- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 11 …

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While Washington has yet to deliver convincing proof of Baghdad's connections to al Qaida, Saddam Hussein will have a harder time denying reports from Manila about his links to another Muslim terrorist group. The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs said that it has intelligence reports linking an Iraqi diplomat in Manila to the Abu Sayyaf Group, blamed for a bomb blast that killed a U.S. soldier in Zamboanga City in October 2002. A U.S. Special Forces soldier and two Filipinos were killed when the bomb exploded outside a karaoke bar. A second American soldier was wounded in the blast. According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, military intelligence officials traced phone calls between Iraq's Second Secretary Consul Husham Z. Hussain and ASG guerrillas. Ople said that Hussain "knows that we are monitoring his activities. The intelligence reports are very detailed but I am not allowed to fully disclose it because it will compromise their assets and sources of information."

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Not much season of peace and goodwill to all men about this week's Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. In his main sermon, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti lashed out at "enemies" of the Islamic world for targeting "the Ummah (Islamic nation) in its faith. They are aiming at its economy and are attempting to link it with their own economic system." Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh told more than 2 million Muslims gathered at Mecca: "The struggle today is religious and economic. The enemies are trying to use any pretext to attack this nation." He did not specifically mention U.S. threats against oil-rich Iraq, but then he hardly needed to. "The Islamic Ummah is also being targeted by its enemies … in its values, morals and culture," the top Saudi cleric added. "Don't you see the tragedies that have been inflicting the Ummah? … Don't you see how the enemies are gathering and are preparing to wage war on you?"

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No, it's not a misprint when today's English-language versions of the Arab press run the headline "Two million Muslim pilgrims flock to Arafat." The Palestinian Authority leader has the good fortune to be named after Mount Arafat, the place where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his final sermon 14 centuries ago, and thus one of the most important sites of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Mount Arafat is now the scene of the annual Haj sermon (see above), where this year's 2 million pilgrims, all clad in white and chanting "Here I am Allah, answering your call; there is no God but you," heard the Saudi grand mufti's helpful remarks.

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The fact is that France and Germany would really be rather grateful for a war. Both countries are facing massive fines for exceeding the euro currency zone's limits on budget deficits. Germany already has broken the barrier of 3 percent of its gross domestic product, and France looks almost certain to follow — and they face fines of up to $10 billion as a result. But both Paris and Berlin are now lobbying for the rules to be relaxed because of the "extraordinary circumstance" of war with Iraq. Or as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told a conference of his fellow Social Democrats Monday: "There won't necessarily be a business-as-usual approach at the European level to budgetary consolidation."

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For the first time, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's anti-American policies are coming under heavy fire from a top official of his own Social Democrat party. Hans-Ulrich Klose, a party heavyweight who is also deputy chairman of the Bundestag's defense committee, accuses Schroeder of taking German foreign policy into a cul-de-sac. In an interview with the Rheinischer Merkur newspaper, to be published this weekend, Klose voices alarm about the damage caused to German-American relations. Klose added, "The Americans are right in becoming impatient" with Saddam Hussein. "Saddam Hussein is under the obligation to inform the United Nations about his weapons program. Thus the French-German-Russian suggestion that the U.N. weapons inspections be given more time made little sense." Klose also accused Schroeder of violating "the spirit and the letter of the NATO pact" by denying Turkey defensive weapons.

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Tony Blair's government had egg on its face after issuing a public report on Iraqi intelligence and deception that was in part plagiarized from an article in the highly respected Middle East Review of International Affairs by Ibrahim al-Marashi. But who is using whose research? Tony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says that al-Marashi "quotes Sean Boyne and my work and I got most of the data from British intelligence in the first place. Furthermore, the author of the document that Britain copied believes the British report is correct."

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