A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

18 January: DEBKAfile‘s Middle East sources offer two primary explanations for the temporary repudiations of Turkey and Jordan of their commitments to the US war on Iraq:

1. Since 1914, when British and French armies overran the Arab world and seized it from the Ottoman Turks, no non-Muslim conqueror has ever captured an Arab capital. When Israeli troops entered Beirut in 1982, the Reagan administration made them about-turn without delay so as not to inflame the entire Arab Muslim world. Now that the war on Iraq is around the corner, Arab and Muslim rulers are again up in arms, fearful of going down in history as having lent a hand in 2003 to the unthinkable conquest of a Muslim capital by a non-Muslim army.

President George W. Bush and his team understand what they are taking on and are not afraid to go forward.

2. Reports, messages, hints and electronic chatter attributed to al Qaeda are rife in the last few days, threatening nuclear retribution for an American attack on Iraq. There is no information on the type, scale or sophistication of the threat in question, or whether the nuclear weapon will be wielded by Iraq or come in the form of a terrorist strike, either in the hands of Iraqi agents or al Qaeda terrorists.

The threat, however, is being taken seriously enough for would-be US war allies in the region to stand aside and let the American war wagon roll on without them – for the time being. Most do not admit to desertion, only waiting to see what happens next. Some may climb back on at some point.

The coming week will see a hectic round of continuing Arab-Muslim capital-hopping and conference activity. Ankara and Damascus are staging regional meetings this week and next with the participation of Turkish, Syrian, Saudi, Egyptian, Iranian and Jordanian leaders, for the avowed purpose of averting the US war on Iraq. The Saudis are trying to get another summit together in March.

They have two immediate goals. According to debkafile‘s sources, all these rulers are bent on demonstrating clean hands in the event of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, while at the same time preserving their interests in Iraq and the region after the American victory.

18 January: Last week’s “discovery” by UN arms inspectors of a dozen empty chemical 122 mm missile warheads at an Iraqi ammunition dump in Ukhaider, 70 miles south of Baghdad, was not the outcome of intelligence but subtle Iraqi manipulation. The UN inspectors were led by the nose to their discovery. DEBKAfile‘s military and intelligence sources report this after tracking it down to source.

Wednesday, January 15, US president George W. Bush declared he was sick and tired of Saddam Hussein’s games and deceit – with effect on the US timetable. Hearing this, the Iraqi ruler understood the American president was near his limit and must be calmed down to give Iraq more time to manufacture fresh delays. Iraqi intelligence was instructed to organize 12 empty chemical shells in sealed crates and place them in a military ammunition depot. Double agents planted among the UN arms inspectors’ technical aides, most of them from Middle Eastern countries, were told to pass the “tip” on to the Blix team.

The effect of the find was electric.

The US president was forced to curb his impatience and grant the inspectors more time for their search. After all, America could hardly go to war on the strength of 12 empty chemical shells.

Their discovery brought home to the American people the possibility of a brutal war with a high casualty count. One publication estimated that US troops would suffer as many as 3,000 dead and 10,000 injured. The tide of domestic opinion was turning against the war. In the absence of proven Iraqi possession of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, only 29 percent of Americans canvassed last week favored going to war, while 63 percent were against.

Shortly after the empty shells discovery, Wall Street stocks dipped and the US dollar fell against the euro. The international trading community was clearly unimpressed by the find and far from convinced that the UN team would come up with the solid proof needed to justify an American offensive against Saddam Hussein.

This uncertainty and lack of confidence were reflected in international trading. Saddam had manipulated the markets and rewarded the Europeans for their help in postponing the US attack by boosting their currency, however briefly.

Time was also bought to rally sympathizers in the region and divide the pro-American front.

20 January: Two senior UN officials, chief arms inspector Hans Blix and nuclear controller Mohamed ElBaradei, handed Saddam Hussein an epic diplomatic victory Monday, January 20 – no doubt acting on a nod from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. They gained the Iraqi ruler yet a further stay of military action until March 27 before he risks facing war for failing to give up his weapons of mass destruction.

At the United Nations, US Secretary of State, smarting at the blind man’s bluff played out at Washington’s expense in Baghdad, appealed to members “not to be shocked into impotence” by difficult choices. The inspectors wound up their two days of talks with Iraqi officials in Baghdad – cynically billed as tough demands for more cooperation – by signing onto a feeble 10-point accord that, point by point, blunted the teeth US and British diplomacy had inserted in UN Security Council resolution 1441.

Iraq undertakes to provide the inspectors with more documents: This is an admission that Iraq has to this day held back documents.

Iraqi officers will join inspection flights on Iraqi helicopters. Iraqi officers will be given the chance to keep an eye and report on the inspectors’ actions and conversations to their superiors. debkafile‘s intelligence experts add that the Iraqi officers will no doubt be equipped with miniature bugs for jamming the inspectors’ electronic surveillance systems.

Iraq refuses to allow UN U-2 surveillance craft to carry out inspections. Unlike the helicopter flights, the Iraqis have no access to the U-2s.

Iraq will provide supplementary data to the 12,000-page arms declaration presented to the UN Security Council on Dec. 7. Baghdad candidly admits by this point that it flouted Resolution 1441demanding a full and truthful account of its forbidden weapons. That declaration was termed at the time Saddam’s last chance to comply with the resolution and avoid military action. On Monday, the UN inspectors rewarded Saddam with one more last chance in the lengthening series of last chances.

Iraq will enact laws prohibiting proscribed weaponry. Blix and ElBaradei must be congratulating themselves. Obviously, the Saddam regime was able to develop – and deploy – weapons of mass destruction for 22 years, only because it had no time to enact appropriate legislation! Fortunately, the UN inspectors have arranged for this lacuna to be corrected.

All these points cover a variety of commitments by Baghdad, barring one: to disclose and hand over its arsenal of unconventional weapons.

The document produced in Baghdad Monday enables the UN to inform the Bush administration that everything possible has been done to make Iraq provide information on its weapons of mass destruction by March 27. Therefore, even if US intelligence were to produce conclusive proof prior to that date that Iraq is concealing proscribed weapons and their precise whereabouts, Annan, Blix and ElBaradei, have made Saddam Hussein safe from US attack for another two months. During that period, the Iraqi dictator has been assured of immunity by the UN weapons inspectors.

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