The voices in Washington calling for an early extension of the war against terrorism to Iraq are loud and influential. There are two motives at work: the first is the pent–up frustration of those who served George Bush I and saw the opportunity to topple Sadam Hussein go begging in the Gulf War; the second is the belief of those serving George Bush II that there is a link between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi regime and that Iraq played a role in the September 11 atrocities.

The second theory – of Iraqi complicity in the events of September 11 – received a double–whammy setback yesterday when intelligence assessments from two reliable but very different sources became public. First came a report that “Israeli intelligence believes that Osama bin Laden planned and executed the September 11 attacks against the United States without outside assistance and that Iraq had no direct role in the atrocities.” This report pointed out that terrorist attacks are easy to identify by their “intelligence signature” and Israeli experts could not see Iraq's signature on the events of September 11. This conclusion was supported by a statement from the former head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence services, Prince Turki bin Faisal, who said that his country's voluminous files on bin Laden “contained no evidence of any link to the Iraqi government”. He added that bin Laden thought of Saddam Hussein as “an apostate, an infidel, someone who is not worthy of being a Muslim”. Whether this surprising coincidence of views of the Israelis and the Saudis will stop the Washington lobby for an attack on Iraq is doubtful but it should at least give it cause for reflection.

Ray Fleming

Named and shamed

The public does not recognise many heroes among the European Union's Commissioners but one who deserves this status must surely be Mario Monti who holds the competition portfolio.

Over the past few years he has delivered a series of damning judgements on companies which rip–off the consumer by fixing prices among themselves.
This week he has named eight chemical and pharmaceutical firms for operating a cartel that controlled the prices of vitamins used in a huge range of consumer products – from cereals, biscuits and drinks to animal foods, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Mario Monti's judgements carry a punch; he fined the companies 855 million euros (about 530 million pounds). Whether this sum adequately covered the illegal profits made is difficult to judge but one indication of their scale is that the annual value of the market for Vitamin C fell by more than half in the first year after the cartel was broken. Naming and shaming is an important part of the process in cases of this kind.

These are the firms involved in the cartel which was ”conceived and directed at the most senior levels of the companies”: F Hoffmann–La Roche AG of Switzerland (said to be the “prime mover”); BASF AG and Merck KgaA, Germany; Aventis SA, France; Solvay Pharmaceuticals BV, Netherlands; and three Japanese companies, Daiichi, Esai and Takeda.



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