Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Issue: "Iraq: The WMD debate," Feb. 21, 2004

IRAQ ATTACKS

American soldiers in Baghdad came their closest yet to losing top brass. Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, and Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne, narrowly missed falling into a gun battle in central Iraq Feb. 12. The fully flanked convoy they were riding in had just pulled inside the cinderblock walls of Iraqi Civil Defense Corps headquarters in Fallujah when explosions erupted near the entrance. Several attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms from a nearby mosque. U.S. soldiers responded with rifle and machine-gun fire in a six-minute gun battle. No U.S. soldiers were injured. Not so for Iraqi police and military. Suicide attackers plowed into a crowd of Iraq army recruits in Baghdad on Feb. 11, killing 47 and wounding 50. The day before, a similar strike against police recruits killed at least 50. The two-day death toll is the bloodiest blow yet to Iraqis and strikes at the heart of those allied with U.S. forces.

AL-QAEDA LINKS

The attacks followed a blueprint captured along with a terrorist courier north of Baghdad. Hassan Ghul confessed that he was delivering a 17-page document via CD-ROM from Ansar al Islam terrorists based in Iraq to al-Qaeda. Its plan calls for al-Qaeda assistance to wage a "sectarian war" in Iraq in coming months. It calls for attacks on Shiites in Iraq at "zero hour," before Americans hand over sovereignty to Iraqis. The aim is to prompt a counterattack on Sunni Iraqis, which would prompt support from Sunni extremists among the al-Qaeda swirl. Media spin and Democratic electioneering aside, the three cases for war in Iraq look more solid every day. Human-rights groups have testified to the uncovering of mass graves and horror under the dictatorship, and al-Qaeda/Baath Party links are increasingly obvious. The most controversial casus belli remains the existence of weapons of mass destruction. But, as senior weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus tells WORLD (cover story, p. 30), it's nothing new to find political gamesmanship thwarting the hunt for WMD. Every WMD czar in Iraq has dodged political bullets of both the Baghdad and Washington variety, only to discover that, yes, Saddam did oversee a program of unconventional warfare. The urgent question now is not, "What did Bush know?" but, "Where did they go?" HAITI VIOLENCE After weeks of peaceful protest against Haiti's president, a militia resorted to a time-honored national tradition: political violence. Members began an armed uprising in fourth-largest city Gonaives on Feb. 5, with rebels freeing prisoners and burning a police station. Government forces used burning barricades to block the rebel advance toward port city Cap-Haitien, while citizens looted warehouses for flour and other goods. Faced with this new crisis, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide refused to step down. He was democratically elected in 1990, but ousted in a coup the following year. American troops in 1994 restored him to power, but faulty elections in 2000 eroded his Haitian support and drew international censure. The Bush administration, meanwhile, worriedly watched the Haitian destruction. Officials don't want another refugee influx, and are leaning hard on Mr. Aristide to negotiate with the opposition. BUSH MILITARY RECORD As Sen. John Kerry continued his march toward the Democratic presidential nomination, new questions emerged about President Bush's service in the Air National Guard during the 1960s and '70s (story, p. 18). Answering charges from Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe that Mr. Bush was "AWOL" during 1972 when he was assigned to serve in Alabama, the White House released records intending to prove that Mr. Bush showed up for duty. Meanwhile, Retired Lt. Col. Bill Burkett of the Texas Air National Guard said last week that he overheard a 1997 conversation between then-Gov. Bush's chief of staff, Joe Allbaugh, and then-Adjutant Gen. Daniel James about disposing of military records that might embarrass Mr. Bush. Both men deny any such discussion took place.

HAITI VIOLENCE

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After weeks of peaceful protest against Haiti's president, a militia resorted to a time-honored national tradition: political violence. Members began an armed uprising in fourth-largest city Gonaives on Feb. 5, with rebels freeing prisoners and burning a police station. Government forces used burning barricades to block the rebel advance toward port city Cap-Haitien, while citizens looted warehouses for flour and other goods. Faced with this new crisis, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide refused to step down. He was democratically elected in 1990, but ousted in a coup the following year. American troops in 1994 restored him to power, but faulty elections in 2000 eroded his Haitian support and drew international censure. The Bush administration, meanwhile, worriedly watched the Haitian destruction. Officials don't want another refugee influx, and are leaning hard on Mr. Aristide to negotiate with the opposition.

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