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[casi] News, 29/01-05/02/03 (1)

News, 29/01-05/02/03 (1)


*  Al-Qaida and Iraq: how strong is the evidence?
*  Saddam now holds key to war or peace in Iraq
*  Powell to Go for Broke at the UN
*  US says aluminium tubes are evidence of Iraq's nuclear goal
*  Biological and chemical threats uncertain
*  False trails that lead to supposedly Al Qaeda 'links'
*  The C.I.A. and the Pentagon take another look at Al Qaeda and Iraq
*  Iraqi troops getting gas masks, Kurds say
*  Saddam's guard tells of arsenal and terror links


*  Clues from ancient Babylon
*  Stockpiling Popularity With Food

FINGER TRYING TO POINT AT IRAQ,3604,885032,00.html

by Julian Borger in Washington, Richard Norton-Taylor and Michael Howard
The Guardian, 30th January

President Bush used his state of the union address to paint a terrifying
picture for the American people of another attack like September 11 - but
this time with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Tony Blair
reinforced the message yesterday by telling the Commons: "We do know of
links between al-Qaida and Iraq. We cannot be sure of the exact extent of
those links."

However, a number of well-placed sources in Whitehall insisted there was no
intelligence suggesting such a link. "While we have said there may possibly
be individuals in the country [Iraq] we have never said anything to suggest
specific links between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein," said one.

Establishing the link is essential to persuading the public that Iraq
represents an imminent threat, and President Bush insisted that hard
evidence in the shape of "intelligence sources, secret communications, and
statements by people now in custody" proved the connection was real.

But the intelligence analysts in the US and Britain on whose work the
president's claim was supposedly based say the connections are tangential at
best, and the available evidence falls far short of proving a secret
relationship between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden. One intelligence source in
Washington, who has seen CIA material on the link, described the case as
"soft" and "squishy".

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

That case relies heavily on a man called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian
member of the al-Qaida leadership who was wounded in the leg in the US-led
bombing of Afghanistan. In late 2001, according to US intelligence sources,
he sought medical treatment in Iran but was deported and fled to Baghdad,
where his leg was amputated. Telephone calls he made to his family in Jordan
were intercepted. The question is whether Saddam Hussein's regime knew who
he was and whether it offered him any assistance. "Yes, we have him telling
his family I'm here in Baghdad in hospital, but he's not saying: 'And by the
way, I'm getting all this help from Saddam,' " said a well-informed source
in Washington.

Ansar al-Islam

According to Jordanian intelligence, Zarqawi left Baghdad after his surgery
and travelled to northern Iraq, possibly through Iran, where he joined up
with Ansar al-Islam, a militant Islamist group comprising some 700 Kurdish
members controlling a string of villages on the Iranian border of the
Kurdish self-rule area. The group harbours up to 120 al-Qaida members
including Lebanese, Jordanians, Moroccans, Syrians, Palestinians and
Afghans, and is fighting a turf war with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

The group is thought to be the creature of Osama bin Laden's second in
command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Its leader, Mullah Krekar, was detained by Dutch
police last September after arriving on a flight from Iran because Jordan
had asked for his extradition, accusing him of drugs trafficking. He now
enjoys refugee status in Norway.

While evidence of Ansar al-Islam's links to al-Qaida are comparatively
strong, its links with President Saddam remain largely circumstantial.
Villages in the area around Ansar territory have reported seeing Iraqi
Mukhabarat agents making contact with Ansar operatives. There are also
reports that TNT seized from Ansar during one of their assassination
attempts on Kurdish officials was produced by the Iraqi military and that
arms are sent to the group from areas controlled by President Saddam.

About a dozen senior members of Ansar trained at a camp in Afghanistan which
specialised in chemical and biological weapons, such as ricin.

The Ansar-Baghdad debate in US intelligence circles reflects a rift between
the CIA and a special intelligence office set up in the Pentagon by the
under-secretary for defence, Douglas Feith. The CIA tends to be sceptical
and hostile to the Iraqi National Congress which has produced many of the
recent defectors. The Pentagon is readier to listen to the INC's defectors,
and has established a separate channel of information to the White House,
outside the control of the CIA director, George Tenet.

Ramzi Youssef

Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary, sent James Woolsey, a
former CIA director, to Swansea, in search of evidence to back up the theory
that Ramzi Youssef, convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre,
was the same person as an Iraqi student who had been at the Welsh
university. Mr Woolsey returned empty-handed. "The two sets of fingerprints
were entirely different," says a source familiar with the investigation.

Mohamed Atta

British officials with access to intelligence dismiss claims by Washington
hawks that Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the September 11 terrorists, met
an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague just months before the attacks. The
allegation, first made by Czech officials, was further investigated by the
Czech government. President Vaclav Havel told the White House the allegation
could not be substantiated. The CIA director, George Tenet, told Congress in
October that the CIA could also find no evidence.

Mujahedin e Khalq

Saddam Hussein has had links with some terrorist groups including Mujahedin
e Khalq, an Iranian dissident organsiation based in Iraq. British sources
interpret the murder in Baghdad of the former Palestinian terrorist leader,
Abu Nidal, last August as evidence of President Saddam's concern about
accusations he is harbouring terrorists, especially one on whose loyalty he
could not rely.


President Bush said the evidence for a Baghdad-Bin Laden connection also
came from "statements by people now in custody". But according to a US
official familiar with CIA thinking on the issue, the senior al-Qaida
members in captivity, such as Abu Zubeidah and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, have not
implicated Iraq. Others among the hundreds of al-Qaida suspects in custody
in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere "may either be saying what we want to hear,
or they want us to go to war with Iraq. Or it may be true. We just don't
know", the official said.

by Paul Wolfowitz
Canberra Times, 31st January 2003

IN THE aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington,
people of goodwill on both sides of the Atlantic stood united against
terrorists and their sponsors.

In recent months our unity has been tested by the debate over the need for
Iraqi disarmament.

The war on terror and disarming Saddam Hussein are not merely related;
disarming Iraq is a crucial part of winning the war on terror. The
connection between terrorist networks and states that have weapons of mass
terror brings the potential for a catastrophe much larger than September 11.

We know that terrorists are plotting. There is abundant evidence that these
same terrorists are seeking weapons of mass terror including chemical,
biological, and even nuclear weapons. And there is incontrovertible evidence
that the Iraqi regime still possesses such weapons. That is why it matters
that Iraq has not disarmed, despite its agreement to do so 12 years ago.

As recently as 1997, Iraq declared that it had produced at least 10 litres
of ricin, enough lethal doses to kill more than a million people. This is
the same deadly material that was found recently in a London apartment.

Also in 1997, Baghdad acknowledged that it had more than 19,000 litres of
botulinum toxin, which is enough lethal doses to kill tens of millions, as
well as 8500 litres of anthrax, sufficient to kill hundreds of millions.

United Nations weapons inspectors also believe that Iraq has manufactured
two to four times the amount of biological agents that it has admitted to
and has failed to explain the whereabouts of more than two tonnes of raw
material for the growth of biological agents.

A five-pound bag of anthrax spores could be enough to kill half the
population of a major metropolitan area. In a country the size of France,
finding such material is like looking for a needle in a haystack unless the
regime that possesses them cooperates actively and discloses their location.

It is possible for inspectors to confirm voluntary disarmament when
governments cooperate, as South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan did in the
1990s. But a few dozen inspectors can not be expected to conduct a
search-and-destroy mission to uncover so-called "smoking guns" especially if
Iraqis are intent on hiding them. After all, the only purpose for building
mobile production facilities for biological weapons is to be able to hide

South Africa, by contrast, decided in 1989 to end nuclear-weapons production
and, in 1990, to dismantle all weapons.

South Africa signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991 and
accepted the full scope safeguards of the UN's Atomic Energy Agency. They
allowed UN inspectors complete access to both operating and defunct
facilities, provided thousands of current and historical documents and
allowed detailed, unfettered discussions with personnel involved in the
program. By 1994, South Africa had provided verifiable evidence that its
nuclear inventory was complete and its weapons program was dismantled.

Similarly, the governments of Ukraine and Kazakhstan ratified the Nuclear
Non Proliferation and Start treaties, which committed their countries to
giving up the nuclear weapons and strategic delivery systems that they
inherited from the Soviet Union.

Those nations went even further in their disclosures and actions than the
treaties required. Ukraine requested and received United States assistance
to destroy its Backfire bombers and air-launched cruise missiles. Kazakhstan
asked the US to remove more than 500kg of highly enriched uranium. In each
case, the countries created a transparent process in which decisions and
actions could be verified and audited by the international community.

These examples offer a stark contrast with Iraq's behaviour. Unlike South
Africa, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, it is the policy of the Baghdad regime not
to give up its weapons of mass terror, but to conceal them. That high-level
commitment to concealment is carried out by thousands of Iraqi government
intelligence and security personnel, under the direction of Saddam's own
son, Qusay.

Documents that are released are incomplete or fraught with misstatements and
lies. Other documents have been concealed in places as unlikely as chicken

Inspection teams are intimidated and frustrated rather than helped. Iraqi
scientists and their families are threatened with death if they cooperate
with inspectors. Even the U-2 surveillance flights requested by the UN have
been blocked in direct violation of Security Resolution 1441.

The implications are clear. If Iraq were complying with the UN's requirement
that it dismantle its weapons of mass terror, we would know it. We would
know it from their complete declaration of everything we know they have, and
perhaps by revelations of programs that our intelligence may not yet have

The decision on whether Iraq's weapons of mass terror will be dismantled
voluntarily, or whether it must be done by force, is not up to the US or the
UN. The decision rests entirely with Saddam Hussein.

So far, he has not made the fundamental decision to disarm. In the meantime,
the very real and serious threat will remain with us and will grow.

Paul Wolfowitz is the US Deputy Secretary of Defence.,8599,417693,00.html

by Tony Karon
Time, 31st January

After weeks of dampening expectations for "smoking gun" evidence against
Iraq, the Bush administration is now teeing up an "Adlai Stevenson moment."
That's diplomat-speak for the instant in which a U.S. official trumps all
naysayers at the United Nations by hauling out graphic, incontrovertible
evidence that its enemy is lying. Stevenson, as President John F. Kennedy's
UN ambassador in 1962, slam-dunked the Soviets during a heated Security
Council debate by producing satellite photographs that disproved Moscow's
denials that missiles had been stationed in Cuba. Secretary of State Colin
Powell hopes to produce a similar effect when he presents U.S. evidence
against Iraq at a special session of the Security Council convened at U.S.
request next Wednesday.

President Bush announced the move in his State of the Union address Tuesday,
and its significance was underscored the following day by U.S. officials at
the UN who announced that the special session of the Security Council would
be open ‹ and therefore broadcast live around the world ‹ and that Powell
would deploy audio-visual aids to make his case. U.S. officials at the UN
also hinted that next week's session could even render redundant the planned
February 14 report-back by UN arms inspectors. The attendance of the special
session by foreign ministers Dominique de Villepin of France and Joschka
Fischer of Germany underscore the seriousness of the discussion.

Allies skeptical of U.S. moves to accelerate the timetable of military
action generally welcomed Bush's promise that the U.S. would present
evidence to back its claims against Iraq. They have not been convinced of
the President's argument that Saddam Hussein represents enough of a threat
to justify military action. Bush gave little hint in his speech of the new
evidence Powell might present ‹ the President's indictment of Saddam for the
most part reiterated allegations previously made regarding Iraq's weapons
programs and its ties with terrorists. Those allegations have thus far
failed to convince the likes of France, Germany and Russia. But the emphasis
in Washington is increasingly focused on allegations that Iraq is currently
working to deceive UN inspectors and conceal prohibited weapons programs.

Rather than "smoking gun" evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, the U.S. and
Britain have insisted in recent weeks that UN resolutions place the onus on
Saddam Hussein to prove he has disarmed, and chief inspector Dr. Hans Blix
this week testified that Iraq has thus far failed on this front. The case
becomes even stronger if the U.S. can show proof of an Iraqi effort to
stymie the inspection process, because the argument for giving inspections
more time is premised on the idea of Iraqi cooperation. It will become
increasingly difficult for reluctant Council members to argue against
military action if Powell can prove that Iraq is currently camouflaging
prohibited activities from the inspectors. Russia's President Vladimir
Putin, for example, said Tuesday that "If Iraq starts to present problems
for inspectors, then Russia could change its position and agree with the
United States on new, tougher actions by the UN Security Council."

If war is now inevitable, proof of Iraqi deceit in response to the new
inspection regime would create political cover for the likes of France,
Russia and the Arab states to support the U.S. action rather than risk being
left on the sidelines with no influence over events. U.S. officials are
confident that their evidence on all three counts ‹ deceit, weapons programs
and terrorist links ‹ will make a compelling case. And presenting such
evidence in a public forum naturally turns up the heat on more reluctant

But the administration may not march straight to war following Wednesday's
meeting. Washington's next step will likely be worked out following
President Bush's consultations with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair at
Camp David on Friday. If Powell's evidence manages to shift the dynamic at
the Security Council, they could push to invoke the "serious consequences"
warned of in Resolution 1441. That could involve some form of final
ultimatum to Baghdad, the time-frame of which would be measured in days or
weeks rather than months. And that might well set the stage for the
UN-sanctioned military action that the administration has sought all along.,,3-561115,00.html

by Roland Watson and Elaine Monaghan in Washington
The Times, 31st January

THE United States strengthened its claim that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear
goal last night, disclosing some of the evidence that it will put before the
United Nations next week.

White House officials said that aluminium tubes bought by Baghdad were
unusually strong and had been made to such tight specifications that they
must have been designed to enrich uranium.

They also said that Iraq had paid a surprisingly high price for the
shipment, and went to extreme lengths to keep it a secret.

The tubes are the focus of a dispute between the International Atomic Energy
Agency and the Bush Administration. Iraq says that they are for short-range
rockets, and Mohamed Elbaradei, head of the agency, has reported that he has
seen no evidence to support claims that they are for a centrifuge to enrich

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, will use declassified UN
Intelligence surrounding the purchase of the tubes to try again to make the
case that they were for use in a nuclear programme. He is due to present a
dossier of what the United States says is proof of Iraq's obstruction and
deceit to the UN Security Council next Wednesday.

Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said yesterday that the tubes "far
exceed any specifications required for non-nuclear capabilities". He said:
"The preponderance of evidence is that Iraq attempted to procure
high-strength aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment. We stand by that

President Bush said yesterday that the United States would continue to force
Iraq to disarm even if President Saddam Hussein goes into exile.

Mr Bush said that he would welcome any move by the Iraqi leader and his
"henchmen" to leave the country. But he stopped short of saying that their
disappearance would necessarily avoid war.

He said: "No matter how Mr Saddam Hussein is dealt with, the goal of
disarming Iraq still stays the same, regardless of who's in charge of the

His remarks came before talks with Prince Saud al- Faisal, the Saudi Foreign
Minister, who is pressing Washington to help to avoid war by finding a haven
for Saddam.

General Powell said on Wednesday that the United States was ready to help
Saddam into exile, possibly with the guarantee of immunity from any future
charges. Mr Bush did not go as far as General Powell in public, but he
sought to reassure the Iraqi people, and the wider world, that if it came to
war, "shortly after our troops go, in will go food and medicines and

American policy towards Iraq has been to topple Saddam. But by deciding last
year to pursue him through the UN, the White House shifted subtly to
following a policy of disarming Iraq.

Mr Bush was emphasising yesterday that the two goals have become one, and
that American troops may yet be needed to disarm Iraq, depending on what
kind of regime followed Saddam.

General Powell is leading the search in Washington for the diplomatic
solution. The United States has been contacting Iraqis to try to identify
friendly faces and has engaged in psychological operations, including radio
broadcasts. The ultimate goal is to oust Saddam without force.

One possible route out of the conflict could be if Saddam used Iraq's ties
with the former Soviet Union to find a haven. Igor Ivanov, the Russian
Foreign Minister, has denied that Moscow was trying to persuade Saddam to
resign, but he said that it was keeping up contacts with Iraq.

by Charles Recknagel
Asia Times, 1st February

PRAGUE - Many arms experts believe Iraq's biological and chemical weapons
programs constitute Baghdad's greatest threat to the security of its
enemies. But just how immediate and broad a threat the programs represent is
the subject of intense international discussion.

Washington and London contend the threat is urgent and extends worldwide due
to the possibility that Baghdad could provide chemical or biological agents
to global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. Many other countries see the
threat as far less urgent, arguing that the Iraqi government has sought to
develop the weapons for its own military use against domestic rebellions or
neighboring states.

Our correspondent asked Jean Pascal Zanders, an arms control expert at the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden to describe
Iraq's biological and chemical weapons programs and the dangers they pose.

Zanders said Iraq's biological weapons effort is the most worrisome of all
Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction programs because it is the one arms
inspectors know the least about. He said that Iraq in the past has gone to
extraordinary lengths to hide its biological weapons activities from United
Nations inspectors. And it has had considerable success doing so because
many of the activities take place in small production facilities that are
hard to spot.

In one measure of Iraq's success, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix
reported to the Security Council this week that Baghdad appears to have kept
hidden sufficient growth medium to produce 5,000 liters of concentrated

At the same time, arms inspectors say Iraq has yet to prove it destroyed, as
Baghdad has claimed, some 8,500 liters of anthrax it admits to having made
prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has also never proved its claim to have
destroyed some 20,000 liters of another lethal biological agent, botulinum
toxin, and 10 liters of ricin. Many arms experts believe the amounts Baghdad
admits it once made are, in fact, only part of much larger stocks that it

But Zanders said that although Baghdad has large amounts of growth media for
biological agents, and likely large stocks of the agents themselves, these
elements alone are not enough to produce usable military weapons. He said
that delivery systems must also be perfected. "[The Iraqis] had been looking
at a variety of delivery systems, including aerial spray tanks, even missile
warheads. To what extent they were successful with these weapons, I have no
idea. But it would have been extremely difficult for them during the 1990s
to have conducted field tests to establish these parameters [for reliably
disseminating the agent against a target]," Zanders said. "The quality of
the dissemination will determine the number of casualties you are going to
have, because if you don't get the right particle size, people will not
inhale it, [they] will not get it into the lungs, so they are not going to
develop the anthrax [infection]. So, it might be used as a terrorizing
weapon. But whether it would be extremely effective from any military point
of view, some questions can be raised about that."

Zanders also said that any use of biological agents as a military weapon
would have to be tested in the field, making them visible to foreign
intelligence agencies or to inspectors. Field tests would also have to
involve training of troops to familiarize them with the use of the agents
and how to protect themselves against them. "These dissemination
technologies must be tested, and especially open-air tests are things that
would be detected by the various capabilities of the intelligence services
of the big powers. [And] you still need to train the soldiers in the use of
such agents to optimize their military utility," Zanders said.

Iraq has no known experience using biological agents in the field, but it
does have such experience with chemical weapons. Baghdad made liberal use of
mustard gas against Iranian troops during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war and
allegedly gassed Iraqi Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq in 1988. Some
investigators of the gassing of the Iraqi Kurds believe Baghdad may also
have used biological and radiological agents at the same time.

Blix said during this week's address to the UN Security Council that Iraq
has yet to account for some 6,500 aircraft bombs believed to contain mustard
gas that it did not use during the Iraq-Iran war. Mustard gas stores well
over time without losing its efficacy.

Blix also said that Iraq may have made more progress than previously
suspected in developing stabilizing agents to increase the shelf life of
other lethal chemicals, such as the nerve agent VX. In the past, perfecting
stabilizing agents was a major problem for Iraq's chemical and biological
weapons development efforts, raising doubts as to how effective the large
stocks it produced before the Gulf War remain today.

Zanders described Iraq's past problems with stabilizers this way, citing its
experiences with another nerve agent, sarin, "If we go back to the late
1990s, sarin was one of the agents that was notoriously unstable in the way
Iraq produced it. It also had quite a few impurities. Purity might have
ranged anywhere between 60 and 80 percent or so, which is low in comparison
to what the US and the Soviets achieved [in developing sarin as a
battlefield nerve agent]. One of the problems of the impurities is that it
degrades the agent very quickly, so I would imagine that much of that would
have deteriorated."

Zanders said inspectors are now trying to determine if Iraq used its
substantial stocks of precursor chemicals to restart production of chemical
and biological weapons during the four years inspectors were banned form the

He personally suspects that the Iraqis may not have engaged in large-scale
production but concentrated on laboratory work to try to solve problems with
stabilizers instead. "Production leaves a relatively large footprint if one
is thinking of militarily significant quantities. What I think they might
have been doing on their various chemical and biological agents is
laboratory research into finding ways of improving production methods and
stabilizing the agents. I wouldn't be surprised if such would be the finding
of the UNMOVIC inspectors."

The uncertainties regarding the degree of Iraq's success in weaponizing
biological and chemical agents - other than mustard gas - for battlefield
use give support to arguments that Iraq can be disarmed safely through a
lengthy inspection-and-monitoring process.

Supporters of an extended inspection process argue that Saddam's regime
pursues weapons of mass destruction for its own security ends but, because
of problems delivering them, probably has no immediate way to use them
against a neighboring state.

Some arms experts, like Zanders, also doubt that Hussein would trust second
parties, like al-Qaeda, with weapons that could equally be turned against
him or, if used against the United States, traced to him. "If Iraq is
pursuing such weapons, it is primarily because the leadership perceives that
it needs these weapons for its survival. Giving it to terrorists, which one
cannot control after the agent has been delivered, is probably not something
that the Iraqi leadership would consider. Secondly, the possibility of
identifying Iraq as the source of the anthrax would create just the same
kind of retaliation from the United States and other countries as its actual
use on the battlefields might do," Zanders said.

But such arguments get no hearing from US officials, who maintain Iraq might
indeed provide chemical and biological agents to terrorist groups outside
his control. Fears of the use of such agents for terrorist attacks are
heightened by memories of a Japanese cult's sarin attack on the Tokyo metro
system. That attack killed 12 people and injured about 5,500.

The amount of time given to the UN arms inspectors in Iraq may depend
ultimately upon Washington's success in convincing other states that there
is an Iraq-terrorist connection or, failing that, upon Washington's
readiness to strike Iraq without broad international support.

US President George W Bush this week again accused Iraq of having links to
terrorists and said that he is prepared to use the "full force" of the US
military against the regime of Saddam Hussein if necessary.

Speaking in the annual State of the Union address to the US Congress, Bush
said evidence from intelligence and other sources shows that the Iraqi
regime supports terrorists, including members of the al-Qaeda network. He
gave no further details, but said that Secretary of State Colin Powell will
go to the Security Council on February 5 to present new evidence against
Iraq to the international community.

Copyright (c) 2002, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036

by Ed Vulliamy, Martin Bright, and Nick Pelham
Dawn, from Guardian, 3rd February

NEW YORK-LONDON-AMMAN: Since the aftermath of Sept 11, it has been the Holy
Grail of Bush administration hardliners: to link Iraq with Al Qaeda - and
join up its war on terrorism with its policy of regime change in Baghdad.

Last week it was promised again, first by President George Bush in his State
of the Union address and later by Tony Blair, who said he "knew" of links
between Iraq and Al Qaeda. US Secretary of State Colin Powell says those
links will be revealed this week. But with only weeks before the expected
outbreak of war, skeptics are asking how real - and how new - the evidence
of that link will be.

But the question that remains unresolved is whether there is any evidence
that Saddam is involved with Al Qaeda. The answer is likely to devolve to
two lines of investigation - both of which, Bush administration officials
will say, lead directly from Saddam to Al Qaeda.

The first connection, Powell is certain to allege, is a one-legged Jordanian
wounded in the allied bombing of Afghanistan, who the Bush administration
will argue is that missing link.

He is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Stories about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have been carefully fed to the media,
suggesting his key role as the connection between Osama bin Laden and
Saddam. Most of them have been unsourced. And all have been dismissed by
those who have followed the career of this veteran of the global jihad, who
was fighting for Islam long before the world had heard of Osama bin Laden
and whose Al Qaeda credentials have, in part, been created to fulfil the
agendas of those who want him for other reasons.

So it is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who is credited with being Al Qaeda's
chemist-in-chief - an expert in weapons of mass destruction. It is Abu, too,
who is credited with being the mastermind behind a plot to use ricin to
poison food at a British military base and other Allied military sites
across Europe.

So what is known about his career? According to Jordanian intelligence Abu
Musab al Zarqawi fled Afghanistan in late 2001, first to Iran, from where he
was expelled, and finally found refuge in Baghdad, where he received
treatment for his wounds and had his leg amputated. It was while he was in
Baghdad that his phone calls home were intercepted by the Jordanians and
passed to US colleagues.

Jordan's interest in Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is twofold. Jordan has named him
as being behind the killing of US aid official Lawrence Foley, 60, last
October, on the basis of the confessions of two involved in the killing who
say al-Zarqavi supplied them with weapons and money for attacks.

There is a second version of theal-Zarqawi story, supplied by German
intelligence. Here his real name is Ahmed al-Kalaylah. They say he is Al
Qaeda's combat commander, appointed to orchestrate attacks on Europe, and
place him among the top 25 in the Al Qaeda hierarchy.

Each version could have elements of truth but both are at odds with the
facts known about his career. According to jihadists who knew him in
Afghanistan, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's CV is less interesting than some make

They say that, despite fighting in the CIA-backed war against the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan, he does not adhere to the ideology of Al Qaeda, a view
shared by the CIA. Indeed, his name does not figure on its list of the 22
most-wanted "Muslim terrorists" and he has never been mentioned in the list
of senior Al Qaeda men in Osama's bin Laden's entourage in Afghanistan.

So why has Abu Musab al-Zarqawi suddenly been elevated to the position of a
senior Osama lieutenant? The answer, say some, is that the Jordanians need a
figure like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to clamp down on their own extremists. One
London-based Muslim said: "If you want the key to the Abu story, then look
at the source of the information. The Jordanians have wanted their own Osama
bin Laden figure for some time and he fits the profile."

If the link to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is at best circumstantial, the second
connection that the Bush administration apparently plans to develop is
equally tendentious.That connection is to the Al Ansar group, which like Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, is also sheltering in Kurdish northern Iraq. The leader of
this group, also expected to be name checked by Powell this week, is Mullah
Krekar, who remains at large, living unmolested by the authorities in

Unlike Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Krekar can speak for himself. "I can say to you
that this is not true that I am a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda,"
Krekar, 47, said in an interview in Saturday's Los Angeles Times. "I will
wait until Wednesday, and if Powell says anything against me, I can use
documents to prove it is not true. Everything: that we have chemical bombs,
[ties to] Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, all of those things."

Despite claims by US officials that he is a terrorist specifically linked to
Al Qaeda, they also admit they do not have the evidence to charge him,
despite two interviews with the FBI.

"I told the FBI, "I can come to America and prove it's not true in your
court"," said Krekar. Krekar also purports to puncture another alleged US
link between his group and Saddam - via fellow al-Ansar leader, Abu Wael,
who is accused of being an Iraqi intelligence liaison to the group. Krekar
scoffs at the claim alleging, to the contrary, that Iraqi agents tried to
poison Wael in 1992 and would kill him if they could. Krekar adds what many
in the intelligence community claim: "Our aim has always been the toppling
of the Iraqi Baath regime."

Which leaves us with what?

Veteran CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, who heads the National Security Project
and maintains contacts with former colleagues, summarizes what many in the
intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic believe.

"I've talked to my sources at the CIA," he said last week, "and all of them
are saying the evidence (of a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam] is simply
not there."

by Jeffrey Goldberg
New Yorker, 10th February


When I saw Tenet, I asked if he now considered Saddam to be a primary
sponsor of Al Qaeda. "Well, read my letter to Senator Graham," Tenet

In October of 2002, when Bob Graham was the chairman of the Senate
Intelligence Committee, Tenet wrote to him, explaining the C.I.A.'s
understanding of the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. It is a curious  letter,
which begins with a statement that "Baghdad for now appears  to be drawing a
line short of conducting terrorist attacks with  conventional or
CBW"—chemical and biological weapons—"against the  United States." At the
same time, Tenet said, Iraq has "provided  training to Al Qaeda members in
the areas of poisons and gases and  making conventional bombs." Tenet added,
"Credible information  indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe
haven and  reciprocal non-aggression," and he suggested that, even without
an  American attack on Iraq, "Baghdad's links to terrorists will  increase."

The evolution of Tenet's beliefs has made those opposed to an  invasion of
Iraq uneasy. Senator Graham thinks that the  C.I.A.'s "evolved"
understanding of the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection is  the result of pressure
from Rumsfeld. "Maybe the C.I.A. has been  coöpted in this whole thing,"
Graham told me. "I'm not personalizing  it to George, but institutionally
the C.I.A. is being challenged by a  very aggressive Defense Department."

Others who have watched Tenet, however, say that he does not trim his
opinions for political reasons. "I find him to be a straightforward  person
on analysis," Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, who  until recently
was the ranking Democrat on the intelligence  committee, told me. Pelosi
added that she considers Iran a greater  terrorist threat than Iraq.

Tenet's thinking on the subject was deliberate, according to several  agency
sources. Information gleaned from the interrogations of high- level Al Qaeda
prisoners pushed Tenet to rethink the opinion,  advanced by C.I.A. officials
such as Paul Pillar, the National  Intelligence Officer for the Middle East,
that ideological  differences between the secular Saddam and Islamic
radicals, such as  Al Qaeda, made it unlikely that these two enemies of
America would  form an alliance. Clearly, the Rumsfeld view, which maintains
that  the commonly held hatred of the United States trumps ideology and
theology, is ascendant, at the C.I.A. as well as at the Pentagon.  Pillar
himself, in a faxed comment, conceded that, "despite major  differences,
tactical coöperation is possible," but added that "the  contingency that
would be most likely to motivate Saddam to develop a  relationship with
radical Islamists that would be deeper than limited  tactical cooperation
would be a belief that he was about to lose  power"—such as in a United
States-led attack on Iraq.

According to several intelligence officials I spoke to, the  relationship
between bin Laden and Saddam's regime was brokered in  the early
nineteen-nineties by the then de-facto leader of Sudan, the  pan-Islamist
radical Hassan al-Tourabi. Tourabi, sources say,  persuaded the ostensibly
secular Saddam to add to the Iraqi flag the  words "Allahu Akbar," as a
concession to Muslim radicals.

In interviews with senior officials, the following picture emerged:
American intelligence believes that Al Qaeda and Saddam reached a non-
aggression agreement in 1993, and that the relationship deepened  further in
the mid-nineteen-nineties, when an Al Qaeda operative—a  native-born Iraqi
who goes by the name Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi—was  dispatched by bin Laden to
ask the Iraqis for help in poison-gas  training. Al-Iraqi's mission was
successful, and an unknown number of  trainers from an Iraqi secret-police
organization called Unit 999  were dispatched to camps in Afghanistan to
instruct Al Qaeda  terrorists. (Training in hijacking techniques was also
provided to  foreign Islamist radicals inside Iraq, according to two Iraqi
defectors quoted in a report in the Times in November of 2001.)  Another Al
Qaeda operative, the Iraqi-born Mamdouh Salim, who goes by  the name Abu
Hajer al-Iraqi, also served as a liaison in the mid- nineteen-nineties to
Iraqi intelligence. Salim, according to a recent  book, "The Age of Sacred
Terror," by the former N.S.C. officials  Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon,
was bin Laden's chief procurer of  weapons of mass destruction, and was
involved in the early nineties  in chemical-weapons development in Sudan.
Salim was arrested in  Germany in 1998 and was extradited to the United
States. He is  awaiting trial in New York on charges related to the 1998
East Africa  embassy bombings; he was convicted last April of stabbing a
Manhattan  prison guard in the eye with a sharpened comb.

Intelligence officials told me that the agency also takes seriously  reports
that an Iraqi known as Abu Wa'el, whose real name is Saadoun  Mahmoud
Abdulatif al-Ani, is the liaison of Saddam's intelligence  service to a
radical Muslim group called Ansar al-Islam, which  controls a small enclave
in northern Iraq; the group is believed by  American and Kurdish
intelligence officials to be affiliated with Al  Qaeda. I learned of another
possible connection early last year,  while I was interviewing Al Qaeda
operatives in a Kurdish prison in  Sulaimaniya. There, a man whom Kurdish
intelligence officials  identified as a captured Iraqi agent told me that in
1992 he served  as a bodyguard to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy,
when  Zawahiri secretly visited Baghdad.


Jordan Times, 4th February     
CHAMCHAMAL, Iraq (AFP) ‹ Iraqi troops posted along the dividing line with
the autonomous northern Kurdish enclave are being equipped with gas masks
and ³injector kits,² Iraqi Kurd security officials said here Monday.

The officials, from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), said their
intelligence sources in and around the city of Kirkuk, which is under
Baghdad's control, have also provided information of a buildup of weapons
including heavy missiles.

³Four days ago, they started distributing a kit including a gas mask and an
injector to the soldiers on the frontline,² said one security official on
condition that his name not be used.

Chamchamal is a dusty trading town situated around halfway between Kirkuk
and Sulaymaniya, the main city in the east of the Iraqi Kurd enclave ‹ a
zone around the size of Switzerland that has been largely off-limits to
Baghdad since 1991. On a long ridge line just three kilometres away are
Iraqi government troops.

³Why are they getting gas masks? We have drawn our own conclusions, and we
are getting an evacuation plan ready,² said another PUK official charged
with handling the agents that travel to and from areas controlled by

Security officials here also said they suspected the Iraqi army had also
moved heavy missiles to the Kirkuk area, citing intelligence reports of six
heavy missiles ‹ possibly Scuds ‹ being moved to an area near the towns of
Laylan and QadKaram, southeast of the oil rich Kirkuk.

Iraqi troops in the area were also regularly rotated, the officials said,
adding that elite Republican Guards units were also supervising the
placement of machinegun posts throughout Kirkuk ‹ a city the Kurds say will
be the capital of a future, federal Kurdish zone.

³UNMOVIC should pay them a visit, although they won't find anything,² said
the official, one of a number of senior PUK security sources who gave a
similar account of the latest Iraqi military movements on the edge of the
Kurdish enclave.

by Alex Massie
The Scotsman, 4th February

A MEDIA onslaught was unleashed on Saddam Hussein yesterday, as reports in
newspapers from New York to Australia accused him of hiding chemical weapons
in underground bunkers and of forging long-standing links with Osama bin
Laden¹s terror network.

The Iraqi leader¹s senior bodyguard had fled with details of his secret
arsenal, Australia¹s popular Herald-Sun newspaper reported - including Scud
missiles from north Korea and biological weapons in two bunkers buried in
the Iraq¹s western desert.

The bodyguard, Abu Hamdi Mahmoud, had provided Israeli intelligence with a
list of sites, the newspaper said, as he was debriefed at a high-security
Israeli base.

It quoted William Tierney, a former UN weapons inspector who has continued
to gather information on Saddam¹s arsenal, as saying Mahmoud¹s information
was "the smoking gun" that has so far proved so elusive for both the UN
weapons inspectors and US intelligence.

"Once the inspectors go to where Mahmoud has pointed them, then it¹s all
over for Saddam," Mr Tierney said.

The newspaper said Mahmoud was a member of the elite unit that protects
Saddam, called the Murasiq Qun - the "Inner Circle". Known as "the
Gatekeeper", Mahmoud was a muscular Saddam lookalike often photographed
standing behind Saddam .

The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, would use his evidence to "shatter
the growing anti war movement," the newspaper quoted a source close to Mr
Sharon. "He plans to call all those European leaders who are wavering to let
them know how Saddam has continued to fool Hans Blix and his weapons



by Pepe Escobar
Asia Times, 31st January

CAIRO - All the Arab capitals - as much as Washington - wish he would just
go away. He won't. As an unusually exasperated diplomat remarked in Geneva:
"It's not about Iraq. It's not about inspections. It's not about oil. It's
about one man really. Why doesn't he just ... disappear? Osama bin Laden -
yesterday's villain, untraceable, uncatchable - remains in the shadows, like
a specter. Saddam Hussein - unlike Osama - is in your face, our face,
everybody's faces, everyday on Iraqi TV, a creepy, stony remake of a
Babylonian emperor chairing meetings with army officers and security

Osama bin Laden has not lost his gift for timing. Even before George W Bush,
with religious exaltation and crusader spirit, talked about the State of the
Union, Osama, with religious exaltation and crusader spirit, was purportedly
talking about the state of the umma. He has sent a 26-page text with his
"trademark secret signature" to the Islamic Center for Studies and Research
in Pakistan. The text was obtained by the Saudi-owned newspaper Al-Sharq Al
Awsat, and the story was published on January 26. In the text, Osama
stresses that Muslims should "enter into the blessed obligation of jihad by
highlighting the importance of unity and eliminating differences of

It's not a coincidence that this call for unity happens just as the war
against Iraq seems inevitable. Millions of angry and frustrated Muslims -
especially in the Middle East - are bound to echo Osama when he asks: "When
will Muslims wake up from their long sleep, and when will they distinguish
between their friend and enemy? When will they direct their own arrows that
they use to fight each other to their external enemy that steals and loots
its fortunes and its resources?" Dictatorial Arab regimes tremble when they
hear these words. They know "regime change" is not applicable to Osama, but
they also know Osama wants to apply his own version of "regime change" to

As far as Washington is concerned, in the absence of Osama, Saddam Hussein
remains the next best option. Colin Powell himself recognized after a
meeting with Pakistan's Foreign Minister that Saddam's exile - along with
his family and the leadership of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) -
plus immunity, would be the ideal solution. Powell even hinted that if the
UN approved it, the US might go for it. A few days before Powell, Donald
Rumsfeld had already said that an arrangement like this "would be a fair
trade to avoid a war".

Washington wants something that Baghdad will never deliver. Egyptian
politician Farouq Goweida says why: "The US is probably aware that if Saddam
dies under American bombing, he will become a symbol of resistance for the
Arab world. So obviously they will refuse him the privilege. That's why his
only way out is to remain in Baghdad." On January 17, Ali Hasan Al Majid,
aka "Chemical Ali" (he is the alleged mastermind of the gassing of Iraqi
Kurds in 1988 and one of Saddam 's cousins), visited Syria. "Chemical Ali"
is as close to the leader as you can get: he manages Saddam's personal
affairs. Obviously he dismissed all the speculation about exile as "absurd".

Mohsen Khalil, Iraq's ambassador to Egypt, in an analysis that could have
been penned by Osama himself, also dismissed the rumors as "another example
of US propaganda and lies where they leak information that is not true so
that they can create a rift between Arab leaders". And in another echo of
Osama's call for unity, the ambassador said that "Arab leaders refuse to
interfere in the internal political affairs of other nations, because they
know if it happens in Iraq, it will happen to them next".

Colin Powell certainly does not believe in the exile option, and is now
getting ready for the pitch of his life next Wednesday at the Security
Council, the new key date set by Washington. President Bush is very clear:
the US will consult with the UN, but if Saddam does not disarm, in the name
of security and peace, the US will lead a coalition and go to war.

George W Bush has not declared war, not yet. But he has announced it. He
didn't lay down an ultimatum. But he formulated it. With one stroke, Bush
smashed the importance of the meeting this past Wednesday where the
inspectors's report was discussed at the Security Council; smashed the
importance of the new report to be presented on February 14 (a German
proposal); and imposed on the UN his own calendar - faster, and with a very
clear objective. The date that matters now is February 5, when Powell
presents the alleged new evidence capable of convicting Saddam's regime.
Very important: Bush never pronounced the word "resolution". This means that
as far as Washington is concerned the war won't depend on a UN vote in a new
resolution; the war depends on a clear choice by Saddam Hussein, right here,
right now.

In a secret document titled "What does disarmament look like", leaked in the
beginning of this week, the White House accuses Qusai, Saddam's youngest son
and heir, of organizing the dissimulation of Iraqi means of production and
storage of weapons of mass destruction. According to the document, the Iraqi
organization put in place to aid the inspectors works as an "anti-inspector
corps". These "anti-inspectors" are supposed to be scientists capable of
protecting sensitive installations from the UN operation. The White House
document says these scientists are much larger in number than the
inspectors, and they also get help from "thousands of others, coming from
all Iraqi security agencies", in a mission to "hide documents and materials
from the inspectors". According to the White House document, Qusai Hussein -
the head of the Special Security Organization (SSO) - controls the whole
operation. Normally, Qusai heads the Jihaz Al-Amn Al-Khas (Special Security
Service), created in 1984 and listing some 5,000 officials charged with
protecting sensitive sites.

The White House document goes even further, saying that a whole basket of
security agencies is engaged in preventing the UN from working properly.
These include operatives from the military industry; the special division in
charge of the security of Baghdad; military intelligence (with as much as
6,000 agents); the Republican Guard; and the Special Republican Guard (with
as many as 100,000 personnel). It's practically certain that Colin Powell
will present this kind of evidence to the UN next week, along with a battery
of Ikonos satellite images of movement of sensitive material, and photos of
recent mosques or hospitals built inside or around military sites considered
to be certified bombing targets.

As far as the al-Qaeda-Baghdad connection goes, things are much more
complicated. It's fair to assume Powell's presentation will rely on
confessions obtained by US intelligence in Guantanamo, Cuba. European
intelligence agencies don't believe in the veracity of the information, but
American intelligence says al-Qaeda "enemy combatants" confessed having
received chemical products from Iraq for their training. Al-Qaeda operatives
may have been to Iraq for training (very unlikely), and Iraqis may have been
to Afghan training camps (very likely, as Asia Times Online confirmed in
August 2001).

Saddam Hussein, as expected, remains defiant. According to a source inside
Iraq, Saddam said this week on Iraqi TV that everybody should be inspired by
the suicide-bombing of "our Palestinian brothers". It appears that Qusai -
now on TV every day - along with army generals, has been charged by Saddam
to organize the key Iraqi defense around Baghdad.

Another US option would be to simply exterminate Saddam: CIA and Special
Forces operating in Iraqi Kurdistan have authority to use lethal force.
According to a presidential order signed by Bush in 2002, it's now legal for
Americans to assassinate foreign leaders or civilians. Many within the Bush
administration believe assassinating Saddam is an unrivalled option in terms
of cost-benefit.

It's unlikely the legal killer brigade has reached the gates of Baghdad yet:
At the moment they are supposed to be training opposition Kurdish and Shia
leaders, and also scouting for potential landing strips to be used in case
of war. Nonetheless they can rely on a massive armory of satellites
monitoring the phone calls and walkie-talkie transmissions of Saddam and his
generals. A converted Boeing 707, called a RC-135 Rivet Joint, flies up to
10 hours a day at 35,000 feet over Iraq, intercepting all phone calls and
identifying callers' locations with a minimal margin of error. Two
satellites are dedicated to tracking Saddam. The Micron Spy satellite,
stationed more than 33,000km above the Middle East, picks up phone calls and
sends them to a US listening base in Yorkshire, England. The Trumpet
satellite picks up cellphone calls and sends them to a base in Colorado.

It's unlikely Saddam Hussein has been using a phone, mobile or otherwise,
these days. Nobody on the planet can tell for sure how will he choose to
exit from History. When he delivered his speech for the 12th anniversary of
the Gulf War - known as "Mother of All Battles" in Iraq - he compared the
next Desert Storm to the 1258 conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols. The
Mongols destroyed the city and killed Al-Mustasim, the last Abbasid caliph.
The caliph died fighting. The reference matches Saddam's recent eulogy of
Palestinian suicide bombers.

But only a few days before this speech, Saddam told his army commanders that
Gilgamesh - the legendary king of Uruk - decided to abdicate from the throne
and wander the earth "in search of the secret of immortality". One thing is
certain: Saddam is no Shah of Iran. So how will he play it? As a martyr,
like the last Abbasid caliph? Or as a philosopher-king, like Gilgamesh?

by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post, 3rd February

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 2 -- Once a month, Esther Yawo strolls to a neighborhood
market to pick up groceries for her family of five. She usually returns with
180 pounds of flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil, white beans, chickpeas and
tea, plus 16 bars of soap.

Total price: 60 cents.

In a colossal exercise in public welfare and social control, President
Saddam Hussein's government distributes the same monthly provisions at the
same low price across Iraq, a country of 26 million people. The handouts
have kept food on the table for the Yawos and most other Iraqi families, who
can no longer afford to purchase wheat, rice and other staples at market
prices because of debilitating U.N. economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's
invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The ration program is regarded by the United Nations as the largest and most
efficient food distribution system of its kind in the world. It has also
become what is perhaps Hussein's most strategic tool to maintain popular
support over the last decade.

The United States and other Western nations had hoped the sanctions, which
devastated Iraq's once-prosperous economy, would lead Iraqis to rebel
against their leader or, at the least, compel him to fully cooperate with
U.N. inspectors hunting for weapons of mass destruction. But Hussein has
held firm in large part by using food to stem discontent with the pain of
sanctions, employing a massive network of trucks, computers, warehouses and
neighborhood distributors to provide basic sustenance for every Iraqi.

In some ways, the food program reflects the philosophy of Hussein's Baath
Party government, which promotes modern, technocratic Arab nationalism and
had invested heavily in education and infrastructure before the 1991 Persian
Gulf War.

But as Iraq prepares for the possibility of another war with the United
States, the ration program also has emerged as a key component of Hussein's
homeland defense strategy. In a bid to build public confidence in his
leadership and stanch panic that could be capitalized on by opposition
groups, the government has been doling out double rations since October so
families can stockpile supplies. In January, for instance, Yawo received her
allotments for April and May, which were delivered to her house on a wooden

"It makes us feel safer," she said, groaning as she heaved a sack of rice
into her pantry. "Now we know we will at least have food to eat if the
Americans bomb us again."

Before the Kuwait invasion, Esther Yawo and her husband, Zaia, had never
heard of a ration. "We had enough money," he said with a nostalgic smile.
"We could buy whatever we wanted from the market."

As a high school English teacher, he made 42 dinars a month -- about $140.
In Baghdad, where food, fuel and electricity were subsidized, it was enough
to live in comfort. The couple, members of a small Christian minority,
rented a spacious, two-story house in a middle-class neighborhood. They
traveled around the country during school holidays. They ate meat every day.

"We used to buy it in large boxes and store it in the freezer," Esther said.
"It was always there." Zaia added, "Every Iraqi family lived that way.
Everyone could afford meat and eggs and bread and whatever else they

The cheap fare was the result of Iraq's affluence. Flush from oil sales, the
government imported more than $20 billion of food a year. Everything from
Argentine beef to Indian tea, which arrived by the shipload, was offered to
merchants at cut-rate prices.

Even then, Hussein was using food to build support. During the latter part
of Iraq's 1980-88 war with neighboring Iran, a conflict that claimed more
than 250,000 Iraqi lives, the government flooded the market with subsidized
luxury imports, including Scotch whiskeys and French cheeses. There were no
cards specifying how much Camembert or single-malt somebody could buy.

"You could get as much as you wanted," Zaia said.

But all that ended after Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. By
Aug. 6, the U.N. Security Council had slapped a trade embargo on Iraq.

Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh said he was summoned by Hussein four
days later and ordered to develop a system to ration the country's remaining
food stockpile. "His excellency was very worried," Saleh said in an
interview. "He did not want the people of Iraq to go hungry."

Saleh said he and his staff began to consider the options. They could set up
distribution centers in government buildings, but he feared it would lead to
long lines. They could give large quantities of food to private merchants
with orders to give it away, but that would have resulted in chaos.

They settled on a system where the government would print ration books and
place large quantities of food at several warehouses around the country.
Fifty thousand merchants were signed up to be "retailers," requiring them to
pick up sacks of food from the warehouses and dole out portions to people in
their neighborhoods in exchange for a nominal payment from the recipient.

The system was operational in weeks and it continued during the Gulf War,
making Saleh something of a national hero. "Twelve of our drivers were
martyred in the bombing," he said, using the common word for those who die
in war. "But we refused to let the Americans stop us."

In the years after the war, before Iraq accepted a U.N. deal to sell its oil
to buy food, the rations were fairly meager. The government distributed
locally grown wheat and beans as well as whatever other products it was able
to import from Jordan and Syria in exchange for undeclared oil exports. The
1,275 daily calorie content of the rations was about half of what
nutritionists recommended, enough to keep people from starving but not
enough to prevent malnutrition, particularly among children.

"It just barely kept us from starving," Zaia Yawo said.

In 1996, Hussein's government reached a deal with the United Nations whereby
Iraq would openly sell some oil on the world market and use the proceeds to
purchase food and medicine. In 1998, the U.N. Security Council decided to
expand the program by allowing Iraq to sell as much oil as it wanted to fund
humanitarian goods.

Iraq now spends about $3.6 billion a year to buy food under the oil-for-food
program, which amounts to about $11 per person per month. Although the
shipments are just a fraction of the value of the country's pre-war food
imports, they now are enough for Iraq to provide a daily ration that is
close to U.N. nutritional guidelines.

Many Iraqis credit Hussein with keeping them fed under the sanctions, which
have been cast by his government as an American plot to harm the Iraqi

The U.S. government "hoped the sanctions would lead to hunger, which would
lead to disruption and anger, so the political system could be changed,"
said Trade Minister Saleh. "But we proved the failure of this theory."

Some here quietly express a dissenting view. "Why should we thank him?" a
retired teacher said. "If he didn't invade Kuwait, there would be no
sanctions and no need for the rations."

With its hulking cranes, cavernous warehouses and rows of brightly colored
shipping containers, the Umm Qasr port on the Persian Gulf used to be a
symbol of Iraq's oil-slicked opulence. Now it is a glaring example of this
country's indigence.

Before the sanctions, deep-draft freighters from all over the world would
unload German cars, Japanese electronics and U.S. steel. Plenty of food
arrived too. "We would receive boxes and boxes of cheese from Denmark," said
Ali Abdullah, a port supervisor. "And there were ships full of frozen
chickens from South America."

Today, ships of the world still call at Umm Qasr, but to drop off large
sacks of dry commodities. Since the port is under U.N. observation, the
vessels must leave empty because the sanctions prevent Iraq from exporting
anything other than oil, which is loaded onto tankers at another gulf

Even if the goods are not as posh as before, they are handled with urgency
and efficiency. As soon as the giant gray cranes pluck out enough sacks to
fill an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, the driver rumbles away, armed with a
computer printout indicating the warehouse where he must drop off the cargo.

"I have a very important job to do," proclaimed Settar Hamzah, one of the
drivers milling about the port on a recent morning as he waited for his
turquoise Mercedes-Benz truck to be loaded with 50 tons of Brazilian sugar.
"I'm helping to feed the people."

An hour later, he was off, headed to a distribution center near Baghdad.
When he arrived 12 hours later, although it was pushing midnight, a dozen
scruffy laborers were waiting for him, ready to spend the next several hours
unloading the sugar by hand and hauling it inside the warehouse.

The sugar would be carted off in pickup trucks hired by neighborhood
distributors around Baghdad, who would tear open the burlap sacks and parcel
out the contents to people such as Esther Yawo.

Iraqi officials note with pride that the entire rationing system is
computerized, in a way almost nothing else is here. The Trade Ministry
maintains a database that lists the name, address and identity-card number
of every Iraqi who receives a ration.

If a family moves, it must inform the ministry of the new address to keep
receiving food handouts. If a new child is born, parents must submit a birth
certificate to receive infant formula. If there is a death in the family,
relatives have three months to notify the ministry, although officials said
names often are automatically deleted from the database as soon as the
Health Ministry prepares a death certificate.

"It's updated all the time," said Ahmad Mukhtar, a U.S.-educated engineer
who supervises the computer center. "Births, deaths, marriages -- it's all

Mukhtar said the database is primarily used to distribute food, but the
information also is shared with other government agencies, including the
Health Ministry, which uses the system to produce ration booklets for
prescription drugs.

The database is housed on several interconnected personal computers because
Iraq is barred by the sanctions from importing more sophisticated
file-storage devices. It has virtually eliminated double-dipping, false
registrations and other forms of fraud as well as the delivery of too much
or too little food to neighborhood distributors.

"If somebody abuses the system, the computer tells us immediately," Saleh
said. If that happens, he said, the offender is required to pay the
government twice the market value of the excess food received.

"People have confidence in the system because it's fair and it never fails,"
Mukhtar said. "When people go to their food retailer, the food is there."

Iraqi exile groups have accused the government of withholding food from
political opponents and rewarding loyalists with extra rations. But Torben
Due, the senior U.N. World Food Program official here, said his
organization, which has conducted more than 1 million inspections of the
system since the oil-for-food arrangement was enacted, has uncovered no
significant evidence of fraud or favoritism.

Due said international experts regard Iraq's program, which feeds more
people than any other rationing system in the world and is twice the size of
the WFP's worldwide operations, as "the most efficient in the world."

"I don't think anybody could do something that is better in terms of
accuracy and timely food distribution to the entire population," he said.
"It's very impressive."

Hussein's government also supplies 60,000 tons of food a month to the 3.6
million people who live in an autonomous, Kurdish-controlled enclave in
northern Iraq under the protection of U.S. and British air patrols. The food
is delivered to three warehouses near the border and from there is trucked
north and distributed by the United Nations.

Although Trade Ministry officials have promised to keep the ration system
operating during a war, Due said he fears a "catastrophe" if a conflict
interferes with food shipments or if a change of government results in
distribution being assumed by international aid organizations without
participation of Iraqi civil servants.

"There's no alternative to the current system," he said. "There's no way we
could create something else that would work half as well as theirs."

Because Iraqis are so dependent on food handouts, Due said, "if the system
stops working for more than a month or two, we will have the risk of a
large-scale humanitarian crisis."

That is an outcome Zaia Yawo, a balding man with a salt-and-pepper
moustache, cannot bear to contemplate. "We still haven't recovered from the
last war," he said. "Now we're going to be attacked again?"

Unlike in 1991, Yawo, 53, said his family has no savings to fall back on if
rations cease. These days, he makes 16,000 dinars a month as a teacher, but
because of the currency's precipitous devaluation, his salary is worth less
than $8.

So instead of spending his afternoons reading as he used to do in the 1980s,
or devoting his evenings to preparing the next day's lesson plan -- his
students are spending the year poring over Shakespeare's "The Merchant of
Venice" -- he gives private English lessons when he's not at school. His
side job, which often keeps him busy until 9 p.m., brings in about $50 a
month, but half of that is used to pay rent.

"I'm lucky to be an English teacher," he said. "If I taught history, I'd
probably be driving a taxi."

With the extra income, Esther Yawo said, she is able to buy lamb and cheese
a few times a week. The children can get new clothes. But family vacations
and restaurant dinners are still out of bounds.

"We can't be too fancy anymore," she said. "But we don't have to go hungry."

Everywhere they go, there are reminders of what once had been their
comfortable life. The service center where they receive their yearly ration
card used to be one of Baghdad's fanciest malls, with boutiques selling
Italian loafers and Japanese stereo systems, all at subsidized prices. Today
it is musty, cold and dimly lit, with the abandoned stores converted into
offices to coordinate food handouts for 1.6 million people across south

At their neighborhood distributor, the Milad Market, there also are memories
of better days. The owner, Moied Gurgese, used to have freezers stocked with
frozen chicken and lamb, shelves filled with eggs and bottles of imported
spices. Now his back room is filled with the stuff of rations -- bags of
Vietnamese rice, Egyptian cooking oil and Brazilian sugar -- which he
dutifully dispenses to 160 families a month.

Gurgese said he has told his patrons that he will keep his shop open in the
event of war. "I'll drive to the warehouse to pick up the rations," he
boasted. "I will refuse to shut my doors."

It is that sort of attitude on which everyone from Hussein to the Yawos are

"The Americans can drop as many bombs as they want," Zaia Yawo said. "But as
long as we have food, we'll be fine. We'll survive like we have for all
these years."

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