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News, 29/01-05/02/03 (1) FINGER TRYING TO POINT AT IRAQ * 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 INSIDE IRAQ * Clues from ancient Babylon * Stockpiling Popularity With Food FINGER TRYING TO POINT AT IRAQ http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,885032,00.html * AL-QAIDA AND IRAQ: HOW STRONG IS THE EVIDENCE? 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. Interrogations 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. http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/detail.asp?class=your%20say&subclass=genera l&category=columns%20-%20opinions&story_id=206545&m=6&y=2003 * SADDAM NOW HOLDS KEY TO WAR OR PEACE IN IRAQ 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 them. 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 farms. 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 discovered. 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. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,417693,00.html * POWELL TO GO FOR BROKE AT THE UN 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 allies. 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. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-561115,00.html * US SAYS ALUMINIUM TUBES ARE EVIDENCE OF IRAQ'S NUCLEAR GOAL 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 uranium. 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 statement." 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 Government." 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 supplies". 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. http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EB01Ak06.html * BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL THREATS UNCERTAIN 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 anthrax. 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 produced. 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 country. 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 http://www.dawn.com/2003/02/03/int17.htm * FALSE TRAILS THAT LEAD TO SUPPOSEDLY AL QAEDA 'LINKS' 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 out. 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 Norway. 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." http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?030210fa_fact * THE C.I.A. AND THE PENTAGON TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT AL QAEDA AND IRAQ 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 replied. 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. [.....] http://www.jordantimes.com/Tue/news/news9.htm * IRAQI TROOPS GETTING GAS MASKS, KURDS SAY 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 Baghdad. 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. http://news.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=137452003 * SADDAM'S GUARD TELLS OF ARSENAL AND TERROR LINKS 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 inspectors." [.....] INSIDE IRAQ http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EA31Ak03.html * CLUES FROM ANCIENT BABYLON 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 agencies. 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 opinion". 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 them. 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? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16499-2003Feb2.html * STOCKPILING POPULARITY WITH FOOD 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 pushcart. "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 wanted." 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 people. 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 terminal. 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 there." 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 Baghdad. 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 relying. "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." _______________________________________________ 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