WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 27
Nothing causes a politician's popularity to nosedive in the polls like bodybags returning from an unpopular foreign conflict. Japan, which deployed its first contingent of Ground Self Defense Forces to Samawah in southern Iraq, has taken a novel approach to safeguarding its troops, paying local tribal leaders approximately $94 million to provide bodyguards for its forces. In explaining the policy, a spokesman for the prime minister said: "It is rather cheap if we can buy security for our soldiers with that amount of money. In Iraq, oil money is distributed to those tribes. It is more important for the Japanese government to make one-time payments to the leaders than to pay them a salary. That will help their local economy and benefit Japan's foreign policy toward new Iraq." The "protection money" follows last year's visit to Japan by Iraqi tribal chief Abdul Amir Rikabi. According to a source in the prime minister's office, Rikabi and Koizumi struck a confidential agreement whereby Rikabi would organize 200 to 300 guards to protect Japan's SDF soldiers until the main unit arrived in Samawah in exchange for the money. Money talks; just last month Rikabi said, "The dispatch of foreign military troops to Iraq, to be stationed there in an occupation capacity, will not be accepted."
Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, the commander of the Coalition Military Assistance Training team in Iraq, has caused red faces in Canberra by revealing that Australia has agreed to buy up to two battalions of U.S. M1 Abrams tanks. Defense Minister Robert Hill frantically insisted that no decision had been made on a replacement for Australia's 30-year-old Leopard tanks and that negotiations were continuing. Eaton revealed the deal for 108 tanks during a media briefing on armor that could be used to rebuild Iraqi tanks, commenting, "If you're talking about the M1,I think Australia just made a purchase of a couple of battalions," Eaton told a media briefing in Baghdad on Jan. 21. "You can check the price ... but I think they paid something in the order of $600 million." The Howard Government is considering three tanks to replace its aging Leopards: assorted versions of the Leopard 2, the M1 and Britain's Challenger 2.
Speaking of leaks of classified defense material, Norway Defense Minister Kristin Krohn-Devold has asked the National Security Authority to investigate public broadcaster NRK's publication of classified information about an agreement with the Brits. On Jan. 26, NRK revealed that the Rules of Engagement have been altered to allow Norwegian troops to participate in active combat. Other nations in Iraq, including the Netherlands, have requested to be exempted from some of the fighting regulations in the agreement. The Norwegian Officers' Union says Krohn-Devold misled Parliament about the nature of the Norwegian forces' mission in Iraq. NSA Director Jan Erik Larsen has vowed to find the source of the leak. Larsen may find it an uphill struggle, as he stated that he respects NRK's right to protect its sources, and will not demand that NRK surrender any documents. Larsen has also ruled out initiating any investigation against NRK.
To widespread surprise among Israelis in the know, the Israeli Cabinet has approved the appointment of the politically savvy cleric Irineos as the new patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church for Jerusalem. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority must all approve the choice. Jordan and the PA have already given their approval, as Irineos is close to Yasser Arafat. Irineos openly solicited Arafat to support him in his quest to become patriarch, promising that if he is elected, "rest assured, Mr. President, that the rights of our most beloved Palestinian people on the Holy City of Jerusalem will find the most 'hot' supporter." The Greek Orthodox Church owns many properties in western Jerusalem, including the land under the Knesset, the prime ministerial and presidential residence and the Great Synagogue. Irineos informed Arafat that he wants to give him land in western Jerusalem as "a personal gift." The Greek Orthodox Church also owns most of the Greek island that the indicted Israeli property developer David Appel tried to acquire. Appel has been indicted in a bribery scandal enveloping the Sharon family in his attempts to purchase the island. The Cabinet vote was 11 in favor of Irineos' appointment and 6 against. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon voted in favor of the appointment.