I have competition!

In which i find that i have competition and I demolish him.

Not that I particularly relish competition, seeing as I’m a natural monopolist at heart, but it seems there’s a site called IraqJournal.org that has a lot of reporting from Baghdad coordinated by Jeremy Scahill.
I point to this site in a spirit of “we’re all journalists, check it out!” but I gotta be honest. I think Mr. Scahill and his team are pretty biased. First of all, they’re based in Baghdad, which means they’re there with the permission of Saddam’s regime. It’s unlikely they’re going to report on things that make the Iraqis look bad. Secondly, his bio has a couple of telling quotes (emphasis added):

  • “He primarily covers international stories, focusing on the ugly face of US foreign policy.”
  • “He spent more than a month in Iraq (May-June 2002) where he reported on the ongoing suffering there caused by the US-led sanctions and continuous bombing.”

Now, I don’t want to take away from Mr. Scahill’s accomplishments. As his bio says, he’s the youngest person to ever win the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting, (He’s 28). And living in Iraq as a Westerner is hard.
But the coverage is overwhelmingly sympathetic to Saddam. Two stories on the prison amnesty fairly brim with admiration. The implication is, “See? He’s not so bad!” Reports that political prisoners and those accused of spying for Israel and the United States were not released or — worse — “disappeared,” are breezily dismissed. He trashes John Burns’ (NY Times) account of many prisoners thanking Bush for their liberty by saying:

Many prisoners thanked Bush? Is he kidding? “Many” implies that thousands must have been rushing up to Burns (on the day of their “liberation” back into “Saddam’s Iraq”) to make sure that The Times relayed their message back to the Oval Office (which is currently threatening to destroy Iraq). Even if Burns had managed to hunt down that handful of Iraqis who do have affection for the US president, none of them would have been stupid enough on that day, when they had just hit “freedom,” to come out swinging at Saddam and praising Bush to an American reporter. And “many” is a flat-out fairytale.

Now, I have no idea if “many” or “a few” or “every goddamned one of ’em!” thanked Bush for their freedom, but it’s clear from Scahill’s wording that he doesn’t either. There are no quotes from recently released prisoners backing up his claims and his reportage is peppered with “would have”s and “could have”s. In short, he’s assuming.
In another story, running under the headline “Bush Corleone,” Scahill makes the claim that “These days most UN officials here, while deriding the infamous Iraqi bureaucracy, speak of deep collaboration with the government in attempting to deal with the devastating impact of the US-led sanctions.”
That?s simply not true. When I was in Iraqi Kurdistan, Mike Parker of the Mine Advisory Group, which helps locate and cleanse the massive minefields laid during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, told me that 12 expatriates and UN workers had been killed in the four years he had been working in Suleimanya. They were killed by car bombs, snipers and other mayhem. He also traveled with an armed escort and after I met him for dinner, refused to let me return to my hotel without my own armed escort. Mike isn?t with the United Nations, but foreigners there are only safe when they cooperate with Saddam, and that includes talking to the press — especially in Baghdad.
OK. So perhaps I’m being hard on Scahill and his team. After all, they’re on the ground doing work and I’m still in New York. But is it really so hard to say, as one of my friends did recently, “Saddam is a bad guy and a monstrous tyrant, but now is not the time to go after him.” Why are some people on the left unable to take this at least intellectually honest approach? Because it would mean the United States has a point?
So here?s my bottom line: I desperately want to be in Scahill’s position and I have a lot of respect for him that he’s managed to get himself there and do reporting. His site looks nice, too, and I guess I’ll link to it. But — and this is a big but — reporting propaganda, regardless of where it comes from doesn’t serve the most important people journalists should be thinking about: their readers. Also: I oppose the seemingly inevitable war in Iraq not because I think Saddam is a swell chap or because I think everything the United States does is in quest of yummy oil. He?s not and not everything the U.S. does is evil. I oppose it because it’s geostrategically dangerous, because it violates many aspects of established international practices and laws and it shows a shockingly shortsighted vision of foreign policy. From various reports, it seems the United States will hang the Kurds out to dry, and that?s not fair. War with Iraq will also distract us from the important task of containing Al Qaeda and alienate our allies making everything the United States does harder. So, yes, I?m opposed to the war, but not at the expense of truth, the famous first casualty.
But if I was assured that the United States had the backing and blessing of the United Nations, that there was proof of Iraq?s evil machinations to inflict serious and immediate harm and the Kurds were protected by a solid commitment to democracy, then hell, I don?t think I could oppose taking out Saddam.
At least I?m honest.

Turkey and Iraqi Kurds headed for confrontation

Northern Iraq is a powederkeg waiting to explode, and the Kurds and Turks seem set on a confrontation.

In an item from ArabicNews.com, “Turkish officials” tell the daily newspaper Bousta that there will be no Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

In a telephone call with the Turkish daily Bousta, the Turkish officials indicated in its Saturday’s issue that Washington gave guarantees to Ankara that a (Kurdish) state will not be established, stressing that it is impossible that the US will sacrifice its good relations with Turkey for the sake of founding an independent Kurdish state in the after- Saddam phase.

This is almost assuredly true, since the United States needs Turkey a lot more than it needs the Kurds, and it’s been telling the Kuwaitis not to worry, that there will be no democracy in a post-Saddam Iraq.
And yet the Kurds, bless them, persist in moving forward with their constitution, a charter that is almost guaranteed to get them invaded by Turkey. A meeting of 35 Kurdish parties, called for by the chairman of the Kurdistani Democratic Socialist Party, Muhammad Haji Mahmoud, convened yesterday in the town of Kuwisinjaq. While all Kurdish parties, including the Islamist parties such as Islamic Movement and Islamic Union, are expected to attend, the Turkomen parties weren’t invited, an ominous omission.
For not only will the Turks (and Syrians and Iranians) look upon Kurdish jostling for federalism in Iraq with alarm, Turkey could use the exclusion of the Turkomen as an excuse to intervene, especially since Ankara has recently been referring to Kirkuk, the proposed capital of a Kurdish entity in the north, as a “Turkomen” city. (Which isn’t true at all. The Kurds have a longer claim to it than the Turkomen.)
Ala Talabani, a spokesperson for the PUK in Suleimanya, emailed me today and told me that the Kurds are doing everything they can to reassure Turkey. “Turkey, they are nervous, but parties here are doing theire best to make them understand that we are not looking for Independency; we will remain a part of Iraq,” she wrote. [Ed. I cleaned up her English a little.] “Remember that they have an election (coming up.) After that, their position will be clear.”
But what that position may be, no one knows. The ruling coalition of ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit will almost assuredly be removed come Nov. 3, and a party with roots in political Islam, Justice and Development, is polling at 30 percent, far ahead of other parties. This means Turkey could be looking at a Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, a top Justice and Development party leader. Remember, in 1997 the Turkish military staged a “soft coup” to remove an Islamist ruling coalition when it strayed too far from the embrace of the West and chummied up with Iran and Libya.
I think a Justice and Development-led government would be even more hardline on the question of the Kurds. Any civilian government in Turkey must kowtow to the military establishment, which views both political Islam and Kurdish separatism with equal contempt. In order to protect its position, Justice and Devlopment won’t do anything to piss off the generals in Ankara. Also, the Islamists, despite their rhetoric, are cool to the idea of the European Union and its demands that Turkey temper its persecution of its ethnic minorities. Since the EU snubbed Turkey in its latest round of talks, an Islamist-led Turkey would have little reason to accommodate Europe — or the Kurds.
So the stage is set for chaos in northern Iraq, apres Saddam. And the only people who will be able to bring the parties to heel will be the United States. The question is, will it?

Debate on Iraq taking place in NYTimes Book Review section

Clive Thompson’s blog, collision detection, has an interesting note about something I missed in The New York Times recently, about the debate being waged through reviews of Kenneth Pollack’s The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.
Pollack is a former CIA operative and now works at the Council on Foreign Relations. Whether you agree with Polllack’s assesment or not (he favors an invasion), his book is worthwhile and deserves to be part of the debate.

Qatar coup a plot of the Saudis?

State Dept. says Qatari coup rumors “disinformation” from the Saudis. But the big question is why?

The recent report of the attempted Qatari coup plot that allegedly went down Oct. 12, and reported by Stratfor and ArabicNews.com, may not be what it appears. The story hasn’t broken here in the United States (or in most Western media it seems) leading Stratfor to deduce that Washington has done a fair job of tamping this story down.
But sources in the State Department say the whole thing is made up, a bit of disinformation on the part of the Saudis who are angry over the milder form of Wahabbism practiced in Qatar, Al Jazeera, which is based in there and, especially, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifah al-Thani’s relatively close ties with the United States. (It should also be noted that al-Thani deposed his father in 1996 in a bloodless coup and Riyadh helped the deposed monarch stage an unsuccessful counter-coup soon after.)
I don’t believe the State Department. How are Saudi interests served by spreading rumors of an attempted coup? I’ve been trying to puzzle out what purpose disinformation might serve, and damned if I can make sense of it. So that leads me to the simplest explanation. That there was a coup attempt, U.S. soldiers may or may not have helped put it down and the United States is telling fibs to keep up appearances that it’s got the Gulf situation under control. I don’t believe Saudi Arabia was behind the coup, since the people arrested seem to be militant Islamists and Riyadh wouldn’t do something that might strengthen the hands of its own militants.
Something is fishy is Doha, but what it is we might never know.

U.S. to pay Russia $10 billion for Iraq backing

Russia gets its money and Qatar survives a coup attempt. Americans hear none of this news.

Careful readers will remember that I said that Russia was dragging its feet at the United Nations on America’s “kick Saddam’s ass” resolution because it was hoping for some guarantee that the $8 billion that Iraq owes Russia would be paid. Well, here is the reassurance. In response to taken questions, a State department spokesperson said that Russia could be compensated for more than $10 billion if they stopped their nuclear cooperation with Iran and allowed their country to become a nuclear waste dump.

One example is the potential transfer to Russia for storage of spent reactor fuel currently held by third countries, much of which requires US approval for such transfer because the US originally supplied the fresh fuel to those countries. If the Russians end their sensitive cooperation with Iran, we have indicated we would be prepared to favorably consider such transfers, an arrangement potentially worth over $10 billion to Moscow.

This kind of deal will lead Russia to ultimately support the United States against Iraq.
Also, some other news that hasn’t been widely reported here in the States: an attempted coup in Qatar! Who knew about this? Anyone? Anyone? Seems that American troops helped put down a coup attempt against Sheikh Hamad Bin Khaleifah al-Thani on Oct. 12. High ranking Qatari army officers were arrested and suspicion immediately fell on an Islamist organization and Pakistani and Yemini army recruits with alleged ties to Al Qa’ida.
The is big. Relations with Saudi Arabia have cooled since Sept. 11, 2001, and Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha is the best alternative. If Qatar were moved out of America’s camp, the United States would have to rely on Incirlik in Turkey and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to fly sorties against Iraqi targets. And most of the aircraft in the south would have to be carrier based, which would cut down on the number and frequency of sorties. It wouldn’t make an Iraqi operation impossible, but it would make it more difficult, I’ll wager.
What’s most worrisome, from a Pentagon war planner’s point of view, is the potential loss of Qatar, the continued refusal of Saudi Arabia to allow the use of its air bases and troubling Al Qa’ida attacks in Kuwait. None of these things is crippling individually, but in a worst-case scenario, America’s entire southern front in a Second Gulf War could crumble.