- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 10 …

President Mohammad Khatami's Iranian government, worried at losing its "reformist" reputation in the West, is planning next month to announce a dramatic privatization of all the country's banks, with the exception of Bank e-Melli (the National Bank of Iran). Under the Iranian calendar, next month begins on Jan. 21. The legal framework for the privatization has been drafted inside the Economics Ministry, and the reform looks to be one of the few crucial measures that can be pushed through despite the grip of reactionary ayatollahs — even though it clearly threatens their dominance of so much of state-run industry. Curiously, Osama bin Laden may get some of the credit. Iran's national finances have been transformed since 9/11, thanks to a hasty repatriation back to Iran of nearly $10 billion because of a fears about the safety of U.S.-based assets. This helped boost Iran's foreign exchange reserves to $15 billion.

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Turkey's government, treading a fine line with its population's sensitivities on participation in the imminent U.S.-led military action against Iraq, is embarrassed by parliamentary leaks that Ankara permitted a 36-member CIA team, accompanied by Turkish intelligence officers, to cross into northern Iraq last September and October. While there, the team grabbed 150 Iraqis suspected of being intelligence officers, who were then spirited to a third country for interrogation. Although formal approval for U.S. hopes to push some 50,000 troops through Turkey still awaits (problematic) parliamentary approval, Ankara has agreed to let a 150-man Pentagon team examine three Turkish ports and six air bases for possible use in the upcoming campaign. Washington has formally requested not only the use of Incirlik airbase, but airbases in Batman, Diyarbakir, Afyon, orlu, Sivas and Kaklic, along with the ports of Mersin Tasucu, Iel (Mersin), and skenderun (Alexandretta)."

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In what could be another sign of mission creep in Asia, Washington has sent 3,000 M-16s to help Nepal battle its Maoist insurgents. The shipment is part of a total shipment of 5,000 rifles Washington agreed to provide the Himalayan kingdom after a visit to Washington last May by former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Following Deuba's visit, a military team from U.S. Pacific Command visited western Nepal to assess the government's requirements. The Bush administration last week also offered Katmandu $12 million for its anti-guerrilla campaign. The Maoists have been fighting since 1996, and more than 7,700 people have been killed in the conflict, and Washington (like its new friend, India) fears the insurgents are winning. The Maoist guerrillas have made repeated threats against U.S. diplomats, and a number of Western businesses, including Western icons like a Coca-Cola bottling plant, have been attacked.

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The Jordanian government's latest official denial is that this month's joint military exercises with its long-time British allies have nothing to do with Iraq, which some Jordanian officials said they expected "after January." A mixed squadron of 14 RAF Tornado, Harrier and Jaguar warplanes have deployed in Jordan's southern desert for the 2-week exercise "Desert Thundercat." But the rule in Jordan is that "when the government denies anything, it means it's true." Kuwait and Iraq officials had a round of talks in Amman this week on the fate of Kuwaitis who went missing during Iraq's occupation. The meeting came just 10 days after the government vehemently denied that such a gathering would be in Jordan.

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Cynics claim that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in reality only "mayor of Kabul," whose power is protected and supported by the U.S. military presence. Out in the provinces, anti-American sentiment is growing. The roster of bad guys has recently grown; according to pamphlets distributed in Mir Ali, a new "Tehrik-e-Azadi Salahuddin Ayubi" movement has been established to fight U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Pushto-language pamphlets claim it was founded by al Qaida, Taliban and Hizb-e Islami elements in conjunction with former mujahedin commanders from the Soviet war. The handouts urge Muslims to "awake" to the importance of jihad, stating: "Organized attacks will be launched against the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan." Throwing fuel on the fire, the pamphlet features a picture of a U.S. soldier frisking an Afghan girl, calculated to inflame hatred of foreign forces.

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Relations between Australia are Malaysia's sharp-tongued premier Mahathir Mohammed are not good. His latest jibe, after reports of two Malaysians being refused admission at Sydney airport, was to claim that "anybody who is a little bit colored and has a moustache and looks like Saddam Hussein, they will arrest. That's their way." And Mahathir says Australian Prime Minister John Howard sees himself as "a white man sheriff in some black country."

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