The world press on the war

A $200 million banking scandal in Jordan tars the Pentagon's choice to succeed Saddam.

Published April 14, 2003 8:08PM (EDT)

United Kingdom, David Leigh and Brian Whitaker in the Guardian

Every day since he was secretly spirited into Iraq by the US military just over a week ago, Ahmad Chalabi, the man favoured by the Pentagon to succeed Saddam Hussein, has been holding court with local dignitaries in Nassiriya.

But allegations of financial impropriety linger over Mr Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, the most important of which concern a $200m (#127m) banking scandal in Jordan.

In 1992, Mr Chalabi was tried in his absence and sentenced by a Jordanian court to 22 years' jail on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds and currency speculation.

Mr Chalabi has always maintained the charges were politically motivated. The exact nature of the charges surrounding the collapse of his Petra Bank in Jordan was known only to a few people, but details have now been obtained by the Guardian. ...

The trigger for the bank's failure, according to documents seen by the Guardian, was a decision by the central bank governor, Mohammed Said Nabulsi, to enforce regulations on liquidity ratios, and to tighten up on the outflow of foreign exchange from Jordan. ...

The report by Arthur Andersen subsequently found that the bank's assets had been overstated by $200m. In three main areas, there were huge bad debts (about $80m); "unsupported foreign currency balances at counter-party banks" (about $20m); and money purportedly due to the bank which could not be found (about $60m).

Many of the bank's bad loans were to Chalabi-linked companies. The Swiss and Lebanese firms, Mebco and Socofi, were subsequently put into liquidation too. A much more detailed 500-page Technical Committee Report was subsequently compiled in Arabic on behalf of the Jordanian military attorney-general, and completed on June 10 1990.

It accused Mr Chalabi of being the man directly responsible for "fictitious deposits and entries to make the income ... appear larger; losses on shares and investments; bad debts ... to Abhara company and Al Rimal company". ...

As Mr Chalabi was eventually tried in a military state security court, he cannot be extradited, though if he became Iraqi leader he would be unable to visit Jordan. ...

Despite this controversy in Mr Chalabi's past, there has been a marked reluctance to dwell on it in sections of the British media.

Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Alkhereiji in the Arab News

Looters throughout Baghdad set their sights on the symbols of Saddam Hussein's dying regime, swarming a palace overlooking the Tigris River to nab bone china with the Iraqi eagle insignia, fancy wash basins and bath tubs -- even fish from the garden pond. Elsewhere in the city, however, the convulsions of anarchy appeared to be petering out. People felt secure enough to leave their homes and drive around, causing the late morning traffic jams usually so common to the capital. Buses started running in the center of town ...

US Army troops guarded banks and hospitals. Children ventured out to play soccer. Shops began to open and street vendors hawked vegetables loaded onto donkey carts.

Hundreds of cars loaded with personal belongings were entering Baghdad from the city's western approaches, an indication that people who fled the fighting were coming home.

But the Yarmouk Hospital, which once had the capacity to care for 3,000 people, is no longer functional. It was hit by US fire four days ago because fighters were thought to be sheltering there.

A hospital doctor told Arab News that 42 died in the fighting. The hospital can no longer treat patients, and because of the lack of electricity even the hospital mortuary is no longer functioning. As a result, the bodies are being hastily buried in the hospital courtyard.

Arab News witnessed the burial of six civilians. At the hospital, large numbers of volunteers are helping staff to clean up the place, but according to the senior physician in charge, Diaz Al-Jeerah, "it's not enough to get the hospital functional again, as looters have stolen a lot of the medical equipment and medicine. We need aid and we need help. People are dying everywhere, and our hands are tied."

Germany, Claus Christian Malzahn in Der Spiegel

There are no iron bars in Captain Arthur West's prison -- only sun, sand, and barbed wire. Using bulldozers the engineers have leveled an area equal to 15 soccer fields in the middle of Iraq's central desert, piled up walls of earth, creating a couple of dozen parcels. These are filling up with more and more men and are guarded by American MPs. "Within a week we'll have about 6,000 POWs here," says the stocky Captain West, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The prisoners are wearing civilian clothes; they crouch close together as though trying to form a human fortress. The hot wind blowing through the barbed wire produces a singing sound. "Suddenly they were all standing outside the camp and surrendering," West says, shaking his head. "We didn't even see them coming. But they didn't want to fight any more." ...

Ali is a deserter. He and his family wanted to flee from Baghdad by car. He was able to avoid the checkpoints manned by Saddam's henchmen. Then he saw the Americans who were shouting something at him. Ali didn't understand what they were saying. He was afraid and stepped on the gas.

Ali speaks hurriedly in broken English; tears run down his cheeks. "My older sister, shot. My younger sister and my parents, in the car. The tank."

Ali's car was rammed by an American tank after he himself was hit by bullets and his older sister was shot to death. His parents and a five-year old sister were run over by a tank. Toward the end of the war the Americans used tanks against any cars trying to break through the checkpoints, cars that might possibly be loaded with explosives and driven by suicide bombers. ...

Colonel Kevin Canestrini is the head of the MASH unit; the doctors on his staff saved Ali's life after American Marines killed the rest of his family. Canestrini listens to Ali's story and remains silent. Ali asks incredulously, "What happened?" The officer, seemingly embarrassed, checks Ali's readings on a digital readout screen next to the bed.

"I don't know how to console the man," says Canestrini whose unit is stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. "Nobody will be able to do that very soon."

Jamaica, David Jessop in the Jamaica Observer

The outcome of the war in Iraq paints a stark picture ... of the Caribbean's absolute lack of power in today's world. The governments of the Anglophone Caribbean that opposed the war from the perspective of principle, multilateralism, non-alignment and nationalism, have retained the moral high ground, but have annoyed the US.

The evidence for this is contained in a statement made on April 4 to journalists by Otto Reich, the Presidential envoy for the Americas in the National Security Council who reports directly the President's National Security Adviser. Mr Reich, never a friend of the Anglophone Caribbean and a sworn enemy of Cuba, noted that Caricom's stance did not necessarily reflect the opinions of all of the peoples of the region, but "of a few public officials". He said that he was disappointed with Caricom's criticism of the war and urged regional leaders to study "the consequence of their words".

If we are to believe Mr Reich's words, the US seems now quite prepared to appeal in public over the heads of democratically elected governments to the Caribbean people to endorse US policies.

Mr Reich and others like him in Washington miss a truly important point about the Anglophone Caribbean that the US should prize. What sets it apart is its heightened sense of social justice, the widespread political involvement of all its citizens and a belief that the state still has an important role to play in people's lives. Democracies should be nurtured, not criticised.

Hong Kong, Ian Urbina in Asia Times

When it comes to file-keeping, the Baathists of Iraq were often referred to as the "Prussians of the Middle East". Saddam Hussein's officials kept impeccable and detailed records on virtually all realms of government and society. But as looting grips Baghdad and throngs of civilians rush government buildings to exact retribution in whatever small way they can, the fate of these records is an open question. ...

Allegedly, these files contain indications of covert payments to various African countries to procure pro-Iraq votes at the UN. ...

Others have said that it is US indiscretions that are at root in Washington's concern over the files. ...

Additionally, US officials are looking for proof that Russian and French firms may have skirted the UN weapons embargo of Iraq over the years, possibly by shipping materiel to third party countries, ultimately destined for Saddam. ...

Other countries may have their own people on the job as well. Last week, a Russian diplomatic convoy came under US fire as it evacuated Baghdad....

Within Russia there is speculation that the passengers in the convoy were possibly carrying sensitive records which Moscow wants to keep out of American hands. The Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta broke the story, reporting that there was a high-stakes race going on between the CIA and the SVR (Russian foreign intelligence). "One was taking out classified Iraqi archives, and the other was trying to hamper it by force."

Both the US and the Russians maintain differing explanations of the events. Alexander Vershbow, US ambassador to Russia, stated that the convoy decided to change its course at the last minute, which is why it ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ...

The fight for Baghdad seems to be over. But clearly the struggle to plumb the city's wealth of information is still an open contest. In the long run, this race may be one of the most consequential if the US is going to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction. This race may also be the deciding factor in ultimately bringing Saddam and/or henchmen to their day in court.

Kenya, King'ori Choto in the Daily Nation

Recently, while trying to trace the causes of America's military campaign in Iraq, I stumbled upon an interesting piece I had read earlier in a December 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine. In it, columnist Fareed Zakaria wrote of Governor George Bush thus:

"During the campaign, Governor Bush said little about foreign affairs but consistently struck one theme: America is overcommitted around the world, he said, pushes its weight around too much, and tells other countries how to run their affairs too often. We need to scale back, be humble and get out of the nation-building business".

It is striking just how much Candidate Bush has morphed into the President Bush we are now seeing leading an America that has taken to pushing its weight around by defying international opinion, and is all too often nowadays telling other nations how to run their affairs.

Far from being 'humble', scaling back and getting out of the nation-building business, America today is at the peak of its military arrogance, displays unbridled geopolitical expansionism, and is on the brink of its second nation-building exercise in two years. ...

For Africa, the war has been another harsh reminder of how the continent's pressing problems are of little relevance to the West and that ours is a fragile lot caught up in the vortex of Western interests.

Thailand, Thirayuth Boonmi in the Nation

It should be made clear from the start that my proposed concept is neither anti-Western nor non-Western but post-Western. It is my conviction the present century would not be another American century as many American writers have hoped for and neither an Asian century as predicted by some scholars but rather a multi-polar, multi-cultural post-Western century.

Despite a swift victory over Iraq, the self isolating and brute force war reflects a declining US political and military influence in the world.

The US economy, which has been on a downward spiral for the past two years, is likely to be repeatedly in the doldrums. Culturally speaking, a visible change is transpiring, be it in areas of film, music, high arts, sports, travel and leisure, food, fashion and beyond. China, Japan, Korea, India, Latin America, Africa as well as Southeast Asia have revealed their presence and are acquiring more cultural space. In a few decade's time, we shall witness greater balance among various cultures. ...

However, Western hegemony dwells deep into the monopoly of meanings of life that goes beyond mere knowledge, be it the grand question of what is the purpose, the pursuit or the reproduction of one's life. It controls the way we think of our careers, our dreams, imagination, taste for architecture and design, clothing, our notion of what is beautiful, and even our intimate sexual desires.

It's unbelievable that it also controls our view of what constitutes good politics and progressive society. Those who do not play by the rules will be discredited. This is why the philosophies of the Lord Buddha or Lao Tzu are not regarded as philosophy in the Socratic sense of the word but a religion or a cult.

India, Satish Jacob in Outlook India

The ease with which Baghdad was taken over shouldn't make us forget what the city endured through the 21 days of war.

Baghdad in popular imagination is synonymous with learning and refinement. Now it appears devastated, in contrast to what I had read about the city as a child. I knew it as the city of Harun Al-Rashid, under whom Baghdad enjoyed fabled glory and wealth, becoming one of the richest cities in the world, its wharves lined with ships bringing porcelain from China, spices from India, ivory, gold and Nubian slaves from Africa and pearls and weapons from Arabia. To see the city brutalised and bombed is deeply painful. ...

With looting going on around me, I'm being asked for ridiculous amounts of money for minor errands. I had wanted to send a letter to Amman where some money and a satellite phone were waiting for me. The Iraqi I spoke to demanded $100 to do it. As it was, every foreign journalist in Baghdad had to get an accreditation from the ministry of information. It meant shelling out $3,500 for a press pass that lasted only 10 days. ...

Since the ministry has been bombed out of existence, that's at least one expense less. And it's wonderful to also get rid of the minders from the ministry who'd dog us everywhere.

Journalists were allowed to stay in only one of the three government-run hotels -- Al Mansour, Al Rasheed or Palestine. Al Rasheed is everyone's favourite. It was verboten because it was on the Americans' hit list. Its crime: a portrait of George Bush Sr on the floor at the entrance. The portrait was drawn by a young female artist during the first Gulf War. This kind of stuff maddens the Americans. Mind you, the Iraqis made a concession of sorts, covering it with an elegant carpet. Oddly enough, Al Rasheed was spared. One theory is that General Tommy Franks wants to use it as his headquarters in post-war Iraq.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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