Monday, March 31, 2003

Too sanguine
Matthias on this website disagrees with my assessment that things are heating up in Beirut: "Yeah, there are some 'incidents'," he writes, "but nothing truly dangerous has happened."

In fact several incidents have been ignored or consciously played down in the Lebanese media. A large bomb in Sidon was placed outside the home of a Dutch woman, injuring several people. A bomb blew up outside the British Council not long afterward. A few days ago an American had a gun pulled on him in a taxi, and he soon intends to leave the country. And the suicide bomb threat at the HSBC bank on Saturday has reportedly scared another foreigner away.

No, I certainly don't think it's time to panic, nor are these threats organized. Moreover, the Lebanese authorities have a vested interest in ensuring that foreigners are well protected. However, in times like these it's the lone nut who poses the greatest threat, which is why it is best not to be too sanguine about the mood in the country.

Khazraji watch roundup
I've received mail from various people suspicious about what has happened to Gen. Nizar Khazraji, the former Iraqi chief-of-staff, who disappeared from Denmark a few weeks ago while being investigated for possible war crimes.

Kendall Harmon, who hosts the Titusonenine blog referred me to this article from the English-language Copenhagen Post, which itself referred to an article in the Danish B.T. tabloid claiming the CIA was responsible for his being spirited out from under the nose of Danish police. Tom Scudder sent me this website being maintained by Kynn, with several links on the matter (including an Iranian news agency report suggesting Khazraji is or was in Qatar).

Harmon has a more detailed account of events in Denmark and the controversy provoked there by the disappearance, with one source suggesting Khazraji is in Irbil, with the Kurds. The London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat has also reported he is in Iraq, and moved there through Kuwait and Turkey. Finally, someone on an email list I belong to cited unconfirmed reports (indeed he called them rumors) that Khazraji was in Saudi Arabia.

All this is intriguing, given that it is improbable Iraqi agents abducted Khazraji. All I can add to the debate is to say there is as yet no clear proof of American, let alone CIA involvement, only assumptions. It certainly smells fishy, though.

My friend Chibli Mallat has written this article for The Times of London in which he defends the deployment of human rights monitors in Iraq. If Murdoch makes you pay, you can access the article at Mallat's personal site:

Horrible thought
Britain has just denied an earlier report that it captured an Iraqi general. Last week the coalition sort of admitted that the 51st Iraqi division had not surrendered, as announced earlier. Before that it also sort of admitted that several Iraqi senior officials were not killed in the "decapitation attack" of two weeks ago, despite earlier statements to the contrary. And yesterday the U.S. denied that the Army and the Marines had stalled on their way to Baghdad, even as they, well, stalled...

When will they grasp that because of these mistakes people are actually beginning to believe the Iraqi version?

Powell's comeback?
Important article in the Washington Post suggesting that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz may be in trouble (thanks to Mike Alissi's posting on Reason's Hit and Run).

The story notes:

Already there is a behind-the-scenes effort by former senior Republican government officials and party leaders to convince President Bush that the advice he has received from Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz -- a powerful triumvirate frequently at odds with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- has been wrong and even dangerous to long-term U.S. national interests.

Don't write the three off just yet, but the wolves are circling, which means Saddam may not be the only one who has something to lose in Iraq.

Colin Powell launched a broadside against both Iran and Syria yesterday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On Syria he said:

Syria can continue direct support for terrorist groups and the dying regime of Saddam Hussein, or it can embark on a different and more hopeful course. Either way, Syria has the responsibility for its choices and for the consequences.

This followed Donald Rumsfeld's accusations last Friday that Syria was providing military equipment, including night-vision goggles, to Iraq. However, looking at the broader picture, it is worth placing this in the context of information provided by Seymour Hersh in his article on Rumsfeld that has provoked so much controversy in Washington. Overlooked was the last paragraph in the story, which noted:

There is also evidence that Turkey has been playing both sides. Turkey and Syria, who traditionally have not had close relations, recently agreed to strengthen their ties, the businessman told me, and early this year Syria sent Major General Ghazi Kanaan, its longtime strongman and power broker in Lebanon, to Turkey. The two nations have begun to share intelligence and to meet, along with Iranian officials, to discuss border issues, in case an independent Kurdistan emerges from the Iraq war. A former U.S. intelligence officer put it this way: "The Syrians are coordinating with the Turks to screw us in the north--to cause us problems." He added, "Syria and the Iranians agreed that they could not let an American occupation of Iraq stand."

Perle of wisdom
You can find Richard Perle's response to his detractors, here, from the Wall Street Journal-Opinion Journal. At least he didn't call Seymour Hersh a "terrorist" again.

beirut calling got a nice mention from Ty Burr in the Boston Globe.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Lebanon's Shiites and Iraq
From Lebanon, one of the things to watch in the future is just how the country's Shiite community reacts to events in Iraq. Being discussed by many local commentators is the possibility that an Iraq freed of Saddam (and the U.S.) will emerge as an alternative to Iran as a source of religious and political inspiration to Lebanese Shiites.

Indeed, Arab Iraq is even more essential to Shiite history than Persian Iran, and a part of Lebanon's Shiite clergy was trained there, so this would hardly represent a fundamental shift.

Indeed, both Hizbullah and a senior Shiite cleric, Sayyid Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah (who was educated at Najaf, in Iraq), have been highly critical of the U.S. and British attack, though they have carefully couched their opposition in the dual language of anti-Americanism and support for the Iraqi people, not the Baath regime. Their contempt for Saddam is unsurpassed, as they remember his murder of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (and his sister) in the early 1980s, among many other crimes.

From Hizbullah's perspective the Iraq conflict offers many advantages, to compliment the party's sustained support for the Intifada: it gives Hizbullah a regional reach which it has systematically sought to expand since the end of the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in May 2000; it keeps the party close to its Shiite roots, in such a way that if the clerical regime in Iran is removed from power, Hizbullah will be able to replace it with a new spring of religious legitimacy; and it gives the party a fallback position if the U.S. presence in Iraq forces Syria to curtail Hizbullah's political and military margin of maneuver in southern Lebanon.

It also allows the party, somewhat cynically, to hook onto and benefit from anti-American crusade in the region that it neither initiated nor sustains.

Given all this, one might also see the emergence of even more of a rivalry between Hizbullah and Fadlallah, who have been on relatively bad terms in recent years, though there continues to be a mistaken impression in the West that Fadlallah (who was never even in the party's hierarchy) is Hizbullah's spiritual leader.

Rummy the dummy?
Currently making the headlines is a report that the New Yorker has published an article indicating that US defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, overruled his military brass and prevented them from dispatching a larger force to Iraq. The implication is that he was responsible for the difficulties the troops are having today, in particular in their advance on Baghdad.

Several other articles have been published on the subject, and a good start is this Mickey Kaus posting in Slate, with plenty of links, including this one to a article and this one to a Washington Post article..

Kaus argues that the reason Rumsfeld kept the numbers low was not merely to prove his point that a small force could win a war (Rumsfeld doctrine versus Powell doctrine), but to ensure the U.S. could subsequently attack myriad enemies again in Middle East or elsewhere--since an easy war mobilizing relatively few troops would mean future wars would be that much easier a sell to the American public.

Maybe Kaus is right, but what we can already say with definite proof is that the brass are begin to talk, which means they don't want to be scapegoats. And in that context, though the war will or might be won, the officers seem to be preparing the public for a fairly sordid and bloody affair (and Rumsfeld for a heartier use of force that might undermine his political aims).

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Grand alliance
I have received the list of countries belonging to the Coalition of the Willing:

United States, Britain, Spain, Australia, Kuwait, Poland, Albania, Romania, Czech Republic, Portugal, Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Georgia, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Honduras, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Iceland, Singapore, Mongolia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Panama.

A man threatened to blow himself up at a Beirut branch of the HSBC bank. I was asked by the Sunday Times to cover the story, before being called back and told the whole thing was over. This may seem like a joke, but foreign embassies remain extremely worried about possible incidents against their civilians in Lebanon, something the Lebanese authorities have tried very strenuously to play down.

A few months ago an American woman was killed in Sidon. Last weekend, a bomb blew up next to the apartment of a Dutch lady, also in Sidon, and several people were injured. It's not clear if the two incidents were linked, but the American and Dutch women didn't know each other, despite a false claim in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Liwaa.

Here's my weekly comment for the Lebanon section of the Daily Star, on the antiwar demonstrations here. I suggest that the demonstrators offer no third alternative to U.S. occupation or more of Saddam's brutality.

Errr, Sorry
The Labor government has apologized to the families of two British servicemen who Tony Blair had suggested on Thursday were executed in cold blood. As it turned out, there was no definite proof confirming Blair's statement.

Has the Bush administration apologized for suggesting, also with little evidence, that some of the American mechanics captured last weekend at Nasiriyya were executed? This was the claim made by U.S. officials (in this New York Times article) and, later on, by a senior officer on the Larry King Show. If there is definite evidence, then it should be released; if there is none, then why needlessly worry the families?

I think (and very much hope) the PoW's are still alive--so many additional shields Saddam can place in Baghdad when the siege of the city begins, or bargaining chips if he has to negotiate his way out of the city if the U.S. is forced to bargain.

Father knew best
Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld has accused Syria of sending sophisticated military material, including night-vision goggles, to Iraq, and of allowing people through its border who want to fight the Americans. Rumsfeld described this as "hostile acts." The story was the headline here in the leading Lebanese paper, Al-Nahar, as well as the London-based Al-Hayat.

The Syrian denial was couched thus: "What Donald Rumsfeld said about the transportation of equipment from Syria to Iraq is an attempt to cover up what his forces have been committing against civilians in Iraq."

If the story is true, however, this would represent a remarkable risk for Syrian president Bashar Asad. The Syrian regime is indeed very worried about a U.S. force sitting on its eastern border, and when I was in Damascus a few months ago the mood was one of anxiety that "Syria would be second" after Iraq. Rumsfeld's comments will not help reassure the Syrians. However, I get a sense that Syrian policy is being driven by the die-hards who have largely transformed Bashar into a lowest common denominator of agreement between Syria's various power centers: the myriad intelligence services, the Baath party apparatchiks, the old elite, etc.

It is very possible that he would have approved a decision to send military material, and one cannot ignore that Bashar often believes in his militant rhetoric. However, I get a nagging sense that the idea may not have originated with him, but with those who fear (or should fear) a U.S. victory much more than he--the security apparatchiks whose raison d'etre would dissolve if the U.S. were successful in establishing themselves in Iraq and shaping events in the region.

I also get a nagging sense that Hafez Asad, Bashar's father, would have played this differently: he would have let the U.S. hang itself with its own rope, and the he would have entered the fray when he could negotiate something advantageous to himself, using U.S. difficulties as leverage. All Bashar has done is guarantee U.S. enmity, weakening his future bargaining hand.

His dilemma is this: he often has to be more radical than anyone in order to survive politically; but by raising the stakes, Bashar's strategy can mean his fall is that much harder if he fails. And if Bashar comes to be perceived as dangerously inexperienced because of his mistakes, his position in Syria could deteriorate.

Incidentally, you might want to read this version of the story on Israel's Ha'aretz site, which suggests that the U.S. attack on a Syrian bus several days ago (when several Syrian civilians were killed) might not have been unintentional after all.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Were two British soldiers brutally executed by the Iraqis? As I was watching Tony Blair recount the killing of the two on CNN, the station was running a story on the ticker-tape below the image that the two men killed were not soldiers at all, but probably humanitarian workers, and it cited the British Army for this clarification.

Now we have this from The Guardian, informing us:

Tony Blair appeared to backtrack yesterday when his official spokesman said there was no "absolute evidence" that two British soldiers who were killed after being separated from their unit in southern Iraq were executed, as the prime minister had earlier suggested.

The clarification doesn't deny suspicion of cold-blooded murder, but I'm wondering what happened to that story run on CNN? The mystery is hardly resolved by the fact that the two men were positively identified yesterday as British soldiers.

Al-Jazeera has gotten a beating in the West, both figuratively and literally. The Qatari station has been accused of being a propaganda tool for the Iraqi regime, and earlier this week the station’s website was closed down by hackers (thanks to Scott for this link). Reportedly, it will take a few days for the site to be up and running again.

Panoptical war
Criticism of Al-Jazeera is legitimate; the station is not objective--nor for that matter are any of the other stations covering the Iraqi conflict. The sky is thick with political agendas, conscious and unconscious. However, critics of the station should bear in mind that Al-Jazeera is the flip side to the emir of Qatar’s hosting of U.S. Central Command, and, therefore, serves as his protection in the Arab world. Even as he allows the station to play its pan-Arab line, the emir is a vital link in the American war effort.

This is the first genuine Panoptical war (from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon—“a model prison in which all inmates would be observable at all times by unseen guards,” as Reason’s Ron Bailey explained it) in the sense that this is the first crisis in which the conflict can be viewed from all sides by all categories viewers, as opposed to the 1991 Gulf war which was mainly a CNN extravaganza. Today, nobody in the West or the Arab world feels satisfied with listening to one or two media outlets or news sites. Thanks to the market, viewers have a plethora of news sources, showing all sides of the conflict, so that each viewer can autonomously develop his or her own views (even unintentionally integrating views of media outlets they despise) of the war.

This mishmash might not generate complete accuracy or objectivity (an impossibility anyway), but it could move us as close as possible under present conditions. (And how many people really care about accuracy when a war is so polarizing?) It’s also important to understand that while Al-Jazeera does indeed often act like a propaganda outlet, it has been a liberating experience for the Arab publics, providing them with higher expectations from their own media. For example, Syrian satellite, which is hardly at the cutting edge of regional television, has been forced to kick itself out of its slumber and host day-long programs on the war.

Already, Al-Jazeera has to look over its shoulder at Al-Arabiyya, a Dubai-based station, and at Al-Hayat-LBCI, a venture between Lebanese LBCI and the Saudi daily Al-Hayat. This could explain the station’s penchant for sensationalistic atrocity reporting. In time, however, Arab stations will understand that accuracy is a better magnet, and the standards by which Al-Jazeera (and others) are judged inside the Middle East will be raised.
Hubris tamed?
For a newspaper that supported an Iraq war, the Washington Post is certainly doing a good job of showing why the whole thing is a bad idea. In a grim article yesterday titled "War could last months, officers say", the paper's Thomas Ricks reported:

Despite the rapid advance of Army and Marine forces across Iraq over the past week, some senior U.S. military officers are now convinced that the war is likely to last months and will require considerably more combat power than is now on hand there and in Kuwait, senior defense officials said yesterday.

And he quotes one senior officer as saying: "Tell me how this ends?"

The story does quote other officers as pooh-poohing the claims of the pessimists, but the catalogue of logistical difficulties, under-estimation of Iraqi resolve, and difficult choices over whether to attack Baghdad first or (as one officer put it) adopt a "Pac Man" approach of steady elimination of Iraqi military concentrations, suggests this could possibly turn into an election-year issue.

News in that Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Advisory Board, has resigned.

This from an AP story:

In a brief written statement, Rumsfeld thanked Perle for his service and made no mention of why Perle resigned. He said he had asked Perle to remain as a member of the board.

And then this (more than probable) explanation:

Perle became embroiled in a recent controversy stemming from a New Yorker magazine article that said he had lunch in January with controversial Saudi-born businessman Adnan Khashoggi and a Saudi industrialist.

The industrialist, Harb Saleh Zuhair, was interested in investing in a venture capital firm, Trireme Partners, of which Perle is a managing partner. Nothing ever came of the lunch in Marseilles; no investment was made. But the New Yorker story, written by Seymour M. Hersh, suggested that Perle, a longtime critic of the Saudi regime, was inappropriately mixing business and politics.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

This from The Scotsman, on the formation of an Iraqi government in exile.

Here's the lede:

The Iraqi opposition has formed a government-in-waiting to assume office in Baghdad in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s downfall.

A four-man leadership committee of prominent opposition figures -- Ahmed Chalabi, Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani and Abul Aziz Hakim -- has been named at the head of the Iraqi Interim Authority.


The Interim Authority has formed a joint command that will oversee the military activities of the main militias in the opposition which have been placed at the disposal of a US marines general, based in Kurdistan to oversee a northern front. It has also named 14 new committees to take control of important ministries in Baghdad as soon as the allied military command turns over power to a civilian authority.

The article speculates that the front-runner to succeed Saddam is Iraqi National Congress head, Ahmad Chalabi:

Powerful Pentagon sponsors of Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, have promoted the Shia banker as the obvious candidate to replace Saddam Hussein. Opposition from the State Department has faded since the launch of military action, said Mr Musawi, Mr Chalabi’s deputy and spokesman. Still, he conceded that the White House has still not signed up to the opposition scheme for a quick transfer of power.

Here's a story from the New York Times suggesting that Saddam has been reading his Stalingrad lessons.

The lead in:

But the Iraqi private with a bullet wound in the back of his head suggested something unusually grim. Up and down the 200-mile stretch of desert where the American and British forces have advanced, one Iraqi prisoner after another has told captors a similar tale: that many Iraqi soldiers were fighting at gunpoint, threatened with death by tough loyalists of President Saddam Hussein.

Postwar Iraq?
Al-Hayat will publish an interview tomorrow with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in which he apparently says (based on a tidbit in today's paper) that Iraqi opposition figures from both inside and outside Iraq will make up the basis of any transitional government, which the U.S. will attempt to set up as soon as possible after removal of Saddam's regime. He reportedly stressed that Iraqis would choose their government, and that any effort by the U.S. and its allies to appoint a governor in Iraq would most probably fail.

This seems to be a far cry from the U.S. military government option which the Iraq opposition heard from Zalmay Khalilzad at a meeting in Ankara in February. It seems to confirm what Kanan Makiya mentioned (in an earlier March 20 posting), namely that he had heard from the Pentagon's Douglas Feith,

... that the Bush administration had discreetly abandoned its military government plan and decided to reaffirm the United States' decade-old alliance with the opposition.

Are we missing something? So, what is Jay Garner's (the head of the postwar U.S. civilil administration) role anyway? And how credible will the opposition be given the possibility that the U.S. may have to impose a new regime with far more force than it had anticipated?

Postscript: In his press conference with Tony Blair, Bush essentially said the same thing as Armitage.

With the sergeant
This quote has made the email round today:

I've been all the way through this desert from Basra to here and I ain't seen one shopping mall or fast food restaurant. These people got nothing. Even in a little town like ours of twenty five hundred people you got a McDonald's at one end and a Hardee's at the other.

This was said by a Sgt. Sprague, from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The literati are cackling, but I'm on Sprague's side. First off, he probably saw plenty of fast-food restaurants in Kuwait; but if not he could have stepped into Saudi Arabia next door, or come here to Beirut to see plenty more. We Arabs love malls and fast-food outlets, so to sell the sentence as an example of Sprague's cultural idiocy is hypocritical. Once the Iraqis get malls and fast-food outlets to replace the building-sized portraits of Saddam, it will probably mean they will have been freed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Having (cautiously) posted a link to a Russian website reproducing reports allegedly based on material from Russian military intelligence, two people whose views I respect have compared it to the Israeli Debka.file, a website offering a compilation of sensationalistic articles, half-truths, and propaganda--and all that before you tuck into the lies.

Be warned.

News on BBC radio that Turkey has sent members of the hated Kurdish village guard into Iraq. The guard, effectively a Turkish army proxy force, was known for committing crimes against fellow Kurds suspected of collaboration with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The tone of the report underlined that these were precisely not the people to send into Iraq at present.

From Beirut news of more antiwar demonstrations, with an estimated 7,000 (according to the Daily Star) protesting yesterday. Monday evening, a stick of dynamite damaged a wall outside the (temporarily closed) British Council.

Interestingly, yesterday was also the first day of protest in Damascus (as opposed to inside the Yarmouq Palestinian refugee camp)--interesting because it took an awful long time for the Syrians to get riled up since the outbreak of war last week. This was inevitable, though, after a 50-country combined gross domestic product of approximately $22 trillion coalition aircraft fired at a Syrian bus in Iraq, killing several people.

Meanwhile, I read with sorrow that an April 1 press conference to launch the Annual Congress of the Lebanese Society of Family Medicine has been postponed, because no one plans to show up. The date says it all.

Have just settled into my pew to read Condoleezza Rice's opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal-Opinion Journal. Let's see, she says here that 50 countries have joined forces against Saddam (that includes Palau, by the way)--though only two seem to be sending corpses home.

She writes, of the coalition:

To put this in perspective, the combined population of coalition countries is approximately 1.23 billion people, with a combined gross domestic product of approximately $22 trillion. These countries are from every continent on the globe, representing every major race, religion, and ethnicity in the world.

Then, she quotes herself, taking a paragraph out of the National Security Strategy:

But, vitally, all have the will to face the gravest threat of our time--the nexus between outlaw regimes, weapons of mass destruction, and terrorism. The world has seen what happens when countries that recognize emerging or present threats lack the will to meet them.

Then this biscuit:

As the war progresses, and the situation on the ground evolves, the roles of many coalition members will grow. The farther coalition forces move into Iraq, the more need there will be for various specialized teams. And the more security improves, the more quickly relief and reconstruction efforts will be able to proceed into more parts of Iraq, with more coalition personnel providing essential services.

And finally:

Together, we are determined to do all we can to prevent Saddam Hussein, or terrorists with his weapons, from repeating September 11 on a vaster scale.

Maybe I just find Rice too pious by a half, but isn't she selling us swampland in Florida here? For one thing, who cares what the combined GDP of the coalition of the willing is? Saddam merits being removed by even the most wretched of economies. And that line about the role of coalition members growing, it’s not like anybody is lining up to send cannon fodder into Iraq, though they might cock an ear if reconstruction contracts come their way (but Rice didn’t quite promise that).

And that link between Saddam and September 11…He’s a jerk and we all await his departure with impatience, but the administration has got to stop using that nonexistent link with Al-Qaida. Saddam was always a fairly parochial thug, limiting himself to the immediate neighborhood.

Is the U.S. invasion force in Iraq too small? Some military men are saying so in this article from the Washington Post.

One of the people quoted is retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, who knows about big forces: you'll recall he mowed down a big Iraqi column after the 1991 invasion of Kuwait, prompting a critical article by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker.
Thanks to an email list I belong to, I received this link to a Pentagon news release:

It reads:

The Department of Defense has designated the Army as Executive Agent for implementing plans to extinguish oil well fires and to assess the damage to oil facilities during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The plan, which was turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), encompasses the full range of activities that might be necessary to restore or continue the operation of the Iraqi oil infrastructure, which is of vital importance to the future health of Iraq's economy.

To carry out this mission, the Corps will rely in large part on contractors with the needed expertise and specialized resources. In the initial phase, the Corps' prime contractor will be Kellogg, Brown & Root, of Houston, which prepared the contingency plans for the government under the Army Field Support Command's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP).

The Corps will perform a variety of activities, including extinguishing oil well fires and assessing damage to oil facilities, and is prepared to clean up oil spills or other environmental damage at oil facilities. It also will perform engineering design and repair or reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, operate facilities, and distribute products, if required.

For further information, contact Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 202-761-0014 or 202-761-0011. For information on contracting contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Contracting Office at 866-461-5171.

The Bush administration is reporting (paragraphs are from a New York Times article):

Some of the Army mechanics captured on Sunday after they took a wrong turn in the Iraqi town of Nasiriya were apparently executed by their captors, probably in front of townspeople, American officials charged tonight.

The officials cautioned that the information was based on one source, apparently a communications intercept, and that they were seeking corroborating evidence. It is unclear how many of the seven soldiers were executed, rather than killed in fighting, as the Iraqis contend. Five other Americans were taken prisoner and at least three were still missing.

Collateral damage from the bombing of Iraqi Television: Al-Jazeera no longer enjoys a comparative advantage as main satellite portal to Saddam's media.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Readers might be interested in this English part of a Russian website called

The website notes:

The IRAQWAR.RU analytical center was created recently by a group of journalists and military experts from Russia to provide accurate and up-to-date news and analysis of the war against Iraq.

The information is allegedly based on Russian military intelligence reports. You might want to treat it with some caution, though several items in this report, including doubts about the surrender of the 51st Iraqi Division, were subsequently shown to be true.
In the latest news on the supposed uprising in Basra, a British officer has been quoted as saying that the uprising was "in its infancy". Sounds like a slight step down from earlier reports.

It's pouring in Basra.
Thief of Washington
So the cat is out of the bag. Bush has asked Congress for approval of supplemental spending worth almost $75bn to fund the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism, and, if I heard him correctly, reconstruction in a free Iraq.

This merely proves what a deuce of liars both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz really are. Back in February, Wolfowitz, in an appearance before a congressional committee, pooh-poohed estimates that wartime spending would be anywhere near the $80-90bn figure that was being bandied about then (while all the time refusing to offer a more realistic estimate); Rumsfeld, meanwhile, was quoted two weeks ago as denying that the American taxpayer would foot the bill for rebuilding Iraq.

While Bush’s spending priorities were deliberately vague (he basically sold his request as a means of re-supplying the armed forces with munitions and gasoline), it is fairly clear what is being done: the administration is using the unity around the war to shove an outrageously expensive spending package through Congress, at a time of recession, without having even prepared the American public for such a financial sacrifice.

One awaits the 2004 election with bated breath.
According to CNN, British forces are reporting that a popular revolt against Saddam’s regime has started in Basra. An ITN reporter reportedly saw or heard Iraqi forces use mortars to suppress the revolt.

The Baath regime’s efforts to co-opt Shiite religious symbolism is both fascinating and sinister. As you might have read in the previous posting, an Iraqi spokesman claimed an Apache helicopter was downed near Kerbala because the pilot was packing whiskey. Kerbala is a holy Shiite site, and is the place where Hussein, the son of Imam Ali, was killed by a superior Sunni Ummayad force in 680.

The martyrdom of Hussein is a defining moment in Shiism, and is often associated with heroism (amid the certainty of death) against greater odds.

If this effort by the regime to claim Hussein as its own was not enough, yesterday, the London-based Al-Hayat wrote: "Analysts [believe it possible] that the Iraqi regime intends to turn Kerbala into the major area of confrontation [against U.S. forces], since it captures the spirit of the Iraqi regime, which aspires to inject [both] Islamic and Arab meaning and resonance into its war against the U.S."

If the paper is correct, then what we have is a secular Sunni-led regime filching Shiite religious symbolism--surely one of the more bizarre features of this war.

Think of that when you read the later posting above.
From the "God is on our side" files. An Iraqi military spokesman, commenting on the forced landing of an American Apache helicopter, had this to say when explaining the reason: he observed that the Iraqis had found a bottle of whiskey inside belonging to one of the pilots. As the helicopter was at the time flying near the Holy Shiite city of Karbala, he continued, this unholy mix of alcohol and holiness ensured the Apache would fall to the ground:

"How could this Apache not fall when there was a bottle of whiskey inside, as it was flying over a holy city" (or something to that effect).

Funny, Iraqi TV has spent the last two days reporting that an old peasant with a vintage 1800 rifle had shot the thing down.

Real Turkeys
While Americans continue to fulminate against France, it strikes me that the real culprit here is Turkey. Had it allowed U.S. forces through its territory, this would have been a two-front war. I can only wonder at how splendidly the Turks screwed up their relationship with the U.S., losing (a) money (b) a chance to shape postwar Iraq (c) a chance to curb Kurdish aspirations (d) a chance to become a cornerstone of a new American order in the Midde East and (e) U.S. support for Turkey's entry into the EU--and all for virtually nothing.

Perhaps the generals are patiently watching this and hoping it will, in the end, weaken Erdogan.

Now is a good time to reflect on the fate of the Iraqi opposition, in light of the visible resistance by Iraqis to the coalition invasion. Given this, how seriously can one consider (a) a postwar opposition-based government that will have any measure of popularity? And (b) if the U.S. recognizes this, how would its presumed alternative, a military government, fare?

Will the U.S., in order to cut this Gordian Knot do what several opposition figures dread: establish a military government, but use Baath Party administrators to run it?

The London-based daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported yesterday that retired U.S. General Jay Garner, who will head the civil administration in Iraq, is still cooling his heals in Kuwait. Bet he's wondering what to do next.

Readers might be interested in my weekly review (mostly) of the Middle East press for the Slate International Papers column, at least those of you who didn't make it here through the Slate link.
My friend Joe Bahout (whose elegant ruminations were picked up by Tim Cavanaugh in a Reason link on an earlier posting) sends in an interesting item on the disappearance of Uday, reminding me that Antoine Sfeir, a Lebanese analyst living in Paris, recently told French satellite station LCI that Saddam had dispatched Uday, probably to a former Soviet republic (in exchange for money). Why? Who knows, though Uday's mental state is a source of some merriment.

Perhaps, Joe suggests, Saddam didn't want a repeat of the Nepalese royal family murders: Uday flipping and blasting away at everybody else in the bunker.
William Saletan has written a concise piece on Iraq's use of human shields in Slate, putting my earlier posting on the matter to shame. Just to clarify, I was asking the question with respect to actually pushing civilians into an area between Iraqi and U.S. forces, as opposed to firing from civilian areas (Saletan, legitimately, makes no distinction, nor does international law).

However, it was this type of situation that CNN's Walter Rodgers was describing in a report yesterday, and about which a reporter asked Gen. Tommy Franks; both of which led to my posting.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Given my continued interest in Gen. Nizar Khazraji, who recently escaped from a war crimes investigation in Denmark, I am wondering whether he is one of those being surreptitiously used by the U.S. to contact his former colleagues in the Iraqi army, in order to persuade them to come over to the coalition side.

Somehow, nobody has picked up on that story.

Where is Uday?
A curiosity I haven't been able to explain. The Fedayeen Saddam units that are fighting the U.S. and U.K. forces so robustly in the south are under the nominal leadership of Uday, Saddam's son. Yet we haven't seen Uday in any of the footage released by the Iraqis, when everything about this situation invites parading him before the cameras, next to his brother Qusay, both heroes to Iraqi nationalism.

Does that mean he's dead?
Al-Jazeera has just shown footage taken from Iraqi television of two captured Apache helicopter pilots. They looked in good health, and one was drinking water. The official Iraqi story is that someone firing an old rifle shot them down, but that might be taken with a hefty grain of salt--though footage of the downed helicopter did not show major damage, so a lucky bullet might have scored.

Just a thought on showing POWs on television: while we can all agree that parading them in front of the cameras is in bad taste, aside from very likely being against international law, there may be an upside, at least from the U.S. perspective.

First of all, if the prisoners are not mistreated--and the Iraqis did not mistreat the batch captured yesterday or the two pilots taken today before the camera (though who can tell what happened off camera?)--then it is a way of ensuring they are alive. Better that than (a) being uncertain as to what happened to them and (b) sending out search parties to find them, which might divert resources. One thing to recognize, also, is that the Iraqis, by showing POWs publicly, become in a way responsible for them in the eyes of the world.

If being put in front of a camera is the worst the Iraqis do, then fine. If only it stays that way.

The Washington Post is reporting, in a very interesting story by Walter Pincus:

Senior U.S. and foreign officials say their belief that Saddam Hussein was seriously wounded in a U.S. attack Thursday is primarily based on intercepted telephone calls of Iraqis living around the suburban Baghdad complex where he and his two sons were sleeping that morning and on reports from other Iraqis in contact with U.S. intelligence who claim to have been on the scene.

A senior administration official and a foreign official later said that some intelligence, including the story that Hussein was carried out of the building on a stretcher, came from U.S. operatives who listened in on phone calls made by Baghdad neighbors who witnessed the aftermath of the attack.

The story goes on to suggest that the U.S. military is in close contact with some Iraqi units, who are waiting to see how the wind blows before deciding to turn against Saddam or not.

On the attack against Saddam, I'm beginning to wonder what has become of Izzat Ibrahim, the third man in the triptych mentioned in an earlier post (which included Ibrahim, Ali Hassan al-Majid, and Taha Yassin Ramadan) of Iraqi officials who were supposedly killed. Indications are that Ali Hassan al-Majid is alive, and Ramadan was on TV yesterday, but Ibrahim has indeed disappeared.

Is he the one who didn't make it?

Circular confirmation?
Gen. Tommy Franks has been speaking to the press corps in Qatar. One topic was the human shields the Iraqis have allegedly been using, made up of civilians. While that regime of thugs is capable of far worse, has there actually been any evidence of human shields?

Franks then said that "embedded" journalists (why does "embedded" sound like "in bed with"?) had confirmed it.

Perhaps they did and I missed that, but the last I heard on the topic was when CNN's Walter Rodgers was heading northwards towards Karbala. He cited soldiers with whom he was riding to confirm his claim. Was Franks citing Rodgers citing Franks' soldiers?
This Washington Post article suggests the U.S. is re-examining its war strategy in Iraq in light of yesterday's losses.
U.S. aircraft apparently fired at a Syrian bus Sunday morning, killing five and injuring ten, according to Syria's SANA news agency. It's not clear why it took more than a day for the news to emerge, though the location may have delayed information: the bus was reportedly hit inside Iraq near the Syrian border.
Reports from a participant on a specialized email list I belong to suggest that Russian intelligence has reported (a) that the 51st Iraqi Division did not surrender (which Al-Jazeera confirmed, as noted in an earlier post), and more intriguingly, (b) that there has been much criticism of Gen. Tommy Franks at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Reports just out that U.S. missiles accidentally hit Turkey will not help Franks' reputation. I would guess (as someone entirely unversed in tactics) that this string of bad luck will impose some change in the U.S. approach--not unlike what happened in Afghanistan, where, after weeks of limited strikes, the Pentagon ordered a dramatic upscaling in bombings. Remember that the limited strikes then were blamed by the Pentagon on Colin Powell, who did not want the Northern Alliance to enter Kabul too quickly.

Now it's the other way around.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Today was apparently the moment of truth for Donald Rumsfeld's strategy of military calibration--a sort of postmodern rehash of "flexible response". Given that U.S. forces suffered setbacks in Nasiriyya, there will no doubt be many at the Pentagon calling (privately) for a reconsideration of the current strategy favoring speed and the precise use of force, in favor of something approximating the Powell Doctrine, which means overwhelming force.

There is some irony here: Rumsfeld, who is regarded as a reactionary fire-eater in the Middle East, emerges as the moderate--someone who wants to use force sparingly to avoid casualties and advance postwar political interests by diminishing Iraqi resentment. The Powell-ites, who by association with the ever reluctant warrior Colin Powell are regarded as moderates, instead favor a carpet-bombing technique which ensures few U.S., but probably quite a few more Iraqi, casualties

Should the Iraqis hope Rumsfeld wins out?

Al-Jazeera has interviewed the commander of Iraq's 51st Division, a Gen. Hashemi, who insisted that he had not surrendered to U.S. and British forces. This apparently confirmed earlier denials of a surrender by the Iraqi information minister, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf. Up to now, by the way, CNN has not played the tape of the interview.

While Hashemi's alleged surrender may well have been part of the ongoing psychological war against the Iraqi army, this strategy does have a potentially negative backlash: in light of growing complaints in Qatar that U.S. Central Command is providing no information of substance whatsoever on the war, journalists may end up becoming so jaded that they will do what they should be doing, namely go out and search for information on their own, as opposed to swallowing whole what Tommy Franks and his deputies feed them.

On its front page, the Lebanese left-wing daily Al-Safir is showing photographs of Iraqi dead in Basra, including a boy whose head was partly blown away. While this may be predictable for the paper, increasingly the Lebanese press, including the more centrist Al-Nahar, is reflecting in its headlines the outrage in other Arab countries, whereas before it tended to take more of an observer's role.

In its Saturday edition, the London-based daily Al-Hayat, citing a Kurdish parliamentarian, reported that the U.S. has established a command to manage northern Iraq, with Kurds as advisers. Kurdish forces will have to accept orders from the U.S. command. The paper also quoted the MP as saying that in light of Turkey's refusal to allow American forces access to northern Iraq, Washington's reliance on Kurdish forces has increased.

The paper also reported that Kurdish officials, who just returned from a meeting in Ankara with Turkish officials, stayed mum on what had taken place, though they did insist that Turkish entry into Iraq was inevitable. You might want to see this Washington Post article for developments in northern Iraq.

Al-Jazeera is showing footage from Iraqi television of several American prisoners, apparently from a maintenance unit, who were captured near Nasiriyya. Two of them, one a woman, were injured in the arms and legs.

The station is also showing footage of dead U.S. soldiers. While there has been much commentary on how the POWs will be treated, almost nothing has been said on how the dead were treated: some shots showed a grinning Iraqi moving the bodies around so that their faces would appear on camera.

Apparently, the U.S. authorities (or the networks) have refused to allow the scenes to be shown on television. Neither CNN nor the BBC has shown the footage.
Reports of antiwar demonstrations all over the world. That includes, of all places, Afghanistan and Vietnam.

Just out of curiosity, why does the BBC say, when turning to their correspondents in Baghdad, that they are "operating under some restrictions", and fail to do so when introducing their correspondents with U.S. and U.K. forces? Aren't both batches being robustly controlled by their minders? That would certainly seem to be the case from a reading of Howard Kurtz's Washington Post article of March 22 (which I can't link).
Iraq vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan has appeared at a televised press conference, the second of a trio of Iraqi officials American spokesmen had declared killed in the Wednesday "decapitation attack." Yesterday, we posted a New York Times story suggesting that Ali Hassan al-Majid, another of the Iraqi officials declared dead, was, in fact, alive. The third man is Izzat Ibrahim.

Maybe he'll appear tomorrow. Splendid thugs all, none merits the publicity he's received.
The Basra reversal.
Being a television veteran of the second Gulf War of 1991, I can guess how much crap goes up on television and radio, before the information is denied or contradicted. The U.S. and U.K. ambitions for Basra fit into this category. Before the war started, the mainstream media cited U.S. officials to the effect that Basra would become a showcase of Iraqi resentment against the regime. The city was described as a priority target, since the television cameras would prove how opposed to Saddam the majority Shiite inhabitants of Basra were. It seemed obvious that, as in 1991, the inhabitants would revolt.

Now we learn that Basra is no longer a priority. Instead of taking the city over, American and British forces have decided to surround it, without going in. That seems to be because the Iraqis have actually fought back. So the armed forces prefer to fight in Baghdad (and hope that will make a Basra battle unnecessary), rather than enter into potentially debilitating street battles in what was thought to be a friendly city.

One can feel the mood significantly changing in Lebanon. Large demonstrations in Sidon, southern Lebanon, yesterday, including left-wing parties and Hizbullah. This reflects a broad consensus, since Hizbullah is not politically active in Sidon, a mostly Sunni town. I expect mobilization against the war to escalate as the Iraqis show signs of fight.

Once the Lebanese get involved, you know that the mood in the rest of the Arab world is infinitely more negative. Does it matter? If you're trying to sell democracy, yes.

Here in Beirut the mood remains calm. There have been demonstrations against the war in Iraq, with a small group of some 300 demonstrators clashing yesterday with police near the U.S. embassy in the suburb of Awkar. The day before, according to the press, demonstrators attacked a British embassy building (though I frankly can't remember a British embassy building in that area). Beirut is not really a good example of how the Arab world is reacting, and demonstrations in Cairo, Gaza and Yemen in the past few days were more indicative of the mood in the Arab heartland

Interestingly, the Syrian authorities authorized an anti-American demonstration yesterday in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuq near Damascus, and Syria's mufti has condemned the war, but there have been no demonstrations in the streets of Damascus or against the U.S. embassy.

For a revealing perspective on the mood in Lebanon, read Tim Cavanaugh's report on the Reason website.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Euronews is quoting U.S. officials to the effect that the Wednesday "decapitation attack" against Iraqi leaders killed three high-ranking figures, Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, Vice-Chariman of the Revolutionary Command Council Izzat Ibrahim, and Ali Hassan al-Majid, the president's cousin and frequent enforcer.

But then turning to an article in today's New York Times, we read this on the attack against Baghdad last night (Friday):

Not all of today's airstrikes were successful. Two strikes were carried out to kill Ali Hassan al-Majid, Mr. Hussein's cousin, who is in charge of defense of the southern part of the country. He is known as "Chemical" Ali because of his role in overseeing chemical attacks against the Kurds. American military officials said they appeared to result in a near-miss.

So, they've killed him once, but have tried to kill him twice. Maybe, like Saddam, he has a double.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Eric Rouleau, a former French ambassador to Turkey and an Arabist, argued on Radio France International that the U.S. military operation in Iraq seemed to have badly started, given the delay in taking Umm al-Qasr and Nasiriya.

You may be groaning that he's a Frenchman, but just out of curiosity could he be right?

War crimes update. According to the London-based daily Al-Hayat, citing State Department spokesman Greg Sullivan, Iraqi deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz is indeed on a list of Iraqi officials who may be tried for war crimes. In an earlier post based on a New York Times story, Aziz's name was not listed. One wonders whether that earlier omission had anything to do with the false rumors a few days ago that Aziz had defected.

According to Al-Hayat, three lists exist: one of 12 officials listed as "awful", a second of 40 officials listed as "dirty", and a third of 100 officials listed as "ugly" (these are translated from the Arabic, so the U.S. probably uses different, far less imaginative words).

Clausewitz (and Powell) challenged. The Washington Post has an interesting military analysis here by Thomas Ricks, where he notes:

Since the American policy of gradual "escalation" of military force ended in failure in Vietnam, a generation of officers has been shaped by the notion that when the nation goes to war, it must use its overwhelming power to decisively defeat enemies. But the opening phase of the latest Persian Gulf war has been marked instead by a few sharp, narrowly focused blows aimed at bringing down the government of Saddam Hussein without having to resort to a conventional, all-out attack.

As an "insider" put it:

What they're trying to do right now is to punish the regime and give forces a chance to capitulate," this insider said. "It's a selective use of force to see if you can separate the people from the regime.

What it apparently is is Donald Rumsfeld ridding the Pentagon of the last remnants of Colin Powell--whose Powell Doctrine decreed using overwhelming force against an enemy.

Makiya watch
You can read a new installment of Kanan Makiya’s War Diary in the New Republic, here.

While I am entirely sympathetic to Makiya’s feeling that a long U.S. military occupation (during which Iraqis are to retain merely an advisory role) is not the ideal way to make Iraq safe for democracy, I find tiresome his studied innocence on U.S. cynicism. In a piece for The Observer several weeks ago, Makiya blamed the State Department and the CIA for efforts to deny the opposition a chance to rule in a postwar Iraq.

That was rank hypocrisy: the person who broke the news to the opposition (in Ankara, Turkey) that it would not soon partake of postwar power was Zalmay Khalilzad, the Bush administration’s envoy to the Iraqi opposition. He’s a Paul Wolfowitz creation. However, because Makiya knows it is the hawks at the Defense Department who butter his political bread, he didn’t go after their people.

Who can disagree with Makiya when he writes that Iraqis should be partners of the U.S., but not its “stooges”? This is his roundabout way of attacking other Iraqi opposition figures who, he notes, “prefer to ride into Iraq atop American tanks.”

I wonder though if Iraqis will really distinguish between those who rode in on tanks and those, like Makiya and Ahmad Chalabi, who walked.

From the "air power cannot do it alone" files, political science professor Robert A. Pape has just published an opinion piece in the the New York Times arguing, you guessed it, that military success only really comes when "air power [is] used in conjunction with ground forces, like a hammer and anvil."

I confess I don't find this debate especially interesting, but I do find amusing that Pape and the Times are flogging what is, in this Gulf war at least, a dead horse. After all no one is really arguing it can be won by air power alone.

For some reason I have taken it upon myself in the next few days to go to the most obscure of American newspapers and see how they respond to the Gulf war. Why? Basically, because the Washington Post and New York Times may speak for some people, but not all, and if there is to be a real change in public attitudes towards the war, the place to really sense this may well be in the smaller papers.

So let's start off with this editorial from the Mitchell Republic of South Dakota, titled: Americans never want war

Some excerpts, and you can take it from there:

Americans have never wanted war...

It was no different in the wars that followed, for
the most part. Americans wanted no part of
World War I or World War II. It was a European
problem. It took a direct attack by the Japanese
to fan the flames of war in the United States, and
even then there were many who opposed involvement
- despite Hitler’s juggernaut throughout Europe...

What Americans have done throughout history is
stand up for its friends, help those who have asked for
assistance, and attempt to invoke policies that promote
freedom and human rights throughout the world...

At the activation ceremony Saturday at the Middle School, it was
obvious that the people who filled the bleachers and folding
chairs were there to support our men and women in uniform.
No anti-war signs marred the landscape; no protests marred
the ceremony...

Support was what was needed, and support was what the
National Guardsmen received...

One can almost cut the Midwestern isolationism, drenched in the earnest language of Wilsonianism (though after reading this you might think twice before using that word).
Readers may be interested in knowing that the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al-Hayat, has an English-language segment of its newspaper site here. It's not as rich as the Arabic language part, but it does publish opinion pieces by several well-known Arab columnists.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

As predicted here (almost) in an earlier posting, former Iraqi general, Nizar al-Khazraji, has appeared in Qatar at U.S. Central Command, that's according to a report yesterday from IRNA, the Iranian news agency, citing Iraqi opposition sources. If the story is true, then Khazraji, who was being investigated for war crimes in Denmark, fled illegally, and the U.S., if it welcomes him, is complicit.

Is that important? Maybe not, but Denmark happens to be in the Coalition of the Willing, and may not particularly like the idea that they are now objective allies of someone whom they were investigating for war crimes.

Khazraji was head of Iraq's armed forces from 1987 to 1990, but then turned against Saddam. He is being investigated for alleged crimes during the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the mid-1980s.
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz is reporting that some of the missiles fired at Kuwait were FROGs, vintage Soviet rockets with a range of 70kms. Two were intercepted by Patriots. Given the price differential between the Patriot and those old pieces of junk, what if this were a sinister Iraqi plot to force the U.S. to use up all its Patriots, so the Iraqis could then throw in the real stuff--the almost as worthless SCUDs?
Since this is a Beirut-based blog, I suppose it's time to describe the mood here. There is a traffic jam outside, it's raining, and this outpost of the "Arab street" apparently shows no signs of revolting just yet. But many changes ahead, which I will attempt to write about in the coming weeks.
I guess we might as well sit back and get used to several more weeks (months?) of dreary war-watch. Already the correspondents are salivating over weaponry. For a more bilious approach, you might want to read Brian Whitaker's Daily Briefing in London's Guardian. Here's his entry today. I don't always care for his stuff, but the tone is a change from most mainstream media.
The Washington Post is reporting here that U.S. intelligence fired at a Baghdad residence, thinking it had a fix on Saddam Hussein. Is that what the administration meant by a "decapitation" attack? If so, they apparently missed as Saddam appeared on TV later.
8:35 AM
Very important piece in the New Republic by Iraqi opposition figure Kanan Makiya, and very strange. Strange, because he offers a genuine scoop--namely that the U.S. has allegedly abandoned plans for a military government in Iraq--but he also doesn't seem to trust the Bush administration to carry through on that promise.

Here are a few representative passages:

In effect, I learned from Doug Feith that the Bush administration had discreetly abandoned its military government plan and decided to reaffirm the United States' decade-old alliance with the opposition.

Feith said that it is now U.S. policy to pass over decision-making responsibilities to an all-Iraqi interim authority in stages, as quickly as it was possible for the Iraqis to manage them. In Salahuddin we had already constructed 14 subcommittees to deal with humanitarian relief, financial assessment, economic rehabilitation, field operations, military coordination, and more. These subcommittees, the backbone of the interim authority, will find their American counterparts in [Ret. Gen. Jay] Garner's office and under General Tommy Franks's command to ensure that Iraqis match their efforts with the Americans'.

What Makiya is referring to is the fact that the U.S. had informed the Iraqi opposition that it intended to install a military government and would continue to use Baath bureaucrats to run Iraq. However, he didn't seem to pick up on what Feith's term "in stages" meant, and he only begged the question: which bureaucrats will run Iraq if it's not the Baathists? After all, the opposition doesn't have anybody.

Makiya himself almost says as much in the ending to his piece. He could be in for more disappointment.
Has the U.S. been bugging the European Union's headquarters? Read more in this New York Times piece.

If eavesdropping amuses you, you can read this somewhat sensationalistic, but apparently accurate report in The Observer on U.S. efforts to listen in on foreign delegations at the UN Security Council during the Iraq debates. And if you look here, you'll see that a Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) employee was arrested for leaking the memorandum that led to the initial story.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Moving the goalposts
Did you her White House spokesman Ari Fleischer saying yesterday that even if Saddam and his sons left, that American forces would enter Iraq, though more peacefully? So first the Bush administration sets disarmament as a condition to avoid war; then it adds to this that Saddam and his blessed boys must decamp; then it announces that whatever Saddam does, it won't stop the U.S. from going in anyway.

Do you get a sense that the otherwise cowardly Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri (whose brother was bumped off by Saddam) was right when he suggested the UN had been manipulated by the U.S.?

Here's the Q&A:

Q: Will U.S. troops enter Iraq, no matter what, at this point? In other words, even if Saddam Hussein, in some off chance, takes this ultimatum, leaves the country with his sons, will U.S. troops, nevertheless, enter Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President addressed that last night. And the President made clear that Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to leave, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time last night. The President also made plain to the American people that if Saddam were to leave, the American forces, coalition forces would still enter Iraq, hopefully this time peacefully, because Iraqi military would not be under orders to attack or fire back. And that way Iraq could be disarmed from possession of weapons of mass destruction.

But whatever you do don't try to find the quote on www., as I did, or for that matter, though you might want to sneak a peek.

Instead, you'll find it here, where it should be.

Reason magazine has been kind enough to reprint an earlier column I wrote for the Daily Star. It's an effort to look at two of the American officials who are slated to rule in postwar Iraq.
A good reason for war
Readers might be interested in this column of mine written for the Daily Star in Beirut. It argues that an Iraq war is justified only if democracy is the byproduct.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Dead end?
My (guarded) optimism in the preliminary posting after Bush gave his "road map" speech on Palestinian-Israeli peace last Friday was way off target. In an analytical piece from Jerusalem, the New York Times' James Bennet, wrote why:

"Bush pleased Israelis and dismayed Palestinians by describing the draft proposal as open to amendment, saying on Friday, 'We will expect and welcome contributions from Israel and the Palestinians to this document that will advance true peace.'"

The thing is that the three other members of the so-called Quartet (the EU, the UN and Russia) consider the "road map", which is still in the draft proposal stage, as fixed, and insist it imposes immediate concessions on both parties.

One point of contention was Bush"s statement: "As progress is made toward peace, settlement activity in the occupied territories must end." What the EU, UN and Russia worry about is that Bush is demanding the appointment of a powerful prime minister and an end to violence from the Palestinians now, in exchange for eventual Israeli concessions on halting settlement construction.

Instead of a "parallel process of simultaneous concessions," a Western diplomat said, Bush is "using the vocabulary of sequentialism."

Meanwhile, Israel itself is said to have sought many changes in the document, including, if we are to believe Aluf Benn in Ha'aretz, the following:

* The Israeli document demands that the Palestinian state that will emerge in an agreement with Israel and will do so following direct negotiations between the two sides and not through dialogue and understandings as the road map states.

* Israel also rejects the demand of immediate removal of all illegal outposts set up in the territories during the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. According to the Israeli version, the government will "enforce the law in relation to the outposts."

* For the first time, in this document, Israel delineates the terms under which it will agree to a freeze in settlement activity: "following a continuous and comprehensive security calm."

* Israel rejects the notion that the freeze will also include the natural growth of settlements.

* The document rejects a further withdrawal in the West Bank, according to the Oslo Accords, and the removal of settlements in order to grant territorial continuity to a Palestinian state - even during the stage of the temporary borders.

* The Israeli document says the future of the settlements will be determined only by a final agreement and therefore Israel is only willing to grant territorial continuity to the Palestinians only where "this is possible."

The prisoner
News that Gen. Nizar Khazraji has disappeared from house arrest in Denmark. He was being investigated by a magistrate for his alleged participation in the murderous Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the mid-1980s. The only problem was that Khazraji--who has denied the charges--turned against Saddam several years ago, and was considered a potential bright light in the effort to turn the Iraqi army against the Baath regime.

Can we expect to find him in Iraq anytime soon?
Hide and go to war
Did the Bush administration consciously hide intelligence on possible Iraqi weapons caches from UN weapons inspectors, in order to discredit the inspections regime? That is what the Washington Post wonders in this story by Walter Pincus published Sunday.

The way the story is written, though, is a trifle odd. It starts off suggesting that U.S. intelligence agencies only have circumstantial evidence of banned Iraqi weapon, and notes:

"The assertions, coming on the eve of a possible decision by President Bush to go to war against Iraq, have raised concerns among some members of the intelligence community about whether administration officials have exaggerated intelligence in a desire to convince the American public and foreign governments that Iraq is violating United Nations prohibitions against chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and long-range missile systems."

But then, it changes tack to suggest "the administration is withholding some of the best intelligence on suspected Iraqi weapons -- uncertain as it is -- from U.N. weapons inspectors in anticipation of war."

Reportedly, CIA director George Tenet misled Congress on the amount of important information his agency had passed on to UN inspectors. That's why, the article continues, "some officials charge the administration is not interested in helping the inspectors discover weapons because a discovery could bolster supporters in the U.N. Security Council of continued inspections and undermine the administration's case for war."

Interesting article in the Washington Times on the U.S. military strategy.

First, the good news:

When war begins, coalition aircraft will release hundreds of precision munitions on key air defense and command targets. After a few days of air strikes to soften Iraqi resistance south of Baghdad, Army soldiers, led by the 3rd Infantry Division, and Marines from the 1st Expeditionary Force will move in blitzkrieg fashion north to Baghdad along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Then the bad news:

Two key questions faced war planners on the eve of war:
Will a siege of Baghdad result in a quick surrender or brutal
urban combat, and will Saddam play his last card by using
chemical or biological weapons as his regime crumbles?

A Pentagon official said new intelligence reports indicate
that Iraqi divisions defending Baghdad's southern flank will
unleash chemical artillery shells at advancing coalition troops.
Iraqis also may attack their own civilians and blame the deaths
on the United States.

Then the heartening news that the Coalition of the Willing is expanding at breakneck speed:

Australian Prime Minister John Howard told his
countrymen that his government had committed 2,000 military
personnel to the coalition to disarm Iraq. Also, Polish President
Aleksander Kwasniewski told his country last night that he had
committed up to 200 of its soldiers.
Cool under fire
For an unhysterical reading of U.S.-French relations see Gordon R. Sullivan’s fine opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune. The appreciate for a moment that he was former chief-of-staff of the U.S. Army.
Frisson of democracy?
It was pretty easy to pick mighty holes in Bush's speech on Iraq yesterday (almost as big as the ones on the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border), but who could deny feeling a certain frisson of pleasure when the teleprompter ordered him to say:

Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast. And I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror. And we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free.

In a free Iraq there will be no more wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture chambers and rape rooms. The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near.

In the end, the spread of democracy is about the only thing that would makes an Iraq war worthwhile. For an interesting interchange between a Syrian scholar Murhaf Jouejati and Patrick Clawson of the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy see their bizarre debate on the Jim Lehrer show; one defended Iraqi democracy, while the other cast doubt on it.

Guess who did what before going here.

If you're finished, you will see that the interchange was typical of a wider problem: Jouejati, like many Arabs who oppose war, had to resort to Arab self-debasement to contest the American invasion of Iraq. Implicit in his words was a deep fear of change, disingenuously wrapped in the language of weary realism on Iraqi limitations. Anyone who has heard Jouejati discourse on his native Syria (in particular on the Syrian presence in Lebanon) will realize that his polish masks the fact that he really speaks the language of the apparatchik.

Before you get it into your head that I found the Jim Lehrer link, open this link to see that it was Charles Paul Freund's doing.
Taranto beats up a corpse
The following passage is from James Taranto's weblog in the Wall Street Journal-Opinion Journal on Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American woman run over by an Israeli bulldozer:

Terror Advocate Dies in Accident
Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old terrorism advocate from Olympia, Wash., died in a bulldozer accident yesterday. Corrie was at fault in the accident, which occurred when she either stood or crouched in front of an Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer in Gaza, the Jerusalem Post reports:

The bulldozers were part of an IDF tunnel- and mine-clearing operation. The Rafah refugee camp borders Egypt, from which Palestinian terrorists smuggle in weapons and explosives. And according to interim peace accords, Israel has the right to operate in and secure the area.

Corrie not only backed anti-Israeli terrorism; she also hated America. An Associated Press photo shows Corrie, her face contorted with hate, burning a "mock U.S. flag" at a pro-Saddam rally last month. (Hat tip: Little Green Footballs.) Reuters reports on a "symbolic funeral" that drew some 1,000 Palestinian Arabs. One of them tells the "news" service: "We fly a U.S. flag today to show our support to all American peace lovers, those like Rachel." If she were still alive, no doubt she'd have burned the flag.

It's a shame that Rachel Corrie died the way she did. It's shameful that she lived the way she did.

"Terror advocate?" A real prince that Taranto, whose weight no doubt explains why he sided with the bulldozer. Not sure if the parents will sue, but the WSJ seems to have assumed an accident when, the last we heard, the Israelis were investigating the incident. By the way, I always thought that burning flags was defensible in open societies (even if that kind of thing can be tasteless)--the same kind of society, incidentally, the Journal claims to be peddling.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Chinese diplomats are among the first to decamp from Baghdad. Makes sense; they remember what the Americans did to their embassy in Belgrade.
The German daily Tagzeitung has reported that an internal document of the German Environment Ministry predicts an Iraq war will lead, directly and indirectly, to between 400,000 and 2m dead.
When will the shooting start? Al-Hayat is reporting on its front page today that a major sandstorm--the third in the last few weeks--is expected this evening or tomorrow morning in Kuwait. This could delay military operations for a few days, as soldiers pick sand out of their machines and equipment.
There were two things genuinely surreal about the Azores conclave on Sunday. The first was that Monday would be, as Bush put it, a "moment of truth" for the world. The second was the Bush administration's view of the centrality of regime change in Iraq, which jarred with British and Spanish priorities--even if there was no way to know that from the staged Azores press conference.

The "moment of truth" line actually meant nothing at all, since either way war is happening: if a resolution is passed today, the U.S. will only approve of it if it authorizes war; and if no resolution is passed, which is likely, war is coming anyway. So what was Bush on about? Obviously, he was thinking about a last-minute exit by Saddam Hussein, as this Washington Post article confirms.

What was more intriguing, however, was how studiously Tony Blair and Jose-Maria Aznar (by the way whatever happened to that other confederate of the willing Silvio Berlusconi?) sidestepped any discussion of regime-change, though Blair had previously made clear that this was not at all a British condition for avoiding a war. Instead, what the Brits did was speak out of both sides of their mouth: on Sunday Foreign Secretary Jack Straw again invited Saddam to go into exile, even as he implied (as did Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown) that a peaceful diplomatic solution was still possible.

So, there was Blair effectively shutting up in the Azores on his own earlier claim that regime-change was not a British condition; there was Straw lending credence to the new U.S. focus on regime-change; and there were Straw and Brown collaborating to pretend that a peaceful solution was still possible, when both knew very well that the Bush administration's regime change priority probably made any of their diplomatic efforts at the UN entirely useless. If that is what trans-Atlantic solidarity means, then maybe we shouldn't be surprised if the French remain so hostile.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

The New York Times is reporting that the Bush administration has identified senior Iraqis who would be tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity after an American-led attack on Iraq:

"In addition to Mr. Hussein himself, the list includes members of his inner circle who sit atop a hierarchy of 2,000 members of the Iraqi elite who were previously identified by American intelligence agencies. But only now are the names of the top group being made public."

This includes Uday and Qusay, Saddam's sons, as well as Salih Naaman, the second governor of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the vice-president of the Revolutionary Command Council, Abid Hamid, Saddam's highly influential secretary (who Kenneth Pollack calls the third most powerful man in Iraq), and Hani Abd al-Latif Tilfah, the director of the special security organization (SSO). I personally thought Qusay headed the SSO, but could have missed something in recent months. Interestingly, the deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz is not mentioned by the Times as being on the list, even though he was almost certainly aware of what was taking place around him, for example the murderous Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the 1980s. Perhaps we should wait and see on him.

The story makes a silly mistake in referring to "Ali Hassan al-Hamid, who was the governor of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait in 1990-91." The paper of course meant Ali Hassan al-Majid, known by the sobriquet "chemical Ali" thanks to his gassing of the Kurds in the 1980s, who is also Saddam's cousin and a real mover on the genocide and mass murder circuit.

Apparently the list is being publicized to offer the potential accused a choice between exile and prosecution. The story quotes an administration official: "This is the group that we would expect to depart if there's a departure or that we'd expect to apprehend if there's a use of force. They are wanted for the crimes of the regime."

How typically hypocritical of this insufferably pious administration that the effort is being sold as a moral exercise (Bush pointedly mentioned that he was speaking on the 15th anniversary of the Halabja gassing--an effort of memory and pronunciation that must have all but undermined his geography lesson on the Azores). One would assume that if the men were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, then even a superficial interest in justice would dictate they not be offered a sweetheart deal just to ensure no American soldiers are killed.

Makes you almost feel sorry for Milosevic.

This from the opening paragraphs of a story from Malaysiakini, a Malaysian online newspaper:

ISTANBUL - The US ambassador to Turkey hosted an elegant dinner party for Turkish lawmakers reluctant to approve US military cooperation in an Iraq war.

There was classical Turkish music and salmon, costly and difficult to obtain here. Also on the menu - some diplomatic fence-mending and words that Washington intends to reorganize the region and remain in Iraq for 20 to 25 years.

Ambassador Robert Pearson invited the justice minister and six members of parliament, which may vote again next week to permit 62,000 US combat troops on Turkish soil, opening a northern front in an Iraq war.

It might help to know who mentioned 20-25 years. And was it before or after the salmon was served?
What should one make of an item published last week in the French satirical weekly Le Canard EnchainĂ© ? According to the paper, whose reporters are as good as they get, on January 13 French president Jacques Chirac’s diplomatic adviser, Maurice Gourdault-Montaigne, met with Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz in Washington. They accused Chirac of being “irresponsible” and of “encouraging” Saddam to resist. Now this was a week before Dominique De Villepin went to the UN and threatened to use a veto against a resolution authorizing force, when there was still a good chance to bring the French around on Iraq.

Is that why France is so keen to screw the US? Probably not. But would it have been such a big deal to invite Chirac out to Bush’s ranch and talk about Iraq, instead of bad-mouthing and then ignoring him?

Friday, March 14, 2003

AP is reporting: "President Bush announced Friday that he would unveil his long-sought ``road map'' for Middle East peace once a new Palestinian prime minister with real governing authority takes office."Apparently someone got through to Bush that it might be a good idea to speak about the Palestinians to prop up the flagging international support (did I just say support?) for the Iraq adventure.

Two things in what Bush said appeared to be new: (1) He implicitly suggested the US would resume a dialogue with a new Arafat-appointed prime minister (no doubt Mahmoud Abbas), when the US administration had, basically, rejected all talks with the Palestinians while Arafat was still in power. And (2), Bush remarked: "The government of Israel, as the terror threat is removed and security improves, must take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable and credible Palestinian state and to work as quickly as possible (my italics) toward a final status agreement." That seemed to speed up the original timetable, which took several years.

Bush was apparently dozing off a year ago when the Arab League held a historic summit in Beirut. That's because he also remarked: "And the Arab states must oppose terrorism, support the emergence of a peaceful and democratic Palestine and state clearly that they will live in peace with Israel." They did just that in Beirut (or almost--they didn't call for a democratic Palestinian state), but no one noticed--the one time everybody should have.

A footnote on Abbas. According to the Palestinian official Abu Daoud, it was Abbas who was the financier of the Munich hostage takeover, an operation that Abu Daoud planned. For someone like me who considers that a war criminal like Ariel Sharon must, nevertheless, be accepted as an interlocutor by the Palestinians, Abbas' past (if Abu Daoud is correct) again suggests how much a Palestinian-Israeli peace will be built on a hefty (if judicious) dose of amnesia.
Before it's too late, I have decided to read through Kenneth M. Pollack's The Threatening Storm, though the version I have does not have the subtitle that so irritates Pollack: "The case for invading Iraq." Pretty interesting, particularly on inter-agency debates on Iraq during the Clinton years, though there are times (just to quibble) Pollack relies on his written sources a trifle too closely. For example, he writes that one of the Iraqi intelligence services might have been involved in the assassination of Israeli ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov, in 1982. The only problem is that Argov died only a few weeks ago. And Pollack's assertion that the "assassination" "did cause" the invasion of Lebanon is simply untrue, as any reader of Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari's Israel's Lebanon War will swiftly attest.

Not a cental argument of Pollack's, but the 1982 Lebanon war was one thing the Iraqis did not provoke.
Strange how very little has been written in the US press on a postwar American order in Iraq. Here is my review of the Arab press for Slate with some names of possible administrators, including former ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. And here is a commentary of mine for the Daily Star in Beirut.
From the Will the Iraqis fight? file: Radio France International spoke to a deserter from the Republican Guard who escaped from I believe it was Kirkuk and who was in the hands of Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). He predicted that only 3 units of the Republican Guard would fight, but that he did not think the others would--unclear if he meant all over Iraq or just in the area where he was deployed. This seems to square with Syrian sources in Beirut who suggest that Saddam can only really count on some 20,000 die-hards, which can be quite significant if they are holed up in Baghdad with a wall of civilians between them and US and British forces. The deserter was also asked whether Saddam intended to use chemical weapons. He responded that every week his unit trained with anti-chemical warfare suits, but couldn't affirm more.
In Slate Mickey Kaus highlighted this article in the Washington Post, in which Marine Gen. Peter Pace "said that while he would rather launch an invasion 'tomorrow' if President Bush gives the order, waiting a month to invade in hotter weather would slow down U.S. forces but not necessarily cause greater casualties." However, the article also noted: "But Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did say he feared a delay would give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein more time to respond to the U.S. military forces assembling in the Persian Gulf region, according to a number of those in attendance. Defense officials have said these responses could include destruction of Iraq's oil infrastructure or the use of human shields."

You might want to link that with this ABC News story, which points to the possibility of an Iraqi pre-emptive attack. The story sounds like a Pentagon plant, and may be employed as a means of justifying the rapid use of force, with or without a UN mandate. However, one can savor how much the conflict is being driven by the dynamics of the conflict itself: (until Pace's statement) attack now because US forces can't wait for summer; attack the Iraqis because they might attack us before we attack them; or, on the Iraqi side: Let's attack the US before they attack us, before we attack them, because they want to attack us. Read Tim Cavanaugh's piece in Reason to lament a more professional administration.

[3/13/2003 10:31:17 PM | Michael Young]
For some of my thoughts on civilian-military relations, and the difficulty of defining how precisely civilians should oversee military operations, you might want to look at this review of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime, by Eliot A. Cohen of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Reason magazine.

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