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[casi] News, 09-14/03/03 (5)

News, 09-14/03/03 (5)


*  U.S.-Saudi deal allows U.S. use of some air bases
*  Egyptian state co-opts popular anti-war marches
*  Post-war Baghdad: US envisages Iraqi quartet alongside American
*  Saudi Arabia: US giving technical assistance to kingdom to help cope with
Iraqi refugees    
*  Facilitating an attack by pretending to try and prevent it


*  Short spearheads rebellion with threat to quit over war
*  Labour plotters take first steps to oust Blair
*  Firefighters' union calls 24-hour strike
*  Cook threat to quit over Iraq crisis


Seattles Times, 9th March

DOHA, Qatar  Saudi Arabia has allowed U.S. troops to use several air bases
and offered logistical support for U.S ground forces in a possible war
against Saddam Hussein, a Saudi dissident group said yesterday, a claim the
Saudis partly confirmed.

The Saudi Islamic Reform Movement said the move came after an understanding
reached by the kingdom and the United States under which Saudi Arabia
provides facilities to the U.S. forces in a possible conflict with Iraq.

Saad al-Faqih, the London-based representative of the movement, said that
soon after the agreement was reached six weeks ago, the United States
deployed some 9,000 troops in a base in northern Saudi Arabia near the Iraqi
border. Al-Faqih said Saudi Arabia has also provided facilities in five
major air bases, including one in the capital, Riyadh, and others in Araar,
Tabuk and Hafer al-Baten on the Iraqi border.

Pentagon officials declined comment. But in Riyadh, Prince Sultan said the
kingdom was allowing U.S. troops to use two northern airports near the Iraqi
border, but only for defense or to prepare for a likely flood of refugees in
the event of war.

Sultan, Saudi minister of defense and aviation, made the comments in the
kingdom's first public acknowledgement of the reported presence of U.S.
troops in the northern town of Araar. He also said U.S. troops were taking
part in joint military exercises with Saudi forces in Tabuk but maintained
this was to defend the country from an outside threat, which he said may
come from Israel.

by Steve Negus
Lebanon Daily Star, 10th March

Organized political protest in Egypt, where a 22-year-old state of emergency
bans most public assemblies, follows a limited number of patterns.

University students may be allowed to rally and march around campus, but are
stopped by security when they try to march out onto the street. These are
usually the largest demonstrations, with turnouts sometimes numbering up to

Similar demonstrations can take place at Al-Azhar Mosque after Friday
prayers. Protesters can raise banners and chant slogans outside, but are not
allowed through the gates.

At other times, activists will hold a rally in a public square. These small
gatherings, usually a few hundred or less, will literally be ringed with a
cordon of riot police, who not only prevent them from marching but block off
the view of the protest from passersby.

Protests almost always focus on external events - Israeli action in the
Palestinian territories, or US threats to invade Iraq - but demonstrators
will usually throw in a slogan or two condemning Egyptian and Arab inaction,
or even calling for the overthrow of the regime.

In the past two weeks, a new kind of demonstration has entered the Egyptian
protest repertoire: mass government-approved rallies at the Cairo stadium.

On Feb. 27, a coalition of opposition groups and syndicates protesting a US
invasion of Iraq filled the 100,000-seat facility to capacity. Many if not
most of the demonstrators appeared to have been mobilized by the banned
Muslim Brothers. A week later, on March 5, it was the ruling National
Democratic Party's turn to rally. The crowd, which gathered this time just
outside the stadium, was estimated at up to 500,000. A significant
proportion was said to be public sector or government employees bussed in
from work.

The Cairo stadium rallies, though much larger than the traditional protests,
did have one thing in common with their smaller cousins - demonstrators were
kept in a confined area and not allowed to make contact with people on the

Egypt has a long history of crowd politics, from the 1919 revolution through
the 1977 bread riots. Since President Hosni Mubarak's accession in 1981,
however, the state has made it a priority to contain protests, to keep small
demonstrations from drawing in the ordinarily apolitical masses and
snowballing out of control. To a large extent it has succeeded.

With war looming in Iraq, however, the silence of the Egyptian street has
become a national embarrassment. The Arab press scoffed at Egypt's
contribution to the Feb. 15 day of global anti-war protests - the largest
rally, in Cairo's Sayeda Zeinab Square, drew around 600, compared to
millions in Europe. In the Middle East, Egypt's claims of Arab leadership
looked hollow when it produced fewer marchers than Damascus, Beirut, or even
Tel Aviv.

Large-scale state-sponsored demonstrations redeem the national image; they
also serve as a safety valve. The wave of protests that broke out following
the Israeli thrust into the Palestinian territories in March and April 2002
managed to swamp the security's ability to pre-empt and contain. Small
spontaneous marches, often of secondary school students, sometimes managed
to storm down one or two blocks before enough police arrived to disperse
them. Neighborhoods that had formerly been politics-free zones got their
first taste of street action in decades.

In addition, the Muslim Brothers - the only opposition movement able to
mobilize really large numbers of people - have shown themselves pliant of
late. Unlike, say, leftists or Nasserites, who often try to break through
security cordons at demonstrations, the Brothers usually keep their
followers under control. Brothers keep a low profile where there is a
possibility of clashes with the police, and are less likely to chant slogans
("Hosni Mubarak and Ariel Sharon: same shape and same color") that are
likely to irritate the regime.

Ever since the state began to refer Muslim Brothers to military courts in
the mid-1990s, the banned but sometimes tolerant organization has tried to
make itself look as harmless as possible. This strategy may be paying off.
Security allowed the banned Islamist organization to hold a public funeral
for the supreme guide Mustafa Mashhour last year; turnout was estimated to
top 100,000.

They were also allowed a starring role at the Feb. 27 rally, with new
supreme guide Maamoun al-Hodeiby and other prominent Islamists delivering
speeches to the cheering crowd. According to press reports, the Brothers and
the government agreed beforehand that slogans would be kept to denunciations
of the United States and Israel, but not the regime.

The state is not about to throw away the weapons it needs to keep opposition
safely cowed. On Feb. 24, Parliament renewed for another three years the
state of emergency that has been in force continuously since 1981. In
addition to banning public assembly, the law provides for long-term
detention without trial. These statutes have been used to detain at least 15
suspected activists who have been rounded up in the past two weeks for their
participation in anti-war protests.

However, the state probably has rethought its policy on protests. As the
wave of anti-Israel demonstrations that broke out last April showed, the
urge to protest is too strong to be crushed completely; better to shift it
into venues where it is harmless.

Moreover, with European anti-war rallies in the news and Arab diplomacy
looking especially farcical of late, protest marches have become in the
public eye one of the few means of resisting war on Iraq. They are far too
potent a symbol to leave to the opposition. As some sort of anti-war
demonstrations are inevitable, better that state TV can broadcast images of
tens of thousands waving placards of Mubarak to complement the few dozen on
the street chanting "Revolution in Palestine, revolution in Egypt."

The state has been able to co-opt pretty much every other form of political
activity in Egypt, from party activity to the press. Now it appears to be
co-opting the protest demonstration as well.

Steve Negus is an Egypt-based journalist and former editor of the Cairo
Times. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star

Lebanon Daily Star, 10th March

Quoting unnamed American and Arab sources, Saudi Arabia's leading pan-Arab
daily Asharq al-Awsat suggests in its front-page lead that once US troops
invade Iraq and unseat President Saddam Hussein, a four-man Iraqi
"presidential council" will be set up to serve for a transitional period
alongside three American civil administrators who will be overseeing
reconstruction and humanitarian aid.

The newspaper says all four nominees to the interim "presidential council"
had at one time or another served as Iraqi government ministers - namely,
"Adnan Pahchachi, an Arab Sunni now based in the United Arab Emirates; Fouad
Aref, a Kurdish Sunni headquartered in Kurdistan; Abdelghani Dalli, an Arab
Shiite living in Britain; and Ahmed al-Habboubi, another Arab Shiite
currently residing in Egypt."

Asharq al-Awsat says the three US civil administrators will include one
woman - Barbara Bodine, Washington's former ambassador to Yemen, who will be
named governor of central Iraq, comprising Baghdad - and two retired US
Army generals who will administer southern and northern Iraq during the
interim period leading up to Iraq's "democratization."

All three US administrators, according to the Saudi daily, will report to
retired army Lieutenant General Jay M. Garner, who will head a planned
Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance at the Pentagon.

Asharq al-Awsat makes no mention of remarks by Saudi Arabia's Deputy Premier
and Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz acknowledging that Riyadh
was allowing US troops to use two of its northern airports in Tabuk and Arar
near the Iraqi border, but only for defense or to prepare for a flood of
refugees from Iraq in the event of war.

Claims by Saudi officials that the kingdom won't allow any attacks on Iraq
from its soil, and that thousands of US airmen at its Prince Sultan Air base
near Riyadh are there only to patrol a "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq, are
repeated by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

"We declared publicly that the kingdom's policy is not to participate in one
way or another in any attack on Iraq," Prince Saud says, adding that threats
from Iraq, if any, can be neutralized by peaceful means.

He says a five-member team mandated by the recent Arab summit to lobby the
permanent members of the UN Security Council and the Baghdad government for
a peaceful solution of the Iraq crisis is currently in New York.

He explains that the Arab delegation, which includes Arab League chief Amr
Moussa and the foreign ministers of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Bahrain, is on
a two-pronged mission: "To convince the UN Security Council's permanent and
non-permanent members that Iraq will implement (Resolution 1441 and disarm)
and to secure at the same time Iraq's implementation (of the resolution)."

The Saudi foreign minister would not be drawn into openly endorsing the UAE
initiative calling on the Iraqi leadership to stand down and be guaranteed a
safe exit to exile, leaving Iraq's future in the hands of the Arab League
and the UN secretary-general for a transitional period.

The UAE proposal as first floated at the Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh
earlier this month, according to Prince Saud, was more of a "piece of
advice" to Baghdad, which was "not meant to harm Iraq, but to protect it
from the evils of military confrontation, especially coming as it did from
(UAE President) Sheikh Zayed, who has always been known as a (pan-Arab)
nationalist  Except that only Iraq and the people of Iraq can accept his
counsel or reject it."

But Prince Saud dismisses with a flat "no" the chances of Riyadh offering
the Iraqi leader a safe haven if he chose voluntary exile.

The Saudi chief diplomat also seizes the occasion to tell Rashed that
relations between Saudi Arabia and Libya - marred by the public exchange at
the recent Arab summit between Crown Prince Abdullah and Libyan leader
Moammar Gadhafi - are back on course: "It's ended. We cherish the Libyan
people and appreciate the Libyan people's struggle. Of late, we were in
harmony with the Libyan leadership, and we subscribe to Colonel Gadhafi's
declaration that you cannot allow this edifice of good bilateral relations
to be brought down in a flash of anger."

US post-invasion plans for Iraq reveal the Bush administration's "wicked,
fiendish intentions" toward that country, the UAE daily Al-Khaleej writes in
its leader. Those plans may be a precedent for a scheme the US intends to
impose on other countries as part of what it calls "reshaping the region and
democratizing it."

After revealing that Garner, well-known for his "Zionist leanings," will be
in charge of Iraq as something of a military governor, US officials have
disclosed that Iraq will be divided into north, central and southern
administrative regions that will be run by former Ambassador Bodine and two
retired army generals.

What can be gleaned from the outlines of this plan is that the US intends to
divide Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines. In other words, the paper
says, Washington proposes to split up Iraq among the Sunnis, the Shiites and
the Kurds.

Such a plan not only threatens Iraq's territorial integrity, but could "sow
the seeds for fragmenting it into sectarian and ethnic cantons," paving the
way for civil strife that will destroy what is left of Iraq. And it could be
a model for fragmenting the entire region and reshaping it politically and
geographically to suit US-Israeli interests.

Such disdain for Iraq and for all the Arabs exposes the fraudulence of the
humanitarian, democratic and civilized motives in which US officials are
trying to cloak their impending aggression against Iraq, writes Al-Khaleej.
It leaves no room for doubt that the main purpose of the huge military
campaign about to unfold is not the "liberation" of Iraq, but its

The various aspects of US plans for Iraq that are being revealed remove the
"fig leaf behind which the Bush administration is hiding, leaving no doubt
that the region is facing a critical phase that is far more dangerous than
the one it faced in the aftermath of World War I," when Britain's Sir Mark
Sykes and France's Georges Picot agreed to divide it up between their two
countries, the Sharjah paper says.

Iraqi Kurd analyst Sami Shourosh, writing for the Saudi-run pan-Arab daily
Al-Hayat, says Turkey's decision, embodied by a parliamentary vote, to
reject the deployment of some 60,000 US troops in the country for the
purpose of invading Iraq, and to insist that such a deployment can only go
ahead if Turkish troops are allowed into northern Iraq is a grave mistake.

He faults Ankara's decision on two counts: (1) refusing to allow US troops
to use Turkey as a springboard for invading Iraq "has created deep tensions
with its main strategic ally, the US," and (2) making approval of a US troop
deployment in southern Turkey contingent on a US green light for a Turkish
troop deployment in northern Iraq, ostensibly to protect the Turkmen
minority, has created a serious rift between Ankara and its regional allies,
the Iraqi Kurds.

Shourosh questions the argument that the Turkmen minority in northern Iraq
needs Turkish protection at this time in particular, especially since Turkey
never came to their defense for eight decades, although they were the
victims of "the ugliest forms of repression under successive Iraqi

He suggests that Ankara's insistence on "defending" the Turkmen may actually
cast an unwelcome suspicious light on them as collaborators with an unwanted
foreign occupation force.

Shourosh also questions the Turkish argument that calls for disarming the
Kurds in northern Iraq, saying they have succeeded in establishing a
"growing democracy" in their region "despite being armed." Moreover, the
next Iraqi government should be the body authorized to disarm the Kurds, not
a "foreign country" like Turkey.

Will the Kurds, "who are eagerly anticipating and working toward the
liberation of their country alongside other Iraqi factions, accept another
kind of military occupation?" Shourosh asks rhetorically.

If US troops are denied a launch pad in Turkey, they could opt to use
Kurdish-Iraqi territory instead. This would further enhance Kurdish-US
relations and risk "internationalizing the Kurdish issue from a US
perspective." It will also reduce Turkey's influence over US-Kurdish
relations, and weaken Ankara's position where the future of Iraq is

Turkish collaboration with the US military effort will ensure that Turkish
companies get a "slice of the economic cake" when it comes to rebuilding a
post-war Iraq, and will give Ankara a say in the country's political future,
Shourosh argues.

Tishrin, the government-run Syrian daily, accuses the administration of
George W. Bush of an unprecedented drive to break international law,
challenge UN legitimacy and defy allies as well as world public opinion to
wage war on Iraq.

Why, it asks, is this dogged American pursuit of a new UN resolution
authorizing war, as if war was the best way forward? By what logic does the
Bush administration deny the right of Iraq and of the Arabs to possess
weapons when it has turned Israel into a state-of-the-art and doomsday
weapon store that threatens the whole region and allows her to flout UN

This skewed and unpersuasive logic is the pinnacle of bias - making the war
on Iraq, as Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa put it to the UN
Security Council, tantamount to "armed robbery."

Lebanese commentator Waleed Abi-Mirshed seizes on the resignation of US
Undersecretary of State Charlotte Beers - who had been given the task of
"beautifying" Washington's image in the Arab and Islamic worlds - to point
out that "what the hawks have ruined cannot be beautified by a perfume

Writing in Asharq al-Awsat, Abi-Mirshed says it is "very strange" that the
Bush administration could have believed that "a government official, whoever
she was and in whatever position she could be, would be able to market the
policies of the US Republican Party hawks on the Arab and Islamic streets."

Seventeen months of a media and PR effort on which the White House had
staked great hopes were enough for Charlotte Beers to describe her mission
as "frustrating" and to tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that
there is a terrifying gap between the way the US is actually perceived and
the way it would like to be perceived.

Beers "is the victim of an injustice," writes Abi-Mirshed, tongue in cheek.
"She is the victim of the commercial perspective on international affairs
that dominates the diplomatic understanding of the businessmen who are
currently in charge of affairs in Washington and are holding the world by
the neck."

Beers's campaign to "market the US" included the production of several
documentaries about democratic freedoms in the US. In particular, they
focused on the "happy daily lives" enjoyed by US Muslims in a "tolerant"
multi-religious and multi-racial society, Abi-Mirshed recalls.

But she made the mistake of overlooking the fact that the problem Arabs and
Muslims have with the US has nothing to do with American society, but
relates to the "political atmosphere at the White House." Had she consulted
opinion polls  she would have found that what Arabs and Muslims hate about
the US is not its democracy, but its foreign policy.

"What does an Arab or Islamic citizen care if US Muslims lead comfortable
lives while US policy is hounding and even persecuting them in their native
homelands, encouraging those who attack their land and dignity in Palestine,
preparing to occupy one of their richest countries and control its future
and that of the Middle East, and supporting several (repressive) rulers
controlling their destinies in the Third World countries in which they
live?" he wonders.

Jordan Times, 10th March
RIYADH (AP)  The Americans are giving technical aid to Saudi Arabia to help
cope with a possible influx of Iraqi refugees in the event of a war, and the
kingdom is ready to engage in military exercises with US troops, the defence
minister has said.

Prince Sultan's remarks late Saturday were the first public admission of US
involvement in war preparations in the kingdom, a sensitive issue in Saudi
Arabia given opposition to any US participation.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud, meanwhile, said in remarks published Sunday
that the quickest way to resolve the Iraqi crisis would be for Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein to accept a proposal by the United Arab Emirates
that urges him to step down. His remarks were the closest the kingdom has
come to endorsing an idea that has angered some Arab leaders but found
supporters in the Gulf.

In a joint interview with the Saudi-owned Asharq Al Awsat daily newspaper
and Lebanon's Al Mustaqbal satellite television, Saud was quoted as saying
of the proposal: "Its motives are not to harm Iraq, but on the contrary to
protect Iraq from the evils of a military confrontation."

"Whoever thinks honestly about such matters cannot but realise that the
quickest way to resolve the (Iraq) issue is (following) what the Emirates
has proposed," Saud was quoted as saying by Asharq Al Awsat. Senior Iraqi
officials have said publicly that Saddam will not step down.

Saudi Arabia, fearful of an internal, extremist backlash, has been at pains
to deny Saudi opposition claims it is allowing the United States to deploy
troops at military bases in the kingdom for a possible attack on Iraq. In
the 1991 Gulf War, the use of Saudi territory by US troops as a launchpad
against Iraq produced a cause for Al Qaeda leader Osama Ben Laden to rally

Prince Sultan spoke after presiding over a ceremony to honour seven
recipients of the annual King Faisal awards. A total of 161 laureates from
37 countries have won the international prize exemplifying Islamic heritage,
Arabintellect and Saudi values. Sultan won this year's prize for service to

In his news conference, Sultan said the kingdom will not take part in a
military strike against Iraq, "whether it has been sanctioned by the United
Nations or not."

However, he confirmed reports the government had closed an airport near the
Iraqi border to civilian traffic, saying Araar Airport would be used as a
base for providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and not, as
Saudi opposition groups have claimed, as a base for US military operations.
Araar is 60 kilometres south of the Iraqi border.

"We have stationed a force inside Araar Airport and we have closed it for
the safety of the people in Araar," Sultan told a news conference.

He said the kingdom has made preparations to house, feed and give medical
assistance to Iraqi refugees "inside their country and their desert ... so
that they would be close to their families once they can return home." "The
kingdom has received technical assistance from the Americans to help monitor
the movement of the refugees ... so we would not be caught unaware," said
Prince Sultan.

"If there are friends (in Araar), they are there only to provide
humanitarian and technical assistance," he added.

There are 5,000 Iraqi refugees remaining at Rafha camp near the Iraqi
border, left over from the 150,000 refugees who flooded the area during the
Gulf War.

Sultan also said the government has amassed the "largest military fleet ...
the largest aircraft and ... ground troops" to protect the northern town of
Tabuk, 100 kilometres south of the Jordanian border in the event of Israeli
violations of Saudi airspace.

"We cannot forget that we are in a state of aggression with Israel, which is
doing its utmost to hurt the kingdom at this sensitive time," Sultan said.
"The prime responsibility of the force in Tabuk is to guard Saudi airspace
against Israeli violation."

"This doesn't mean that we are with the Americans," added Sultan. "But if
you, Americans, want to ensure that we are not going to fight Israel, come
and carry out maneuvers with us. We won't mind."

He said Saudi Arabia has carried out military exercises with the Americans
in the past in the Eastern Province town of Dhahran "and those are ongoing
in the seas."

"We continue to cooperate with every nation that has advanced technology,"
added Sultan. "We will carry out manoeuvres for the benefit of our armed

For months, Saudi Arabia has been saying it will not allow US troops to use
its territories in an attack on Iraq.

But officials have said US and British flights from Prince Sultan Air Base
to monitor the skies over southern Iraq would continue.

In the 1991 Gulf War, the kingdom invited the United States to help defend
it against Iraqi soldiers, who were moving south towards Saudi Arabia after
occupying Kuwait.

Lebanon Daily Star, 13th March

The row between Arab governments over how to handle the Iraq crisis appears
to be worsening as the delegation mandated by Arab summit leaders to promote
a peaceful solution prepares to travel to Baghdad.

Reports in the Arab press indicate that the Saudi authorities want the
envoys to deliver an ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to
relinquish power in order to avoid war, but the Syrians are threatening to
pull the plug on the mission for fear that it may be used to justify US
military action.

And while the rival camps in the Arab world each claim to be trying to
prevent a US invasion of Iraq, charges fly that some players in the region
have assumed the role of facilitators of a war that they may not favor but
are resigned to - and which no on expects the current deadlock at the UN
Security Council to deter.

Saudi Arabia's principal pan-Arab mouthpiece, the London-based daily Asharq
al-Awsat, headlines that the committee of Arab foreign ministers that is due
to visit the Iraqi capital "will notify Saddam: You must step down."

In a front-page lead, editor in chief Abderrahman al-Rashed suggests that
this is in line with the "initiative" proposed by the United Arab Emirates
at the March 1 Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. Arab leaders failed to take
up that call, but agreed to send a delegation to tour world capitals to
argue the anti-war case. The team consists of Arab League-Secretary General
Amr Moussa and the foreign ministers of Lebanon, Bahrain and Tunisia (past,
present and future chairs of the Arab summit) joined by their Egyptian and
Syrian counterparts.

According to Rashed's "informed source," the ministers had initially been
"reluctant" to call on Saddam to stand down, but "agreed to convey the
message" after being urged to do so by their Russian and French counterparts
at "dramatic" talks they held with them in New York.

They were particularly "surprised" when France's Dominique de Villepin
reportedly "informed them of the importance of notifying the Iraqi
leadership clearly that the big powers support the call for his abdication
and will not stand by him," and urged them "to tell the Iraqi president
clearly that he must step down."

Rashed's informant adds that the Russians expressed the same opinion, and
had themselves earlier urged Saddam to resign. But the Iraqi leader angrily
walked out of the Baghdad meeting at which former Russian premier and
veteran Middle East hand Yevgeny Primakov put the idea to him, prompting
Moscow to deny the issue had been raised at all.

Other Arab newspapers report the rather different account provided by Moussa
of the Arab ministers' talks with their French colleague in New York. He
acknowledged that de Villepin had remarked that the Iraqi leadership needs
to take "dramatic steps," but said he had not asked for this message to be

Moussa said the ministerial team would meet in Bahrain Thursday to discuss
the planned trip to Baghdad, where Saddam has reportedly agreed to receive
them in person.

But the Beirut daily Al-Mustaqbal reports that the Syrian and Lebanese
ministers won't travel with the team to Baghdad until the "confusion about
the nature of its mission" there has been cleared up, and are trying to
persuade the other Arab states to delay the trip until a vote has been taken
at the UN Security Council.

The newspaper quotes Lebanese sources as saying that Beirut and Damascus
fear that unless the delegation adopts a "clear agenda" - which would be
hard to do before knowing the outcome of the Security Council vote on the
Anglo-American resolution authorizing war - its trip to Baghdad could be
used to "depict Iraq as having turned down an Arab initiative aimed at
preventing military action."

Arab papers also note the deep skepticism about the mission to Baghdad
voiced by Syrian President Bashar Assad during his inaugural speech to the
newly elected parliament in Damascus, in which he gave a detailed and highly
critical account of recent behind the scenes Arab diplomacy over Iraq.

He indicated that he thought the Americans were "perhaps" behind the idea of
sending a committee of Arab ministers to Baghdad when it was first floated
at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

He said some of the leaders there had proposed that the envoys should demand
"100 percent" cooperation from Baghdad - "without anyone defining
'cooperation,' of course" - and others that they should call on Saddam to
step down. "But it makes no difference," said Assad, adding: "Whatever the
committee demands, it will come back and Iraq will be accused of not having
cooperated with it - so that it can be said that Iraq refused to cooperate
even with its fellow Arabs, and therefore it really does threaten its
neighbors  Thus we, via this committee and the Arab summit, are to be
turned into facilitators and providers of legitimacy to this war which will

The Syrian president referred to the issue in the course of a scathing
indictment of the Arab world's collective response to the threat of a US
invasion of Iraq, which he described as a "clear case of injustice and
aggression" against a fellow Arab country.

Contrasting the reluctance of Arab governments to support each other with
the eagerness with which some of them volunteer to support and promote US
schemes, he criticized the lack of substance that characterized inter-Arab
deliberations about convening a summit on Iraq.

"For months, all our deliberations continuously revolved around the timing
and form of the summit, without ever addressing the issue of what we want
from it and what we will propose," he complained.

Assad said Syria had been determined not to allow the summit to be used as
"cover" for Arab collusion in an American invasion of Iraq. That is why
Damascus was so adamant that a statement be issued after the preparatory
foreign ministers' meeting opposing the provision of any "facilities" in
Arab states to US forces engaged in mugging Iraq.

He described the withholding of such facilities as a "bottom line," the
"very least" that the Arab states must do to give substance to their
anti-war stance. "We didn't ask them to remove the (US) military bases they
have, or to honor the Joint Arab Defense Pact. I didn't advocate taking a
stand against or boycotting some of the foreign countries that will wage the
war, or the Arab countries that will provide facilities. I didn't even ask
them for a stand vis-a-vis the occupation of an Arab country, or what they
will do when a military governor is installed in an Arab capital," he

Yet Syria had been accused by Arab critics of being "extreme" for demanding
the denial of Arab base facilities to US invasion forces and refusing to
"agree to statements that give the impression that we approve of what they
are doing," the Syrian president said. And when Arab leaders gathered for
their summit, they did not agree to its "bottom-line proposal," and instead
of undertaking to deny bases to the Americans they sufficed with pledging
not to "participate" in the invasion.

"I can assure you that all the Arab states are sincere on this count," Assad
quipped, "for the simple reason that America is not allowing anyone to
participate because it does not need anyone's participation."

In Jordan, Mahmoud Rimawi doubts that the Arab delegation will actually urge
the Iraqi president to accept the UAE initiative.

Not only would Baghdad be "unlikely to welcome" the idea, he writes in the
Amman daily Al-Rai, but Arab leaders did not even discuss the call for
Saddam's resignation at Sharm el Sheikh. Instead, they came out explicitly
against any external meddling in Iraq's internal affairs, thus placing a
major "constraint" on the ministerial team.

Nevertheless, says Rimawi, the ministerial committee will get nowhere if all
it does in Baghdad is reiterate "traditional" ideas - such as calling for
more Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspectors.

"What Baghdad needs at this stage is a thorough change of its political
image," he says.

It also needs someone to talk to if a peace deal is to be brokered, but
Washington's refusal to receive the Arab ministerial committee shows it is
not interested in talking. The team did meet with Secretary of State Colin
Powell in New York, "but that does not constitute dialogue with the
administration and the war hawks surrounding the president in whose hands
the decision-making lies," Rimawi says.

"In the absence of dialogue with the superpower that is leading the crisis
and exacerbating it, the fear is that the Sharm el-Sheikh summit ministerial
committee will be embarking on a dialogue with itself," he writes.

In the Bahraini daily Akhbar al-Khaleej, Egyptian columnist Assayed Zahra
remarks that the committee members themselves probably don't know what to
demand of Baghdad when they go there.

"Indeed, no one in the world knows what Iraq is exactly supposed to do to
prevent the American aggression," he writes.

The only people entitled to say what Iraq must do are the chief UN arms
inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohammed al-Baradei. And they have made clear that
there is no evidence that Iraq possesses doomsday weapons, that US and
British claims to the contrary have been proven false, that Baghdad is not
obstructing their work, and that they need more time to complete it.

"So what exactly is required of Iraq?" asks Zahra. "Nobody knows. What is
the meaning of issuing it an ultimatum? Nobody knows. An ultimatum to do
what exactly? And why the insistence on only a few days? Nobody knows. All
they know is that what the US is demanding of Iraq, and of the entire world
in reality, is total surrender," he writes.

The Arab ministerial committee's problem is not Iraq but America, and it is
Washington that anyone who wants to help prevent war should be addressing,
says Zahra.

But regardless whether the US administration refused to receive the Arab
delegation, it would not have had anything meaningful to say. "For it
represents all the Arab states, including those from which the aggression is
to be launched." And it was mandated by the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, which
didn't dare mention America once in the long statement it issued about the
war. "It's as though the perpetrator of this war is an invisible ghost. And
who can talk to ghosts?"

Ghassan al-Imam suggests in Asharq al-Awsat that one reason the US is in a
hurry to send its forces into action is that it is being outmaneuvered in
northern Iraq by Iran and its Shiite and Kurdish Iraqi allies.

He writes of a sinister "game of nations" that is being played out in the
region, with Washington making conflicting promises to the Iraqi Kurds and
the Turks, alternately bribing and bullying Ankara, and trying both to lure
and fend off Iran, "with the Arabs completely out of the picture due to
their weakness and divisions."

This "game" threatens to trigger a "local war in the Kurdish north that
could turn into a regional war," as fighters from the Iranian-backed Shiite
organization SAIRI deploy there, ostensibly to help the Iraqi Kurds fight
off a Turkish thrust, but also to strengthen Iran's influence in post-Saddam

Washington's motive for wanting to start the war within days, "even over the
UN Security Council's dead body, is not to mount a pincer movement against
Saddam's regime, as the American media maintains, but to get the Kirkuk and
Mosul oil fields before Kurdish and Turkish forces do and start fighting
over them" and to fulfill pledges to Arab states not to dismember
post-Saddam Iraq, Imam says.

Beirut's As-Safir points to a statement by SAIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammed
Baqer al Hakim marking the start of the Muslim month of Muharram, in which
while exhorting Iraqis to resist any foreign invasion of their country, he
also called on them to exploit any US military action to topple the regime
in Baghdad and take power.

But the religious pronouncement on Iraq that attracts most attention in the
Arab press is the statement by scholars at Egypt's Al-Azhar deeming any
American invasion of Iraq to be unjustified aggression against Muslim
territory, which all Muslims would be duty-bound to oppose.

Papers highlight the section of the statement by Al-Azhar's Islamic Research
Center exhorting Muslim men and women to jihad against the "new Crusader
invasion," and to be "prepared to defend themselves and their faith."

Some say that the scholars did not elaborate on what they meant by jihad -
though a loose interpretation of the term was implicit in the preamble to
their statement, which praised the "diplomatic jihad" being waged at the UN
by France, Russia, China and other counties opposed to war.

TONTO'S CORNER,2763,911062,00.html

by Patrick Wintour
The Guardian, 10th March

Tony Blair was last night facing the opening of floodgates to a catastrophic
rebellion in his own ranks, as Clare Short, the international development
secretary, warned that she would quit the cabinet if there was no second UN
resolution supporting war in Iraq.

In comments which were frank even by her standards, she said she feared the
prime minister was being "extraordinarily reckless" with the future of the

Her dramatically timed intervention raises the stakes for Mr Blair as he
battles to persuade wavering states on the UN security council to support a
resolution. It followed yesterday's resignation of a cabinet member's
parliamentary private secretary and the threat by other parliamentary aides
to follow suit.

Speaking at what she described as "ten minutes to midnight", Ms Short told
the BBC Westminster Hour: "If there is not UN authority for military action,
or if there is not UN authority for the reconstruction of the country, I
will not uphold a breach of international law or this undermining of the UN,
and I will resign from the government."

She went on: "I think it's time for cards on the table. People are making
all sorts of statements about my intentions. I think I owe it to my
colleagues in the government and members of the Labour party to just be
truthful about my position. It's the time to say what my intentions are."

Claiming she could not stay to "defend the indefensible", she accused Mr
Blair of adding to the mood of recklessness. She explained: "The whole
atmosphere of the current situation is deeply reckless; reckless for the
world, reckless for the undermining of the UN in this disorderly world,
which is wider than Iraq, reckless with our government, reckless with his
own future, position and place in history. It's extraordinarily reckless.
I'm very surprised by it."

Ms Short, who appeared on the programme at her request, added that she
feared that the old misleading spin was back. She explained: "I'm worried
now that people like me are being told 'yes, all this is under
consideration'. But we're on a different path and I feel the need now,
because it's 10 minutes to midnight, to say out loud what I think Britain
should do with its influence, because our failure to use our influence
properly is so dangerous for the world."

Her move - contradicting previous assurances that she would not quit - is
bound to fuel the mood of rebellion inside the parliamentary labour party as
junior ministers and MPs wrestle with their conscience.

Mr Blair has worked tirelessly to keep Ms Short in the cabinet, regularly
briefing her separately on the state of negotiations at the UN and with
Washington. Robin Cook, the other cabinet minister most likely to quit,
appears to be waiting on events.

Government whips are now likely to avoid a parliamentary vote before
military action starts without a UN mandate.

Earlier yesterday Andy Reed, the hitherto obscure parliamentary aide to
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, resigned over Iraq. As many as
10 parliamentary aides or parliamentary private secretaries are threatening
to do likewise.

Mr Reed, a muscular Christian, was described yesterday by one of his
colleagues as "a decent bloke and the last guy in the world to grandstand.
But his timing is odd. If he is so keen on a second UN resolution, he only
has to wait a couple of days to see if we get one."

Patricia Hewitt, the industry secretary, also slapped down her parliamentary
aide, Ann Campbell, for suggesting that she might resign if no second UN
mandate is secured.

Ms Hewitt said: "I have to say I think it is a bit self-indulgent really for
people to be talking about resignation in the hypothetical situation that
there is no second resolution, when the government is working flat out to
get that second resolution."

Other ministerial aides considering their position include Michael Foster
(Hastings and Rye), PPS to Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general; Tony Wright
(Great Yarmouth), PPS to Ruth Kelly, financial secretary at the treasury;
and Ken Purchase,PPS to the leader of the House, Robin Cook.

David Watts, the MP for St Helens North and PPS to the transport minister
John Spellar, said he was still hoping for a second UN resolution.

The former armed forces minister Doug Henderson yesterday predicted that
upwards of 150 Labour MPs will rebel if there is no second UN resolution. On
February 26, 122 Labour MPs defied a three line whip.

"This is one of the most critical periods I can remember in the Labour Party
and I have been in the party a long long time," Mr Henderson said. He
claimed that 95% of the party's members were opposed to war.

J'accuse: Why Tony Blair has to go
Globe and Mail, 12th March
[Tam Dalyell, writing in the Canadian Globe and Mail]

The Linlithgow constituency association of the British Labour Party has put
forward a motion recommending that Prime Minister Tony Blair reconsider his
position as leader of our party if Britain supports a war against Iraq
without clearly expressed support from the United Nations.

I agree with this motion. I also believe that if Mr. Blair goes ahead with
his support of an American attack without unambiguous UN authorization and
without a vote in our House of Commons, he should be branded as a war
criminal and sent to The Hague.

I have served in the House of Commons as a member of the Labour Party for 41
years and I would never have dreamed of saying this about any one of my
previous leaders. But this is a man who has disdain for the House of Commons
and international law.

This is a grave thing to say about my party leader. But it is far less
serious than the results of a war that could set Western Christendom against

Mr. Blair is a lawyer for heaven's sake, but a growing number of dissenters
within our party have concluded that he seems to have no understanding that
his decision to sanction military action in Iraq without proper Security
Council authorization is illegal under international law. The UN Charter
outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective
self-defence in response to an armed attack, and action authorized by the
Security Council as a collective response to a threat to peace. At the
moment, there are no grounds for claiming to use such force in self-defence.

The doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence against an attack that might arise
at some hypothetical future time has no basis in international law. Neither
Security Council Resolution 1441, which Mr. Blair bleats on about, nor any
prior resolution, authorizes the proposed use of force in the present

Mr. Blair does not seem to understand that before military action can be
lawfully undertaken, the Security Council must have indicated its clearly
expressed assent. It has not done so. And Mr. Blair's assertion that, in
certain circumstances, a vetoed resolution becomes "unreasonable" and may be
disregarded, has no basis whatsoever in international law.

I don't think Mr. Blair really understands the horrors of 21st century war.
In 1994, I visited Baghdad (all expenses paid by me) and saw the carbonated
limbs of women and children impregnated against a wall by the heat of just
one cruise missile. In the coming war, we are told that 800 cruise missiles
will be launched just to soften up the enemy.

Canadians should not be astonished at the growing opposition to Mr. Blair in
Britain and within his own party. Many of us in the Labour Party believe he
has misunderstood the pressing danger. It comes not from Iraq, but from

If there is a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, it is this: Osama
bin Laden hates Saddam Hussein; on at least two occasions his organization
tried to assassinate him.

The wicked perpetrators of Sept. 11 were not Iraqis. They were Saudis and
Yemenis. Their bases were in Hamburg, perhaps in London, and certainly in
the U.S. itself. Even bombing Afghanistan was of dubious value. Intelligence
and bribery would have had a greater chance of apprehending Osama bin Laden.
Why then unleash war against Iraq -- unless, of course, it is to fulfill
plans hatched as long ago as 1991 for a pre-emptive strike to gain control
of Iraq's oil reserves?

I am not anti-American. I was a member of the executive of the
British-American parliamentary group. I share at one remove four times over,
a grandmother with one of the American presidents, Harry S. Truman, and hope
to accept the invitation to attend celebrations of Mr. Truman's birthday on
May 8 in Independence, Missouri.

But many of us in this country think the United States has been hijacked by
extremists within its government. They have used the support of a British
Labour prime minister as a fig leaf against their critics and against
opposition to war in the United States. It is useful for them to say to
opponents: "But a British Labour prime minister supports us!"

If Britain had made it clear months ago that we would not be party to a U.S.
attack on Iraq, that the United States was acting entirely on it own, I
think American public opinion itself might well have stopped this war from
ever being contemplated.

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow since 1962, is the longest
continuously serving member of the British House of Commons.

by Toby Helm and George Jones
Daily Telegraph, 12th March

Labour opponents of war with Iraq took the first steps last night towards
launching a leadership challenge if Tony Blair commits British troops to
American-led military action without the explicit authority of the United

Left-wing MPs will call on the party's ruling National Executive Committee
to hold a "special conference" that could trigger a leadership contest if
the Prime Minister defies growing pressure in the party not to ignore a UN
veto on the use of force.

The anti-war sentiment in the Labour Party took a dangerous turn when MPs
began talking openly of the possibility of moves to replace Mr Blair. At
present they represent a small but vocal minority and there is no sign yet
of widespread support for challenging the Prime Minister.

But the readiness of rebels to question his future on the eve of a possible
war represented the most serious threat to his authority since he became
Prime Minister six years ago.

Mr Blair, who looked washed out and exhausted at a Number 10 news
conference, yesterday summoned senior ministers and officials to Downing
Street to plan the next stage of the government's efforts to bolster support
at home and abroad for military action.

The group, comprising Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, Geoff Hoon, Defence
Secretary, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, Admiral Sir Michael
Boyce, Chief of the Defence Staff, and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General,
will form the core of a War Cabinet.

Lord Goldsmith's role will be crucial because he will advise on the legal
status of military action if Mr Blair has to act without UN authority. Mr
Blair will face the Commons at noon today for the first Question Time
session since Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, issued a
dramatic threat to resign from the Cabinet if he takes Britain to war
without fresh UN backing.

Miss Short's intervention appeared to have encouraged Labour rebels to break
cover and exposed the vulnerability of Mr Blair's position, with nearly half
the party's backbenchers opposed to his stance.

Yesterday she remained in the Cabinet, despite having described the Prime
Minister's actions as "reckless", because her dismissal would have provoked
further Labour unrest.

Tam Dalyell, Father of the House of Commons, said if Mr Blair disregarded
the UN, Labour constituency parties and trade unions would be asked to back
demands for a special party conference.

Alice Mahon, the Labour MP for Halifax and a vocal opponent of war,
confirmed that a letter had been prepared and would be sent to all MPs if Mr
Blair pressed ahead in defiance of his party. The letter calls on MPs to
lobby the National Executive to call a special conference.

Mrs Mahon said last night: "The party is in deep crisis. It is split down
the middle. It is a very serious situation for the Prime Minister."

Yesterday Hilton Dawson, Labour MP for Lancaster and Wyre, became the first
backbencher to call publicly on Mr Blair to consider stepping down.

He said there was "no case for war without the UN" at this stage and
insisted rushing in to military action would be a "colossal mistake".

While praising Mr Blair, saying he would go down as a "great Prime
Minister", he said he should "consider his position" if he insisted on
pursuing a military solution.

Lord Healey, the former Labour Chancellor, said Mr Blair was in real danger:
"It is quite possible to get a conference called at which he could be

John Reid, the Labour chairman, described talk of moves to replace Mr Blair
as the work of a few "usual suspects". They would be heavily outnumbered on
the National Executive Committee which would have to approve any special
conference by a majority vote. But Mr Reid confirmed that Labour dissidents
were plotting against Mr Blair.

"There are a small number of people who, given the choice between getting
Saddam Hussein or Tony Blair to lose their job always seem to choose Tony

Yesterday Mr Blair also met union leaders, most of whom are strongly opposed
to war without a second resolution, at Downing Street to discuss Iraq. Their
members' votes will be crucial in determining whether the party holds a
leadership contest, and its eventual result if one were to take place.

'Alternative Parliament' calls for outbreak of civil disobedience
by Paul Waugh
The Independent, 13th March

A mass campaign of civil disobedience, workplace walk-outs and rallies
should be held on the day that war is declared on Iraq, peace campaigners at
an "alternative Parliament" in Westminster declared yesterday.

Hundreds of protesters from across the country, including clergymen,
students and trade union leaders, convened for the People's Assembly at
Westminster Central Hall opposite the House of Commons.

The event, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, saw campaigners call for
as many people as possible to stop whatever they are doing when the military
attack begins and join protests in the centre of every town and city. In
London, a demonstration will assemble in Parliament Square on the day that
war breaks out.

Post deliveries and train services could be hit because two of the unions
expected to take part in wildcat strikes are the Communications Workers
Union and Rail, Maritime and Transport Union. School pupils and college
students also plan to walk out of lessons.

Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop the War Coalition said: "A lot of people
believe this is wrong and we discussed walkouts from workplaces." Tony Benn,
the former Labour MP, spoke at the meeting attended by 700 elected delegates
from unions, the National Theatre, schools and colleges.

Bob Crow, RMT union leader, said: "If Tony Blair is going to take illegal
action then we should also take illegal action in the form of civil
disobedience such as sit-ins. I think today's meeting has a lot of power."
One young Iraqi woman from Birmingham denounced the proposed war as "cold
blooded mass murder".

Katy Bannon, 21, a second year student at Wimbledon School of Art, said: "If
war does go ahead, students throughout the country have arranged a mass
walkout." ----

by Barrie Clement
The Independent, 13th March

Firefighters' leaders set course for a long and damaging conflict with the
Government by naming the date for another strike while Britain is preparing
for war in Iraq.

After rejecting an attempt to "clarify" a pay offer of 16 per cent over
three years, leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) called a 24-hour
stoppage for next Thursday and indicated they would urge a national
conference next week to set other days of action. The union is understood to
have drawn up a contingency plan for months of walkouts varying from two
hours to eight days.

Asked whether the union should be planning industrial action amid
preparations for war, Andy Gilchrist, general secretary, said his principal
concern was to ensure "decent" terms and conditions for his members. Senior
military officers have warned that soldiers who will be needed to crew Green
Goddess fire engines on strike days would be required for combat duties.


by Bill Jacobs
The Scotsman, 14th March

ROBIN COOK was today threatening to resign from the Cabinet if chaotic
last-minute attempts to secure United Nations backing for a new Gulf war
failed to succeed.

The Leader of the Commons and Livingston MP indicated at a tense Cabinet
meeting yesterday he was prepared to join International Development
Secretary Clare Short in quitting the Government if British forces invade
Iraq without a Security Council mandate.

During the 45-minute session, Mr Cook expressed deep concern about the
legality of military action without UN backing and stressed the importance
of MPs being allowed to vote before conflict began.

Later in the Commons during business questions, he repeated his comments
about the importance of a vote and said he was prepared to ask the Speaker
to recall Parliament over the weekend if necessary.

He carefully said that if war began, collective responsibility would apply
to those ministers who were in the Cabinet "at that time" and joked about
the possibility of allowing time for ministerial resignation statements.

Sources within the Government said Mr Cook put down a "clear marker" over
his position and made clear he was ready to split the Cabinet and resign
with Ms Short if the latest efforts to get a UN resolution failed. Both will
remain in the Government until an emergency Cabinet meeting, expected on
Monday, when any vote in the UN Security Council will take place.

This is expected to be followed by a full scale House of Commons debate on
Tuesday with a vote on military action.

The resignation of Ms Short and Mr Cook to become leaders of the anti-war
rebels would be likely to push up the number of backbench MPs prepared to
vote against Tony Blair's determination to disarm Saddam Hussein by force if

Downing Street today confirmed Mr Blair was to meet Ms Short but claimed the
meeting was about the possible humanitarian consequences of action in the
Gulf rather than her possible resignation. The Prime Minister's official
spokesman did not rule out a meeting with Mr Cook.


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