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 Saturday, March 15, 2003

  The Test of Wills on Iraq - The Countdown

Full text: UN security council resolution 1441 on Iraq

The leaders of the United States, Britain and Spain will hold an emergency summit in the Azores tomorrow, in a final attempt to find a formula to win United Nations approval for a new resolution authorising war to disarm Iraq.British officials said the summit on the islands will mark the "diplomatic end game" in the crisis.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the FBI on Friday to investigate forged documents the Bush administration used as evidence against Saddam Hussein and his military ambitions in Iraq. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said he was uneasy about a possible campaign to deceive the public about the status of Iraq's nuclear program. Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the committee's top Democrat, noted a Washington Post report that said a foreign government might have been conducting a deception campaign to win support for military action against Iraq. When Obey asked Powell if he could say which country that was, Powell replied, "I can't with confidence." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to the documents directly in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council outlining the Bush administration's case against Iraq. "I'm sure the FBI and CIA must be mortified by this because it is extremely embarrassing to them," former CIA official Ray Close said.

Millions of Europeans stopped work around noon today to protest a possible attack on Iraq as opposition to U.S.-led military action rippled around the globe. Labour unions said millions of workers in such countries as Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland answered a continent-wide call to strike for 15 minutes to press for peace and put the brakes on the U.S.-led drive for war.

U.S. Army forces massing across the Iraqi border are largely unarmed. Even though all U.S. soldiers deployed to the six main Army camps in northern Kuwait must carry their rifles at all times -- even to the latrine in the middle of the night -- few are carrying any bullets. This is not an oversight, or a lame-brained cost-saving measure ordered by the Pentagon, or an indication that American military leaders believe they can take Iraq without firing a shot. Rather, it's an effort to stave off the sad inevitable: Once the Army starts issuing ammo en masse, soldiers will accidentally shoot themselves and each other. Those who served in Afghanistan, Desert Storm and other conflicts can attest to it.

A former military aide to General Norman Schwarzkopf , retired Colonel Mike Turner, has warned that a US-led war against Iraq could turn into a disaster that echoes the bloody debacle of Somalia rather than the relatively painless 1991 Gulf war."There's a saying in military circles: We always fight the last war. It means that too much focus on past enemy behaviour can easily lead to misjudging an enemy capability in the future," he said.

Millions of workers staged anti-war protests today in Spain, but Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar stood firmly by the United States' plans to attack Iraq.

New Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has presented his new cabinet to the country's President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Mr Sezer's approval for the new team paves the way for a vote on the government's programme in parliament. The outgoing prime minister, Abdullah Gul, has been given the posts of foreign minister and deputy prime minister. Mr Erdogan had said earlier that he would not present the cabinet and it is not clear why his plans changed

The State Department is circulating a classified report dismissing the White House claim that a regime change in Iraq would trigger a push for democracy throughout the Arab world.The report strongly criticizes the controversial prediction of a post-Saddam Hussein democratic "domino effect" in the Middle East, the Forward has learned. It was put together by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, an agency that produces independent intelligence assessment reports. Officials at the State Department have taken the unusual step of sending the secret report to a select group of legislators on Capitol Hill.

The Saudi Arabian opposition in London says there has been a major influx of US warplanes into Saudi airbases close to the Iraqi border. It says that large numbers of US planes have been arriving at the airbases of Tabuk and 'Arar, and that Saudi troops there had moved out to make room for them

Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear said on Thursday her country could not support a U.S.-British-Spanish resolution paving the way for war with Iraq unless it was modified.

Tony Blair's problems over Iraq deepened yesterday when Robin Cook, the Leader of the Commons, suggested he would resign from the Cabinet if Britain went to war without a clear United Nations mandate.

As diplomats struggle to break the deadlock over Iraq, French President Jacques Chirac has told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that France is ready to work with Britain to explore ways of disarming Iraq.The two leaders have spoken by phone.However a spokeswoman for Mr Chirac says France continues to reject any United Nations resolution that would automatically trigger military action.

Former Australian Liberal Party director John Valder says Mr Howard attempted to write off last month's national protests against the war, but the number of local protests in suburbs and towns show that people do not want to be ignored. Mr Valder says the Prime Minister is taking Australia down a very dangerous route. "What really baffles me is that the Prime Minister is still prepared to fly in the face of public opinion, which of course means he's really turning his back on democracy," he said."That's pretty serious stuff, he knows and the rest of the country knows he has no mandate to take Australia into war."

Anti-war demonstrators threw eggs and tomatoes at Australian Prime Minister John Howard's car during a rolling protest which stopped city traffic in AdelaideOne protester was taken into police custody after charging at a Commonwealth vehicle containing Mr Howard

The United States sent a strong signal yesterday that it will ultimately not press for a second United Nations resolution, in effect clearing the decks for military action against Iraq next week

Secretary of State Colin Powell flatly rejected on Thursday any suggestion that the Bush administration's confrontation with Iraq was engineered by Israel or American Jews.

Low casualty rates in the Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan have led Americans to expect more of the same in Iraq.Yet military experts are quietly warning that the impending war will likely yield a high U.S. death toll.Analysts suggest that the Bush administration is keeping silent on the issue of casualties for fear of weakening public support for the war.A consensus appears to be emerging that U.S. deaths during an operation in Iraq will likely run into the thousands.

Sources knowledgeable about US intelligence say there is no evidence that Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, nor that he has been or is currently aiding Al Qaeda. Yet the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq

In a day of mixed messages and fluctuating fortunes, the decision appeared to differ almost by the hour. One moment, Ari Fleischer, the White House secretary, was hinting at more time for debate; the next Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, was threatening that "the day of reckoning is fast approaching". Britain yesterday reduced its set of six benchmarks for Saddam Hussein to five - as well as hinting on flexibility over a 17 March deadline.

The Turkish Parliament was recalled for this weekend amid continued uncertainty over whether it will let America use the country's bases to launch a northern front against Saddam Hussein. But Mr Erdogan,the newly elected Prime Minister, conscious that more than 90 per cent of the population opposes a war in Iraq, is reported to have disappointed President George Bush in a telephone call after his weekend election to parliament by refusing to commit himself on when he would reintroduce the troop proposal.

The United States is moving about 10 Navy ships armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean to the Red Sea, senior U.S. officials said Thursday. The move indicates weakening U.S. confidence that Turkey will grant overflight rights for U.S. planes and missiles.

Iraq will present a report on its disposal of VX nerve agent to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on Friday, and another report on anthrax a few days later, a diplomatic source said.

A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld a lower court ruling rejecting a legal bid by a group of soldiers and lawmakers to keep President Bush from invading Iraq without a formal declaration of war by Congress.



China has a new president. Hu Jintao has taken over from Jiang Zemin. In Beijing's Great Hall of the People, delegates to the National People's Congress today promoted vice president Hu Jintao to the Presidency.

POLICE arrested Slobodan Milosevic’s former intelligence chief and more than 50 suspected mafia members yesterday as the hunt intensified for the assassins of Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian Prime Minister. Nebojsa Covic, the Acting Prime Minister, confirmed the 70 arrests and said that investigators had summoned Jovica Stanisic, the former state security chief, and Franko Simatovic, his deputy, who was seen being led from his Belgrade home by three hooded policemen with machineguns.

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