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Conflict with Iraq

Battle Lines
Tom Brown
Tom Brown
Battle Lines is an ongoing Web log (blog) dedicated to providing a broad perspective on the latest news and developments from the war in Iraq. Response and suggestions are welcomed.

Tom Brown has been an editor, reporter and software analyst for The Seattle Times for 20 years.

April 11, 2003

Here's a plot just made for TV

I’ve got an idea for a new episode of “West Wing” or Fox’s “24:”

The U.S. is winning a war in a distant desert country and our government is looking for a potential head of a new “interim” regime that will be installed soon. But our leaders can’t agree on who it should be.

The Defense Department and the vice president are backing an exiled banker who lives in London and has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for bank fraud in another distant desert country. The CIA is leaking classified documents like a sieve to diss this guy, who they say has no following in his home country and has been wrong about events in the Middle East (kind of like the CIA).

The State Department and the CIA have their own candidate, a former military chief of staff who was charged in a small Scandinavian country with the war crime of having murdered civilians in his desert homeland. Before he could be tried, though, he mysteriously disappeared. And the Scandinavian country, an ally of ours in the war, thinks the CIA was behind it.

This guy reportedly has shown up in the distant desert country – where a bulletin today says he may or may not have been slain in a mosque and chopped into pieces for being an “American stooge.”

This may seem far-fetched. However, it is all actually happening right now in D.C. and Iraq.

The convicted felon is Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that opposes Saddam Hussein. He was convicted in absentia of bank fraud in Jordan, which says he’ll be arrested if he shows up there.

The accused war criminal is Nizar Khazraji, who was charged in Denmark with the war crimes of murdering civilians and pillage while he was a military leader for Saddam in the late 1980s. He abruptly disappeared March 17, two days before the war started. Khazraji, who is believed to be the highest Iraqi military officer ever to successfully defect from Saddam’s regime, denies the charges against him and says they were cooked up by the Baghdad regime to discredit him. Slate has an exellent piece on the adventures of Khazraji, and the CIA’s possible involvement.

But there’s more to tell. Despite the black mark on his record, Chalabi, at least, seems to deserve a shot at winning a role in the postwar Iraqi government. Iraqis may decide this applies to Khazraji, as well. Interestingly, he is supported by two Kurdish groups whose people he is accused of killing (a third Kurdish group wants him prosecuted, and the evidence against him produced at a Danish court hearing was stark).

Because of the brutal repression of Saddam’s regime, it will be difficult to locate many Iraqis with the skills necessary for government administration who don’t also have close ties to the Saddam regime. Also, it can only be helpful for at least some people in the new administration to have had experience living in places other than Iraq – that is, to have been exposed to the ideals of representative government, which President Bush has said repeatedly is one of our goals for Iraq.

The U.S. earlier this month flew Chalabi and some 700 members of his exile “army” to Iraq to make sure he’d be there when the decisions start to be made.

Chalabi seems to be trying to establish himself as a voice independent of the U.S. On Wednesday, he criticized the interim U.S. military government of Iraq, headed by retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner, for moving into Iraq too slowly. Chalabi was mobbed by thousands of his countrymen in Nasariyah, so maybe he does have some support within Iraq (it will take a while before it’s clear which Iraqi feelings are genuine and which are transitory).

It will be important, though, for the U.S. to not seem to be imposing Chalabi or Khazraji on Iraq. Washington should just be happy they’re in the mix.

If they don’t get killed first.

Which brings us to today’s hot rumor. Arab News, the website of a Saudi English-language paper, breathlessly reported that Khazraji and an anti-Saddam Islamic cleric, Abdul Majid al-Khoei were slashed to death in a mosque in Najaf (Khazraji’s home town) that is one of Islam's holiest sites, then chopped into pieces for being “American stooges.” Then, in the same short dispatch, it said, well, maybe Khazraji wasn’t killed; we can’t be sure. Later the item was removed from the site.

There’s no doubt that al-Khoei was slain. And perhaps Khazraji would have been, too, if he’d been there. But apparently he wasn’t. More complete reports from Najaf make no mention of him.

Despite the misfire on Khazraji, Arab News does have a useful piece on the political maneuvering of various groups in Najaf.

Let's hope that a conference among Iraqi factions scheduled for this weekend to discuss the form an interim government should take goes more smoothly than the encounter at the mosque, which was supposed to be a "reconciliation" meeting.

Some unanswered questions about the war

The Israeli site DEBKAfile raises some interesting unanswered questions about the war.

One of the most intriguing of these is why U.S. troops fired on a Russian diplomatic convoy on its way from Baghdad to Syria last Sunday. DEBKA flatly says that “the convoy led by Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko was deliberately attacked.” That’s been the position of Titorenko, as well. The U.S. denies it. At the time, Russia described its diplomats as “fleeing” beseiged Baghdad.

“Yet Wednesday, April 9, the ambassador was back at his post in Baghdad, in time to witness the way Baghdad citizens welcomed U.S. Marines,” DEBKA notes. “Suddenly the Kremlin’s evacuation order was rescinded. His rapid return could only have been accomplished by a special flight. The question is what – or who – was the Russian convoy conveying under diplomatic cover out of Baghdad that was important enough for an ambassadorial escort all the way to Moscow? As soon as the ‘package’ was delivered, Titorenko turned round and returned.”

Despite rumors that Saddam had been hiding in the Russian Embassy, it seems unlikely that he was the convoy’s cargo. The U.S. and Russia are already seriously at odds over Iraq and harboring Saddam in Moscow would trigger a genuine diplomatic crisis. A more likely explanation, I think, is that the convoy was used by Russian intelligence to ferry out Iraqi intelligence files. Russia’s foreign minister is believed to have discussed this with Saddam before the war began.

Since the CIA has been salivating over the prospect of securing the files itself it’s always possible that it took serious enough exception that it perforated several of the autos and four Russians, one of whom was seriously injured. Or, the Russians may have just blundered into a firefight between U.S. and Iraqi forces, which is what one Russian reporter said at the time.

DEBKA’s other unanswered questions also are worth a read: Why have Iraqi forces guarding bridges, in more than one instance, suddenly melted away, leaving the route open to advancing U.S. trooops? After three weeks of war, why hasn’t the U.S. showed any Iraqi military commanders? Where are all the regime’s ministers?

Check it out in the War Diary below the site’s headlines.

In the mail

Michael Ealem of Kirkland comments in an e-mail about anti-war sentiment now that the war seems to be closer to ending:

“I'm still seeing a number of buttons – and the sentiment behind it is still there. I've been on some city buses recently where some impassioned discussions were going on – no violence, mind you, but there are still a lot of people (including a sizeable number of minorities, given the racial makeup of participants in the bus discussions) who are incensed and who aren't buying the Chicken Hawk party line about the motivations for the war. To paraphrase the Clintonistas, ‘It's still the economy....’

“My personal opinion is that, considering how clueless the administration appears to be regarding post-war reconstruction both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, this war was ill-conceived from the beginning. And if it is just the first in a series of ‘regime changes,’ we are in deep doo-doo. It seems more like this was a political theory that the Chicken Hawks wanted to test out, except that they wanted to use real human beings as their toys instead of computer simulations. Sun Tzu still said it best: ‘Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be restored to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life.’

“And when people assert that we're ‘liberating’ Iraq, I remind them that in reality we're trying to clean up another of our little messes that go back to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, who supported Saddam in the '63 and '68 coups. Not to mention my favorite joke nowadays: Reporter: ‘How do we know that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons?’ Senator: ‘Because we kept the receipts.’

“And I notice the US media isn't showing us any pictures of the chaos and suffering going on in the hospitals in Baghdad – I wonder how the local populace will feel, both here and in Iraq, when the reality sinks in as to the human cost of this little ‘adventure’ in Arabia. We've sold out these people several times before – what makes anyone think this time will be any different?”

If you have comments on the war, whatever your perspective, send them along to Civil language only, please.

A San Jose columnist is planning a book about blogs

Dan Gillmour, who writes for the San Jose Mercury News and the paper’s web site is planning to write a book about weblogs and how they’re changing journalism. He says he’ll post sections of the book from time to time to seek feedback from readers.

Posted by tbrown at April 11, 2003 07:06 AM

Tom Brown Katherine Long, research editor at the Seattle Times and 18-year editor and reporter, substituted for Tom Brown the week of April 14.

April 2003
March 2003

Signing off
The Saddam Files
Demonstrations in Karbala
Building a government from scratch
Smoking gun?
The irony of freedom
Where are the weapons?
Cultural advisors quit over antiquities issue
Baghdad reality check


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