Once I Met Ahmed Chalabi – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

aa6146ea87024ca192a763c029fe72b1_18Ahmed Chalabi: A Great Opportunist & Escapologist 

It has been the source of great wonderment, that I should ever have met Ahmed Chalabi. Ever since his death in November 2015, little has been said about him, and probably never will. But he was instrumental in convincing both President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction  – or WMD’s as they became known – and that he was prepared to use these weapons, despite careful inspection by Hans Blix. Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verifications and Inspection Commission – and previously head of the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA. – he was a very distinguished and highly respected Swedish diplomat.

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It seemed that Blix’s findings were not what Bush or Blair wanted to hear, nor the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Although Blix admonished Saddam Hussein for playing a cat and mouse game, and warned Iraq of serious consequences, if it attempted to hinder or delay his mission, in his report to the UN Security Council on 14 February 2003, Blix clearly stated that –

“So far, UNMOVIC has not found any weapons of mass destruction, only a small number of empty chemical munitions.” In 2004, Blix made a further statement that – “There have been about 700 inspections, and in no case, did we find weapons of mass destruction.”

us-secretary-of-state-colin-l-powell-r-and-iraqi-governing-council-h17c2eChalabi & Colin Powell

I will never forget watching Colin Powell at the UN, stating quite clearly, that the CIA was sure that Saddam had hidden his WMD’s in underground secret trailers – drawings provided – and I knew then, that he was lying. But, it ultimately and finally convinced both the Bush administration; together with the UK, to go to war.

In 1992, an umbrella organisation was founded by the US Government, to overthrow Saddam. Called the Iraqi National Congress  – or INC – it was a name chosen by an American PR specialist, a name which resonated with groups such as the Indian National Congress and the African National Congress. All it needed was a leader, with the charisma of Gandhi or Mandela, but what it got was Ahmed Chalabi.

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At the time he was facing charges of allegedly embezzling money from the Petra Bank in Jordan, a bank which he had helped to establish. Nevertheless, he came from Iraq’s majority Shia population, and was very westernised. Destined – at one time – to be the new Iraq’s first President, he was capable of saying almost anything, to oust Saddam from power, a man he truly hated.

Chalabi had lived on and off in the UK for some time, finally leaving Iraq with his family in 1958, following the 14 July Revolution.  Spending his formative years abroad, he was educated firstly at Baghdad College, and finally Seaford College in Sussex – in the south of England – before leaving for America. But where do I come in?

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It was 1991, and living at the time in St Johns Avenue, Putney – South West London – one of my occasional haunts was a pub called The Green Man. A convivial place, it was and still is one of those London pubs where you can chat with almost anyone. One evening I noticed a foreign looking man, sitting by the bar, who stood out from the rest. Partly because he was wearing a peaked cap – reminiscent of Lenin – and wire framed spectacles, he looked like an early 20th Century revolutionary.

The man said he was staying with his father at Ross Court, on Putney Hill. We introduced ourselves, told me to call him Ali, and so the usual questions followed about what we did and where we worked.

He quite openly stated that up until recently, he had been working as a banker in Jordan, and in turn I told him about a project I had in mind in Bulgaria. I had heard recently that some builders from Kent had been very successful in Moscow, renting run down flats and houses, renovating them to a high standard, and then re-letting them for premium rents, to western companies and their managers.

Not knowing Bulgaria as I do now, but with many western companies moving into Eastern Europe, I had no reason to suspect that Sofia would be any different. Consequently, I had organized a cash flow spreadsheet, which made my proposals look very inviting. As a banker, Chalabi understand these figures very well, and he told me that he could help with finance, should there be a need.

He clearly new Eastern Europe, and spoke as though he had been to Bulgaria in the past, and so I enlisted the help of an English friend, who was a civil engineer who worked at the time, for a Kuwaiti company in London. He also spoke a little Arabic – because in the past, he had  served in the British Army – and so it seemed that there was a possible company in the offing.

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Days passed before our arranged meeting, but meanwhile one day Chalabi introduced me to his father Abdul Hadi Chalabi. A very distinguished looking man, sporting a well trimmed and virtually white beard, he seemed to have all the airs of a country gentleman. Dressed in a Prince of Wales gray suit and waistcoat, I never met him again, but later in Sofia, I did come across his photograph.

It was presented to me by an alleged Iraqi dissident in Sofia, called Ahmed Taleb, who said it was a picture of his father. I knew that wasn’t true, and surely it didn’t come from the Iraqi Embassy? After all, if it had, it implied he was still one of Saddams boys; so I let it go!

I had known the Civil Engineer for some time, due to a land deal we had put together -opposite the Houses of Parliament – on behalf of his Kuwaiti employers. A few days later we turned up to meet Chalabi, to discuss some of the finer details of this project. Especially so concerning financial structuring,  because most Bulgarian banks at the time were practically bankrupt, and finance was an important item.

We had only been there a few minutes, when  Ahmed Chalabi suddenly got up, without a word, leaving his drink untouched, and was never  seen by us again. What had spooked him, can be any bodies guess, maybe it was my friends bearing, maybe it was my amazing  personality, but as far as he was concerned, it was a sudden and dramatic end.

I went on to live and work in Bulgaria, but my scheme never came to fruition. Bulgarians found my re-letting programme to be almost an infamy. It seemed to them, at the time, for a foreigner to be allowed to make a profit, or succeed at anything at all in Bulgaria, was against all natural justice.

Many of my contemporaries also found this to be the case, often learning the hard way. As did the Kent Builders in Moscow. One day they had a visit from some black suits, did a  deal which they couldn’t refuse, and swiftly returned  to the pleasant surrounds of Kent.

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This Turkey is Not For Turning – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

TURKEY-POLITICS

President Recep Erdogan

“In practical terms,Turkey’s membership prospects for membership of the EU are buried” said Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern. “We are entering a new era,” the Social Democrat told reporters in Vienna. He also said that EU aid to Turkey to help it advance towards membership was now “obsolete.”

As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Austria’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, was also quick to comment just after the Turkish referendum. “We must be honest about the relationship between the EU and Turkey.”

The general European Union view, is that Turkey should end talks over its 30-year-old bid to join the bloc, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won an extremely controversial referendum in order to gain further powers. According to Austrian leaders, and many other leading politicians in Europe, the question remains, as to how determined he was he to join, and is the present situation simply a reflection of his continued mindset, and a country divided down the middle?

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Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern

To regard Erdogan as a rational and people loving President, is to defy all the evidence which has appeared in the run up to the Turkish referendum, and in particular, his actions during the referendum itself. At no time did it appear either fair  or democratic, his biased position defying all the normal weights and measures of a democratic vote. Although the outcome was very marginal, did he achieve his end? Because, he will need more than a loud mouth and his trademark bullying tactics, to convince the rest of the world. Or, does he see himself, as the new Sultan of Turkey?

Firstly, having locked up many critical journalists, and disposed of the so called anarchist press, can we still regard Turkey as a free society, now he has muted peoples normal expectations of freedom of speech, and expression? Because, Erdogan started off his campaign in the full knowledge that – with fear on the streets and tyranny waiting in the wings – many Turkish voters would choose not to vote for their own personal safety.

Secondly, since no TV or Radio transmission time was given to opposition parties to air their views, there was little hope of instilling a balanced view amongst the floating voters, and especially younger voters. That, and a ban on opposition leafleting and posters along main streets and freeways throughout Turkey, offered the Turkish public a somewhat one sided publicity campaign.

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Thirdly, we get to the subject of balloting. When it was clear that things were not going his way, it was decided by the Erdogan gang, that unofficial and undocumented votes should also be included in the total of the votes cast, and – most likely – for the votes cast for him. Mainly from the Turkish heartland, where Erdogan has most of his support, this in itself may have opened up a can of worms, which even he cannot deny.

What is clear, however, is that all the westernized parts of Turkey – of both European and Anatolian, Turkey – voted against Edogan receiving any further Presidential powers, especially areas in which one might also regard as the most civilized. This is easily described by  the two tables I include, both of which show the spread of officially declared votes. Finally, where does all this leave Erdogan, where does his future lay, and with which domain can he share his strengths, and resources?

The ridiculous thing is that Turkey relies almost entirely on the EU to buy its goods and services, despite an attempt at patching up its relationship with Russia, after the shooting down of a Russian bomber over Syria. It is also in the process of cosying up to Israel, having apparently quite forgotten the murder of certain Turkish humanitarian aid workers, en route to Palestine. But, to say that Erdogan has any friends in the region, might be stretching a point.

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On the Turkish plus side with the EU, Erdogan always has the Angela Merkel deal – to house and sustain  illegal immigrants crossing the EU border into Greece and Italy – which would be easy to renege on. Seeing how Turkey was, and always has been, the main instigator of illegal border crossings into Europe in the first place, I think that could be rather easy.

But what of the Kurds and Americans, Syrians, French & Russians, Iraqi’s and British, and the general mixture of improbable alliances left by the Obama administration? Rather like a giant game of snakes and ladders, it is very hard to see how the various factions can conduct themselves in the future , without sliding down a very long snake, and starting from the beginning.

Maybe Erdogan, without really taking sides – but by conducting a secondary war with Kurdish fighters in the south of Turkey – might cause Turkey to break up into federated states, presided over by Sultan Bin Recep Erdogan and his Califs.

Cannabis and The Balkans – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

 

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Being a young adult in the 60s, was an odd experience in Great Britain, because our dull post war world, seemed to have suddenly opened up like a beautiful flower. Introducing colour and excitement – to our otherwise drab lives – it made us all look more critically at the somewhat austere views of our parents, who seemed to be largely oblivious to the new world, now appearing before them. At the same time, we newbies were – as the Bill Evens song called  “Waltz for Debbie” tells us – “Unaware of the worried frowns that our weary grownups all wear.” But, what about our friends, contemporaries, and relations? Well, they seemed to come in three categories.

Firstly, there were those who modelled themselves on William Gladstone, who went around clutching prayer books, endlessly talking about maintaining moral standards, and listening to Edward Elgar on a Sunday afternoon. Secondly, there were those who saw themselves as Bertie Wooster characters, who skip jived to traditional jazz, went to gymkhana’s and barn dances, and often becoming Young Conservative supporters.

But finally, there was us. We used to ‘turn on,’ wear bell bottom jeans and Cuban heel boots, talk endless crap, and end up at the Marquee Club on Wardour Street – or Alexis Corner’s Ricky Tick Club in Windsor – listening to The Rolling Stones. All very daring of us; but was it?

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By then, the rest of Europe was not obsessed with the continuation of outdated Victorian mores and biases, but with finding their way out of the post WW2 jungle. Hardly concerned with people smoking the odd Joint, enjoying the occasional Fudge Brownie, or the coffee shops of Amsterdam, it all seemed so far away from the British Isles, and its special brand of pontificating political dinosaurs.

And today? Well the UK seems to have grown up a bit, stopped senselessly arresting happy pot smokers, and devoting police time to tracking down major drug importers. In London, if you feel like making a joint, it is rather like ordering a pizza – one phone call and there is a ring on the bell – thank you and Goodnite.

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In 2015, the first cannabis festival in Greece took place in Syntagma Square in Athens with participation, organized by SYRIZA youth, and the human rights department of the party.

The advocates of the legalization of cannabis, who organized the festival, called it Athens Cannabis Protestival, and they asked for the legalization of cannabis and soft drugs, and the decriminalization of users. The festival organizers said that such an act would benefit the Greek economy. It would bring sizeable revenues to the state, through a state-run cannabis production industry, and would also create 40,000 jobs. Such a prospect would bring 2.5 billion euros a year, and help the Greek economy come out of the slump.

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 Alexis Tsipras

Festival organizers called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to attend the festival, because, in the past, he had supported the movement to legalize cannabis and soft drugs.

What they were asking was the legalization and cultivation of cannabis for personal use, therapeutic, and entertainment purposes. The protest, part of the festival, was to ask for the “right of an individual to use the euphoric substance of their choice.” The poster for the festival depicted the ancient goddess Athena, cultivating the cannabis plant. The two main sponsors of the festival were two Spanish websites, selling cannabis seeds.

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The festival organizers proposed that “Greece adopts the Uruguay model, according to which each citizen has the right to cultivate up to six plants for personal use, the formation of non-profit cannabis social clubs, and the state selling certain quantities per year, to adults at low prices.” In 2015, they believed that with the current government in Greece, the time was ripe for such a radical move.

Greece has a long history of cannabis production, and prior to the prohibition era, this Southern European nation also produced high-quality hashish that was exported throughout Europe. Now, some pockets of cannabis cultivation still remain, although the laws are now very harsh by European standards.

The Greek law states that individuals found cultivating cannabis are subject to a maximum of five months imprisonment, if it can be proved that the amount under cultivation was for personal use only. If the amount cannot be established for personal use, then the individual will be subject to the same penalties as for sale and trafficking, including a custodial sentence of eight or more years, and a possible fine of €50,000–€500,000, and up to €1,000,000 in certain circumstances.

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Although cultivation laws are relatively harsh in today’s Europe, cannabis is treated separately from other cultivated drugs, such as opium made from the poppy flower.

Despite the severity of its current laws, Greece has a long and distinguished history as a producer of fine-quality cannabis. In particular from the Peloponnese  – and the city of Kalamata – which is known to have a long-preserved pool of Landrace genetics, that have a reputation of almost unparalleled quality.

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Herodotus, a renowned scholar and historian, who lived from 484–425 BCE, observed that cannabis was cultivated for fibre, and also noted that cannabis grew wild in Thrace, a region of northern Greece, which includes Evros.

Herodotus also famously observed Scythian nomadic horsemen burning cannabis, and inhaling its fumes in order to experience its psychoactive effect; implying that cannabis was certainly also known for its intoxicating properties.

Records suggest that hashish, as we know it today, first appeared in Greece in the early part of the 19th century, as the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire saw displaced Orthodox Greeks fleeing from Ottoman-controlled lands, bring their hashish-using traditions and hubby bubblies with them.

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An immigrant from Turkish Thrace to Greece

So, it is not such a big deal, when you look at it in geopolitical terms, nor is it so unusual to find ‘happy smokers,’ almost everywhere in the world, by enjoying a relaxing moment at home away from their hectic lives, and attendant concerns.

But, back to the skip jiving Chris Barber fans, or avid listeners to the rising crescendo of Edward Elgars “Land Of Hope and Glory,” what are they up to fifty years on – sorry Allen Bennett – and are they still demonising the humble cannabis plant? Well, yes, they usually do!

Down the Checkers Public House, in Watlington, you can still hear the odd pithy remark about “bloody potheads,” over the cacophony and babble of the four ale bar. That is before the politically correct, guzzle the remnants of their tenth gin and tonic, collide with the pub entrance door on the way out, fall over a nearby flower arrangement, drop their car keys, and finally – swerving left and right – disappear into the night.

A CAUTIONARY TALE

The Story of An Ex – President

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The White House Washington

It was Christmas and the gray haired man wiped a tear from the corner of his eye and contemplated his life so far. He was confused. But why? After all, he was one of the most powerful men in the world.

However power was not everything, particularly when it came to family life. His wife Tensing was not only uncontrollably ambitious, but had been pushy throughout their entire marriage. Their daughter Fulham was spoilt, and he strongly suspected a little promiscuous. His love for her had been demonstrated by his relentless indulgence, and her love for him, by her total self indulgence. The family power struggle was reaching its peak within the metamorphosis of his marriage, and the visible signs of discontent were now more difficult to contain. This was despite his professional advisors and the public relations experts who daily surrounded both him and his family. Had he come all this way, only to concede that his loneliness now far exceeded his sense of political adventure; the adrenaline on which he existed?

In the background the TV set blandly kept him in touch with international events – with the help of CNN – but on it right now the pundits were discussing domestic issues and the country’s constant obsession with popularity ratings. His were dwindling. But, it was the all too frequent discussion about his private life – and almost historical business deals – which were beginning to irritate him. Was there no part of his life that the media had access to? How anodyne did he have to be, in political office, in order not to attract adverse publicity?

On the glass topped coffee table next to his leather buttoned back chair, there was a copy of Readers Digest, and a Freeman’s catalog – left there no doubt by his wife Tensing. He pushed them to one side, and then out of a heavily ornate silver box he removed some cigarettes, a packet of Rizla cigarette papers, and a small ball of crumpled kitchen foil – which he undid – revealing an innocuous small brown lump.

First he removed four cigarette papers, which he stuck together in a stepped fashion, seeming to form one large paper. Next he broke open one of the cigarettes, which he sprinkled onto the paper. He then picked up the brown substance, and removing a small gas lighter from the box, he started to burn it. The smell was quite noxious, and he smiled with expectation. He then crumbled some of the warm brown substance onto the tobacco, and then assembled the whole thing into a large cigarette. He twisted one end of the now tightly packed cigarette, so it looked like a fuse. Finally, he ripped off a piece of the cigarette packet, which he rolled up like a tube, and inserted it into the remaining open end.

He tidied up the table top, leaving the long cigarette in the ashtray, and then sat back in his club chair, watching – once more – the hourly announcement of his declining popularity. He put the cigarette in his mouth feeling the hard cardboard tip between his lips, and with his soft manicured hand, he squeezed the firm paper tube. He then lit the cigarette carefully, and sat back in his chair awaiting the effect to manifest itself; the craved for feeling of peace and well-being. But, it never happened.

As he puffed on the rocket shaped cigarette, he carefully blew the highly scented smoke out of his mouth, making sure that he did not inhale any of it, because he knew that it was wrong …………..