Greetings from Kurdistan

Email from Kurdistan shows that Kurds feel betrayed by the Turks and are waiting to see what the United States does post-Saddam. Also, more countries oppose openly or quietly the U.S.-U.K.-Spanish resolution setting March 17 as a deadline.

Last week I sent an email to Karzan Taher Aziz, a young Kurd I met in Arbil last summer. He and I became friends, and he helped me with translation when I didn’t want to deal with the KDP’s official minder and translator. I asked him about the mood in Iraqi Kurdistan toward the Turks and the Americans, considering the alleged plans to have Turkey invade when war comes. Today he replied. The only changes I’ve made to this email were to remove his email address (for his protection) and cleaned up some punctuation and a touch of grammar here and there.

From: Karzan Aziz
To: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Mon Mar 10, 2003 01:23:24 PM EST
Subject: Greetings from Kurdistan
Dear Christopher:

How are you dear friend? How are doing? I was thinking about you. I hope this e-mail finds you in a good health. thank you very much for your e-mail. How things are going in NY? I hope your country all the best.

I’m so sorry that I could not reply [to] you soon, but I’m v. busy these days, but any way i tried to reply you the internet line was not working properly.

dear friend, concerning your questions… regarding Turkey, we feel that we’re betrayed by them. i think you know about the demonstration against the Turks, people have got very worried here because of Turkey. As far as i’m concerned i do believe that turkey will face problems if invaded Kurdistan, as i have met so many people they all repeat the same thing “as we have been fighting against Saddam from many decades, we are ready to fight Turkey some more other decades.” i don’t feel betrayed by America because you know the coming stage will decide whether we will be betrayed or not. though we, unfortunately, as kurds are used [to] wars but this time is entirely different from ever since — people are scared here and they are afraid of chemical or biological war.

if you are asking about me i’m just fine, thank you very much, and you asked me whether i have met any journalists or not!!!!! yes i have and i’m working as a translator with some scandinavian journalists and i’m going to be getting a translation-job with a German TV. And if you wanted to ask me any thing, any information, please just feel free to e-mail me. O.K.??

With The Best Of Wishes

Karzan’s a smart guy and he has a lot of connections, and I believe him when he says the Kurds are willing to fight the Turks should they invade. Whether they win or not is a completely different question, but Karzan’s report meshes with talks I’ve had with opposition members who say they will fight to protect what they’ve built in the north.

An interesting note, however. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, based in Suleimaniya in the south near the Iranian border, has agreed in principle to a federal Iraqi government with the regions based on geography instead of ethnicity. The Kurdistan Democratic Party, however, continues to hold out for federally protected ethnic divisions. (You can read the original proposed constitutions given to me by KDP Deputy Prime Minister Sami Abdulrahman here and here. The first is the federal constitution and the second is for the Kurdish entity within a federal Iraq.) The PUK’s support for geographic divisions is a neat diplomatic sleight-of-hand, since the northern three governances are predominantly Kurdish anyway with a population of between 4 million and 5 million. The KDP’s continued support for an ethnic-based constitution isn’t surprising. The KDP authored the constitutions, it’s older and more conservative than the Marxist-inspired PUK and has its roots in Kurdish ethnicity. The activities of its founder, Mustafa Barzani, went a long way toward changing Kurds’ loyalties from the family and clan to the idea of a Kurdish nation as a whole. To back down on ethnicity as the defining nature of the Kurdish entity in the north would be to repudiate everything Mustafa Barzani stood for. And the current president of the KDP, Masoud Barzani, Mustafa’s son, isn’t about to do that.

In other news, French President Jacques Chirac made it plain that a French veto is forthcoming at tomorrow’s (?) vote/smackdown at the Security Council. This is not a big surprise, since France has been saying it wouldn’t “allow” a new resolution authorizing war, implicitly or explicitly, for a while now, but it is an attempt to avoid being the lone veto if the United States manages to round up nine votes on the council. France’s public voicing of its intentions is to buck up Russia, which has also said it opposes any resolution that might be interpreted as authorizing war, but common wisdom is that Russia would abstain rather than veto a resolution. With France definitely in the “non” column, Russia will have more cover to say, “nyet.”

[UPDATE: Stratfor is reporting that Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said today that his country will abstain on the vote. “We will do what is best for our country,” Jamali said after a session of Parliament. “It is not best for my country to support war against Iraq.”]

This means, obviously, the resolution is kaput, and the United States has no reason to wait until March 17. The world could be facing war as early as this week, although it’s likely the United States will wait a few days to give inspectors and other foreign nationals time to flee Iraq and to attempt some semblance of tactical surprise. The dark nights over Baghdad grow short and the heat of April is stalking closer. The U.S. war machine won’t wait much longer, nor, from a tactical standpoint, should it. Why give the Iraqis more time to position their forces or stage a preemptive strike of their own on American troops? That’s the danger of ignoring the U.N. Not only does it free the hands of the U.S. military, but it removes any reason for the Iraqis to hold their fire, too. Saddam no doubt feels that war is coming regardless of what the Security Council decides, so it might be better to strike first and inflict as much damage as possible. Of course, he would then unite the Security Council -behind- against him, but if he plans on turning Baghdad into Stalingrad on the Tigris, what does he have left to lose?

U.S. backs British compromise of March 17 deadline

It’s payback time for Tony Blair at the United Nations Security Council, as the United States backs its friend with a second British resolution setting March 17 as the drop dead, we really mean it, deadline for Iraq to disarm. France, predictably, opposed the resolution and hinted at a veto.

The United States and Spain have revised the British Security Council resolution introduced last week to say that Iraq has until March 17 to disarm or face war. France, predictably, opposed the resolution and again hinted at veto.
“This is the logic of war,” said Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. “We don’t accept this logic.”
Iraq, too, reacted with pique. “So they will give us only 10 days to give up all we have?” asked Iraq’s U.N. ambassador Mohammed Aldouri. “We have to dig all of our desert? Really, this is nonsense. We are doing our utmost. We can’t do more.”
This is a gutsy gamble by Tony Blair, who desperately needs a U.N. resolution to bolster his position at home where he is facing huge domestic opposition and a revolt within his own party. Without this resolution, Blair could face a no confidence vote. If he lost, he likely would be replaced by a more dovish Labour Party PM who would be expected to pull Britain out of America’s plans for Iraq.
By getting this on the table, Blair can at least say to his critics that he tried, possibly forestalling a challenge. (And — bonus! — he could blame the French, which is always popular in Britain.) By appearing to compromise, the United States hopes to pick up a few more votes on the Security Council and protect Blair’s left flank if it comes to a parliamentary vote anyway.
This is a switch in the U.S. position against the setting of deadlines. But why not? The U.S. isn’t risking much by agreeing to support this resolution because the United States is prepared to attack Iraq with or without U.N. support — its plan all along.
The primary issue is timing. The war could start at any time after today’s report from Hans Blix.When these resolutions even come to a vote next week, they will be vetoed by France, Russia or China and the United States and Britain will go to war. Already, air patrols in the north and south no-fly zones have been -doubled- tripled. U.S. marines, possibly in violation in international law, have been seen cutting holes in the fence in the DMZ separating Iraq and Kuwait. Equipment for the 101st Airborne Division began arriving in Kuwait Thursday, according to Stratfor, and if the air war begins next week as is expected, that’s enough time for preparations.
March 12-13. Air war anyone?

Bush attempts to make case for war, puts exile on the table

Bush made several key points in his news conference tonight, but he still didn’t make his case that he’s given peace a chance.

President Bush’s news conference tonight emphasized a few key points. They are as follows:

  • Bush hasn’t made up his mind and “hopes” that this whole thing can get worked out peacefully;
  • Exile for Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is explicitly an option (!), the first time the president has said this so firmly and publicly;
  • Iraq and Sept. 11 are linked;
  • This war is a choice of Saddam, not the United States;
  • Disarmament must happen, and the only way to get it is via regime change;
  • The conquest of Iraq will be the start of “trickle-down democracy” in the region.

Let’s look at these in more detail, shall we?
bush.strip.pool.jpgBush is still undecided on war and hopes that this all we’ll all look back on this and have a good laugh about it
I don’t know what Bush hopes. No doubt he’s hoping this turns out well, and I don’t think he hopes for war, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t expect this to work out peacefully. Numerous times in the speech, he said that Saddam was flouting the will of the United Nations Security Council. “Great Britain, Spain and the United States have introduced a new resolution saying that Iraq has failed to meet the requirements of 1441,” Bush said. “Saddam Hussein is not disarming. That is a fact and it cannot be denied.”
In response to a question as to why, if allies of the United States have access to the same intelligence the U.S. does, are countries such as France and Germany so reluctant to back America, Bush again said he has no expectations of Saddam cooperating. “This is the last phase of diplomacy,” he said. “A little bit more time? Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to disarm. He is deceiving people. This is important for our fellow citizens to realize that if he really intended to disarm like the world has asked him to do, the world would know about it. He’s trying to buy time.”
So while Bush talks about hoping to find a peaceful solution, he fully expects and knows that there will be none forthcoming.
Exile for Saddam is definitely on the table
This might be the most significant comment of the evening, because while other administration officials have off-handedly mused that it might be nice if Saddam said, “To hell with this, I’m going to Morocco,” tonight was the first time the President of the United States offered it as an acceptable option. “That’d be fine with me, just so long as Iraq disarms after he’s exiled.”
That’s huge, because Arab countries have been looking for an exile solution but without any explicit support from the United States, they’ve been unwilling to go too far out on a limb to make serious offers to Saddam. I don’t think exile is a very viable option for Saddam, however, since he would be a target for score-settlers and he would lose his place in history — at least in his mind. Still, it’s significant that Bush put that card on the table. And with his innumerable references to his hopes to find a peaceful solution, he’s practically daring the Iraqi leader to turn it down. I think Saddam will.
Iraq and Sept. 11 are linked
This was one of the sneakier aspects of the news conference. Bush attempted many times in the opening statements and the responses to reporters’ questions to tie Iraq to Sept. 11, not through logical or evidential ties, but by using the rhetorical trick to mention the two in the same sentence, strongly implying that Iraq was behind 9/11 but not actually coming out and saying it. For instance:

Saddam Hussein is a threat to our nation. Sept. 11 changed the strategic thinking, at least as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country. My job is to protect the American people. Used to be, we thought you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his kind of terror. Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home. So therefore, i think the threat is real, and so do a lot of other people in my government.

Notice how he moves from “Saddam is a threat” to “Sept. 11 …” And also, “We thought you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his kind of terror.” Then he follows it up with, “Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.”
Notice that Bush just said that the attacks on Sept. 11 were “his kind of terror,” which is demonstrably not true. It is true that America is a now a battlefield, but regarding al Qa’ida, not Iraq. Bush’s false tying is a sneaky trick to try to pull, and I hope people see through it.
It’s Saddam’s fault!
Bush also said, “If war is upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice…” So Saddam is calling the shots now? Bush is trying to say that all Saddam has to do is disarm, but he is not adding, “and we’ll go home.” Bush has not given any signal that Saddam’s disarmament is enough to avert war, and in fact, Ari Fleischer said that disarmament and regime change were the only way to avoid war.

Q Ari, two questions on Iraq. In response to an earlier question, you said the President still hopes to avoid war, and that Saddam Hussein could avoid it by completely and totally disarming, and by going into exile. I’m wondering, are you — is that now the standard? Previously, you’ve obviously said disarmament. But is it now the combination of disarmament and exile?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President made it perfectly plain yesterday in the Oval Office and he has said this repeatedly, it’s disarmament and regime change.
Q So even though the United Nations would sign on to the first part of that, and not to the second, when the President thinks about launching military action, he’s going to think about the combination?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made that plain.

This is actually shameful. It’s one thing to say we were attacked and so we had war thrust upon us, which I believe happened regarding al Qa’ida. But it’s quite another to say, “Hm, there’s a bit of unfinished business in the desert over there. You! do what we say or else we’ll invade. No? Ah, now you’ve made us do something we don’t want to do…”
Make no mistake, this is a war of choice, and it’s not one that Saddam Hussein chose. This is a choice by the United States government; the very words used so often by the White House — “preventive” — show that. If he believes so strongly that this mission is just, say so. Don’t try to shift the responsibility from the shoulders of the United States by implying that Iraq provoked America.

Iraq must be disarmed; therefore, invasion and regime change are the only options
Are they? From 1991-1998, inspectors, with only nominal cooperation from Baghdad, managed to destroy more WMD and their production facilities than the military campaign of Desert Storm did. This, obviously, is the crux of the dispute between the U.K., the U.S., and, well, basically everyone else — but especially France, Germany, Russia and China. Inspections worked in the past. They did. Why won’t they work now? Hawks have never given a satisfactory answer to this, instead saying inspectors aren’t detectives — they’re more like auditors. They require full cooperation, otherwise they are Saddam’s “useful idiots.” Well, who says? Why can’t inspectors be detectives? Who’s to say a strengthened inspection regime backed up by U.N. troops and targeted air strikes on suspected sites if the Iraqis don’t play ball wouldn’t accomplish disarmament without a massive invasion and huge loss of life? George over at Warblogging a while back made a good case for a treating Iraq like a hostile witness and using a strong inspection regime that can be summarized as follows (I’d link to the article, but I can’t find the exact one I want. Sorry, George!):

  1. UN inspectors select site for inspection.
  2. Inspectors dispatch Predator UAVs to watch site for any movement, particularly the ingress or egress of people or material.
  3. Inspectors call Iraqi liaison to inspections team and notify them that any movement in or out of the selected site will constitute noncompliance. Noncompliance will result in punitive military action (i.e. destruction of three presidential palaces) and a report of noncompliance to the United Nations Security Council.
  4. Inspectors lift off in helicopters from an air base within an hour?s flight time of the site to be inspected.
  5. Inspectors inspect every inch of the site they’re interested in. Any non-cooperative Iraqi personnel are immediately arrested and shipped out of the country for interrogation, and punitive military action is taken in response. If necessary military forces descend on site and open any “locked” doors and such.

Some other key points of strong inspections include:

  • At all times at least one American Marine Expeditionary Force and carrier battle group are stationed around Iraq in order to take proper punitive military action against Iraq in the case of non-compliance
  • The Security Council meets biweekly to assess Iraqi compliance and decide whether compliance merits the lifting of some sanctions provisions or punitive military action. The Council can, at any time, decide to authorize the invasion and occupation of Iraq — and the United States will carry out such a sentence.

Many war supporters like to frame the only options available are “doing nothing” and going to war. “The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer, is a risk I’m not willing to take for the American people,” said Bush.
George’s ideas, as well as proposals floated by France, Germany and most recently Canada, shows that “nothing” and war is a false choice.
Trickle-down Democracy
Bush has started to speak in positively Wilsonian terms lately, of spreading peace and democracy to the Middle East. That would be lovely, if only it were true.

I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat — is a threat to the American people. He’s a threat to people in his neighborhood. He’s also a threat to the Iraqi people.
One of the things we love in America is freedom. If I may, I’d like to remind you what I said at the State of the Union: Liberty is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to each and every person. And that’s what I believe.
I believe that when we see totalitarianism, that we must deal with it. We don’t have to do it always militarily.
But this is a unique circumstance because of 12 years of denial and defiance, because of terrorist connections, because of past history.
I’m convinced that a liberated Iraq will be important for that troubled part of the world. The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves. Iraq’s a sophisticated society. Iraq’s got money. Iraq will provide a place where people can see that the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation. Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change — positive change.
So there’s a lot more at stake than just American security and the security of people close by Saddam Hussein. Freedom is at stake, as well. And I take that very seriously.

If only he did take it seriously. America’s track record ain’t good. Afghanistan, with the exception of Kabul, is still made up of fiefdoms ruled by gangsters, Taliban holdouts and warlords. It’s arguably in worse shape than it was a year ago, what with opium again being one of its biggest crops and a spring offensive by al Qa’ida and the Taliban in the works. U.S. troops are engaged in the heaviest fighting since Operation Anaconda. That war isn’t finished and Bush is ready to start another one.
In a quick run-down, South Korea was a military dictatorship for decades after the Korean War. We kicked out a democratically elected leader in Chile in 1973 ushering in Pinochet. The Shah of Iran ran a wicked police state from the time the CIA installed him in 1954 until his overthrow by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Noriega was our strongman in Panama until we grew tired of his drug running. The list could be a lot longer.
However, there have been successful democractic interventions. Bosnia and Kosovo come to mind, fragile democracies though they are. But there is a strong multinational coalition running the show in both cases, something that it doesn’t look like the United States is going to get in Iraq. And anyway, democracy, powdered wigs and all, doesn’t jibe with the United States’ interests in Iraq.
All in all, I will give Bush this: He was measured, somber and didn’t flub up much. The only time the frat-boy glibness showed up was when discussed the massive protests of Feb. 15. “I’ve seen all kinds of protests since i’ve been the president,” he said and then shrugged. “I recognize there are people who don’t like war. I don’t like war.” He might as well have added, “Whatever.” Honestly, this was one of his better performance. I suspect tonight will go a long way toward convincing some fence-sitters in America that this is the route to take, and I’ll go out on a limb and predict a 5-7 point shift in favor of war in the next few days. Millions of Americans can’t be wrong can they?
Unfortunately, yes, they can.

Situation seriously FUBAR

Fog of war, indeed. The global situation regarding Iraq has turned into a full-on cock-up. Turkey — with the prompting of the military — is having second thoughts on its vote Saturday. The U.S. announced the deployment of 60,000 more troops to be sent to Kuwait, bringing the forces in the region almost up to Desert Storm levels (Then approx. 500,000 with coalition forces.) Tomorrow is Hans Blix’s big day at the U.N., where he will deliver another report on the status of Iraq’s compliance with UNSCR 1441. The United States continues to work the phones for the votes on the Security Council, and perhaps most significantly, President Bush has called an 8 pm EST news conference in the East Room tonight.

Fog of war, indeed. The global situation regarding Iraq has turned into a full-on cock-up.
Turkey — with the prompting of the military — is having second thoughts on its vote Saturday. The U.S. announced the deployment of 60,000 more troops to be sent to Kuwait, bringing the forces in the region almost up to Desert Storm levels (Then approx. 500,000 with coalition forces.) Tomorrow is Hans Blix’s big day at the U.N., where he will deliver another report on the status of Iraq’s compliance with UNSCR 1441. The United States continues to work the phones for the votes on the Security Council, and perhaps most significantly, President Bush has called an 8 pm EST news conference in the East Room tonight.
This very well might be the moment the world has been dreading, in which Bush gives Saddam Hussein a final ultimatum — mainly so journalists, aid workers and diplomats can use the next few days to leave the country. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush’s opening statement in the East Room would address “the successes in the war against terror as well as the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein.” He also said Bush still has not decided whether to wage war.
FUBAR in Turkey
Saturday’s vote by the Turks was unexpected — or was it? — and the military mainly stayed out of the process. But now the Turkish military is signaling its support for U.S. plans.
Chief of general staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, has signaled to parliament that the military would really, really like it if the parliament approved the Americans’ request, despite the overwhelming opposition to the war. “It’d be a shame for something to happen to your little government,” he told parliament as his picked his fingernails with a bowie knife. (Not really.) Turkish papers are full of the speculation that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government will submit a new proposal after Saturday’s parliamentary vote. Why didn’t the military speak up before? Ozkok remarked that the military had not made its views public earlier in order to avoid influencing the parliament.
“If we had expressed our views, it would have amounted to pressuring the parliament for the approval of the resolution. It wouldn’t have been democratic,” Ozkok said. (Cue rueful laughter.)
In other words, Ozkok told parliament that the Turkish military believes in Turkish democracy — until it gets a vote it doesn’t like. Has he been taking lessons from Don Rumsfeld?
There is no doubt the civilian government got the message, as Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Ozkok’s comments were “reasonable.” Parliament speaker Bulent Arinc, who is pursuing some agenda of his own, gave a more measured response, saying he appreciated the general’s remarks and thought the timing of the statement was “quite telling.”
Approximately 94 percent of the Turkish citizenry opposes a U.S. war with Iraq. President Bush can’t deride those numbers as he did the Feb. 15 marches, which brought tens of millions of people to the streets worldwide, as a “focus group.” Ninety-four percent is the population. So it seems in order to plant the seeds of democracy in Iraq, the United States is prepared to ignore the democracy next door in Turkey and stomp the sapling in Iraqi Kurdistan. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
Anyway, as far as plots by the Turkish military to unilaterally invade Iraqi Kurdistan if a northern front can’t be opened up in time (and make no mistake — the Turkish vote sent the White House reeling and grasping for alternatives), who the hell knows what’s happening? But statements from Ozkok have made clear that the idea of a Turkish invasion into the region is definitely on the table.

The Turkish official [speaking on condition of anonymity] said that Turkey’s generals were skeptical of the ability of the United States to ensure that the Iraqi Kurds did not try to break away if the Saddam Hussein were deposed.
In his remarks, General Ozkok alluded to those concerns, and sent a terse warning to the Kurds of northern Iraq.
“I remind them of our legitimate right to defend our national interests, and I hope they will be prudent and cooperative,” General Ozkok said. “Those who want to replace peace with confrontation will also take the responsibility and bear the consequences.” [From the New York Times]

The State Department is certainly taking the risk of a Turkish intervention seriously, with spokesman Richard Boucher emphasizing that a unilateral move on northern Iraq can not be allowed:

QUESTION: What about the demonstration in northern Iraq by the half a million Kurds? They’re afraid that the United States is doing a deal maybe with Turkey. What can you say to these people who are worried?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing I would say is that we have been in touch with people in northern Iraq. You know that we had a delegation at the conference of the outside opposition, and we have been meeting over time frequently with the people who live in northern Iraq. And we’ve always been interested in their welfare and their safety. The United States has a very strong record on that point.
Second of all, I’d say that we’ve always, we’ve discussed very intensively with Turkish authorities the situation in northern Iraq, in particular in the context of these agreements we’ve just reached. And I think the basic outlook there, the basic principles that apply to the United States Government and the Turkish Government of looking for an Iraq that’s representative, where all the people of Iraq can be representative and play a role in their government, but that stays together as a unitary state, those are principles we’ve all adopted and that is our outlook on the situation. We’ve also, I think, made very clear that we would intend to coordinate any military activities very closely with the Turkish authorities and that we have opposed unilateral intervention from any quarter in northern Iraq.
QUESTION: On that, a follow-up on that last sentence. Do you think that now the Turkish forces will not enter independently of United States forces? That’s what everybody’s talking about in northern Iraq and in the Middle East.
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, I think first of all, our record on the safety of the people who live in northern Iraq has been quite well established over the years, and we do consider their safety in everything we do. We’ve been in close touch with the Turkish Government. We would need to coordinate any military moves with them and they with us, and we’ve always been opposed to unilateral moves into northern Iraq.

This one bears watching.
Meanwhile, back at the U.N. …
Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have been working the diplomats, hoping to wrangle nine votes and no vetoes from France or Russia, although the latter seems increasingly unlikely. Why work the lines so hard if another resolution is “unnecessary” as the White House has contended for some time and it looks like a fight the U.S. is going to lose? Well, because domestic support for the war increasingly hinges on whether the U.N. approves it or not. And that applies even more so for Tony Blair, who could be toast without one — especially if Blix comes back tomorrow and says, as is expected, that Iraq is making progress and taking concrete steps toward cooperation.
All in all, it’s a confusing time, and if this is the White House’s plan for deception via confusion, it’s working well. No one seems to know what’s happening with Turkey, the troops and northern Iraq, what it will take to get the U.N. on board or even if Tony Blair will be prime minister at the end of the shooting. The Americans’ time table for war is slipping by the day, as the moon grows brighter and April’s heat grows nearer. Bush can’t afford to wait much longer. If the Security Council fails to approve the U.K.-U.S.-Bulgarian resolution, Bush may be ready to throw up his hands and roll the dice on thousands (millions?) of lives, the geostrategic balance and his presidency.
ASIDE: For a good roundup of the U.S. order of battle, check out this story from an old colleague of mine.

The Missiles of March

Iraq has agreed “in principle” to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles starting tomorrow, and chief U.N. weapons inspector Has Blix says this is “very significant.” President Bush, however, dismisses this out of hand and for the first time explicitly says war is coming and there’s no way to stop it. And poll results show support for war shallow.

Nose aspect of an Ababil-100/Al-Samoud airframe mock-up. (Photo courtesy of UNSCOM)

Interesting. Iraq has agreed “in principle” to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles starting tomorrow, and chief U.N. weapons inspector Has Blix says this is “very significant.” President Bush, however, dismisses this out of hand and for the first time explicitly says war is coming and there’s no way to stop it.

“My attitude about Saddam Hussein is that if he had any intention of disarming, he would have disarmed,” Bush said. He added later: “We will disarm him now.”

Late Thursday, Iraq agreed “in principle” to fulfill the U.N. request but asked for U.N. guidance on how to proceed. Bush had pre-emptively dismissed the move: “Whatever you see him say now will be attempts to delay or deceive the world.”

And yet the Security Council is wracked by division as the U.S. and Britain attempt to strong-arm members to get the nine votes and no veto necessary for passage of the resolution introduced Monday that most of the major U.S. media has said would authorize war. (Actually, it doesn’t; it restates Resolution 1441 passed back in November which warned of “serious consequences” if Iraq didn’t comply — but only after the Security Council had decided on what the serious consequences would be.)
The U.S. and Britain have both said the U.N. will become irrelevant if it doesn’t “stand up” to Saddam and enforce its resolutions. Fine, there’s some validity to that, but won’t it also become irrelevant if the dominant member goes to war in defiance of the majority of the Council and the rest of the world body? None of that matters, anyway, as Bush said back in November that the United States would not be bound by “unproductive debate,” which, presumably, is how he and the rest of the hawks would view the current hand-wringing of the Council.
“The United States has agreed to discuss any material breach with the Security Council, but without jeopardizing our freedom of action to defend our country,” he said. “If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein.”
OK. So many may be asking why did Bush bother to introduce a second resolution Monday if the United States is determined to go ahead in defiance of the Council? And why is it working so hard to get the nine votes if Council approval is nice but not necessary, as the White House has repeatedly claimed?
Because the polling numbers on the home front are not good. Many people say the public supports this war, pointing to numbers that say about 59 percent favor the war. That’s true, but the same Gallup Poll that reveals that figure reveals a shallow support that could easily shift. But most important, they reveal a public that really, really wants this to go down, if it must, with the U.N.’s blessing.
The first question, “Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power?” reveals a flat 59 percent in favor — mostly unchanged over the last five months — 37 percent opposed and 4 percent with no opinion. But it’s more complicated than that.
A later question shows why Team Bush is working the Council so hard. “As you may know, the U.S., Great Britain, and Spain plan to submit a resolution to the United Nations that says that Iraq is in serious violation of prior U.N. resolutions that required Iraq to disarm. Do you think the United States should invade Iraq with ground troops ? [ROTATED: only if the U.N. approves this new resolution, even if the U.N. does not approve this new resolution], or do you think the United States should not send ground troops to Iraq at all?” This is where the support “goes wobbly” as Maggie Thatcher might say. Forty percent favor an invasion if the U.N. approves, 38 percent even if the U.N. doesn’t approve and 3 percent have no opinion. Nineteen percent don’t think the U.S. should send troops at all.
And if Iraq destroys its missiles? Support for invasion, even if Iraq destroys its missiles, drops to 33 percent. Twenty-six percent might be opposed if Iraq destroys the missiles and 22 percent oppose war no matter what.
So you start to see the breakdown. “About half the public — 47%– say they could change their mind on invading Iraq, while 49% say their mind is already made up. The 49% whose mind is made up comprises 32% who favor invading and 17% who oppose, while the 47% who could change their mind currently show a slight preference for invading (27%) over not invading (20%).”
The bottom line is that roughly four in five Americans would favor war if the United Nations approved it, but only two in five, roughly, would favor war no matter what.
The poll was conducted Feb. 24-26, with most interviews completed prior to President George W. Bush’s national address on Iraq Wednesday night. The sample was a randomly selected group of 1,003 adults, 18 years and older. It has a 95 percent confidence and a maximum error of plus or minus 3 points.
These numbers show the rush behind the push, since Bush knows that support will drop off heavily if there’s no resolution. One wonders if Saddam can read polling results as well, and figures that he might be able to further soften Bush’s war support by dismantling the missiles.
While the Bush White House may warn of — and secretly hope for — the irrelevancy of the United Nations, the American public seems to be making it more relevant by the day.

Has Saddam Blinked?

Stratfor and the Associated Press are reporting that former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, supposedly a personal friend of Saddam Hussein, visited Baghdad on Feb. 23 on a secret mission. A statement from Moscow reveals that the Iraqi president was asked — and agreed — to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.
Therefore, Saddam must be stopped.

Stratfor and the Associated Press are reporting that former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, supposedly a personal friend of Saddam Hussein, visited Baghdad on Feb. 23. The purpose and results of the meeting remain secret, but a statement from Moscow reveals that the Iraqi president was asked — and agreed — to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.

Saddam has apparently agreed to destroy Iraq’s al-Samoud 2 missiles, the ones causing such a stink in Washington for exceeding the 93-mile limit by less than 20 miles. Stratfor goes further, saying that Saddam has also agreed to a version of the Franco-German plan to introduce a flood of U.N. troops to back up weapons inspectors within in the next 10 days to show the Security Council that Iraq has been unconditionally disarmed.

Saddam Hussein will “do anything that he reasonably can that is honorable and protective of the sovereignty of his people to prevent war,” said former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark after meeting with Hussein on Monday. Clark is active in the anti-war movement.

(In an interview prior to Primakov’s visit, Saddam told CBS’ Dan Rather that Iraq would not destroy the al-Samoud 2 missiles and instead challenged the U.S. president to a televised debate. Perhaps Primakov reality checked Saddam?)

Still… Stratfor also mentioned a request from Saddam to Russian President Vladimir Putin to deliver a secret communiqué to U.S. and British energy companies, inviting them back to Iraq after 30 years of being kept out. If Washington calls off the dogs of war, the companies will be allowed to immediately return. A Russian envoy is expected to deliver the terms of this deal to Bush in the coming days.

French president Jacques Chirac was reportedly enthusiastic for the deal, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair was said to have reacted favorably. Washington has had no reaction yet, of course, and there’s no way to ascertain how genuine this offer from Saddam is. Has Saddam blinked, as he sometimes has in the past? And given that it’s likely this proposal will embolden France, Russia and China, all “P-5” members of the UNSCR to throw up more diplomatic roadblocks, will U.S. president George W. Bush accept this proposal as a face-saving plan to avoid an unpopular and costly war?

Initial statements from White House spokesman Ari Fleischer indicate that the White House will reject this idea. (This is probably another exchange between Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers and Fleischer, but it’s unclear from the Feb. 24 briefing.)

The U.N. weapons inspectors have determined that Iraq has this missile which exceeds limits that it agreed to, or were imposed on it by the U.N. Hans Blix has said it should be destroyed. If Iraq destroys those missiles, why isn’t that concrete progress toward disarmament?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, we expect that Saddam Hussein will destroy those missiles. The United Nations Security Council has called on it to do so, and unless he engages in further defiance, we expect that he will. But, number two, as the President said over the weekend, that would just be the tip of the iceberg. And the reason for that is when a criminal holds a gun to your head and takes one bullet out of the chamber, you still have to worry about all the rest of the bullets in the chamber, because they can kill you, too.

And the fact is, with Saddam Hussein, he still has not shown the world that he has disarmed from the VX, the nerve agents, the botulin, the anthrax, all of which the United Nations found that he had in his possession in the late 1990s, which he has yet to account for. That’s the fear about what’s in the rest of the gun, in the other chamber — in the chamber in the gun.

So there’s no way that Iraq can do anything, really, to avoid war? Because if they begin to dismantle their weapons, the President still believes that they’ve got other bullets in the chamber and is —

MR. FLEISCHER: Under Security Council Resolution 1441, which was passed in November last year, Iraq had an obligation to immediately and fully disarm from all the weapons that were prohibited — and I just cited several of them. So if Iraq were to take one missile out of the chamber that they left in the chamber — VX, sarin, botulin, anthrax — the world still has a lot to worry about.

I understand. And you won’t wait to see whether the French proposal or any other proposal could get them to take those bullets out of the chamber — you aren’t willing to take “yes” for an answer here on the missiles and anything else?

MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that the resolution passed in November and called for full and immediate compliance, “yes” has not been a word that anybody has heard out of Iraq.

The White House will likely reject this idea for a number of reasons:

  1. It doesn’t achieve the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz-Perle plan for the Middle East as a collection of satrapys friendly to United States energy and security needs;
  2. The world would breathe a sigh of relief not only because war was averted but also because American hegemony was thwarted. Even though Washington could back down gracefully by saying the U.S. military build-up pressured Iraq into complying and accepting peacekeeping troops, other nations ruled megalomaniacal madmen — yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, North Korea — with nukes would likely see this as a sign of weakness;
  3. The American domestic political backlash could be fierce.

The last item deserves special mention. And I will get to it.

But first, some will say Saddam is not serious, because if he allows blue-helmets all over the country and fully disarms, he will appear weak to his own people, to other Arab leaders and would not be long for this world. His dream of establishing himself as a modern-day Saladin would be over — and so, too, would his presidency.

But Saddam is a canny old fox, still, and here I veer into speculation, although of the informed sort. The Iraqi people are dreading war and the destruction it would bring. While they would not be happy to see Saddam stay in power, they likely would be happy not to be blown up by American JDAM bombs. The Iraqis I met while traveling were fairly fatalistic. They’ve suffered this long, they feel, the next life will be better.

(The INC and other members of the Iraqi opposition will scream bloody murder, of course, but no one takes them that seriously anyway. The Kurds also would not be happy with this and might — I repeat, might — declare independence.)

The leaders of the rest of the Arab world already hate Saddam and know that he’s effectively defanged by U.N. sanctions. And while they no doubt feel sympathy for the suffering Iraqi people, Arab leaders would consider the plight of suffering Iraqis like they do the suffering of the Palestinians — very useful for distracting their publics from toppling their own authoritarian governments, assuming the U.N. sanctions regime is continued.

And lastly, if Saddam remains in power after a U.S. military build-up, even if it results in U.N. troops all over Baghdad, it will still be seen as a victory for him and a humiliating loss for George W. Bush. Bush can’t allow that to happen. Partly out of conviction and partly out of political necessity, Bush has positioned himself on the side of angels in this looming war with his evangelical rhetoric of good and evil. The Christian Right, neocons and other hawks who have taken a hard-line on Iraq believe they are doing God’s work, more or less, and if you’ve got God on your side, you don’t dicker with the devil. Bush, himself, may be willing to cut a deal and get this whole mess over with, but I don’t think his right flank will allow him to do that. He’s very conscious of the suspicion with which the Christian right viewed his father. And he’s likewise aware of how Bush I’s “no new taxes” pledge came back and bit him in the ass. If Bush II leaves Saddam in power, he will be facing a double whammy with his base for leaving an evil tyrant in power and for breaking a commitment to “regime change.”

This won’t cause evangelicals and others on the hard right to vote for a Democrat of course, but if the economy continues to shuffle along, and North Korea continues to thumb its nose at the United States, Bush’s numbers likely will continue their gravitationally assisted movement. A primary challenger could emerge from Bush’s right, siphoning off his base. And if the current weakness of the Democratic field stays steady (Kucinich? Kerry? Give me a break), red-meat conservatives might not be so afraid to take a chance with another GOP candidate.

And that could be Saddam’s game, in effect becoming the Fidel Castro of the Middle East. If he can’t liberate Jerusalem, Saddam might be satisfied with humiliating both Bush I and II, especially if his continued survival was a deciding factor in ending both presidencies. Yeah, I think he’d be quite happy with that.

Which is why the White House can’t allow him to stick around.

Some emails from the front and what the hell is happening with the opposition?

Over the weekend, I heard from a couple of friends in the region about goings on there. The first is from a journalist buddy based in Iraqi Kurdistan working for a major newsmagazine. (I don’t want to scotch his access, so I won’t print his name.) The second is from Aykut Uzun, my driver, translator and fixer when we were being tailed by the Turkish police south of Diyarbakir.
The journo-buddy tells me that I’m “not missing much so far.” Also, the Kurds are overwhelmingly pro-war. “Talk to the Kurds about the reckless geopolitical games W is playing and you are met with a blank stare and a story about Halabja.”


Over the weekend, I heard from a couple of friends in the region about goings on there. The first is from a journalist buddy based in Iraqi Kurdistan working for a major newsmagazine. (I don’t want to scotch his access, so I won’t print his name.) The second is from Aykut Uzun, my driver, translator and fixer when we were being tailed by the Turkish police south of Diyarbakir.
My journo buddy tells me that I’m “not missing much so far.” Also, the Kurds are overwhelmingly pro-war. “Talk to the Kurds about the reckless geopolitical games W is playing and you are met with a blank stare and a story about Halabja,” he writes. “Ask the KDP, PUK or INC about the same thing and you get a lecture about the nefarious interests of the French.”
He also provides good logistical information and some alarming news. The Syrian and Turkish borders are closed right now, which I knew, but the route through Iran is open — for freakishly huge bribes. (He mentions $5,000.) There’s also a rumor that Turkey is about to open the border, but that is, as yet, just a rumor.
Aykut in Ankara is more pessimistic. He works mostly as a tour guide, for which he got a four-year degree and it’s usually good money, since tourism is the biggest industry in Turkey. Not now.
“Due to this fuc…g war, tourism business is very bad in Turkey now,” he writes. “So I can’t say that personally I am doing well.” He does mention the rumor that Turkey will open the border, but it may be only for five days. Then he comes to the Turkish preparations for war and America’s deal-making.
“I don’t give any chance to the possibility of Turkey’s rejection of U.S. troops,” he writes. (Well, it looks like he’s right. Monday may see the deal consummated.) “If she [Turkey] doesn’t allow, the economic program that has been continued with IMF after the last crisis in 2001 will be damaged very badly. As everybody knows, the U.S. is very efficient [he means influential] with the IMF, and Turkey needs the help of it.”

It seems Turkey is about to overestimate U.S. patience, but still I believe U.S. needs Turkey for this war. The other possibilities are much more expensive and difficult… Some analysts claim that U.S. can do the operation without Turkey, but this would cost 40 or 50 billion dollars more to her. So you see we are fair. We want half of this… Turkey is driving such a hard bargain, because we took a big lesson [I think he means “loss”] from the first Gulf War. U.S. had promised us to reimburse our losses which would occur after the war. You are the one who knows Turkey’s losses. You talked with the people in southeast Turkey. Now the Turkish government wants a “written agreement.”

After he wrote this email, the Turks and Americans seemed close to an agreement that would give Turkey $5 billion grants and $10 million in loans, with a bridge loan immediately available to help pump the Turkish economy once the shooting starts.
It’s worth noting that the cash figures mentioned in the Times story are less than were being reported earlier this week. And the story never comes out and says a deal for Iraqi Kurdistan is in the works, but considering the quotes from Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, it’s pretty obvious that’s what’s happening.
“A Kurdistan should not be set up,” Yakis said. The Times also heavily reports Turkish concerns regarding Iraqi Kurdistan. Two concerns were that U.S. weapons don’t fall into Kurdish hands and that Turkish troops be under Turkish command (This is a big one, and contradicts reports from earlier this week that Turkish troops would be under American command.)
Things are quickly getting nasty in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“No one wants another fight, of course,” Hoshiyar Zebari, spokesman for the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of the two main Kurdish political groups, told reporters in Arbil on Sunday.
“But if there’s a forced incursion, done under the pretext of ‘I’m going to give you forced aid’, then believe me there will be uncontrolled clashes,” he said.
“And it will be bad for the image of the United States, Britain and other countries who want to help Iraq, to see two of their allies, Turkey and Kurdistan, at each other’s throats.”
In Tehran, Iranian Kurd parliamentarians also voiced concern about Turkish intentions in Iraq and accused Ankara of seeking to control Kirkuk and Mosul, once part of the Ottoman empire.
The 22-strong Iranian Kurdish parliamentary faction wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, European Union leaders and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
“Who in the world does not know that Turks have a desire for Kirkuk oil and annexation of Kirkuk and Mosul to their soil?” the letters said. “Authorizing a Turkish military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan means authorizing genocide and termination of Iraq’s territorial integrity.”

And as things get nastier in Kurdistan, Iraqi National Congress frontman Ahmed Chalabi is getting increasingly bitter over what looks to be a rapidly decreasing role for himself and his organization.
Two weeks ago, the White House said Chalabi will be leader of a transitional coalition government that will take over from Gen. Tommy Franks when the shooting stops. However, the Washington Post reported a few days ago that “Once security was established and weapons of mass destruction were located and disabled, a U.S. administrator would run the civilian government and direct reconstruction and humanitarian aid.” Chalabi is, predictably, distressed by this turn of events. In an op-ed for Daily Telegraph, he wrote, “The leadership and governance of Iraq is, without exception, an exclusive right of the Iraqi people … There must be no gap in the sovereignty over Iraq by Iraqis. We reject notions of foreign military government or United Nations administration for Iraq.”
He continues and writes that his transitional government should assume sovereignty “the moment” Saddam is removed, but admitted that his government would be willing to work with the U.S. military to establish order, secure the border, etc. He dismisses the idea of Iraq as an Arab Yugoslavia as a “myth” borne of the “convenient preconception that fits the Western image of unruly and warring tribes.”
“There is no record in the history of our land of a Shia village attacking a Sunni village or an Arab quarter attacking a Kurdish quarter,” he writes. (Yes, but there is a lot on record about Kurds attacking other Kurds when the PUK and the KDP warred over smuggling tariffs in 1995-96.)
It should be noted that the Guardian story reports him as angry over the installation of a military governor, presumably Franks. If the Iraqi opposition objects to a military governor post-Saddam, they likely will be even less happy with a U.S. civilian administrator as a further step to be taken before the country is handed over to the INC.
Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), who recently ordered 5,000 SCIRI troops into Iraqi Kurdistan, said Iraqis would resist, perhaps violently, any attempt to impose a government on them.
“If the Americans do this, they will discover this is a mistake,” Hakim said.
So what’s the White House’s game? Why are these “plans” and “blueprints” getting leaked especially when the media reports of the plans are sending the Iraqi opposition into a grand mal tizzy?
The Iraqi opposition, divided as it is, doesn’t appear qualified enough to run a taco stand, much less run a country that’s been devastated by two, coming up on three, wars and 12 years of sanctions since 1980. And that’s pretty much been the State Department’s objection to the Iraqi opposition all along. Furthermore, Chalabi is distrusted by the Department of State, the CIA and most of the rest of the foreign policy establishment. He seems a bit too eager, for someone convicted in Jordan of financial fraud and sentenced to 22 years of hard labor, to get his hands on the levers of power — and the purse strings — of oil-rich Iraq. But the civilian hawks running the war planning, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, are big-time backers of Chalabi. Could the leaking of the rebuilding ideas be part of the ongoing war between Colin Powell at State and Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz at the DoD and Perle at the Defense Policy Board? Since the administration of Iraq would, presumably, fall to the State Department after the military is done with it, perhaps the goal may be to discredit the INC — and Chalabi in particular — so that State, which never wanted this headache to begin with, can have a freer hand in running the place without having to deal with the INC.