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[casi] News, 15-22/6/02 (1)

News, 15-22/6/02 (1)


*  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


*  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


*  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,,1-2725-329580,00.html

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

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

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

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.

by Bill Gertz

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

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

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

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

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

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,,1-3-331397,00.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Kamal Mudher, a historian at Baghdad University, who has studied the
arrival and departure of the British, is hopeful that the thaw will

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,,59-333389,00.html

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,,,3-334608,00.html

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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

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."

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

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

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.,,PTID74088|CHID1943

by Patrick Goodenough
Crosswalk, 20th June - Pacific Rim Bureau ( - 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.

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