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[casi] News, 15-19/03/03 (2)

News, 15-19/03/03 (2)


*  Saddam: Iraq will take war anywhere
*  Opposition leaders said to have secured pacts for defection
*  Network of Iraqi spies set up in UK
*  Saddam Divides Iraq into Four Security Zones
*  Top Iraqi defector joins Kurdish faction
*  See men shredded, then say you don't back war
*  Hope fades as the citizens of Baghdad begin to foresee the appalling fate
awaiting them


*  Saudi intellectuals oppose war on Iraq
*  Latest round of Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Saudi talks ends without resolution    
*  Arab opinion of US hits all-time low    


*  Last-ditch talks over row with Iraqi Kurds
*  Kurds take to the hills as fears grow of chemical blitz
*  U.S. to Command Iraqi Kurdish Forces
*  US and Iraqi groups in deal to prevent chaos in northern Iraq


Houston Chronicle, 16th March

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi authorities stepped up defensive preparations in and
around Baghdad on Sunday, as Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein warned that if Iraq
is attacked it will take the war anywhere in the world "wherever there is
sky, land or water."

Fearing that a U.S.-led invasion may be only days away, residents of the
Iraqi capital lined up for gasoline and snapped up canned food and bottled
water. People mobbed pharmacies to buy antibiotics and tranquilizers.
Workers sandbagged fighting positions outside government buildings.

In an effort to improve Baghdad's air defenses, Saddam has ringed the
capital with an arsenal more formidable than those used during the 1991
Persian Gulf War, senior U.S. military officials told the New York Times.

"He has brought back almost all his significant resources into a heavy
defense of Baghdad," Maj. Gen. Dan Leaf, the chief Air Force officer in the
headquarters of the allied land commander, said last week. "It is a hornet's
nest right now. There is nothing subtle about it."

Asked to compare Iraq's air defenses with those during the Gulf War, Leaf
said: "Countrywide, they are weaker. In Baghdad they are stronger because
they have brought everything in."

Saddam also reshuffled his high command, putting the defense of the country
in the hands of his most loyal relatives and deputies, the Iraqi government
announced Sunday. Saddam will retain control of Iraq's aviation, air
defenses and surface-to-surface missile system; Saddam's son Qusay will have
responsibility for the defense of Baghdad and the Iraqi leader's hometown,

Iraqi television broadcast footage Sunday from a meeting Saddam held with
senior military commanders in which he told them they would survive a U.S.
attack in the same way his forces did in 1991, which President Bush's
father, George H.W. Bush, ordered U.S. troops to evict the Iraqi army from

"As the father has tried and failed, the son will try and fail because you
are in the right," Saddam told his top commanders. He vowed that Iraq would
mount a "great confrontation" if invaded. The Iraqi leader threatened a
broader war if the United States attacks.

"When the enemy starts a large-scale battle, he must realize that the battle
between us will be open wherever there is sky, land and water in the entire
world," Saddam told his commanders, according to the official Iraqi News

To try to strengthen his hold on the south, Saddam installed Ali Hassan
al-Majid, known by Iraqi government opponents as "Chemical Ali" because they
say he oversaw a chemical attack against the Kurds. Majid's headquarters
will probably be in the southern city of Nasiriyah.

Saddam placed another loyal deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, in command of
the strategic northern region. Mazban Khader Hadi, a member of the ruling
Revolutionary Command Council, was given charge of a region in the country's

Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council said the establishment of the new
military districts would enable Iraq's military to "take the necessary steps
to repulse and destroy any foreign aggression."

U.S. military officials have been saying for some time that Saddam plans to
make his stand in Baghdad, a move that would allow him to play to world
opinion and confront the United States with the prospect of urban warfare,
possibly inflicting many civilian casualties.

U.S. Air Force officials say Baghdad is defended by surface-to-air missiles,
heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft artillery.

by Charles M. Sennott
Boston Globe Staff, 16th March

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq -- Opposition officials here in the Kurdish-controlled
zone said yesterday that thousands of Iraqi military and political leaders
have signed secret agreements to defect and will surrender the moment a
US-led military campaign begins.

Leaders of the two biggest opposition parties, the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, or PUK, and the Kurdish Democratic Party, or KDP, as well as
smaller parties in the semiautonomous area under protection of the US and
British no-fly zone in northern Iraq, said they have worked for months
through a network of operatives to arrange the defections.

Every day, these ''letters of surrender'' are signed by people within the
military and security establishment of the Iraqi government and smuggled out
of northern Iraqi cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul, they said. Most of the
letters include a promise of amnesty to those in the regime who fear
criminal trials or street justice by a people over whom the Iraqi regime has
so brutally ruled.

Muhammad Haji Mahmood, military and political leader of the Kurdistan
Socialist Democrat Party, opened a black briefcase yesterday and displayed
scores of folded Arabic documents.

''We have people who are signing these letters from a very high rank,'' said
Mahmood, as he allowed a translator to read some of the documents with the
understanding that none of the identities or code names would be revealed.
''These are people with a close relation not just to the leadership, but to
the leader himself,'' said Mahmood, referring to President Saddam Hussein.

Mahmood said the process begins by reaching out to leaders through secretive
contacts and then having them sign a sworn statement. He said that he has
sent out thousands of letters to nearby Kirkuk and at least 400 have
accepted the terms.

Mahmood said that parties such as the PUK and KDP have at least three times
as many signed letters of surrender.

A top political leader of the PUK, who spoke on the condition of anonymity,
confirmed that the party has arranged for top military and political leaders
in the region to surrender to them, but he declined to offer any specific
numbers or to discuss the details.

''We have established contacts with very senior people in the regime,'' he
said. ''But it would be foolish and dangerous to discuss this.''

Mahmood has vowed that his 1,500-strong militia would push into the oil-rich
city of Kirkuk immediately after US airstrikes begin and raise his political
party's blue flag. That, he said, would be a sign to those who've agreed to
surrender to come under his authority, where he claims he will guarantee
their survival and, in most cases, amnesty.

The PUK's green flag and the KDP's yellow banner also would be raised,
creating a kind of feudal patronage system for former members of the regime
who hope to survive by attaching themselves to a political party.,6903,915141,00.html

by Jason Burke
The Observer, 16th March

Iraqi intelligence services have established a network of informants and
have several active agents in the UK, defectors have revealed. Their
information raises fears of a wave of sabotage attacks in the event of a war
in Iraq.

In a series of interviews, senior Iraqi intelligence officers who have fled
Saddam's regime said that at least one London-based journalist on an
Arabic-language newspaper is an agent of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's feared
civilian intelligence organisation.

Over the past 10 years, Saddam's agents have recruited Muslims from other
countries on pilgrimages to Mecca and paid them substantial sums to travel
to the UK, often exploiting illegal people-smuggling networks and the asylum
system, to act as informants and agents, they said.

Iraqi intelligence trained, equipped and directed the terrorists who took
over the Iranian Embassy in 1980. Saddam's agents have been behind the
killing of at least one Iraqi dissident in London and the attempted
assassination of several more over the past three decades.

The defectors also revealed that Iraqi intelligence officers had trained
Palestinian terrorists at a base near Baghdad and, for the first time,
revealed details that confirm Saddam's role in the failed assassination
attempt on George Bush senior in Kuwait in 1993. But they denied any link
between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime.

One of the defectors, a Mukhabarat colonel called Abid Hussein, said: 'Many
people were working in Britain to collect information for [the Mukhabarat].'
He named a man currently employed as a journalist on an Arabic-language
newspaper in the UK as a spy.

A second Mukhabarat defector, Kassm Mohammed al-Hut, said that he knew of
the recruitment of four North African Muslims at Mecca in 1994. The men were
given rudimentary training and sent to the UK.

Such operations continued throughout the 1990s, he said, with the growing
numbers of Iraqis entering the UK illegally to claim asylum providing cover
for other agents infiltrated into Britain. Abid, who was interviewed
independently of Kassm, confirmed that Mukhabarat officers travelled
routinely with pilgrims to Mecca to monitor the behaviour of Iraqi pilgrims
and to recruit agents.

Both Kassm and Abid were interviewed in a prison in a city in northern
Kurdistan in the presence of Kurdish security officers.

Iraqi operations in the UK date back to the late Seventies, said Abid, who
joined the Mukhabarat's foreign intelligence section in 1975 and visited
London as a diplomat shortly afterwards.

In 1978, he said, the Mukhabarat was behind the murder of Gen Abdul Razzaq
al-Hayef, a former Iraqi Prime Minister, outside a hotel in London. Abid,
who fled from Iraq to Germany in 1999 but was imprisoned by the Kurds in the
north of the country when he returned for his family, named the two
Mukhabarat colonels responsible for the killing.

According to Abid, the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980 was run by a senior
Mukhabarat officer called Fawzi al-Naimi. The attackers were recruited from
regions within Iraq populated by so-called 'Iranian Arabs' and were trained
in the Iraqi capital. 'I was in special operations in Baghdad at the time
and I saw their files and their information,' Abid, 49, said.

Weapons for the Iranian Embassy operation were smuggled from Kuwait to
London with the help of the Abu Nidal terrorist group, who were close to
Saddam's regime at the time, Abid said. In 1982 the Iraqis used Abu Nidal
for an attempt to kill the Israeli Ambassador in London. Abu Nidal himself
died of multiple gunshot wounds in Baghdad last year.

Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, the London Mukhabarat station at the
Iraqi Embassy had three or four officers posted to it. They established a
network of informants among journalists, businessmen and Iraqi students.
After 1991, the Mukhabarat's activities were restricted. Iraq's diplomatic
presence was limited to a special section at the Jordanian Embassy. At least
one Mukhabarat officer was able to penetrate the UK, however. He was sent
from Baghdad to another Middle Eastern country, where he worked as a

After building up his cover, he moved to the UK and has been there ever
since, Abid claimed. 'There are others but I do not know their identities.'

Espionage operations in the UK are now run from the upmarket al-Mansour
district of Baghdad. On the second floor of the middle of five buildings in
the complex there are five interlinked rooms known as the 'UK Desk'.

The unit is headed by a former lecturer in English at Baghdad University,
who was once the Mukhabarat's head of station in London. General Khalil
Ibrahim, the deputy director of the Mukhabarat, is also a former chief of
the London station. Reports from agents in the UK are sent to Baghdad
through Amman, the defectors revealed

Abid confirmed that the Mukhabarat trained terrorists at a camp south of the
capital, but said that recruits came from leftist Palestinian groups. He
said that the regime had close links with Hamas, the Islamic militant
organisation behind many suicide bombings in Israel.

Peoples Daily, 16th March

Iraq's ruling Revolution Command Council (RCC) has issued a decree tonight
to divide the country into four military zones, each under the command of a
leading official, to face the expected US-British offensive.

The decree was signed by President Saddam Hussein, who is also RCC Chairman
and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

According to the decree, the Northern Zone, including Nineva, Kirkuk as well
as the Kurdish provinces of Dohuk, Erbil and Saleimaaiya, is put under the
command of RCC Vice Chairman Izzat Ibrahim.

The three Kurdish provinces are now controlled by two dissident Kurdish
parties led by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. The decree did not say how
these provinces would be put under the control of the central government in

The Southern Zone, including Basra, Dhi-Qar and Meisan, is put under the
command of RCC member Ali Hassan Al-Majeed.

The Eastern Zone, including Kerbab, Nejafi, AI-Methanna and AI-QadisiYa, is
put under the command of RCC member Mizban Khidher Hadi.

The Central (Iraqi) Zone, including the capital of Baghdad, Salahaddin,
Anbar, Wasit and Diyala, is put under the command of a member of Iraq's
ruling Baath Party, Qusay Saddam Hussein, who is a son of the president and
in charge of the Republican Guards.

The decree also decided that each of the above zones be prepared to face any
foreign "aggression" and to mobilize the masses to share in the
confrontation to defend Iraq's sovereignty and its national integrity.

It also decided to put all the other para-military forces, such as Fida'ee
Saddam (Saddam's commandos led by Uday Saddam Hussein) as well as the Air
Force, the Air Defense, the Army Air Force, Surface-to-Air and
Surface-to-Surface Missiles, under the command of President Saddam Hussein
in person.

According to the presidential decree, the use of jet fighters and
surface-to-surface missiles will be mandated only by Saddam.

Earlier in the day, Saddam held a meeting with his top military brass, which
was attended by his son Qusai, Defence Minister Sultan Hashim and Commander
of the General Command Hussein Rashid.

The commanders posted Saddam on the latest combat preparations, pledging
victory, it was reported.

Iraq had taken a similar decision before the outbreak of the US-British air
and missile offensive against the country in December 1988.

The said step is considered the most important step taken by the Iraqi
leadership to face the current US-British mobilization of forces in the Gulf
and other countries surrounding Iraq, in the aim to topple the regime of
President Saddam Hussein and replace by a pro-Western regime.

by Jon Hemming
Financial Times, 17th March

DOHUK, Iraq (Reuters) - A prominent Iraqi tribal leader, previously loyal to
President Saddam Hussein, says he has joined forces with a Kurdish faction
and predicted that the United States would rapidly triumph in a war on Iraq.

Jowhad Herki told Reuters on Monday that he had shifted his support to the
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), adding that the Iraqi people were tired of
years of conflict and wanted to see the downfall of Saddam.

"We are awaiting orders from the KDP. We will follow their orders," he said
from his office in this northern city.

The KDP governs two of the three provinces in northern Iraq that have been
under Kurdish control since the 1991 Gulf War. The enclave was set up to
protect Kurds facing reprisals from Saddam after a failed uprising at the
end of the conflict.

Herki indicated that many of Saddam's allies wanted to switch sides as a
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq appeared imminent.

"Even people very close to Saddam want him to leave. When Saddam leaves,
(the) Iraqi people will live a better life, even military commanders think
the same way," he said.

"No-one is going to fight for Saddam... The war will finish very quickly
because the people are very tired. They have seen nothing but destruction,"
he added.

He said his clan had around 5,000 fighters in or around Mosul, a northern
oil city which is controlled by Baghdad and which used to be his base before
he defected last year.

Herki said the people of Mosul would rise up and overwhelm Saddam's forces
if the United States attacked Iraq: "It will take 15 to 20 minutes. That's
not what I call fighting."

The United States and Britain have amassed a 280,000-strong force around the
Gulf region for a possible invasion of Iraq, accusing Saddam of failing to
meet U.N. demands to scrap chemical, biological and nuclear weapons
programmes. Iraq denies having such weapons.

KDP's foreign affairs spokesman Fawzi Hariri confirmed that Herki had met
KDP leader Massoud Barzani last week. He said the tribal leader had
originally been recruited by Baghdad to establish "light brigades" for
mountain operations.

"He's one of a number who cooperated with the regime for one reason or
another, but now he's decided to move away from that and come to this side,"
Hariri said.

Herki defended his decision to work with Saddam.

"We had no other choice. If we hadn't co-operated my people would have been
persecuted or executed, or have had their villages burned down," he said.

The Kurdish enclave is increasingly tense ahead of a possible war. On Sunday
Kurds marked the anniversary of a 1988 Iraqi chemical attack that killed
some 5,000 people in the town of Halabja.

In growing numbers, Kurds are packing up and leaving their homes near the
front line with Saddam's forces and moving north to remote mountainous
regions to escape the threat.,,3284-614607,00.html

by Ann Clwyd
The Times, 18th March

"There was a machine designed for shredding plastic. Men were dropped into
it and we were again made to watch. Sometimes they went in head first and
died quickly. Sometimes they went in feet first and died screaming. It was
horrible. I saw 30 people die like this. Their remains would be placed in
plastic bags and we were told they would be used as fish food . . . on one
occasion, I saw Qusay [President Saddam Hussein's youngest son] personally
supervise these murders."

This is one of the many witness statements that were taken by researchers
from Indict  the organisation I chair  to provide evidence for legal cases
against specific Iraqi individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity
and genocide. This account was taken in the past two weeks.

Another witness told us about practices of the security services towards
women: "Women were suspended by their hair as their families watched; men
were forced to watch as their wives were raped . . . women were suspended by
their legs while they were menstruating until their periods were over, a
procedure designed to cause humiliation."

The accounts Indict has heard over the past six years are disgusting and
horrifying. Our task is not merely passively to record what we are told but
to challenge it as well, so that the evidence we produce is of the highest
quality. All witnesses swear that their statements are true and sign them.

For these humanitarian reasons alone, it is essential to liberate the people
of Iraq from the regime of Saddam. The 17 UN resolutions passed since 1991
on Iraq include Resolution 688, which calls for an end to repression of
Iraqi civilians. It has been ignored. Torture, execution and
ethnic-cleansing are everyday life in Saddam's Iraq.

Were it not for the no-fly zones in the south and north of Iraq  which some
people still claim are illegal  the Kurds and the Shia would no doubt still
be attacked by Iraqi helicopter gunships.

For more than 20 years, senior Iraqi officials have committed genocide, war
crimes and crimes against humanity. This list includes far more than the
gassing of 5,000 in Halabja and other villages in 1988. It includes serial
war crimes during the Iran-Iraq war; the genocidal Anfal campaign against
the Iraqi Kurds in 1987-88; the invasion of Kuwait and the killing of more
than 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians; the violent suppression, which I witnessed, of
the 1991 Kurdish uprising that led to 30,000 or more civilian deaths; the
draining of the Southern Marshes during the 1990s, which ethnically cleansed
thousands of Shias; and the summary executions of thousands of political

Many Iraqis wonder why the world applauded the military intervention that
eventually rescued the Cambodians from Pol Pot and the Ugandans from Idi
Amin when these took place without UN help. They ask why the world has
ignored the crimes against them?

All these crimes have been recorded in detail by the UN, the US, Kuwaiti,
British, Iranian and other Governments and groups such as Human Rights
Watch, Amnesty and Indict. Yet the Security Council has failed to set up a
war crimes tribunal on Iraq because of opposition from France, China and
Russia. As a result, no Iraqi official has ever been indicted for some of
the worst crimes of the 20th century. I have said incessantly that I would
have preferred such a tribunal to war. But the time for offering Saddam
incentives and more time is over.

I do not have a monopoly on wisdom or morality. But I know one thing. This
evil, fascist regime must come to an end. With or without the help of the
Security Council, and with or without the backing of the Labour Party in the
House of Commons tonight.

The author is Labour MP for Cynon Valley.

by Robert Fisk in Baghdad
The Independent, 19th March

The darkness is beginning to descend, the fog of anxiety that falls upon all
people when they realise that they face unimaginable danger. It's not just
the thousands of empty, shut-up shops in Baghdad, whose owners are taking
their goods home for fear of looting. It's not even the sight of concrete
barges beside the Tigris to provide transport if the Americans blow up the
great bridges. It's a feeling  and I quote a long-term Baghdad resident who
has lived in the Middle East for almost a quarter of a century  that "the
glue will come unstuck and there will be nothing left to hold people

The nightmare is not so much the cruel bombardment of Iraq, whose
inevitability is now assured, as the growing conviction that the
Anglo-American invasion will provoke a civil war, of Shia against Sunnis, of
Sunnis against Kurds, of Kurds and Turkomans. Driving through the streets of
the great Shia slums of Saddam City  the millions here originally came from
the Amara region of southern Iraq  it is possible to comprehend the fears
of the Sunni minority, that the poor will descend in their tens of thousands
to pillage Baghdad City the moment central authority crumbles.

How unkind, you may say. Weren't the Shia the most repressed people in Iraq
these past decades? Around Baghdad, the people have seen the Republican
Guard; their checkpoints are growing more impressive. The main highway to
Kurdistan has been closed for the past three days and thus the outlines of a
siege are being laid in the minds of Baghdad's people. City officials are
now talking of a total day-and-night curfew in Baghdad throughout the US
bombardment, 24 hours of confinement without a known end, not a soul on the
street for a week or two weeks  depending, I suppose, on the length of time
General Tommy Franks wants to use and test his weapons against Saddam
Hussein and Iraq.

In the 1991 Gulf War, Baghdad residents packed their freezers with meat,
only to find that the US destruction of the Iraqi power grid turned their
food rotten within hours. Now they are eating through the contents of their
freezers and buying tons of bread, biscuits, dates and nuts. Thousands of
e-mail users in Iraq are also receiving anonymous messages in Arabic
outlining the medical treatment to be given in the event of chemical or
biological attack. They don't suggest who might use these weapons of mass
destruction, nor who might have sent the messages. The very few Europeans
left here suspect this could be a US military Psyops job, another attempt to
throw panic into a civilian population.

Oddly, the e-mails did not mention something the Americans might prefer to
hide from both Iraqis and their "allies" in the West: that they fully intend
to use depleted uranium (DU) ammunition in the coming conflict. Tens of
thousands of Gulf War syndrome sufferers and a growing number of medical
scholars believe that the aerosol spray released by these armour piercing
rounds have caused plagues of cancers, especially in the area around Basra
where they were used 12 years ago. But now  in remarks virtually ignored
outside Kuwait  General Buford Blount of the US 3rd Infantry Division has
admitted that his men would again be using DU shells in battle in Iraq. "If
we receive the order to attack, final preparations will only take a few
days. We have already begun to unwrap our depleted uranium anti-tank
shells," he said.

Equally ignored outside Kuwait have been the violations of the UN's buffer
zone between Kuwait and Iraq, guarded by Bangladeshi troops until their
withdrawal yesterday. The great majority of recent violations have been by
American helicopters, jets and vehicle patrols over the territory, which
will be the starting point for America's invasion.

It's extraordinary that none of this makes its way into the Baghdad press.
Not even when Ukrainian chemical weapons specialists agreed to assist US
troops in the battlefield  most of Iraq's chemical weapons were of Soviet
inspiration  did the Iraqi press wake up. For wasn't this the same Ukraine
that was being threatened with sanctions by the US only four months ago for
allegedly selling to Iraq its Kolchuga radar system, which can detect
Stealth bombers?

So who, with the clock at five minutes to midnight, appears to be the most
confident man in all Iraq? Indeed, need the reader ponder such an obvious
question? On state television yesterday, he appeared yet again, insisting
that his forces would destroy the American invasion force, instructing his
son Qusay  commander of the Baghdad military zone  that American mothers
would weep tears of blood at the death of their son if they invaded Iraq.

He was in uniform, and he smiled confidently, as usual. Perhaps there is
some quaint reassurance to be had, listening to the wisdom of the Great
Leader at such a moment. Yesterday, even as President Bush was giving him 48
hours to go into exile to spare his country invasion, President Saddam was
regaling the world with his assurances to the Tunisian Foreign Minister.
"When Saddam Hussein says we have no weapons of mass destruction, it means
what he means he says," he explained. Then came the more familiar rhetoric.
"If the US attacks, it will find [Iraqi] fighters behind every rock, wall or
tree in defence of their land and freedom."

Only a couple of weeks ago, the President was telling his soldiers that "all
this talk about what [weapons] America has, is nonsense ... We should plan
on the basis that the battlefields must be everywhere, the battlefields
should be wherever there are people." Orwellian isn't the word for it. As a
quarter of a million US troops prepare to invade Iraq within hours, page two
of the Baghdad newspaper Babylon informed its readers yesterday that
"President Saddam Hussein, may God preserve him, received a telegram from
the Ministry of Industry and Minerals on the anniversary of His Excellence's
visit to the dairy product factories of Abu Ghoraib on 16 March, 1978."

Dairy products? Isn't that what President Saddam was thinking about 13 years
ago, when he told a British schoolboy hostage he was about to free that he
must "take care to drink your milk every day"? But the statement the world
waited to hear about the Iraqi leader came from one of his officials. "The
President was born in Iraq and will die in Iraq," he said.


Jordan Times, 16th March    
DUBAI (AFP)  Two hundred Saudi intellectuals, including women, published a
petition on Saturday opposing a war on Iraq and calling on Arabregimes to
grant people more freedom and democracy.

The petition, signed by poets, writers, lawyers, academics and senior civil
servants as well as businessmen, condemned American unilateralism throughout
the world.

A US-led war on Iraq would lead the Middle East "to destruction, disorder
and instability," said the document obtained by AFP.

The intellectuals hailed the stance of China, France, Germany and Russia
which have come out against war in favour of extended disarmament
inspections in Iraq.

The petition voiced fears that "Israel will benefit from new circumstances
to demolish the peace process and finish off the Palestinian question."

It opposed the use of Arab territory to wage war on Iraq and urged Arab
governments "to satisfy the aspirations of their people for freedom and

Such political statements have been rare in the kingdom, although more than
100 leading Saudi Islamists and liberal reformists presented a "vision for
constitutional reform" to Crown Prince Abdullah in January.

The reformists said the prince told them domestic reform was only a matter
of time.

Prince Abdullah had the same month launched an initiative that called on
Arabs to adopt political reform and expand popular participation, which
analysts interpreted as a message for change at home.

The conservative kingdom has an appointed parliament, the Shura council,
whose powers are limited to reviewing government-sponsored draft bills and
making recommendations to the cabinet.

by Tareq Ayyoub
Jordan Times, 17th March
AMMAN  Kuwaiti, Iraqi and Saudi officials ended their latest round of talks
Sunday as part of efforts to determine the whereabouts of hundreds of people
missing since the 1990 91 Gulf crisis, a spokesman for the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

Muin Kassis said the three parties agreed to meet again March 30 at ICRC
headquarters in Amman, where the organisation will supervise the meeting.

The official declined to give further details upon request of the three

Sunday's meeting is the fifth here since Jan. 8 and comes as part of
subcommittee consultations on the issue.

Kuwait maintains that Iraq is still holding over 600 Kuwaitis that have been
missing since the Gulf War, an allegation repeatedly denied by Baghdad, who
is also seeking information about the fate of 1,100 of its citizens.

Saudi Arabia is involved to find out details regarding a number of military
officials that took part in the war.

Kuwaiti officials informed the Arab League that they were "pessimistic" of
the outcome of the meetings, claiming that the Iraqis were not seriously
involved in discussions. They also charged that the Iraqi delegation had
refused to supply any information about missing nationals, some of whom are
from the ruling Al Sabah family.

The prisoner issue remains a major stumbling block impeding the
normalisation of ties between Kuwait and Iraq, which occupied the emirate in
1990 and was then forced to pull out by a US-led coalition.

Iraq indicated that many Kuwaiti prisoners were killed during coalition
bombing campaigns of Iraqi territories  a claim Kuwait rejects.

by James J. Zogby
Jordan Times, 18th March
ARAB PUBLIC opinion towards the United States has dropped to dangerously low
levels, even before an anticipated US-led attack on Iraq. Following are the
findings of a recent Arab American Institute/Zogby International (AAI/ZI)
poll of 2,600 individuals from key Arab countries. The poll was conducted in
early March 2003 and had a margin of error of between 3.8 to 5.

The countries polled included Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the
United Arab Emirates. In an earlier AAI/ZI poll, done in March of 2002, it
was found that US favourable ratings were already quite low and that the
factor that drove these negative opinions was the unbalanced US policy
towards the Palestinians. It appears that this year's poll results have been
impacted as well by the US' unilateralist approach towards Iraq.

The most significant drops in US ratings occurred in Morocco and Jordan. In
2002, for example, 34 per cent of Jordanians had a positive view of the
United States, as compared to 61 per cent who had a negative view. In 2003,
only 10 per cent of Jordanians hold a positive view of the United States,
while 81 per cent see the country in a negative light. Similarly, in
Morocco, the favourable/unfavourable rating towards the United States in
2002 were 38 per cent to 61 per cent. Today they are 9 per cent favourable
and 88 per cent unfavourable.

The US' favourable/unfavourable ratings were already quite low in Egypt,
Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They have remained low. In 2002, the ratings in
Egypt were 15 per cent favourable to 76 per cent unfavourable. In 2003,
Egyptians' ratings of the United States are 13 per cent favourable and 80
per cent unfavourable. In Saudi Arabia, 12 per cent viewed the United States
favourably and 87 per cent unfavourably in 2002. Today, 3 per cent see it
favourably and 97 per cent unfavourably. In the UAE, the ratio showed almost
no change from an 11 per cent favourable/87 per cent unfavourable in 2002 to
11 per cent favourable/85 per cent unfavourable in 2003.

In all five countries, US policy towards Iraq received only single digit
favourable ratings, while nine respondents out of ten opposed current US
policy towards that country.

These numbers do not translate into support for the Iraqi regime, however,
since majorities in three of the five countries indicated that they wanted
to see the regime in Baghdad disarmed of all weapons of mass destruction. In
answer to the question "do you agree or disagree that the government of Iraq
should fully comply with UN weapons inspectors," 52 per cent of all Arabs in
the Emirates agreed, while only 34 per cent disagreed. In Egypt, 51 per cent
agreed while 41 per cent disagreed. A plurality of Moroccans agree that
Baghdad should cooperate. Only in Jordan and Saudi Arabia did slightly less
than one in four agree with the demand, while two-thirds disagreed.

What is important to note is that Arabs in all these countries do not
support the United States' acting unilaterally to disarm Iraq. When asked:
"If Iraq does not comply with UN inspectors, or if the UN finds that Iraq
has been hiding weapons of mass destruction, would you support or oppose
United States unilateral military action to make Iraq comply?" those
responding positively were quite low: 14 per cent (Egypt), 9 per cent (UAE),
8 per cent (Jordan), 3 per cent (Saudi Arabia) 1 per cent (Morocco). When
asked, however, if they would approve of a UN-endorsed effort to disarm
Iraq, should the regime fail to comply, the percentages increased
considerably: 32 per cent (UAE), 29 per cent (Egypt), 18 per cent (Saudi
Arabia), 16 per cent (Morocco), 10 per cent (Jordan).

What should be most disturbing to US policy makers is the lack of confidence
in and goodwill towards US policy that this poll establishes. In the 2002
poll, for example, we asked a number of what are called "projective"
questions. For example: "If the US were to apply pressure to ensure the
creation of an independent Palestinian state, would that make you more
favourable, less favourable or make no difference in your attitude towards
the United States?" In almost all cases, in 2002, about 80 per cent of all
Arab respondents indicated that this change in policy would make them more
favourably inclined towards the United States. The current poll, however,
did not elicit such a response. Only in the UAE did a majority indicate that
their attitude towards the United States would improve if "the US were to
apply pressure to ensure the creation of a Palestinian state". In Jordan,
only 31 per cent said their attitude would improve and in Saudi Arabia,
Egypt and Morocco those indicating that their attitudes towards the US would
improve were 27 per cent, 26 per cent and 15 per cent respectively. Almost 7
of 10 in those countries indicated that their attitude would not improve.

It is not clear from the poll why this hypothetical change in US policy now
fails to create a change in attitudes towards the United States. Several
possibilities may be suggested. Arab public opinion may simply no longer
believe that the US will act in an even-handed manner to end the
Arab-Israeli conflict. After failing to act to end the crisis of last March
and April, siding with Israel's Ariel Sharon, and then failing to issue the
Quartet's "roadmap" in a timely manner, Arab opinion may have concluded that
the United States simply will not act to bring Palestinians justice. It may
be that the conflict has gone on so long without any positive US action,
that even if there were to be a change in policy, it may be too little too
late to win Arab support. Finally, it may also be due to the fact that the
US' unilateralist approach towards Iraq has done such damage to American
standing in the region that even a hypothetical change in policy is not
enough to replenish the reservoir of goodwill towards the United States that
once existed.

In any case, what this 2003 AAI/ZI poll establishes is that the United
States is treading on dangerous ground in the Arab world today. It is a fact
that has been the subject of much discussion. But now we have hard numbers
to support what is a widely held view.


by Suna Erdem in Ankara
The Times, 17th March

SENIOR Iraqi Kurdish leaders flew into the highly charged atmosphere of
Ankara yesterday for a meeting that is hoped will defuse a bitter dispute
between two of Washington's crucial allies.

Although the gathering has been billed as a forum for the Iraqi opposition
to discuss the shape of postwar Iraq, it is expected to focus on an argument
between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds over Turkish plans to send troops into
Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq in a war.

Yet as Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and
Nechirvan Barzani, a senior Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) delegate,
boarded the aircraft to the Turkish capital, it was unclear whether Ankara
would have a role in a war.

Despite sustained pressure from Washington, Turkey's parliament has not yet
tabled a second vote after its rejection of the deployment of US troops in
southeast Turkey for a northern front.

"Nothing is over yet, but every day that goes by it becomes less likely that
there will be a northern front," a Western diplomat in Ankara said. "The
Turkish Government seems to be in no hurry."

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK) was badly split over the
first vote, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, cannot
afford to preside over another failure in a party that is still strongly
anti-war. Mr Erdogan says that nothing will happen until after a vote of
confidence in his new Government, which is not now expected until next

An AK party source indicated that nothing was certain even then. "Everybody
knows that Turkey has certain sensitivities. As far as I know these haven't
been satisfied so far," he said.

These sensitivities could be addressed in part at the meeting in Ankara,
which is expected to start tomorrow with the participation of Turkish
officials and Zalmai Khalilzad, the US special envoy.

Ankara is keen to avoid the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq 
something that it believes will stir Kurdish separatism across the border in
southeast Turkey  and wants written guarantees against Kurdish
independence. It also wants a bigger role for the region's Turkoman minority
to safeguard Turkish interests.

The fact that the pro- Turkish Turkomans will be represented at the meeting
could indicate that both sides will try to address the issue. However, it
seems unlikely that Turkey will be persuaded to abandon plans to enter
northern Iraq, which it says is necessary to help to care for refugees and
to keep as many of them as possible in Iraq.

Turkey has scarcely tried to hide that the tens of thousands of troops would
also guard against Kurdish independence.

As far as Washington is concerned, Turkey cannot do this without American
blessing, which it cannot have unless it allows the deployment of up to
62,000 US troops in southeast Turkey. According to Milliyet, a Turkish
newspaper, which claims to have seen the contents of a letter sent to Mr
Erdogan, President Bush has been voicing fears that if Turkey were to go
into northern Iraq alone, it would risk clashing not only with the Iraqi
Kurdish militia but also with troops from its Nato ally.

Even though it stands to lose a $30 billion aid package, there is little
indication that the Turkish leadership has been rattled. Bulent Arinc, the
parliament's Speaker and a strong opponent of US deployment, said that no
leader had the right to threaten the leader of another country "even if this
person's name is Bush. The Turkish Government knows what it is doing."

by Gareth Smyth and Harvey Morris in northern Iraq
Financial Times, 18th March

Buses, taxis and pick-up trucks piled high with bedding and excited children
headed for the mountains yesterday as thousands of people left the main
Kurdish cities in northern Iraq.

With war looming, the population is well aware that Arbil, Dohuk and
Suleimaniyah are all within range of Iraqi artillery and potentially
vulnerable to shells capped with chemical or nerve agents.

Those heading north said they planned to stay in villages inside Iraq rather
than head for Turkey and Iran as Kurdish refugees did in 1991 when their
uprising against Baghdad collapsed.

In Arbil's city centre, a kilometre-long queue of cars formed at one petrol
station selling at government-controlled prices as motorists stocked up for
a possible mass exodus. Market traders meanwhile were doing a brisk trade in
2m-wide rolls of Cellophane sheeting.

"Saddam [Hussein] may suddenly attack and I must nail this over the windows
to protect my house and my 10 children," said Ibrahim Hama Nassim, who
bought four metres.

At Kalak village, mud-brown houses reach within a few hundred metres of
Iraqi positions, from which soldiers sometimes shoot at villagers' grazing
sheep. But the villagers' strongest fears are not bullets. "We worry about
chemical weapons," says Marwan Omar, 22. "But what can we do?"

>From a sentry post at the nearby Zab river, a Kurdish security officer
peered through binoculars along the 200m bridge at the Iraqi security on the
other side.

"The ridge behind the Iraqi post is lined with military positions. We hear
their morale is low," he said. "They've sent messages with shepherds to the
village that if they are attacked, they won't fight."

But the threat to the Kurds comes from farther back. "I suspect the Iraqi
army has artillery and tanks behind the ridge," said the security officer,
"but even the artillery 30km away near [the government-controlled city of]
Mosul could easily hit the village."

The commemoration on Sunday of the 15th anniversary of the Halabja massacre
- when at least 5,000 people died from chemical weapons - has heightened
fears the Iraqi leader might again take vengeance on the Kurds.But despite
worries about chemical weapons, many Kurds want a new regime in Baghdad,
even if it means war.

"Our village has been destroyed six times by the Iraqi government, and each
time we have rebuilt it," says Mallah Omar, a twinkle-eyed man in his 60s
who fought with Mullah Mustapha Barzani, the legendary guerrilla leader.

"We were just 500 fighters, but with all their troops, airplanes and bombs
the Iraqis could not defeat us," he insists. "The Americans have 250,000
troops. If they all throw one stone at Baghdad, never mind a bomb, they will
kill Saddam."

In another sign of war jitters, the value of the Swiss-printed Iraqi dinars
that circulate in the Kurdish region has fallen more than 10 per cent
against the dollar in recent days. In Arbil's bazaar, the dinar was trading
at 9.45 to the dollar yesterday, against 8.5 on Friday.

Dealers said customers were dumping dinar savings and seeking refuge in the
dollar in anticipation of a new currency after a war. The Iraqi dinar used
inside government controlled territory fell to 280,000 to the dollar on the
Arbil exchange.

by Harmonie Toros
Las Vegas Sun, 18th March

ANKARA, Turkey (AP): White House special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday
that Iraqi Kurdish leaders had agreed to place their forces under the
command of the U.S.-led coalition in an Iraq war.

Iraqi Kurdish forces "committed themselves to fully cooperate with the
coalition, and to put whatever forces they have under the command and
control of the coalition commanders," Khalilzad told reporters after a
meeting in Ankara with Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan, or PUK, and Nechirvan Barzani, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party,
or KDP. Turkish officials were also at the meeting.

It was not clear what role the Iraqi Kurdish forces - some 70,000 men
according to KDP sources - would play in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

The United States wants to open a northern front against Iraq, but its plans
suffered a blow when Turkey's parliament refused earlier this month to allow
in 62,000 U.S combat troops. Without a large contingent of its own troops in
northern Iraq, Washington is likely to be more dependent of Iraqi Kurdish
forces there.

Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign relations chief of the KDP, confirmed that
Kurdish groups had agreed in principle that "all forces inside Iraq will
come under the control of U.S. command."

Zebari said the agreement with the United States had been reached some time
ago, but did not give details on what role the local Kurdish forces would

"Any forces that do not fall under the command will be regarded as hostile
forces," Zebari said, adding that this included any foreign forces.

Turkey has said it wants to send its troops into northern Iraq, where it
fears that Kurds could try and create an independent Kurdish state. The
United States is trying to dissuade the Turks from any unilateral
intervention, arguing that Turkish and U.S. forces could be caught in
friendly fire.

Iraqi Kurdish forces have warned that a Turkish intervention could lead to
clashes with their forces.

In Tuesday's meeting, the United States failed to get assurances from the
Turks that they would not cross in northern Iraq.

Zebari said both the Kurds and the Americans expressed their opposition to a
Turkish deployment.

"We do not assume that the dispatch of regional forces, or forces from
Turkey, is the first or the best means to deal with this issue," Khalilzad
said after the meeting.

Turkey fears that Iraqi Kurds could seize the oil rich cities of Kirkuk and
Mosul if Iraq collapses, strengthening the Iraqi Kurds and possibly
encouraging the creation of an independent Kurdish state.

Khalilzad said that the Iraqi Kurdish groups agreed to discourage militias
from taking over the cities.

Zebari said the Americans had proposed to set up a "cell unit" that would
gather Turks, Iraqi Kurds and Americans and that would serve to coordinate
between the sides.

Zebari said a Turkish military delegation was due to travel to Salahuddin in
northern Iraq in the coming days to iron out details of the unit.

Kurdish groups fear that Turkey would take advantage of the war to crush
Kurdish autonomy. The PUK and KDP run a de facto autonomous zone in northern

by Leyla Boulton in Ankara
Financial Times, 19th March

The US said yesterday it had reached agreement with Turkey and some
important Iraqi opposition groups on mechanisms to prevent a messy
free-for-all in northern Iraq after it starts a military campaign to
overthrow Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the personal envoy of US President George W. Bush, said
that the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK) - the two main Kurdish groups in northern Iraq - had
together with the Iraqi Turkoman Front agreed to discourage "uncontrolled
movements of refugees and internally displaced persons".

They had also committed themselves to "avoiding any acts . . . that could
incite civil discord, such as persons taking the law into their own hands by
taking property they believe to be theirs".

Instead, a formal commission would adjudicate on property claims.

Meetings which continue in Ankara today with other Iraqi groups are aimed at
achieving a modus vivendi among the Iraq opposition and with Turkey, which
shares a border with northern Iraq, a Kurdish-dominated zone which has ruled
itself since the Gulf war in 1991.

Ankara's stated intention to dispatch troops to northern Iraq to prevent a
flood of refugees and control Turkish Kurdish guerrillas has sparked violent
protests by Iraqi Kurds and Arabs.

The US had endorsed the sending of Turkish troops under a wide-ranging
financial, military and political accord which has been on the shelf ever
since the Turkish parliament failed to approve the deployment of 62,000 US
troops on its soil.

Turkey still reserved the right - opposed by others at yesterday's meeting -
to intervene in northern Iraq to protect its national interests. But a
senior US official said that yesterday's meeting had also agreed in
principle to establish a standing committee "where contentious issues could
be raised on a continuous basis" with Turks and Iraqis.

The Turkish government's moves to resubmit to parliament a motion giving the
US military support would also secure for Ankara a more formal role in
shaping developments in a post-Saddam Iraq.

One danger is that Kurdish refugees would hurry back to oil-rich Kirkuk and
Mosul in a move that would be seen by Turkey as an attempt to grab control
of the area.

Mr Khalilzad reiterated, however, that the US would control "any potential
population flows into Kirkuk and Mosul during hostilities" by occupying the

The Turkish parliament is expected to vote today or tomorrow on a motion to
help the US launch war on neighbouring Iraq, write Leyla Boulton in Ankara
and Harvey Morris in Salahuddin, northern Iraq.

The government brought forward the vote after markets plunged on Monday on
fears that Turkey would lose US financial backing.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the newly appointed prime minister, had said that the
troop deployment issue would wait until he had won a vote of confidence from

However, it remained unclear yesterday, pending the outcome of a cabinet
meeting, what parliament would be asked to approve.

On March 1 members of parliament narrowly failed to back a motion allowing
the deployment of 62,000 US troops on Turkish soil.

Some officials said the re-submitted motion might only offer the US an air
corridor to fly personnel and equipment to northern Iraq.

Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush's special envoy, yesterday began
fresh talks in Ankara with Iraqi opposition groups and Turkey to settle
differences between Turks and Iraqi Kurds over the fate of northern Iraq.

by Patrick Cockburn in northern Iraq
The Independent, 19th March

Two Iraqi helicopters fired machine guns and rockets into three Kurdish
villages on the front line north of Kirkuk yesterday, in the first shots
intended to kill in the coming war.

''There were two of them, one an attack helicopter and the other normally
used for transport, attacking the villages where people herding cattle
live," Mohammed Fateh, a local Kurdish military commander, said.

Kurdish officers believe that the Iraqi helicopter attack on the three
impoverished and half ruined villages of Bashtapa, Girdalanka and Sherawa in
the hills south-east of Qush Tappa was a desperate effort by the Iraqi army
to raise the morale of its men and prove that its firepower is still to be
reckoned with.

''Maybe they fear that the Iraqi soldiers want to flee, so they did this to
raise their spirits," said General Nasrudin Mustafa, the Kurdish commander
for this sector, who had driven up from his headquarters to inspect the
front line moments after the strafing took place.

Many people from the villages, in the no-man's land between the Kurdish and
Iraqi army forces, had already fled to the nearby city of Arbil, he said.

The Iraqi soldiers facing the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq appear to
have recent orders to show they still have teeth. A few days ago they fired
mortar shells at tracks used by smugglers near Qush Tappa to bring goods
from Kirkuk, 40 miles to the south.

Local commanders of the peshmerga (Kurdish guerrillas), dressed in their
traditional baggy trousers, were tense because the Iraqi army had changed
the unit facing them and reinforced it. General Mustafa, a burly man in a
black and white turban, whom we had accompanied to the front, calmed them,
saying: "The Iraqis have only switched units around because they are afraid
their soldiers will establish links with the peshmerga. They have also sent
in some more tanks and cannon, but not many of either."

The Iraqi army is deeply sensitive to what happens on this section of the
front line, because of fears that the peshmerga will take advantage of the
US air bombardment to recover villages from which they were deported or
forced to flee over the past 25 years. Asked if he plans to attack, General
Mustafa smiled and said discreetly: "We are waiting for orders from our


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