In the face of all opposition US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair continue to lobby and cajole international political players to follow their ' right cause'.
 
THE ROAD SHOW ROLLS ON.
By Adel Darwish 

11 February 2003


It doesn't seem that it is just the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who is gambling his political career by risking a confrontation with the United States, whose president said his patience was 'running out.' This week, several western leaders ' some for war, some against ' were also gambling their political career on the same issue. British Prime Minister Tony Blair confessed, on the eve of a tense summit with French President Jacques Chirac that he was risking his political career by backing America. At a House of Commons briefing on February 2, 2003, following talks with US President George W. Bush three days earlier, Mr. Blair said he was 'risking everything' to back an action to disarm the Iraqi dictator by force if necessary. It followed a majority of Blair's Labour party members ' including members of his selected Cabinet ' rejecting any war with Iraq without a second Security Council resolution authorising the use of force- to which Mr. Blair conceded in the wake of a an estimated one million strong anti-war demonstration in central London. Despite opposition from European and other NATO member states, both Mr. Blair and President Bush, maintained that UNSCOM Resolution 1441, passed last year, authorises the use of force by any member state, or group of member states, as it was passed under chapter 7 of the UN charter. Nevertheless, in the face of massive opposition in Britain ' over three quarters of the British electorate ' and in Europe as well as in the Middle East, Mr. Blair tried some exhaustive diplomatic manoeuvres to soften the wave of opposition to military action.

Not only ridiculed by majority of the press cartoons in Britain and Europe, Mr. Blair was even subjected to a personal attack from Nelson Mandela, the world's best ever loved and respected political leader in modern history. Mr. Mandela warned the two Anglo-American leaders that their move to war against Iraq was ill advised, foolish and would lead to disaster.
Mr. Blair held a summit talks with the American President in the White House on 31 January following talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar  - who, with leaders of seven other lesser European nations, published an article both in the Times on January 30,  backing America's tough stand on Iraq and advising Europe that it must stand in the same trench with America.
Although the article pleased the hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney, national Security adviser Condolica Rice and Defence minister Donald Rumsfeld; it further infuriated France and Germany, called ' Old Europe' which appeased Saddam Hussein by Secretary Rumsfeld. 

British diplomats, drafted the article with the Spaniard, and the office of Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - who held audience with President Bush on the eve of Mr. Blair's Washington pilgrimage and seemed to be firmly in the Anglo-American camp.

Reinforcing the critics' view that London's White Hall has become President Bush's international messenger-boys' service, British diplomats buzzed around Europe's smaller capitals to secure the worlds first newspaper article with eight bylines. The Portuguese, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Polish and the Danish added their names to  the  Anglo-Spanish article cooked  with Italian herbs. 

The French and the Germans - who held the presidency of the Security Council last month ( February)  were never consulted, adding to the division. Both nations were to retaliate later with preparing their own initiatives to increase the numbers of inspectors backed by small military force and prolong the inspections forever. The British and the Americans only knew of the pna from the German magazine Deer Spiegel.

On 30th January, British officials briefed lobby reporters that The Dutch were shown the article, contributed to it and  approved it, but it was agreed to take their name out of the byline because of internal politics to do with coalition building after the election, according to British diplomats briefing journalists. 
`` Nonsense,'' said Dutch officials and MEP's interviewed by BBC on the day the article was published,`` we didn't sign because we simply disagree to go to war without another a Fresh Security council mandate.''

With a Dutch egg added to his face, Mr. Blair flew to America to persuade its leader that it was essential to both address the Israeli Palestinian issue - to secure wider support in the Middle East and the Gulf, and to go to the United Nations for another mandate in order to secure wider European and Russian support.

The White House assured Mr. Blair that now with Israeli election out of out of the way, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who won with greater majority, would have a free hand to tow a dictated American line that would help a positive outcome of a war with Iraq, according sources close to the summit. However British and other western diplomats are alarmed by the Americans' naiveté. Mr. Sharon is unpredictable and  dangerously opportunistic and for the Americans to think  he could tow a line they dictate is very irresponsible, as one British diplomat put it. The Americans at the same time were trying their traditional chequebook diplomacy as well as talking loudly while waving heavy sticks.
 Securing economic aid to smaller Latin American and African nations currently members of the Security Council, American diplomats continued their two pronged offensive with the Russians. A fresh 4 billion economic package was promised, also a promise to get the post Saddam rulers of Iraq to pay debts to the russians exceeding $10 bn; meanwhile fresh evidence was presented to Moscow suggesting links between saddam and the Chechen rebels.

Ironically attempts on both side of the Atlantic to Link Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda backfired badly, especially in Britain, where journalists, automatically distrust officials and disbelieve politicians statements until proven otherwise.
Fed-up of political pressure on them to twist their finding and reports to fit president Bush's political agenda, CIA and British Military intelligence officers  leaked documents to selected reputable journalists - like BBC veteran war reporter Andrew Gilligan. The documents proved that there were e no current links between the Iraqi regime and the al-Qaeda network. This contradicted what Prime Minister Blair told the commons and President Bush claimed d in public. The classified document, written by defence intelligence staff in mid January, says there has been contact between Al-Qaeda and Baghdad in the past. `` His [Bin Laden's] aims are in ideological conflict with present day Iraq.'' It assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies. 
According to evidence presented to the Security Council ( SC)  on Feb 5, by  Secretary of State Colin Powell - a dove turned hawk by the Iraqi dictator's deception and cynical manipulation - Iraq had dozens of chemical and biological weapons. He presented photographs taken by agents inside Iraq and satellites proving Saddam's regime had equipment to enrich uranium using old centrifuge technique as well as tubes for missiles with much longer range than the agreed 150 km ( 93 miles)  permitted by the former UNSCOM inspectors for ' defensive purposes'. Some of the evidence was leaked to the media in advance of Secretary Powell's  SC session and before chief weapons inspectors  Hans Blix and Dr Mohammed el-Baradie were meeting top Iraqi officials. Powell's ''evidence''  included transcripts of taped telephone conversation of a  high-ranking Iraqi officer giving orders to a captain in the signals corps of the Iraqi army.  The latter were clearly heard discussing how to move documents and components related to Weapons of Mass Destruction WMDs, components, material and blue prints for nuclear weapons and long-range missile banned by Security Council after the last Gulf war. They discussed how to frustrate inspectors efforts, send them on wild goose chase and the best way of misleading them. Other tapes illustrated that the Iraq i government had exerted pressure  and issued death threats against Iraqi scientists to stop them giving evidence to the inspectors. Not all the evidence seemed to impress doubting journalists, especially a dossier prepared by Downing Street and was praised by Mr. Powell showing Saddam's dangerous arsenal. It turned out that most of Downing Street dossier was lifted - verbatim and including grammatical and typing errors - from a five year old thesis of a California based PhD students. His sources were thousands of documents left by Iraqi officials in fleeing Kurdistan  during the Kurds'  1991 brief uprising, with records of some of Saddam's programme in the 1980's
 Nevertheless, Powell's evidence lead President Bush to issue stern warnings to Iraq  and British defence secretary Geoff Hoone during a television interview did not rule out ' the use of nuclear weapons against Saddam's troops if he resorts to WMDs'.
Saddam's righthand man, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Azziz threatened to ' attack Kuwait, if American and British forces were to launch an attack on Iraq.' This lead to America deploying  an improved version of  ' Patriots', its anti-scud missile shield.

On his return from Washington, Mr. Blair said the United States backed the search for a second U.N. resolution -- if it could be agreed swiftly.  "President Bush and I agreed we should seek maximum support for such a resolution provided, as ever, that seeking such a resolution is a way of resolving the issue not delaying or avoiding dealing with it at all," he told MPs as he briefed parliament on the visit February 2. However the body language between the two leaders during their White House Press conference reflected tension and disagreement in the meeting. President Bush appeared less enthusiastic over a second motion at their joint news conference. He said a second resolution was ' welcomed' as long as it was not used as ' a delaying tactic.'

There is a concern among regional and western leaders - who openly or tacitly want to see the back of the Iraqi leader- that such discussion in the UN could be used as delaying tactics which would send  Saddam Hussein a wrong message.  '' Saddam has WMDs and once the pressure is lifted he will use it against his neighbour,'' said one Middle Eastern foreign minister in condition of not naming his nation. '' By relaxing the pressure, Saddam would try to exploit the world disunity, and that is a dangerous situation which might lead to America a acting alone,'' he concluded. A number of Middle Eastern intelligence chiefs assess that Saddam believes the war would be a re-run of the 1991, and that a massive bombardment would destroy Iraq but he could survive it. '' It is essential that the pressure remains and Saddam must not be given the wrong message,'' one Middle Eastern intelligence chief told Mideastnews. '' Ironically, by raising the pressure and massing troops as well as building the strongest coalition possible, we could avoid war by creating a situation inside Iraq, either for Saddam's removal by internal forces or by compelling him to disarm and comply, thus weakening him.''
A number of seasoned Gulf diplomats seem to agree. `` Could you imagine a situation more dangerous than America and Britain were to bow to Franco-German pressure and all troops just withdraw?'' asked one of the Gulf States oldest diplomats in Britain last months, `` what kind of message such move would give Saddam? And could you imagine what he might do to the Kurds, the Shia and to his neighbours ?''
During his briefing session, Mr. Blair told MPs that the world was now entering the final phase  of 12 year journey to disarm Iraq. He reinforced Mr. Blix's report that the Iraqi dictator was in material breach of resolution 1441. "Eight weeks have now passed since  Saddam  was given his final chance," Blair told parliament, "The evidence of co-operation withheld is unmistakable." 

On the day - January 27,  Hans Blix presented his report, the Security Council issued a strong statement urging  the Iraqis to engage in full and active co-operation with UNMOVIC and IAEA. `` The Iraqi authorities must, as an imperative, provide the inspectors, without delay, with all additional and complete information on questions raised by the international community,'' the statement said. Both Mr. Blix and Dr El-Baradie have indicated that many questions were still unanswered by Iraq.  Although agreeing to go to Baghdad to talk to authorities Mr. Blix told the BBC on February 4 that it was `` 5 minutes to midnight for Iraq.''
Inspectors had requested 11 specific documents, of which Iraq had produced just three, and no Iraqi expert had been made available for interview with the inspectors without the presence of a minder.

However some permanent Security Council members see the glass as half full while the others see it as half empty, according to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the UN, who told reporters that  Dr Blix's statement on Monday has changed character of the debate. He suggested that it is question of attitude and whether the Iraqis are getting the point or not? 

Gulf and western diplomats in the region and certainly the view in London was that the Iraqis are not getting the point. Just three days after Prime Minister Blair told the Commons that there was s a huge infrastructure of deception and concealment designed to prevent the inspectors from doing their job, the Iraqi dictator, in a rare TV interview appeared to be totally detached from reality and lives in an isolated world of his own. Channel 4 news broadcast an interview with the Iraqi leader  conducted by left wing anti-war campaigning veteran Labour MP Tony Benn who was last in Baghdad in 1990 in a bid to secure release of non Iraqi citizens held by Baghdad as ' humanshields'. President Hussein, who faced Mr. Benn across a table in gilded armchair, asked the Iraqi camera crew - who filmed interview- to make sure he looked good.
The Iraqi dictator insisted he had no WMDs and that he was working for peace adding that Iraqi officials would be believed because they have always been `` trustworthy.'' His detachment from the real world even provoked some satire comparison with eccentric pop-singer Michael Jackson whose interviews during a two hour documentary  broadcast on ITN the night before, showed some disturbing signs of total detachment from reality and living in a fantasy world.

But the British prime minister knows that he has a battle on his hands not just to convince the British public of his case for war but in order to win over many of his own backbenchers. 
There is particular concern at the thought of military action without a fresh UN resolution. 
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy warned that government still had to make a "credible case" for war. "That case has to be based on credible evidence that has not so far been forthcoming," he said. 

However the French President also seems to risk a rift with America, especially if he has proven to be wrong. He met with Mr. Blair, perhaps symbolically for Mideastnews THE , in the Northern French coastal town of Le-Touquet - famed for doubling as  the capital of British gamblers in the 19th century. Critics accused Chirac of playing the populist card.  With leaks and doubling as  damning the other side on both sides of the English Channel, there was a built up to the summit which reporters predicted it to be another bust-up. The two leaders disagreed strongly over Iraq, Zimbabwe and  Common Agricultural Policy in Europe. But as President Chirac was preparing for ash down with Mr. Blair French Aircraft carrier group was on its way to the Gulf. It was a signal that despite President Church's anti war tough talk in public, he would however, extend a hand in turning the massive screwdriver tightening  the pressure on Saddam. Although the French export over one quarter of all Iraqi needs under the oil for food programme - which explains their opposition to war- European diplomats believe they would not only come on board once the fire works start, but they will be part of the action in order to have a bigger slice of the cake after the war. 
America turned up the heat on Iraq on the propaganda war which has been raging for months. the Bush administration leaked to the media that a force of Iraqi exiles had  gathered  at an air base in Hungary  under a blanket of  secrecy for U.S. training to act as intermediaries between a U.S. invasion force and civilians and soldiers in Iraq if President Bush orders war to destroy President Saddam Hussein's government. Dozens of tents have been set up at the Taszar base to house the Iraqis, who will receive $1,000 to $2,000 a month, according to reports from Washington. Hungarian soldiers in green camouflage and tall hats march back and forth.
Most instruction for the Iraqis will centre on handling refugees and communicating with relief agencies. "It is not a question of military training," Hungarian Defence Minister Ferenc Juhasz has said. "We will be preparing people to take care of the relations between the civilians and the military." Juhasz said the U.S. instructors number 1,500. The Iraqi National Congress's - an umbrella organisation for different opposition factions, led by Iraqi financier Ahmed Chalabi- recruitment of volunteers depended divisions among opposition groups. Some scornfully dubbed the volunteers "Chalabi's army" because they viewed it as a vehicle for him to put handpicked supporters close to U.S. military commanders.  The exclusion of the two Kurdish parties, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party- whose  combined militia force of over  30,000 hardened fighters inside Iraq are an essential allies in a war to topple Saddam Hussein - made observers  wonder aloud. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI largely Shia Muslim group based in Iran, opposed U.S. recruitment of Iraqis. SCIRI  commands a militia of over 15,000. No plans for the fighters to cross the border into Iraq have surfaced. "We think that the Americans should help Iraqis overthrow Saddam Hussein, rather than have Iraqis help the Americans get rid of him," Dr Hamid Bayati, SCIRI London representative  said recently. "We don't want to be seen as puppets of the Americans." Dr Bayati told Mideastnews on several occasions that extending a-no-drive-zome all over Iraq  would enable opposition forces - when well supplied by the west- to defeat Saddam in no time.
So far there is no sign of American plans to ' let Iraqis do the job for themselves' but talk about long occupation to install a ' friendly regime'.


 No smoking gun but America keeps pressure on  * Hans Blix's text 14 Feb 2003  *  who will have the last laugh? Sorting out Saddam ?   The raid *.  Iraqi Official Statement   *. The View from Britain    *   American policy on Iraq in disarray    * .Saddam, the popular dictator among Arabs.  . 


Further information:
Iraqi Mission in the UN.
British Ministry of Defence
The pentagon


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