- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Insider notes for United Press International for March 18 …

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Bush's war on terror has given a shot in the arm to Russian military ambitions. The Kremlin has mobilized a squadron of 10 warships to be ready to deploy to the Indian Ocean within 10 days of receiving orders. Officials, who announced the naval deployment last month, innocently noted that it has nothing to do with the Iraq crisis and repeated that Russia would not take part in a possible war against Baghdad. Farther east Col. Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov, the head of Russia's air force, visited Kyrgyzstan's Kant air base, which is set to host SU-25 and SU-27 fighters along with 200 personnel. The deployment is Moscow's most significant response to the increased U.S. military presence in Central Asia since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Preparations will be completed by the end of next month; Mikhailov declined to say how any of the aircraft would be deployed there but that the number would be "appropriate" for their mission. The aircraft are a Russian contribution to an anti-terrorism task force under the Collective Security Treaty, whose members include Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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Ukraine's 19th Army Battalion anti-chemical weapons unit is readying for Persian Gulf deployment, where it would stand by to help neutralize the effects of a potential Iraqi offensive against neighboring countries. The 531-man volunteer unit has been training for four months, and is only awaiting parliamentary approval to go. Ukraine's government says it cannot fund the mission, which officials estimate could cost up to $1 million a month, and the United States is expected to help fund the force if parliament approves the project. Each soldier would receive a monthly salary of $600 to $1,000 if they don't participate in decontamination work and double that if they do. Asked where he preferred to deploy his force, deputy commander Lt. Gen. Valery Frolov replied, "Florida."

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There's trouble among the secret eavesdroppers. Australian staff at the Alice Spring's U.S.-Australian Pine Gap spy base look to be launching a discrimination case to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, seeking to be paid the same as their U.S. Raytheon colleagues for doing the same job. An Australian Industrial Relations Commission hearing was unable to proceed with the claim because secrecy provisions meant the workers could not reveal how much they were paid or what it is that they do. The workers walked off the job in January and February.

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Former Iraqi army chief of staff Nizar al-Khazraji has gone AWOL from his home in Soroe, Denmark, where he had been under house arrest pending an investigation for war crimes. Family members expressed ignorance of his whereabouts, his son saying that the former general had gone outside for a cigarette and did not return. Khazraji had been a leading candidate in the Bush administration plans for opposing Saddam Hussein but had put under house arrest last November after embarrassing revelations about his past became known. Khazraji was ordered to surrender his passport and to report regularly to authorities pending the inquiry into his role as Iraq's army chief in the late 1980s when Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against Kurds in northern Iraq. He was fired after criticizing the invasion of Kuwait, fled to Jordan in 1995 and sought political asylum in Denmark in 1999.

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Pope John Paul II has ordered papal nuncio Archbishop Fernando Filoni to remain in Iraq even if war breaks out. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican press office, said: "The apostolic nunciature in Baghdad will remain open even in the case of an eventual armed intervention in the country. It is a time-honored tradition of the Holy See that its diplomatic representatives remain close to the populations to whom they have been sent, even in situations of extreme danger." Navarro-Valls is unperturbed but upbeat, saying, "Even when there are five minutes to go before the war, there is always time for peace."

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