- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 10 …

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Officially, the Turkish government will not allow the U.S. 4th Infantry Division to land and transit from the Mediterranean ports of Mersin and Iskanderun until its Parliament votes again. In fact, there is intense activity under way at the Turkish ports, where U.S. and Turkish generals are quietly cooperating to stretch very far the interpretation of the January agreement to upgrade Turkish bases and ports. That agreement allowed 3,500 U.S. troops — and their engineering and maintenance equipment — ashore to help prepare the bases for the transit of up to 62,000 troops. But with a nod and a wink from Turkish chief of staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, a lot more troops have landed, along with equipment that looks rather better suited to war than construction. As a result, NTV film of the U.S. convoys leaving Iskenderun for the new base of Kiziltepe, only 100 miles from the Iraqi border, has further inflamed an already hostile Turkish public opinion. Bulent Arinc, speaker of the Turkish Parliament, has criticized the troop movements as "disrespectful." A potentially tricky incident took place over the weekend, when 700 U.S. troops from the 4th Infantry were asked to leave their personal weapons behind at Iskenderun harbor's customs exit. Nobody wants to use the emotive word "disarmed" and U.S. and Turkish brass are trying to draw a veil over the incident as "a misunderstanding."

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Now that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the Justice and Development Party, has won Sunday's parliamentary by-election in Siirt and thus qualifies to become Turkey's prime minister, Washington is not only watching for a swift re-scheduling of that parliamentary vote. Erdogan assured President George W. Bush's special envoy Zalmay Khalizad that he would get the 4th Division through to open the Northern Front on Iraq. He also told Khalizad to watch for one other sign of his good faith. The five ministers in his government who voted against the U.S. troop agreement would be sacked, Erdogan pledged. Watch this space.

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The Israeli media is filled with reports, citing foreign ministry officials, that the Bush administration is furious at the constant leaks by senior Israeli security officials about the date of an attack on Iraq — and as a result Israel will not get prior warning of the U.S.-led strike until the last moment. U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer denied the reports in a meeting with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom — just as Israel's head of military intelligence, Gen. Aharon Zeevi, told the Cabinet that he expected the U.S. attack as soon as next week. Silvan Shalom then came up with an even better leak — that the Security Council pre-deadline debate could be stretched by a day to March 18, since there is a move by France, Germany and Russia to have heads of government attend the U.N. session. Despite a long phone call between Shalom and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Sunday, there is no sign that Bush is interested in such a high-profile High Noon in New York.

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Turkey is not the only place where U.S. military activity has stepped up. The Saudis are also turning a blind eye to some unexpected new deployments on its territory west of Kuwait along the Iraqi border. Saudi opposition sources in London and Washington claim that "thousands" of U.S. troops have moved into the area — from which the famous "Hail Mary" flank attack on 1991 was launched — over the past week. They add that the United States has taken over the Araar airport, just 8 miles from the Iraqi border, and that they also using the airfield of Tabouk, close to the junction between the Jordanian and Iraqi frontiers.

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Iraq is getting ready for war by overhauling its criminal code. The law requiring army deserters to have their ears amputated has gone, along with the death penalty for the smuggling of foreign currency. Baghdad has also lifted the ban on moving furniture between provinces in Iraq, enacted in 1991 to curb immigration from the provinces. The new law also ends the requirement to obtain security clearances for moving food-ration cards, signing rental agreements, selling properties, getting import and export licenses and working in goldsmithing. Doubtless the security services have better things to do. And, probably just in time, Baghdad has lifted a 5-year ban on publishing obituaries in the press — imposed in 1998 to control "extravagance in spending among the mourners."

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Who says President Bush has no military support from the Islamic world? Gallant little Albania, still hoping to get into NATO one day (and maybe even unite with Kosovo), has offered a contingent of its Commando troops, a special forces unit. The Kuwaitis have not yet responded, even though the Albanians have promised to bring their own Korans.

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