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March 10, 2004 at 2:17 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- Insider notes from United Press International for March 10.

Western intelligence agencies have suspected that some al-Qaida operatives are based in Iran. Tehran has vigorously denied such assertions; recent events seem to indicate that Iran may be targeted for terrorist activity as well. The Baztab news service, close to Expediency Council member Mohsen Rezaie, reported that Iranian intelligence thwarted a planned al-Qaida mortar attack on the Hazrat-e Massumeh shrine on March 2, the day of Ashoura. Iranian intelligence seized five shells near the Hazrat-e Massumeh shrine, which houses the shrine of Fatmah, the sister of Reza, the eighth Shiite Imam. Qom's deputy governor Karam Hakimi played down the reports, asserting that, "no such plot was foiled and no explosive devices were found inside or outside of the mausoleum. However, we are not denying that there could have been telephone threats." The March 2 attacks in Iraq killed at least 170 people and injured 500 in coordinated bombings in both the capital, Baghdad, and Karbala. Forty-nine Iranian pilgrims were killed in the Karbala bombings.

Ibrahim Hamidi, head of the Syrian desk of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, has published a "Lexicon of the Official Syrian Media," a truly Orwellian list of the obligatory terminology used by the Syrian government's Syrian Arab News Agency. The work offers a unique insight into Damascus's thinking. After Ariel Sharon became Israeli prime minister, the Syrian media began to use the term "state terrorism." Other examples of linguistic correctness are "the occupied Palestinian lands" for Judea, Samaria, and Gaza Strip, "Lod Airport" for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport, "the Holy Al-Haram Al-Qudsi" in place of the Temple Mount and "Al-Buraq Wall" for the Western Wall.

Insurance companies are skittish about issuing life insurance policies to travelers visiting global hotspots. The industry uses the State Department travel advisory list as its benchmark for denying coverage. Travel advisories currently cover 27 nations, including Colombia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority. Now U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., plans to introduce legislation prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to insure travelers to Israel. Emanuel is an IDF veteran and senior advisor to former President Bill Clinton; he has 20 co-sponsors for his legislation. American Council on Life Insurance spokeswoman Sarah Bohn said only that the council "was studying Emanuel's bill." The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is one of the leaders in the struggle against the insurance companies.

While Americans focus on their presidential campaign, Afghanistan and Russia are gearing up for their own elections, complete with the type of shady shenanigans that make American elections so diverting. Kabul on March 7 announced the resignation of Planning Minister Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq after he reportedly quit during a Cabinet meeting. Not so, says Mohaqiq; he was fired after he walked out of the meeting in protest against President Hamid Karzai's decision to transfer some of his ministry's powers to Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Mohaqiq offered his own version of events; "I quit the meeting because of the argument I had with Karzai and then later they said I had resigned and appointed somebody else." Mohaqiq attributed darker motives to his dismissal, saying, "My removal is certainly linked to my announcement that I will be a presidential candidate," adding that he had received threats not to run for president. In an oriental flourish, Mohaqiq concluded, "There is a circle which wants to get hold of the country's vital arteries and purge others."

After 60 years of military processions in Soviet goosestep style, Romania's Minister of Defense has announced that this type of marching is to be phased out after Romania joins NATO on April 2 along with six other former communist countries. Defense Ministry spokesman Gelaledin Nezir said: "The time has come to say goodbye to the Soviet step imposed upon us after the Second World War; soldiers will now march according to NATO standards just like the American, Greek or Turkish soldiers." The Soviet style marching step, know as "the blister burster" in Red Army slang, required them to lift their extended leg a foot above the ground. The modified goosestep will be replaced with a more natural style of marching together with straight arms swinging alternately with closed fists.

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