A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

8 February:  The disclosure that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon opens formal ceasefire talks with the Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Abu Ala next Monday, February 10, appears inconsequential and beside the point at a time when one war or more looms over the Middle East, together with other potential horrors.

Saturday morning, February 8, the Los Angeles Times reported that one factor driving the administration to raise the terror alert to orange, its second highest level, was the fear that al Qaeda has the ability to construct a radioactive, “dirty”, bomb along with chemical weapons, and is preparing to launch it. The information came from counter-terrorist officials in Washington and bears out the discovery reported in debkafile as of eighteen months ago.

debkafile‘s intelligence and military sources stress once again that, if al Qaeda has this device, so too must Iraq. Wednesday, February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in his graphic demonstration to the UN Security Council of Iraqi weapons violations, that al Qaeda had established a “poison and explosives” training camp 150 km northeast of Baghdad where several hundred al Qaeda operatives were taught by Iraqi intelligence instructors.

Powell did not name the facility. However, our military and counter-terror sources have obtained exclusive information naming the site as a secret Iraqi military installation in the town of Tajdari. The Iraqi Salum air base is situated 17km to the north of this secret base, handy for the clandestine use of Iraqi military intelligence and al Qaeda agents moving in an out of Iraq. Sharon’s meetings last year with Abu Mazen – which debkafile reported on December 27 – have been resurrected as a “fresh ceasefire initiative” to distract Israelis left frightened and at sea by the vague and conflicting statements issuing from government and military officials. Nothing is spelled out. They are not being told that they could be threatened by –

1. Saddam Hussein’s aircraft and missiles.

2. Al Qaeda mega-terror, nuclear, chemical or biological.

3. A Palestinian mega-strike alone or in conjunction with Iraqi military intelligence agents.

Arafat meanwhile is doing his utmost to undermine Sharon’s Palestinian initiative. His other main pursuit at his Ramallah headquarters is the plotting of at least one mega-strike in an Israeli city, for execution either by his own Fatah and Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, or else by al Qaeda operatives or Iraqi military intelligence hirelings, both of whom are present in Palestinian regions.

9 February: Saturday night, February 8, in the Iraqi-Kurdish city of Suleimaniyeh, al Qaeda and Iraqi military intelligence fired their first shot of the US-Iraq war – by assassination. They used their shared surrogate, the extremist Kurdish Ansar al-Islam of northeast Iraq, to eliminate the top command of the pro-American Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan’s fighting militia.

The price was heavy, a grave setback for US war plans.

DEBKAfile‘s military analysts compare the murders to the assassination of the Afghan Northern Alliance commander Shah Massoud two days before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

Then, the killers posed as journalists; this time, they pretended to be defectors.

Ansar al Islam, which has been fighting the PUK for two years and whose members trained in Afghanistan, used double agents to convince the Kurdish commanders of this strategic northeastern corner of Iraq that top Ansar commanders were willing to defect. The defectors, it was promised, would bring fresh evidence of the collaboration between Iraqi military intelligence and al Qaeda.

The offer came just after secretary of state Colin Powell spoke of this collaboration at his Security Council presentation of America’s case against Iraq on February 5. According to DEBKAfile‘s military sources, the Ansar offer was relayed to officers of the US special forces and CIA working alongside the PUK militia. According to some local sources, the Ansar intermediaries also offered to produce captive Iraqi military agents or al Qaeda operatives as hostages.

Suleimaniyah, the hub town of eastern Kurdistan, is also the headquarters of the PUK high command in the region. It is ruled by the PUK leader Jalal Talabani, who has been short-listed in Washington for the post of Iraqi prime minister after Saddam Hussein’s ouster.

Suleimaniyeh also commands the highway from eastern Kurdistan to the important oil town of Kirkuk. The intermediaries’ choice of this city for the Ansar defection was intended to inspire trust. Any defectors guilty of treachery would be at the mercy of the PUK.

Believing they were safe, therefore, the top PUK commanders turned up to await the defectors. Instead of defecting, the Ansar arrivals pulled from their robes Kalashnikov assault guns and grenades. They killed Gen. Shawkat Haji Mushir, PUK leadership member, Hekmat Osman, security chief of the Sirwan district and Sardar Qafoor, military commander of the same district, as well as Sheik Kaffar Mustafa and three civilians. Mohamad Tawfiq, security chief of Halabja was seriously injured.

The Ansar killers used the noise and confusion to make good their escape.

According to our sources, Ansar al-Islam is rife both with Zarqawi’s men and also Iraqi military intelligence officers, under the command Colonel Abu Wale. These officers have been training al Qaeda operatives in the use of forbidden weapons at a secret base in Tajdori, 150 km northeast of Baghdad. Before he was murdered, PUK commander, Gen. Mushir received heavy cannons for his militia, supplied by the Turkish army at the request of the Americans, for the purpose of mounting action to capture the Ansar enclave. This operation has meanwhile been called off.

10 February: The world’s key international bodies – the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union – are splitting fatally over the Iraq arms crisis. A NATO emergency session was deadlocked Monday, February 10, when three leading European nations, France, Germany and Belgium, encouraged by Russia – a non-member – blocked an American request to extend boosted protection to Turkey in a war contingency, chiefly AWACS surveillance planes, Patriot missiles and anti-chemical and anti-biological warfare teams.

France, Germany, Russia and Belgium argued that approval of Washington’s request would send out two wrong signals:

1.That they approve of American military action against Iraq and are prepared to join in – which is untrue. The Russian and French presidents stated jointly in Paris Monday that Iraq must be disarmed by peaceful means, that the UN inspectors must be allowed continue their mission and that war was only a last resort.

2. By sending Turkey the two teams, they would affirm that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction for which Turkey needs protection. This would cut the ground from under the UN inspection mission and any further diplomacy, clearing the way for military action without further ado.

US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld responded to the triple veto by declaring that NATO would not delay the war: “We will act without them,” he said. The NATO showdown Monday may therefore be seen as a dress rehearsal for the first-night performance at UN Center, New York, next Monday. The cohesiveness of NATO and the EU hinges on the UN Security Council’s ability to break the impasse and move forward on the Iraqi crisis. International consensus is evaporating as fast as the American troop buildup advances. The United States and the anti-war camp are clearly determined to bring the standoff to a head. The test of wills is already exacting a heavy diplomatic price – and it is only just beginning.

Even if a face-saver is devised, it will not arrest four disastrous trends already in motion.

A. The steady disintegration of the United Nations for all practical purposes.

B. The breakdown of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – the strategic pact binding the United States and Europe since World War II.

C. The serious erosion of the European Union as a West European-oriented community, followed by the redistribution of the continent’s power centers to the nations supporting the US offensive against Iraq: the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark and the new NATO members of eastern Europe.

D. The race for domination of the Asian-Pacific region among the United States, Russia and China. The field is at present left to the bit-player in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-Il, and his two to four nuclear bombs.

In one important sense the Iraq war and regime change in Baghdad could become the historic broom for sweeping away the last political and military vestiges of the Cold War ending in the last quarter of the 20th century and herald a new strategic reality, for better or worse.

If the UN dies on its feet, it is not only because Bush, in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, decided to take charge of America’s world war on terror and also defeat Iraq, but because the world body, and especially the Security Council, was designed for another age, when the excesses inherent in the clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, had to be contained for the sake of world equilibrium.

The UN’s structure in relation to the current state of the world, its powerhouses and sources of danger is therefore an anachronism.

By the same definition, NATO is on its way out. The only surviving superpower and military colossus is bent on relocating its strategic center of gravity from Europe to the Middle East and Asia. The determination to frustrate this epic move is behind the fierce antagonism manifested by Moscow and Beijing to an American takeover of Iraq.

These processes as they mature into American and allied military action against Iraq and further anti-terror campaigns against Middle East nations that harbor terrorists like Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, will widen the rift. Russia, France and Germany will plant more anti-US mines in every international and regional organization.

These fissures are more than likely to cut across the Middle East Quartet, which is made up of American, European Union, UN and Russian envoys, and alter the course of its “road map” to a Palestinian state. The close Bush-Sharon alliance may well be countered by a Franco-German pact with a Palestinian figure.

Moreover, Israel’s trade relations, already hit by the Palestinian confrontation and unacknowledged boycotts by some European nations, will suffer further until it switches its trading partners.

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