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ISSUE: #. 86. May 19, 2003







By Bill Weinberg
with Special Correspondents David Bloom, Keith Harmon Snow, Wynde Priddy

1. Plans for "Interim Government" on Hold; Death Toll Rises
2. FAO: Starvation Looms in Iraq
3. Reports of Nuclear Contamination; U.S. Bars U.N. Probe
4. Did U.S. Troops Vandalize Ruins of Ur?
5. Censorship at U.S.-Sponsored Iraqi TV
6. Baghdad Gets Independent Media Center
7. International Campaign for Labor Rights in Iraq
8. Kurds Make Their Own Oil Deals
9. Where Are Saddam's Daughters?
10. Danish Diplomat: It's The Oil, Stupid!

1. Hamas Greets Negotiations with Bombs
2. Sharon: No Settlement Freeze
3. Israeli Army Readying to Complete Apartheid Road System
4. Settlers Attack Speaker of Palestinian Parliament
5. Israeli Collective Punishment Backfires
6. "Transfer" Idea Gains Acceptance in Israel

1. Saudi Blasts Target Bin Laden-Linked Spook Firm
2. Saudi Blasts: Inside Job?
3. Iran Behind Saudi Blasts?
4. Saudi Shi'ites Seek Voice
5. Iranian Monarchists Plot Comeback

1. U.S. Air-Strikes Follow Convoy Ambush
2. Warlords Still Rule
3. Ahmadiyya Head Dead at 74; Saw Afghans as Chosen People

1. Terror Blasts Signal "Palestinization" of Chechnya
2. NATO Secretary-General Visits Azerbaijan...
3. ...As Azerbaijan Approves Military Deal With Russia
4. Russia Delays Azerbaijan's Iraq Deployment?
5. Georgian Guerrilla Killed in Abkhazia

1. Terror in Casablanca
2. East Africa Terror Scare; Joint U.S.-U.K. Kenya Operation
3. Sub-Saharan Africa New Terror War Front?
4. U.N. Warns of Congo "Genocide"; France to Intervene
5. Oil Struggle Behind Congo Bloodbath
6. Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal Mired in Controversy
7. Al-Qaeda Exploits Sierra Leone Diamond Trade
8. Nigeria's Petro-Zone Ablaze

1. U.N. Seeks Action on Colombia Refugee Crisis
2. Colombia Threatens Nicaragua on Offshore Oil Rights
3. Ecuador Indians Protest Burlington Resources

1. U.S. Republicans Strong-Arm Mexico on Oil
2. Economy Secretary Floats Pemex Privatization

1. Spain Sues in Galicia Oil Disaster
2. Censorship at Smithsonian Exhibit on ANWR


The US and UK have reversed their position on setting up an interim government for Iraq, now officially opting for an "interim authority" with limited power. L. Paul Bremer, US civil administror for occupied Iraq, made the announcement to Iraqi opposition leaders in Baghdad May 16 with British diplomat John Sawers, who told the AP: "It's quite clear that you cannot transfer all powers onto some interim body, because it will not have the strength or the resources to carry those responsibilities out. There was an agreement that we should aim to have a national conference as soon as we reasonably could do so." The reversal contrasts outgoing civil administrator Jay Garner's assurance May 5 in Basra that "Next week, or by the second weekend in May, you'll see the beginning of a nucleus of a temporary Iraqi government, a government with an Iraqi face on it that is totally dealing with the coalition." Garner attended the May 16 meeting, but said little. (NYT, May 17)

Following criticism about the placement of holdovers from the Saddam Hussein regime in the occupation apparatus, Bremer has banned 30,000 top-ranking Baath Party members "from future employment in the public sector." But the US has a long way to go in winning the trust of Iraq's mutually suspicious opposition factions. Pentagon official Walter Slocombe was at the meeting, charged with coordinating Iraqi armed factions, with en eye towards melding them into an national security force. He especially faced anger from Kurdish leaders over US efforts to rein in evictions of Arabs in northern Iraq from Kurdish properties which had been distributed to them under Saddam's "Arabization" program. Said Sami Abdul Rahman of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP): "We can compromise on everything but Arabization. The Arabs are leaving the land they stole, but Americans are bringing them back. This is the biggest insult to the Kurdish people. Those who delay decisions will have to face popular anger." (NYT, May 17) (See also WW3 REPORT #85)

An Iraqi civilian government has power only in Umm Qasr, where British forces have formally turned the southern port city over to newly-organized local authorities--the first such handover since the Saddam regime fell. (AP, May 15)

Meanwhile, chaos still reigns on the ground, even in Baghdad, where the US presence is greatest. Interim officials at the Oil Mnistry and Iraqi Electrical Commission told the press only 40% of country's gasoline and electrical demands are currently being met, and shortages are likely to last into summer. (NYT, May 12)

The level of violence in Baghdad actually seems to be escalating. Statistics revealed by Dr. Faak Amin Bakr, director of the city mortuary, May 16 reveal that 242 people have died in Baghdad in the past 25 days--almost all from bullet wounds. He cited continued looting and score-settling. Facing criticism for the lawless atmosphere, occupation authorities have announced a crackdown. At his first press conference in Baghdad May 15, Bremer said 300 suspected criminals had been thrown into Iraq's jails that week--92 on Wednesday alone. The "serious law and order problem" in the capital was a top priority, he said. He noted that 100,000 inmates were released from Iraqi prisons in October by Saddam Hussein. "It's time those people are put back in jail," he said. (UK Independent, May 16)

US occupation authorities also announced a policy of shooting looters on sight. One anonymous official who had reportedly met with Brener told the New York Times, "they are going to start shooting a few looters so the the word gets around" that violent crime will be met with deadly force. (NYT, May 15)

There is a high possibility of looters shooting back. Tens of thousands of firearms, ranging from pistols and revolvers to AK-47 assault rifles, were distributed by Saddam's government to supporters in the prelude to the US attack. Many people purchased guns as the war approached, and thousands more guns were looted from armories in the aftermath of the regime's collapse. (AP, May 15)

Military action also continues. In a raid dubbed "Operation Planet X," US Army forces stormed into a village near Iraq's northern city of Tikrit before dawn May 15, taking over 260 prisoners in a five-hour sweep, including one man on the most-wanted list of former Iraqi officials. Most of the detained were released later that day. That same day, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division shot and wounded a looter in Mosul after being fired upon. (AP, May 15)

The web site Iraq Body Count continues to monitor world press reports to arrive at a daily update of the total Iraqi civilian dead. Each incident is listed separately, noting the location, number dead, weaponry used and media source. At press time, the minimum estimate stands at 4,065 and the maximum at 5,223.

See also WW3 REPORT #85 [top]

Iraqi agriculture is on the brink of collapse, and many of the country's 24.5 million people may go hungry this summer, according to a confidential report being studied by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The special "preliminary desk assessment" prepared by FAO staff in Rome, seen by the UK Observer, reveals a catastrophe in the making, with crops and poultry being especially hard hit.

Government warehouses that served as the main suppliers of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides have been looted, and farmers who should now be planting beans, squash, fruits and vegetables are stalled. Pumping stations that power irrigation projects are also still immobilized, leaving farmlands dry. "Vegetables and poultry are particularly important because they are the main source of protein, vitamins, minerals and a host of micro-nutrients that are missing from the oil-for-food basket which is also why malnutrition is endemic in Iraq," said FAO spokesman Barry Came.

Difficulties are also anticipated in harvesting winter crops--1.2 million tons of wheat, barley, rice and maize. Under Saddam, harvesting normally started this month, with a roving fleet of government harvesters. (UK Observer, May 11) [top]

US military experts are to visit the looted Iraqi nuclear facility at Tuwaitha to investigate reports that local residents showed signs of radiation sickness, Central Command said May 17. "Initial indications show that several containers of potentially radioactive materials were disturbed when local Iraqis pilfered the facility prior to the arrival of coalition forces into the area," the Central Command Web site said. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, says it wants to investigate the reports that Iraqis living near the facility were showing signs of radiation sickness after the facility was looted. But US authorities continue to bar IAEA personnel from Iraq. (Reuters, May 17)

See also WW3 REPORT #85 [top]

The ancient Sumerian city of Ur in southern Iraq was vandalized by US soldiers and airmen, according to aid workers in the area. The sources claim US forces spray-painted the ruins of the world's oldest city with graffiti and stole kiln-baked bricks made millennia ago. The US military has placed the 6,000-year-old site off-limits to its own troops, with any violations punishable in military courts. There has been no official response to the allegations of vandalism. Land immediately adjacent to Ur has been chosen by the Pentagon for a sprawling airfield and military base.

Ur is believed to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham, and is where the epic Gilgamesh, a classic of ancient literature, is thought to have been written. It's most prominent monument is the ziggurat--stepped pyramid--built by the Sumerians around 4000 BC and restored by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century BC. With the new Pentagon base now under construction in the area, the view from the ziggurat--more or less unchanged for 6,000 years--will be radically altered.

The UK Observer cited reports that Ur's walls were spray-painted with graffiti by US troops, mostly patriotic slogans, and regimental mottos. One graffiti reportedly reads "SEMPER FE" (always faithful), the motto of the US Marines, who stormed through this region on their way to Baghdad, and form a contingent at the base. [NOTE: The Marines motto is actually rendered "SEMPER FI"] (UK Observer, May 18) [top]

Before its first broadcast May 13, the new US- sponsored Iraqi TV news station complained of censorship by the occupation authorities--including attempts to stop it airing passages from the Koran. Deprived of any locally produced TV since US troops ousted Saddam Hussein last month, Baghdad residents with electricity are now able to watch the Iraqi flag on their screens, hear the national anthem and view a three-minute address from Jay Garner, number two man in the occupation's civil administration. But the Iraqi Media Network postponed plans to air a half-hour live news program because of disputes over editorial control.

"As journalists we will not submit to censorship," said Dan North, a Canadian documentary maker advising Iraqis at the station, which plans two hours of programming a night for Baghdad viewers. "This whole idea was about starting the genesis of an open media so we will not accept an outside source scrutinizing what we produce." North said the US-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) requested the station's news programs be reviewed by the wife of Jalal Talabani, a top leader of Iraq's northern Kurdish autonomous zone and a key US ally. "Could you imagine a political leader being able to check the content of any Western media?" asked North. Countered Robert Teasdale, a US adviser to the network: "This is not American propaganda. This is the first time in 25 years Iraqis are getting TV that is not propaganda."

At ORHA's "suggestion," the station cut a section in which a patient lined up at one of Baghdad's over-stretched hospitals accused US soldiers of stealing gasoline. But the network said it was going ahead with plans to air verses from the Koran because it was a tradition in Middle Eastern countries and the workers had threatened to walk out if the readings were dropped. "I am so proud to be doing this," said engineer Omar Ibrahim, as he edited the verses. "This station is all about a freedom we never had." (Reuters, May 13)

Days before the censorship dispute in Baghdad, the US Army issued orders for troops to seize the only TV station in Mosul. The directive came from the 101st Airborne Division's commander, Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, who has authority over northwest Iraq, and was apparently aimed at blocking the station from continuing to broadcast the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera.

The order to seize the station, which had been under the unofficial control of a local Iraqi militia leader, Meshaam Jabori, was discussed at a stormy meeting of US officials based in a former hospital. During the two-hour meeting May 7, the head of the Army public-affairs office in Mosul, Maj. Charmaine Means, reportedly said she could not agree to seizing the station, arguing that the presence of armed US troops would intimidate the station's employees. Maj. Means was told to pick up a nearby telephone. On the other end, Col. Thomas Schoenback, chief of staff of the division, ordered her to go along with Gen. Petraeus' plan to take the station, according to Wall Street Journal sources. When she again refused, he relieved her of her duties. She was subsequently told she would be flown out of Mosul on an Army helicopter the next morning. Neither Gen. Petraeus nor Col. Schoenback could be reached for comment, nor would the Pentagon immediately confirm the order to seize the station.

As word of the decision filtered through the main US base in downtown Mosul, several officers condemned it, complaining that the military had allowed Jabori to broadcast political messages for weeks without interference, only to seize the station after it occasionally showed al-Jazeera programming. (WSJ, May 8) [top]

A dozen Iraqis "unconnected with either the previous Baathist regime or with the successor American government" have come together to launch a Baghdad Independent Media Center website and bilingual Arabic-English newspaper , Al-Muajaha (The Witness)--despite very little money, limited equipment and unreliable electricity and phone service. In their mission statement, they say: "Al-Muajaha is an independent Iraqi newspaper representing all levels of Iraqi society. We aim to help the world understand Iraq, and to help Iraq understand the world. For decades, almost all governments in the world, including our own, abused and terribly ignored the basic humanity of the Iraqi people, Al-Muajaha aims to provide an open forum for all Iraqis to freely debate current issues, and in so doing educate themselves and the world. We aim to support the legitimate desires of the Iraqi people by providing a voice for them that reach the world, and we hope to promote understanding of the fundamental equality of all peoples and nations under both human and divine law."

The Baghdad IMC and Al-Muajaha are sponsored by the Chicago-based activist group Voices in the Wilderness, and the Urbana-Champaign IMC. Checks made out to "UCIMC" with "IMC-Baghdad" in their memo line can be sent to:

Urbana-Champaign IMC
ATTN: Treasurer
218 West Main St.
Suite 110
Urbana, IL 61801

The International Liaison Committee for a Workers' International (ILC) has called a June 15 conference in Geneva in Defense of Conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), to be attended by leaders of unions and federations from more than 40 countries. The first point on the agenda is a proposal to launch an international campaign for labor rights in Iraq.

The ILC, a coalition of unions and political parties from 92 countries around the world, played an important role this past February in obtaining the endorsements of unions representing more than 130 million workers in 52 countries in support of the US Labor Against War international declaration.

In recent weeks, the ILC was contacted by a representative coalition of Iraqi unionists and political dissidents, most of them living in exile in Europe or the Arab world, with a request for help in a campaign for labor rights in Iraq. The ILC agreed to work on this campaign and to summon the international labor movement for the effort. Writes the ILC:

"In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with the US Army now becoming an army of occupation to protect the corporate interests of Bush's anti-union cronies (Bechtel, SSA, MCI, Hailliburton, etc.) who've received the big contracts to 'rebuild Iraq,' organizing a concerted campaign to promote labor rights in Iraq, we believe, must be a top priority for all unions and labor activists fighting for peace and social justice the world over. Working people in Iraq will need independent unions and all other rights codified in the ILO conventions in the weeks and months to come. Independent unions and full labor rights are the backbone of any society that claims to be democratic."

One ILC affiliate, the Open World Conference of Workers (OWC), has launched a $5,000 fundraising effort for the campaign for labor rights in Iraq. Checks payable to OWC can be sent to: OWC, c/o San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO), 1188 Franklin St. #203, San Francisco, CA 94109.

(OWC press release, May 15) [top]

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main parties that control northern Iraq's Kurdish autonomous zone, is quietly pushing ahead on three oil development projects. Acting autonomously as a local government PUK has signed production-sharing contracts with two Turkish companies, PetOil and General Energy, to develop and survey local oilfields, according to Rasheed Khoshnaw, deputy director of the party's special projects division. Party officials also agreed recently to allow an Australian company to do surveying work in eastern Iraq, Khoshnaw said, without naming the company. Khoshnaw said that the most recent of the oil agreements was concluded three months before the allied attack on Iraq began in March. UN sanctions controlling and limiting Iraqi oil exports are still in place, although the Security Council is considering a US resolution to lift them. (Sydney Morning Herald, May 16) [top]

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) denied claims that party leader Jalal Talabani had received a letter from Saddam Hussein, but did say that the ousted dictator's daughters had contacted him through a third party, requesting protection and stating that they plan to identify themselves to the occupation forces. (PUK newspaper Al-Ittihad, May 12, via BBC Monitoirng)

However, the claim was denied by Izz-al-Din Muhammad Hasan al-Majid, exiled cousin of both Saddam and Ali Hasan ("Chemical Ali") al-Majid. Izz-al-Din al-Majid has just returned to Baghdad from an unnamed Arab capital. Izz-al-Din's five children and wife were killed when his two brothers--Saddam's sons-in-law Gen. Husayn Kamil (married to daughter Raghd) and his Saddam Kamil (married to daughter Rana)--were assassinated. The family was massacred when they arrived back in Baghdad in 1995--despite Saddam's assurances of safety--after having briefly exiled themselves to Jordan. Only Izz-al-Din mistrusted the assurances and refused to return to Baghdad. He said he does not know the whereabouts of Saddam or his two powerful sons Qusay and Uday--or even his own cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid. Before the attack on Iraq started this year, Izz-al-Din al-Majid wrote a letter to Saddam urging him to step down and "take a manly stand for the sake of saving Iraq from the destruction that could befall it." He also wrote a letter to the Republican Guard commanders urging them "to save yourselves, Iraq and its people from the coming tragedy." (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, London, May 14, via BBC Monitoring) [top]

Denmark's Poul Nielson, European Union commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, said May 9 he believes the US aims to take control of Iraq's oil and is "on its way to becoming a member of OPEC." Nielson spoke after the US and UK introduced a UN draft resolution to lift the sanctions against Iraq. "They [the US] will appropriate the oil," he told Danish public radio news on return from a three-day trip to Iraq. "It is very difficult to see how this would make sense in any other way." (Reuters, May 9) [top]


Three suicide bombing attacks killed nine Israelis on May 17 and 18, as Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met with his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon for the first talks between the leaders of each side in almost two years. On May 17, a bomber dressed as an observant Jew blew himself up in Hebron, killing two Israelis. The next day, a bomb exploded on a Jerusalem bus, killing seven and injuring 20. A second bomber, also dressed as an observant Jew, exploded himself when approached by security guards, injuring none (besides himself).

The bus bombing occurred near the Israeli colony of Pisgat Ze'ev, built on Palestinian land illegally annexed to Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. There is no international legal distinction between Pisgat Ze'ev and the militant settlement of Itamar in the middle of the West Bank, for example. However, this fact is commonly obscured in the media. The UK Independent called Pisgat Ze'ev a "working-class suburb." CNN called it a "suburb of East Jerusalem." The Washington Post called it the "community of Pisgat Ze'ev." Six of the victims were Jewish settlers living in Pisgat Ze'ev. (CNN, Washington Post, UK Independent, Ha'aretz, May 18)

Hamas claimed responsibility for all three attacks. Hamas spokesman Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, when asked about the cause of the attacks, told Al-Jazeera TV: "The contradiction is between us and the occupation, and not between us and the Palestinian government. The Palestinian government also lives the Palestinian people's tragedy. The Palestinian government is also suffering. It sat with [Israeli Premier] Sharon. What did Sharon give it? We should not waste time. We have wasted nine years in negotiations that were utilized by the Zionist enemy to build settlements, Judaize the sacred places and open bypass roads. These people are murderers and criminals. They do not respect any pledge or agreement. They understand only the language of destruction, sabotage and killing. Therefore, we must face them with the only language they understand." (BBC Monitoring: Al-Jazeera TV, May 18) (David Bloom) [top]

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected the US demand for a freeze in construction activity in settlements on May 13. "I don't call them settlements, but rather communities," Sharon said, adding, "We also won't force young mothers to have abortions." (, May 14)

One month after saying Israel had to make "painful concessions" in a peace deal, and cited the Israeli West Bank settlements of Shilo and Beit El as possibilities for evacuation, Sharon made it clear that he has no intention of following through. Sharon told the Jerusalem Post: "If you ask me whether in Beit El there will not be Jews, no. Jews will live there." Sharon made clear the settlements would remain under Israeli rule. "Do you see a possibility of Jews living under Arab sovereignty?" he asked rhetorically. "I'm asking you, do you see that possibility?"

The director of the settler-oriented news site Arutz Sheva, Yaacov Katz, who once served as a top aide to Sharon, told his readers that "after his amazing lifetime achievements in building up Yesha [settler Hebrew acronym for the occupied territories, standing for Judea, Samaria, and Gaza], I have no doubt that Arik Sharon will not lend his hand to uprooting even one community in Yesha. Take a look at the numbers. Most of the Jews in Jerusalem today live in areas that were liberated in 1967. And I'm not talking about Maaleh Adumim, which has 35,000 people--but rather Pisgat Ze'ev, Gilo, and the other Jerusalem neighborhoods... And look at the other cities in Yesha: Beitar--26,000. Kiryat Sefer--25,000. Ariel--22,000. Kiryat Arba, and Efrat, and Beit El--between 8,000 and 11,000. Many of these began as little towns or outposts, and, with Sharon's help, have now grown to cities--and the same will be true of the outposts of today." (, May 14) (David Bloom) [top]

According to IDF Radio on May 14, the army is preparing for the day "when the politicians will say the time has arrived for translating the road map into action." One part of this plan involves "separating settler and Palestinian traffic." The stated goal "is to reduce the shooting incidents on the roads."

According to the report: "The Central Command has finalized a detailed plan in this issue, according to which there will be separate roads for settlers and Palestinians. Israeli Defense Forces sources said they want to create a situation in which a Palestinian wanting to travel from Jenin to Hebron would be able to do so without encountering 10 roadblocks along the way. The IDF sources add that perhaps the Palestinians will have to go through a somewhat longer way... For example, road No 60, which is a central road in Judaea and Samaria [West Bank], will be used by Israelis only, while the old No 60 road, after being renovated, will be used by the Palestinians." (IDF Radio, May 14, via BBC Monitoring)

According to a May 18 Ha'aretz book review of "Geografia Shel Kibush" ["Geography of Occupation"] by Elisha Efrat, implementation of the system of bypass roads is already well-advanced in the West Bank:

"Dozens of kilometers of roads pass by [Palestinian] villages, large and small, and there are no road signs attesting to their existence. But what good would the signs do? In any case, the residents of these villages are not allowed to use these roads. Miles and miles of highways, lit up along their entire length, are almost empty of cars in the stretches between one village and the next, and the big green road signs ignore their [the villages'] existence, directing traffic toward hilltops... All names in Arabic have been erased from the white directional signs at traffic intersections. 'Death to the Arabs' is scrawled in red across some of them. Draped along the side of the road are banners demanding 'victory over the Palestinians,' and the concrete blocks set up around the army checkpoints are plastered with posters calling for a return to Joseph's Tomb [now held by Palestinians in Nablus]. Traveling along this sleek road, the eye skips over the drab villages in the plains and valleys, and are drawn toward the shimmering red-roofed [settler] houses on almost every hilltop with their paved approach roads branching off from the highway, virtually unused." (Ha'aretz, May 18) (David Bloom) [top]

On May 13, a number of armed Jewish settlers attacked the vehicle carrying Ahmed Qurei, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). According the Voice of Palestine, "a number of armed settlers intercepted the car of Qurei, who was on his way back from a meeting with the Greek foreign minister in Ramallah. They hit the car with rifle butts, insulted Qurei and made racist threats." In a statement, the PLC said the attack took place in front of Israeli army troops, who did nothing to intervene. The PLC said such inaction "encourages settlers' extremism and racism." (Voice of Palestine, May 14, via BBC Monitoring) (David Bloom) [top]

An Israeli policy of destroying the homes of Palestinians involved in attacks on Israelis is claimed by the Israeli establishment to deter such attacks. Israeli military officials claim Palestinians have turned in relatives who they realized were planning attacks, out of fear their homes might be destroyed as a consequence. But no proof of these claims of deterrence has ever been offered.

A recent case shows that the home demolition policy can backfire. A 15-year old from a West Bank village, whose father is serving a life sentence for involvement in attacks on Israelis, is under indictment for planning at attack on Kibbutz Metzer in Israel. According to the indictment, the teen told Israeli General Security Services interrogators that he planned the attack to avenge the destruction of his home. (Ha'aretz, May 15) (David Bloom) [top]

A poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute finds that 57% of Israel's Jewish population "thinks the government should encourage Arabs to migrate from the country." In 1999, a majority opposed the idea. Ha'aretz concludes: "This means that the majority finds the transfer idea acceptable." (Ha'aretz, May 17) (David Bloom) [top]


Among the targets of the May 12 coordinated terrorist attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which left 34 dead, was the Vinnell Corporation, which was involved in training the Saudi National Guard. Vinnell's residential compound and offices were hit, killing nine company employees and injuring several others, two critically. Vinnell, under contract to the US Army, employs some 800 people in Saudi Arabia including 300 US nationals. Vinnell recently came under the financial control of the US defense contractor Northrop. For five years until 1997 it was owned by the Carlyle group, a defense and investment house close to the Bush family. (The Age, May 15)

Saudi Arabia's bin Laden family--which claims to have broken all ties to Osama--is a top investor in one Carlyle Group fund. See WW3 REPORT # 21

Dan Briody, author of "The Iron Triangle," a study of Carlyle Group, said the firm has always sought a low profile; there is "no publicity, no press releases, no news clippings... No one knows who the original owners were." Vinnell's work in Saudi Arabia began almost 30 years ago, when it won a contract to train Saudi troops to guard oilfields. A congressional inquiry found that the company had agreed a "no Jews" clause. The company helped the Saudis expand their National Guard from 26,000 troops to around 70,000. In the 1991 Gulf War, Vinnell employees were seen fighting alongside Saudi troops.

In the early '80s Time magazine reported that two Vinnell employees were embroiled in a failed attempt to overthrow Maurice Bishop, the leftist prime minister of Grenada, and soon after an ex-employee was implicated in the Contragate scandal, concerning the Reagan administration's secret war in Nicaragua. (London Times, May 14) [top]

Only days before the Riyadh attacks, the Saudi government announced that it had foiled a terrorist attempt by an al-Qaeda cell and seized of a large cache of weapons and explosives. Newspapers published the photographs of 19 men sought by the authorities. (Financial Times, May 14)

Saudi authorities are now investigating suspected illegal arms sales by members of the country's national guard to al-Qaeda operatives, US and Saudi intelligence sources told the Washington Post. The weapons seized in the May 6 raid on an al-Qaeda safe house and were reportedly traced to national guard stockpiles. (WP, May 18)

The UK Telegraph quotes unnamed Western intelligence officials saying the terrorists had "moles" in the Saudi security and military forces. "The only area where there is no evidence of a significant al-Qaeda presence is in the Saudi air force," one intelligence official said. "The police, army, navy and National Guard have all been infiltrated." (UK Telegraph, May 16) [top]

US intelligence agencies are investigating the possibility that al-Qaeda leaders hiding in Iran may have helped coordinate the Saudi bombings. Intelligence officials said several al-Qaeda leaders, including Saif al-Adel, wanted in connection with the 1998 Africa embassy bombings, and Osama bin Laden's son Saad have found refuge in Iran, where they remain active. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, speaking to journalists in Washington May 14, made no explicit reference to a link between Iran and the Saudi bombings, but said: "We are concerned about al-Qaeda operating in Iran." (Knight-Ridder, May 14) [top]

On April 30, 450 of Saudi Arabia's minority Shiite Muslims, who have long complained of discrimination, formally petitioned de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah for a greater voice inside the Sunni-dominated kingdom. The petition marks the first time Shiites have made their concerns so public and demanded greater representation within Saudi institutions. AP obtained a copy of the petition, entitled "Partners in the Nation," which asks the Saudi government to "clearly declare the kingdom's respect for all Islamic sects, including Shiism." In February, Sunni and Shiite reformers and intellectuals presented Abdullah with a comprehensive reform document that included demands for better representation for Shiites. The new petition calls for forming a national committee including Shiites to address sectarianism, and abolition of orders banning Shiites from serving in public office. It also calls for an end to arbitrary detentions and travel bans, and seeks the right for Shiites to be tried in their own religious courts. Sunni courts do not recognize testimonies by Shiites, who are considered by hard-liners to be unbelievers. Saudi Arabia officially adheres to Wahhabism, a puritan form of Sunni Islam.

Shiites make up perhaps 15% of Saudi Arabia's 20 million people, and live mainly in the kingdom's oil-rich eastern province. Shiite-Sunni tensions exploded during a violent Shiite revolt in eastern Saudi Arabia following Iran's 1979 Shiite-led revolution. Saudi forces crushed the revolt, but a committee was formed soon after to address Shiite grievances. However, its work went no further than improving living conditions for Shiites. (AP, May 12)

See also WW3 REPORT #62 [top]

Exiled Iranian monarchists are building an alliance in Washington with influential neo-conservatives, top Pentagon officials and Israeli lobby groups in a bid to win US support for their return to power. Supporters of Reza Pahlavi, Virginia- based son of the last Shah of Iran, see a role model in Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress head who is backed by powerful figures in the Pentagon as a future leader of Iraq. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that hosted an Iran conference last week, is home to several analysts pushing both Chalabi and the Pahlavi cause. AEI's Michael Ledeen recently wrote that Pahlavi is the suitable leader for a political transition in Iran, describing him as "widely admired inside Iran, despite his refreshing lack of avidity for power or wealth." Reuel Marc Gerecht, who advocates threatening the clerics in Tehran by military means, asserted that nostalgia for the Shah's regime has grown in Iran. Pahlavi, who advocates a referendum in Iran on the return of the monarchy, is also said to have the support of Douglas Feith, under-secretary of defense for policy. (Financial Times, May 8)

Writes The Forward, New York's Jewish weekly: "The emerging coalition is reminiscent of the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, with Pahlavi possibly assuming the role of Iraqi exile opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi, a favorite of neo-conservatives. Like Chalabi, Pahlavi has good relations with several Jewish groups. He has addressed the board of the hawkish Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and gave a public speech at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and met with Jewish communal leaders. Pahlavi also has had quiet contacts with top Israeli officials. During the last two years, according to a knowledgeable source, he has met privately with Prime Minister Sharon and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Israel's Iranian-born president, Moshe Katsav."

Pooya Dayanim, president of the Iranian-Jewish Public Affairs Committee in Los Angeles and a hawk on Iran, told The Forward: "There is a pact emerging between hawks in the administration, Jewish groups and Iranian supporters of Reza Pahlavi to push for regime change." (The Forward, May 16)

See also WW3 REPORT #s 84 & 65 [top]


US helicopter gunships and fighter jets destroyed a house in eastern Afghanistan May 10. The raid came a day after guerillas ambushed a US-led convoy, killing one Afghan soldier and wounding an American with rocket fire near Lalmi, about three miles from the city of Khost. US and allied Afghan forces were hunting for Taliban/al-Qaeda fugitives in the area near the Pakistani border. (AP, May 10) [top]

Eighteen months after a ouster of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains beset by ethnic conflicts, weak central government and warlordism, according to London's International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS). "This unfinished business...could put the coalition in the position of defending a narrowly based and unpopular regime against widespread hostility or opposition," said the ISS in its annual world review, Strategic Survey 2002/3. The report said officials "appeared to believe that warlord rule was unfortunate but inevitable under the circumstances, and that it was better than anarchy." President Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, has sometimes denounced the warlords, but never challenged their roles as governors or local commanders, in theory under his authority. Outside powers are still playing on Afghanistan's internal rivalries. The IISS said Russia had formed tight links with Vice President and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, leader of the mainly Tajik clique at the heart of the government. Iran has established close relations with Ismail Khan, a Tajik leader in the western province of Herat, while Pakistan's regional rival India is also wooing Fahim's faction. The IISS warned that Pashtuns could revolt in the near future, that Karzai's government could lose legitimacy, and Pakistan could intervene to undercut growing Russian and Iranian influence in Afghanistan. (Reuters, May 13)

See also WW3 REPORT #83 [top]

Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, spiritual leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, which teaches that Jesus escaped the cross and traveled to India, is dead at the age of 74. Ahmad, born in Qadian, India in 1928 and named the fourth leader of the Ahmadiyya community in 1982, died April 19 in London, according to an obituary on the group's Web site. He left Pakistan in 1984 because of government persecution of the Ahmadiyya, and made his home in England. His father, Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad, was the second successor of the 19th-century founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Ahmadiyyas are regarded as heretics by orthodox Islam because they believe the founder was the messiah. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad taught that Jesus resumed his ministry after escaping to the East and is buried in Srinagar, Kashmir. (AP, May 7)

The Ahmadiyya also believe that when Jesus came to the East, he was following in the footsteps of the Lost Tribes of Israel, who became the contemporary Afghans. The Ahmadiyya holy book, "Masih Hindustan Mein" (Jesus in India), by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, states:

"The Torah contained the promise for the Israelites that, if they believed in the Last Prophet (akhari nabi) [Mohammed], then in the last days, after many calamities, they would attain worldly rule and kingship. This promise was fulfilled in this manner, that the ten tribes of Israel [settled in Afghanistan and Kashmir] embraced Islam, and for this reason, there arose great kings among the Afghans and also the Kashmiris."

(Masih Hindustan Main, Qadian, India, 1899, footnote, chapter 4, section 1

Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement [top]


Two terror attacks in Russia's rebellious region of Chechnya last week have commentators speaking of the "Palestinization" of the long-running conflict. (NYT, May 25) On May 12, three suicide bombers drove a truck loaded with explosives into a government office complex in the north of Chechnya [at Znamenskoe], killing 59. Then, on May 14, over 20 were killed and scores were wounded in a suicide attack carried out by a woman during a religious festival [marking the birth of the Prophet Mohammed] in Iliskhan-Yurt, east of the regional capital Grozny. The head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Akhmad Kadyrov, had reportedly been on the scene addressing the crowd, but was not injured. (Reuters, May 14)

On the afternoon of the Iliskhan-Yurt attack, US Secretary of State Colin Powell--fresh from his tour of a residential compound blown up in the May 12 terror attacks in Saudi Arabia--landed in Msocow and condemned the Chechen attacks. Standing beside him, Russian President Vladimir Putin drew parallels between the Chechen and Saudi attacks, calling them "links in the same chain of acts by international terrorists." (Time Europe, May 26)

Salambek Maigov, envoy of Chechenya's rebel President Aslan Maskhadov, said the bombings are a response to Russia's failure to deliver on any of the promises it made in the run-up to the March 23 referendum on a new Chechen constitution, in which permanent union with Russia was approved by a majority of voters. But a similar truck bombing destroyed the Chechen government building in Grozny in late December, with radical field commander Shamil Basaev claiming responsibility. Writes Liz Fuller for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news wire: "It is...possible that the suicide bombings mark a new phase of the Chechen war in which terrorist attacks against representatives of the pro-Russian Chechen administration will supercede classical guerrilla operations against the Russian military... Whatever the identity and motivation of the perpetrators of the recent Chechen bombings, they might have jeopardized one of the initiatives by which President Vladimir Putin hoped to demonstrate Moscow's readiness for leniency--namely, the proposed amnesty for Chechen fighters who voluntarily lay down their arms. Putin submitted the draft amnesty legislation to the Russian State Duma just hours before the Znamenskoe bombing on 12 May..." (RFE/RL Newsline, May 15)

See also WW3 REPORT #s 57 & 66 [top]

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan, from Yerevan, Armenia, on May 15 to meet with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, officially inaugurating a NATO-sponsored Internet project that will give Azerbaijani experts access to European databases. Robertson voiced support for Azerbaijan's recent statement of intention to seek NATO membership, but warned that the country is unlikely to be granted entry before 2007 at the earliest. He pointed out that Azerbaijan will be one of the first states in the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to implement an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO. He also said NATO has no plans to establish military bases in Azerbaijan. He also said NATO will not assume a leading role in mediating a solution to the conflict with Armenia, and warned that it is important that the presidential elections due in October be free, fair, and democratic. (RFE/RL Newsline, May 15) [top]

Azerbaijan's parliament voted May 15 to ratify a bilateral agreement with Russia on cooperation between the two nations' defense industries, signed in February. Government official Sabir Alekperov told parliament deputies that Azerbaijan's six defense plants manufactured products worth $18.8 million last year, and that the agreement with Russia opens the way to contracts worth some $30 million. But opposition deputy Masis Safarli argued against the agreement on the grounds that "Russia is Armenia's military ally." (RFE/RL Newsline, May 15) [top]

Citing unidentified "diplomatic sources," Azerbaijan's independent on-line newspaper reported that Russia is exerting "massive diplomatic pressure" on the Azerbaijani leadership to abandon the planned deployment of a 150-man peacekeeping force to Iraq. The Azerbaijani parliament approved the deployment May 7, and the force was scheduled to leave May 12, but that same day Interfax quoted an unidentified Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman as saying the deployment has been indefinitely postponed "for organizational reasons." Azerbaijan's Ambassador to the US Hafiz Pashaev and US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson both said that the Azerbaijani peacekeepers will arrive in Iraq by the end of May. (RFE/RL Newsline, May 15)

See also WW3 REPORT #37 [top]

Givi Agrba, national security service chief in Georgia's Muslim separatist enclave of Abkhazia, announced May 16 that Abesalom Arkania, identified as one of the leaders of the Georgian guerrilla formation White Legion, was killed in an exchange of fire with Abkhaz forces in Gali Raion the previous day. Georgian sources claim Arkania was taken hostage by the Abkhaz and then executed in retaliation for the May 4 shooting of Abkhaz customs official Ruslan Khashba in Tagiloni village by presumed Georgian guerillas. Arkania's body was found May 15 in the village of Chuburkhindji, where Georgian and Abkhaz officials, Russian peacekeeping forces and representatives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia meet every Thursday to discuss the situation in the conflict zone. (RFE/RL Newsline, May 15)

See also WW3 REPORT #41 [top]


Four explosions tore through the Moroccan coastal city of Casablanca May 16, leaving several dead. Targets included a Jewish community center and cemetery, the Belgian Consulate, a fashionable restaurant and a major downtown hotel. The community center was closed at the time of the attack, and most casualties were at the hotel and restaurant. The attacks occurred as Moroccans celebrated the birth of the first son of King Mohammed VI, who was traveling to Casablanca later that weekend. (AP, May 17) By the following day, the death toll had risen to 41, and Moroccan authorities were said to have a wounded bomber in custody. (Newsday, May 18) [top]

US and British marines combed Kenya's borders with Somalia and Sudan May 16, and closely monitored Western targets in Nairobi as fears of an attack by suspected al-Qaeda operative Fazul Abdullah Mohammed placed airports and embassies on alert. Mohammed is on the US government's list of its 22 most wanted terrorists and is described by the FBI as the "head of al-Qaeda's Kenyan cell." The troops were deployed to Kenya from posts in Djibouti and elsewhere around the Horn of Africa. (WP, May 18)

The British Foreign Office has suspended all British commercial flights to and from Kenya, citing a "clear terrorist threat" by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. The May 6 warning also cited Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti, while only advising British nationals to avoid all non-essential travel to Kenya. The warning stated that each of the six nations "is one of a number of countries in East Africa where there is a clear terrorist threat." (AP, May 16) [top]

On May 8 the Pentagon announced that the USS Mt. Whitney will drop off command personnel and equipment at Camp Lemonier in the nation of Djibouti--already home to some 1,800 US troops and civilian personnel--before returning from a tour of the Horn of Africa. The announcement follows little-noticed remarks by NATO Supreme Commander US Gen. James Jones that Washington plans to boost its troop presence in West Africa, a troubled but oil-rich region that government estimates say may be the source of up to 25% of US petroleum imports by 2015, up from 15% in 2000.

"The carrier battle groups of the future and the expeditionary strike groups of the future may not spend six months in the Med[iterranean Sea], but I'll bet they'll spend half the time going down the West Coast of Africa," Jones told a Defense Writers Group breakfast in late April. Without mentioning oil, Jones said the region includes "large, ungoverned areas...that are clearly the new routes of narco-trafficking, terrorists' training, and hotbeds of instability."

Washington is particularly concerned about the infiltration of al-Qaeda militants into the Horn of Africa following the Afghanistan campaign. The Mt Whitney acted as the headquarters for the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) which will now move to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. The camp, a former French base, has been home to hundreds of US military personnel, including Special Operations Forces, since shortly after the 9-11 attacks.

Camp Lemonier is to serve as a model for a similar program in West Africa, where Jones said NATO is planning to deploy a prototype rapid-reaction force of between 2,000 and 3,000 units--including air, ground and sea forces--as early as October. He did not say where the base would be sited.

Major oil producers in the region include Nigeria, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea, where Washington plans to re-open its embassy eight years after closing it. Major deposits have recently been found in the Gulf of Guinea, now believed to hold as much as 30 billion barrels of reserves. (OneWorld, May 9)

See also WW3 REPORT #s 58 & 52 [top]

The UN is calling for a major international force to stop what it fears may be a genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as rival tribal militias fight for the city of Bunia, in the eastern Ituri region near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders. Scores of city residents have been killed in recent days and over 10,000 have sought UN protection at the airport and local UN compound. At least 80% of the town's 90,000 inhabitants have already fled. "There's fire everywhere, from mortars, from Kalashnikovs and other heavy arms," UN spokesman Patricia Tome said. "Our evaluation of what we know, it could be a genocide," warned chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who is in charge of the case against perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has put forward a request for troops to unspecified "governments with capacity." France, seen as a potential leader of any international mission, says it is considering a request to deploy a battalion of some 700 troops to the DRC. "France has indicated that in principle it is prepared to participate in such a force, provided there is a clear mandate, and other governments join in. So we are in touch with other governments trying to see if they will join France in such an effort," Annan said. (AP, May 14)

"France is willing to contribute to the stabilization of Ituri and we are currently looking into the practicalities of participating in an ad hoc and temporary international force," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau. But both Congolese armed groups and Rwanda's government questioned France's motives for wanting to become involved in a conflict in which has claimed over three million lives, mostly through war-related starvation or disease. Rwanda remains deeply suspicious of France, accusing it of intervening to slow the advance of Tutsi rebels seeking to end Rwanda's 1994 genocide and overthrow the French-backed Hutu-dominated Rwandan government then in power. France denies the charge.

The new fighting in the Ituri region began after Ugandan troops pulled out and a Hema militia drove rival Lendu fighters from Bunia. Observers warn that the violence between the two groups could escalate to the level seen between Rwanda's Hutu and Tutsi in 1994. Tome said UN troops found two women and a baby hacked to death in Bunia and are probing reports of killings in nearby villages. (Reuters, May 13)

An April report from Human Rights Watch found that "Uganda's volatile sponsorship of a variety of ethnic militias in Ituri has inflamed the situation." It noted that Ugandan troops are accused of backing Lendu militias against the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) Hema forces. (HRW press release, April 7)

Although Uganda and Rwanda both intervened in the war in 1998 to support eastern rebels fighting the DRC's central government in Kinshasa, the two former allies have since fallen out and are supporting rival guerilla groups. Uganda and Congo's central government alike may now be aiding the Lendu against the UPC. "We have Bunia in our grip and they will not wrestle it from us," UPC leader Thomas Lubanga told Reuters, accusing DRC President Joseph Kabila's army of supporting an assault by Lendu fighters on UPC positions on Bunia's outskirts. (Reuters, May 13)

Mirroring the conflict between the pastoral Tutsi and agricultural Hutu in Rwanda, the Rwanda-backed Hema (also known as the Gerere) are a pastoral people pitted against the agricultural Lendu, a Sudanic ethnic group. The various ethnic armies routinely recruit and abduct children and adolescents to serve as soldiers. The UPC is said to have 6,000 children aged between eight and 17 years in its ranks. (New Vision, Kampala, April 23) [top]

Despite the chaotic warfare, Western oil companies are still operating in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo controlled by armed rebel factions. Canada's heritage Oil Corporation began drilling for oil in eastern DRC in the summer of 2002, in an area controlled by Ugandan-backed Congo Liberation Movement (MLC) guerillas commanded by Jean Pierre Bemba. The oil concession extends over some 7.7 million acres of the Ituri and Butembo provinces. Illegal logging organized by the Uganda Patriotic Defense Forces (UPDF), Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) and local Congolese allies and warlords has ravaged the Ituri forest region. (Africa Research Bulletin, June 16-July 15, 2002).

The war-torn Congo Basin and Ituri regions are at the heart of Central Africa, one of the most resource-rich areas of the planet, which the US is taking an increasing interest in. Last September, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Gabon with long-entrenched dictator Omar Bongo to hold private discussions on security and oil development. Among the topics on the agenda was the $53 million Congo Basin Forest Partnership and US AID Central African Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE). AID, NASA, the World Bank, World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society are all involved in CARPE, which is ostensibly aimed at sustainable development and biodoversity protection in the Central African rainforests.

Nearly all of equatorial Africa's leaders have been enlisted to support these programs, including Rwanda's Paul Kagame, DRC's Joseph Kabila, Gabon's Bongo, Equatorial Guniea's Teodoro Obiang, Cameroon's Paul Biya, Central African Republic's Ange-Felix Patasse, and Republic of Congo's Dennis Sassou Nguesso.

Obiang, Bongo, Sassou Nguesso, Biya and Kagame are all responsible for repeated and egregious crimes against humanity. The Bongo government, in power for decades, perpetrated massacres of perhaps thousands of pro-democracy students in the early 1990's. The widespread repression, torture and murder by the government of Equatorial Guinea has proceeded as an instrument of systemic control even as oil interests have penetrated the Gulf of Guinea. All of these governments continue to receive US military training and support under IMET (International Military Education and Training) and JCET (Joint Combined Exchange Training) programs.

(Keith Harmon Snow) [top]

The West African nation of Sierra Leone has launched a truth panel, designed on the South African model, which has collected thousands of statements and is to hold hearings to allow citizens to discuss their experiences during the country's civil war. Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, internationally reviled for their brutality during the war, first began their attacks in 1991. After a decade of military coups, shattered peace deals, and massive human rights abuses, Sierra Leone finally declared its war over early last year and held elections. (AP, April 1)

But controversy has arisen between the UN-backed Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal and the government of neighboring Liberia over the court's jurisdiction. The tribunal has demanded that Liberia hand over two fugitives, former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma and rebel commander Sam Bockarie. But Liberia's President Charles Taylor says he is not bound by the court's jurisdiction. Tribunal prosecutor Allan White warned that if Taylor failed to turn over the two indicted suspects, "he could be subject for prosecution for aiding and abetting those war criminals."

Also detained by the court is the former RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who is disabled by partial stroke and reportedly "mentally unbalanced." In almost all the indictments served, President Taylor's name features prominently in alleged gun-running and "blood diamond" smuggling deals with the RUF. Earlier reports quoted the prosecutor David Crane as saying: "This case is far beyond Sierra Leone. It is national, regional and international. I will follow the evidence wherever it leads and whoever may be involved." (IPS, May 14)

A New York Times story from January 1998, at the height of the conflict, noted how international rivalries inflamed the simultaneous wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, with Nigeria--backed by the US and UK--assembling a regional multi-nation intervention force to fight the French-backed forces of Taylor and the RUF. Wrote the Times:

"For many experts, the key to the recent history of Sierra Leone and Liberia lies in Nigeria's push to extend its political and economic influence along the West African coast. At virtually every step of the way, these analysts say, France has maneuvered to keep the Nigerian giant in check. The French motivation: eagerness to retain a hold on heavily dependent former colonies... International rivalries have existed in the area since colonial times, But they accelerated sharply in 1989, when Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, reportedly with French encouragement, helped Charles G. Taylor launch an invasion of Liberia to topple the United States-backed Government of Samuel K. Doe. With the United States evacuating its citizens from Liberia because of the intensifying violence, Nigeria, whose [then] military Government had strong business ties Mr. Doe, rallied several other West African nationals behind a regional military intervention. The action relied heavily at first on Nigerian jets and gunboats to stop Mr. Taylor's advance. Mr. Taylor, furious to see his offensive foiled, then began arming a guerilla movement, the Revolutionary United Front, to punish Sierra Leone for joining the Nigerian drive against him. Sierra Leone's Government initially relied on Nigerian help for its defense, ceding control of several diamond-rich mining zones to the Nigerians in return."

Sierra Leone also turned to South African mercenaries to beat back the RUF--which controlled its own diamond zones. Nigeria reached an uneasy peace with Taylor after he finally took power in Liberia via elections in 1997. But conflict erupted again when a junta took power in a coup in Sierra Leone that year and cut a peace deal with the RUF, prompting a new Nigeria-led intervention to restore ousted president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. "It is a West African version of the Great Game," one unnamed African diplomat told the Times, noting the cultivation of proxy forces in the region by France and US-backed Nigeria. "They have almost never gone at it directly, so it goes unnoticed most of the time. But both countries see the stakes as very high." (NYT, Jan. 25, 1998)

(Bill Weinberg and Wynde Priddy) [top]

Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the alleged al-Qaeda agent in Kenya, toured Liberia and the Sierra Leone diamond fields in March 1999 as part of a plan to funnel diamonds through West Africa, reports the Washington Post, citing "a European probe of al-Qaeda financing." (WP, May 18) A November 2001 report in the Washington Post by journalist Douglas Farrah maintained that al-Qaeda has reaped millions of dollars from the illicit sale of Sierra Leone diamonds. Citing unnamed US and European intelligence officials, Farrah claimed that Ibrahim Bah, a Libya-trained former Senegalese guerilla, served as a broker between al-Qaeda and Sierra Leone's RUF rebels in multi-million-dollar diamond deals. The deals reportedly began in 1998, when Bah arranged a meeting between al-Qaeda operative Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah and RUF commander Sam Bockerie (nom de guerre "Mosquito"). In subsequent weeks, Mosquito also reportedly met with al-Qaeda operatives Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. All three of these alleged al-Qaeda agents would later be indicted for involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and are on the FBI's most-wanted terrorist list. (Angie Mangino for Toward Freedom, Summer 2002) [top]

Residents fled burning buildings in the Nigerian oil town of Warri May 14, following a wave of ethnic and political clashes. The Nigerian Red Cross said around 12,000 had fled the area. "There has been a lot of killing and destruction of property," said Joel Bisina of Warri-based NGO Niger Delta Professionals for Development. Bisina said a supporter of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and his family were burned alive in their house by militants of the opposition Alliance for Democracy (AD), while PDP supporters responded in kind, burning alive an AD supporter and his family. "Shooting is still going on right now," Red Cross President Emmanuel Ijewere told Reuters. "About 320 people are injured and about 12,000 displaced." Ijewere said the violence is both ethnic and political, with clashes between the rival Itsekiri and Urhobo ethnic groups intertwined with violence between the PDP and AD. Local elections are slated for June 21, and many fear a repeat of the vote rigging allegations in last month's presidential and governors' polls. (Reuters, May 14)

See also WW3 REPORT #85 [top]


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reached what it calls a landmark agreement with the Colombian authorities to help refugees and internally displaced people in the country. According to government figures, Colombia's civil war has uprooted nearly one million people, with human rights groups putting the figure three times higher. A recent report by the local Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES) said 410,000 people were displaced by the conflict in 2002--the worst year on record.

"Displacement in Colombia is a huge and growing issue, affecting above all people in the countryside and border areas," UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Clark told BBC News Online. "This accord gives us a more formal and direct involvement in promoting international standards to care for displaced people." Under the agreement, the UNHCR will work with the Colombian Senate on legislation to help those forced to flee their homes. (BBC, May 16)

Stated the CODHES report: "This is the other war behind the war... Today displacement is no longer a side-effect of the armed conflict. It is a central strategy pursued by the opposing groups, and by those who promote and profit from confrontation." The Afro-Colombian population is disproportionately affected by forced displacement, accounting for some 33% of those expelled from their land, the report said.

President Alvaro Uribe was elected last year vowing to restore law and order, but CODHES blames hardline policies for worsening the situation, with government offensives against guerillas resulting in yet more violence which rebounds on the civilian population. (BBC, April 29) [top]

Colombia's Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez warned May 12 that her government is prepared to use force if Nicaragua allows oil exploration near a Caribbean island chain claimed by both nations. Nicaragua responded that it has granted exploration concessions to four US companies in Caribbean offshore waters, but said that they do not involve waters under dispute. Nicaragua's earlier announcement that it planned to award exploration bids near the San Andres archipelago prompted Colombia's warning. "The concessions do not include any territory claimed by other countries,'' said Octavio Salinas, director of the Nicaraguan Energy Institute, adding that they were all "in territory historically of Nicaraguan sovereignty.'' Under a 1928 treaty, Colombia owns San Andres and its territorial waters. But Nicaragua has declared the treaty invalid and has disputed it before the World Court at The Hague, Netherlands. The Colombian navy has ships patrolling the waters around the archipelago, about 400 miles off the Colombian coast [and about 150 miles off the Nicaraguan coast]. "The navy has sufficient capacity to defend and guarantee the sovereignty of our waters,'' Ramirez told Radio Caracol in Bogota. "We hope we obtain peaceful solutions. We don't think that this should be solved in a military scenario.'' But Sen. Enrique Gomez Hurtado, head of the Colombian senate's foreign relations commission, said that if Nicaragua proceeds with the oil exploration, "we will have to use force.''

Neither government seems concerned with the potential environmental impacts of oil development in the area. The San Andres islands are surrounded by some of the largest and most productive coral reefs in the Western Hemisphere, according to the Ocean Conservancy. (AP, May 14) [top]

Achuar, Shuar and Zapara indigenous leaders from the Amazon rainforests of southern Ecuador and northern Peru were in Houston, TX, May 14 to present Burlington Resources with an "Eviction Notice," demanding that the oil company pull out of their territories. The Indian leaders charge that Burlington Resources is attempting to exploit oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon against the will of the region's people, and in violation of both Ecuadorian and international law. Opposition by the indigenous leaders of the legally-recognized indigenous federations--representing 100,000 people living in territories encompassing 2.5 million acres--has prevented oil development for seven years. Burlington Resources still holds rights to the Block 24 and half of the Block 23 concessions in Ecuador, and part of Block 64 in Peru. From blocking runways with spears to prevent company planes from landing, to winning legal actions in national courts, the indigenous communities have forced Burlington to declare "Force Majuere"--a suspension of the terms of their contract. Pressure has also led the Ecuadorian government to suspend auctions of new oil concessions in the region. (Amazon Watch press release, May 12)

( [top]


President Vicente Fox joined other Mexican politicians in rejecting a call by the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee to link an agreement on immigration to allowing US investment in Mexico's state oil company. Fox said his administration is committed to reaching an immigration deal with Washington. "But in no way will it accept negotiating that agreement in exchange for the opening of Petroleos Mexicanos to foreign investment," said a statement. Fox said his government has sponsored reforms of the state company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) "to modernize its infrastructure and make its administration more transparent." But he repeated that "in this government, Pemex will not be privatized nor sold."

The House committee measure narrowly approved May 8 on votes by the Republican majority states that any accord on immigration issues with Mexico should include an agreement to open Pemex to US investment. It was a non-binding "sense of Congress" amendment to a broad State Department funding measure and still faces approval by both houses of Congress. Nearly ignored in the US, the amendment sparked outrage in Mexico, where Sen. Demetrio Sodi told the newspaper Reforma that the vote "is a sample of the ignorance of the US legislators, of their arrogance and imperialist vision." (AP, May 11)

See also WW3 REPORT #71 [top]

Days after President Fox assured Mexicans that state control over the nation's oil industry would remain secure, his Economy Secretary Fernando Canales on May 16 urged private investment in Pemex before a meeting of Mexico City businessmen. Canales said Mexico needs "the intervention of the private sector, national and international, to achieve" increased production. Canales spoke of keeping Pemex as "the principal company of the government, of Mexicans" but did not mention the word "monopoly." He added that private investment could be phased in by stages, and that Mexico specifically could benefit from investment in natural gas.

Meanwhile, several Mexican congressmen criticized Fox's administration for attempting to skirt limits on private investment through what it calls "multiple service contracts" that use private money without giving formal ownership. (AP, May 17) [top]


Spain announced May 16 it has filed a $2.3 billion lawsuit against an oil industry regulatory organization for certifying the tanker that broke apart and split in the Atlantic in November, spilling over 10 million gallons of oil, fouling 300 miles of the Galician coastline and devastating the local fishing industry. The suit, filed in New York, accuses the Houston-based American Bureau of Shipping of negligence in granting a technical certificate to the Prestige tanker, which sank Nov. 19, resulting in Spain's worst environmental disaster. The American Bureau of Shipping "was responsible for the technical supervision which allowed the Prestige to continue navigating, despite the defects it showed," read a statement by the Galician regional government.

The Prestige broke in two off northwest Spain and sank after Spanish authorities ordered it out to sea. The government estimates it spilled around half its cargo of 20.5 million gallons of fuel oil, which has drifted as far as Portugal and southwest France. The single-hulled Prestige flew a Bahamian flag and was operated from Athens by a company registered in Liberia. Many experts claim the Spanish government's decision to send the vessel out to sea following the initial rupture increased the likelihood of it splitting and sinking. The American Bureau of Shipping, an independent industry organization, released a statement saying it "looks forward to vigorously and successfully defending its actions and its reputation in the Courts against these unmerited allegations and preposterous claims." (AP, May 16)

See also WW3 REPORT #62 [top]

A Smithsonian Institution exhibit featuring the work of photographer Subhankar Banerjee in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was altered following a C-Span-aired March 18 floor debate in which Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) urged every member to read Banerjee's book, "Seasons of Life and Land," before calling the ANWR a frozen wasteland. The Smithsonian subsequently moved Banerjee's exhibit from the main floor rotunda to a lower level room, and deleted and truncated photo captions. The original caption on a shot of the Romanzof Mountains quoted Banerjee: "The refuge has the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen and is so remote and untamed that many peaks, valleys and lakes are still without names." The new caption simply reads: "Unnamed Peak, Romanzof Mountains." The Smithsonian denied it had been pressured into making the changes. (NYT, May 2)

Republicans are seeking to open the ANWR to oil development as a cornerstone of the Bush energy policy plan. See WW3 REPORT #78 [top]


Is one of the worst tragedies of the Iraq war that it has allowed France to pose as a defender of world peace?

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