- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

Mashraq wa Maghrib

March 13, 2003

(Mashraq wa Magrhib means the east and west in Arabic, the two parts of the Arab world.)


U.S. and Iraq have secret back channel, paper says

LONDON — Secret back channel contacts between Baghdad and Washington had failed to agree on a deal to avoid war, the Arabic-language London daily Al Hayat reported Thursday. Quoting "highly-informed businessmen" the paper said that a series of medium-level unofficial contacts in different Arab and Western capitals had petered out because of a stalemate over some key points. The Iraqi side had agreed to U.S. demands regarding disarmament, and the formation of a coalition government with Saddam Hussein as a figurehead president with no real power.

Al Hayat gave no indication about the backing of the Bush administration. The paper said the negotiations had stumbled over three issues. Iraq allegedly refused a U.S. request to establish one or more U.S. military bases on Iraqi territory. Baghdad also rejected a U.S. demand to recognize Israel immediately, though the Iraqis indicated they would be prepared to normalize relations with Israel as part of a collective Arab move. Baghdad asked the United States to take into consideration its oil commitments with a number of foreign countries, but the United States insisted on placing the oil sector under its total control. Al Hayat said its sources expected Iraq to "introduce constitutional amendments to establish press freedom and allow the establishment of political parties" before the end of the current month.


Al Qaida organizes the mother of all terrorist groups

LONDON — A squad of women militants belonging to al Qaida are threatening to deal the United States a blow worse than Sept. 11, the London-based Al Sharq al Awsat reported Wednesday. The Saudi-owned daily said it had used the Internet to interview the commander of the squad whose adopted nom de guerre is Um Osama (mother of Osama). Um Osama, whose whereabouts were not given, told the paper al Qaida terrorist network had created the squad, and trained them as suicide bombers. Squad members communicate with each other through the Internet, but her claim that they are present in all countries of the world, was probably an overstatement.

The fact that they are scattered, "makes it hard for us to set up a fixed military camp, but we are in process of establishing such a camp in the very near future," she said. "The Sharia (Islamic law) allows women to stand by their men, and provide support in the jihad (holy war)." The women had volunteered, she said, because of the dwindling number of courageous men.

Volunteered to do what exactly? "The majority of the women mujahedin (jihad fighters) can aim well and know how to use light arms such as automatic rifles, pistols and hand grenades," was Um Osama's reply. The women in the squad belonged both to al Qaida and the Taliban, ousted from power in Afghanistan by the United States more than a year ago. Um Osama said she received orders from a senior commander whom she identified as Mullah Saif al Din (Sword of Religion), who in turn received orders from higher up the chain of command — and sometimes from Osama bin Laden in person.


Jordanian opposition wants U.S. troops out

AMMAN - Fourteen Jordanian opposition parties Wednesday called for the eviction of U.S. forces in Jordan regardless of how few there were, or their purpose in the kingdom. The demand came after the opposition's Higher Coordination Committee had asked the government to clarify press reports that an increasing number of U.S. military personnel had recently arrived in Jordan and to explain what they were doing there. The government said a few hundred U.S. troops were in the country to train the Jordanian army in the use of Patriot anti-missile missiles, deployed in the kingdom last month. It also stressed there was no link between the U.S. troops in Jordan and military preparations for attacking Iraq.


Relief groups stockpile goods for massive refugee effort

AMMAN, Jordan — International humanitarian organizations have begun stockpiling food and other essentials in anticipation of a massive relief effort as Iraqi refugees flood into neighboring countries seeking shelter from an eventual U.S.-led war in Iraq, a spokesman for the International Union of the Red Cross and Red Crescent told United Press International Thursday. He said relief groups were currently storing material in Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey.

The union has stored wheat, milk and other basic foods in addition to blankets and medical goods in warehouses in Jordan, and is sending relief shipments to the Jordanian and Syrian Red Crescent organizations.

Union sources said they had received food from Abu Dhabi for some 20,000 refugees, plus water treatment and communication equipment. Field clinics and hospitals could be rapidly moved to receiving points closer to the Jordan-Iraq border, if necessary. Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Amman affirmed that it could assist as many as 150,000 refugees from Iraq in the first month of the war and could increase its relief assistance very quickly to cater for the humanitarian needs of some 1 million people.


Three killed in Algeria violence

ALGIERS, Algeria — Three dead Muslim militants and three injured soldiers and a woman were the latest victims of the endless spiral of violence in Algeria, security sources said Thursday. The two militants, who were described as "extremely dangerous," belonged to the Muslim fundamentalist Salafi group, which is held responsible for many attacks against civilians and the military. They were killed in a clash with troops Wednesday in the region of Kharuba, 30 miles east of Algiers. Another militant was killed two days ago in a clash with troops in the province of Saida, 240 miles west of Algiers. Three soldiers were also injured in that incident. A woman was seriously wounded when a bomb planted by armed groups exploded in the area of Kanar in the province of Gigel, west of Algiers.


Hezbollah leader calls for Arab war against the United States

Beirut, Lebanon — Tens of thousands Hezbollah followers shouted "Death to America" when their leader Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah declared Thursday that the U.S. "invaders" of Iraq will be greeted with "rifles, blood and martyrdom operations." He was speaking at a rally on Ashura Day the Shiite Muslims most important feast. Shiites round the world commemorated the death 1323 years ago of Hussein, son of Caliph Ali, who was the Prophet Mohammed's fourth successor. In Iran, many Shiites walk in procession through the streets flagellating themselves with whips and chains until they bleed. However, the rally turned into an anti-American demonstration when Nasrallah called on Arabs and Muslims to prepare to resist a "very dangerous U.S. war." Addressing the United States, Nasrallah said, "Don't expect the people in this region to greet you with flowers and rice. They will receive you with rifles, blood, weapons and martyrdom operations. This is what the people of this region are preparing for the U.S. invaders." Several key Arab states have publicly distanced themselves from U.S. plans to invade Iraq, but there has been no indication that any Arab country was contemplating coming to Iraq's aid. Still, Nasrallah said the Arab world should be prepared, "not only for a political, intellectual and psychological confrontation (with the United States) but also a military confrontation."


Compiled and edited by Derk Kinnane Roelofsma from United Press International Arab service reports.

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