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ISSUE:#. 25. March 17, 2002

By Bill Weinberg
With David Bloom, special correspondent


1. US "Mopping Up" in Operation Anaconda
2. Despite 8 Dead, Media Plays Up US Troops Gloating
3. Russians Warn Not to be Deceived by Early Victories
4. John Podhoretz Prepares Public for Quagmire
5. Pentagon: Osama Irrelevant
6. Hekmatyar Capitulates
7. Ex-King Backs Expansion of "Peacekeeping Force"
8. Scramble for Afghanistan's Electric Grid; Pipeline Interests Lurk in Background?
9. Desperate Afghans Scavenge Kandahar "Ground Zero"
10. Media Rewrite History of Taliban Opium Crackdown

1. UN Resolution 1397 Endorses Palestinian State
2. Massive Israeli Invasion of Ramallah; Bush: "Not Helpful"
3. More Raids on Refugee Camps; 32 Dead
4. Israel Pulls Back as Zinni Arrives
5. Abuse of Palestinian Detainees Evokes Auschwitz
6. Israel Building "Concentration Camp" Near Hebron?
7. Summary Execution of Captured Palestinian?
8. Loophole in Israeli Ban on House Demolitions
9. Italian Journalist Killed in Ramallah
10. Mysterious Attack Near Lebanon Border
11. Cabinet Hardliners Resign, Plug "Right-Wing Peace Plan"
12. Hardliners Rally in Tel Aviv
13. Israeli Mayors; We Won't Hire "Refuseniks"

1. Allies Break Ranks With US in Iraq Attack
2. ...Except Britain, Of Course
3. US Support of Saddam Genocide Down Memory Hole
4. Does Saddam Have Weapons of Mass Destruction?
5. "Taliban-Like" Group in Iraqi Kurdistan?

1. Pat Robertson Disses Islam
2. Rehnquist Fears Headwraps?
3. Summary Expulsion of Somali Refugees
4. Sikh Temple Destroyed in Queens

1. Appeal Denied in Lockerbie Conviction
2. ISI Link to Pearl Kidnapping?
3. Student Visas Posthumously Issued for 9-11 Hijackers!


US-led forces are claiming victory in the Shah-i-Kot valley of eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province, and declaring Operation Anaconda an "incredible success." They are now in "mopping up" operations in the fortified mountain redoubts from which al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters waged the fiercest battle to date against US forces. "The progress has been great. Operation Anaconda has been nothing but a success," Maj. Bryan Hilferty told reporters at Bagram air base outside Kabul. "We have killed hundreds of the al-Qaeda. We now control the majority of the valley." Eight US soldiers and three allied Afghans were killed, and 80 Americans wounded (see WW3 REPORT #24). Some 1,500 troops remain in Shah-i-Kot now, more than 1,000 Afghan. About 20 suspects were captured in the operation. US military officials said the detainees were not Afghans, but would not confirm the nationality of those killed, who reportedly number about 700. US officials are concerned that many fighters could have escaped into caves to hide and regroup. Afghan ground forces still in the area are reestablishing their positions "to prevent a lot of enemy forces from moving to the east," said Lt. Col. Jim Marye, a battalion commander. (Christian Science Monitor, March 14) [top]

On March 12, the New York Times quoted US troops at Bagram air base, just back from Operation Anaconda, who scoffed at their routed enemy "with relief and sarcasm." Said one private: "I think they're wimps. They come out of the caves for a split second, hit you as hard as they can and then run back in. What kind of fighting is that?" [top]

Russian veterans of the USSR's decade-long Afghanistan campaign warn US troops not to overstay their welcome--and that things may not go so well come spring. The Soviet disaster in Afghanistan actually began swimmingly, said retired colonel Gennady Chebyshev. "The first year it was very peaceful, and people were very friendly," recalled Chebyshev, who now works at a Moscow satellite phone dealership. "I could drive across the entire country and nobody would touch me. People would invite me in for tea. Then...all hell broke loose and the real war began." The Soviets maintained good relations with Afghanistan for decades before the Dec. 1979 invasion. Soviet engineers built factories, roads, bridges and dams, and Soviet universities gave scholarships to Afghan students. "When the Soviets first came here, everyone was very happy because they thought it would be better, that the Soviet Union had liberated them," said Ali Asghar Paiman, the Russian-educated deputy planning minister in the current interim government. But the good will was short-lived. "Afghans are very hospitable; we love guests. But we don't like it when we're being pressured," said Paiman. Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has said the US does not want to repeat the Soviet mistakes. But Vladislav Tamarov, author of the war memoir "Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier's Story," warned that when the mountain snows thaw, Islamic militants will rally for the counter-offensive. "In March, there will be a lot of trouble," Tamarov predicted in early Feb. "They don't fight in the winter--it's too cold. But mid-March will be the time when they pick up their weapons." Tamarov cautioned the Pentagon might respond with more ground troops. "The more new troops they bring in, the more problems they will have. The Afghans' dislike toward Americans will grow, and they will have many more losses than they have had until now. It is impossible to conquer Afghanistan." Added retired colonel Chebyshev from Moscow: "I recommend that they get out of there as soon as possible." (Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 10) [top]

On March 12, New York Post columnist John Podhoretz urged President Bush to hang tough in the face of Democratic senators' demands for an Afghanistan "exit strategy." Podhoretz warned not to expect a quick victory: "The idea that you can force a change in regimes in crisis-riddled nations and then just pull up the stakes and go home is a particularly American fantasy." [top]

The Christian Science Monitor reported March 4: "Exactly 146 days after the US military launched its war on terrorism, the man most wanted by President George W. Bush as the 'evil-doer' behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks remains at large--a fact that the Pentagon is working hard to downplay." Said one anonymous Pentagon official: "Everybody wants to know where Osama bin Laden is. The next question is, 'who cares?' Osama bin Laden as a center of gravity is gone." Even Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Richard Myers said this on finding the accused terrorist mastermind: "I wouldn't call it a prime mission." At least three top DoD officials--Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Gen. Myers--suggested last week that bin Laden (if alive) is probably in Afghanistan or near the border in Pakistan. "But that's very circumstantial evidence," Wolfowitz said. Yet the Pentagon leaves open the possibility that bin Laden was among the three suspected al-Qaeda members killed in a Feb. 4 Hellfire missile strike by a CIA-guided Predator drone, on a hillside near Zhawar Kili, Afghanistan. DNA from the three casualties has been brought to the US for examination--and possible matching against DNA from bin Laden's relatives. Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chair Peter Pace said "it would surprise me if we hadn't" asked for DNA from bin Laden family members. A video taken by the Predator tracked a group of 15 or 20 people apparently convening for a meeting, according to Pentagon officials who analyzed the footage. Rumsfeld dismissed as "ludicrous" reports from local Afghans that the three killed were scrap-metal collectors. Credit-card applications and airline schedules were allegedly found among the debris from the strike. Asked in a TV interview whether bin Laden might have been among those killed, Rumsfeld replied, "I just don't know."

On March 14, the Boston Globe quoted Bush himself saying re: bin Laden, "I don't know where he is" or even if he is alive. Bush warned against defining the War on Terrorism as a hunt for bin Laden, saying "terrorism is bigger than one person." The Globe points out the contrast with Bush's fall pledge to capture bin Laden "dead or alive." [top]

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the ultra-fundamentalist Hezb-i-Islami party, has reportedly returned to Afghanistan from Iran, where he was living in exile. Hekmatyar's Iranian hosts, mindful of strained relations with the US, asked Hekmatyar to leave. According to AFP, Hekmatyar was denied entry into Pakistan and Iraq. Reversing its earlier rejection of the interim government of Hamid Karzai, Hezb-i-Islami now says it supports Karzai, as well as the return of exiled king Zahir Shah. Hekmatyar and Hezb-i-Islami had also opposed the US military presence in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami fought against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, and received massive aid from the CIA. While prime minister of the mujahedeen government in the mid-1990s (in a shaky power-sharing arrangement with President Burhanuddin Rabbani), Hekmatyar was widely blamed as the prime instigator of the internecine warfare that destroyed much of the capital, Kabul. Some in the new administration have called for him to be charged with war crimes. Hekmatyar is reportedly near Herat. (IRNA, March 11; AFP, March 3;, Feb. 26) (David Bloom) [top]

Afghanistan's former king Zahir Shah gave his backing March 16 to an expansion of the international "peacekeeping force." The 87-year-old ex-monarch told CNN the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had the support of the people, and that the troops should be deployed beyond the capital, Kabul. "As a rule I would not support foreign troops on Afghan soil, but these are exceptional times and it needs exceptional solutions," he said. "I believe that the international force is welcomed by the majority of Afghan people. Wherever they go they have been cheered." (Frontier Post, Peshawar, online edition, March 17)[top]

A joint Tajik-Russian Commission on trade and economic cooperation is to consider the issue of delivering electric power from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Tajikistan's Assistant Minister of Power & Engineering Rahmatullo Asoyev told the press. The commission will also consider joint construction of the Ragun hydropower station and cooperation in the oil and gas sector. (Central Asia & Caucasian News, March 12) Simultaneously, Pakistan announced it is ready to extend its own transmission lines to the Afghan cities of Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. (Frontier Post, Peshawar, March 12) Last week, Turkmenistan's leader Saparmurat Niyazov announced he was ready to link his country's grid with Afghanistan, initially reaching Mazar-i-Sharif and other northern cities, and supplying Kabul within two years. Niyazov also reportedly discussed plans to build a gas pipeline across Afghanistan with interim leader Hamid Karzai. The Tajik-Russian, Pakistani and Turkmen proposals may represent rival interests seeking pipeline access across Afghanistan. (See WW3 REPORT #24) [top]

Afghanistan has its own "Ground Zero"--possibly be the most dangerous place on Earth. When US missiles rained on the Tapao Muhaimat munitions dump outside Kandahar on Oct. 11, fragments landed in villages six miles away, residents said. Today, the whole area is littered with tens of thousands of unexploded grenades, shells, rockets, mines, bullets and other ordnance. Yet every day, desperate locals come to scavenge through the lethal debris, looking for metal to sell in the local markets. Since Nov., one person has been killed at the site, one lost both legs and another lost both feet. Three others were seriously injured when one stepped on a mine. Scavengers told a reporter 30 pounds of metal can fetch $5 in local markets. Said one: "If I had bread, I'd never come here. But we are so hungry." Between 50 and 100 people are injured or killed by unexploded ordnance every week in Afghanistan, according to the UN. (Washington Post, March 16) [top]

A March 12 New York Times story on the fears of opium-growing peasants in Helmand and Kandahar provinces that the US-backed interim regime will try to destroy their crops quoted one struggling farmer, Abdul Hakim of Sangin village, as he spread fertilizer on his poppy field in a fit of rage: "The Americans already bombed Afghanistan, so you might as well destroy the fields, and then you might as well kill me too." The story noted the Taliban's July 2000 ban on opium planting, but portrayed local opium markets as having been nonetheless flooded--with Taliban connivance. "For now, the interim government has banned the buying and selling of opium, which the Taliban left unhindered--in part, Afghans say, because the mullahs profited from the sales. Under their rule, opium bazaars like the one in Sangin, a dusty market town, flourished. About 200 merchants brazenly sold wet and dry opium, mostly to Iranians cruising through in 4-wheel-drive vehicles." A new photo of the shuttered and empty opium bazaar provides contrast with this picture. But this isn't the tune the Times was singing last April 25, when it reported that the US State Department sent two "narcotics experts" as part of a UN-coordinated team to witness the Taliban regime's opium eradication campaign. The State Department proclaimed the eradication a success, paving the way for US "crop substitution" programs in Taliban Afghanistan. (See WW3 REPORT #2) [top]


Late March 12, the UN Security Council voted up the US-drafted Resolution 1397, "Affirming a vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders." Resolution 1397 also encourages Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace initiative. Fourteen of the 15 Security Council members voted in favor, with Syria abstaining. The heretofore obstructionist US offered the resolution as it is attempting to sell Arab regimes on military intervention against Iraq. The vote came at the end of a day in which Israeli troops invaded towns and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, killing at least 30 Palestinians. (The Guardian, March 14; MSNBC, March 13) [top]

On March 14, eight Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed as Israeli forces invaded the West Bank town of Ramallah and other targets in the Palestinian territories. Four Palestinian gunmen were killed by Israeli troops in Ramallah, and two militiamen killed in an Israeli missile attack on their West Bank hideout. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants detonated a bomb under an Israeli Merkava-3 tank, killing three soldiers and wounding two. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility. In Bethlehem, Palestinian militiamen executed two suspected informers, and tried to hang the body from a building overlooking the Church of the Nativity. Palestinian police prevented the hanging. At day's end, hours before the arrival of US envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered his troops to withdraw from Ramallah. Ahead of Zinni's mission, President Bush criticized Israel's push into the West Bank and Gaza, saying "the recent actions are not helpful." (MSNBC, March 14)[top]

On March 12, Israel again struck at refugee camps in Ramallah and Gaza, killing 32 Palestinians. Israeli military sources said the operations in the West Bank and Gaza now constitute the largest offensive since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, with some 20,000 troops involved. The incursions came despite promises by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to lift the siege that has kept Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under virtual house arrest in Ramallah since December. Five Palestinians were killed in exchanges of fire outside Arafat's presidential compound and at the nearby al-Amari refugee camp. Palestinians executed a man being held in the compound on charges of collaborating with the Israelis and strung up his body in the central square of the city. In Gaza, 17 people were killed in predawn fighting in the Jabalya refugee camp, and another 10 were killed later in the day. (Boston Globe, March 13) [top]

On March 15, as US envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni arrived, Israeli troops pulled out of Ramallah and all West Bank towns except Bethlehem. Zinni visited both Israeli leaders and Arafat, telling the New York Times "I have held two days of meetings and all these meetings were extremely positive. I think everyone is committed to getting out of this terrible situation." (NYT, March16) The Italian-American Zinni denies reports in the Israeli press that at a White House dinner meeting earlier this year called Arafat a "capo-di-tutti-capi," or Mafia chief. (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 28) [top]

Israeli Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz ordered the Israel Defense Forces to immediately stop marking numbers on the forearms of Palestinians detained in this week's sweep of refugee camps. Mofaz said there had not been an order to mark captives with ink, and has ordered an investigation into the matter. Mofaz' order followed outrage expressed in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee by Yosef Lapid, who is a Holocaust survivor. Lapid called the connotation of the act "unbearable," recalling the ID numbers printed on the arms of Jewish inmates at the Auschwitz death camp. A military source told the Jerusalem Post that numbers had been inked on the forearms of Palestinians to facilitate the interrogation process at a detainment camp in the Tulkarm area. (Jerusalem Post, March 13) The Israeli military was also criticized for blindfolding Palestinians before interrogations at the detainment camps. Photographs from the latest mass arrest, in which hundreds were detained, showed the young men blindfolded, with many laying on the ground. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 12) [top]

Palestinian sources claim the Israeli army is building a large "concentration camp" near Gush-Etzion along the Hebron-Bethlehem highway. Israel has in recent weeks rounded up thousands of Palestinian civilians and detained them in makeshift camps on the West Bank or, in some instances, prisons within Israel. Some 5,000 are still believed detained. The Islamic Association for Palestine news service said the "concentration camp has a net area of 10,000 square meters and is surrounded by a three-meter high fence made of barbed wire and other metal hurdles.... The camp is equipped with numerous torture chambers, including implements and instruments used during interrogations." The camp is apparently designed to hold 5,000 detainees. According to IAP, "Palestinian children and minors at the camp were already being subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture including beating, malnutrition, sleep deprivation and psychological abuse." Another camp is said to be under preparation at Ketziot in the Negev Desert. (Palestine Solidarity Campaign, March 16 ) [top]

Eleven shots taken by an amateur photographer from his window in East Jerusalem apparently show the summary execution of a Palestinian militant, and have sparked outrage in the Arab media. Israeli police claim the man was a would-be suicide bomber who they killed to stop him from detonating a "large explosive device" strapped to his waist. The AFP news agency, which published the photos, said it had received testimony from over 10 eyewitnesses that the man was shot half-an-hour after his arrest when he was already completely subdued. BBC called the shots "graphic, but inconclusive." (BBC, March 12) [top]

Israel's Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order March 17, ordering the IDF commander in Gaza not to demolish 16 Palestinian homes until the court rules on a petition against the demolitions. Justice Ayala Procaccia said the order would remain in effect unless the demolitions are declared vital to national security. (Haaretz, March 18) Despite an official Israeli ban on the demolitions (see WW3 REPORT #17), the practice has continued. Lt. Col. Eyal Weiss, commander of an elite Israeli undercover military unit, was killed when a wall damaged by his forces in a demolition collapsed on him in the village of Saida, near Tulkarem in the West Bank last month (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Feb. 15). According to a new report by the B'tselem human rights group, "Israel's Policy of House Demolitions and Destruction of Agricultural Land in the Gaza Strip," Israel has demolished hundreds of houses in refugee camps in the Gaza alone, rendering 5,124 people homeless since the beginning of the current violence. (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 4) [top]

Reporters Without Borders(Reporters sans Frontieres-RSF) said it was "appalled" by the death of Italian freelance journalist Raffaele Ciriello by Israeli gunfire in Ramallah March 13. The group demands an immediate inquiry into exactly how he was killed and perhaps a trial of those responsible. "For months, we have been denouncing the impunity enjoyed by Israeli troops firing on journalists," said RSF secretary-general Robert Menard. "We have frequently been concerned by the almost complete lack of investigation by the Israeli authorities into such shootings. It was bound to lead to this kind of tragedy. Today, what we always feared has happened: a journalist has been killed, the first since the start of the second Intifada." Ciriello, a freelance photographer on assignment for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was hit by six bullets fired from an Israeli tank as he was covering the Israeli incursion into Ramallah. A report by RSF after a visit to the area last summer said there had been 45 incidents of journalists wounded by gunfire--mostly by Israeli soldiers--over the previous 10 months. Since then, at least two more have been wounded in Israeli shootings. (RSF, March 13) [top]

Six Israeli civilians were killed March 12 when shots were fired at vehicles near the Lebanese border, between Kibbutz Metzuba and Shlomi. Security forces killed the two gunmen--who were armed with military rifles and dressed in IDF uniforms. Al Jazeera TV reported that the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack, but Lebanon's Hezbollah also fell under suspicion--raising the specter of new Israeli incursions across the line. Hezbollah had no statement. (Haaretz, March 13) [top]

Hardline Israeli Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who last week reportedly called for military targeting of Palestinian civilians (see WW3 REPORT #24), submitted his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon March 12. Tourism Minister Benny Elon also resigned. In an interview upon his resignation, Elon said he would work on a "right-wing peace plan," under which "Israel would dismantle the Palestinian Authority," the Oslo Accords principle of a two-state solution "would be nullified," and Palestinian refugees would be resettled "in neighboring Arab countries." His own "two-state solution" calls for Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian territories, and establishment of a "Palestinian-Jordanian state" in Jordan. Palestinians remaining in the annexed territories (which he calls "Judea, Samaria, and Gaza") would become Jordanian citizens. Said Elon: "The fact is that the Palestinians have demonstrated over the past 18 months that an autonomous Palestinian entity west of the Jordan river can not live in peace with Israel." On the potential for forced population transfers, Elon said: "It is not an easy thing, for sure. But it does have precedents. When Egypt and Israel made peace, Israel agreed to uproot the Jewish communities in Sinai, transferring the Jews who lived in places like Yamit. And in the early 1920s, Turkey and Greece agreed to a population transfer between them involving nearly two million people, after the two sides had fought against each other. The Norwegian Dr. Nansen, who came up with the idea, actually received a Nobel Prize for this. This type of transfer--a negotiated transfer between two sovereign states as part of an overall agreement--is what I have in mind in the peace proposal I am making." (Jerusalem Post, March 15)

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the Labor party had recently compared Lieberman to Jorg Haider, leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party (Haaretz, March 3). The two had often clashed at cabinet meetings. The resignation of Lieberman and Elon may actually prompt Sharon to tilt yet further to the right to compensate for their absence in his "national unity" cabinet. [top]

Some 50,000 right-wing demonstrators attended a mass rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square March 11, under the slogan "A strong nation will defeat terror." The huge rally caused traffic jams in central Tel Aviv. Addressing the crowd, reserve Brig. Gen. Effi Eitam called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be "a true Lion of Judah. If you are, the nation will be at your side." (Haaretz, March 12) Gen. Eitam is the author of a recent "security-political plan" urging Sharon to re-occupy and annex the Palestinian territories. (See WW3 REPORT # 19) [top]

Mayor Yaacov Edri of Or Akiva has circulated a letter among Israeli mayors calling for municipalities not to hire "refuseniks," army reservists who refuse to serve in the Palestinian territories. According to the March 12 Haaretz, to date more than 60 mayors have heeded Edri's call, although its legality has been called into question. Edri says that if soldiers refuse their duty, "It would be the start of anarchy." Some 340 reservists have now signed a pledge not to serve in the territories. (See WW3 REPORT #18) Refusenik reserve major Rami Kaplan called Mayor Edri's call to deny employment "anti-democratic and McCarthyist." Amit Mashiah, the refuseniks' official spokesperson, said "It's important to make clear that we are in favor of the army and not against it. We are trying to fight for its moral image. We see what the decision makers are doing to the army, and we can't remain bystanders. Edri's words are proof that we are frightening the establishment, not because of what we've done but because of our arguments. We are ready to pay any price to make our arguments known." Refusenik Matan Kaminer told the Toronto Star March 14: "There's an unjust war being waged against Palestinians and they are responding from poverty, hunger and desperation. If we want the violence to stop, we have to end that unjust war." According to the Haaretz article, 23% of the Israeli public supports the reservists' right to refuse. To donate to a fund supporting the refuseniks: Bank Hapoalim, branch: Pinkas, Tel Aviv. Branch number: 754. Account No. 105377. Name of account holder: Ometz Le-sarev. ( www. (David Bloom) [top]


Vice President Dick Cheney is touring the Arab world--and finding little support for military intervention against Iraq among US allies in the region. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell told French TV the US has no plans to attack either Iraq or Iran. Speculation of an attack on Iraq rose this week as President Bush said the US would "deal with" Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is accused of developing weapons of mass destruction. But Powell told France 3 TV: "We have no attack plan on the desk of the president of the United States... I have not made such a recommendation yet and neither has the secretary of defense." (NBC, March 15) The comments came the same day Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said the US cannot overthrow Saddam Hussein, and that a strike on Iraq would only raise animosity against the US in the region. Abdullah said he would warn Cheney against an attack on Iraq when they met the next day. (CNN, March 15) [top]

The growing rift between Britain and continental Europe over taking the War on Terror to Iraq was made clear this week by Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who signaled he had no intention of participating in any military action against Baghdad unless it was approved by the UN. Said a Schroeder spokesperson: "It's a position of principle of which our American partners are also aware." French government sources said Schroeder was "pretty much in line" with their view. NATO member Turkey--whose bases would be needed for military operations against Iraq--also argued that Saddam Hussein did not constitute a threat to his neighbors. Speaking in Barcelona following a meeting between Schroeder and Prime Minister Tony Blair, the prime minister's spokesman did little to disguise the differences, saying: "People may come at that discussion from different perspectives, but they share the goal." 117 British Labour MPs, including former ministers, now back a motion opposing any war moves against Iraq. (The Guardian, March 16)[top]

Attempting to line up support for the new war moves against Iraq, President Bush said this week: "This is a nation run by a man who is willing to kill his own people by using chemical weapons, a man who won't let inspectors into the country, a man who's obviously got something to hide." (Boston Globe, March 14) No major media pointed out that the one instance when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own populace--the March 1988 gassing of the Kurdish city of Halabja, instantly killing 5,000--came when he was still considered a loyal US client. A bill to impose sanctions against Iraq in response to the Halabja attack never got out of Congress. (See WW3 REPORT #4) [top]

At the center of the debate on Iraq's unconventional weapons capability are the inspectors from the moribund United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), who from 1991-8 attempted to gain access to Saddam Hussein's arms facilities. Not all of them agree on the facts. Charles Duelfer, an American who was deputy chair of UNSCOM, believes the regime still has dangerous weapons in its arsenal--probably not nuclear warheads, but possibly chemical weapons and, almost certainly bio-agents. "The biological issue is the biggest issue and the least understood," Duelfer says. "[Saddam] has mobile labs, which have the capacity to produce stuff in large quantities, and he's continuing to build weapons." Duelfer believes Iraq "retained a missile capability that could constitute a strategic reserve; how effective that would be is an open question." Not effective at all, says Scott Ritter, who stands with a vocal minority at the other end of the divide among UNSCOM veterans. Ritter is sure the Iraqis never succeeded in developing an effective deployment system for their chemical and biological agents. "They lacked an effective dispensing mechanism. That requires specific capabilities, like bomblets, and the ability to aerosolize the weapon. Missiles require a precise fusing mechanism which Iraq never had." Ritter concedes that 5-10% of Iraq's known pre-1990 stockpile of chemical and biological arms has not been accounted for, but argues that even if Saddam has concealed this remnant of the arsenal, "it would no longer be viable." Weapons built before 1991 that slipped through the UNSCOM net would by now have passed their sell-by date, and sanctions have likely prevented the regime from acquiring more. (The UK Guardian, March 15) [top]

A radical Islamist group--with possible links to both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein--is threatening stability in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the Christian Science Monitor reported March 15. The group--Ansar al-Islam--first emerged just days before the Sept. 11 attacks, when it delivered a fatwa, or manifesto, to residents in local mountain villages against "the blasphemous secularist" influence of the US, say the areas' Kurdish leaders. Ansar al-Islam has since swollen to around 700, including Iraqis, Jordanians, Moroccans, Palestinians, and Afghans--a composition similar to the multinational al-Qaeda. Local villagers say it has ransacked beauty salons, burned girls' schools, and killed women in the streets for refusing to wear the veil. It has seized an enclave of several villages near the Iran border. An anonymous State Department official said it has links to al-Qaeda.

Ansar al-Islam is said to be challenging the two main Kurdish political factions in northern Iraq--the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). Both the PUK and KDP--which have spent much of the past decade fighting each other for control of northern Iraq--say they have united against this common enemy. "Al-Islam is a kind of Taliban," said PUK leader Jalal Talibani. "They are terrorists who have declared war against all Kurdish political parties. We gave them a chance to change their ways...and end their terrorist acts. But if we can't do it through dialogue, we are obliged to use force."

On Sept. 23, local Kurds say, probable Ansar al-Islam guerrillas ambushed a PUK unit and killed 42 fighters. The ambush came after negotiations between the PUK and Ansar--offering amnesty in return for peace--failed to reach an agreement. Since then, PUK fighters have pushed Ansar back to their stronghold in the town of Biara and surrounding villages. "We have captured two of [Ansar's] bases and found the walls covered with poems and graffiti praising bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks," said PUK commander Mustapha Saed Qada. "In one, there is a picture of the twin towers with a drawing of bin Laden standing on the top holding a Kalashnikov rifle in one hand and a knife in the other." He claims Ansar has received $600,000 from the bin Laden network, plus a delivery of weapons and Toyota land-cruisers. In an interview with the Kurdish newspaper Hawlati, Ansar's leader, Mala Kreker, declared bin Laden the "crown on the head of the Islamic nation." Another Ansar leader, Abu Abdul Rahman--who the Kurdish commanders claim was sent to northern Iraq by bin Laden--was apparently killed in fighting in Oct.

Commander Qada also claimed Ansar has ties to Saddam Hussein's agents operating in northern Iraq. "We have picked up conversations on our radios between Iraqis and al-Islam," he said from his military base in Halabja. "I believe that Iraq is also funding al-Islam." PUK leaders says a second group affiliated with Ansar al-Islam is working from the city of Mosul, which is still controlled by Saddam Hussein's forces. PUK sources say Saddam is supporting the group to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish mini-state in northern Iraq. Since 1991, Baghdad has been unable to control the north, which is a "no-fly zone" enforced by the US from military bases in Turkey. In Nov., Saddam warned that he would "cut out the tongues" of any Kurds who defied him. This month he told the Kurds not to be "deceived" by "the foreigner." Qada says that since Sept. 11, the Iraqi army has doubled its troops on the border between government-controlled Iraq and the Kurdish zone. Some 2,000 Kurdish troops near Halabja are reportedly trading mortar fire with Ansar al-Islam. "We have to treat them seriously, because they are treating us seriously," said Kurdish Brig.-Gen. Najib Salihi. [top]


Televangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson told CNN's "Late Edition" Feb. 24 that Islam is a religion of violence and that Osama bin Laden is a true follower of the Prophet Mohammed. "It's not a question of prejudice," he said. "The World Trade Center was blown up, and so was the Pentagon. We have thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions of people who hate America and are trying to destroy Israel." Robertson came under criticism the previous week when he said on his "700 Club" TV program: " not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist. They want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy." Robertson reiterated to CNN his claim that Mohammed "preached violence": "And here's what he said. I'm quoting directly from the Koran. 'Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. Seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them. Fight them. Allah will punish them.' If you get right down to it, Osama bin Laden is probably truer to Mohammed than some of the others," Robertson said. (Reuters, Feb. 25; AP, Feb. 22) [top]

UC Berkeley law student Roopa Singh, interning at a DC press organization, described in a Feb. 26 e-mail how she was asked to remove her head-wrap while attending a Supreme Court argument--possibly at the instigation of Chief Justice William Rehnquist: "The supreme court heard two arguments this morning, both on the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment. As usual, I sat in the press area, taking notes. I wore a sober, navy blue suit, blouse and head wrap to match the blouse. The head wrap was a personal preference, worn not for religious reasons, but for fashion and comfort. In the midst of the first argument, Chief Justice Rehnquist turned a stern stare towards me. He excused himself and, it seems, asked a security guard to tell me to take off my head wrap. The security guard made his way through a couple rows of press and requested that I take off the scarf. I was told it was 'making some of the justices uncomfortable.' At that moment I realized why Rehnquist had been staring at me so severely, he was so bothered by me--a young Indian woman in a suit and scarf--that he just couldn't concentrate." [top]

Some three dozen Somali-Americans have been summarily deported to Somalia by the US "without charge or reason," the London Times reported Feb. 26. Except for one woman, all are young men who emigrated to the US with their families as children. Wrote the Times: "A few weeks ago, Yussuf Hussein, a Somali who came to the United States in his teens, was living in Boston with his wife and two children, earning $ 70,000 working for a computer software company. Now, he and more than 30 other American-Somali men are holed up in a squalid hotel costing $2 per night in downtown south Mogadishu, without either money or passport, determined to return home." In late Jan., INS officers arrived unannounced at the offices of Intel Corp and arrested Hussein. Refusing to tell him what he was charged with, they took him to a cell without access to a lawyer or a telephone. He has not been able to contact his family since. Al the deportees arrived in Mogadishu without any means of support. From their homes or offices across US, they were brought by air marshal to Buffalo, NY, and then transported by a hired Dutch crew to Amsterdam, Djibouti and finally Somalia. They claim they were shackled during the flights, and threatened with injected sedatives "if we caused any problems." Abdulrazak Allen, 23, from Atlanta, told the Times: "We were not allowed to make any telephone calls. I was taken from my classroom and met with an immigration officer. The next thing I know I was here. I don't even speak the language." [top]

The oldest Sikh temple in North America and center of the 150,000-member Sikh community in the New York metropolitan area was destroyed in a three-alarm blaze early March 8. Flames gutted the two buildings housing the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, Queens. A dozen people inside the building were able to flee, but a Sikh priest visiting from India, Havinder Rattan Singh, suffered a heart attack after breathing smoke and was hospitalized. The Fire Department cited no immediate cause for the fire, but Fire Chief Joseph Callen said "We're not counting anything out." Local resident Michael Robinosn, who witnessed the blaze, said, "It seemed like something was fueling the fire. My worry was this was hate-inspired." Asked if bias was involved, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who visited the scene with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said it was "much too early for us to speculate." Several members of the local Sikh community were assaulted after the 9-11 attacks. (Newsday, March 10)[top]


UN observer Prof. Hans Kochler called the dismissal of an appeal by the convicted bomber in the Lockerbie air disaster "a spectacular miscarriage of justice." Kochler was speaking after five Scottish judges rejected Libyan national Abdelbaset ali Mohmed al-Megrahi's attempt to overturn his conviction for murdering 270 in the 1988 mid-air explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. Libya condemned the outcome as a "political decision under pressure from Washington and London," but it was welcomed by the US government. Al-Megrahi is now to be flown by helicopter from the special Scottish Court in the Netherlands to Scotland's largest prison in Glasgow to serve a sentence of at least 20 years. Professor Kochler, who teaches philosophy at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, was one of five observers appointed as part of the deal which allowed the extradition of al-Megrahi and a co-defendant, who was found not guilty last year. (BBC, March 14) Official US suspicion in the bombing initially fell on Palestinian factions backed by Syria, but quickly shifted to Libya when the first Bush administration successfully sought to bring Syria into the coalition against Iraq in 1990. Libyan strongman Mommar Qaddafi agreed to the trial in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against Libya, but the US sanctions remain in place. [top]

"What did General Pervez Musharraf mean when he said that Daniel Pearl--the Wall Street Journal correspondent who was kidnapped and killed by extremists in Pakistan--had been over intrusive in areas he shouldn't have been?" So asked the Times of India March 11. Musharraf's remark was delivered off-the-cuff during an impromptu press conference in Islamabad. "Unfortunately," he said, Pearl "got over-involved." Pearl was apparently working on a story about the Pakistani connections of Richard Reid--the would-be "shoe bomber" who was overpowered by passengers on a US-bound flight in Dec. But many local journalists say Pearl had stumbled across information which might have been embarrassing to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The Times points out that when Pakistan's Herald magazine ran an expose on the Pakistani links of Dawood Ibrahim, who is on India's list of 20 wanted terrorists, the ISI had picked up and interrogated two journalists, Ghulam Hasnain and Amir Ahmed Khan, to try and find out the source of their story. One Pakistani commentator told the Times of India that the manner in which Omar Sheikh, prime suspect in the Pearl kidnapping, came into police custody itself spoke of links to Pakistani intelligence. "He wasn't arrested," said the anonymous commentator. "Rather, he turned himself in to the one man he trusted enormously, Punjab Home Secretary Brigadier Ijaz Shah, who is a retired ISI man." And what was Omar's connection with Ijaz Shah? "Please re-read the diary Omar Sheikh wrote when he was in prison in India. It is full of adulatory references to the man who inspired him. And that man's name was Shah sahab." Omar Sheikh served five years in India on terrorism charges. (See WW3 REPORT #23) [top]

President Bush said he was "stunned" at the disclosure March 13 that student visas had been posthumously issued for two of the suicide hijackers killed in the World Trade Center attack--six months to the day after their deaths. "It got my attention this morning when I read about that. I was stunned and not happy," Bush said of the visas issued for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi. "This is an interesting wake-up call for those who run the INS," Bush added. Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered an investigation into the matter, promising to make changes at the INS. Ashcroft called the glitch "inexcusable" and said he would hold individuals responsible for it. Federal lawmakers demanded that Homelands Security chief Tom Ridge appear before Congress to explain what happened with the visas. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) called the episode "one of the most embarrassing revelations that I've seen since 9-11"--and suggested that Ridge, who has resisted requests to testify before Congress, might be subpoenaed. Ridge's repeated refusal to appear before Congress is "untenable and inexcusable," said Daschle during a lengthy diatribe against the Homeland Security director. "He claims to be a simple adviser, and yet he's administering the entire war on terror." Bush defended Ridge at his news conference later that day, saying he has no obligation to appear before Congress. "He doesn't have to testify," Bush said. "He's part of my staff." (Boston Globe, March 14) [top]


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