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[casi] News, 6-13/12/02 (2)

News, 6-13/12/02 (2)


*  Report From Iraq: "Fear in the Streets"
*  Iraq Under Siege
*  Saddam orders top brass to step up combat-readiness
*  Child death rate in Iraq trebles
*  Voices from the streets of Iraq
*  Did Saddam's army test poison gas on missing 5,000?


*  Iraq Villagers Describe Life of Violence
*  Experiment in evil
*  The Kurdish democratic model could save Iraq
*  The missing link? Mysterious Iraqi may tie Saddam to bin Laden


by Brian Handwerk
National Geographic News, 6th December

Veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett was the last Western television
reporter to cover the 1991 Gulf War from inside Iraq. While in Baghdad,
Arnett interviewed Saddam Hussein, the last television interview granted by
the country's leader.

Arnett is now back in Iraq, revisiting the streets, markets, homes, and
people of the nation's capital on assignment for National Geographic
EXPLORER. Arnett's first report, Back to Baghdad, which premiers Sunday,
December 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on MSNBC (more details), reveals a land and a
people largely unknown to Americans.

Earlier this week, Arnett spoke with National Geographic News from Baghdad,
sharing his perspective on the return of UN weapons inspectors, the strength
of Hussein's regime, and the mood of the Iraqi people.

Is there a sense of impending conflict on the streets of Baghdad?

Yes, Iraqis fear renewed war and speak freely about it to visiting
reporters. People we meet express the greatest concern over the fate of
their children in an upcoming conflict. The population of Baghdad did
survive with relativity few casualties during the bombings of the Gulf War
in 1991. But most people seem aware that if the United States and its
partners launch war for a second time, the ramifications will be much
greater. The possibility of a violent change of government frightens those
who look back to recent history when such changes came with murderous
outbreaks of violence on the streets during ethnic clashes.

While there is fear in the streets, the Iraqis are inured to crisis and do
not seem ready to begin panic-buying of goods and other security measures.
The message from Saddam Hussein delivered to his people via newspaper and
television outlets is one of "resistance to the end". But government media
also emphasize the international opposition to the American war plan and
continuing diplomacy with Arab countries to win support for the Iraqi
position. That position is that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and
harbors no intentions of building them in the future.

How are the UN weapons inspectors being received by the Iraqis?

Baghdad newspapers and television are giving considerable coverage to the
daily UN inspections of a variety of suspected weapons sites. The emphasis
of coverage is on the inability of the inspectors to find anything unusual
at these sites; further bolstering government claims that it has nothing to
hide. People we meet seem to accept these government claims and generally
regard the inspections as an attempt by Western powers to undermine their
country. You must remember that UN inspectors roamed Iraq for seven years
during the past decade in the most intrusive inspections ever inflicted on a
country. While they did find evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
made in the 1980s, they discovered no existing programs. Iraqis we meet see
the new phase of inspections as yet another attempt at re-igniting a failed
policy of the past.

You interviewed Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. What were your
impressions of the man?

I interviewed Saddam Hussein in Baghdad ten days after the Gulf War began in
January 1991. His presidential palace had been destroyed by bombing and the
interview took place in an ordinary home in the northwestern part of the
city. Saddam arrived immaculately dressed in a dark blue suit and floral
tie, and was personally courteous, chatting with me before the interview
began. He told me I could ask him any question that I wanted. His demeanor
was relaxed even though bombs were falling a mile [1.6 kilometers] or so

I asked him all the obvious questions about the war's progress, his
intentions about using weapons of mass destruction, his attitude to Israel,
and so forth. He answered forthrightly enough. It was clear from the
interview that Saddam wanted to give an impression of continued strength
despite reverses in the war, but also that he would welcome peace
initiatives. He wanted to end the war but save his government. That was the
last television interview that Saddam Hussein ever gave, even though in
recent months he has given two newspaper interviews to Arab journalists.

What should Americans know about the Iraqi people?

The Iraqis are well aware of their rich history that dates back to the
beginnings of human civilization. They know that the wheel, written
language, and the first legal system were developed in the early
civilizations of the Sumerians and the Babylonians that existed south of
Baghdad. They are also proud of Iraq's special place of honor in the Islamic
world. The cities of Najaf and Kerbala on the Euphrates River are the
holiest places for the millions of Shia Islamic people in Iraq and
neighboring countries. Iraq has shared with Egypt the role of leadership of
the Arab people. Saddam Hussein has aspired to be the leader of a unified
Arab world, a fact that has resulted in his disastrous military adventures
in neighboring Iran and Kuwait.

Iraqis pride themselves on their independent spirit. They are a vital
people, energetic and free spirited. Iraq is primarily a secular country,
meaning that while religion plays a major role in everyone's lives, it is
not the state religion as in neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Consequently, women are not required to be totally covered and often go
about bareheaded. Women are also encouraged to work in all professional
fields including medicine, media, and law.

What's the status of education in Iraq?

All Iraqis are required to attend government-provided school until age 14.
All subsequent education up to doctorate level is provided free of charge.
With such a high literacy rate, there is great interest in foreign culture.
American pop music and movies are eagerly enjoyed by younger Iraqis. Almost
every Iraqi you meet will express friendship for the American people but
will criticize the U.S. government for the policy of sanctions and frequent
bombings of their country that have characterized life here during the past

Information is tightly controlled in Iraq and people cannot speak freely. In
such an environment, how do you find the truth?

There are many truths in Iraq, as there are in any society. There is the
truth of the many students we interviewed at Baghdad universities who pride
themselves as being from "the Saddam Generation," those who were born about
the time he came to power in 1979. Free education, free health care, and
basically free food have enabled them to pursue their dreams of success.

The excesses of Iraq's war against Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in the 1990s
are barely a memory in the minds of these young careerists. To them, Saddam
is a benevolent provider and a charismatic leader. While expressing
appreciation for American culture, these students waxed angrily against U.S.
policies against their country and the Middle East. These students are also
aware, of course, that any war resulting in change of government would close
down the universities for months and disrupt their studies and,
consequently, their futures. Then there is the truth of the Kurdish and Shia
people. Few of them are represented in the Iraqi ruling elite. They clearly
want the power denied them for generations. But should this come to pass,
there is no guarantee that their governance would differ so much from Saddam
Hussein's. They may be tempted to split Iraq into several countries, a
possibility feared by her neighbors. There is the truth of the Iraqi
opposition located overseas. The spokesmen portray Iraq as a terror-ridden
dictatorship ruled at the whim of a cruel and barbarous leader and his
family. These spokesmen say Iraq is ripe for rebellion, and that invading
American troops will be welcomed with flowers and kisses. The opposition
also claims that the Iraqi people are waiting breathlessly to be governed by

So, what is the truth? The groups I listed above will respond with
predictable answers when you question them. What I mean is, because the
future is so rooted in the past in Iraq, you can expect not the truth when
you question people here but an attitude. If you ask me about the truth as I
see it here, it is that by using the carrot and the stick, coercion and
reward, Saddam Hussein and his government have become unchallenged masters
of their domain, their existence threatened only by a major military
invasion by the world's greatest power, the United States of America.

If Iraq is invaded; will you stay to cover the conflict? If so, why?

I learned in Vietnam that war coverage was an essential ingredient in a
democracy. The press's demand for accountability by the government and
military leaders that got us into the Vietnam war helped end it much sooner
than if we had gone along with the patriotic sloganeering. To be a competent
war correspondent you have to believe ardently in the press role in our

Covering a war is a dangerous business but not necessarily a deadly one if
you play the correspondent and not the soldier. Let the soldier do the
fighting and you the reporting. War reporting is difficult today because
most countries, particularly the United States, do not allow the media to
join the troops in action. Reporters have to rely on briefings, which are
often not reliable indicators of what really goes on in the battlefield.
During the Gulf War, the Iraqi authorities allowed me to cover the bombing
of Baghdad. I was restricted by censorship and by the presence of government
officials. But I did manage to give a graphic picture of a city in
considerable stress. I presume that those restrictions will apply if war
should once again come here.

by Tim Llewellyn
Middle East Economic Survey, VOL. XLV, No 49, 9th December

Tim Llewellyn is a former Middle East correspondent for the BBC

The Iraqis are awaiting a solution, however it may be delivered, from out of
whatever alien landscape. The Iraqi people have no control over any function
of their lives except that of sheer survival. They can no more organize
themselves to rid the nation of Saddam Husain and the extraordinary network
of power and solidarity he has built for himself over 34 painstaking and
brutal years than they can appeal to the better nature of the new Imperium
in Washington and ask to be considered as members of a deserving human race.

I can put it no better than in the words of an Iraqi intellectual, a
political animal licensed to speak, but perhaps, in the circumstances,
better left unnamed: 'The Iraqi people are resigned and frightened but they
are not panicking. We are getting used to this. No-one cares about us or
listens to us, neither the Anglo-American alliance nor the regime here in
Baghdad. If there is some answer they are looking for it is in the field of
religion. Karl Marx said "religion is the spirit of a spiritless world." We
Iraqis are living in a spiritless world. There is no more interest in our
human rights in Baghdad than there is in London. Nothing remains for us
except metaphysics.'

It seems a despairing quotation. But it is factual rather than despairing.
The Iraqi citizen is bound up so closely in the process of sheer survival
and caring for his family that he has little time left to repine or
speculate. Whether for better or for worse, the solace of religion -
'metaphysics', as my friend puts it - has gradually begun to stand in for
the more pragmatic and practical politics practiced in this country since
the British forged it out of the three post-Ottoman provinces of Mosul,
Baghdad and Basra 80 years ago.

Although the Iraqi Government and the various NGOs engaged in trying to
sustain a basis of life for Iraq"s 22mn people try to put a brave face on
matters - life has improved marginally since the oil-for-food program began
to take some effect towards the end of the 20th century, and it is important
for the sake of Iraqi pride and self-esteem that the nation does not
eternally present itself as victim and mendicant - the underlying reality of
life is grim and reduced.

If it were not for the food ration, now distributed in two-monthly parcels
across the nation, by Saddam"s government in main-frame Iraq and by the UN
in the 'protected' areas of Kurdistan, Iraq would collapse into sub-Saharan
or South Asian levels of starvation and disease. The food ration, acquired
at government centers by the production of coupons, for a few cents supplies
the Iraqi people - all of them - with the bulk of their energy and protein.
Some choose to barter bits of it, but for 70% of the population, according
to the NGO, CARE, it is the center; the pillar of their survival. The size
of the ration has increased since the introduction of the oil-for-food

But it is important to remember that this is welfare. Iraq has no economy of
its own. What oil it exports produces funds that are taken and administered
by others. Those funds, politically organized and distributed by foreign
powers which are unlikely to have Iraq"s interests primarily at heart, are
very largely used to pay for Iraq"s meager supply of food and medicine.
Whatever the level of earnings, the UN sanctions committee and the
individual governments concerned in any contract decide how Iraq"s welfare
is allotted and spent. In the margin, perhaps $2bn to $2.5bn a year, Saddam"
s smuggled and nod-and-a wink exports to Turkey and Jordan, provide funds
the government can use as it sees fit: arms, mosques, education, computer
technology. (Iraq has in the past year gained access to the internet.)

Iraq was, 12 years ago, before the Gulf War, earning up to $13bn a year.
Even after the depredations of the war with Iran, it remained a state whose
provision of welfare was massive and efficient. The UN graded Iraq on a par
with Greece in terms of standard of living and human expectation. These were
not just measures of diet and health, though these were exemplary, but of
education and personal fulfillment. Arabs came to Iraq to better themselves.
The system of political rule was primitive, brutal and cynical - and, in its
tight circle, corrupt. But Iraq in general was not a corrupt or corrupted
society. The people had accepted a deal for themselves that the British had
invented for the state they created in 1922: obey and be rewarded; disobey
and be punished. Saddam Husain took this philosophy to extreme lengths as he
built his power base during the 1970s, but for most Iraqis what his
apparatus delivered in terms of education, literacy, health, comfort and
respect among Middle Eastern neighbors was worth the cost.

After all, Iran (pre- and post-1979), Syria, and Saudi Arabia were hardly
pluralistic models of freedom of thought and movement, and the perks of oil
wealth were distributed among the population with much less creativity than
Saddam"s functionaries brought to bear.

In 2002, Iraq is on a par with Mali; despite a much-vaunted slowing of the
increase in child mortality, Iraq"s rate of increase is so phenomenal - 160%
since 1990 - that it can hardly be adequately displayed on a UNICEF bar
chart. Between 4"000 and 5"000 children under five die in each month -
mostly of simple infectious diseases that had either been eradicated or were
easily cured 20 years ago - who would not die if the circumstances of
mid-1990 obtained now. One in three Iraqi girls of school age do not attend
school any more, staying home to be 'mother' to their families as their real
mothers go out to work to help sustain the household.

Since the mid-1980s the literacy rate of women has been reduced from more
than 80% to just over 40%. Sanctions have brought Iraq to the point where a
school teacher earns about $3.00 a month - as against a semi-skilled laborer
who can make up to $15.00 a day.

An aid worker asked me this simple question: 'What does this mean for the
future of women in Iraqi society, a society where until 15 years ago they
played an increasingly vital role in civil society? And how would you like
to try to persuade a teenage son to be a doctor rather than a laborer?' In
the gap this creates, Islam becomes an answer more than an option.

There is a disastrous lack of basic medicines; the water is foul and
polluted; sanitation is at its living edge: walk into a school lavatory or a
hospital lobby and you will be knocked back by the stench. Outside Baghdad,
and in some of its poorer suburbs, like the vast Saddam City, power cuts are
endemic. Thus an enfeebled society, lacking the basic constructs of a normal
life, sees these lacks compounded. It is not that Iraqis cannot cope with
this, but, as a UNICEF worker said to me, 'you have to remember where they
started from.' Self-respect is at a premium, and when self-respect is
stamped down, as is now becoming evident in the Palestinian occupied
territories, desperation sets in.

A member of the national assembly, a university president and an adviser at
the Foreign Ministry all stressed what I had managed to take in myself,
watching Iraqis trying to cope with the business of daily life:
'Humiliation. The West is trying to humiliate us.'

Whether it is the rash of cybercafes in Baghdad - I peeped over the shoulder
of a man downloading the latest software from the internet, and saw
youngsters playing the most frighteningly intelligent computer games - or
the new racks of hardware at the Baghdad University of Technology, or the
laborers cheerily bringing in the corn harvest, Iraqis are determined that
their ingenuity, brains and spirit will not be seen to be reduced by what
they see as a sustained assault on them and their Arab neighbors by a
punitive America. 'It will take more than 12 years of sanctions to cut us
down"' said a university lecturer.

But the sanctions regime has done more than push ordinary Iraqis to the edge
of survival. It has made them not only weak, and in a large sense
unquestioning of their own political leadership, but also even more
dependent on their government than they were 10 years ago. The attempted
humiliation endemic in physical life, the removal of hope and ambition, and
the squandering of a generation, are now enhanced by the arbitrary bombing
raids of the USAF and the RAF. I saw the results of one attack within 1km of
the Imam 'Ali Mosque in Najaf. I suppose the allies are careful enough not
to hit the mosque itself - the last people to attack it were the forces of
Saddam in 1991 - but if they are that accurate, why go near it with such
force? A family of seven were killed. As the Iraqis will tell you, candidly,
it is not as if the fighter-bombers cruising in from Incirlik and Kuwait
have ever been in any danger themselves.

So, a society on its uppers perceives itself as maintaining its dignity in
the face of outside menace, attempted humiliation, the exercise of uncaring
and merciless power. 'We Iraqis like foreigners"' a political scientist told
me, 'but we have never liked being run by them.'

 There is little Iraq can do to defend itself against an organized American
onslaught, whether it takes the form of an intensified Operation Desert Fox
of December 1998 or a more sustained invasion bringing foreign troops to the
heart of Baghdad. There can be few Iraqis who believe that, in the end, the
invaders would not prevail, although at great cost on all sides.

But the key phrase is 'in the end.' The Iraqis are pleased with themselves
that Saddam, at last showing the erudition he so notably lacked in 1980 and
1991, has called the US bluff. Iraq, so far, has been so devastatingly
welcoming to the Hans Blix team as to be almost guilty of irony - not, as
far as anyone knows, grounds for 'material breach.' By this device the
Iraqis are buying the time they need and the opportunity for invasion
America sees ebbing away. Cooperation has a capital "C".

In 1991, a Foreign Ministry adviser told me, the Iraqis also thought that
'cooperation' would work. The Americans made it clear, however, that as fast
as Saddam yielded his weaponry, nothing would suffice. As long as he was
there, the details of the UN Security Council resolutions counted for
nothing. That mentality and that perception still command in Baghdad and
Washington. Cut it how one may, the West continues to make it clear that
Saddam has to go.

Anyone who has studied Iraqi history and watched the way in which, even
before 1958, its rulers gained and sustained power will be reluctant to
believe that Saddam Husain and scores of  thousands of loyal, dependent and
ruthless supporters will disappear into the void like Idi Amin, or embark on
flights to sanctuary like earlier Iraqi leaders. If, as the forces of the
outside world or their representatives move in for the kill, Saddam Husain
does not deploy some last surprise, then he is not the man who supervised
the creation of modern Iraq and survived, so far and at his own hand, its
near destruction.

April Glaspie, the last US Ambassador to Iraq, once gave me a telling-off
for suggesting in a dispatch to the BBC (in 1988) that many Iraqis had a
sneaking regard for Saddam Husain, despite his blunders, his cruelty and his
almost psychopathically dysfunctional family. Three years later, she might
have been right: in the post-Kuwait era the Iraqis saw him for the
externally illiterate politico that he was, author of two national

Fortunately for Saddam, the West, with its inconsistent policies, lack of
focus, dismissal of any Iraqi and/or Arab interests and heavy-handed pursuit
of puritanical punishment of a helpless people, has reconstituted him as the
only power in the land. It would be foolish to say he is popular; but the
administrators of sanctions, the purveyors of Western moralizing, the
supporters of Israel, and the bombers of Najaf and Mosul, have restored him
to a kind of credibility.

None of the West"s opposition figures can match him.

An Iraqi academic told me: 'I can travel out of Iraq. When I go to London
they come to me and say, "why are you staying in Baghdad, earning $100 a
month? Here, just one appearance with us on TV, telling the world how it is
in Iraq, and you would have money, a Mercedes, a flat in Kensington or
Georgetown - what"s the matter with you?"

'I think that approach, the financial approach, to betray your country, is
not one I wish to contemplate. And it says absolutely everything about the
Iraqi opposition that the US and the UK are funding.'

International Herald Tribune, 12th December

BAGHDAD (AP, AFP): President Saddam Hussein demanded improvements in the
battle readiness of Iraqi troops as he gathered top commanders, including
his sons Uday and Qusay, amid a mounting US military buildup in the region.

Mr Saddam hailed the efforts of commanders and soldiers alike to 'improve
Iraq's ability to face up to enemy plots', the official INA news agency

But he stressed the importance of further steps to 'raise the
combat-readiness of Iraqi troops'.

Participants in the meeting included Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Tawab Mulla
Howeish and Defence Minister General Sultan Hashem Ahmad, as well as Uday,
who heads the Saddam Fedayeen militia, and Qusay, who heads the elite
Republican Guard.

Also present were the chairman of the Atomic Energy Organisation, Fadhel
Moslem al Janabi, air defence commander Mezahem Saab al-Hassan and air force
commander Hamed Raja Shlah.

Meanwhile, his government has denounced Kuwait for blatant meddling in its
internal affairs, three days after he offered a qualified apology for his
country's 1990 invasion of the oil-rich emirate.

'Kuwaiti officials persist in pursuing their meddling in Iraq's internal
affairs. Kuwait has invited elements tied to foreign intelligence services,
the so-called Iraq opposition,' said Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in a
letter addressed to Arab League chief Amr Mussa.

The letter insisted the emirate was in violation of the UN and Arab League
charters as well as resolutions passed at the Arab League summit last March
where Iraq and Kuwait launched a tentative bid to bury the hatchet.

Mr Saddam issued a first-ever apology to Kuwaitis late Saturday, but
tempered his words with sharp criticism of their leaders' conduct in the
run-up to Iraq's seven-month occupation that ended with the 1991 Gulf War.

He also accused Kuwaiti leaders of collaborating with US plans to attack
Iraq as Kuwait has increased its contacts with Iraqi opposition figures over
the past several months.

Iraqi Kurdish chief Jalal Talabani announced during a visit to Kuwait on
Tuesday that Kuwaiti officials had agreed to send a delegation of observers
to a Dec 13-15 conference in London during which Iraqi opposition groups
will try to close ranks in anticipation of a US strike on Iraq.

by Frances Williams in Geneva
Financial Times, 12th December

The death rate for young children in Iraq has almost trebled since 1990 to
levels typical of a least-developed country, according to the United Nations
children's fund.

Unicef's 2003 report on the state of the world's children published
yesterday shows that Iraq's under-five mortality rate, considered the best
single indicator of child welfare, was 133 per 1,000 live births in 2001.
This compares with 50 in 1990, just before the Gulf war and the imposition
of UN sanctions.

Critics blame the sanctions for plunging Iraq into economic misery after two
decades of rising living standards and social progress that saw the
under-five mortality rate slashed from 171 in 1960. Only two countries
outside Africa - Afghanistan (in fourth place) and Cambodia (30th) - now
rank worse than Iraq (33rd) on this indicator.

Unicef data also show that nearly a quarter of babies born in Iraq between
1995 and 2000 were underweight, compared with 7 per cent for neighbouring
Iran, and that more than a fifth of young children - close to 1m - had
moderate or severe stunting from malnutrition.

Iraq's regression over the past decade is by far the most severe of the 193
countries surveyed. But child mortality has also risen in several southern
African countries afflicted by the Aids epidemic, notably Botswana, Zimbabwe
and Swaziland, where a third or more of the adult population are infected
with HIV.

Some poor nations, such as Egypt, Libya, Malaysia and Peru, have made
spectacular progress in reducing child mortality in recent years, but many
are lagging well behind the UN millennium goal of reducing the rate by
two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

In sub-Saharan Africa, average child mortality rates have fallen by only 4
per cent in the past decade to 173 per 1,000 live births, compared with
reductions of a quarter in Asia and a third in Latin America.

Unicef says many nations that have seen big drops in mortality have also
achieved "significant reductions in fertility". Report on,4386,160482,00.html?

Straits Times, 13th December

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which works to prevent and
resolve conflict, conducted field interviews in Iraq in September and
October to find out what citizens there think about war and political
change. This is an edited excerpt from the just-released report.

PERHAPS the most widespread wish expressed to ICG was for Iraq to finally
turn the page of its Iranian and Kuwaiti wars and its confrontation with the
outside world.

Increasingly-nostalgic recollections of an earlier era of economic
prosperity and modernisation reinforce feelings of collective humiliation
and national disgrace.

For many Iraqis interviewed by ICG, returning to normalcy today requires
yielding to a foreign power.

Memories of the failed 1991 uprising and its bloody consequences remain
vivid, and few appear ready to take up arms against the regime.

Not many seem to take very seriously the claim that the United States is
motivated primarily by the desire to disarm the regime.

Most consider this a pretext concealing a power struggle between Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein and US President George W. Bush over regime change.

Still, in order to end the era of sanctions and international isolation,
many of those Iraqis appear ready to accept almost any alternative to the
status quo, and foreign intervention is viewed currently as the most
realistic way of achieving that goal.

In this respect, hostility to foreign intervention in Iraq based on Arab
nationalist feelings appears far more potent within the wider Arab world
than in Iraq itself.

This overall perception translates into a complex attitude towards the
prospect of a US-led war.

The concern is not so much with the fighting itself - about which some
Iraqis interviewed by ICG appear to have developed all sorts of imaginary
scenarios, including the use of mysterious bombs that will anaesthetise
their soldiers without causing any human or material damage - as with its

Many of the Iraqis who were interviewed appear confident and hopeful that
the outside world - particularly the US - will make a significant and
long-term commitment to facilitate the political transition, help rebuild
the country and ensure its prompt reintegration into the international

A heavy and prolonged international - and, especially, US - presence is both
anticipated and desired as an insurance policy against civil strife and
instability and as a guarantor of massive international aid.

Younger Iraqis interviewed by ICG, who have known only war and the
militarisation of society, appear more prone to view any violence that will
follow regime change as redemptive, a necessary and temporary phase.

Among older Iraqis, memories of the political violence and score settling
that existed prior to the consolidation of the Baathist regime in the late
1960s remain fresh.

However, even in their case, concern about violence is mitigated by the
belief that tribal structures will limit acts of bloodshed and retribution.

For many Iraqis, the more pertinent conflicts in the future are likely to be
based either on conflicts within and between heavily-armed tribes or on
socio-economic cleavages which have been exacerbated by a decade of

As to the former, there is evidence that tribal contests for the
appropriation of rank and influence (for example, intra-tribal disputes over
sheikhdom positions) or for the appropriation of goods (inter-tribal
disputes over the allocation of water resources, for example) have
intensified and, at times, become violent.

That said, members of the Sunni and, especially, Christian communities
expressed concern that a regime change triggered from the outside could
result in a loss of status and perhaps worse at the hands of the majority
Shi'ite population.

But virtually none of these respondents mentioned alarming scenarios of
sectarian warfare and they, too, seemed resigned to the prospect that an
outside intervention was around the corner.

Interviews conducted by ICG suggest that few Iraqis have given much thought
to a post Saddam Iraq, relying instead on abstract notions of a better

Indeed, debates about the structure of a post-Saddam regime are far more
intense outside than inside Iraq.

Decades of authoritarian rule, the systematic destruction of civil society
and more recent economic hardships have led to a general de-politicisation
of the population.

The political struggles which once characterised Iraq and reflected its
considerable social, cultural, ideological and religious diversity are a
thing of the past.

As a result, the future political order and the shape of the constitution
are considered second-order questions, if they are considered at all.

The priority is to improve daily lives.

People voiced this feeling by using a frequently-heard expression: 'Let
Saddam make trouble, let Bush hit us, but let us keep our street stalls.'

by Robert Fisk
Financial Times, 13th December

Did Saddam's army test poison gas on missing 5,000?

Why didn't Tony Blair and George Bush mention Saddam Hussein's most terrible
war crime? Why, in all their "dossiers", did they not refer to the 5,000
young men and women who were held at detention centres when their families 
of Iranian origin  were hurled over the border to Iran just before
President Saddam invaded Iran in 1980?

Could it be because these 5,000 young men and women were used for
experiments in gas and biological warfare agents whose ingredients were
originally supplied by the United States?

Just months before his September 1980 invasion of Iran  in which tens of
thousands of Iranian soldiers died an appalling death by gas burns and
blisters  Saddam's Interior Ministry issued directive No 2884, dated 10
April 1980, stating that "all youths aged between 18 and 28 are exempt from
deportation and must be held at detention centres until further notice".

Most, though not all, of the young men and women affected by this order were
Kurds. None of their families ever saw their loved ones again, but they have
since been told that the detainees were killed during experiments in gas and
chemical warfare centres in Iraq.

Among the most terrible war crimes committed during the Second World War
were the Japanese experiments with chemicals and gas on prisoners at Harbin,
in occupied China. US officials ensured that the principal culprits got away
in return for the results of their experiments. The Nazis ran medical tests
on Jews in extermination camps in Europe, some of whose "doctors" also
escaped punishment.

As always in Iraq  and elsewhere in the world  there is no proof. Kurdish
families to whom The Independent has spoken pleaded with us not to reveal
their names, in the pathetic hope that their sons and husbands and daughters
might still be alive. They include the father of a young man who was taken
from his family home in Baghdad, and the father of a man who was allegedly
sent to the front line during the Iran-Iraq war and who died as a "martyr"
months after his death during a medical experiment.

With the encouragement of President Bush Snr, the US Department of
Agriculture sent Iraq samples of chemicals that could be used to protect
crops and other agricultural produce, with pesticides that were later
developed for chemical warfare, despite repeated warnings from American
officials that the cultures could be of use against human beings.

Just before the September 1980 invasion of Iran, the detentions began. At
least 5,000 "Kurdish youths", according to one Iraqi refugee interviewed by
The Independent, "vanished into thin air".

According to one Iraqi dissident, whose refusal to ally himself to the Iraqi
opposition is much to his credit in the picture that is emerging, a large if
unknown number of young detainees may have perished as a result of being
used as guinea pigs for Saddam Hussein's research programmes at various
chemical, biological and nuclear warfare laboratories. According to the same
source, Iraqi scientists who have since defected to the West have given
hints of the biological warfare testing programme but have refused, for
obvious reasons, to incriminate themselves. Iraqi-Iranian Kurdish families
who have received appalling information about the fate of their relatives
have refused to keep quiet. One father of five missing boys gained an
audience with an Iraqi vice-president who allegedly told him that one of his
sons had been imprisoned for opposing President Saddam but had then had an
"awakened conscience". The boy had decided to fight in the war against Iran
and had died in combat, his body being "lost".

According to an Iraqi Kurdish refugee in Lebanon who regards the official
Washington- supported Iraqi opposition as fifth columnists, Western
intelligence has long known the fate of the 5,000 or more "detainees". "It
is now clear," he says, "that during the war with Iran many of the young
detainees were taken to secret laboratories in different locations in Iraq
and were exposed to intense doses of chemical and biological substances in a
myriad of conditions and situations. With every military setback at the
front causing panic in Baghdad, these experiments had to be speeded up 
which meant more detainees were needed to be sent to the laboratories, which
had to test VX nerve gas, mustard gas, sarin, tabun, aflatoxin, gas gangrene
and anthrax." In the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian troops
stormed across the Baghdad-Basra highway and almost cut Iraq in half  to
the great concern of Washington.

But not one of the many accusations levelled against Saddam Hussein's regime
by London and Washington mentions the missing 5,000 young people "detained"
by Iraq just before the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war.

This could, of course, reflect the West's embarrassment at its support for
Iraq during that war. Or it could be an attempt to avoid any inquiry into
how President Saddam obtained the means to wage chemical warfare against his


Associated Press, 6th December

KHAILYHAMEH, Iraq: When the tall young men with long beards strode through
this mud brick village, people would shut their doors and windows. The women
covered their faces and quickly gathered up their children.

"When they come, we can't leave the house," says Abdul Qader, 52, a shepherd
in this northern hamlet caught between Kurdish forces and Islamic rebels.
"We're afraid. We have no one to protect us."

The villagers of Khailyhameh say their lives have been destroyed by the
cruel behavior of the Islamic rebels and their frequent gun battles with the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

In fighting this week that left dozens dead and wounded, the Patriotic
Union, the de facto government in this part of Iraq, captured the village
from Ansar al-Islam, a militant group with alleged ties to Osama bin Laden's
al-Qaida terror network.

Ansar's Kurdish, Afghan and Arab militiamen ruled the village for more than
a year, meting out punishments for alleged violations of Islamic rules,
extorting money, laying sinister booby traps and attacking isolated
Patriotic Union checkpoints and bases, residents say.

Nearby Halabja, once a picturesque resort destination, became known for the
chemical bombardment it suffered in 1988 at the hands of Saddam Hussein's
troops in the closing days of the Iran-Iraq war. More than 5,000 people were

Life in the surrounding valley has been marked by chaos and lawlessness
since the collapse of Iraqi government rule in 1991. People lived through
the 1994-98 civil war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, and
the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party. Then came the rule of the
fundamentalist Islamic Movement of Kurdistan from 1998 to 2000, when it was
ousted by the PUK.

Ansar entered the scene around November last year, when it began clashing
with PUK forces.

United Nations officials, who run development projects in much of northern
Iraq with funds from the U.N. oil-for-food program, have abandoned
reconstruction efforts around Halabja because of fighting between Kurdish
forces and Islamic militants.

Residents don't have access to high-paying U.N. jobs that have given a boost
to the economy elsewhere in northern Iraq, which was lopped off from the
rest of the country after a 1991 insurrection led to the establishment of
Kurdish-ruled zone protected by U.S. and British aircraft.

"The people here are penniless," said Ali Mohammad, a 65-year-old manning a
shop with a shelves bare but for warm soft drinks. "Anyone with any money
has already fled to Sulaymania," the provincial capital and Patriotic Union
stronghold 60 miles away.

Ansar's base is the village of Biyare, up in the Suren Mountains within
sight of Khailyhameh. The villagers here often suffered Ansar's cruelty when
the fighters descended from the mountain.

Abbas Jabbar, a 27-year-old driver, said an Ansar militant once stopped his
car and accused him of being a sympathizer with the Patriotic Union, known
as the PUK, because he had hung in his windshield a green parchment  green
being the militia's color.

"I explained to him that it wasn't the green of the PUK but a flag to honor
Imam Reza, the Shiite saint," he said. "He threw it on the ground and
started stepping on it. He called me a kafir," or infidel.

Peywah, an 18-year-old in Khailyhameh said the Ansar militia seized his
uncle three months ago, took him to Biyare and held him for $290 ransom, a
half-year's salary for Kurds.

"We scrounged and borrowed from relatives and got the money, and they
released him," he said. "Then we fled until we came back today."

Since the PUK captured the village Thursday, villagers said, three people
have been killed by homemade booby traps left behind by Ansar. Ahmesh
Abdullah, a 38-year-old shepherd, died when he stepped on one of the
tripwires along a dirt path.

"I yelled at him to stop, but it was too late," said Salam Jafar Mohammad, a
mine clearance specialist who defuses the booby traps.

The PUK says it hasn't captured any Ansar militants. One man they tried to
seize blew himself up with dynamite. His mangled body was lying by a road,
blighting the view of the lush valley where ducks, turkeys, cows and sheep
wandered among crisscrossing streams.

"It looks like heaven," said Mohammad Amin, a 48-year-old Khailyhameh
farmer. "To us it's hell."

Sydney Morning Herald, 7th December

There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the cruel deaths of thousands
of Iraqi Kurds in clouds of Saddam's poison gas - if only the West cared.
This report from a Herald special correspondent in Halabja.

The mountains are jagged grey lines, one ridge behind another till they fade
into Kurdish mists that have allowed the world to forget - too conveniently
- that something terrible happened here. Sitting on the far edge of the
saucer-like Sharazoor Plains in the remote Sharam Mountains of Iraqi
Kurdistan, Halabja still struggles to emerge from an impossible pit of

Life does go on. The bazaar is busy enough. Women haggle over the price of
pomegranates, apples and sunflower seeds; there are baskets of dates and
tomatoes; piles of umbrellas and stacks of plastic chairs; lamb on the hook;
bags of grain and shovels with gnarled handles that have been hand-cut from
the branches of trees.

But away from the reconstructed centre of town there are piles of rubble
where hundreds of buildings once stood. On the main roundabout, a statue of
an old man and a child, collapsed in a pathetic heap, confronts the few
visitors who pass this way.

While it might seem as far from the centre of world politics as it is
possible to be, this is the place that US President George Bush invokes
every time he pounds his fist, declaring that Saddam Hussein must be ousted
because he gassed his own people. Halabja found its place in the history of
war more than 14 years ago - on March 16, 1988 - when Saddam became the
first leader ever to use chemical weapons at home. As many as 5000 died at
the time. But in Halabja and its surrounding villages, people are still
paying a hefty price.

Dr Fouad Baban, a gaunt-faced man who spearheads a lonely local attempt to
manage the fallout from the attacks, said: "Our research shows alarming
increases in medical disorders - cancers, congenital abnormalities, vascular
disorders. The incidences of strokes, heart attacks, chronic lung, skin and
eye problems are disturbingly high."

Baban was so troubled by what he was seeing that he did a comparative study
on the health of the people of Halabja and those in Chamchamal, a community
45 kilometres to the west, which was presumed to have escaped the chemical
attacks. His concern was well placed - death by cancer in Halabja was more
than four times higher than in Chamchamal, and the rate of miscarriages was
more than 14 times higher.

He elaborated: "We have Hiroshima levels of sterility. The evidence suggests
that the chemicals used here have affected the DNA, so we assume that the
congenital deformities will be passed to future generations. Apparently it
was the same in Japan in the years after the nuclear attacks. But the rate
of abnormalities here is four to five times greater than in the post-atomic
populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rates of stillbirths and miscarriages
are even more alarming. Rare and aggressive cancers in adults and children
are at levels far higher than anywhere else in the world. Severe
cardio-pulmonary disorders, blindness, skin burns - the high incidence of
neurological disorders is most likely the result of exposure to nerve

Most likely. The difficulty at Halabja is that virtually no investigative
work has been done in the aftermath of the attacks that make it a unique
research laboratory on two levels - the impact on the health of the victims
and the nature of the weapons used by a regime that still refuses to come
clean about its chemical and biological weapons programs.

If the Western governments that said little and did nothing as the war
crimes were being committed - and that includes the US and most of Europe -
had the gumption to put desperately needed teams of health professionals
into the area, they would find it readily accessible because it is within
autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. Says Baban: "I'm alarmed and surprised that no
UN agency or NGO or government, those that supplied the weapons or who
oppose WMD, have offered to investigate what happened here. We need an
internationally backed scientific investigation of the long-term effects of
these chemical agents."

He finds it all the more baffling in the wake of the investigative confusion
after last year's anthrax attacks in the US and following this year's
Chechen terrorist hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre where a Russian gas
attack killed more than 100 hostages - and Moscow refused to identify the
fatal gas. Baban says: "The people here were attacked with chemical and,
possibly, biological weapons. The US says now that it fears similar attacks,
so I'd have thought that research here would be an urgent priority."

There is no certainty about the chemicals and or agents that were used by
Saddam on Halabja and about 250 other Kurdish communities - most of which
were villages.

Various accounts have referred to mustard gas, which causes burns and
mutation of DNA, malformations and cancers, as well as the nerve gases sarin
and tabun which can cause death, paralysis or psychiatric disorders. There
are suspicions, too, that the people of Halabja were exposed to VX gas and
the biological agent aflatoxin, a poison extracted from corn and pistachio
nuts which, Baban said, inflicted lasting liver damage.

He said: "We still don't really know what was used. There is forensic
evidence from only one site of mustard gas and sarin. However, it is clear
that these and other agents were used throughout the region in different
combinations. I could never understand why UNSCOM - the UN weapons
inspectors - didn't want to study what happened here so that it might have a
better understanding of Saddam's chemical program."

And to round off his argument the doctor threw in a disturbing afterthought:
"No one has studied the water or the soil and we know that tonnes of
chemicals were dumped here, so we don't know what has happened to the

MUCH of Halabja is still the ruins made by Saddam's dynamite and bulldozers
in the days after the chemical attacks - maybe 70 per cent. In the first
four years after the attacks, few residents dared come home. But now, the
population is back up to about the level of the late 1980s - more than

Being a border town, Halabja was in the grip of the Iran-Iraq war in March
1988 and its unarmed civilian population was about to be paid back by Saddam
because the local Kurdish militias, the peshmergas, had sided with the
Iranians, some of whom were in Halabja town.

At the time, Saddam had given his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid absolute
control of the north. Human Rights Watch, the US rights agency, has a
tape-recording of al-Majid boasting to a meeting of his Baath Party
colleagues: "I'll kill them all with chemical weapons. Who's going to say
anything? The international community? Fuck the international community and
those who listen to them!"

The director of the local hospital is Tahseen Ali Faraj, a tossed-haired
29-year-old. The 100 bed hospital was a gift from a Swedish charity, one of
the few international responses to Halabja's suffering. Standing in its
teeming corridors, Faraj acknowledged that the hospital's terrible caseload
needed to be better managed: "We have been asking for NGOs to come and help
us, but so far, nothing. Virtually all our drugs come through the World
Health Organisation, but despite the problems caused by the chemical weapons
attacks, we do not get special consideration."

And reluctantly, he spoke about March 16, 1988. He remembered the bombs that
landed with a soft explosion, the first signal that Baghdad was trying
something different, and then the clouds of white, grey and pinkish smoke.
It was tasteless but some survivors say it smelled like apples and garlic,
others say cucumber and perfumes.

The first symptoms were frightening - people were vomiting, their glands
swelled, and a yellowy, watery discharge oozed from their eyes and noses.
Some stumbled about, laughing hysterically before dropping dead; mothers
seemed not to know that the children in their arms were already dead.

He said: "Two terrible memories stay with me. There were about 30 dead
people on a trailer behind a tractor, and on the ground ... there were more
dead people - about 80. But there was a woman who was halfway through
getting up on the trailer, but she couldn't make it because she was
virtually dead.

"My family decided that we had to get away; drive to my cousin's home. But
the streets were filled with dead people. My brother was driving and the
only way to get out of town was to drive over the dead bodies. I will never
forget those two things."

ONE of the oft-repeated expressions in US commentary in the wake of
September 11, was that people had to "join the dots" if they were to
understand the scope and complexity of the terrorist challenge facing the
West. But in Kurdistan they have their own dots to join.

Baram Salih, the Prime Minister of eastern Kurdistan, said in an interview
with the Herald that history had left the Kurds with a sense of
vulnerability and victimhood; what he described as a profound sense of

He said: "It was the indifference of the world community towards what
happened to us in 1988 that emboldened Saddam to invade Kuwait and to pursue
weapons of mass destruction." And Baban, too, indicated that healthy
scepticism informed his view of the coming months: "Chemical warfare has
been at the top of Saddam Hussein's list of war crimes since 1988, but it is
only lately that George Bush and Tony Blair have started to talk about it -
and that's only because they want to go after Saddam.

"No one will concentrate on the tragedy here and I expect that all this talk
of Halabja will die away as soon as Saddam is toppled."

by Barham Salih
International Herald Tribune, from The Washington Post, 10th December

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq: The United Nations weapon inspectors in Iraq are assigned
the task of dealing with the symptoms but not the underlying causes of the
danger Iraq poses to world peace. Disarmament is vital, but it should not
distract us from the often overlooked fact that the presence and use of
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq stem from its abject failure as a state,
not just the violence of one man or one regime.

Afghanistan's poverty made it vulnerable to foreign influence and the lure
of terrorism. Iraq's failure is deadlier. Its considerable resources have
been used to create a repressive and brutal regime that is a threat to
Middle Eastern and global security. The aggression and defiance will
continue until the chronic disease of failure afflicting Iraq is eradicated.

For most Iraqis, President George W. Bush's Sept. 12 speech to the United
Nations represented a welcome departure from previous U.S. policy. By
committing the United States to a democratic Iraq, Bush laid the foundation
for a new regional security order, abandoning reliance on unaccountable and
repressive elites for a false notion of stability in the Middle East.

Peace and stability in the strategically vital Gulf area will come only from
fundamental political change in Iraq and by building on the democratic
experiment that has taken root in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Skeptics will argue that Iraqi history inspires little confidence in the
prospects for democracy. Today's pariah state, the totalitarian terrorist
regime that has committed mass murder against the Kurds - and, indeed,
against the Arabs - is a product of that history. Thanks to the Ba'ath
regime, every conceivable difference between Iraqis - social, tribal or
ethnic - has been exploited to divide and oppress.

The reason for the cycle of instability and violence is that the
British-created state of Iraq was based almost exclusively on the Sunni Arab
minority. At the 1921 Cairo Conference that annexed the Kurdish north to the
Sunni Arab center and Shiite Arab south of the country, Winston Churchill
warned that Iraq would be governed by violence. He wrote that a future Arab
ruler "with the power of an Arab army behind him ... would ignore Kurdish
sentiment and oppress the Kurdish minority."

Over the years, the ethnic base of state power has shrunk as the Ba'ath
party added many Sunni Arabs to its long list of victims. The capacity for
violence and the police state apparatus, itself under surveillance and
periodically purged, have expanded. Eliminating one man will not end this
cycle, and Bush should resist those who regard helping a post Saddam Hussein
Iraq as too burdensome. Without a comprehensive transformation, a new
dictatorship could emerge.

The United States therefore must engage with Iraqis to protect and sustain
us through what will be a difficult transition. As the Kurds have shown,
Iraqis can put their talents to good use if given the opportunity.

For decades, Iraqi Kurdistan was Iraq's least-developed region, both
socially and economically, and it was deliberately underfunded by Baghdad.
Yet since the end of the Gulf War, Kurds have embarked on economic renewal
and democratization from the most unfavorable of starting points.

Iraqi Kurdistan was devastated by the genocide of the 1988 Anfal campaign,
which destroyed almost 4,500 villages and killed nearly 182,000 civilians in
just six months. Halabja, where 5,000 Kurds were gassed to death, is our
Guernica. Thanks to state repression, Iraqi Kurdistan became a region of
widows and orphans, whose husbands, sons and brothers were "disappeared" or
used as cannon fodder in the regime's pointless wars.

Our neighbors, wary of Kurdish nationalism, closed our borders, imposing a
crippling embargo.

Against these odds, we have revived Iraqi Kurdistan. In 11 years we have
rebuilt some 4,000 villages, set up two universities and opened more than
2,700 schools. Protected by U.S. and British airpower, we have created an
environment of freedom unique in Iraqi history, in which Kurds, Turkomans,
Assyrian Christians and Arabs enjoy cultural and political rights.

My home city of Sulaimaniya alone has more than 130 media outlets, including
13 television stations and dozens of newspapers - as well as unrestricted
access to the Internet and satellite television. Building freedom has not
been easy. Conflict between the two major Kurdish parties stalled
democratization and cost many innocent lives. The process of transition
toward more accountable democratic institutions is hindered by resistance
from traditional power structures and the threat of interference from our

But despite this, Iraqi Kurdistan is a rare and bright spot of freedom in
the Islamic Middle East - and it offers the potential for more.

The hard task of reconstruction has taught us to forsake the dream of an
independent Kurdistan. When Kurdish self-government began back in 1991, many
believed that it would lead to the dismemberment of Iraq. Instead,
self-government taught the Kurds, especially their political elite, the
severe limitations of nationalism.

While most Kurds cherish their legitimate right to self-determination, they
recognize that economic rehabilitation, education for their children and
basic health care require political moderation. Independence might give us a
Kurdish postage stamp, but it would mean a dire future as an isolated,
shunned statelet in a landlocked corner of the Middle East.

The mainstream Kurdish movements realize that there is more to aspire to in
a democratic, prosperous Iraq that can flourish with international support.

The new Iraq can be a model of tolerance and diversity in a region where
both are rare. The Kurds can for the first time be full Iraqi citizens,
catalysts for democratic transformation.

Most Iraqi opposition movements have endorsed a vision of a federal
democratic Iraq. Federalism is vital. Devolving political and economic
power, sharing Iraq's vast potential fairly among its people, will preclude
the possibility of another centralized tyranny gripping the Iraqi state and
its oil revenues.

For too long the Kurds have been seen as a threat to Iraq's unity. Yet now
we Kurds are championing a federal, pluralist democratic Iraq that cannot
again brutalize its citizens and threaten its neighbors. The final irony may
be that the Kurds, the perennial victims of the Iraqi state, will turn out
to be its savior.

The writer is leader of the Kurdish regional government based in
Sulaimaniya, Iraq. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.

by Robin Wright
Seattle Times, from Los Angeles Times, 11th December

SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq  A mystery is unfolding in a warren of mountain caves in
northeastern Iraq known as Little Tora Bora, home to a core group of
al-Qaida fighters and a small army of local allies.

An enigmatic Iraqi based in the remote mountains has U.S. intelligence
asking: Who exactly is Abu Wael?

The answer could be pivotal in determining whether Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein really has connections to Osama bin Laden. So far, the evidence is
both intriguing and contradictory.

One body of evidence points to Abu Wael as a senior Iraqi intelligence
officer and as Saddam's secret liaison with al-Qaida and its Iraqi
affiliate, Ansar al-Islam, or Supporters of Islam. That would make him the
long-sought connection between Iraq and al-Qaida  and justification for
tying a U.S.-led military operation in Iraq to the war on terrorism.

But other evidence suggests that Abu Wael is a senior official in Ansar who
deeply opposes Saddam as an autocrat in a secular regime that has brutally
repressed Muslims.

The intelligence behind both claims comes largely from prisoners at a
compound that houses the intelligence headquarters and jail in this bustling
Kurdish city about an hour from Little Tora Bora. In recent months, the
Kurds, who run an autonomous statelet in northern Iraq and are allied with
the United States, have taken dozens of prisoners who have provided new
pieces of the puzzle for U.S. intelligence.

That puzzle is still far from complete. But some facts are not disputed:
Shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a group of al-Qaida fighters
left Afghanistan and traveled smugglers' routes through Iran into northern
Iraq's Kurdistan. Their goal was to establish a backup base for al-Qaida,
according to al-Qaida members, U.S. intelligence and Kurdish officials.

The al-Qaida fighters set up in the town of Al Biyara and nearby mountain
villages where Kurdish militants had begun imposing the strict Islamic rule
used by Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime. Ansar was then led by the
charismatic Mullah Krekar, who had trained in the 1990s in Pakistan under
Abdullah Azzam, one of bin Laden's early mentors. Abu Wael, who spent time
in the 1990s in Afghanistan with al-Qaida, was one of Krekar's top
lieutenants, the sources said.

Local tensions quickly escalated after Sept. 11. Within two weeks of the
terrorist attacks in the United States, Ansar extremists attacked security
forces of the pro-U.S. Kurdish government here. More than 20 Kurds were
killed, their throats slit and bodies mutilated. Sporadic and deadly clashes
have ensued.

In April, Ansar tried to assassinate Barham Salih, the prime minister of the
eastern sector of Iraqi Kurdistan, and missed only through a fluke of
timing. But five bodyguards were slain. In its Little Tora Bora redoubt,
Ansar also tested primitive chemical weapons, including a cyanide gas, on
farm animals this year, U.S. and Kurdish officials say.

For the Kurds, the 600 to 700 Ansar fighters and the 35 to 100 al-Qaida
members are now the most serious threat in Kurdistan, the only Iraqi region
not under Saddam's control. Fighting broke out again last Wednesday when
Ansar guerrillas launched a surprise attack on Kurdish security forces,
reportedly killing dozens.

So what has Abu Wael been doing in Kurdistan? Stories from several prisoners
diverge widely. The tales from two men illustrate the intelligence quandary.

Witness No. 1

Qassem Hussein Mohammed, 36, claims to be an Iraqi intelligence agent
captured by the Kurds in January en route to find Abu Wael, a colleague of
20 years.

Abu Wael was a major in the Iraqi army who joined Saddam's top intelligence
unit after finishing law school, Mohammed contends.

"In 1995, Abu Wael was instructed by Baghdad to go to Afghanistan to be the
connection between al-Qaida and Baghdad. He did this five years, until he
came back to Kurdistan in 2000," Mohammed said at an interview at the
intelligence headquarters here.

Mohammed said he was the courier between Abu Wael and the Baghdad regime 
traveling to both Afghanistan and Kurdistan.

The Kurds are eager to believe the linkage, which might bring U.S.
intervention. But Saddam and al-Qaida are odd bedfellows, U.S. officials and
analysts note, in light of the Iraqi leader's paranoia about militant Islam,
often a threat during his 23-year rule. He has ruthlessly quashed any
Islamic stirrings.

But Mohammed, sentenced by the Kurds to six years in prison for spying, said
the unusual alliance emerged out of a shared hatred for the United States
and, more recently, a desire to uproot their joint U.S.-backed Kurdish

"Saddam's long-term interests," said Mohammed, "were more important than the
ideology of an Islamic group."

The turning point was the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In 1992, Saddam hosted
Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden's top strategist and founder of Egypt's Islamic
Jihad, said Mohammed, who claimed to be in charge of guarding the
delegation. Iraqi intelligence has also occasionally trained both Ansar and
al-Qaida operatives in explosives, chemical weapons and suicide missions, he

If true, this would be the most damning evidence yet about Saddam's links to
al-Qaida  a theory of top Bush administration officials that came into
question after recent denials by Czech officials that Sept. 11 hijacker
Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence had met in Prague, the Czech capital.

Witness No. 2

But none of it is true, insisted Qayis Ibrahim Qadir, 27, a wiry assassin
who said he worked closely with Abu Wael. Qadir was captured after trying to
assassinate Salih, the Kurdish prime minister, and killing his bodyguards.
The only one of three assassins to survive, he described himself as a
"jihadi" and member of Ansar who also spent time in Yemen and worked with
al-Qaida in Kurdistan.

"Abu Wael is one of our leaders who spent many years in Afghanistan and knew
Osama bin Laden. He would never work for Saddam, the worst kind of
nonbeliever and a tyrant," Qadir said.

"In practical terms, it might be useful to have the support of a ruler or to
play one ruler off against another," he added. "That's what they want you to
believe. But I can promise you  1 million percent I promise you  that Abu
Wael had no ties to Saddam Hussein. We don't have ties to any rulers."

Ansar's immediate mission is to expand its following and territory in
Kurdistan and later to challenge the secular rule in Baghdad, Qadir said.

The identity and status of Abu Wael have become all the more important
lately because Mullah Krekar, whose real name is Najm Din Faraj Ahmad, was
stopped in Iran in September and deported to Amsterdam, where he is still
being held. U.S. intelligence believes Ansar now wants to take Americans
hostage to press for a swap.

But the whereabouts of Abu Wael are also in question. Mohammed, the Iraqi
intelligence agent, said he had been dispatched to Kurdistan because Baghdad
had lost contact with the Ansar official late last year. The last Iraqi
intelligence knew, he said, Abu Wael was going to Afghanistan to meet bin

Again, not so, said Qadir. Abu Wael was still working this year around
Little Tora Bora.

And so the picture gets fuzzier. Said one senior U.S. official: "It's one of
the bottomless mysteries we face these days. We're not sure where he is  or
if he's even alive."

by Borzou Daragahi
The State, from Associated Press, 12th December

SULAYMANIA, Iraq - Russia's ambassador to Iraq visited the autonomous
Kurdish enclave in the north and criticized U.S. calls for the overthrow of
Saddam Hussein.

Ambassador Vladimir Tetrinko on Wednesday became only the second Russian
official to visit the Kurdish region since it was established in 1991 at the
end of the Gulf War.

Tetrinko also dismissed a London conference of Iraqi opposition leaders as a
gathering of conspirators plotting to "overthrow the legitimate government
of Iraq," and ridiculed U.S. plans for assembling an international coalition
to force Saddam from power.

"I presume there will be no coalition attack on Iraq because there is no
coalition," he said. "Our view is very clear. We cannot build a democratic
Iraq through military action and bringing in a dictator."

He journeyed to the region several days after a surprise visit there by
Sens. Chuck Hagel, R Neb., and Joseph Biden, D-Del.

The ambassador said he had come to the region to meet with Kurdish officials
as part of a routine visit to the Iraqi provinces.

Barham Salih, prime minister of the southeastern section of Iraqi Kurdistan,
said Tetrinko voiced concern about outsiders in the region and of a possible
civil war among Iraqi ethnic groups should Saddam be ousted.

Russia has been consistently critical of U.S. plans to topple Saddam.
Russian has vast economic interests in Iraq, including a $20 billion deal
signed by Lukoil, Russia's biggest oil company, to develop a large oilfield.
Baghdad owes Russia at least $7 billion dollars in debts from Soviet times.

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