No-fly zones attacks not a material breach

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that Iraqi firing on allied planes patrolling the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq was not a violation of UNSCR 1441, no matter what the United States may say.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that Iraqi firing on allied planes patrolling the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq was not a violation of UNSCR 1441, no matter what the United States may say.
“The United States believes that firing upon our aircraft in the no-fly zone, or British aircraft, is a violation — it is a material breach,” said Scott McClellan, a spokesman for the White House.
Ah, no, said Annan. “Let me say that I don’t think that the Council will say this is in contravention of the resolution of the Security Council.” The Russians agreed with Annan: “Recent claims that Iraq’s actions in the ‘no-fly’ zones can be seen as a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution 1441, have no legal grounds,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
UNSCR 1441’s eighth paragraph says, “Iraq should not take or threaten hostile acts directed against any representative or personnel of the United Nations or of any member state taking action to uphold any Council resolution.”
The problem with this wording is that there is no Council resolution explicitly setting up the no-fly zones. They were established in 1991 after the Gulf War by the United States, France and the United Kingdom to protect the Kurds and Shi’ite minorities from Saddam’s murderous reprisals after the Gulf War. (France pulled out after 1998’s Desert Fox operation.) I did a search on the legality of the zones and found that the United States usually cites UNSCR 688 in defending the zones. But there’s nothing in the resolution authorizing their set-up. At best, their continued existence is a mark of implicit approval by the Council. Another view, which I’ve come to hold, is that the Council has recognized that there’s not a lot it can do about them anyway and U.K. and U.S. vetoes keep Russia and France from introducing resolutions to end them.
That’s not to say I don’t think they should be there. I was quite happy to have allied war planes high above me when I was in the country, otherwise the Kurds would never have achieved the levels of autonomy they have. Still, they’re a pretty flimsy excuse to try to declare Iraq in material breach, and thankfully the United Nations sees through that ruse.
Of course, now it just means there is more time to move troops and armor into the region.

Much news and catching up… (LONG POST)

Hi all. Sorry for the delay in posting. Not only have we seemed to enter a “phony war” period regarding impending hostilities with Iraq without anything definite happening, but I also needed to take a little break. Be that as it may, there have been some interesting stories to show in the last few days.

Hi all. Sorry for the delay in posting. Not only have we seemed to enter a “phony war” period regarding impending hostilities with Iraq without anything definite happening, but I also needed to take a little break.
Be that as it may, there have been some interesting stories show up in the last few days. First off, United Nations weapons inspectors have gone … back to Iraq. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Hans Blix, the chief of the inspectors, holds the fate of Iraq in his hands and he has said he will asses the intent of any delays on the part of the Iraqis as to whether foot-dragging is obfuscation or simple foul-ups. Considering that much of my time in Iraq was characterized by hurrying up and waiting — and I was in friendly territory! — I wonder if the, ah, “flexible” concept of time in societies other than northern European ones will be taken into account. Blix is Swedish after all; I hear they frown on tardiness. At any rate, Iraq has until Dec. 8 to present UNMOVIC with a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction programs or it will be in “material breach” of UNSCR 1441. We’ll see what happens. (P.S. When the Iraqis fire on Allied aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones in the south and the north, does that constitute a “material breach”? Some in the Bush administration want it to be so. Please note, Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch have never been sanctioned by the UN and Iraq has never accepted them.)

Continue reading “Much news and catching up… (LONG POST)”

Can’t keep a bad man down

Bin Ladin’s back, showing up the failures of American intelligence. And all the White House can do is talk about Iraq. Why?

Whoa! Who would have thought that Osama Bin Laden was really alive and hiding out for all this time? Apparently not the U.S. intelligence community which has fervently hoped that bin Ladin was toasted in the bombing of Tora Bora. That seems increasingly to be wishful thinking on the part of the United States. Astonishingly, the tape that has come to light, in which someone who sounds an awful lot like the Napoleon of Terror praises recent attacks and threatens more violence against the West if Iraq is attacked, was met with resounding indifference by the White House and the Pentagon. Sec. of Defense (and in-house funny man) Donald Rumsfeld quipped that Bin Laden was “alive or dead” when asked about the terror leader’s condition. Apparently, Schrödinger’s terrorist is a paradox they know well at the Defense Department.
But seriously folks, shouldn’t the news of bin Ladin’s survival be taken a little more, well, seriously? Senate Majority leader (for the moment) Tom Daschle, D-S.D., thinks so and valiantly questioned whether the U.S. is winning the war on terror yesterday, asking, in effect, if we didn’t declare victory in Afghanistan a wee bit early.
So if bin Ladin is alive, as is likely, and al Qa’ida is preparing to strike again, as is likely, the obvious course of action is to focus on … Saddam Hussein!
Argh. I tear my hair out over this. I’m convinced that the reason given by the left for the U.S.’s drive to topple Saddam — mainly control of Iraq’s oil fields — is much too simplistic to give the whole picture. And I don’t trust the Bush Administration that Iraq poses a clear and present danger, with Saddam being thisclose to fielding nukes on magic unmanned drones that could take out American cities. And the Butcher of Baghdad isn’t sostupid that he would give weapons of mass destruction to an element that he couldn’t control, such as al Qa’ida. So what gives? Why the push on Iraq when al Qa’ida poses a clear and present threat and Pakistan has been helping North Korea with its nuke program. (The implication is that if Pakistan has elements that would help the North Koreans, there are likely elements in the government that would help al Qa’ida in a similar manner.)
This report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies’ National Defense University might offer some clues. The main thrust of the report is that America has long realized the strategic value of the Persian Gulf, and fully intends to keep a military presence there regardless of any outcome in Iraq. “The United States will need to diversify its dependence on regional basing and forward presence, as well as reduce the visibility and predictability of its forward-deployed forces,” reads the report.
Why is this necessary? Because way back in 1990, the the Bush White House, part first, announced a defense posture that called for “adult supervision” of the world. And the most recent iteration of the National Security Strategy of the United States calls for the globe’s sole superpower to suffer no rivals militarily or economically, imposing a pax americana. So the United States is in the Gulf to guarantee the supply of oil not for itself, but for Europe and Japan, which get most of their oil from the Middle East. (Surprisingly, the United States gets most of its oil from Canada, Venezuela and Mexico; Persian Gulf sources supplied only 11 percent of America’s oil in 2000, according to the Department of Energy.) The United States Marines safeguard the Persian Gulf because Europe and Japan might re-arm and secure the oil sources for themselves if we didn’t. And as I said, the United States does not intend to suffer rivals gladly.
So we are going to be in the Gulf for a long time. As the INSS report says, “There is no escaping the U.S. role as a guarantor of Gulf stability. Thus, the United States needs a viable concept for its future forward presence that can be sustained over the long haul.” Saudi Arabia is not the secure base that we need for such a presence, as the presence of infidel troops so close to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina directly undermines the legitimacy of the House of Saud, which came to power in the 1920s as the family that would protect Islam’s holiest shrines. The presence of the troops inflames the faithful, such as bin Ladin, and leads the Saudi royal family to pay off the radical clerics that wield much influence in the kingdom. In essence this is the reason radical Islamists with possible access to nukes are “funded” by Saudi Arabia — the Saudis are buying them off and pointing a loaded gun away from their own head and toward someone else’s. If the House of Saud falls, which it could do at any time, a big reason will be resentment over its invitation of American GIs.
The solution is to get the 5,000 or so American off the Arabian peninsula. But the United States can’t pull out with Saddam in power; the troops are there to contain Saddam. So the solution to the solution is to remove Saddam from power, in the process diversifying the distribution of American troops in the region and removing a provocation to radicals. (Once they get over being pissed at the subjugation of Iraq, that is.)
Some would argue that this will just preserve Saudi legitimacy. Others may argue that a friendly regime in Iraq would undercut the Saudis and bring oil prices down as the two countries (which control the largest and second-largest known reserves of oil on the planet) compete for markets. There is evidence that the Saudis are hewing to the second view, doing everything in their power to impede the United States’ war planning, including a massive loan to Russia — interest free! — if the Bear had only vetoed UNSCR 1441. Alas for the Saudis, this didn’t happen, and they are caught between Iraq and a hard place.
So the goal of the United States is to maintain a presence in the Persian Gulf so that Europe and Japan don’t re-arm. In order to maintain a presence and decrease dependency on an unreliable ally, Saudi Arabia, Washington has to lighten the military footprint in the region by removing the cause for the heavy footprint — Saddam Hussein. Once that is accomplished, the forward forces can be distributed out of Saudi Arabia and a friendly Iraq can help pressure the Saudis to keep oil prices low. As a bonus, Washington would no longer have to easy on the Saudis in its war against al Qa’ida since Iraq would be the bulwark in the Gulf.
Could this be the strategy after all, part an elaborate chess game played on several boards at once? Winning such a game demands cool heads, clear minds and accurate intelligence — especially in a shooting war. The fact that bin Ladin has probably reëmerged right now means that the latter — since well before Sept. 11, 2001 — has been woefully lacking.

U.S. on ground in Iraqi Kurdistan

Reuters is reporting that the United States has quietly moved forces into Iraqi Kurdistan to train up to 5,000 Kurds in prepartion for an invasion. Regular readers might remember that I posted about this back in October.

Reuters is reporting that the United States has quietly moved forces into Iraqi Kurdistan to train up to 5,000 Kurds in prepartion for an invasion. Regular readers might remember that I posted about this back in October.

There are two things interesting about this. One, Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls the southern and eastern part of Kurdish country, said that the Kurds had finally received security guarantees from the United States in case of an attack by Saddam’s forces. This is a good thing. One of my major objections to this adventure has been America’s reluctance to stand by the Kurds, which it has failed several times in the past (1970s, 1980s and twice in 1991 and 1995.) The Kurds are working at building a nascent democracy in their territory, and while it’s hardly perfect and prone to the Great Man theory of government that so plagues the region, they’re trying. And the United States should support that effort. The security guarantee is a good first step. Next, the United States should sign on to the proposed constitution for a Federal Republic of Iraq. It’s certainly not a perfect document, but again, they’re trying.

Secondly, if the United States is actively training Kurds, that obviously means the Kurds have signed on to an invasion, which they had not when I was there. Deputy Prime Minister (KDP) Sami Abdul Rahman told me that the Kurds would not — could not — stand in the way of American forces should an invasion come, but there would be no active help without the security guarantees. With the training and the guarantees, the Kurds have secured for themselves a place at the table when it comes time to govern Iraq, apres Saddam

Aside: The Kurdish special forces, of which it seemed the KDP had the most, are trained by Iraqi generals who defected to Kurdish country. They brought with them their training from the Iraqi army, which inherited British SAS training. Also, there were a number of Kurdish peshmergas who wore American GI uniforms. When I asked where they came from, they just smiled and said, “smugglers and traders.” I’ll bet.

From Ankara to Diyarbakir

More dispatches from the summer. After Aykut Uzan, my fixer, and I left Ankara, we spent a few days in Cappadocia. We arrived in Uchisar, after three hours of driving. Aykut turned off the main highway and onto an older, less well-maintained road. He often swerved wildly to avoid the seemingly endless number of potholes and ditches on what?s left of the ancient Silk Road, which ran from Beijing to Istanbul.

More dispatches from the summer. After Aykut Uzan, my fixer, and I left Ankara, we spent a few days in Cappadocia. We arrived in Uçisar, after three hours of driving. Aykut turned off the main highway and onto an older, less well-maintained road. He often swerved wildly to avoid the seemingly endless number of potholes and ditches on what?s left of the ancient Silk Road, which ran from Beijing to Istanbul.
Suddenly, on our right was the Agzikarahan Caravai, a 13th century hotel and way station for the caravans that carried the spices and fabrics between Istanbul and Beijing. These caravais were built by the Seljuk Turks every 30 to 40 km and followed a strict architectural style. A central courtyard containing a kitchen and a mosque were surrounded by naves and chambers within the thick walls. A distinctive pointed dome was the signal to weary travelers that sanctuary was nearby — but only for one night.
In Uçisar, Many were worried about a looming war, since Cappadocia is one of the top tourist destinations of Turkey. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the region had been suffering as no one was coming to visit. In the middle of summer, we were able to find a room in one of the beautiful rock hotels in town, with the rooms carved directly into the stone of the canyon walls. But after three days of Cappadocia, it was time to move on. And we headed off to Diyarbakir, the flashpoint for much of the war with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) since 1984.
More than 37,000 people died in the civil war that raged across much of southeast Turkey from 1984 to 1998, ending only when Abdullah Ocalan, the party’s leader, was captured and brought to Turkish justice. While in custody, he renounced violence and sought to be a voice of reconciliation between Turks and Kurds. Needless to say, many Turks didn’t believe his jailhouse conversion and many of his old compatriots in the PKK considered him a quisling. He avoided the noose because of Turkey’s attempts to join the European Union. His death sentence was commuted in October.
But Diyarbakir, with its historic basalt walls limning the city like kohl around a Kurdish girl’s eyes, hadn’t changed in the four years since Ocalan’s capture. The streets were oppressive, with the presence of police everywhere. Aykut and I were followed the whole time we were there, and men came sniffing about my hotel, asking the staff about me and what I was doing there. The people who did talk to me veered from the timid and worried to the brave and/or fatalistic. The dominant thought among the residents, who daily live under the heel of police that routinely use armored personnel carriers to keep order, was that even if emergency rule were lifted — which it was in October — nothing would change as the economy was so devastated, there was no hope for the people to make a living. A. Turan Demir, the deputy chairman of HADEP, the Kurdish party in Turkey with its strongest base in Diyarbakir, listed many of the problems of the region in this interview I had with him: destroyed villages, discrimination, intimidation… A list of offenses that neither side can ever fully forgive.
What follows is a collection of notes and emails that I took when I was in Diyarbakir (and which I emailed out after I realized the level of surveillance I was under.) Reading back over the emails and notes, I see that some of it is insensitive, but I think now that the tone masks a level of frustration both with the environment as a New Yorker and with the treatment that many people live under.

From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Wed Jul 10, 2002 12:37:10 PM America/New_York
Subject: Update...

Hey all?
Popped into the local press office today, just to say hi, and they were expecting me. Creepy. There was a document from Ankara to say that I was coming and to accredit me for Emergency Rule Zone reporting. Now I have TWO press cards from the Turks. I was told I could go ?anywhere? and talk to ?anyone? but I suspect that any visits to HADEP offices will be frowned upon. It?s not a big deal to me, as an American, they would likely send me back to Ankara or Istanbul after confiscating film, but my guide, Aykut, lives in this country. He?s married to a Kurdish woman and has a past involvement with radical leftist movements. He?s left it all behind, but I don?t want my troubles to spill over and cause him or his family grief.
Also, the money situation is not good. My tenant, Theresa, has not made deposits as she said she would. If she doesn?t make some deposits by the end of this week, I?ll have to skip Iraq, head back to Germany and then immediately head back to the states, which would just about kill the purpose of all of this. I?m not pleased, obviously, by this development. Nor will Fabiana be pleased either, I think, but at the moment that?s the least of my worries.
Other than that, all is well. Cappadocia was amazing, with all sorts of otherworldly, “Planet of the Apes”-style rockscapes and houses. Diyarbakir, on the other hand, is hot and oppressive.
I?m glad everyone is doing well, and I can?t wait to see you all again.

And this one I sent out later:
From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Wed Jul 10, 2002 10:18:04 PM America/New_York
Subject: Lame!

Lamelamelamelamelame!
And thus, I pass judgment on poor, war-torn Diyarbakir. Christ, what a boring town. I thought war-zones were supposed to bring out the decadence in people (Berlin, maybe?) but instead, I get sullenness. Shit, the one bar that looked good, we couldn’t get in. We had not women with us.
Let me repeat that. I got turned away at the door at a bar in Diyarbakir.
Honestly, how lame is that? Finally, we ended up on the roof of out hotel, listening to the Kurdish version of “Mr. Vegas” on a Casio keyboard sing Arabesque songs in the roof restaurant. If it weren’t for the singer, it would have been almost pleasant. Instead, I felt sorry for the people living the apartments right next door to the hotel. Some were out on their balcony “enjoying” the singer.
Hm. Reading back that last paragraph leads me to believe I would be perfect as a colonial governor in, oh, 1895 or so. All that’s lacking is a British accent, old chap. And I’m supposed to be culturally sensitive. Perhaps I’m just damn tired of nothing working right in this country. Today, I had to mail a contract back to the states so we went to the post office. Looking around, there were no envelopes.
“I need to buy an envelope,” I told Aykut.
“You didn’t tell me that,” he said. “You have to buy those somewhere else.”
What kind of post office sells stamps but not envelopes?
I feel sorry for the police people following us. They must be very, very bored. We walk and we eat and occasionally talk to some poor schmuck on the street. We’re not very interesting subjects to tail, I don’t think. Hell, tonight I was hoping our tails would take pity on us and pull up and say, “You look like a couple of guys looking for some fun. Let’s have a friendly drink at the belly dancing palace.” Alas, such things rarely happened in the Cold War, and I doubt they’re going to happen now.
So that’s the score. I’m back in my hotel room (and everything undisturbed, including my own hair I left sticking out of my laptop in case someone came in and opened it. Paranoia can be fun!)
So that’s all. Safe and sound. I may have an appointment with the military governor tomorrow. Or not. Without doubt I will have to drink more tea. Every time I sit down in an office, a porter brings me tea in the little glasses. It’s tasty, but it’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit outside. And the tea is hot. Aykut drinks the stuff like it was water, says it keeps him healthy and quenches his thirst, but I need real water, not hot tea.

[Ed. — I suppose this last sentence could be mistaken for some kind of metaphor about the differences between the rituals of the east with the cool drink of Western rationalism, but I won’t bother since I never intended the lament for water to be anything more than a sign that I was thirsty.]
To be continued…

AvantGo Back to Iraq

For those AvantGo users out there, you can now subscribe to Back to Iraq 2.0 as an AvantGo channel. Simply go to your subscription page at www.avantgo.com and create a custom channel with the URL http://www.back-to-iraq.com. Be sure and increase the channel size to maybe 500 Kb, though, since you’ll be getting the whole front page.
I’ve tried this and it works well. It comes through pretty nicely on my iPaq and formats well, with the sidebar information at the bottom.