Thursday, October 28, 2004

Friend or Foe?

John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said that Russian special forces assisted Saddam's regime by shipping weapons and materiel to Syria in the weeks leading to the March, 2003 war. The material that went missing at the Al-Qaqaa facility is thought to be a part of this operation.

From the Washington Times:
"The Russians brought in, just before the war got started, a whole series of military units," Mr. Shaw said. "Their main job was to shred all evidence of any of the contractual arrangements they had with the Iraqis. The others were transportation units."

Mr. Shaw, who was in charge of cataloging the tons of conventional arms provided to Iraq by foreign suppliers, said he recently obtained reliable information on the arms-dispersal program from two European intelligence services that have detailed knowledge of the Russian-Iraqi weapons collaboration.

Most of Saddam's most powerful arms were systematically separated from other arms like mortars, bombs and rockets, and sent to Syria and Lebanon, and possibly to Iran, he said.

A second defense official said documents on the Russian support to Iraq reveal that Saddam's government paid the Kremlin for the special forces to provide security for Iraq's Russian arms and to conduct counterintelligence activities designed to prevent U.S. and Western intelligence services from learning about the arms pipeline through Syria.

The Russian arms-removal program was initiated after Yevgeny Primakov, the former Russian intelligence chief, could not persuade Saddam to give in to U.S. and Western demands, this official said. ...

Documents reviewed by the official included itineraries of military units involved in the truck shipments to Syria. The materials outlined in the documents included missile components, MiG jet parts, tank parts and chemicals used to make chemical weapons, the official said. ...

The director of the Iraqi government front company known as the Al Bashair Trading Co. fled to Syria, where he is in charge of monitoring arms holdings and funding Iraqi insurgent activities, the official said.

Also, an Arabic-language report obtained by U.S. intelligence disclosed the extent of Russian armaments. The 26-page report was written by Abdul Tawab Mullah al Huwaysh, Saddam's minister of military industrialization, who was captured by U.S. forces May 2, 2003.

The Russian "spetsnaz" or special-operations forces were under the GRU military intelligence service and organized large commercial truck convoys for the weapons removal, the official said. ...

Defense officials said the Russians can provide information on what happened to the Iraqi weapons and explosives that were transported out of the country. Officials believe the Russians also can explain what happened to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.
On the other side of the accusation, Russian officials are now denying the validity Mr. Shaw's report:
Vyacheslav Sedov, the head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s press service, quoted by Interfax news agency, said “one cannot regard such reports as other than far-fetched and ridiculous.” “I state officially that the Russian Defence Ministry and its structural subdivisions cannot have any involvement in the disappearance of the explosives, as Russian troops had left Iraq long before the start of the US-British operation in that country,” he said.

Russian Foreign Ministry official in charge of Iraq, Ilya Morgunov, quoted by the agency said these reports “greatly surprised” him. “Let them remain on the conscience of those who circulate them,” he said. He personally had witnessed events that preceded the start of the military operation in Iraq. “I did not hear about any removal of munitions. Moreover, there was no-one here to do it because we had evacuated practically all our personnel,” Morgunov said. In the first days of the war, only a small group of Russians headed by the ambassador remained in Baghdad, and they too soon left the country, he added. “There were no Russian special forces in Iraq. Only civilian experts from Russia and other CIS countries worked there for companies whose names everyone knows,” the agency quoted him as saying.
Late 2004 appears to be a momentous period in history. America is conducting a fateful election, choosing between two disparate, irreconcilable views of America's role in the world, in the face of emerging rogue nuclear powers, Iran and North Korea. Yassir Arafat appears to be on his deathbed; Palestinian culture will likely turn on itself when he dies, as civil war that will reverberate across the Middle East. The 'friendship' between Russia and the United States is now edging towards diplomatic confrontation over the Al-Qaqaa affair. The next phase that we can all look forward to will be official accusations and denials from each side. And then perhaps an old familiar freeze might reshape itself.

One thing that is abundantly clear is that the old framework of global alliances---like those countries that compose the UN's Security Council---are out of touch with the political realities of the 21st century. If Russia was literally working with Saddam against the United States in the run-up to war in Iraq, then there must be an accounting. Russia's behavior, if provable, is the cherry on top of the Old European cake that has largely abandoned the United States in a global war. Russian aid to America's enemy may be the most blatant example of a Europe that seeks a divorce from its old ally. Whether or not it's Kerry or Bush for the next four years will make little difference in the fact that Europe and America are drifting apart over fundamentally divergent world views. C'est la Guerre.