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News, 6-13/12/02 (2) INSIDE IRAQ * Report From Iraq: "Fear in the Streets" * Iraq Under Siege * Saddam orders top brass to step up combat-readiness * Child death rate in Iraq trebles * Voices from the streets of Iraq * Did Saddam's army test poison gas on missing 5,000? NORTHERN IRAQ/SOUTHERN KURDISTAN * Iraq Villagers Describe Life of Violence * Experiment in evil * The Kurdish democratic model could save Iraq * The missing link? Mysterious Iraqi may tie Saddam to bin Laden INSIDE IRAQ http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/12/1206_021206_IraqArnett.html * REPORT FROM IRAQ: "FEAR IN THE STREETS" by Brian Handwerk National Geographic News, 6th December Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett was the last Western television reporter to cover the 1991 Gulf War from inside Iraq. While in Baghdad, Arnett interviewed Saddam Hussein, the last television interview granted by the country's leader. Arnett is now back in Iraq, revisiting the streets, markets, homes, and people of the nation's capital on assignment for National Geographic EXPLORER. Arnett's first report, Back to Baghdad, which premiers Sunday, December 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC (more details), reveals a land and a people largely unknown to Americans. Earlier this week, Arnett spoke with National Geographic News from Baghdad, sharing his perspective on the return of UN weapons inspectors, the strength of Hussein's regime, and the mood of the Iraqi people. Is there a sense of impending conflict on the streets of Baghdad? Yes, Iraqis fear renewed war and speak freely about it to visiting reporters. People we meet express the greatest concern over the fate of their children in an upcoming conflict. The population of Baghdad did survive with relativity few casualties during the bombings of the Gulf War in 1991. But most people seem aware that if the United States and its partners launch war for a second time, the ramifications will be much greater. The possibility of a violent change of government frightens those who look back to recent history when such changes came with murderous outbreaks of violence on the streets during ethnic clashes. While there is fear in the streets, the Iraqis are inured to crisis and do not seem ready to begin panic-buying of goods and other security measures. The message from Saddam Hussein delivered to his people via newspaper and television outlets is one of "resistance to the end". But government media also emphasize the international opposition to the American war plan and continuing diplomacy with Arab countries to win support for the Iraqi position. That position is that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and harbors no intentions of building them in the future. How are the UN weapons inspectors being received by the Iraqis? Baghdad newspapers and television are giving considerable coverage to the daily UN inspections of a variety of suspected weapons sites. The emphasis of coverage is on the inability of the inspectors to find anything unusual at these sites; further bolstering government claims that it has nothing to hide. People we meet seem to accept these government claims and generally regard the inspections as an attempt by Western powers to undermine their country. You must remember that UN inspectors roamed Iraq for seven years during the past decade in the most intrusive inspections ever inflicted on a country. While they did find evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction made in the 1980s, they discovered no existing programs. Iraqis we meet see the new phase of inspections as yet another attempt at re-igniting a failed policy of the past. You interviewed Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. What were your impressions of the man? I interviewed Saddam Hussein in Baghdad ten days after the Gulf War began in January 1991. His presidential palace had been destroyed by bombing and the interview took place in an ordinary home in the northwestern part of the city. Saddam arrived immaculately dressed in a dark blue suit and floral tie, and was personally courteous, chatting with me before the interview began. He told me I could ask him any question that I wanted. His demeanor was relaxed even though bombs were falling a mile [1.6 kilometers] or so distant. I asked him all the obvious questions about the war's progress, his intentions about using weapons of mass destruction, his attitude to Israel, and so forth. He answered forthrightly enough. It was clear from the interview that Saddam wanted to give an impression of continued strength despite reverses in the war, but also that he would welcome peace initiatives. He wanted to end the war but save his government. That was the last television interview that Saddam Hussein ever gave, even though in recent months he has given two newspaper interviews to Arab journalists. What should Americans know about the Iraqi people? The Iraqis are well aware of their rich history that dates back to the beginnings of human civilization. They know that the wheel, written language, and the first legal system were developed in the early civilizations of the Sumerians and the Babylonians that existed south of Baghdad. They are also proud of Iraq's special place of honor in the Islamic world. The cities of Najaf and Kerbala on the Euphrates River are the holiest places for the millions of Shia Islamic people in Iraq and neighboring countries. Iraq has shared with Egypt the role of leadership of the Arab people. Saddam Hussein has aspired to be the leader of a unified Arab world, a fact that has resulted in his disastrous military adventures in neighboring Iran and Kuwait. Iraqis pride themselves on their independent spirit. They are a vital people, energetic and free spirited. Iraq is primarily a secular country, meaning that while religion plays a major role in everyone's lives, it is not the state religion as in neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran. Consequently, women are not required to be totally covered and often go about bareheaded. Women are also encouraged to work in all professional fields including medicine, media, and law. What's the status of education in Iraq? All Iraqis are required to attend government-provided school until age 14. All subsequent education up to doctorate level is provided free of charge. With such a high literacy rate, there is great interest in foreign culture. American pop music and movies are eagerly enjoyed by younger Iraqis. Almost every Iraqi you meet will express friendship for the American people but will criticize the U.S. government for the policy of sanctions and frequent bombings of their country that have characterized life here during the past decade. Information is tightly controlled in Iraq and people cannot speak freely. In such an environment, how do you find the truth? There are many truths in Iraq, as there are in any society. There is the truth of the many students we interviewed at Baghdad universities who pride themselves as being from "the Saddam Generation," those who were born about the time he came to power in 1979. Free education, free health care, and basically free food have enabled them to pursue their dreams of success. The excesses of Iraq's war against Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in the 1990s are barely a memory in the minds of these young careerists. To them, Saddam is a benevolent provider and a charismatic leader. While expressing appreciation for American culture, these students waxed angrily against U.S. policies against their country and the Middle East. These students are also aware, of course, that any war resulting in change of government would close down the universities for months and disrupt their studies and, consequently, their futures. Then there is the truth of the Kurdish and Shia people. Few of them are represented in the Iraqi ruling elite. They clearly want the power denied them for generations. But should this come to pass, there is no guarantee that their governance would differ so much from Saddam Hussein's. They may be tempted to split Iraq into several countries, a possibility feared by her neighbors. There is the truth of the Iraqi opposition located overseas. The spokesmen portray Iraq as a terror-ridden dictatorship ruled at the whim of a cruel and barbarous leader and his family. These spokesmen say Iraq is ripe for rebellion, and that invading American troops will be welcomed with flowers and kisses. The opposition also claims that the Iraqi people are waiting breathlessly to be governed by them. So, what is the truth? The groups I listed above will respond with predictable answers when you question them. What I mean is, because the future is so rooted in the past in Iraq, you can expect not the truth when you question people here but an attitude. If you ask me about the truth as I see it here, it is that by using the carrot and the stick, coercion and reward, Saddam Hussein and his government have become unchallenged masters of their domain, their existence threatened only by a major military invasion by the world's greatest power, the United States of America. If Iraq is invaded; will you stay to cover the conflict? If so, why? I learned in Vietnam that war coverage was an essential ingredient in a democracy. The press's demand for accountability by the government and military leaders that got us into the Vietnam war helped end it much sooner than if we had gone along with the patriotic sloganeering. To be a competent war correspondent you have to believe ardently in the press role in our society. Covering a war is a dangerous business but not necessarily a deadly one if you play the correspondent and not the soldier. Let the soldier do the fighting and you the reporting. War reporting is difficult today because most countries, particularly the United States, do not allow the media to join the troops in action. Reporters have to rely on briefings, which are often not reliable indicators of what really goes on in the battlefield. During the Gulf War, the Iraqi authorities allowed me to cover the bombing of Baghdad. I was restricted by censorship and by the presence of government officials. But I did manage to give a graphic picture of a city in considerable stress. I presume that those restrictions will apply if war should once again come here. http://www.mees.com/news/a45n49a02.htm * IRAQ UNDER SIEGE by Tim Llewellyn Middle East Economic Survey, VOL. XLV, No 49, 9th December Tim Llewellyn is a former Middle East correspondent for the BBC The Iraqis are awaiting a solution, however it may be delivered, from out of whatever alien landscape. The Iraqi people have no control over any function of their lives except that of sheer survival. They can no more organize themselves to rid the nation of Saddam Husain and the extraordinary network of power and solidarity he has built for himself over 34 painstaking and brutal years than they can appeal to the better nature of the new Imperium in Washington and ask to be considered as members of a deserving human race. I can put it no better than in the words of an Iraqi intellectual, a political animal licensed to speak, but perhaps, in the circumstances, better left unnamed: 'The Iraqi people are resigned and frightened but they are not panicking. We are getting used to this. No-one cares about us or listens to us, neither the Anglo-American alliance nor the regime here in Baghdad. If there is some answer they are looking for it is in the field of religion. Karl Marx said "religion is the spirit of a spiritless world." We Iraqis are living in a spiritless world. There is no more interest in our human rights in Baghdad than there is in London. Nothing remains for us except metaphysics.' It seems a despairing quotation. But it is factual rather than despairing. The Iraqi citizen is bound up so closely in the process of sheer survival and caring for his family that he has little time left to repine or speculate. Whether for better or for worse, the solace of religion - 'metaphysics', as my friend puts it - has gradually begun to stand in for the more pragmatic and practical politics practiced in this country since the British forged it out of the three post-Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra 80 years ago. Although the Iraqi Government and the various NGOs engaged in trying to sustain a basis of life for Iraq"s 22mn people try to put a brave face on matters - life has improved marginally since the oil-for-food program began to take some effect towards the end of the 20th century, and it is important for the sake of Iraqi pride and self-esteem that the nation does not eternally present itself as victim and mendicant - the underlying reality of life is grim and reduced. If it were not for the food ration, now distributed in two-monthly parcels across the nation, by Saddam"s government in main-frame Iraq and by the UN in the 'protected' areas of Kurdistan, Iraq would collapse into sub-Saharan or South Asian levels of starvation and disease. The food ration, acquired at government centers by the production of coupons, for a few cents supplies the Iraqi people - all of them - with the bulk of their energy and protein. Some choose to barter bits of it, but for 70% of the population, according to the NGO, CARE, it is the center; the pillar of their survival. The size of the ration has increased since the introduction of the oil-for-food program. But it is important to remember that this is welfare. Iraq has no economy of its own. What oil it exports produces funds that are taken and administered by others. Those funds, politically organized and distributed by foreign powers which are unlikely to have Iraq"s interests primarily at heart, are very largely used to pay for Iraq"s meager supply of food and medicine. Whatever the level of earnings, the UN sanctions committee and the individual governments concerned in any contract decide how Iraq"s welfare is allotted and spent. In the margin, perhaps $2bn to $2.5bn a year, Saddam" s smuggled and nod-and-a wink exports to Turkey and Jordan, provide funds the government can use as it sees fit: arms, mosques, education, computer technology. (Iraq has in the past year gained access to the internet.) Iraq was, 12 years ago, before the Gulf War, earning up to $13bn a year. Even after the depredations of the war with Iran, it remained a state whose provision of welfare was massive and efficient. The UN graded Iraq on a par with Greece in terms of standard of living and human expectation. These were not just measures of diet and health, though these were exemplary, but of education and personal fulfillment. Arabs came to Iraq to better themselves. The system of political rule was primitive, brutal and cynical - and, in its tight circle, corrupt. But Iraq in general was not a corrupt or corrupted society. The people had accepted a deal for themselves that the British had invented for the state they created in 1922: obey and be rewarded; disobey and be punished. Saddam Husain took this philosophy to extreme lengths as he built his power base during the 1970s, but for most Iraqis what his apparatus delivered in terms of education, literacy, health, comfort and respect among Middle Eastern neighbors was worth the cost. After all, Iran (pre- and post-1979), Syria, and Saudi Arabia were hardly pluralistic models of freedom of thought and movement, and the perks of oil wealth were distributed among the population with much less creativity than Saddam"s functionaries brought to bear. In 2002, Iraq is on a par with Mali; despite a much-vaunted slowing of the increase in child mortality, Iraq"s rate of increase is so phenomenal - 160% since 1990 - that it can hardly be adequately displayed on a UNICEF bar chart. Between 4"000 and 5"000 children under five die in each month - mostly of simple infectious diseases that had either been eradicated or were easily cured 20 years ago - who would not die if the circumstances of mid-1990 obtained now. One in three Iraqi girls of school age do not attend school any more, staying home to be 'mother' to their families as their real mothers go out to work to help sustain the household. Since the mid-1980s the literacy rate of women has been reduced from more than 80% to just over 40%. Sanctions have brought Iraq to the point where a school teacher earns about $3.00 a month - as against a semi-skilled laborer who can make up to $15.00 a day. An aid worker asked me this simple question: 'What does this mean for the future of women in Iraqi society, a society where until 15 years ago they played an increasingly vital role in civil society? And how would you like to try to persuade a teenage son to be a doctor rather than a laborer?' In the gap this creates, Islam becomes an answer more than an option. There is a disastrous lack of basic medicines; the water is foul and polluted; sanitation is at its living edge: walk into a school lavatory or a hospital lobby and you will be knocked back by the stench. Outside Baghdad, and in some of its poorer suburbs, like the vast Saddam City, power cuts are endemic. Thus an enfeebled society, lacking the basic constructs of a normal life, sees these lacks compounded. It is not that Iraqis cannot cope with this, but, as a UNICEF worker said to me, 'you have to remember where they started from.' Self-respect is at a premium, and when self-respect is stamped down, as is now becoming evident in the Palestinian occupied territories, desperation sets in. A member of the national assembly, a university president and an adviser at the Foreign Ministry all stressed what I had managed to take in myself, watching Iraqis trying to cope with the business of daily life: 'Humiliation. The West is trying to humiliate us.' Whether it is the rash of cybercafes in Baghdad - I peeped over the shoulder of a man downloading the latest software from the internet, and saw youngsters playing the most frighteningly intelligent computer games - or the new racks of hardware at the Baghdad University of Technology, or the laborers cheerily bringing in the corn harvest, Iraqis are determined that their ingenuity, brains and spirit will not be seen to be reduced by what they see as a sustained assault on them and their Arab neighbors by a punitive America. 'It will take more than 12 years of sanctions to cut us down"' said a university lecturer. But the sanctions regime has done more than push ordinary Iraqis to the edge of survival. It has made them not only weak, and in a large sense unquestioning of their own political leadership, but also even more dependent on their government than they were 10 years ago. The attempted humiliation endemic in physical life, the removal of hope and ambition, and the squandering of a generation, are now enhanced by the arbitrary bombing raids of the USAF and the RAF. I saw the results of one attack within 1km of the Imam 'Ali Mosque in Najaf. I suppose the allies are careful enough not to hit the mosque itself - the last people to attack it were the forces of Saddam in 1991 - but if they are that accurate, why go near it with such force? A family of seven were killed. As the Iraqis will tell you, candidly, it is not as if the fighter-bombers cruising in from Incirlik and Kuwait have ever been in any danger themselves. So, a society on its uppers perceives itself as maintaining its dignity in the face of outside menace, attempted humiliation, the exercise of uncaring and merciless power. 'We Iraqis like foreigners"' a political scientist told me, 'but we have never liked being run by them.' There is little Iraq can do to defend itself against an organized American onslaught, whether it takes the form of an intensified Operation Desert Fox of December 1998 or a more sustained invasion bringing foreign troops to the heart of Baghdad. There can be few Iraqis who believe that, in the end, the invaders would not prevail, although at great cost on all sides. But the key phrase is 'in the end.' The Iraqis are pleased with themselves that Saddam, at last showing the erudition he so notably lacked in 1980 and 1991, has called the US bluff. Iraq, so far, has been so devastatingly welcoming to the Hans Blix team as to be almost guilty of irony - not, as far as anyone knows, grounds for 'material breach.' By this device the Iraqis are buying the time they need and the opportunity for invasion America sees ebbing away. Cooperation has a capital "C". In 1991, a Foreign Ministry adviser told me, the Iraqis also thought that 'cooperation' would work. The Americans made it clear, however, that as fast as Saddam yielded his weaponry, nothing would suffice. As long as he was there, the details of the UN Security Council resolutions counted for nothing. That mentality and that perception still command in Baghdad and Washington. Cut it how one may, the West continues to make it clear that Saddam has to go. Anyone who has studied Iraqi history and watched the way in which, even before 1958, its rulers gained and sustained power will be reluctant to believe that Saddam Husain and scores of thousands of loyal, dependent and ruthless supporters will disappear into the void like Idi Amin, or embark on flights to sanctuary like earlier Iraqi leaders. If, as the forces of the outside world or their representatives move in for the kill, Saddam Husain does not deploy some last surprise, then he is not the man who supervised the creation of modern Iraq and survived, so far and at his own hand, its near destruction. April Glaspie, the last US Ambassador to Iraq, once gave me a telling-off for suggesting in a dispatch to the BBC (in 1988) that many Iraqis had a sneaking regard for Saddam Husain, despite his blunders, his cruelty and his almost psychopathically dysfunctional family. Three years later, she might have been right: in the post-Kuwait era the Iraqis saw him for the externally illiterate politico that he was, author of two national disasters. Fortunately for Saddam, the West, with its inconsistent policies, lack of focus, dismissal of any Iraqi and/or Arab interests and heavy-handed pursuit of puritanical punishment of a helpless people, has reconstituted him as the only power in the land. It would be foolish to say he is popular; but the administrators of sanctions, the purveyors of Western moralizing, the supporters of Israel, and the bombers of Najaf and Mosul, have restored him to a kind of credibility. None of the West"s opposition figures can match him. An Iraqi academic told me: 'I can travel out of Iraq. When I go to London they come to me and say, "why are you staying in Baghdad, earning $100 a month? Here, just one appearance with us on TV, telling the world how it is in Iraq, and you would have money, a Mercedes, a flat in Kensington or Georgetown - what"s the matter with you?" 'I think that approach, the financial approach, to betray your country, is not one I wish to contemplate. And it says absolutely everything about the Iraqi opposition that the US and the UK are funding.' http://www.iht.com/articles/79939.html * SADDAM ORDERS TOP BRASS TO STEP UP COMBAT-READINESS International Herald Tribune, 12th December BAGHDAD (AP, AFP): President Saddam Hussein demanded improvements in the battle readiness of Iraqi troops as he gathered top commanders, including his sons Uday and Qusay, amid a mounting US military buildup in the region. Mr Saddam hailed the efforts of commanders and soldiers alike to 'improve Iraq's ability to face up to enemy plots', the official INA news agency reported. But he stressed the importance of further steps to 'raise the combat-readiness of Iraqi troops'. Participants in the meeting included Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Tawab Mulla Howeish and Defence Minister General Sultan Hashem Ahmad, as well as Uday, who heads the Saddam Fedayeen militia, and Qusay, who heads the elite Republican Guard. Also present were the chairman of the Atomic Energy Organisation, Fadhel Moslem al Janabi, air defence commander Mezahem Saab al-Hassan and air force commander Hamed Raja Shlah. Meanwhile, his government has denounced Kuwait for blatant meddling in its internal affairs, three days after he offered a qualified apology for his country's 1990 invasion of the oil-rich emirate. 'Kuwaiti officials persist in pursuing their meddling in Iraq's internal affairs. Kuwait has invited elements tied to foreign intelligence services, the so-called Iraq opposition,' said Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in a letter addressed to Arab League chief Amr Mussa. The letter insisted the emirate was in violation of the UN and Arab League charters as well as resolutions passed at the Arab League summit last March where Iraq and Kuwait launched a tentative bid to bury the hatchet. Mr Saddam issued a first-ever apology to Kuwaitis late Saturday, but tempered his words with sharp criticism of their leaders' conduct in the run-up to Iraq's seven-month occupation that ended with the 1991 Gulf War. He also accused Kuwaiti leaders of collaborating with US plans to attack Iraq as Kuwait has increased its contacts with Iraqi opposition figures over the past several months. Iraqi Kurdish chief Jalal Talabani announced during a visit to Kuwait on Tuesday that Kuwaiti officials had agreed to send a delegation of observers to a Dec 13-15 conference in London during which Iraqi opposition groups will try to close ranks in anticipation of a US strike on Iraq. http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c =StoryFT&cid=1039523437098&p=1012571727172 * CHILD DEATH RATE IN IRAQ TREBLES by Frances Williams in Geneva Financial Times, 12th December The death rate for young children in Iraq has almost trebled since 1990 to levels typical of a least-developed country, according to the United Nations children's fund. Unicef's 2003 report on the state of the world's children published yesterday shows that Iraq's under-five mortality rate, considered the best single indicator of child welfare, was 133 per 1,000 live births in 2001. This compares with 50 in 1990, just before the Gulf war and the imposition of UN sanctions. Critics blame the sanctions for plunging Iraq into economic misery after two decades of rising living standards and social progress that saw the under-five mortality rate slashed from 171 in 1960. Only two countries outside Africa - Afghanistan (in fourth place) and Cambodia (30th) - now rank worse than Iraq (33rd) on this indicator. Unicef data also show that nearly a quarter of babies born in Iraq between 1995 and 2000 were underweight, compared with 7 per cent for neighbouring Iran, and that more than a fifth of young children - close to 1m - had moderate or severe stunting from malnutrition. Iraq's regression over the past decade is by far the most severe of the 193 countries surveyed. But child mortality has also risen in several southern African countries afflicted by the Aids epidemic, notably Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, where a third or more of the adult population are infected with HIV. Some poor nations, such as Egypt, Libya, Malaysia and Peru, have made spectacular progress in reducing child mortality in recent years, but many are lagging well behind the UN millennium goal of reducing the rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa, average child mortality rates have fallen by only 4 per cent in the past decade to 173 per 1,000 live births, compared with reductions of a quarter in Asia and a third in Latin America. Unicef says many nations that have seen big drops in mortality have also achieved "significant reductions in fertility". Report on www.unicef.org http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/commentary/story/0,4386,160482,00.html? * VOICES FROM THE STREETS OF IRAQ Straits Times, 13th December The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which works to prevent and resolve conflict, conducted field interviews in Iraq in September and October to find out what citizens there think about war and political change. This is an edited excerpt from the just-released report. PERHAPS the most widespread wish expressed to ICG was for Iraq to finally turn the page of its Iranian and Kuwaiti wars and its confrontation with the outside world. Increasingly-nostalgic recollections of an earlier era of economic prosperity and modernisation reinforce feelings of collective humiliation and national disgrace. For many Iraqis interviewed by ICG, returning to normalcy today requires yielding to a foreign power. Memories of the failed 1991 uprising and its bloody consequences remain vivid, and few appear ready to take up arms against the regime. Not many seem to take very seriously the claim that the United States is motivated primarily by the desire to disarm the regime. Most consider this a pretext concealing a power struggle between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and US President George W. Bush over regime change. Still, in order to end the era of sanctions and international isolation, many of those Iraqis appear ready to accept almost any alternative to the status quo, and foreign intervention is viewed currently as the most realistic way of achieving that goal. In this respect, hostility to foreign intervention in Iraq based on Arab nationalist feelings appears far more potent within the wider Arab world than in Iraq itself. This overall perception translates into a complex attitude towards the prospect of a US-led war. The concern is not so much with the fighting itself - about which some Iraqis interviewed by ICG appear to have developed all sorts of imaginary scenarios, including the use of mysterious bombs that will anaesthetise their soldiers without causing any human or material damage - as with its aftermath. Many of the Iraqis who were interviewed appear confident and hopeful that the outside world - particularly the US - will make a significant and long-term commitment to facilitate the political transition, help rebuild the country and ensure its prompt reintegration into the international community. A heavy and prolonged international - and, especially, US - presence is both anticipated and desired as an insurance policy against civil strife and instability and as a guarantor of massive international aid. Younger Iraqis interviewed by ICG, who have known only war and the militarisation of society, appear more prone to view any violence that will follow regime change as redemptive, a necessary and temporary phase. Among older Iraqis, memories of the political violence and score settling that existed prior to the consolidation of the Baathist regime in the late 1960s remain fresh. However, even in their case, concern about violence is mitigated by the belief that tribal structures will limit acts of bloodshed and retribution. For many Iraqis, the more pertinent conflicts in the future are likely to be based either on conflicts within and between heavily-armed tribes or on socio-economic cleavages which have been exacerbated by a decade of sanctions. As to the former, there is evidence that tribal contests for the appropriation of rank and influence (for example, intra-tribal disputes over sheikhdom positions) or for the appropriation of goods (inter-tribal disputes over the allocation of water resources, for example) have intensified and, at times, become violent. That said, members of the Sunni and, especially, Christian communities expressed concern that a regime change triggered from the outside could result in a loss of status and perhaps worse at the hands of the majority Shi'ite population. But virtually none of these respondents mentioned alarming scenarios of sectarian warfare and they, too, seemed resigned to the prospect that an outside intervention was around the corner. Interviews conducted by ICG suggest that few Iraqis have given much thought to a post Saddam Iraq, relying instead on abstract notions of a better future. Indeed, debates about the structure of a post-Saddam regime are far more intense outside than inside Iraq. Decades of authoritarian rule, the systematic destruction of civil society and more recent economic hardships have led to a general de-politicisation of the population. The political struggles which once characterised Iraq and reflected its considerable social, cultural, ideological and religious diversity are a thing of the past. As a result, the future political order and the shape of the constitution are considered second-order questions, if they are considered at all. The priority is to improve daily lives. People voiced this feeling by using a frequently-heard expression: 'Let Saddam make trouble, let Bush hit us, but let us keep our street stalls.' http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c =StoryFT&cid=1039523474065&p=1012571727172 * DID SADDAM'S ARMY TEST POISON GAS ON MISSING 5,000? by Robert Fisk Financial Times, 13th December Did Saddam's army test poison gas on missing 5,000? Why didn't Tony Blair and George Bush mention Saddam Hussein's most terrible war crime? Why, in all their "dossiers", did they not refer to the 5,000 young men and women who were held at detention centres when their families of Iranian origin were hurled over the border to Iran just before President Saddam invaded Iran in 1980? Could it be because these 5,000 young men and women were used for experiments in gas and biological warfare agents whose ingredients were originally supplied by the United States? Just months before his September 1980 invasion of Iran in which tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers died an appalling death by gas burns and blisters Saddam's Interior Ministry issued directive No 2884, dated 10 April 1980, stating that "all youths aged between 18 and 28 are exempt from deportation and must be held at detention centres until further notice". Most, though not all, of the young men and women affected by this order were Kurds. None of their families ever saw their loved ones again, but they have since been told that the detainees were killed during experiments in gas and chemical warfare centres in Iraq. Among the most terrible war crimes committed during the Second World War were the Japanese experiments with chemicals and gas on prisoners at Harbin, in occupied China. US officials ensured that the principal culprits got away in return for the results of their experiments. The Nazis ran medical tests on Jews in extermination camps in Europe, some of whose "doctors" also escaped punishment. As always in Iraq and elsewhere in the world there is no proof. Kurdish families to whom The Independent has spoken pleaded with us not to reveal their names, in the pathetic hope that their sons and husbands and daughters might still be alive. They include the father of a young man who was taken from his family home in Baghdad, and the father of a man who was allegedly sent to the front line during the Iran-Iraq war and who died as a "martyr" months after his death during a medical experiment. With the encouragement of President Bush Snr, the US Department of Agriculture sent Iraq samples of chemicals that could be used to protect crops and other agricultural produce, with pesticides that were later developed for chemical warfare, despite repeated warnings from American officials that the cultures could be of use against human beings. Just before the September 1980 invasion of Iran, the detentions began. At least 5,000 "Kurdish youths", according to one Iraqi refugee interviewed by The Independent, "vanished into thin air". According to one Iraqi dissident, whose refusal to ally himself to the Iraqi opposition is much to his credit in the picture that is emerging, a large if unknown number of young detainees may have perished as a result of being used as guinea pigs for Saddam Hussein's research programmes at various chemical, biological and nuclear warfare laboratories. According to the same source, Iraqi scientists who have since defected to the West have given hints of the biological warfare testing programme but have refused, for obvious reasons, to incriminate themselves. Iraqi-Iranian Kurdish families who have received appalling information about the fate of their relatives have refused to keep quiet. One father of five missing boys gained an audience with an Iraqi vice-president who allegedly told him that one of his sons had been imprisoned for opposing President Saddam but had then had an "awakened conscience". The boy had decided to fight in the war against Iran and had died in combat, his body being "lost". According to an Iraqi Kurdish refugee in Lebanon who regards the official Washington- supported Iraqi opposition as fifth columnists, Western intelligence has long known the fate of the 5,000 or more "detainees". "It is now clear," he says, "that during the war with Iran many of the young detainees were taken to secret laboratories in different locations in Iraq and were exposed to intense doses of chemical and biological substances in a myriad of conditions and situations. With every military setback at the front causing panic in Baghdad, these experiments had to be speeded up which meant more detainees were needed to be sent to the laboratories, which had to test VX nerve gas, mustard gas, sarin, tabun, aflatoxin, gas gangrene and anthrax." In the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian troops stormed across the Baghdad-Basra highway and almost cut Iraq in half to the great concern of Washington. But not one of the many accusations levelled against Saddam Hussein's regime by London and Washington mentions the missing 5,000 young people "detained" by Iraq just before the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. This could, of course, reflect the West's embarrassment at its support for Iraq during that war. Or it could be an attempt to avoid any inquiry into how President Saddam obtained the means to wage chemical warfare against his opponents. NORTHERN IRAQ/SOUTHERN KURDISTAN http://cgi.wn.com/?action=display&article=17196847&template=baghdad/indexsea rch.txt&index=recent * IRAQ VILLAGERS DESCRIBE LIFE OF VIOLENCE Associated Press, 6th December KHAILYHAMEH, Iraq: When the tall young men with long beards strode through this mud brick village, people would shut their doors and windows. The women covered their faces and quickly gathered up their children. "When they come, we can't leave the house," says Abdul Qader, 52, a shepherd in this northern hamlet caught between Kurdish forces and Islamic rebels. "We're afraid. We have no one to protect us." The villagers of Khailyhameh say their lives have been destroyed by the cruel behavior of the Islamic rebels and their frequent gun battles with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. In fighting this week that left dozens dead and wounded, the Patriotic Union, the de facto government in this part of Iraq, captured the village from Ansar al-Islam, a militant group with alleged ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. Ansar's Kurdish, Afghan and Arab militiamen ruled the village for more than a year, meting out punishments for alleged violations of Islamic rules, extorting money, laying sinister booby traps and attacking isolated Patriotic Union checkpoints and bases, residents say. Nearby Halabja, once a picturesque resort destination, became known for the chemical bombardment it suffered in 1988 at the hands of Saddam Hussein's troops in the closing days of the Iran-Iraq war. More than 5,000 people were killed. Life in the surrounding valley has been marked by chaos and lawlessness since the collapse of Iraqi government rule in 1991. People lived through the 1994-98 civil war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party. Then came the rule of the fundamentalist Islamic Movement of Kurdistan from 1998 to 2000, when it was ousted by the PUK. Ansar entered the scene around November last year, when it began clashing with PUK forces. United Nations officials, who run development projects in much of northern Iraq with funds from the U.N. oil-for-food program, have abandoned reconstruction efforts around Halabja because of fighting between Kurdish forces and Islamic militants. Residents don't have access to high-paying U.N. jobs that have given a boost to the economy elsewhere in northern Iraq, which was lopped off from the rest of the country after a 1991 insurrection led to the establishment of Kurdish-ruled zone protected by U.S. and British aircraft. "The people here are penniless," said Ali Mohammad, a 65-year-old manning a shop with a shelves bare but for warm soft drinks. "Anyone with any money has already fled to Sulaymania," the provincial capital and Patriotic Union stronghold 60 miles away. Ansar's base is the village of Biyare, up in the Suren Mountains within sight of Khailyhameh. The villagers here often suffered Ansar's cruelty when the fighters descended from the mountain. Abbas Jabbar, a 27-year-old driver, said an Ansar militant once stopped his car and accused him of being a sympathizer with the Patriotic Union, known as the PUK, because he had hung in his windshield a green parchment ‹ green being the militia's color. "I explained to him that it wasn't the green of the PUK but a flag to honor Imam Reza, the Shiite saint," he said. "He threw it on the ground and started stepping on it. He called me a kafir," or infidel. Peywah, an 18-year-old in Khailyhameh said the Ansar militia seized his uncle three months ago, took him to Biyare and held him for $290 ransom, a half-year's salary for Kurds. "We scrounged and borrowed from relatives and got the money, and they released him," he said. "Then we fled until we came back today." Since the PUK captured the village Thursday, villagers said, three people have been killed by homemade booby traps left behind by Ansar. Ahmesh Abdullah, a 38-year-old shepherd, died when he stepped on one of the tripwires along a dirt path. "I yelled at him to stop, but it was too late," said Salam Jafar Mohammad, a mine clearance specialist who defuses the booby traps. The PUK says it hasn't captured any Ansar militants. One man they tried to seize blew himself up with dynamite. His mangled body was lying by a road, blighting the view of the lush valley where ducks, turkeys, cows and sheep wandered among crisscrossing streams. "It looks like heaven," said Mohammad Amin, a 48-year-old Khailyhameh farmer. "To us it's hell." http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/12/06/1038950195085.html * EXPERIMENT IN EVIL Sydney Morning Herald, 7th December There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the cruel deaths of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in clouds of Saddam's poison gas - if only the West cared. This report from a Herald special correspondent in Halabja. The mountains are jagged grey lines, one ridge behind another till they fade into Kurdish mists that have allowed the world to forget - too conveniently - that something terrible happened here. Sitting on the far edge of the saucer-like Sharazoor Plains in the remote Sharam Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, Halabja still struggles to emerge from an impossible pit of despair. Life does go on. The bazaar is busy enough. Women haggle over the price of pomegranates, apples and sunflower seeds; there are baskets of dates and tomatoes; piles of umbrellas and stacks of plastic chairs; lamb on the hook; bags of grain and shovels with gnarled handles that have been hand-cut from the branches of trees. But away from the reconstructed centre of town there are piles of rubble where hundreds of buildings once stood. On the main roundabout, a statue of an old man and a child, collapsed in a pathetic heap, confronts the few visitors who pass this way. While it might seem as far from the centre of world politics as it is possible to be, this is the place that US President George Bush invokes every time he pounds his fist, declaring that Saddam Hussein must be ousted because he gassed his own people. Halabja found its place in the history of war more than 14 years ago - on March 16, 1988 - when Saddam became the first leader ever to use chemical weapons at home. As many as 5000 died at the time. But in Halabja and its surrounding villages, people are still paying a hefty price. Dr Fouad Baban, a gaunt-faced man who spearheads a lonely local attempt to manage the fallout from the attacks, said: "Our research shows alarming increases in medical disorders - cancers, congenital abnormalities, vascular disorders. The incidences of strokes, heart attacks, chronic lung, skin and eye problems are disturbingly high." Baban was so troubled by what he was seeing that he did a comparative study on the health of the people of Halabja and those in Chamchamal, a community 45 kilometres to the west, which was presumed to have escaped the chemical attacks. His concern was well placed - death by cancer in Halabja was more than four times higher than in Chamchamal, and the rate of miscarriages was more than 14 times higher. He elaborated: "We have Hiroshima levels of sterility. The evidence suggests that the chemicals used here have affected the DNA, so we assume that the congenital deformities will be passed to future generations. Apparently it was the same in Japan in the years after the nuclear attacks. But the rate of abnormalities here is four to five times greater than in the post-atomic populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rates of stillbirths and miscarriages are even more alarming. Rare and aggressive cancers in adults and children are at levels far higher than anywhere else in the world. Severe cardio-pulmonary disorders, blindness, skin burns - the high incidence of neurological disorders is most likely the result of exposure to nerve agents." Most likely. The difficulty at Halabja is that virtually no investigative work has been done in the aftermath of the attacks that make it a unique research laboratory on two levels - the impact on the health of the victims and the nature of the weapons used by a regime that still refuses to come clean about its chemical and biological weapons programs. If the Western governments that said little and did nothing as the war crimes were being committed - and that includes the US and most of Europe - had the gumption to put desperately needed teams of health professionals into the area, they would find it readily accessible because it is within autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. Says Baban: "I'm alarmed and surprised that no UN agency or NGO or government, those that supplied the weapons or who oppose WMD, have offered to investigate what happened here. We need an internationally backed scientific investigation of the long-term effects of these chemical agents." He finds it all the more baffling in the wake of the investigative confusion after last year's anthrax attacks in the US and following this year's Chechen terrorist hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre where a Russian gas attack killed more than 100 hostages - and Moscow refused to identify the fatal gas. Baban says: "The people here were attacked with chemical and, possibly, biological weapons. The US says now that it fears similar attacks, so I'd have thought that research here would be an urgent priority." There is no certainty about the chemicals and or agents that were used by Saddam on Halabja and about 250 other Kurdish communities - most of which were villages. Various accounts have referred to mustard gas, which causes burns and mutation of DNA, malformations and cancers, as well as the nerve gases sarin and tabun which can cause death, paralysis or psychiatric disorders. There are suspicions, too, that the people of Halabja were exposed to VX gas and the biological agent aflatoxin, a poison extracted from corn and pistachio nuts which, Baban said, inflicted lasting liver damage. He said: "We still don't really know what was used. There is forensic evidence from only one site of mustard gas and sarin. However, it is clear that these and other agents were used throughout the region in different combinations. I could never understand why UNSCOM - the UN weapons inspectors - didn't want to study what happened here so that it might have a better understanding of Saddam's chemical program." And to round off his argument the doctor threw in a disturbing afterthought: "No one has studied the water or the soil and we know that tonnes of chemicals were dumped here, so we don't know what has happened to the environment." MUCH of Halabja is still the ruins made by Saddam's dynamite and bulldozers in the days after the chemical attacks - maybe 70 per cent. In the first four years after the attacks, few residents dared come home. But now, the population is back up to about the level of the late 1980s - more than 60,000. Being a border town, Halabja was in the grip of the Iran-Iraq war in March 1988 and its unarmed civilian population was about to be paid back by Saddam because the local Kurdish militias, the peshmergas, had sided with the Iranians, some of whom were in Halabja town. At the time, Saddam had given his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid absolute control of the north. Human Rights Watch, the US rights agency, has a tape-recording of al-Majid boasting to a meeting of his Baath Party colleagues: "I'll kill them all with chemical weapons. Who's going to say anything? The international community? Fuck the international community and those who listen to them!" The director of the local hospital is Tahseen Ali Faraj, a tossed-haired 29-year-old. The 100 bed hospital was a gift from a Swedish charity, one of the few international responses to Halabja's suffering. Standing in its teeming corridors, Faraj acknowledged that the hospital's terrible caseload needed to be better managed: "We have been asking for NGOs to come and help us, but so far, nothing. Virtually all our drugs come through the World Health Organisation, but despite the problems caused by the chemical weapons attacks, we do not get special consideration." And reluctantly, he spoke about March 16, 1988. He remembered the bombs that landed with a soft explosion, the first signal that Baghdad was trying something different, and then the clouds of white, grey and pinkish smoke. It was tasteless but some survivors say it smelled like apples and garlic, others say cucumber and perfumes. The first symptoms were frightening - people were vomiting, their glands swelled, and a yellowy, watery discharge oozed from their eyes and noses. Some stumbled about, laughing hysterically before dropping dead; mothers seemed not to know that the children in their arms were already dead. He said: "Two terrible memories stay with me. There were about 30 dead people on a trailer behind a tractor, and on the ground ... there were more dead people - about 80. But there was a woman who was halfway through getting up on the trailer, but she couldn't make it because she was virtually dead. "My family decided that we had to get away; drive to my cousin's home. But the streets were filled with dead people. My brother was driving and the only way to get out of town was to drive over the dead bodies. I will never forget those two things." ONE of the oft-repeated expressions in US commentary in the wake of September 11, was that people had to "join the dots" if they were to understand the scope and complexity of the terrorist challenge facing the West. But in Kurdistan they have their own dots to join. Baram Salih, the Prime Minister of eastern Kurdistan, said in an interview with the Herald that history had left the Kurds with a sense of vulnerability and victimhood; what he described as a profound sense of loneliness. He said: "It was the indifference of the world community towards what happened to us in 1988 that emboldened Saddam to invade Kuwait and to pursue weapons of mass destruction." And Baban, too, indicated that healthy scepticism informed his view of the coming months: "Chemical warfare has been at the top of Saddam Hussein's list of war crimes since 1988, but it is only lately that George Bush and Tony Blair have started to talk about it - and that's only because they want to go after Saddam. "No one will concentrate on the tragedy here and I expect that all this talk of Halabja will die away as soon as Saddam is toppled." http://www.iht.com/articles/79675.html * THE KURDISH DEMOCRATIC MODEL COULD SAVE IRAQ by Barham Salih International Herald Tribune, from The Washington Post, 10th December SULAIMANIYA, Iraq: The United Nations weapon inspectors in Iraq are assigned the task of dealing with the symptoms but not the underlying causes of the danger Iraq poses to world peace. Disarmament is vital, but it should not distract us from the often overlooked fact that the presence and use of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq stem from its abject failure as a state, not just the violence of one man or one regime. Afghanistan's poverty made it vulnerable to foreign influence and the lure of terrorism. Iraq's failure is deadlier. Its considerable resources have been used to create a repressive and brutal regime that is a threat to Middle Eastern and global security. The aggression and defiance will continue until the chronic disease of failure afflicting Iraq is eradicated. For most Iraqis, President George W. Bush's Sept. 12 speech to the United Nations represented a welcome departure from previous U.S. policy. By committing the United States to a democratic Iraq, Bush laid the foundation for a new regional security order, abandoning reliance on unaccountable and repressive elites for a false notion of stability in the Middle East. Peace and stability in the strategically vital Gulf area will come only from fundamental political change in Iraq and by building on the democratic experiment that has taken root in Iraqi Kurdistan. Skeptics will argue that Iraqi history inspires little confidence in the prospects for democracy. Today's pariah state, the totalitarian terrorist regime that has committed mass murder against the Kurds - and, indeed, against the Arabs - is a product of that history. Thanks to the Ba'ath regime, every conceivable difference between Iraqis - social, tribal or ethnic - has been exploited to divide and oppress. The reason for the cycle of instability and violence is that the British-created state of Iraq was based almost exclusively on the Sunni Arab minority. At the 1921 Cairo Conference that annexed the Kurdish north to the Sunni Arab center and Shiite Arab south of the country, Winston Churchill warned that Iraq would be governed by violence. He wrote that a future Arab ruler "with the power of an Arab army behind him ... would ignore Kurdish sentiment and oppress the Kurdish minority." Over the years, the ethnic base of state power has shrunk as the Ba'ath party added many Sunni Arabs to its long list of victims. The capacity for violence and the police state apparatus, itself under surveillance and periodically purged, have expanded. Eliminating one man will not end this cycle, and Bush should resist those who regard helping a post Saddam Hussein Iraq as too burdensome. Without a comprehensive transformation, a new dictatorship could emerge. The United States therefore must engage with Iraqis to protect and sustain us through what will be a difficult transition. As the Kurds have shown, Iraqis can put their talents to good use if given the opportunity. For decades, Iraqi Kurdistan was Iraq's least-developed region, both socially and economically, and it was deliberately underfunded by Baghdad. Yet since the end of the Gulf War, Kurds have embarked on economic renewal and democratization from the most unfavorable of starting points. Iraqi Kurdistan was devastated by the genocide of the 1988 Anfal campaign, which destroyed almost 4,500 villages and killed nearly 182,000 civilians in just six months. Halabja, where 5,000 Kurds were gassed to death, is our Guernica. Thanks to state repression, Iraqi Kurdistan became a region of widows and orphans, whose husbands, sons and brothers were "disappeared" or used as cannon fodder in the regime's pointless wars. Our neighbors, wary of Kurdish nationalism, closed our borders, imposing a crippling embargo. Against these odds, we have revived Iraqi Kurdistan. In 11 years we have rebuilt some 4,000 villages, set up two universities and opened more than 2,700 schools. Protected by U.S. and British airpower, we have created an environment of freedom unique in Iraqi history, in which Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrian Christians and Arabs enjoy cultural and political rights. My home city of Sulaimaniya alone has more than 130 media outlets, including 13 television stations and dozens of newspapers - as well as unrestricted access to the Internet and satellite television. Building freedom has not been easy. Conflict between the two major Kurdish parties stalled democratization and cost many innocent lives. The process of transition toward more accountable democratic institutions is hindered by resistance from traditional power structures and the threat of interference from our neighbors. But despite this, Iraqi Kurdistan is a rare and bright spot of freedom in the Islamic Middle East - and it offers the potential for more. The hard task of reconstruction has taught us to forsake the dream of an independent Kurdistan. When Kurdish self-government began back in 1991, many believed that it would lead to the dismemberment of Iraq. Instead, self-government taught the Kurds, especially their political elite, the severe limitations of nationalism. While most Kurds cherish their legitimate right to self-determination, they recognize that economic rehabilitation, education for their children and basic health care require political moderation. Independence might give us a Kurdish postage stamp, but it would mean a dire future as an isolated, shunned statelet in a landlocked corner of the Middle East. The mainstream Kurdish movements realize that there is more to aspire to in a democratic, prosperous Iraq that can flourish with international support. The new Iraq can be a model of tolerance and diversity in a region where both are rare. The Kurds can for the first time be full Iraqi citizens, catalysts for democratic transformation. Most Iraqi opposition movements have endorsed a vision of a federal democratic Iraq. Federalism is vital. Devolving political and economic power, sharing Iraq's vast potential fairly among its people, will preclude the possibility of another centralized tyranny gripping the Iraqi state and its oil revenues. For too long the Kurds have been seen as a threat to Iraq's unity. Yet now we Kurds are championing a federal, pluralist democratic Iraq that cannot again brutalize its citizens and threaten its neighbors. The final irony may be that the Kurds, the perennial victims of the Iraqi state, will turn out to be its savior. The writer is leader of the Kurdish regional government based in Sulaimaniya, Iraq. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/134593694_link11.html * THE MISSING LINK? MYSTERIOUS IRAQI MAY TIE SADDAM TO BIN LADEN by Robin Wright Seattle Times, from Los Angeles Times, 11th December SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq ‹ A mystery is unfolding in a warren of mountain caves in northeastern Iraq known as Little Tora Bora, home to a core group of al-Qaida fighters and a small army of local allies. An enigmatic Iraqi based in the remote mountains has U.S. intelligence asking: Who exactly is Abu Wael? The answer could be pivotal in determining whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein really has connections to Osama bin Laden. So far, the evidence is both intriguing and contradictory. One body of evidence points to Abu Wael as a senior Iraqi intelligence officer and as Saddam's secret liaison with al-Qaida and its Iraqi affiliate, Ansar al-Islam, or Supporters of Islam. That would make him the long-sought connection between Iraq and al-Qaida ‹ and justification for tying a U.S.-led military operation in Iraq to the war on terrorism. But other evidence suggests that Abu Wael is a senior official in Ansar who deeply opposes Saddam as an autocrat in a secular regime that has brutally repressed Muslims. The intelligence behind both claims comes largely from prisoners at a compound that houses the intelligence headquarters and jail in this bustling Kurdish city about an hour from Little Tora Bora. In recent months, the Kurds, who run an autonomous statelet in northern Iraq and are allied with the United States, have taken dozens of prisoners who have provided new pieces of the puzzle for U.S. intelligence. That puzzle is still far from complete. But some facts are not disputed: Shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a group of al-Qaida fighters left Afghanistan and traveled smugglers' routes through Iran into northern Iraq's Kurdistan. Their goal was to establish a backup base for al-Qaida, according to al-Qaida members, U.S. intelligence and Kurdish officials. The al-Qaida fighters set up in the town of Al Biyara and nearby mountain villages where Kurdish militants had begun imposing the strict Islamic rule used by Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. Ansar was then led by the charismatic Mullah Krekar, who had trained in the 1990s in Pakistan under Abdullah Azzam, one of bin Laden's early mentors. Abu Wael, who spent time in the 1990s in Afghanistan with al-Qaida, was one of Krekar's top lieutenants, the sources said. Local tensions quickly escalated after Sept. 11. Within two weeks of the terrorist attacks in the United States, Ansar extremists attacked security forces of the pro-U.S. Kurdish government here. More than 20 Kurds were killed, their throats slit and bodies mutilated. Sporadic and deadly clashes have ensued. In April, Ansar tried to assassinate Barham Salih, the prime minister of the eastern sector of Iraqi Kurdistan, and missed only through a fluke of timing. But five bodyguards were slain. In its Little Tora Bora redoubt, Ansar also tested primitive chemical weapons, including a cyanide gas, on farm animals this year, U.S. and Kurdish officials say. For the Kurds, the 600 to 700 Ansar fighters and the 35 to 100 al-Qaida members are now the most serious threat in Kurdistan, the only Iraqi region not under Saddam's control. Fighting broke out again last Wednesday when Ansar guerrillas launched a surprise attack on Kurdish security forces, reportedly killing dozens. So what has Abu Wael been doing in Kurdistan? Stories from several prisoners diverge widely. The tales from two men illustrate the intelligence quandary. Witness No. 1 Qassem Hussein Mohammed, 36, claims to be an Iraqi intelligence agent captured by the Kurds in January en route to find Abu Wael, a colleague of 20 years. Abu Wael was a major in the Iraqi army who joined Saddam's top intelligence unit after finishing law school, Mohammed contends. "In 1995, Abu Wael was instructed by Baghdad to go to Afghanistan to be the connection between al-Qaida and Baghdad. He did this five years, until he came back to Kurdistan in 2000," Mohammed said at an interview at the intelligence headquarters here. Mohammed said he was the courier between Abu Wael and the Baghdad regime ‹ traveling to both Afghanistan and Kurdistan. The Kurds are eager to believe the linkage, which might bring U.S. intervention. But Saddam and al-Qaida are odd bedfellows, U.S. officials and analysts note, in light of the Iraqi leader's paranoia about militant Islam, often a threat during his 23-year rule. He has ruthlessly quashed any Islamic stirrings. But Mohammed, sentenced by the Kurds to six years in prison for spying, said the unusual alliance emerged out of a shared hatred for the United States and, more recently, a desire to uproot their joint U.S.-backed Kurdish rivals. "Saddam's long-term interests," said Mohammed, "were more important than the ideology of an Islamic group." The turning point was the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1992, Saddam hosted Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden's top strategist and founder of Egypt's Islamic Jihad, said Mohammed, who claimed to be in charge of guarding the delegation. Iraqi intelligence has also occasionally trained both Ansar and al-Qaida operatives in explosives, chemical weapons and suicide missions, he alleged. If true, this would be the most damning evidence yet about Saddam's links to al-Qaida ‹ a theory of top Bush administration officials that came into question after recent denials by Czech officials that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence had met in Prague, the Czech capital. Witness No. 2 But none of it is true, insisted Qayis Ibrahim Qadir, 27, a wiry assassin who said he worked closely with Abu Wael. Qadir was captured after trying to assassinate Salih, the Kurdish prime minister, and killing his bodyguards. The only one of three assassins to survive, he described himself as a "jihadi" and member of Ansar who also spent time in Yemen and worked with al-Qaida in Kurdistan. "Abu Wael is one of our leaders who spent many years in Afghanistan and knew Osama bin Laden. He would never work for Saddam, the worst kind of nonbeliever and a tyrant," Qadir said. "In practical terms, it might be useful to have the support of a ruler or to play one ruler off against another," he added. "That's what they want you to believe. But I can promise you ‹ 1 million percent I promise you ‹ that Abu Wael had no ties to Saddam Hussein. We don't have ties to any rulers." Ansar's immediate mission is to expand its following and territory in Kurdistan and later to challenge the secular rule in Baghdad, Qadir said. The identity and status of Abu Wael have become all the more important lately because Mullah Krekar, whose real name is Najm Din Faraj Ahmad, was stopped in Iran in September and deported to Amsterdam, where he is still being held. U.S. intelligence believes Ansar now wants to take Americans hostage to press for a swap. But the whereabouts of Abu Wael are also in question. Mohammed, the Iraqi intelligence agent, said he had been dispatched to Kurdistan because Baghdad had lost contact with the Ansar official late last year. The last Iraqi intelligence knew, he said, Abu Wael was going to Afghanistan to meet bin Laden. Again, not so, said Qadir. Abu Wael was still working this year around Little Tora Bora. And so the picture gets fuzzier. Said one senior U.S. official: "It's one of the bottomless mysteries we face these days. We're not sure where he is ‹ or if he's even alive." http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/world/4723566.htm * RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ VISITS KURDS by Borzou Daragahi The State, from Associated Press, 12th December SULAYMANIA, Iraq - Russia's ambassador to Iraq visited the autonomous Kurdish enclave in the north and criticized U.S. calls for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Ambassador Vladimir Tetrinko on Wednesday became only the second Russian official to visit the Kurdish region since it was established in 1991 at the end of the Gulf War. Tetrinko also dismissed a London conference of Iraqi opposition leaders as a gathering of conspirators plotting to "overthrow the legitimate government of Iraq," and ridiculed U.S. plans for assembling an international coalition to force Saddam from power. "I presume there will be no coalition attack on Iraq because there is no coalition," he said. "Our view is very clear. We cannot build a democratic Iraq through military action and bringing in a dictator." He journeyed to the region several days after a surprise visit there by Sens. Chuck Hagel, R Neb., and Joseph Biden, D-Del. The ambassador said he had come to the region to meet with Kurdish officials as part of a routine visit to the Iraqi provinces. Barham Salih, prime minister of the southeastern section of Iraqi Kurdistan, said Tetrinko voiced concern about outsiders in the region and of a possible civil war among Iraqi ethnic groups should Saddam be ousted. Russia has been consistently critical of U.S. plans to topple Saddam. Russian has vast economic interests in Iraq, including a $20 billion deal signed by Lukoil, Russia's biggest oil company, to develop a large oilfield. Baghdad owes Russia at least $7 billion dollars in debts from Soviet times. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk