August 18th, 2004

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It's front page news on every Australian paper... why not here?!

Today, Australia's major newspapers are ablaze with the story -- Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, told Australian Prime Minister Howard five weeks prior to the war that he was not convinced by the evidence that Iraq had WMDs.

Blix recently emailed The Age reporter Peter Brown, saying "I am confident that far from saying to Mr Howard that there were WMDs in Iraq, I conveyed to him that we were not impressed by the 'evidence' presented to this effect. Regrettably, there were few at that time who cared to examine evidence about Iraq with a critical mind."

After his meeting with Blix, PM Howard addressed a group of Australian journalists, saying "I don't think it's helpful at this stage for me to be trying to put some particular interpretation on the discussion I had."

In other words, he didn't want to tell the press that the Coalition's case for war was not supported by Blix's briefing.

Now, this is big news over in Australia, and it may very well be the end of the road for Howard, who appears to have not only ignored the intelligence he was given by Blix, but also committed a grave lie of omission that led his country into a war that the majority of Australians opposed. It will undoubtedly lead to calls from Australians that the records of this conversation be made public.

...but the story should be an enormous issue in the U.S., because, after meeting PM Howard that day, Blix met with Condoleeza Rice and gave her an even more damning, detailed assessment of the failure of the WMD claims.

According to Blix, he told Rice that he had sensed in Baghdad "a more serious effort to co-operate actively", although he could not rule out the possibility that it was "part of a dilatory tactic". The Iraqi government had finally agreed to surveillance flights by American U-2 aircraft. "I went on to say that I had not been 'terribly impressed' by the intelligence that had been provided by member states so far. By now UNMOVIC had been to a number of sites indicated by intelligence tips and only one had proved of relevance to the commission's mandate."

Rice responded by saying that it was Iraq that was on trial, not intelligence, and that the issue was "quickly coming to an end".

In other words, the WMD claims didn't matter... at least to the Bush administration.
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Is the final battle for Najaf at hand?

According to Reuters, it appears that the final attack on Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters at Najaf has begun.

"They have a chance. In the next few hours they have to surrender themselves and their weapons," Iraqi interim Defense Minister Hazim al-Shaalan said. "We are in the process of completing all our military preparations . . . We will teach them a lesson they will never forget."

Hey, Hazim... need a paper towel to clean up those bodily fluids? And by the way... you and what army?! If past battles are any indication, you might as well have your soldiers hand the Sadrists their weapons right now, as it might save some lives. After all, everyone knows that Iraqis love being paid $70 a month to shoot their fellow Iraqis -- and be shot at -- especially in their country's most sacred mosque.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the Najaf confrontation was caused by Marines and not by Sadr's forces, as previously claimed. According to accounts from several officers, a unit of Marines that were recently stationed in Najaf launched a major attack on Sadr's forces without the approval of either the Pentagon or of senior Iraqi officials.

In other words, it doesn't matter whether U.S. soldiers destroy Iraq's most holy site or whether Iraq's new military does -- the U.S. will still get blamed for it.

Gung ho, hooah, and all that shit.
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A very confusing, tenuous peace.

Moqtada al-Sadr has called for a ceasefire and has agreed to the points of the Iraqi interim conference's peace initiative. That said, the Iraqi government now finds itself in a real quandry -- Sadr has accepted terms for peace that are very favorable to him and fundamentally different than what the government itself has offered him in the past.

This article -- which describes in detail how it was announced that Sadr accepted interim conference terms -- seems to indicate that the Allawi government may have tried to block the peace process. In it, Rajaa Habib al-Khuzai, a former member of Iraq's governing council and a member of interim conference's delegation to Sadr yesterday, said that "The mediation did not fail. On the contrary, it was a success. The meeting was positive." She also denounced threats by the defence minister of an imminent offensive, saying: "It is regrettable because there was an agreement this morning."

In many ways, Sadr's acceptance is no surprise. Yesterday, a spokesman for Sadr described the terms offered by the interim conference as "very positive" and welcomed continued talks, but wanted a ceasefire first, supposedly for security reasons. The Iraqi government refused a ceasefire, however, and used Sadr's failure to meet in person with the interim conference's spokesmen as justification for preparing a final attack.

The peace proposals being offered by the interim conference and the government are as different as night and day. While the government wanted unconditional surrender, the interim council called for agreement to three main points:
1> Sadr's forces withdraw from the Imam Ali mosque and Najaf.
2> Sadr disarms his forces and becomes a political party.
3> Sadr and his followers are granted complete amnesty from future prosecution.

Frankly, these are the best terms that Sadr has ever been offered. Not only would he get his ceasefire, he will also get amnesty from prosecution for the murder of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, which the government has warrants of arrest for. Arguably, the amnesty terms may even apply to Sadr's follwers who are already in prison, and could lead to a large release of inmates from Iraqi jails.

So, at this moment, Sadr has backed down and appears to be cooperating... but is this what the Iraqi government wanted? I don't know about that. They still haven't accepted Sadr's offer. The pressure is on them to do so, however. I suspect they will begrudgingly give in, but there will have to be more talks first, and complete amnesty for Sadr and his followers will be a bitter pill to swallow.
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Picture007


Picture007, originally uploaded by insomnia.

So, I'm testing out flickr to see if it is any better for moblogging than what I was using before. I was impressed by the post on MeFi today, but they supposedly only added the moblog features that I am looking for with LJ about six weeks ago, so I Guess we'll see how it goes.

Oh, and if you want to create your own free flickr account now to give it a try, leave a comment with your email address, and I will send you the info. Besides, if I get five people signed up, I get a free Flickr Pro account. ;-)