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Syrian Expert Patrick Seale and Columbia University Professor Edward Said Discuss the State of the Middle East After the Invasion of Iraq

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Secretary of State General Colin Powell accused Syria of harboring officials from Saddam Hussein’s government, and threatened economic or diplomatic sanctions. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer called Syria a “terrorist state” and a “rogue nation.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed Syria had carried out chemical weapons tests in the last year. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon jumped on the opportunity and called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “dangerous.” He urged Washington to put “very heavy … political and economic pressure” on Syria.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian gunman, an Israeli officer and two Israeli civilians were killed today. The gunman hurled grenades and sprayed automatic weapons fire at a customs area between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Hamas said the attack was revenge for Israel’s killing of one of its top commanders. Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli tank fire in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah.

Arab countries, Russia and the European Union criticized the U.S. rhetoric. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said he is astounded by the threats. An adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned the Americans against the temptation to “target one Arab country after another.” Earlier, Russia and the European Union urged the U.S. to show restraint. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that statements directed at Syria could destabilize the whole Middle East. British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to reassure his Parliament and pledged there are no plans to invade Syria. And the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban said, “The only country in the region which has chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is Israel.” The Washington Post reports senior administration officials claim there are no plans to invade Syria.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to hear the White House spokesperson for a minute, Ari Fleischer, talking about Syria. And then we are going to talk with Edward Said. Patrick Seale is on the line with us from Paris. His book is Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. This is Ari Fleischer.

PRESS SECRETARY ARI FLEISCHER: Well, Syria needs to broadly assess what role it wants to play cooperatively with the rest of the world and with its neighbors, and now with a newly liberated neighborhood, newly liberated Iraqi people, where the Iraqi people themselves have a strong message to Syria: Don’t harbor these people who oppressed the Iraqi people. So, most importantly, the president wants Syria to get the message that they need to reexamine themselves; they need to examine their ties to terrorists, their harboring of terrorists, their harboring of Iraqi leaders, and their development of weapons of mass destruction. So it’s a broad message the president is sending to Syria. We hope that they will refocus.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ari Fleischer. Professor Edward Said, on the line with us, university professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, has written many books, including Culture and Imperialism and Orientalism.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Said.

EDWARD SAID: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

EDWARD SAID: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the U.S.’s setting its sights on Syria now. But first your reaction, this three weeks after the invasion and the U.S. basically saying that the war is over?

EDWARD SAID: Well, I think the main thing is that, you know, the United States reserves for itself the right to do anything it wants, basically. That’s the message. There is no international order to contain or sanction it in any way. And it’s set a precedent now for lawless action of this kind in the years to come, both by itself and by others. I think the only hope lies with the U.S. citizenry, that can put some brakes on the behavior of this government, which is a minority government. In my opinion, it’s not a constitutionally elected government. And it’s a government that’s been taken over by a small handful of people who have lied and manipulated the truth to suit their purposes. And their purposes are now, it appears to me, to use the Middle East as a tabula rasa, to rewrite the history of the Middle East and to erect a new order that will not give it trouble, they think, give the United States trouble, for the years to come.

The actual war in Iraq was as one suspected. It was a very short war. I think — I don’t have any information, but the sequence of dates suggests that when the war started to go badly in the beginning, in Basra and the south generally, a deal was struck, hence the sudden disappearance of Saddam Hussein and, more important, his army. I mean, as Mr. Seale said, the convoy, where the Russian ambassador was hit, on the 6th, I think it was, of April; on the 7th, Condoleezza Rice appeared in Moscow; and on the 9th, Baghdad fell, with no resistance to speak of. My hunch is that he gave up, being the survivor that he is, and was allowed to leave the country under Russian auspices, in return for which the United States would have a free hand to do whatever it wants, to get its quick war, to declare triumph, and so on and so forth.

So, now I think what’s going to transpire is perhaps more transparent and less difficult to manipulate, which is this attempt to create a democracy by sponsoring meetings here and there, by carting Ahmed Chalabi and his boys around and bringing in other people. I mean, it’ll be a horrendous mess, while U.S. corporations like Halliburton and the other will begin to move in for the spoils. I mean, the total reconstruction of Iraq is going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. And there we are.

AMY GOODMAN: And what makes you believe this, that the U.S. struck a deal with Russia?

EDWARD SAID: I find it difficult to believe that the army just completely disappeared along with Saddam Hussein and his people, and Condoleezza Rice’s appearances in Moscow, you know, following quick upon that, and the collapse of the Iraqi army and, indeed, of the Iraqi regime. It was obviously due to the fact that the Iraqi regime had very little to sustain it. You know, this is not — I mean, wildly exaggerated reports of its great power and fear and all the rest of it circulated, you will recall, before the other Gulf War, the 1991 war — the fourth-largest army in the world, etc., etc. The war was over in three days. So I think there was a slight chance this could go on longer, especially if they got into house-to-house fighting and Baghdad became a kind of Beirut in the last stages of the Lebanese civil war. I mean, all kinds of things could happen, and there was no way of putting a limit on it quite as easily as they had suspected. So, that’s the surmise. I mean, it’s a kind of Mycroft Holmes, you know, armchair at home kind of speculation. But I doubt that he will be found anytime soon, and, you know, the remnants of the regime are probably scattered around in different places in Russia and elsewhere. That’s my guess. You know, I don’t have any information. But the dates are beguiling.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have any thoughts on the firing on the Russian convoy —

EDWARD SAID: Yeah, I think that was part —

AMY GOODMAN: — that made its way to Syria with the Russian ambassador to Iraq?

EDWARD SAID: Yeah. I mean, I think that was part of it, you know, to remind them that they were there. I mean, that’s — as I say, it’s a kind of slightly crazy interpretation. But it’s difficult to explain the total and sudden collapse of the regime — not the regime, sorry, of the army. I mean, there was literally no fighting to speak of in Baghdad. And this was an army that had — and a resistance that had shown quite a bit of spunk in the south. And the numbers of American troops brought into Baghdad were really not big, I mean, certainly not big enough for a city that’s 5 million — has 5 million inhabitants in it. I think the whole thing suggests a political deal of some sort. And the quick turning of attention now to Syria suggests also: Let’s not focus too closely on Iraq, because what’s there is pretty inchoate and likely to lead to further anarchy of one sort or another. I mean, they can sustain a military occupation, an orderly one, for a short while, but Iraq is too large a country, physically large, and there isn’t enough — I mean, the Iraqi opposition that’s been brought in from the outside has, as far as I can tell, hardly a constituency inside the country. That leaves, you know, the usual suspects, which the United States has always favored — you know, the balance of the Shia clerics and the Sunni minority and some of the Kurds and so on and so forth — to try to keep things going. But there’s no clear plan as to what’s to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: As a distinguished man of letters and a kind of minister of culture yourself, I wanted to ask you about the plundering of the National Museum in Baghdad. Also, today we hear about the burning to the ground of the national archives of Baghdad. In both cases, a pleading with the U.S. military to protect these areas, but it appears one of the only places they protected in Baghdad was the Ministry of Oil.

EDWARD SAID: Well, you said it yourself. I mean, that’s a priority. Don’t forget that this an army dealing with a — I mean, a relatively new army of volunteers, mostly drawn from a very — most disadvantaged minorities and classes of the country, with no experience — I mean, if you asked most of them a month ago where Iraq is or what Iraq was, or I-raq, as some of them call it, they wouldn’t have a very clear idea. They have no idea what kind of civilization they’re dealing with. I mean, most educated people in this country don’t, either. So, I mean, there’s that.

As somebody said, you know, Iraq is a vast archaeological site. The whole country is just a palimpsest of civilizations and whatnot, already, of course, plowed up and bombed during the 1991 war, now again. And, you know, so that what could happen and what might have happened were not prepared for. I mean, I myself was horrified and shocked at the looting and the pillaging and the destruction of the museum, because, whatever you thought of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which is pretty awful, the work on the museum and the antiquities of Iraq has continued, and it’s the effort of the last 200 years. It’s not — you know, it began under the Ottomans and continued under the British and so on. So, but it’s obviously — the whole situation comes from, you know, a mad orgy of sort of destructive fury directed at everyone around, a sudden removal of restraints. And the obvious conclusion drawn, I think, by the population that engaged in this horrible act, that the U.S. wasn’t interested. You have to, you know, do anything you want, kind of thing. As you say, the important issue is the oil. And, of course, one should ask oneself whether — if Iraq had been the world’s largest exporter of oranges, whether this war would have taken place in the first place, no matter how awful its regime was. So…

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to professor Edward Said. In our other hour of Democracy Now!, we are going to be talking about another kind of plundering of Iraq’s heritage. There’s a piece in Science magazine —

EDWARD SAID: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — called “Impending War Stokes Battle Over Fate of Iraqi Antiquities.” And it’s not about Iraqi looters. It says, “While the world awaits a possible war in Iraq, the battle is already under way over how best to preserve the country’s vast cultural heritage. At the center of the controversy [is] a group of wealthy and influential American antiquities collectors and curators with enough clout to wangle a meeting … with U.S. Defense and State department officials. [They] say … their goal is to save the country’s myriad archaeological sites, museums, and invaluable data collections. But many scientists fear that the group is also eager to have a postwar government loosen Iraq’s tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities. Those changes would increase opportunities to obtain artifacts — a motive members of the group hotly deny.”

EDWARD SAID: No, that’s — yeah, I mean, that’s disingenuous. I happen to know socially some of these people and met one a few months ago who said to me, quite openly — she said, “We’re buying.” And I said, “Yes, but you’re participating in the pillaging of a country’s history.” “No, we’re not. We’re paying for it. It’s like the oil,” she said. “We take their oil, and we pay for it. We’re taking their antiquities, and we’re paying for it.” So there’s that attitude.

And there is the other attitude, which is the far more sinister one, which is, “These are, after all, not white people. They’re not like us. They don’t understand what we understand. And so we’re going to take it, because we can deal with them better. We have curators and restorers and all the rest of it. And, above all, we have order and museums, and we can take care of this thing which they don’t understand, even though it’s from their heritage.” And this other aspect of the war, I think, for which the pillaging and the stealing, which has been going on since the 1991 war, is part of a larger trend, which is to sort of destroy the history of the place, you know, and try to create a new history, which is under the control of somebody else. You know, it’s part of the — I mean, that’s part of the main plan of imperialism, always has been, that we will give you your history, we will write it for you, we will reorder the past.

Look, I mean, it began with the — in recent times, it began with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and, of course, the establishment of Israel, which was to do a whole new archaeology of Palestine and remove traces of anything that wasn’t Israelite. And this is going to happen in Iraq. It’s happening all over the place. But this is now with the power of the United States and a civil administration which has no notion of what’s happening, or of these other rather more sinister market forces which are being loosed upon the sands of this country, this unfortunate country. It’s a terrible thing.

AMY GOODMAN: The treasurer of the group, William Pearlstein — and, by the way, the group is called the ACCP, the American Council for Cultural Policy — has called Iraq’s policies of keeping their own antiquities as “retentionist,” and talking about a relaxation of those policies.

EDWARD SAID: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Although it may be a moot point at this point.

EDWARD SAID: Yeah, it is, I mean, because there is no Iraqi government. I mean, the Saddam Hussein government, in some ways, had enlightened policies about things of that sort. I mean, the museum, with its director, this man George, you know, kept on working right through the war and right through the years of the sanctions and so on.

But what is — as I say, what is more truly frightening is the larger trend of which this is a part, which is the defacement, mutilation and, ultimately, the eradication of history in order to create sort of models of a kind that people like Wolfowitz and his kin in the Defense Department, of his — people of his stripe, military planners and others, want to institute instead, which is an order that’s favorable to the United States. And, you know, it’s very much in our own history, you know, to burn and then reconstruct. I mean, our country was built on the ruins of another civilization. And we find it, you know, total war followed by reconstruction. I mean, it happened during the Civil War, obviously, with horrible effect. And it happened in Germany and Japan. You know, those are obviously different cases of this, but the pattern is not entirely foreign to us, and we understand it.

But it does show, in this case, a horrendous sort of barbarism of a kind that is very much of a piece with the war itself — you know, illegal, deeply unpopular, regarded with all kinds of suspicion and dislike elsewhere. And the worst part of it is, now that the war has been declared over, we’re obviously getting ready — with this president of ours, we’re getting ready to launch another series of wars or mass pressures on various countries that we don’t happen to like. But the idea of living together with other people in a world that is governed by norms, universal — humane norms of international and personal behavior, of course, hasn’t crossed our minds. It seems to be something for the French to worry about, but not for us.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Said, we have to break for 60 seconds. We’ll be back with you in just a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Richie Havens, “Lives in the Balance,” here on Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guest is professor Edward Said, university professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, author of many books, including Culture and Imperialism and another book, Orientalism. We’re talking about the invasion of Iraq and what now. I also want to look at the Israel-Palestinian issue. Yesterday we spent the hour with the parents of Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Movement activist, the young woman from Washington, D.C., who was killed in the last few weeks in Gaza, and also talking about the latest British activist who was shot in the face, now brain dead, by Israeli military in Rafah. That, of course, in numbers, does not compare to the Palestinians they were there to bear witness for. Your response to what’s happening now, the Palestinians coming to negotiate, apparently, or the Israeli representatives in Washington, D.C., over the issue of exchanging right of return for removing some Jewish settlements from the Occupied Territories, Professor Said? Professor Said, are you still there? Well —

PATRICK SEALE: I’m still here, but —

EDWARD SAID: Ah, Patrick Seale. Well, let me put that question to you, Patrick Seale: As a scholar of the Middle East, what you see happening right now?

PATRICK SEALE: Well, the whole area is terrified, and understandably so. I mean, there’s a certain real alarm of wondering what are exactly American intentions now. Do they really intend to extend the war to other Arab countries? And it’s understandable that these countries should feel that.

Now, Edward Said raised the intriguing idea that Saddam Hussein might be in Moscow. That’s because he was surprised at the sudden collapse of the Iraqi army. I think that’s an intriguing idea, but I think one can look at possible other reasons. I mean, sanctions, 12 years of sanctions — really, criminal sanctions — have greatly enfeebled Iraqi society. And that is followed by this very, very intensive bombing, using, as you know, bunker-busting bombs. And now, perhaps Saddam Hussein may have made a mistake in — excuse me. Sorry, I’ve got a phone call coming in. Forgive me.

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting phone ring.

PATRICK SEALE: Sorry, sorry. He may have made a mistake in not pulling his divisions into Baghdad and dispersing them, because he left them out in the open, and they were really devastated. Nobody knows how many casualties were caused by this war. Certainly tens of thousands, possibly, of Iraqi troops have died. So, the alarm is very widely shared. And everyone, as I say, is waiting to see what exactly are American intentions. The Syrians are, of course, in the frontline. But I would say that the Syrians are not — don’t expect to be attacked, at least immediately. They were very heartened, I think, by statements by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, yesterday that there was no intention whatsoever of attacking Syria. Spain, a country which, after all, joined the United States, was supporting the United States’ war, has come out just today and said that Syria is a friend, that Spain would not tolerate military action against Syria. So there’s some comfort there, but not a great deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, looking at a magazine in the United States called Advertising Age, with the headline, “U.S. to Show Network News on Iraqi Outlet,” “As the U.S. military continues to expand its control over the physical terrain of Iraq, a unit funded by the State Department is preparing to broadcast America’s nightly network newscasts to the war-torn country. The move is seen as a prelude to the eventual establishment of a commercial TV network in Iraq.” And it talks about airing, with Arabic captions, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, ABC evening news with Peter Jennings, CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and PBS’s NewsHour, as well as Fox News’ Special Report with Brit Hume.

PATRICK SEALE: Well, I mean, the arrogance of these suggestions is breathtaking. I mean, to pick up on a point that Edward Said made, this attempt to destroy a political culture, to obliterate a country’s history, the awful indifference American troops paid to the looting and destruction of all sorts of public buildings in Iraq, I mean, this is truly criminal behavior, the fact that so many ministries were torched, that American troops, in some cases, according to some Iraqis, were goading the looters to attack. I saw a citation from an Iraqi professor at the Baghdad Technical University, and he said that the American troops were literally goading the looters into the university to gut it. This sort of tearing the heart out of the Iraqi state is, I think, a very great crime.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Seale, on that note, I want to thank you for being with us. That ends our show. He is author of Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. And that does it for the show. If you want to get a video or cassette copy, you can call 1-800-881-2359, 1-800-881-2359. Our website is democracynow.org; our email address, mail@democracynow.org. Democracy Now! is produced by Kris Abrams, Mike Burke, Angie Karran, Ana Nogueira, Elizabeth Press, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Noah Reibel; Mike Di Filippo, our engineer. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening.

[End of Hour 1]

AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is Democracy Now!

The U.S. military in Iraq protects the Oil Ministry in Baghdad but stands by as the National Museum is plundered and the national archives is burned to the ground. But today we will look at more. Did the U.S. antique collectors have plans to loot Iraq themselves? Months before the looting began in Iraq, U.S. antiques dealers began to quietly pressure the U.S. government to ease Iraqi laws that would have allowed them to easily export Iraqi artifacts. We’ll look at th so-called American Council for Cultural Policy, then ask: Is the Bush administration guilty of war crimes for its role in the invasion of Iraq?

All that and more, coming up.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Some 20,000 people have converged on the southern city of Nasiriyah to protest the first talks in Iraq on a post-invasion government. The talks begin today. The U.S. is flying in representatives of exiled opposition groups to meet local tribal and religious leaders. Unlike local recruiting efforts around the country, these talks are by U.S. invitation only.

Iraq’s main Shia Muslim opposition group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, criticized — or, organized the protest against U.S. control of the talks. People chanted, “Yes to freedom! Yes to Islam! No to America! No to Saddam!” The BBC reports the Shia are concerned Washington is preparing to install a pro-U.S. puppet government.

The retired U.S. general in charge of post-invasion Iraq, General Jay Garner, and President Bush’s special envoy to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, will run today’s meeting. Pentagon and State Department officials will also be present. The Bush administration’s favorite Iraqi exile to lead post-invasion Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi, is expected to be a contested topic of discussion. Chalabi is insisting he is not a candidate for any post, and is sending a representative to the talks rather than attending them himself. U.S. officials have not announced why they’re holding the first meeting in Nasiriyah and not Baghdad. Nasiriyah is Chalabi’s hometown. The U.S. military airlifted him there last week with hundreds of his own troops. The U.S. has granted the United Nations observer status to today’s meeting.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Morocco, Margaret Tutwiler, left for Baghdad yesterday. She’s been chosen to oversee all public relations and information operations in post-invasion Iraq. Tutwiler was the State Department spokesperson during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. She worked then for President George Bush Sr. She’ll work now for General Jay Garner.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, armed groups of Shia citizens are attempting to bring order to the streets. The Shia told the London Guardian they’re acting on instructions from clerics in the holy city of Najaf. They say they’re cooperating with U.S. authorities and have no objection to their presence in the city, provided it’s temporary. The Shia leadership in Najaf used its long-established underground communications system to distribute instructions to mosques across the country to form defense committees. A senior imam at the Buratha mosque in Baghdad said his group has managed to secure the water plants and electricity substations and all the hospitals in the neighborhood. He said the next stage is for Najaf to control what’s happening in the streets. The Guardian reports the emergence of the Shia defense committees overshadow the halting return to work of elements of Baghdad’s city policy yesterday. Uniformed officers were barely visible.

And in the southern city of Kut, a local Shiite cleric has appointed himself mayor and has taken over city hall. Sayed Abbas is said to be a local leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He has hired 300 Iranian Shiites to protect him. They rallied outside city hall yesterday, shouting, “No, no Chalabi!” The New York Times reports, in towns and villages across the south, men are stepping into the power void, uninvited by the Pentagon. In Amara, a small family with ties to the Lebanese group Hezbollah is claiming title to the town. In the city of Kumayt, three sheikhs with ties to Iran are claiming municipal authority.

The Pentagon said yesterday major combat in Iraq is now over. Two of the five aircraft carriers in the region will head home as early as this week. The announcement comes after the fall of Tikrit to U.S. forces, but Baghdad is still in a state of chaos.

After international outrage at the failure of U.S. troops to protect hospitals and the looting of the famous National Museum, Baghdad’s National Library and Archives went up in flames yesterday. Almost all the contents of the library are destroyed. British war correspondent Robert Fisk reports the library was a “priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents,” including the old royal archives of Iraq. He saw pages blowing in the wind of handwritten letters between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad. Fisk also saw the Qur’anic library burning nearby, which includes one of the oldest surviving copies of the Qur’an. He rushed to the offices of the Marines’ Civil Affairs Bureau. He gave the map location and said it would take only five minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, he reports, there wasn’t an American at the scene.

U.S. Marines raided the Palestine Hotel this morning. That’s where foreign journalists are staying. It’s also where the U.S. has set up a temporary operations base. Marines kicked down doors, rousing journalists from their beds, pointing M-16s in their faces, this according to the Associated Press. Marines were seen guarding suspects in a hall and interrogating a man who said he’s a cameraman. Meanwhile, U.S. forces tried to keep the media from covering the third straight day of anti-American protests by Iraqis outside the Palestine Hotel. Hundreds of Baghdad residents gathered outside to protest the failure of the U.S. to do more to stem looting and lawlessness. The AFP reports for the first time visibly angry U.S. military officials tried to distance the media from the protest, moving reporters and cameras about 100 feet away. A Marine colonel, who wore the name Zarcone but would not give his first name or title, said, quote, “We want you to pull back to the back of the hotel because they are only performing because the media are here.” Much of the city is still without water and electricity, and there is still fighting going on in some parts of Baghdad.

There’s a picture in today’s New York Times showing an Iraqi boy who lost both his legs in a bomb strike in Baghdad yesterday. There’s no article explaining what happened. In Saturday’s New York Times, John Burns reported that a U.S. tank gunner shelled a truck last week. He killed two brothers who ran a family tannery that sold leather goods to luxury fashion houses in Italy. The Times piece is spun as a feature about how the 22-year-old American corporal is dealing with the knowledge that he killed civilians. But the article goes on to reveal some statistics, like hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed in similar incidents. All across Baghdad and the highways leading to the Iraqi capital, there are wrecks of civilian vehicles. In many of these wrecks, the burned and bloody corpses remain for days, even a week or more. These incidents have generated a wave of bitterness and anger across Iraq. Toward the end of the article, another issue which has been obscured by the mainstream U.S. media emerges. Abdul Malik, a cousin of the two brothers, told The New York Times that U.S. troops have made no attempt to protect any government building from looters, except the Ministry of Oil. The Agence France-Presse confirms that U.S. tanks are protecting the Oil Ministry and not hospitals or museums.

An Argentine freelance reporter died yesterday in a car crash near Baghdad. A Portuguese journalist traveling in the same vehicle said he heard gunfire before the crash. Mario Podesta worked for the America TV television channel. He had worked as a war correspondent in over 30 conflicts. He has become the 13th journalist to be killed in the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Human Rights Watch says dozens of civilians have been killed in the northern city of Kirkuk in the past few days, and looting and forced expulsions are continuing there. The group says coalition forces have failed to bring law and order to Kirkuk and ensure the security of civilians, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Forbes magazine is reporting U.S. control of Kirkuk and the oil fields in the vicinity has contributed to the decline in oil prices in the international markets.

The BBC is reporting the U.S. says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted uranium weapons it’s using in Iraq. It says no cleanup is needed because research shows DU has no long-term effects. Many scientists dispute this.

The London Telegraph is reporting hundreds of aid workers in Kuwait and Jordan have been waiting for three weeks to get into Baghdad and other Iraqi cities but are prevented by the lawlessness there.

Secretary of State General Colin Powell accused Syria of harboring officials from Saddam Hussein’s government and threatened economic or diplomatic sanctions. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer called Syria a, quote, “terrorist state” and a “rogue nation.” Donald Rumsfeld claims Syria has carried out chemical weapons tests in the last year. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon jumped on the opportunity and called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dangerous. He urged Washington to, quote, “put very heavy political and economic pressure” on Syria.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian gunman, an Israeli officer and two Israeli civilians were killed today. The gunman hurled grenades and sprayed automatic weapons fire at a customs area between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Hamas said the attack was revenge for Israel’s killing of one of its top commanders. Another Palestinian was killed by Israeli tank fire in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah.

Arab countries, Russia and the European Union are criticizing the U.S. rhetoric against Syria. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said he’s astounded by the threats. An adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned the Americans against the temptation to, quote, “target one Arab country after another.” Earlier, Russia and the European Union urged the U.S. to show restraint. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that statements directed at Syria could destabilize the whole Middle East. British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to reassure his Parliament and pledged there are no plans to invade Syria. And the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Bouthaina Shaaban, said, quote, “The only country in the region which has chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is Israel.” The Washington Post reports senior administration officials claim there are no plans to invade Syria.

Listeners can tune into the other hour of Democracy Now! and hear a discussion between Edward Said on the U.S. setting its sights on Syria and what’s happened with post-invasion Iraq, as well as Patrick Seale, author of Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East.

Washington-based firm Creative Associates International, Inc. has won a $60 million contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to improve primary and secondary education in Iraq. Before the ’91 war, the Iraqi education system was considered among the best in the Arab world. But that conflict and subsequent U.N. sanctions have caused a significant decline, according to the U.N.

And the Treasury Department has fined several multinational corporations for busting U.S. trade sanctions. The companies include ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, Caterpillar, Citibank and Walmart. The Treasury is not releasing the details on who the companies traded with or the reason for the size of the fine. Corporate Crime Reporter and the advocacy group Public Citizen have sued the Treasury under the Freedom of Information Act for release of the information.

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Did U.S. Antiques Collectors Have Plans to Loot Iraq Themselves? International Outrage Continues at U.S. Failure to Protect the Famous National Museum or Baghdad’s National Library and Archives

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