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News, 15-19/03/03 (2) LAST DAYS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR * 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 LAST DAYS OF THE ARAB WORLD * 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 DAYS OF KURDISH INDEPENDENCE * 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 LAST DAYS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/world/1821439 * SADDAM: IRAQ WILL TAKE WAR ANYWHERE 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, Tikrit. 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 Kuwait. "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 Agency. 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 center. 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. http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/075/nation/Opposition_leaders_said_to_have _secured_pacts_for_defection+.shtml * OPPOSITION LEADERS SAID TO HAVE SECURED PACTS FOR DEFECTION 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. http://observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,915141,00.html * NETWORK OF IRAQI SPIES SET UP IN UK 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 journalist. 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. http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200303/16/eng20030316_113368.shtml * SADDAM DIVIDES IRAQ INTO FOUR SECURITY ZONES 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 Baghdad. 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. http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/WireFeed/WireFeed&c =WireFeed&cid=1046713661074&p=1014232938216 * TOP IRAQI DEFECTOR JOINS KURDISH FACTION 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. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3284-614607,00.html * SEE MEN SHREDDED, THEN SAY YOU DON'T BACK WAR 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 opponents. 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. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=388571 * HOPE FADES AS THE CITIZENS OF BAGHDAD BEGIN TO FORESEE THE APPALLING FATE AWAITING THEM 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 together". 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. LAST DAYS OF THE ARAB WORLD http://www.jordantimes.com/Sun/news/news13.htm * SAUDI INTELLECTUALS OPPOSE WAR ON IRAQ 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 democracy." 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. http://www.jordantimes.com/Mon/homenews/homenews5.htm * LATEST ROUND OF IRAQI, KUWAITI, SAUDI TALKS ENDS WITHOUT RESOLUTION 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 parties. 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. http://www.jordantimes.com/Tue/homenews/homenews1.htm * ARAB OPINION OF US HITS ALL-TIME LOW 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. LAST DAYS OF KURDISH INDEPENDENCE http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-613498,00.html * LAST-DITCH TALKS OVER ROW WITH IRAQI KURDS 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 Sunday. 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." http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c =StoryFT&cid=1045511765538&p=1012571727172 * KURDS TAKE TO THE HILLS AS FEARS GROW OF CHEMICAL BLITZ 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. http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-me/2003/mar/18/031803735.html * U.S. TO COMMAND IRAQI KURDISH FORCES 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 have. "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 Iraq. http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c =StoryFT&cid=1045511824447&p=1012571727166 * US AND IRAQI GROUPS IN DEAL TO PREVENT CHAOS IN NORTHERN IRAQ 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 area. 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 parliament. 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. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=388576 * SADDAM'S TROOPS FIRE THE FIRST SHOTS OF THE CONFLICT 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 leadership." 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