Washington considers rogue states, while at the same time reaping the benefits of being a partner with the West, he said. "Today is the best period of Russian-American relations, and in this new climate Russia can expect more concessions from the United States in regards to its entry into the World Trade Organization and the negotiation of Russian debt," he said. The litmus test that could define Russia's role in Bush's new doctrine -- which envisions taking pre-emptive action against states and terrorist groups the United States accuses of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction -- is shaping up to be Iraq. Moscow, which has close ties with Baghdad and has pressed Washington not to launch an attack as part of its war on terrorism, has also indicated it would not drop out of the counterterrorism coalition should strikes take place. Markov said the Kremlin needs to provide political and military support to the White House in its declared goal to topple Saddam Hussein -- but only if it is allowed to participate in the formation of a new Iraqi regime that will honor previous obligations to Russia. Nikonov said joint military action was out of the question because all diplomatic avenues have not been exhausted, but he agreed Russia needs to look out for its interests in Iraq. "We must pursue Iraq's debt to the Soviet Union and the contracts it has with Russian oil companies," he said. Russia is eager to collect some $6 billion to $9 billion in Soviet-era debt from Iraq and safeguard lucrative contracts to explore the country's oil-rich southern region. Oil fields there are estimated to be worth some $70 billion. By playing its cards correctly, Washington would likely accept Russian demands for debt repayment and oil, Nikonov said. "Whether or not an offensive [against Iraq] takes place doesn't depend on Russia, and raising a clamor would be silly to say the least," said Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information. "Washington would not force any country to join it in a strike against Iraq. All it wants is neutrality ... [and] Russia must use this to its advantage." He said Russia's influence in the Arab world would probably not be damaged if it adopted a passive role, largely because Moscow has long had a stronger presence in the region than the United States. Also to its advantage, he said, is the fact that Russia has kept closer informal ties with Arab leaders and gathered more intelligence information on the region than the United States. Meanwhile, Nikonov said Moscow could do a lot of good as a mediator in conflicts that challenge world security, a role that the framework of the Bush defense doctrine gives to Russia, Europe, China and Japan. "In some cases, Russia has more chance of influencing disputing sides than the United States," he said, pointing as an example to President Vladimir Putin's recent effort to defuse the India-Pakistan conflict. Safranchuk, however, warned against overestimating Russia's diplomatic weight, saying government officials would have to watch their step if they ever tried to act as mediators with traditional allies Syria, Libya, Iran or North Korea. "These countries have respected Russia as a counterbalance to the United States," he said. "They would never listen to Moscow if it spoke on behalf of Washington. We are in danger of losing our diplomatic potential any time we are given a chance to display it." http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200206/18/eng20020618_98042.shtml * SUDANESE VP VISITS IRAQ TO BOOST TIES Peoples Daily, 18th June Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha arrived in Baghdad on Monday for a three-dayofficial visit aimed at enhancing bilateral ties. Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha arrived in Baghdad on Monday for a three-dayofficial visit aimed at enhancing bilateral ties. Upon arrival at Baghdad's Saddam International Airport, Taha told the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) that he was carrying a letter from President Omar Hassan Ahmed el-Bashir to his Iraqi counterpart Saddam Hussein. Taha expressed belief that the visit would "enhance bilateral relations and coordinate stances of the two countries," the INA said. Senior Iraqi officials including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan and Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz welcomed the Sudanese vice president and his delegation at the airport. Iraq and Sudan have been enjoying friendly relations and the twosides signed a free trade agreement to promote trade ties when Ramadan visited Sudan in March. In addition to Sudan, Iraq has also signed free trade agreementswith Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and other Arab countries with theaim of abolishing import or export tariffs and eventually setting up a free Arab market. http://news.crosswalk.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID74088|CHID1943 43|CIID1143440,00.html * US 'STRIKE FIRST' STRATEGY GETS THUMBS-UP FROM AUSTRALIA by Patrick Goodenough Crosswalk, 20th June www.CNSNews.com - Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Australia's conservative government has endorsed Washington's policy of striking pre-emptively against terrorists planning to attack the U.S., but it is now facing domestic criticism from opponents concerned that this could entail an assault on Iraq. In remarks that caused a stir in Australia, Defense Minister Senator Robert Hill said this week the country was willing to support the "strike-first" strategy enunciated by President Bush on June 1. The reaction from other U.S. allies has been less enthusiastic. "The need to act swiftly and firmly before threats become attacks is perhaps the clearest lesson of September 11, and is one that is clearly driving U.S. policy and strategy," Hill told military officers at the Australian Defense College in Canberra. "It is a position which we share in principle." In this context, Hill referred specifically to Iraq. A pre-emptive strike policy, he said, "applies in particular where the stakes are raised - as they are in Iraq - by the frightening possibility of terrorists gaining access to weapons of mass destruction." In subsequent remarks, on Australian radio, Hill stressed the threat of terrorism did not only target the U.S. "We see it as a threat against the values that we share with the United States and, therefore, a threat against Australia. And that's why we're willing to support the U.S. in its goal of significantly reducing the terrorist threat that we see at the moment." Coming just days after Prime Minister John Howard told the U.S. Congress Australia was America's "best friend," Hill's suggestion that Australia could support a U.S.-led strike against Iraq drew swift criticism from the opposition parties. The leader of the official opposition Labor party, Simon Crean, said if there was evidence of Baghdad's links to terrorism, the government should "make the case." "All of us have to fight terrorists and fight terrorism but we've got to do it on the evidence and on the facts," Crean said in a radio interview. "And if it's weapons of mass destruction, as Senator Hill seems to be suggesting, there is already a framework through the United Nations for weapon inspectors. They should go in." Crean also suggested Hill's statement was an attempt to divert attention away from a current row over the budget, which the government is struggling to get through the Senate. The third-largest party, the Australian Democrats, said any decision to send Australian troops to combat zones abroad must be cleared by parliament. Like U.S. administration officials following Bush's original announcement, Hill has, since giving his speech, stressed that diplomatic and financial measures, not purely military ones, could also be used. "The lesson is that [pre-emptive action is] not necessarily through military means, but when a problem is seen to be developing that might lead to those catastrophic outcomes, it needs to be tackled earlier rather than later," he told Australian television's flagship news program. But while everyone would prefer that the Iraqi threat could be tackled through other than military means, Hill said, "You've got to get to a point when you recognize that no other means are going to be successful." Pressed on whether Canberra has actually agreed to support an attack on Iraq, Hill reiterated that, if the U.S. wished Australia to contribute to the anti-terror campaign beyond Afghanistan, "we'll consider the request at the time on its merits and in the circumstances of our capabilities." He said the government understood the U.S. argument that diplomatic and economic efforts had not succeeded in preventing Saddam Hussein from pursuing a weapons of mass destruction program. "But we nevertheless have got to reserve our national responsibility to make decisions that are in our national interest at the appropriate time." Australia earlier this week announced it was sending a third rotation of elite Special Air Services troops to Afghanistan as part of its commitment to the U.S.-led coalition. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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