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Then there's the encouraging news that an Iraqi militia the British were hoping would bolster their seciruty forces operated in the longstanding tradition of American militia -- when the shooting started, they cut and ran.
The militia had been assembled by an influential local opponent of ousted president Saddam Hussein as a way to maintain law and order in the bedlam of postwar Iraq. The effort so impressed British military commanders in charge of the area that they issued laminated identification cards to members and allowed them to continue patrolling.
But on Tuesday, when an angry mob surrounded the police station here and began shooting at a group of British military police inside the building, the militiamen vanished. With only a few Iraqi police trainees fighting in behalf of the outnumbered British, the throng waited until the soldiers had exhausted their ammunition before barging in and killing at least four of them at close range.
A total of six soldiers were killed and eight wounded in that incident and an earlier gun battle between paratroops and townspeople. As military officials continued to weigh their response, British forces stayed clear of the town today. The militiamen, however, reappeared with their usual swagger, manning checkpoints and zipping around in their trucks.
The reliance on militiamen to maintain public order -- a tactic used by British forces in other parts of Iraq because of what some military officials contend is a shortage of troops -- has led to unease among many Iraqis. The irregular security forces are not only poorly trained and equipped, they say, but place the interests of their tribal, religious and political leaders above the law.
With the news out of Iraq not good, and the President's prewar case looking increasingly ridiculous (although the GOP Congress appears willing to stoenwall any real investigation), I'm sure it'll be tempting for hawks to clutch at straws by claiming the recent find of old documents from Saddam's previous nuclear program somehow justifies the war.
Two words: Big deal.
No one doubted that Saddam had a nuclear program in 1991. But this material alone could not possibly be the germ of a nuclear program -- as I understand matters, it takes hundreds of centrifuges to extract uranium. And as this article points out, the fact that these materials had been butried and apparently forgotten suggests that Saddam had abandoned his nuclear program.
Indirectly challenging a U.S. argument for war on Iraq, the UN atomic agency said Thursday that a find of parts from Baghdad's original nuclear weapons program appears to back its stance that the project had never been reactivated.
The comments reflected the ongoing dispute between the United Nations and Washington over whether outsted president Saddam Hussein was trying to make weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. administration argued such programs existed in going to war against Baghdad, while UN inspectors said their searches on the ground turned up no evidence of such programs.
A U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday that American authorities were examining parts and documents from an Iraqi weapons program run in the early 1990s that were handed over by a former Iraqi nuclear scientist.
The scientist, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, was quoted as saying he had kept the parts buried in his Baghdad garden on the orders of Saddam Hussein's government. Once sanctions against Iraq ended, the material was to be dug up and used to reconstitute a program to enrich uranium to make a nuclear weapon, Obeidi claimed to U.S. officials.
The intelligence official acknowledged the find was not the "smoking gun" that U.S. authorities are seeking to prove U.S. claims that Iraq had an active program to develop a nuclear weapon.
In Vienna Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency went even further, suggesting the revelations tended to back its arguments that there was no evidence of such revived programs.
"The findings and comments of Obeidi appear to confirm that there has been no post-1991 nuclear weapons program in Iraq and are consistent with our reports to the Security Council," said agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky.
The IAEA has long monitored Iraq's nuclear programs and has questioned U.S. claims that Saddam had been reviving his nuclear weapons program.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, said early on there was no evidence to support Washington's claims. Other UN inspectors found no signs of biological or chemical weapons.
Remember, during the inspections process, the head of the IAEA stated as definitely as one could that Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program. They are practically impossible to hide. Even if Saddam unearthed the material and reconstructed a nuclear program, it'd have been a simple matter to take it out. The justification for war was that Saddam was a threat that demanded an invasion exactly when Bush wanted it; no delay could be tolerated. The case for that urgency simply does not exist.
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