Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Of French plunderers and Russian absconders
One ethical question worth considering is whether or not any international contracts signed with the inhumane Saddam regime are still valid? Should the Iraqi people be forced to accept deals with foreign businesses that were made without their consent or for their benefit?
TotalFinaElf wants post-war Iraq deal
Agence France-Presse

. . . In an interview with Belgian newspaper L'Echo, TotalFinaElf chairman Thierry Desmarest said "international law must be respected" when the United States hands out reconstruction contracts. "Calls for international tenders must be launched to determine who will take part in the reconstruction and the development," he said.

Desmarest said TotalFinaElf holds the "trump cards" in Iraq's oil industry with drilling concessions in the southern region of Bassorah.

. . . French and Russian companies led the way in forging contracts with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government, before a United Nations embargo imposed after the 1991 Gulf War. . .

And as for those anti-war Russians and their sanction-violating armament of Saddam post 1991, here's something to chew on:
Russia might helped top Iraqi officials get out of Iraq

. . . Russian ambassador Vladimir Titorenko had left Baghdad and arrived in Damascus, Syria, on Monday, claiming that US forces had fired on his diplomatic convoy as it left the Iraqi capital. Surprisingly, the Russian diplomat returned to the Iraqi capital on Tuesday, officially to bring out an embassy driver wounded in the incident and a diplomat who stayed to look after the hospitalized victim.

However, well-informed sources have told Al Bawaba that the real goal of the Russian convoy journey to Syria was to provide a safe haven for senior Iraqi officials who feared to be prosecuted by the American forces.

. . . The Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that the US rangers' attack on the Russian Ambassador's convoy near Baghdad was a clash between SVR, Russian's Foreign Intelligence Service, and the CIA. Russia had asked for a safe passage for its Ambassador's convoy to move from Baghdad to Syria, but a "Predator" drone had been hovering over the convoy all along the way, according to the Russian daily. . .

Moscow denies Saddam hides in Russian embassy

. . . Meanwhile, according to reports, Saddam Hussein is hiding in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. He is said to be trying to negotiate a deal allowing him to go free in return for surrendering. This report has been strongly denied by Russian officials. It was first made by the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri. He pointed out that Russian ambassador Vladimir Titorenko had left Baghdad on Saturday. . .

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Rachel Corey update: "probably" ?
You might ask yourself if one word really makes a difference in the testimony of those who witnessed Rachel Corey's tragic death. One word certainly doesn't change the outcome: an American peace activist is still dead, her quest for justice remains uncomplete, and her family, friends, and admirers still mourn. So if one word is so inconsequential, why has it disappeared?

from the Middle East Times, 21 March 2003 International edition

IDF kills American peace activist
By Jean-Marc Mojon

Rachel's ISM colleagues, all of whom witnessed the scene, are certain it was a case of murder.

"She was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket and was plainly visible," said Greg Schnabel. "The bulldozer approached but she stood her ground. Then it pushed up a pile of dirt beneath her feet. She struggled to stay on top of the mound.

"She was raised up to where she was probably looking the bulldozer driver in the eye," Schnabel said, ruling out any possibility the Israeli destruction team could have failed to see her.

"Then she stepped back, the bulldozer continued and sand started covering her legs and buried her up to her waist. She tried to pull herself out but she got sucked under the blade.

You may recall from my last update that I included a quote from Greg Schnabel's "signed" statement in which he states; "She was clearly visible to the bulldozer driver as well as to the soldiers in the tank." You may also recall that the first published accounts by various witnesses contained many divergent statements about the details of her death. These differences seem to be ironed out by the time the signed statements were made available to the public on International Solidarity Movement's web site.

I must say that I am under no illusion about the extreme elements of both Israeli and Palestinian society who care little for life other than their own. It is certainly possible, even probable, that Corey's death may have been a case of murder. But as any astute and fair-minded person knows "probable" isn't the same as fact. Unfortunately because of the highly charged ideology of all those involved in this incident, no one can be trusted to give an unbiased statement -- carefully worded to best effect.

That's why every single photograph taken on that ill-fated day (by Joseph Smith and anyone else) must be made available immediately -- first to a neutral body capable of conducting a fair investigation, and then to the public. Justice can only be delivered by the cold, hard truth -- the kind not suited to surive black and white world of politics and propaganda.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

National Review weighs in on "The anti-war conservatives"
For those who read A Fateful Moment in the Movement, David Frum explains the tactics employed by a political coalition that I prefer to regard as radical libertarians, best exemplified by Pat Buchanan and Justin Raimondo, who champion a policy dubbed America First.

The anti-war conservatives
David Frum, National Review

. . . These conservatives are few in number, but their ambitions are large. They aspire to reinvent conservative ideology: to junk the 50-year-old conservative commitment to defend American interests and values throughout the world in favor of a fearful policy of ignoring threats and appeasing enemies.

The anti-war conservatives aren't satisfied merely to question the wisdom of an Iraq war. Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?

But the anti-war conservatives have gone far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies. They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist anti-war movements in the United States and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation's enemies. . .

Read the complete commentary here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Update: Iraq's connection to the French Elf scandal
A report from the French news agency Agence France Presse hints at how France's oil-diplomacy is linked to the Saddam regime. (follow-up to The French Elf and the Thief of Baghdad)

Elf: no place for pixies

Current political scandals have seriously discredited France's ruling caste. While the Gaullist RPR party slush fund scam centers around president Chirac, a gigantic sleaze case engulfs both the right and the left, and it's called "l'affaire Elf".

An eight-year investigation into a multi-million dollar web of corruption centered around the French oil group Elf officially concluded in February, opening the way for the formal prosecution of top-level political and business figures named in the case.

Magistrates in charge of the investigation have informed the 42 suspects that the evidence against them is ready for forwarding to state prosecutors.

Careful attention should be drawn to the fact the "allegations all date from before Elf's privatisation in 1994, and hark back to an era in which French governments used the company as an arm of foreign policy - notably in Africa, where many of its most lucrative investments were based."

One the one hand, the time frame occurs before Elf signed it multi-billion dollar oil-rights deal with Iraq. But on the other hand, France has admitted that Elf (and its dealings) were as much political arrangements as business negotiations -- and France has a long history of working with Saddam's Iraq, even after the 1991 Gulf War. Also worth considering is this disturbing allegation of judicial harassment:

. . . The judge leading the Elf investigation, Eva Joly, has won a fearsome reputation as a crusader against the venality of the French ruling classes, and helped establish the independence of the magistrature against outside interference.

But in March she announced she had decided to return to her native Norway, to take up post as an anti-corruption adviser to the government, and to leave the elite, but small, group of French investigating judges spearheading the fight against corruption.

In one of many interviews at the time of her resignation, Joly said she had been the victim of mysterious harassment, including the burglary of her home and office, being followed and the interference with her computer files, and said her official judicial assistant, a court clerk, had also had his home burgled.

Complicating the picture is the subplot of one very well connected character by the name of Nadhmi Auchi, who seems to have sidelined as an un-official diplomat/courier for British and French governments (among many other states).
(from Elf: no place for pixies)
. . . Nadhmi Auchi, a British-Iraqi multi-millionaire, is accused of taking kickbacks worth around EUR 45 million for his role as intermediary when Elf bought the Spanish oil firm Ertoil in 1991.

Labour blocks extradition of Iraqi tycoon Nadhmi Auchi
The Observer - 02 Feb 2003

Investigators working on the biggest fraud trial in French history have called for the extradition of a British-based Iraqi billionaire with links to the Blair government.

Opposition MPs have demanded a full explanation for Britain's refusal to deport Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britain's richest men, who was once a senior official in the Iraqi oil ministry.

The French magistrate leading the investigation, Renaud van Ruymbeke, is furious with the British authorities for failing to deliver Auchi.

Questions will also be raised over the precise nature of the billionaire's relationship with the Baghdad regime.

The Observer has discovered that Auchi met Saddam's number two, Tariq Aziz, as recently as last October 2002 at a gala dinner in Beirut. But Auchi also has links with British intelligence, through the former senior MI6 officer Anthony Cavendish, who acts a consultant to Auchi's business empire.

An international arrest warrant was issued for Auchi three years ago, after he was alleged to have received a multi-million-franc kickback from the oil giant Elf-Aquitaine during the sale of a Spanish refinery. The Interpol arrest warrant issued by the French in 2000 states that Auchi is suspected of 'complicity in the misuse of company assets and receiving embezzled company assets'.

. . . Despite continued questions about his relationship with Baghdad, Auchi remains well placed to act as a middle-man in any negotiations with Western companies over Iraq's oil fields.

Sources close to his empire claim that Tony Blair met him to discuss Iraq shortly before his Christmas holiday in Egypt.

A Downing Street spokesman said: 'We have no record of a meeting with the Prime Minister.' But he said that he could not rule out the possibility that they may have met socially.

In April 1999, Science Minister Lord Sainsbury presented Auchi with a painting of the Commons, signed by Blair and leading parliamentarians, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Auchi's General Mediterranean Holdings.

. . . Auchi's relationship with the Iraq regime has always been shrouded in mystery. He came to Britain in the early 1980s after falling out of favour with the Saddam regime.

He claims that two of his brothers were killed by the Iraqi dictator, but, in the early years of the Ba'athist revolution, he was in a senior position in Baghdad. While in exile, Auchi received a $16.5 million (£10m) commission on an Italo-French bid to build a pipeline for Saddam in 1986, say Italian fraud investigators.

Auchi is Britain's 13th richest man, with an estimated £1.2 billion hotel and shipping empire. The opening of his latest venture, Le Royal, a luxury hotel in the Jordanian capital, Amman, modelled on a famous Iraqi spiral minaret, was attended by King Abdullah and the speaker of the Scottish Parliament, Sir David Steel.

NOTE: Elf was privatised after the election of a right-wing government in France in 1993 and now forms part of TotalFinaElf, one of the world's top oil companies.

This trial is France's equivalent of the Microsoft anti-trust case and the Enron stock scandal rolled into one, so you can be certain that more incriminating evidence will follow in the months ahead.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Human shield & anti-war activist shocked by trip to Iraq

I was a naive fool to be a human shield for Saddam
By Daniel Pepper, The Telegraph, March 23, 2003

. . . I was shocked when I first met a pro-war Iraqi in Baghdad - a taxi driver taking me back to my hotel late at night. I explained that I was American and said, as we shields always did, "Bush bad, war bad, Iraq good". He looked at me with an expression of incredulity. . .

NOTE: I was contacted on March 25, 2003 by Daniel Pepper who asked me to remove his article. You can read the full account here.

A search revealed an earlier report mentioning Daniel Pepper:
Inside the deluded world of the 'human shields'
By Charlotte Edwards, The Telegraph, March 2, 2003

. . . "Dr Hashimi has explained that we help the population more by staying in the 'strategic sites'," he explained. His friend added: "We play football in the afternoons and the Iraqis bring us cartons of cigarettes. It's just like summer camp."

Not all the sites were as welcoming. Daniel Pepper, a 22-year-old student from Pennsylvania, was not fooled by the oil refinery, despite the comfortable beds with parcels of goodies laid out on the pillows. "The people staying there sleep 50 yards from stacks billowing black smoke." he said. "And it's sinister: 20 minders are there for eight shields. There are three security gates, including one manned by plain-clothed guards carrying AK47s. Most shields want to get out of there and go to the granary.

"We need to negotiate with Dr Hashimi about this." Any negotiations with the Iraqi official, however, would undoubtedly be met with a frosty reception.

The Iraqi government has invested an estimated £10,000 to provide free food and hotel accommodation to the 200 shields and have lost patience with their dithering. It could be argued that this confusion is as much the fault of their leaders as the Iraqi government. On the bus, Sue Darling, who was in touch with Dr Hashimi, had told the shields they would stay with families or in schools, hospitals and orphanges.

"As a former diplomat, I should deal with the Iraqi officials. I speak their language," she said. Once in Baghdad, Ms Darling, who had traded her red puffa-jacket and walking boots for smart suits and Jackie O glasses, quickly acquiesced to the demands of the regime and moved into the granary.

Kevin and Helen Williams, a soft-spoken couple from Wales, were baffled by this volte-face: "We always understood that human shield meant a shield of humans and that we would be allowed to work with Iraqi civilians. Why it is being interpreted differently now?" . . .

Friday, March 21, 2003

UPDATE: Details about Rachel Corey's tragic death slowly emerge
The photos of Rachel Corey on display at the Electronic Intifada have been annotated with rough time estimates of when the pictures were taken. As I originally speculated, the now infamous bullhorn photo was taken at least 45 minutes before her tragic death. Why this important chronological information was absent in the first place remains unadressed. Also left unanswered is the identity of the bulldozer(s) in the photos, -- are these photos really of the same piece of earth-moving equipment? We need to know this answer if we are to correctly identify the driver involved in Rachel's death.

Also newly made available are signed statements of the events by the activists on the International Solidarity Movement site. Unfortunately, two of the four statements made by the witnesses have been scrambled into an unintelligble stream of characters. Hopefully this error will be corrected and, furthermore, scans of all four signed (and notorized?) statements will be posted soon.

Greg Schnabel . . . Rachel was standing in front of this home. As the bulldozer approached she stood her ground. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket. She was clearly visible to the bulldozer driver as well as to the soldiers in the tank. The bulldozer began to push up the ground from beneath her feet. The pile of earth was mounding up and she tried her best to stay on top of it. As the ground continued to move Rachel went down on her knees. The bulldozer continued to move forward. Rachel began to become buried beneath the dirt. Still it did not stop. Finally, Rachel was beneath the bulldozer. The bulldozer did not even pick up its blade. It ran over her completely and continued to advance. It stopped when she was completely underneath the body of the bulldozer. It then moved backwards over her body. It moved clear of her and backed away.

Richard Purssell . . . At approximately 16:45 a bulldozer began making a straight run at a house which I now know to belong to a doctor Izmir [sic: Dr. Samir]. At this point the majority of the group were positioned around a wrecked building. We were all within 70 metres of each other. I was to the left of the ruined building and to the right of Dr. [Samir]'s house. Rachel was approximately 15 metres in front of me.

The ground was level and the light was good, I had a good view of everything which happened. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket with reflective strips (the type worn by construction workers for high visibility and the avoidance of accidents). Rachel stood to confront the bulldozer and it approached her at about five or six miles an hour. The blade on the bulldozer was dipped into the ground and was scooping up soil.

As the bulldozer came nearer the pile mounted up. Rachel climbed up the pile and at the one stage was looking into the cabin window. There is no way that the driver could not have known she was there. The bulldozer continued driving forwards and Rachel turned round to face in my direction.

She began to slide down the pile, however as soon as her feet touched the ground for some reason she fell forward. Maybe her foot was caught or the weight of the soil pushed her forward. At this point the panic on her face was obvious.

We were all shouting, screaming and gesturing by this stage. The earth was totally pushed over her, engulfing her. She was lost to my sight. I noticed that the driver had not lifted the blade. The machine rolled straight over her and continued for a little way. It then reversed over her and retreated about twenty metres. Rachel was left in its tracks, bleeding from her mouth and twisted.

Still to be determined is the nature of Rachel's death: deliberate or accidental. Again I must call on the ISM members, in the interests of good faith and an impartial investigation, to turn over every roll of film shot on the day of Rachels death to an international recoqnized neutral party. Let the Red Cross or a similar organization carry out an independent investigation whose methods and results won't be tainted by the sinister speculation of a politically contrived conclusion.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The French Elf and the Thief of Baghdad
Two stories, one new and one old, help explain France's defensive position on Iraq is nothing more than a protective measure to keep the free flow of oil and Euros into Paris and the scandal of state corruption out of the press.

'Explosive' Elf scam trial opens

PARIS, March 17 (AFP) - A massive system of government-supported corruption at the formerly state-owned oil company Elf will be exposed when one of the biggest criminal trials ever in modern France opens in Paris Monday.

After eight years of investigations and the accumulation of 250 thick files of evidence, the court will hear the case against 37 suspects accused of benefiting from hundreds of millions of euros embezzled from the now-privatised firm in the early 1990s.

Leading the accused are two men already serving prison terms after being convicted in the trial of former French foreign minister Roland Dumas on related charges: the ex-president of Elf Loik le Floch-Prigent, 59, and his number two Alfred Sirven, 76.

A third key suspect Andre Tarallo, 75, who was known as Elf's Mr Africa for his network of contacts on the continent, was like Dumas acquitted in the first trial.

The three men - who are being tried under the catch-all charge of "abuse of company assets" - are alleged to have enriched themselves to the tune of billions of francs by creaming off the commissions that were systematically paid out by Elf at the time to influential middlemen and foreign leaders.

Sirven, who was extradited from the Philippines to appear in the Dumas trial two years ago, received jewels, a villa in Ibiza and a chateau in central France; Tarallo got property in Paris and Corsica; and Le Floch-Prigent EUR 5 million to pay for a divorce.

The other accused are Elf executives and private intermediaries who are alleged to have arranged pay-offs around the world and helped hide the funds in secret accounts in Switzerland, Luxembourg and other tax-havens.

Investigators believe the trial will reveal the extent of a vast network of influence-buying, originally put in place by the French government as Elf expanded into Africa in the 1960s and 70s, which exploded out of control under Le Floch-Prigent's management between 1989 and 1993.

In a recent interview Dumas said that Elf "gradually turned into a milch-cow. Its capital was used to reward African heads of state, but also - one thing leading to another - to bail out certain empty coffers."

The leaders of several African countries - including Gabon, Angola and Congo - are mentioned in the evidence, though as the payment and receipt of commissions were not itself illegal when the events took place there has been no attempt to bring them to trial.

The judge leading the investigation, Renaud van Ruymbeke, has said he was prevented from discovering the full extent of commissions paid by Elf to African governments because the former Socialist government in Paris declared that much of the evidence was covered by official secrecy laws.

Van Ruymbeke has also been unable to substantiate reports that money paid by Elf came back to France in the form of "retro-commissions" to fund political parties. Before his extradition Sirven boasted that he knew enough to "blow up the republic 20 times over" but he has yet to show his hand.

The trial is expected to last till June.

A "Yes" May Cost France Oil Contracts
Iraq warns France of high price to pay for UN vote
Agence France Presse, December 5, 1999

An official Iraqi newspaper warned France on Sunday of a high price to pay if it sides with the United States in a UN Security Council vote linking a suspension of sanctions to a new disarmament regime.

Such a vote would be "the last straw for Iraqi-French relations," said Babel, a daily run by President Saddam Hussein's elder son, Uday.

As a result it would be "only logical for the French (oil)companies Elf and Total to close their offices in Baghdad and lose the immense concessions which they have won but not yet exploited."

"The numerous advantages which French companies enjoy on the Iraqi market could also be halted," Babel said, protesting that Iraqis had "suffered a lot because of the position adopted by the French government."

Iraq has rejected in advance a British draft resolution at the Security Council that makes a suspension of sanctions conditional on Iraqi cooperation with a new arms control panel.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said Saturday that a vote on the resolution could come "very, very soon."

The Security Council has been divided on Iraq policy since an air war waged in December 1998 by the United States and Britain, which both take a hard line against lifting sanctions.

But a senior US official at the United Nations said Friday that the resolution would finally be voted on within the next week.

The United States backs the British draft, while France has not announced its position but played a role in enhancing a UN humanitarian programme under the resolution.

After having accused Paris at length over several days of abandoning its circle of "friends", Baghdad is counting on Moscow, which has multi-billion dollar interests tied up in Iraq, to block the resolution.

The commentary in Babel, which is run by President Saddam Hussein's son Uday, noted that France had fought against Iraq in the US-led multinational coalition in the conflict over Kuwait.

France took part "in the attacks and the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure," Hashemi said. "An historic opportunity presents itself today (for France) to allow Iraqis to forget the past and turn over a new page," he wrote, warning that "French interests and its standing in the whole region" were at stake.

Sanctions have been in force since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Baghdad insists its weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated and that the time has come for a full and unconditional lifting of sanctions.

A ruling Baath party official, meanwhile, said the extension of the UN oil-for-food programme was nothing more an American "joke" and a ploy to pressure the Security Council into passing the British draft.

"The Security Council ... will assume responsibility for the continuation of the embargo and the agression aimed at exterminating the Iraqi people," said Abdel Ghani Abdel Ghafour.

Iraq has rejected stopgap extensions of the oil-for-food programme since the last phase run out on November 20 and taken its oil off the world market.

The humanitarian programme -- launched in December 1996 in renewable six-monthly phases -- allows Iraq to export crude to finance imports of food and medicine under UN supervision.