John Burns interview on ‘Fresh Air’

Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air has a great interview with New York Times correspondent John Burns, who was in Iraq when Saddam released his prisoners. He’s won two Pulitzer prizes and comes across as a journalist’s journalist. I highly recommend this interview, especially for Burns’ recounting of his interview with Palestinian Liberation Front leader Abu Abbas, the man who masterminded the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.

Erdogan says Turkey won’t help

Just before the U.N. voted on a final shot at disarming Iraq, the leader of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey would not help in an attack on neighboring Iraq.

Just before the U.N. voted on a final shot at disarming Iraq, the leader of the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Turkey would not help in an attack on neighboring Iraq. Erdogan can’t hold the prime minister post of Turkey, but he runs the party and is the most powerful politician in Turkey. If he’s saying that Turkey won’t take part in an operation against Iraq, that represents one of two things:

1) AKP has made a colossal mistake before it ever takes office, and is heading for a confrontation with the military establishment of Turkey. If this is the case, AKP’s days as the ruling party are numbered. The military, while not enthusiastic about a campaign against Iraq, will not endanger its relationship with the United States or with Israel. Incirlik will be used heavily in any air campaign against Iraq. Or…
2) Erdogan is playing a dangerous game at extracting concessions from the United States. The sanctions against Iraq have cost Turkey billions of dollars over the last decade and exacerbated the poverty of southeast Turkey, fueling the ire of the Kurdish Workers Party. I think more likely that Erdogan is trying to squeeze the United States for cash, backing with the IMF for loans and, more significantly, a free hand in northern Iraq against the Kurds. However, if the AKP miscalculates and asks for too much, the military might step in and remove the AKP from power.

Erdogan made his comments yesterday to the Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal. He also expressed support for the Palestinians and the establishment of an independnet state for them. How comments such as this might affect Turkey’s tight relationship with Israel is unknown.

The line in the sand

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed the U.S. resolution on Iraq today. Iraq has called the resolution cover for a U.S. attack.
“The objective of any draft resolution will not be to verify the situation about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction but to provide some causes for the United States to attack Iraq,” [Trade Minister Mohammad] Saleh told reporters asking about Iraq’s position on the resolution. “It is unfortunate that America and Britain have obstructed the return of U.N. weapons inspectors except with a new U.N. resolution that leads to a military aggression on Iraq under international cover.”

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed the U.S. resolution on Iraq today. Iraq has called the document cover for a U.S. attack.
“The objective of any draft resolution will not be to verify the situation about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction but to provide some causes for the United States to attack Iraq,” [Trade Minister Mohammad] Saleh told reporters asking about Iraq’s position on the resolution. “It is unfortunate that America and Britain have obstructed the return of U.N. weapons inspectors except with a new U.N. resolution that leads to a military aggression on Iraq under international cover.”
“This resolution is not meant to verify that Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction because Iraq has no such weapons,” he added.
What’s interesting is that Syria voted for the resolution despite its earlier objections. Reports were that Syria wanted to hold off the vote until Monday to give the Arab League time to hold a meeting. It also wanted to make the Middle East a nuclear free zone (which was a slap at Israel.) But in the end, the Syrians backed down and sided with the United States. What is also interesting is that the United States gave up its demand that it should be allowed to attack Iraq immediately at what it saw as any interference with the weapons inspectors. Instead, it will go back to the Security Council in the event of Saddam’s intransigence. (However, in the rose garden address, Bush said the United States wouldn’t wait on “unproductive debate” before attacking.)
Highlights from the resolution include:

… Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including Resolution 687 (1991), in particular through Iraq’s failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the I.A.E.A., and to complete the actions required under Paragraphs 8 to 13 of Resolution 687 (1991);
… False statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with Paragraph 11 or 12 below;
… Iraq shall provide Unmovic and the I.A.E.A. immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all, including underground, areas, facilities, buildings, equipment, records and means of transport which they wish to inspect, as well as immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted, and private access to all officials and other persons whore Unmovic or the I.A.E.A. wish to interview in the mode or location of Unmovic’s or the I.A.E.A.’s choice, pursuant to any aspect of their mandates; further decides that Unmovic and the I.A.E.A. may at their discretion conduct interviews inside or outside of Iraq, may facilitate the travel of those interviewed and family members outside of Iraq, and that, at the sole discretion of Unmovic and the I.A.E.A., such interviews may occur without the presence of observers from the Iraqi government; and instructs Unmovic and requests the I.A.E.A. to resume inspections no later than 45 days following adoption of this resolution and to update the Council 60 days thereafter;
… the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations;

The unity of the Security Council is in stark contrast to the disunity of the Iraqi opposition, which has quarreled over procedural details of a proposed Nov. 22 conference in Brussels. These are the guys the Bush wants to lead Iraq post-Saddam? I hope Gen. Tommy Franks has his viceroy outfit all picked out, and that it’s durable, since he’s going to be wearing it for a long time.
After the resolution passed, President Bush spoke from the White House rose garden, saying that Saddam Hussein “will face the severest consequences” if he does not prove his compliance with the UNSC and any interference will be seen as serious and
“The resolution presents the iraqi regime with a test — a final test,” said Bush. “Iraq must now without delay or without negotiations fully disarm. … The regime must allow immediate and unrestricted access to every site, every document and every person identified by inspectors. The old game of cheat and retreat — tolerated at other times — will no longer be tolerated.
“If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and the other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein,” he added.
Iraq must indicate by Nov. 15 that it accepts the resolution. By Dec. 8, it must hand over a list of any programs to Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector. Dec. 23 will see the arrival of inspectors on Iraqi soil, and the inspectors must report back to the United Nations what they’ve found by Feb. 21. It’s important to note that the United States views March as the latest that it could comfortably wage war in the Iraqi desert. Expect a continued build-up of military forces in the Gulf and the Saudis eventually to roll over and allow the use of their air bases now that the U.N. voted unanimously for the resolution. Kuwait and the Kurds are no doubt rejoicing over the strength of the resolution, too.
Bush, in the rose garden, gave no doubt what he thinks will happen: “The outcome of the current crisis is already determined. The full disarmament of Iraq … will occur.” The choice of how, he said, lies with Saddam.

The March of War

Further evidence of impending fireworks in the Gulf, three massive military ships left U.S. ports this weekend.

“It is part of the repositioning of forces and equipment in support of the war on terror. They are on route,” [Marge Holtz, director of the Military Sealift Command (MSC), a branch of the U.S. Navy charged with running the ships on behalf of the U.S. armed forces] told Reuters from Washington.
Two, the USNS Fisher and USNS Bob Hope
[Ed. — the Bob Hope?], have seven decks capable of carrying tanks, helicopters and other heavy armor MSC says.

News from the region…

Saddam gives an interview! The U.S. gets closer to a deal on force in the U.N.! And Ariel Sharon tries to start World War III! All this and more in the latest installment of … Back to Iraq 2.0!

Wow. Lots of stuff today already. In the first instance, ArabicNews.com (and others) reports that Saddam Hussein has shown a new willingness to work with the United Nations and thanked Saudi Arabia for its lack of cooperation with the Americans. The Kuwaitis on the other hand, in a show of Gulf War I gratitude, said it was OK with them for the United States to bivouc on Kuwaiti bases. (This may end up proving more trouble than its worth, perhaps, since the Kuwaiti daily al-Rai al Aam is reporting that a solidier for the emirate was caught trying to sneak into the al-Doha base there for the purpose of attacking Americans. With Kuwaiti army troops and other people attempting mayhem against the United States on a semi-regular basis, Kuwait may prove a shaky ally.)
At the same time, the Washington Post reports that the United States is prepared to tender its final Iraq resolution to the Security Council, possibly as soon as tomorrow, and that it wants a vote by the end of the week. It’s the third such resolution and is aimed at allaying the concerns of Russia and France, since Britain is on board and China has indicated it won’t sign on to such a proposal, but it won’t veto it either. Mexico, which has many of the same concerns as France and Russia, said it was “optimistic” a solution would be found soon, indicating the Americans are getting closer to a deal.
Also, Saddam gives his first interview in 12 years, according to the Egyptian opposition weekly, Al Usbou’. It’s full of juicy little tidbits, including the novel theory that the United States will carve up all Arab lands into countries the size of Yemen (or Israel) so they may be governed better by an American viceroyalty. A highlight of the interview:

Nassar: “Mr. President, I want to ask you something that I already know, but would like your confirmation. Do you have Kuwaiti prisoners that you did not release as yet, knowing that Kuwait is demanding their release as a condition for reconciliation?”
Saddam: “You know, and everyone else knows, that I issued a decision to release all prisoners, political and criminal, Arab and Iraqis. Except for the spies who worked for Israel and the U.S. We released even murderers, on condition that an agreement was reached between the families of the murderers and the families of the victims, and that the amnesty was the will of both sides. The jails in Iraq became the only jails in the world, and in history, without occupants.”
Nassar: “…And the wardens have a problem, Mr. President, they have to look for a job since the jails are empty…”
Saddam: “We shall turn the jails into shelters for orphans, the victims of American daily missile attacks on the country’s south and north, and on Baghdad’s neighborhoods, while the world conscience remains indifferent.” (Ed. — Emphasis added. Orphans!)

Prime minister Ariel Sharon backed up Saddam’s statement that the United States was trying to make the Middle East safe for Israel by saying in an interview with The Times that Britain and America should attack Iran after they’ve finished conquering Iraq. British foreign minister Jack Straw soundly rejected that idea, thank goodness. (You can read the entire interview here. Also, Sharon has agreed to Beyamin Netanyahu’s demands for early elections on Feb. 4, 2003, but grumbled that Israel doesn’t need elections right now. Palestinian officials urged Israelis to vote for “a leadership capable of making peace,” while Islamic Jihad said elections would make no difference.)