A Digest of the Week’s Exclusives

21 February: After keeping everyone on tenterhooks until the very last minute, the Turkish government caved in on Friday, February 21. The Turks undoubtedly employed bazaar tactics to raise the American economic aid offer from the $6 b grant plus $20 b in loans for the use of their bases as launching pads to invade Iraq. But what decided the issue in Ankara was the realization that President George W. Bush was resolved to go ahead with the offensive against Iraq with or without Turkey. The Gul government was reluctant to be left out of fateful events in its next door neighbor.

22 February: Senior military sources in Kuwait, asked by debkafile Special correspondent in Kuwait, source, did not deny that special operations might already be underway in Iraq’s southern oil fields. The same source said any assault on Iraq will have to carefully balance 'hard strikes' with 'soft overtures' to Iraqis most likely to capitulate and ally themselves with US-led forces.

Going in softly, which is taken to mean a short massive air campaign to prepare the way for ground troops, would also let the US make good on promises of fair treatment for any surrendering Iraqis. Such promises have been spelled out in massive leaflet drops over the south in recent weeks and also given to Iraqi unit officers in contacts established by US and UK undercover forces in Iraq.

By leaving as much of the civilian infrastructure as possible intact, war planners hope to minimize the cost, in time and money, of rebuilding Iraq's' economy.

The source played down the role of climate considerations in battle plans. Contrary to press reports that US soldiers cannot fight in high temperatures expected between April and September, he claimed the force gathering in northern Kuwait is well equipped to fight in adverse weather. He also pointed out that thermal imaging devices give American and British troops a distinct advantage when fighting at night, when conditions are much cooler.

Preparations for war are gathering pace in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, the three main staging areas for American and British forces in the Gulf.

23 February: The largest contingent so far of soldiers from neighboring Gulf countries arrived in Kuwait on Sunday, February 23. Despite snide remarks that troops from the oil rich sheikhdoms would turn up driving their own Jaguars and Ferraris, several hundred ground troops, sailors and airmen from the United Arab Emirates arrived at a number of locations around Kuwait City throughout the day. The overall impression one group gave when de-planing at Kuwait Int'l Airport was of a smart, brisk, British-style 'spit and polish' force. They are part of Operation Peninsula Shield, a mutual self defense effort in which all countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council participate.

Kuwait Armed Forces spokesman Col. Yussef Al-Mulla stressed the defensive nature of their deployment, “Their mission is not to take part in a US-led attack on Iraq, but to defend Kuwait against any aggression.” It took a special meeting of GCC Defense Ministers in Jeddah two weeks ago to hammer out the details before orders could be signed. debkafile has learned that they will be deployed in the tri-border area in the east of the country where the frontiers of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq meet. The full complement of personnel and equipment will be in place by the end of this week. It will eventually comprise a battalion of mechanized infantry, two guided-missile destroyers with support vessels and a squadron of Apache helicopter gunships. Vehicles, including German built Leopard tanks, arrived on board two chartered Dutch cargo ships at Kuwait's al-Shuwaikh port.

But Kuwait has other concerns beside the threat from Iraq. The shadow of Al Qaeda is never far away from any part of this region.

Kuwaiti officials are attempting to downplay reports that five of their citizens have recently been transferred from Pakistan to the Camp X-ray facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They join another twelve Kuwaiti nationals already in custody at Camp X-ray since the early stages of operation Enduring Freedom. Kuwait is making a big effort to appear as American as Disneyland.

Kuwaitis tell outsiders that ninety-nine percent of the population supports the United States in their efforts to topple Saddam. That leaves around 8,000 people who might feel motivated to take up arms or otherwise voice their displeasure at the US military build-up.

The authorities have stepped up security around the country and especially in places with high concentrations of expatriates. Units of the National Guard are very visible at major intersections and around hotels favoured by visiting businessmen and the media.

25 February: German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder makes a lightening, unscheduled trip to Moscow Wednesday, February 26, heading back home the same evening. What urgent business takes Schroeder to the Russian capital?

According to debkafile‘s intelligence and Russian sources, Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped into the bipolar crisis over Iraq between the US-led and French-led world blocs with a dramatic proposition for averting war.

First, he tried selling it to Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. For this mission, he fielded one of Moscow’s diplomatic heavyweights, Yevgeny Primakov. KGB chief Middle East resident in the 1970s, Soviet foreign minister and Russian prime minister under Yeltsin, Primakov is also a longtime close personal friend of the Iraqi dictator from the old days of the Soviet Union.

Primakov landed in Baghdad on Saturday, February 22.

The candy for Saddam in the Russian proposal was that it could provide him with a lifebelt to save himself from being obliterated; although he would have to leave Baghdad with his family and ruling clique, he need not be pushed completely off the Iraqi political map.

Primakov was understood by our sources to have spent 10 hours on Sunday, February 23 with Saddam Hussein at his palace in Tirkit, flying home Monday, February 24, after they met for a final conversation.

debkafile‘s most exclusive sources accessed the Putin proposal for Iraq and reveals its high points:

1. Acceptance of the plan by Saddam and Washington – with UN endorsement – will result in the United States calling off its war offensive against Iraq.

2. Saddam will be required to immediately dismantle and destroy all his weapons of mass destruction, that arsenal being checked against Russia’s lists and compared with American data. (debkafile notes incidentally that Russian generals and intelligence chiefs have consistently claimed until now that Saddam does not possess a single WMD!)

3. Saddam stays on as president for approximately one year.

4. In the course of the disarmament process, a transitional government will be established in Baghdad with no affinity to the ruling Baath or Saddam’s ruling circle. It will officiate one year under international oversight, draft a new Iraqi constitution and arrange a general election.

5. The election over, Saddam will retire and make way for the newly-elected regime.

6. He and his family, together with his top political and military circle, will move out of Baghdad and take up residence at an internationally protected palace compound near Tharthar Lake north of Tikrit. He will be allowed to move in and out of this palace under certain restrictions.

We have heard that Primakov made it clear to the Iraqi ruler that, despite some limitations on his movements and those of his entourage, he would not be a prisoner. He would be allowed to come and go under certain conditions.

The Russian emissary also emphasized that the fortune Saddam has stashed away in foreign banks will not be impounded or frozen. In short, Saddam was given to understand by his Russian visitor that while the regime would pass out of his hands and that of the Baath to fresh political forces, including leaders of the opposition who fought his rule, he, Saddam Hussein, would not be bereft of influence in the country and would retain the financial wherewithal for being a player in future Iraq politics.

debkafile‘s sources have not revealed Saddam’s reply to the proposal. They report that Primakov, on his return to Moscow, went straight over to Putin to brief him on his mission.

The next day, two Russian emissaries headed out of Moscow to Washington and Paris to brief Presidents Bush and Chirac and test the water for a sign that the Putin initiative was worth pursuing.

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