It Is Now Being Reported That

*It is now being reported that interrogations of top al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Muhammad and Abu Zubayda reveal that the organization avoided entanglement with Saddam Hussein, on orders of Usama Bin Laden himself, because they didn’t want to end up being manipulated by him. I have long held that there was no plausible linkage of the secular, Arab Baath party with the radical Sunni al-Qaeda. In fact, readers may be interested in my first and my second posting on the subject last summer at H-Diplo, a list for diplomatic history. Even just by following what had become available in open sources, and just by knowing the nature of the Baath and al-Qaeda organizations, I could tell that the two were highly unlikely to ever have been serious partners. On the other hand, if you go back through the cable news transcripts at Lexis Nexis, it is obvious that the inside-the-beltway talking heads were insistent on spinning Iraq as an al-Qaeda supporter. This spin became so pervasive that half the American public ended up buying it. The Right keeps saying that all this was all right, because after all it is a good thing that Saddam was overthrown. But it is never a good thing when demagoguery possesses a democratic people and a war fever is whipped up on the basis of false allegations. And, the real problem is that this performance could be repeated in the near future, with rather more catastrophic results.

*I talk about the Washington hawks’ incipient targeting of Iran in my current piece in The Nation, now on newsstands. Unfortunately, there is not yet a digital version at the web site.

*An American soldier was killed at a checkpoint in the town of Qaim near Syria on Sunday night. Some US officials appear to think the Lebanese Hizbullah might have had a hand in the incident, but that is Sunni country and my guess is that it was the work either of Saddam loyalists or of Sunni radicals. Nicholas Blanford of the Daily Star (Beirut) has an interesting article on the Hizbullah factor. My guess is that in the near term, Hizbullah is irrelevant to Iraq. In the long term, it could help train Iraqi counterparts. The US wants Hizbullah to lay off firing at the occupied Shebaa Farms, on which Israeli troops are squatting. I’d say that is fine, if the US is also prepared to pressure Israel to withdraw from this sliver of land, which belongs to Syria. Israeli sticky fingers cause the US a lot of problems in the region.

*The Iraqi newspaper “al-Ahrar” (The Free) has begun publishing lists of thousands of persons executed or disappeared by the Saddam Hussein regime, pleading with anyone who has information about them to send it to bereaved family members. Mass graves are being discovered all over the country. That place under Saddam was one big morgue. And, it now appears that he was having his political opponents killed right up to a few days before his overthrow.

*Telephone service remains non-existent or spotty in Baghdad, and there is no way to call for an ambulance, according to Reuters. American bombing knocked out 11 of 17 telephone exchanges in the capital of 5 million persons. Telephones sometimes work in the other six, but often go dead even there. The exchanges also suffered from looting in the chaos after the fall of the Baath. US administrators promise that the situation will improve in the month of June.

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