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.

Navy Seals

The Navy, under the aegis of the Marine Mammal Program has had to acknowledge a squad of anti-terror sea lions, trained to patrol the Persian Gulf for terrorist divers, based in Bahrain harbor. Their barking was so loud there was no way the Navy could hide the existence of the mammals, which are not native to the Persian Gulf. I’m not making this up.

Sea lions and their handlersOK. Usually this is a very serious site, but every now and then I find something a little … odd. This is one of those things.
Turns out the Navy, under the aegis of the Marine Mammal Program has had to acknowledge a squad of anti-terror sea lions, trained to patrol the Persian Gulf for terrorist divers, based in Bahrain harbor. Their barking was so loud there was no way the Navy could hide the existence of the mammals, which are not native to the Persian Gulf. I’m not making this up.
The Navy has long feared enemy divers who could blow up ships by attaching mines to them. Sea lions, dolphins and even a Beluga whale are trained to patrol the waters around the ships, locate enemy divers, snap a clamp onto one of their limbs and leave.
ABCnews.com continues: “The clamp is connected to a rope and signal buoy that humans with guns would then reel up, presumably pulling up a human on the other end.” [“Humans with guns”? Who writes this stuff? — Ed.] “In theory, the animals would not be hurt. Their contact with a potential terrorist — who would presumably be surprised — would last only an instant as they briefly made contact.”
“When you study the animals and you come to realize what they can do in their own environment, the aquatic environment, it’s no surprise that we have not been able to build a machine that can do what they do,” said Navy veterinarian Eric Jensen.
Sea lions are preferred because, unlike dolphins, they can continue their pursuit of an enemy diver onto dry land. What? How hard is it to outrun a waddling circus act on flippers?
In a time of continuous bad news, this story — while weird — made my night.
UPDATE: Yes, yes, I know sea lions are not seals, already. But c’mon, that headline was too good to pass up.

No nukes is good nukes

Cache of documents outlining Iraq’s nuclear ambitions found in the homes of physicists, but discrepancy exists as to whether the documents are current or date from the 1980s. Meanwhile, back at the U.N., America and the rest of the world at loggerheads — again — over what the Jan. 27 report means.

nuke1.jpgThe Daily Telegraph is reporting that United Nations weapons inspectors have uncovered evidence that Iraq is continuing its attempts to build nuclear weapons in defiance of UNSCR 1441. The paper reports that “The discovery was made following spot checks last week on the homes of two Iraqi nuclear physicists in Baghdad.”
U.N. officials had no comment on the documents, the paper said, but “a Western diplomat closely involved with the investigation into Saddam’s nuclear capability” was quoted as confirming that the documents were genuine.
“These are not old documents,” the diplomat was quoted as saying. “They are new and they relate to on-going work taking place in Iraq to develop nuclear weapons. They had been hidden at the … homes [of physicists Faleh Hassan and Shaker al Jibouri] on Saddam’s personal orders. Furthermore, no mention of this work is made in the Iraqi dossier that was submitted to the UN last December.”
Confusingly, Voice of America said that yes, documents outlining research on uranium enrichment had been discovered at the scientists’ home, but that they dated from the 1980s, according to nuclear control chief Dr. Mohamed El Baradei, who, along with chief weapons inspector Dr. Hans Blix, holds Iraq’s fate in their hands.
[Update: The Associated Press, via a story on Salon.com, is reporting that the documents date back to a project cancelled in 1988. Hassan said the program was declared in 1991 and that he kept the documents for “his students.”]
So who’s right? Is it El Baradei? Or the unnamed “Western diplomat”? I have to question the veracity of sources who go unnamed but are said to be “closely involved with the investigation into Saddam’s nuclear capability.” Could that be Western diplomat be an American trying to make the case to a jittery British public that they should lay off Tony Blair and get with the program? Isn’t the timing of this revelation curious, considering that the White House’s resident dove — and loyal trooper — Secretary of State Colin Powell told the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the United States would make a “persuasive case” that Iraq hasn’t cooperated and has weapons of mass destruction by month’s end?
It’s a curious discrepancy with huge implications. However, with the Jan. 27 deadline bearing down — the date on which Blix will deliver an interim report on the progress of the weapons inspectors — the United Nations has made clear that it does not see Blix’s dossier as a trigger for war, no doubt further frustrating the United States. America wants the Jan. 27 report to be final and complete and has said it will try to foil any extension of the inspection regime into March.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I believe that, yeah, Saddam’s probably got chemical and/or biological weapons. But with even Britain getting bullish on inspections — mainly because Downing Street believes there will be a “large nuclear find” in the near future — I think the United States needs to calm down and let the inspectors do their jobs. I think there’s a good chance that Saddam can be defanged without a lot of people dying, but then defanging Saddam has never been the real reason to attack Iraq now, has it?

Whisper campaign against Saddam never rises to a roar

Persian Gulf media are abuzz with tales of coups and exile, of last minute deals to stave off war by packing Saddam off with the wives and kids. Don’t believe any of them.

Whoa. This report from the Cape Times in South Africa quotes three diplomats from the United Arab Emirates as saying that Saddam Hussein is headed for “African exile” provided he would not be prosecuted for war crimes by the Western powers, his family and other members of his government could come with him and the withdrawl of all U.S. forces from the Persian Gulf region. Other conditions include the end of United Nations sanctions on Iraq.
OK. I don’t present this item because I believe it, as the United States would never accept the withdrawl of its troops from the region as a condition for the removal of Saddam from power. Instead, I post this as an example of the whisper campaign that’s going on in the regional media. I predict the whispering will never rise to the level of a roar. As I wrote earlier today, the United States needs to conquer Iraq from geostrategic necessity. The White House needs Saddam gone so it can get troops in, not the troops gone so it can get Saddam out! Get it?
Granted, the diplomatic humming by regional busybodies Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia could be the sound of diplomats keen on prying the levers of power from Saddam’s grasp. And the cancellation of a trip to Cairo by Gen. “Chemical” Ali Hassan al-Majid, who gained fame for his ruthless gassing of thousands of Kurdish civilians in 1988 around Halabja, could be indicative of the announcement of a deal. But don’t bet on it. This is at best wishful thinking and grasping at last straws.
An article in Singapore’s Straights Times should let Arab governments know the United States will attack soon. It lays out American suspicions of any last minute hat tricks by Saddam. Apparently officials in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office are puzzling over the possibility that Saddam could stage a fake coup or a assassination in order to stave off an American invasion. Or, tricky guy that he is, he could go into exile and continue pulling the strings from afar.
No doubt policy-makers are giving at least some thought to these kinds of tricks on the part of Saddam. But this article from the Straits Times sounds like just the sort of justification the United States needs to go in no matter what. Saddam’s dead? Could have been a body double. Palace coup? Might be engineered by him. Exile? He’s still alive and still has friends in the government. Like the argument that just because we can’t find WMD doesn’t mean Iraq doesn’t have them, all the arguments for not going in because of internal revolution or whatever are being knocked down, one by one.
Anyone still want to bet there won’t be an American proconsul come Christmastime in Baghdad?