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In the Internet age

In the Internet age, letters-to-the-editor page editors really need to do more due diligence.

Look at these two searches (example #1 and #2) on google.

These are examples from the Bush campaign. But it's not just them. Or, if it is, it won't be for long.

Theres been a story

There's been a story making its way around the web, to the effect that Saddam wasn't really captured by the Americans, but was actually captured by the Kurds, drugged, and then and dropped off somewhere where the US Army could find him. In the background is some sense that there were negotiations perhaps for money or possibly to augment the Kurds' standing in post-war Iraq.

Nor is the story only in obscure publications or conspiracy sites. It's been picked up by Agence France Presse and Bloomberg. It's even linked now on Drudge's site.

So, I've had a slew of readers write in to ask, Is there something to this story?

In a word? No.

Obviously a single word seldom covers things adequately. So permit me a few more.

I've been far too busy to do any reporting on this. But I have looked at the published stories. And I've seen nothing that makes me think this is true.

First, the fact that the story ran in AFP means little in this case. Because if you look at the AFP story they seem to have done no original reporting. They only reported what ran in the original story which appeared in Britain's Sunday Express. (The Bloomberg wire story picked it up from AFP. So same difference.)

So what about the original story in Sunday Express? Among other problems, it reads as based on shaky sources, and it includes this passage ...

The Sunday Express was told: "There was no question of the tribe claiming the GBP 16million reward from the US.

Apparently it was a question of honour. The Kurdish Patriotic Front held him while they thrashed out their own deal. It didn't just involve the reward but it involved gaining some sort of political advantage in the region."


What's this group, the Kurdish Patriotic Front? Good question. As far as I know, there is no such group.

It sounds a lot like the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish political factions. And later on in the article it refers the 'Front's' leader as Jalal Talabani. He is the head of the PUK. So the author of the piece, Yvonne Ridley (reporting from Qatar), on the face of it seems not to know what is literally the first thing about Kurdish politics. And that, shall we say, doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in her reporting.

(Responding to the post you're reading now, another TPM reader provides some very interesting additional details on Ms. Ridley.)

Meanwhile, this article from an Australian paper, picks up on the story and adds some details which seem to stem from the fact that someone from the PUK apparently reported the story before the US officially announced Saddam's capture.

Talabani was asked about this yesterday by Al Jazeera and the following is a translation of the exchange provided by the BBC world service ...

Jalal Talabani, member of the Iraqi Governing Council and leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), has denied that the Peshmerga forces were responsible for arresting the former Iraqi president, Saddam Husayn, as reported by a British newspaper (Sunday Express) on Sunday (21 December). In an interview with Al-Jazeera in Moscow, Talabani said that the arrest of Saddam had been carried out by the Americans alone. Talabani arrived in Moscow prior to the start of an official visit by an Iraqi Governing Council delegation to Russia. (Talabani - recording) We contributed to trailing and pursuing Saddam Husayn when he used to go from one place to another. We provided the coalition with important information about these places. However, the arrest was carried out by American hands. The American forces carried out the arrest and none of the Peshmerga members took part in the arrest. Therefore, this report is regrettably false. It could be meant to justify the low spirits of the former president and the shock on his face following the arrest so as to say that he was drugged. He was not drugged because four members of the Iraqi Governing Council met him and he was fully conscious and traded insults with them.

(Al-Jazeera correspondent in Moscow Akram Khuzam) Why was the PUK given the right to announce the arrest of the former president, Saddam Husayn?

(Talabani) The truth is that no one gave it the right. We were one of the parties hunting down the ousted president. A PUK surveillance unit was present in the area. On the night of the arrest, it seems that a member of this unit learned about the arrest. He telephoned us and told us about the arrest of the former president, Saddam Husayn. We asked him to confirm the report because it was important news. He came back after one hour and confirmed that the news was true. I was on my way to Iran. When I met with an Iranian journalist, he asked me about the latest news. I told him: I have important news for you, which is the arrest of Iraqi president Saddam Husayn. The Americans had confirmed to us the truth of this report before I left for Iran.


So, I think this all adds up to no reason to believe there's anything to do this story, at least not based on what I've seen in published accounts. What I think we've got here is a rumor which got picked up by an inexperienced reporter and then made its way on to some mainstream newswires.

There've been other rumors flying around -- like this one from Debkafile. But Debkafile is about as reliable as raw intelligence and should be treated with the same skepticism. Actually, it's not just that it should be treated like raw intelligence, it ... well, that's for another day.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying there's nothing to this. I haven't had time to make any calls. Anything could be true. And it's entirely possible that there are dimensions to the intel leading to Saddam's capture, which haven't yet been revealed. But none of the publish accounts I've seen strike me as credible or even close to substantiated. So until I see more I assume there's nothing to it.

For the last days

For the last days of shopping frenzy, another daily TPM Featured Book: Colin Martin's and Geoffrey Parker's truly marvelous The Spanish Armada. Actually, this is the The Spanish Armada: Revised Edition, which just came out last year. I've only read the original. But if it's revised it must be even better. And I'm going to assume it still turns out that the Armada didn't manage the hook up down there in the Spanish Netherlands and the fire ships did their business and the anchors were cut. In any case, a wonderful history with splendid new evidence from the archives and the bottom of the sea.

Still still still working

Still, still, still working on this empire essay, so only a few moments to post this morning. But, quickly, a few comments on the Libya deal.

First, this has only a tenuous link to the Bush Doctrine, though the White House and some of the more gullible columnists are going to great lengths to portray it that way. Libya has been trying to get good with the US and Europe for half a dozen years -- as signalled by the first on-going and now just concluded negotiations over the Pan-Am bombing.

(The Libya deal looks like an especially good example of the Bush Doctrine in action if you haven't been paying any attention to Libya for the last dozen years. Along those lines, here's a good article on that history, and a recent update by the same author.)

Second, Libya's 'WMD' are awfully primitive compared to be the big-boys of the rogue state universe. They have mustard gas, a World War I era weapon, and some very preliminary nuclear stuff, not even remotely close to having a serious facility let alone a bomb. So that context is important.

Having said all this, some are pointing to this development as a sign of the merits of talking versus fighting in turning back the scourge of weapons proliferation.

But that won't do either.

Talking, in itself, means nothing. It's only a way of lubricating or finessing the application of different kinds of force or pressure. And the pressure applied to Libya has been fierce. Only it wasn't principally military, but economic.

Libya has been under fierce UN-sanctions for a decade. And the strangling pressure of those sanctions, combined with rising internal political strains which magnified their effect, prompted the shift of course.

Does the backdrop of Iraq play into the decision? Of course, it does. But this isn't a break with the direction Libya's been pursuing, but a continuation of it.

(Juan Cole, as always, has some very perceptive commentary on this whole matter.)

The real story with the Libya development is the light it's showing on where it likely got its nuclear starter kit: i.e., Pakistan.

New information from North Korea and particularly from Iran is starting to show us that, in essence, there really is no global weapons proliferation problem so much as there's a Pakistan problem.

We now know enough to say with increasing confidence that every state we're worrying about got either all of their help, or their most significant help, from the Pakistanis.

This raises so many questions and so many sharp-edged dilemmas that it is truly difficult to know where to start.

Still shopping For the

Still shopping? For the next week, each afternoon, I'll be recommending a new book in the TPM Featured Book section -- each one a richly-textured work of popular history writing, each one a great find.

This afternoon, Hugh Thomas' Conquest, the history in English of Cortes' conquest of Mexico. A brilliant rendering of the rapid, violent and in many respects catastrophic clash of two civilizations amidst war, mutual discovery and epidemic disease.

For those who read our earlier recommendation, Bernal Diaz's The Conquest of New Spain, a first-hand account of the events in question, Conquest is an almost essential companion.

Do the Shia stay

Do the Shi'a stay on the sidelines?

There are all sorts of potential 'vectors' of violence in Iraq, not at all of which are directed at us, but all of which, by definition, complicate what we are trying to accomplish in the country.

We know much less than we need to about the character of the guerilla violence being directed at US troops. But by and large it seems to come from elements within the Sunni Arab population of the country.

At the same time, those same groups appear to be behind the continuing attacks against Shi'a political leaders.

For instance, a couple days ago suspected Saddam loyalists assassinated a leading member of the al-Hakim family, Muhannad al-Hakim. That family is the moving force behind the most important Shi'a political organization, SCIRI, and just as importantly SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corps.

These attacks, of course, must be seen in the context of the earlier assassination of the former head of SCIRI, Ayatollah Mohamed Bakr al-Hakim.

Will they fight back?

To date, this is the shoe that hasn't dropped in Iraq -- a move to open fighting from the well-armed and highly organized Shi'a militias who've decided to stay largely on the sidelines.

To a great degree that makes sense. We're fighting the Sunnis in the center of the country -- their sectarian enemies. So the Shi'a can sit back and have us and the ex-Baathists bloody each other.

Their numerical preponderance in the country isn't going anywhere. So they can afford to wait for the reversion to Iraqi sovereignty which will certainly mean power for them. By a cruel arithmetic, we're doing their dirty work for them.

(Ed. note: references to 'Sunni' and 'Shi'a' and 'ex-Baathists', in this context, should be taken as very general references to allegiance groups and shouldn't be taken to mean that all the members of these groups are implicated in these activities.)

But Sunni paramilitaries -- call them whatever you want -- are hitting Shi'a groups like SCIRI very hard. If the Shi'a start hitting back, the situation on the ground in Iraq could begin to change very quickly. And that must certainly be the strategy of those mounting these attacks.

Perle on what is

Perle on what is behind criticism of neoconservatism ...

I can only conclude that the visceral anti-Americanism just runs deeper than any other set of values that is meaningful on the left and hence the obsession with and the disparagement of what they define as a neoconservative approach to international affairs.


We will return to this in the context of a discussion of whether such attitudes about political disagreements suit a person to the task of spreading democracy.

And along these lines, while we're at it, let me again recommend George Soros' new book The Bubble of American Supremacy.

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