BANGKOK – Everybody knew the feelings of the Arab street. Now it’s official: the European street has pronounced itself – fully supported by Pope John Paul II. Almost 60 percent of British public opinion and 77 percent of French are against war on Iraq, with or without UN approval. And an overwhelming majority of Germans – the most anti-war of all European big powers – keep echoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has been promising since his electoral campaign not to be involved in an attack against Iraq.

It may be hard for some Americans to understand that public political debate in member countries of the European Union is much more nuanced than the daily avalanche of spinning coming from the White House and the Pentagon. Britain, France and Germany, for instance, are not convinced that Saddam Hussein is the ultimate evil. There has been no conclusive proof whatsoever that Saddam is involved with al-Qaeda. There has been no smoking or even non-smoking gun pointing to an Iraqi arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Military experts, many of them American, insist Saddam was “contained” long ago.

The whole Iraqi mess is about power politics, not law. Security Council Resolution 1441 – basically orchestrated by the US – says that Saddam must prove that he has dismantled his weapons of mass destruction. European public opinion says that the Bush administration must provide the evidence about the weapons. America should establish beyond any reasonable doubt the existence itself – and the level of danger – of an Iraqi mass destruction arsenal, before committing the world to war. Javier Solana, the de facto spokesman for European foreign policy, and someone who could never be qualified as anti-American, did not mince his words: “Without proof, it will be very hard to declare war on Iraq.” Not only in the political corridors of Brussels and Geneva, but in the streets of London, Paris and Berlin people are asking: If this evidence is so crystal clear – as Bush and Blair say it is – why is it not presented to world opinion?

Tony Blair has been forced to admit that January 27 is not a deadline: He is now saying that UN inspectors need “space and time” to do their work. Blair, under pressure of public opinion, plus tremendous convulsion in the ranks of his Labour Party, has realized he simply cannot afford to go to war simply on America’s word. He has urged Bush to “listen back” to the international community’s fears over Iraq. He warned of the danger of “chaos” if the world were split into “rival poles of power; the US in one corner; anti-US forces in another.” But did anyone in Washington understand the message?

In France, President Jacques Chirac has been saying practically   every day that the Security Council will approve war “only when all options have been exhausted.” Russia, also a permanent member of the Security Council, has officially stated that the UN inspections have no time limit. Chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei go to Baghdad next weekend to demand Iraqi account for missing stocks of nerve gas, missile engines and chemical bombs, before delivering their report on January 27. France and Russia have officially confirmed that they would veto any American attempt to force the Security Council to vote for war.

A French mission comprising scientists, physicists and geologists and organized by Amities Franco-Irakiennes, an association directed by Iraq expert Gilles Munier, is currently in Baghdad. Most of the participants fully endorse the feelings of the Arab street and are not exactly applauding American foreign policy. The mission was duly received by Abdel Razzak Al-Hashemi, the coordinator for all the missions of war opponents which have been landing in Baghdad practically every week. Al-Hashemi seemed to be very well informed about French opposition to war.

The mission also met face-to-face with General Amir Al-Saadi, Saddam’s councilor and the man in charge of high-level contacts with the UN inspectors. Amir has qualified most of the inspectors as “spies”; they allegedly pose questions that have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. This is exactly what the Iraqis said the UN inspectors were doing during the 1990s, something that was later acknowledged by the White House.

The French mission visited the Al Tadji complex, an Iraqi site 35 kilometers north of Baghdad already inspected by a UN team. The site was mentioned as being part of the Iraqi nuclear program in the famous Blair report of autumn 2002. The director of the site, General Heissam Al-Chihab, was the tour leader. He said the rockets made at the factory had only a 10 kilometer range – which as any analyst knows makes them unfit to carry non-conventional weapons.

Asia Times Online has also learned that, according to French Admiral Michel Debray, one of the members of the visiting delegation, what he saw “confirms the spying mission of the US. The inspectors came here six times. They saw everything, and they could evaluate the stocks and the production rhythm of Iraqi weapons, and now they know very well where to drop their bombs. With this inspection regime, the Iraqis don’t have any means any more to organize their defense or to protect themselves, even with conventional weapons.”

The French also met an Iraqi engineer, Kadeem Mobjil. He said that everything he explained to an IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspector last December had been distorted to give the impression of a nuclear program being developed at the Al Tadji site. This engineer apparently refused to be interrogated abroad under provisions contained in Resolution 1441.

Hawks in Washington and Tel Aviv are seeing red, but the fact is the Anglo-American war against Iraq is increasingly not as inevitable as it had seemed last December.

Kim Jong-il’s latest coup de theater has also made clear to the Arab and European street the double standards at work. Pyongyang may – or has to – be contained by diplomacy, but Baghdad has to be smashed. As far as totalitarian regimes go, Kim Jong-il has absolutely nothing to learn from Saddam Hussein.

The crisis in Venezuela also clashed head on with the Bush administration´s plans. Venezuelan oil exports have been severely reduced. A war in Iraq in the next few weeks would mean that the world oil market would lose a total from both producers of something around 5 million barrels a day. OPEC has already decided to increase production, but that would not be enough to close the gap. Inevitably oil prices, already well over $30 a barrel, would skyrocket: that would be a tremendous blow to the already depressed world economy.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Abdullah Gul has just completed a tour of Arab states in which he did his best to assure them that Turkey is against the war. It’s extremely unlikely at this point that Turkey’s involvement would get parliamentary approval. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal has made it clear in no uncertain terms that the kingdom’s national interests may not coincide with America’s in this case. Syria’s President Bashar Assad has also made clear that he is totally opposed to war. There have been weekly anti-war and anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan.

For the record, the UN inspectors have been to more than 200 sites in Iraq so far. They have discovered absolutely no trace of any weapons of mass destruction. But at the same time America will have close to 250,000 troops with awesome fire power completely encircling Iraq by mid-February. The Pentagon spin may be that Saddam will agree to disarm peacefully when the threat of war is imminent and totally credible. But the undisputed fact remains that hawks in Washington and Israel want war, as soon as possible, no matter whether Iraq has or has not those weapons of mass destruction.

As UN diplomats have already confirmed previously to Asia Times Online, the whole weapons soap opera is just a sideshow. The hawks’ designs for the post-Ottoman Middle East are based on total control over oil resources, breaking the Palestinian resistance to Israel’s colonial occupation, and establishing total American and Israeli control over the region.

The latest Israeli corruption scandal notwithstanding, Ariel Sharon cannot survive without war. After the US attacks Iraq, Sharon will not miss the opportunity to go after Hezbollah in Lebanon, provoke Syria and finally get rid of Yasser Arafat, which in theory would mean the total destruction of the Palestinian Authority.

The psychological warfare against Saddam’s regime is absolutely relentless. There are all sorts of post-Saddam scenarios flying about – including childishly unrealistic ones in which Iraq’s “territorial integrity” would be preserved but the American military would run the country for at least a year and a half. There are also widespread rumors that Arab leaders are pressing Saddam to go into exile: the self-styled heir to the great Babylonian emperors would rather die as a martyr.

“Regime change” remains very much in the cards in Washington. But we may be approaching a very dangerous turn where a key element of international relations will be the boiling-point anger of Washington’s hawks in case Saddam – or the UN inspectors for that matter – do not provide the smoking or non-smoking gun necessary for war. Anyone can bet that Hans Blix and his team will be thoroughly discredited by the American spinning machine. But a gun, smoking or not, will be manufactured.

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