Morning Report: February 20, 2005

Iraqi police arrest suspected Zarqawi ally. On a day marred by deadly terrorist attacks against Iraqis, Iraqi police arrested a man believed linked to terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. 'Iraqi police arrested Haidar Mulaqatah during a raid in the Maffaraq area of western Baquba, about 30 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province', according to this CNN report. In a separate raid, another suspected terrorist was captured: 'Harbi Abdul Khudier Hammudi, who served as a colonel in the old Iraqi air force, is a leader of the Salafist Jihadist terrorist group and is believed to have been involved in several attacks against coalition forces, including the bombing of an Iraqi national guard convoy last year, police said. Another leader in Hammudi's group, Faris Addula Younis, was also captured in the raid, police said.' The arrests came amid a string of homicide attacks on Irai Shi'ites timed to coincide with the Shi'a festival of Ashoura. (CNN)

Syrian allies and foes headed for showdown in Lebanon. In the wake of the Valentine's Day assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the Syrian-backed regime in Lebanon appears to be heading toward a major confrontation with its opponents. Debka reports on recent developments, including Syria's distribution of weapons and a call by Walid Jumblatt and others for the pro-Syrian regime to step down. 'The resignations of president Emil Lahoude and the Karame government were forcefully demanded by the opposition leader, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Lebanese Druses who speaks for a rare multiethnic coalition made up of his own community, Christian factions endorsed by Maronite Catholic Archbishop Nasrallah Sfeir, and Sunni Muslims led by the dead billionaire’s oldest son, Bahaa Hariri, with the blessing of the Sunni Muslim Mufti of Lebanon.' Debka predicts: 'The sparks will fly in earnest when government and Syrians move into aggressive mode to crush the opposition, which will become increasingly inflamed by multiplying leads to Syria and its Lebanese minions as Hariri’s assassins. Our sources report that US, French and Israeli intelligence have already gathered solid evidence that General Rostum Ghazallah of Syrian military intelligence orchestrated the murder on orders from Damascus with the aid of Lebanese general intelligence and its chief General Jamil al-Sayad. The Damascus-backed government in Beirut and its masters has no intention of going quietly. Bashar Assad desperately needs the political and economic benefits he extorts from Lebanon to prop up his regime. Monday, February 21, presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac meet in Paris. With Lebanon at the forefront of their agenda, they will have to look hard at some tough questions. How to handle the situation if Assad orders his Syrian troops in Lebanon to march on Beirut in defense of his puppet government? And worse still, what if the full weight of the Syrian army is sent across the border to squash the uprising? Will the two Western leaders dispatch a joint US-French force to repulse the Syrian onslaught?' Chrenkoff has lots more. (Debka, Chrenkoff)