Arab states working for coup, but that won’t stop the U.S.

Arab states engage in diplomatic buzz while the Saudis say a coup plan is afoot. But the real question is whether any of that will stop the conquering of Iraq?

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Saddam and his son Qusay confer while a Saudi plan hopes to isolate the Iraqi leader and his inner circle. But will that be enough to stop the United States? (Photo ® INA/AP)

The states around Iraq — Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey — have been buzzing in recent days with desperate last minute plans to avoid a United States invasion and occupation of Iraq. My email box was full this morning with various reports, including:

And last, but not least, the Saudis are apparently looking to get that Russian coup plot back on track, saying all but about 100 to 120 senior Iraqi officials should be offered amnesty under a U.N. resolution. The resolution would be offered just prior to the fireworks as a signal to Iraqi generals that now is the time to save their own skins. (See more on Russian coup plots here.)
If he is toppled but not killed — a highly unlikely prospect, frankly — he could find shelter in any number of countries. Libya, Mauritania, Egypt, Belarus, Cuba or North Korea have been mentioned as possible sanctuaries. And what’s up with that monster palace supposedly being built outside of Beirut? But honestly, it’s not likely that Saddam will flee. He had a chance in 1991 when Egypt offered him asylum in an effort to avert the Gulf War and he declined. (Just as a point of interest, Egypt has been especially welcoming to disgraced Arab leaders, hosting King Saud of Saudi Arabia when he was forced to abdicate in 1955, Yemeni President Abdellah al Salal when he was overthrown in 1966, the Shah after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and Sudanese President Gaafar Nimeiri after he was ousted in 1985.)
What’s interesting is the disconnect between what Arab leaders understand and what the American public has been led to believe. Regional leaders do not want a strong American presence as it would be highly destabilizing and no one wants to rule at the pleasure of a colonizing power. (And let’s face it, if the United States conquers Iraq and begins to exploit its oil revenues, it’s a colonizing power.) Europe and Russia, especially, are looking for ways to check America’s power in the world, hoping to avoid a further expansion of America’s hegemony.
But to the American people, the Bush administration has finally settled on WMD as the public rationale for attacking Iraq. Not a bad choice, as more than three-quarters of the American people favor war if weapons are found, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The problem for Bush is, if no weapons are found, only 29 percent would favor invasion and 63 percent would oppose it. (I discussed earlier the real, strategic reasons for going to war, when I said the White House must conquer Iraq because of the necessity of establishing a forward military presence in the region to a) secure a supply of oil, b) put pressure on the Saudis to stop financing Al Qa’ida and c) encircle Iran.)
Focusing on the WMD issue has boxed Bush in, although he had little choice. Naked aggression in the service of imperialism doesn’t poll well, but when the words “nuclear” and “Saddam” are mentioned in the same sentence, the public suddenly thinks sending in the 82nd Airborne isn’t such a bad idea.
Let’s say the U.N. inspectors don’t find anything but Iraq manages to convince no one it’s disarmed. The situation would devolve into a stalemate with France and Russia blocking America and the U.K. on the Security Council. World and domestic opinion would strongly oppose military action in such a situation, but geostrategic interests require American bases in Iraq. What to do?
The problem is that Bush has bet America’s credibility. After such a huge military buildup and a year of war rhetoric, the president can’t simply say, “Oops, never mind” and go home. Bush could decide to go in anyway and hope for a quick, clean victory. If he gets it, he will likely suffer only short term fallout. A backup plan would be to tell regional leaders the United States would support a coup, but would instead move troops in to “establish order” after the coup, accomplishing its objectives and — bonus! — double crossing the Saudis.
But if it’s not clean and quick and the aftershocks reverberate through the region, toppling perhaps Pakistan and Saudi Arabia into the hands of Islamists and strengthening the ayatollahs in Iran, it could sink Bush’s presidency. The Pew poll shows the public’s appetite for war without strong justification is not there. As such, the United States desperately needs the inspectors to find WMD in Iraq. And those empty chemical warheads won’t cut the mustard gas.

Bush to Saddam: “FYI, you forgot to mention your WMD”

As expected, the United States declared Iraq in material breach of various United Nations resolutions calling on him to disarm, and had Secretary of State Colin Powell give the world the bad news at a press conference today. The United States also has plans to move 50,000 more troops into the Persian Gulf region as the world girds for a new war.

As expected, the United States declared Iraq in material breach of various United Nations resolutions calling on him to disarm, and had Secretary of State Colin Powell give the world the bad news at a press conference today. According to the State Department, here are examples of omissions:

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release
December 19, 2002
2002/1143
FACT SHEET
Illustrative Examples of Omissions from the
Iraqi Declaration to the United Nations Security Council
Anthrax and Other Undeclared Biological Agents

  • The UN Special Commission concluded that Iraq did not verifiably account for, at a minimum, 2160kg of growth media.
  • This is enough to produce 26,000 liters of anthrax — 3 times the amount Iraq declared; 1200 liters of botulinum toxin; and, 5500 liters of clostridium perfrigens — 16 times the amount Iraq declared.
  • Why does the Iraqi declaration ignore these dangerous agents in its tally?

Ballistic Missiles

  • Iraq has disclosed manufacturing new energetic fuels suited only to a class of missile to which it does not admit.
  • Iraq claims that flight-testing of a larger diameter missile falls within the 150km limit. This claim is not credible.
  • Why is the Iraqi regime manufacturing fuels for missiles it says it does not have?

Nuclear Weapons

  • The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger.
  • Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?

VX

  • In 1999, UN Special Commission and international experts concluded that Iraq needed to provide additional, credible information about VX production.
  • The declaration provides no information to address these concerns.
  • What is the Iraqi regime trying to hide by not providing this information?

Chemical and Biological Weapons Munitions

  • In January 1999, the UN Special Commission reported that Iraq failed to provide credible evidence that 550 mustard gas-filled artillery shells and 400 biological weapon-capable aerial bombs had been lost or destroyed.
  • The Iraqi regime has never adequately accounted for hundreds, possibly thousands, of tons of chemical precursors.
  • Again, what is the Iraqi regime trying to hide by not providing this information?

Empty Chemical Munitions

  • There is no adequate accounting for nearly 30,000 empty munitions that could be filled with chemical agents.
  • Where are these munitions?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) Programs

  • Iraq denies any connection between UAV programs and chemical or biological agent dispersal. Yet, Iraq admitted in 1995 that a MIG-21 remote-piloted vehicle tested in 1991 was to carry a biological weapon spray system.
  • Iraq already knows how to put these biological agents into bombs and how to disperse biological agent using aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles.
  • Why do they deny what they have already admitted? Why has the Iraqi regime acquired the range and auto-flight capabilities to spray biological weapons?

Mobile Biological Weapon Agent Facilities

  • The Iraqi declaration provides no information about its mobile biological weapon agent facilities. Instead it insists that these are “refrigeration vehicles and food testing laboratories.”
  • What is the Iraqi regime trying to hide about their mobile biological weapon facilities?

Summary
None of these holes and gaps in Iraq’s declaration are mere accidents, editing oversights or technical mistakes: they are material omissions.

By trotting out the administration’s lone dove to make this announcement, the Bushies were signalling Saddam that he was on a weak limb over a very long drop. And the administration was also currying favor with the Europeans, who think Powell is the only sane man in the White House.
But I’d just like to talk about one charge: the anthrax. At his news conference, Powell said: ” Before the inspectors were forced to leave Iraq, they concluded that Iraq could have produced 26,000 liters [27,500 quarts] of anthrax. That is three times the amount Iraq had declared. Yet the Iraqi declaration is silent on this stockpile, which alone would be enough to kill several million people.”
OK… So that means Iraq declared roughly 8,700 liters. But note the hedge “could have produced.” Going on the basis of these statements and the rush for war in the White House, doesn’t this seem more like speculation that evidence of wrongdoing? What if Iraq had the capablity to produce 26,000 liters but never actually produced that much? Granted, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to a murderous thug, but still… Statements like these make the United States look like it’s making stuff up. Perhaps it is. It’s only been 12 days since Iraq turned in its dossier.
Also, U.S. President George W. Bush has ordered up to 50,000 more troops to the Gulf region, which would bring total troop levels to about 110,000. It will take some time for them to get there, and most observers now say the U.S. should have its forces in place in early February. An additional 250,000 reservists will likely be activated, too. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told troops, in his annual Christmas address, to “prepare for war.”
In the financial markets, bond markets were on fire as investors fled risky stocks for the relatively safe-haven of government securities. The Canadian dollar, as well as major indexes in Paris and Tel Aviv, fell as the war drum beat louder.
While the Bush administration still makes noises about how the president hasn’t made up his mind yet or that “Iraq is well on its way to losing this last chance,” implying that war is not inevtiable, anyone with half a brain can see that Bush has made up his mind and it’s only a matter of time.

Al Qa’ida group threatens Iraqi Kurdistan

Bush threatens Saddam (again), Turky threatens to move into Iraqi Kurdistan (again) and Russia threatened by financial meltdown (again.)

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Peshmergas at their posts in July (© 2002 Christopher Allbritton)

Mulla Sdeeq.JPG The Christian Science Monitor has a terrific article on the troubles that Ansar al-Islam is giving to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan on the Shinirwe Front, on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. While I was there in July, I interviewed Mullah Sdeek (left), deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement, which controls one of the territories abutting ‘s. “We have been working as a mediator between [] and the government to try to change their idea and to convince them to come down to the negotiating table,” Sdeek said at the time. Well, that hasn’t been working. Since the recent capture of ‘s leader, Mullah Krekar, in the Netherlands after his dismissal from Tehran, the group has threatened to capture foreigners such as U.N. and human rights workers as bargaining chips to win the release of Krekar. Note: This group bargains hard; it beheaded 42 PUK peshmergas it captured in October of last year and made all the inhabitants — including the children — of the small village of Kheli Hama watch. (By the way, an Iraqi Kurd was arrested in Kabul for plotting to kill the Afghan president and defense minister. This is likely the work of Ansar al-Islam, so these guys aren’t sitting around.)
The full interview with Mullah Sdeek can be read here.


Map courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

From the Dept. of Hypocrisy:

So let me get this straight: After a congressional inquiry looks into whether the FBI and CIA are to be faulted for not following leads of a possible money trail between the Saudi government and two of the 9/11 hijackers, the Bush administration cautions against jumping to conclusions. But when it comes to going to war in Iraq and killing lots of people, based on a lot of “might possess”, “could use” or “possibly hand over to terrorists” various forms of weapons of mass destruction, we’re supposed to just, I don’t know, take Bush’s word for it?

Continue reading “Al Qa’ida group threatens Iraqi Kurdistan”

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.

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.)