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4/25/2003

Iraq's nuclear material has not been accounted for

The Washington Post is reporting what could be a major problem in regards to the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, and the large quantity of uranium stored there. According to the Post
Nearly three weeks after U.S. forces reached Iraq's most important nuclear facility, the Bush administration has yet to begin an assessment of whether tons of radioactive material there remain intact, according to military officials here and in Washington.

Before the war began last month, the vast Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center held 3,896 pounds of partially enriched uranium, more than 94 tons of natural uranium and smaller quantities of cesium, cobalt and strontium, according to reports compiled through the 1990s by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Immensely valuable on the international black market, the uranium was in a form suitable for further enrichment to "weapons grade," the core of a nuclear device. The other substances, products of medical and industrial waste, emit intense radiation. They have been sought, officials said, by terrorists seeking to build a so-called dirty bomb, which uses conventional explosives to scatter dangerous radioactive particles.


Apparently, the main issue preventing US experts from surveying the site, and determining whether any uranium has been removed, is the fact that they would need to break the IAEA seals on the uranium and under international law the IAEA has exclusive authority over those seals. The Post says that a contingent of civilians at the Pentagon who want to go ahead without the IAEA, is arrayed against another composed of State and "other parts of the Pentagon policy apparatus" (whatever that means). The biggest problem I see in all this is that looting took place at Tuwaitha, both before Marines arrived, and apparently after.
Until fighting began on March 19, those seals were believed to have remained intact and Tuwaitha's three major storage structures were secured by Iraq's Special Republican Guard. But when a U.S. Marine engineers reached the site on April 6, the Marines found it abandoned.

Iraqi locals told the Marines, according to situation reports sent through Central Command, that the last of the guards had departed four days earlier. The Marines reported that some of the buildings showed evident signs of looting. Until receiving reinforcements, the small unit was unable to prevent further intrusions by Iraqis who cut through barbed wire fencing and stole inside.


There is no word on when those reinforcements arrived. Okay, so someone please tell me US troops protected something other than the fucking oil. I supported this war, and I think our troops are some of the best in the world, but I am extraordinarily disturbed by the whole Rumsfeld clique at the Pentagon. These people could very well turn this into something horrible. I hope not, but right now I can't say that I can rule it out. Which is a shame, a crying shame.

4/23/2003

Nasrallah on the Arbaein in Karbala

The leader of the Hizb'allah, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, speaking yesterday night in Beirut warned of a possible guerrilla war against American troops occupying Iraq. According to the Tehran Times
Nasrallah who was speaking on Tuesday night in Beirut at a commemorative service marking Arbaein, the 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS), compared the passionate observance of the Arbaein ritual in Iraq this year, with those of 1982 in Lebanon.

"In 1982, too, the Lebanese nation's wide participation in the Arbaein rituals prompted the beginning of the strong resistance against the racist Zionists' presence in Lebanon," said Nasrallah. Referring to the shabby developments of the past few weeks in In Iraq, reverberating throughout the rest of the Middle East, the Hizbullah Secretary General emphasized, "The Bush administration had initially aimed at turning its war in Iraq into a war between the Christian and Islamic world. But that satanic plan failed, thanks to the wise stand adopted by the Pope, as well as the alertness of the Islamic alims." Nasrallah said, "Another dreadful U.S. objective in starting a war against Iraq, was to add fuel to the flames of an internal crisis among the country's Muslim sects." He added, "Some circles helped Bush in achieving that goal, by over-emphasizing the mosaic and ethnic divisions of the Iraqi population, but that plot, too, failed - thanks to the alertness and timely moves on the part of the Iraqi Shia leaders and nation."

Warning the regional nations that the U.S. and Israel are together trying to imply the idea in the hearts and minds of the regional nations that they are incapable of resisting in the face of the U.S. will, Nasrallah said, "The Americans tell a big lie about fighting to establish democracy and to safeguard freedoms in Iraq. "They are actually after securing other goals there, and everyone knows it too well to be denied by them," he said.


This is what Rumsfeld calls "untidyness"?

(via LA Times) U.S. troops arrested eight members of the Free Iraqi Forces after saying they were found looting abandoned homes of members of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime in Baghdad.

Some of the group's members were trained and transported to Iraq by the U.S. military.

Army Staff Sgt. Bryce Ivings said two groups of four uniformed men were caught. The first group was armed with rocket-propelled grenades and was kept in custody. The second was unarmed and was ordered to cease looting.

Israel Banned From World Rock-Climbing Event as Iran Opposes

TEHRAN -- Israel was banned from participating in the world rock-climbing event as the representative of Iran's Mountaineering Federation (IMF) voiced his opposition agreed by board of directors of world competitions.

According to the IMF, the Iranian representative in a world directorate meeting in the Netherlands strongly protested over the participation of the Zionist regime in the international event and the majority of members agreed and banned Israel.

Homayoun Bakhtiari, head of IMF's International Relations Committee and a member of the world rock-climbing board of directors, said if the Israeli team takes part in the tournament, Iran will pull out.

Plague specialist indicted on 15 counts

The journal Science reports in its Random Samples section that Thomas Butler, an infectious disease researcher at Texas Tech, who was accused of lying to federal agents in regards to the destruction of 30 vials of Yersinia pestis, has been indicted on 15 counts (including illegally transporting frlom Tanzania to the US) by a federal grand jury. Here is an account from Science on the original arrest:
Butler has worked with the bacterium for more than 25 years and has dozens of samples from around the world in his lab, according to university officials. On 13 January, say court documents, Butler met with a campus safety officer and "told him that I had noticed for the first time that 30 vials ... were missing. I gave him this explanation to demonstrate why I could not account for the [vials]." Actually, the vials "had been accidentally destroyed earlier," Butler wrote in a statement to the FBI. But he didn't realize his account would prompt "such an extensive investigation."

The next day, more than 60 state and federal investigators descended on the campus after a tip from university officials. White House homeland security czar Tom Ridge called Lubbock's mayor to offer help. Butler repeated his tale to FBI agents but then confessed on 14 January, according to court documents. He was then arrested.

On 21 January, a federal judge released Butler on $100,000 bail and required him to wear an electronic monitoring anklet. Federal prosecutors have until late next month to seek an indictment. University officials meanwhile have placed him on paid leave, changed the locks on his laboratory, and barred him from campus. If he's found guilty of lying to investigators, Butler could face up to 5 years in jail. Floyd Holder, his attorney, had previously said that Butler intended to plead not guilty to any charges.

The case underscores the government's concern about bioterror, observers say. It means researchers "have to take [select-agent rules] just as seriously as issues such as human subjects," says Paul Keim, a microbial geneticist specializing in anthrax and plague at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. But another microbiologist, who asked not to be identified, wonders "if the government isn't overreacting [in] making a stupid lie a high crime instead of a misdemeanor."


According to the US Attorney, "Butler, age 61, faces a statutory maximum of 74 years imprisonment and a $3.6 million fine if convicted on all counts." Not that I don't take the threat of bioterrorism seriously, but this sounds more than a bit silly to me. If Al Qaeda wanted bioweapons they have a large pool of sellers to get them from (Russian Federation, Iran, Syria, etc.). They wouldn't need to swipe vials from American laboratories, in fact, that would probably be the most difficult way for them to get biological agents.

I hate this type of thumb-twiddling, especially when real terrorists are out there walking around in American cities while the authorities do precisely nothing. How about getting the bad guys? I know that is a radical suggestion for some over at the FBI, but just try it out for a day or two.

Arafat Caves

Both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz are reporting that the detente between Abu Mazen, PM-designate, and Yasser Arafat has been resolved, with Mazen taking the Interior Ministry portfolio, and Mohammed Dahlan acting as head of security affairs. Neither report mentions the issue previously pinned as crucial by Ha'aretz (which has very good Palestinian sources), namely the dismantling of the Al Aqsa Martyrs. Since the author of both the previous and current Ha'aretz report is the same individual, Arnon Regular, one can only assume that either the issue was not resolved, or Mazen was forced to conceed the point, at least for now. Nevertheless, Khaled Abu Toameh, of the Post, wagers that
The power struggle over the last few days could be Arafat's last battle. Once the new cabinet is sworn in and Abbas and Dahlan enter their new offices, Arafat will be eased upstairs, if not out of the door.

Only time will tell. Arafat is a survivor, if nothing else. He will go down in flames before letting someone else usurp his control. Hopefully, no one will bring a fire extinguisher.

4/22/2003

I'm back

I got back from the trip to the Grand Canyon yesterday night, sore, but triumphant. Reading up on blogs and newspapers, I tried to get a feel for what I missed while I was out of the loop. As usual, it is more than I could ever catch up on, but there were certainly a few stories that caught my eye.

Up first is a report from Ha'aretz indicating that Yasser Arafat has rejected a plan by prime minister-designate Abu Mazen to dismantle the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

Most reports have focused on Abu Mazen's plan to make Mohammed Dahlan, the Gazan strongman and former head of the Preventive Security Services in the Gaza Strip, head of the new government's security services. However, Palestinian sources said the dispute actually revolves around the premier-designate's plans for establishing a new PA security policy, and whether he must win Arafat's approval for every decision he makes.

The sources said Abu Mazen's plans to disarm the underground armed wing of Fatah, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and how he will confront Hamas and Islamic Jihad are at the heart of the dispute.

Abu Mazen insists that he be granted sole authority over the disarming of armed factions, while Arafat rejects the demand, fearing that the disarming of the Al Aqsa Brigades would lead to a civil war. The two also have not reached an agreement as to how to deal with the other armed factions.

...

Despite massive international pressure, including phone calls from European leaders to Arafat, the dispute has come down to the wire. To meet his deadline, Abu Mazen must present his government to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) by tonight. However, as of late, a majority of the PLC, which gave a sweeping mandate to Abu Mazen to form a government just two months ago, has consolidated around Arafat. As a result, it is doubtful that the prime minister-designate can win the council's vote of confidence unless he reaches a deal with Arafat.

The pressure on Arafat has been so great, according to Palestinian sources, that at one point Arafat slammed down the phone on a senior European statesman.


If Arafat does not compromise on the issue of dismantling the armed factions, it is seriously doubtful if anything substantive will occur on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Israel will not negotiate while people loyal to Arafat are still murdering Israelis in the streets. Under the circumstances, I can't blame them.

Mickey Kaus (via kausfiles) links to a Washington Times report concerning a memo that was allegedly circulated by the Pentagon's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which is headed by Lt. Jay Garner.

In a memo sent two weeks before the fall of Baghdad, the Pentagon office charged with rebuilding Iraq urged top commanders of U.S. ground forces to protect the Iraqi National Museum and other cultural sites from looters.

"Coalition forces must secure these facilities in order to prevent looting and the resulting irreparable loss of cultural treasures," says the March 26 memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

...

The museum was No. 2 on a list of 16 sites that ORHA deemed crucial to protect. Financial institutions topped the list, including the Iraqi Central Bank, which is now a burned-out shell filled with twisted metal beams from the collapse of the roof and all nine floors under it.

"We asked for just a few soldiers at each building, or if they feared snipers, then just one or two tanks," said an angry ORHA official, one of several who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity.

...

Just one ministry was protected by coalition forces from the beginning of the occupation, the Ministry of Oil, which was last on the list.


I'll be damned if the the "botched diplomacy" picture promoted by the likes of Josh Marshall isn't becoming truer as the minutes tick by.

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