* Iraqi Vice President Tariq Aziz has warned Kuwait that Iraq would not rule out hitting it if it allows US troops to launch an invasion of Iraq from its soil. Such complicity, he said, would make this action legitimate. (It is not clear exactly what Aziz is threatening to do. However, if it involved the deliberate targetting of civilian populations, it would not be legitimate; it would be a war crime. Aziz should be careful; he may find himself in the docket.)
*Jabir al-Mubarak al-Sabah, Kuwait’s Minister of Defense, said he was not surprised by this threat, and that it revealed the sort of intentions Iraq had toward its neighbors. He pledged that the Kuwait armed forces stood ready to repel any threat. (Kuwait is a nice little country, but I’m afraid its armed forces aren’t exactly up to this, and that it is the American umbrella that emboldens the minister).
*Saddam Hussein asked his generals to be vigilant against traitors in their midst who might sell out to the Americans. He saw the same reports the rest of us did, that the Saudis and other neighbors have been trying to convince someone to make a coup and depose Saddam so as to avert the looming war. (I wouldn’t hold my breath. Saddam is not the resigning kind; he is a genocidal megalomaniac. And all the generals who even thought about a coup are pushing up daisies. Of course, if he and his circle of Tikritis actually cared about the country and the people they have looted and brutalized, they would go into exile. But they aren’t that sort of person to begin with, which is one of the reasons we stand on the brink of war).
*Newsday reports that US Vice President Dick Cheney and special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad have been working to expand the expatriate committee of Iraqi politicians primed to succeed Saddam Hussein from 65 to 100, so as to dilute the influence of the pro-Iran bloc of 15 members from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Khalilzad is said to envisage a situation where policy makers will be drawn from the committee, but technocrats from inside Iraq will also be given power if they are untainted by association with Saddam Hussein. Khalilzad is said to recognize that since some 60 percent of Iraqis are Shi`ite, a similar proportion of high government officials will be. But apparently he has come to realize that SCIRI’s support inside Iraq may actually be shallow. Many Iraqi Shi`ites are secularists. Apparently he will be looking for such secular Shi`ite technocrats as a counter-ballast to the clerical SCIRI.
One problem: If SCIRI’s troops, the 15,000-man al-Badr Brigade, plays a “northern-alliance” type role in this new Iraq war, it may well be positioned to garner enormous political power in the aftermath despite the planning on paper going on now. A SCIRI dominated Iraq would be a huge gift to the clerical hardliners in Tehran, and it has long puzzled me why the Bush administration was putting so many eggs in that basket. Now they are backing off, causing a furore.
*Some 18 out of about 100 radical troops of a joint Hizb-i Islami /Taliban/ al-Qaida force have been killed near Spin Baldak in Afghanistan. This was the biggest battle between US forces and remnants of the radical Islamists since Anaconda, 10 months ago. Hizb-i Islam is the guerrilla group of Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, who has made an alliance with Taliban remnants in Waziristan, tribal Pakistan. Hikmatyar was the darling of the US and of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence during the 1980s when the Reagan administration used him to batter the Soviets. He was all along a frightening extremist. In his youth he had thrown acid on unveiled women in Afghanistan. Having created this Frankenstein’s monster, the US now has to deal with the mess the Reaganauts made. Our brave military men wouldn’t be risking their lives in a battle against this guy if the Reaganauts hadn’t gone overboard in backing extremely unsavory elements in the 1980s.
*Bush’s State of the Union address gave specifics about what weapons of mass destruction the US thinks Saddam has and what he would have to prove he has destroyed to satisfy the Bush administration: 25,000 liters of anthrax; 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin; 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent; 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents; mobile biological weapons labs designed to produce germ warfare agents. But the wording was a little unclear, since the president kept saying Iraq had had materials sufficient to produce these quantities of these weapons, but seemed to sidestep the question as to whether it actually had done so. Apparently the anthrax and some of the chemicals were provided to Iraq in the 1980s by the Reagan administration to ensure that Iran did not win the Iran-Iraq war. I suppose that is how this administration is so sure Iraq has this stuff; it has people serving in it who provided the material to Saddam. Anyway, it seems clear to me that Bush is set on war. They are saying now it might not be until mid-March.
*Stanley Kurtz has written a lame reply to my History News Network response to his attacks on the Middle East Studies Association. He admits he knows nothing serious about Middle East studies (but trumpets his Hindi. Kiya hal hai, bhai? Zera aram karo!) He admits that MESA gets no money from the US government. He basically backs down on all the particulars of his irresponsible libel of the association. He retains vague and unstated reservations. And then he insists he has the right to judge the field even though he knows nothing about it. Well, of course. That is what punditry is. It is persons paid by sugar daddies to push agendas even though they know nothing about the subject. Sometimes they even push agendas they know to be false. Gasp. A survey showed recently that most people who are incompetent at their jobs can’t even recognize the fact, not having enough competency to judge themselves. Kurtz cannot see how cartoonish his ill-informed rants about MESA are. Has he even ever attended a MESA conference? Apparently not. Another survey showed that having to work with or be around incompetent people can give you a heart attack. It is a hell of a thing.