Steven Vincent killed in Basra

Someone has killed Steven Vincent, author of “In the Red Zone,” in Basra two days after he wrote a New York Times op-ed criticizing the Basra police:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – An American freelance journalist was found dead in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the U.S. Embassy said Wednesday.

Police said Steven Vincent had been shot multiple times after he and his Iraqi translator were abducted at gunpoint hours earlier.

“I can confirm to you that officials in Basra have recovered the body of journalist Steven Vincent,” said embassy spokesman Pete Mitchell. “The U.S. Embassy is working with British military and local Iraqi officials in Basra to determine who is responsible for the death of this journalist.”

I didn’t know Steve, but his agent, Andrew Stuart, is my former book agent. He was also a blogger and was researching another book, this one on post-war Basra. Already the comments section on the latest post is filling up. I also didn’t agree with much of what he wrote, but he was intrepid enough to spend months living in Basra, which is a hard thing for a westerner to do.

It is unknown if he was killed for his coverage or if it was kidnapping and robbery gone sour. All I know is that my thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Concerning the control of oil

The United States has placed a proposed resolution before the U.N. Security Counil to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also — surprise! — would grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (_Washington Post_)

The United States has tabled a U.N. Security Council resolution to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also would — surprise! — grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (Washington Post)
“The resolution, which is to be presented to the 15-nation body Friday, would shift control of Iraq’s oil from the United Nations to the United States and its military allies, with an international advisory board having oversight responsibilities but little effective power. A transitional Iraqi government, which U.S. authorities have said they hope to establish within weeks, would be granted a consultative role.”
In an earlier article on B2I, I wrote about Feisal al-Istrabadi, a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy and an activist on various humanitarian issues relating to Iraq. Istrabadi is also a member of the planning committee for the State Department?s Future of Iraq Project, serving on its Transitional Justice and Democratic Principles working groups.
During his talk, he outlined the ideas for a transitional government.

It would last two to three years at most, must provide immediate benefits to the people of Iraq, would hold municipal elections within six months and regional elections within another six months after that and begin immediate criminal prosecutions. The other duties must be to fulfill obligations to the U.N. regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said, and human rights agreements must be adhered to. “It’s critical to me that the transitional period not be seen as a final status,” he said. “I don?t think the transitional government should be the government that signs a peace treaty with Israel. That should be the permanent government.”
And most important, he said, the United Nations should not _lift_ the sanctions. Instead they should be _suspended_ so that the transitional government doesn?t gain control of the country?s treasury and the permanent lifting of sanctions is an incentive to democratize.
“If you want to ensure the transitional figures do not become transitional in the Iraqi sense of the word — by that I mean lasting 40 years — you cannot hand over the purse strings of Iraq,” he said. “Saddam did not immediately rule by fear. He co-opted the elite during the 1960s and ’70s by drowning them in cash.”

Taking control of the oil industry, while looking really, _really_ bad to the rest of the world, is probably the best that can be made of a bad situation. Istrabadi’s right; if a transitional government took control of Iraq’s oil revenue, there likely result would be wholesale robbing that would make the looters in the closing days of the war look like pikers.
Granted, this will not help the United States’ image in Iraq or in the Arab world. They’re already convinced the U.S. was making an oil grab. The only way to combat this impression is to manage the oil industry in an enlightened and benevolent manner with no favortism given to corrupted Iraqis or American companies.
Handing out crony contracts to Halliburton subsidiaries and other, well-connected American corporations ain’t the way do this. There really don’t seem to be many good solutions to this mess.

Why Iraq?

The United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq is not just about oil, colonialism or empire building. But neither is it not about those things either. I’ve tried to map out what I believe is the administration’s thinking based on reports, research and balance-of-power analysis.

A few days ago, I mentioned I would publish my thoughts on the real reasons for the Bush administration’s drive to attack Iraq. My apologies for the delay. I’m a one-man operation here and sometimes I have to do other stuff, like sleep.
There are several theories floating around about the need to attack Iraq, some coming from the White House and others coming from various sources. The most common argument for attacking Iraq, that given by the administration, is a mish-mash of worries about weapons of mass destruction, disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions, ties to al Qa’ida and Saddam’s wickedness. Of these reasons, the WMD rationale seems to have gained the most traction in the minds of many Americans. This is hardly surprising, as the White House has been relentlessly on message regarding Saddam’s weapons programs until recently, when Osama bin Laden (remember him?) conveniently popped up to exhort Muslims to defend their Iraqi brothers through martydom operations against Western interests worldwide if the United States assaults Baghdad.
Despite bin Laden’s sneering references to Saddam as a “socialist” and an “apostate,” the White House lept upon the tape as proof that Saddam and bin Laden were playing footsie when the West wasn’t looking. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said bin Laden’s reference to “our mujahideen brothers” inside Iraq and his appeal to Muslims to prepare for jihad suggested a “strong statement of alliance” between Iraq and al Qa’ida.

Continue reading “Why Iraq?”

On the road to Baghdad

I’ve heard from an undisclosed source that Baghdad is “Phase-1 Houston” in U.S. military parlance and that it will be getting a visit from the air “very soon.” This is all I know, except that it jibes with a March 1 (or slightly later) start to the campaign to oust Saddam. I also indulge in some informed speculation on where the attacks will come from — and why.

I’ve heard from an undisclosed source that Baghdad is “Phase-1 Houston” in U.S. military parlance and that it will be getting a visit from the air “very soon.” This is all I know, except that it jibes with a March 1 (or slightly later) start to the campaign to oust Saddam.
This is starting to get tricky. I’m starting to get information specific to war plans and which, if published, could conceivably endanger United States forces. Just to be clear: I will not be publishing any information that could get people killed. If I have advanced information of troop movements, you won’t see it here. I may oppose the war, but I won’t do anything to harm people in the field. I have friends in the military, and they have a tough job. Most them don’t want this war any more than peace activists do and they don’t have the opportunity to march in the streets saying “no.” However, they do make it possible for everyone else to march by nature of their service to their country.
Therefore, what follows is speculation. I have no data that the following is accurate, but I think it makes sense.
The massive buildup in Kuwait and in other Gulf countries such as Qatar is a Calais-style feint. Just as in the first Gulf War, when Marines practiced an amphibious invasion that turned out to be a ruse only to mount a massive “left hook” by armored divisions, the United States is hoping to convince Iraq that the majority of its attack will be from the south. However, two other fronts could be open without the American media being informed.

Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan: Much has been said about the reluctance of Turkey to allow U.S. forces to open up a northern front in order to tie down Iraqi forces from racing to defend Baghdad. Recent article have mentioned further foot-dragging on the part of the Turkish Parliament. This is likely a ruse. I think it’s probable there is already a modest build-up of American forces larger than previously admitted but smaller than what the United States is publicly asking for. The situation is probably even more stabilized in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Washington Post reported on Jan. 30 that “small numbers” of American military forces are operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. Jalal Talabani, chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan made a laughable distinction between the”personnel”and”troops.” My theory is that the numbers are much greater in Iraqi Kurdistan than anyone is admitting. The northern front, despite its public disarray is probably in pretty good shape.
Iraqi armored vehicleJordan and Saudi Arabia: There have been consistent rumors of American troops “training” in Jordan. It’s not unreasonable for the one Arab country with a free-trade agreement with the United States and a peace treaty with Israel to have allowed a modest build-up in the eastern desert ready to launch into Iraq’s vast western provinces to seize SCUD sites and advance on Baghdad. There are already troops in Saudi Arabia and the desert kingdom’s public protests, reluctance to allow the use of its bases and declarations that the Americans will be expelled after the war could very well be a head-fake on Saddam. The government-controlled media could be easily brought to heel, as evidenced by protests that rocked the country months ago and which were never reported in the newspapers.

in each region I’ve mentioned, the media are either tightly controlled or can quickly be censored. My speculation mirrors a war plan that was leaked to the New York Times in July 2002 but which was quickly disowned by the Americans and the regional powers. Turkey and Jordan, especially, said quickly that their territories would not be used. I’m skeptical of these claims, especially considering the leverage the United States has on Ankara and Amman.
Again, this is speculation, but considering the history of the United States using massive build-ups to distract enemies only to hit them hard from another direction, it makes sense. There are also signs that Iraq may be wise to this tactic. Along an Iraqi army post about 100 yards from the Kuwaiti border, “there is no sign here that Iraq is doing much to prepare itself militarily against an invasion. A stray tank or two can be seen farther north, off the road from Basra to Baghdad, but otherwise there is little evidence of any real military presence near the zone.”
In two weeks or so, we’ll see how close I was in my predictions. Any takers?
[UPDATE: I swear I didn’t read this article in the Boston Globe before I wrote this entry. But the two pieces seem to jibe pretty closely, eh?]

Regional diplomats pulled from Gulf; Blix continues to talk

While chief United Nations arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei journeyed to Baghdad to for “very substantial” talks, the United states pulled out all but its most senior diplomats from the Persian Gulf region. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that France and Germany’s attempts to give inspectors more time were actually increasing the possibility of war rather than averting it.

While chief United Nations arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei journeyed to Baghdad to for “very substantial” talks, the United states pulled out all but its most senior diplomats from the Persian Gulf region . At the same time, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that France and Germany’s attempts to give inspectors more time were actually increasing the possibility of war rather than averting it.
“There are those who counsel that we should delay preparations” for war against Iraq. “Ironically, that approach could well make war more likely, not less, because delaying preparations sends a signal of uncertainty,” Rumsfeld said in the opening address at an international conference on security policy.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. As Iraq makes concession after concession — Blix has managed to wring more documents, private interviews with scientists and possibly U-2 spy plane flights — London and Washington keep saying that Iraq is missing its chance to comply. With the 101st and a fifth carrier group dispatched to the region, and the removal of diplomats, it seems that war is, indeed, inevitable and Iraq has no reason to comply as President Bush has said, “The United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, will take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime.”
By the way, this part of Bush’s radio address — “We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad” — is mostly a lie. As I’ve pointed out several times, Iraq is not harboring Ansar al-Islam; that group has taken refuge in the Kurdish area on the Iranian border that’s under the protection of the RAF and the American Air Force. And if it runs a poison and explosive training camp, why doesn’t the United States bomb it as the PUK has requested on numerous occasions?
I realize I’ve become a broken record on this subject, but so has the White House. It has never strayed from its determination to invade and conquer Iraq since 1999 when then-Gov. Bush signed on to the idea. What have changed are the ever-shifting reasons for invading Iraq that Bush has trotted out. But as Thomas Friedman pointed out his column (registration required) not a single audience of Americans he talked to are ready to fight this war. “I understand what the Afghan war was about and would have volunteered with a pitchfork,” he quotes an everyman as saying. “But I just don’t get this war.”
Just wait a few weeks, Everyman. You’ll get this war — whether you want it or not.

Qatar’s links to al Qa’ida, and back to the coup…

Qatar royal family linked to al Qa’ida. United States response kind of, what’s the word? Oh, yes. “Non-existent.” But then again, we need that air base there to attack Iraq. Priorities, people!

06qaed.jpgCareful readers will remember I wrote about the alleged Qatar coup attempt back in October, here, here and here. The story was that members of the military aligned with Islamic fundamentalists attempted a coup in the vital Persian Gulf country on Oct. 12. It was put down with the help of U.S. troops there, and the State Department and the Qataris denied anything happened. In my last entry on this, I said I couldn’t confirm anything and that I — reluctantly — must concede that they were rumors.
Now, possibly not so! Hesiod, over at Counterspin Central, picked up on an interesting nugget in the New York Times‘ coverage of Colin Powell’s speech before the U.N. on Wednesday. In his speech, Powell made a lot of noise in tying al Qa’ida to Baghdad through the person of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi (right), the one-legged man believed responsible for masterminding the assassination of American diplomat Laurence Foley last October. But, as Hesiod points out, the Times buried the real story:

Mr. Powell withheld some critical details today, like the discovery by the intelligence agencies that a member of the royal family in Qatar, an important ally providing air bases and a command headquarters for the American military, operated a safe house for Mr. Zarqawi when he transited the country going in and out of Afghanistan.
The Qatari royal family member was Abdul Karim al-Thani, the coalition official said. The official added that Mr. al-Thani provided Qatari passports and more than $1 million in a special bank account to finance the network.
Mr. al-Thani, who has no government position, is, according to officials in the gulf, a deeply religious member of the royal family who has provided charitable support for militant causes for years and has denied knowing that his contributions went toward terrorist operations.
Private support from prominent Qataris to Al Qaeda is a sensitive issue that is said to infuriate George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence. After the Sept. 11 attacks, another senior Qaeda operative, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who may have been the principal planner of the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, was said by Saudi intelligence officials to have spent two weeks in late 2001 hiding in Qatar, with the help of prominent patrons, after he escaped from Kuwait.
But with Qatar providing the United States military with its most significant air operations center for action against Iraq [the al Udeid Air Base — Ed.], the Pentagon has cautioned against a strong diplomatic response from Washington, American and coalition officials say.

Sure makes those coup reports a lot more interesting, now doesn’t it? And it makes a lot more sense that Qatar and the United States would both deny that anything happened. But this is part of Washington’s game. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and now Qatar have known ties to Islamic extremists that have had a direct hand in attacking United States interests and nothing is done because we need these countries to attack Iraq. (Or Afghanistan, in the case of Pakistan. I have less problem with going easy on Gen. Musharraf since he’s in a delicate spot and we don’t want Pakistan’s nukes falling into the hands of Islamo-Fascists.) It’s almost as if the War on Terror is an irritating distraction from the War on Iraq. And that’s exactly backward, as far as the American people are concerned.
(As an aside, the Times article notes that by revealing that Zarqawi is a walking dead man now, as Baghdad has constantly denied links to al Qa’ida. “A half hour after Powell mentioned his name, I’ll wager he disappears or is killed,” said a coalition official, recalling the death in Baghdad in 2001 of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, after intelligence reports suggested than he might be activating his own terrorist network.” As Hesiod asks, if the United States could have had Zarqawi killed earlier by mentioning him, why didn’t it? As with Ansar al-Islam, it’s convenient for the White House to let threats linger as long as they serve the goal of invading Iraq.)
George over at Warblogging has an excellent entry on why Iraq is the wrong war at the wrong time. With the the national threat level about to go to “orange” later today amid fears of a mid-February attack by al Qa’ida that could rival Sept. 11, 2001, why is Washington ignoring real links between supposed allies and terror groups and instead focusing on tenuous ties between our enemies? This is why.