Accessibility links

Iraq Report: February 9, 2003


9 February 2003, Volume 6, Number 5
INSIDE IRAQ
IRAQI PRESIDENT GIVES INTERVIEW. Saddam Husayn told former British Labor Party Chairman Tony Benn that his country is free of weapons of mass destruction and is not interested in a war with the United States. In a 2 February interview in Baghdad broadcast on Al-Jazeera on 4 February, Husayn denied links with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, saying, "If we had a relationship with Al-Qaeda and we believed in that relationship, we would not be ashamed to admit it. Therefore I would like to tell you directly and also through you to anyone who is interested in knowing, that we have no relationship with Al-Qaeda." On the issue of continued inspections, Husayn noted, "Iraq has no interest in war...if their [UN Security Council] purpose is to make sure that Iraq is free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, then they can do that. These weapons are not aspirin pills that one can hide in his pockets. These are weapons of mass destruction.... We say it again today that Iraq is free of such weapons." Husayn asked rhetorically whether the Security Council is looking for a pretext "so they could say that they reached the conclusion that makes them wage a war against Iraq?"

"It seems that the officials in the United States are motivated by aggression," Husayn told Benn, arguing that the U.S. expressed sympathy for Israel at the expense of the rights and security of Palestinians. "The consecutive U.S. administrations were led down a path of hostility against the people of this region." Husayn added that the U.S. administration has been led to believe (by unnamed "influential" figures) that "If you want to control the world, then you have to control oil, and one of the most important requirements for controlling oil is to destroy Iraq." Husayn concludes, "It seems to me that one of the main causes of this hostility demonstrated by the current U.S. administration is to control the world, and...to control oil in the Middle East." He then suggests that the world owes Iraq a debt of gratitude for making these purported U.S. intentions known, and adds that if there is war Iraqis, "Will defend their country, their dignity, their sovereignty, and their security." The interview marked the first granted by the Iraqi leader since 1991. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQ INVITES INSPECTORS BACK FOR TALKS... Amr al-Sa'di, Iraqi presidential adviser and head of the Iraqi delegation to the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), has invited UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad al-Baradei to visit Iraq to discuss "a series of issues related to consolidating cooperation and transparency [between Iraq and] UNMOVIC and the IAEA," according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's 30 January daily briefing on inspection activities. "The visit will also allow for a bilateral discussion on the disarmament verification methods raised during the Security Council session held on 27 January 2003 and [an] improvement of the mechanisms for cooperation and consultation to restore the enhanced monitoring regime," the statement added. The statement can be viewed at (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa/epage.htm).

Blix and al-Baradei accepted the Iraqi invitation according to a statement by an IAEA spokesperson, AFP reported on 1 February. The meeting is reportedly scheduled for 8-9 February. Meanwhile, London's Sky News reported on 2 February that Iraq will not meet any preconditions to the meeting set by Blix, who had reportedly demanded that Iraq cooperate on interviews with scientists and U-2 overflights. The Iraqis have said that they would allow for U-2 overflights only if the U.S. and U.K. halted their flights in the northern and southern no-fly zones while the U-2s were in the air, so that Iraqi antiaircraft batteries would not mistake them for U.S. and U.K. warplanes and fire upon them, AP reported on 2 February. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz reiterated this position on U.S. U-2 spy planes, Al-Jazeera TV reported on 31 January. Blix complained about Iraq's refusal to assist inspectors in this area to the UN Security Council during his briefing on 27 January. Iraq has repeatedly stated that it cannot guarantee the safety of U-2 planes flying over Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI MINISTERS REFUTE U.S. PRESIDENT'S SPEECH. Iraqi Trade Minister Dr. Muhammad Mahdi Salih and Health Minister Dr. Umid Midhad Mubarak gave a press conference in Baghdad refuting a statement by President Bush in his 28 January State of the Union Address, Iraq Satellite TV reported on 30 January. Bush reportedly stated, "And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food, medicine, and supplies -- and freedom." Both Salih and Mubarak contend that the U.S. has obstructed the flow of food, medicine and supplies to Iraq through sanctions and restrictions under the term of the Oil-for-Food program. They added that Iraq was better off in these areas prior to 1991. They cited a rise in deaths among women and the elderly, as well as an increase in infant deaths under sanctions. Mubarak added that contagious diseases have increased by six to 20 times from "what they had been in the past," due to a scarcity of medicines and vaccines. He also cited an increase in cancer rates due to depleted uranium, of which he says U.S. and British bombs are to blame. Mubarak noted that cancer drugs are also scarce in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PRESIDENT IS BRIEFED BY ARMY COMMANDERS... Saddam Husayn was briefed by commanders of the Al-Quds Army brigade in a meeting broadcast on Iraq Satellite TV on 3 February. During the meeting, several commanders briefed Husayn on the level of readiness of their divisions. One brigadier general spoke of upgrading light weapons and vehicles, while another said, "Eight air rifles were purchased for each and every firing range," adding, "recruits have achieved 80 percent [of their] target hits." The same general noted that his division has "ranges for violent training." Another commander noted that his men have been trained to use laser-guided rifles. Yet another commander said that the units were trained on using "supporting weapons" -- the training of which involved the landing of a foreign army in the area of Tal Al-Lahm. One brigadier general told the Iraqi president, "We and our fighters are ready now for martyrdom more than ever before." Husayn was also told that recruits have been trained to read maps and move over rough terrain. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AND SAYS U.S. RIDING A 'CRAZY MULE.' Husayn evidently believes that any upcoming confrontation with U.S.-led forces will be at close range and on the ground. He told his commanders that he hoped that the British would tell the U.S. about their experience in Iraq in 1920. "The Iraqis were poor. They fought the British army with axes and shovels," Husayn noted, adding, "The difference was between the stick and cannon and between machine-guns and old rifles. Despite this, the Iraqis defended the honor of the homeland and defeated the British army. If they [British] give them [U.S.] this piece of advice, then they will be rewarded by God and humanity. They should enlighten the Americans so that they will not continue to ride a crazy mule." Husayn added that he recognized the technological disparity between the Iraqi and U.S. armies, but said "we are superior in other fields." Husayn then advised his commanders to remain vigilant and continue training their recruits. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FOREIGN MINISTRY ADDRESSES PRESENCE OF ANSAR AL-ISLAM... Sa'id al-Musawi, head of the Foreign Ministry's Organizations Department, joined Amr Al-Sa'di at the 6 February press conference in Baghdad to address U.S. charges of a link between Iraq and international terrorism, Iraq Satellite Television reported. Al-Musawi called the charges "a sheer allegation"; however, he acknowledged the presence of Ansar Al-Islam in northern Iraq but said the group is based in an area outside the control of the Iraqi government. "A number of [members] of this organization infiltrated Iraq cities, including Baghdad. They carried out acts of sabotage and bombings, including a bombing at a restaurant in one of the quarters of Baghdad," al-Musawi added. He noted that "some" of the terrorists were arrested and have admitted to their crimes. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AND ADMITS AL-QAEDA TERRORIST IS IN IRAQ. Sa'id al-Musawi also briefed reporters on the presence of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi in Iraq during his 6 February press conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003), Iraq Satellite Television reported. Al-Musawi stated that Jordanian officials informed Iraq that al-Zarqawi had entered Iraq in November 2002. Al-Musawi noted that Iraq did not register al-Zarqawi as having entered the country under his name or any of the aliases provided by Jordan. However, he added that as of 1 February, "Our information says that he is present in the Al-Sulaymaniyah area, particularly the Bayyarah area in northern Iraq, which is outside the control of the central government." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
KUWAIT EXTENDS CLOSED MILITARY ZONE. The Kuwaiti Defense Ministry declared all northern territories of the state a closed military zone, according to an order by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Shaykh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti state news agency KUNA announced on 4 February. The order becomes effective on 15 February and is essentially an extension of the October 2002 decree to close the northwestern region of Kuwait as a precaution to ensure the safety of joint Kuwaiti-U.S. forces holding military drills in the area. The zone now "Stretches eastwards along Kuwait bay to Ras Al-Sabbiya on the coast. The military zone also extends in an easterly direction across territorial sea waters till southern Failaka, and extends towards the northeast until the marine line border across bay Abdullah till the northern borders of Kuwait," Col. Yousef Abd al-Razzak al-Mulla, the director of moral guidance and public relations of the army, told a news conference on 4 February. He added that special permits would be available to those needing to enter the area. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER ON BASES. Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul has said that he will seek authorization from the Turkish parliament for U.S. renovation of Turkish air bases ahead of a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq. Asked whether the authorization would only be for the modernization of bases, Gul told reporters on 4 February, "You shall see," AP reported. " The parliament is expected to be asked to allow U.S. engineers to modernize various bases and ports and that a separate bill will ask for allowing those bases and ports to be used by U.S. forces. The bill is also expected to allow a certain number of U.S. troops to be based in Turkey, dpa reported on 5 February. The decision to allow U.S. troops to launch a military strike against Iraq from Turkish soil, however, is not likely to be decided before the parliament breaks for the Muslim holiday Id al-Adha. The parliament is expected to reconvene after 17 February. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KUWAITI CITIZENS ASKED TO CARRY ID. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior instructed Kuwaiti citizens and residents on 31 January to carry identification cards at all times. "Director of Public Relations in the Ministry of Interior Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Al-Shargawi said Kuwaitis and expatriates should carry with them at all times either the original civil ID or passport, in view of the current circumstances in the country, which calls for tightening security measures. He added that certain security regulations have been carried out, and all those violating the law will be punished," KUNA reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ARAB INTELLECTUALS PETITION HUSAYN TO STEP DOWN. A group of over 30 Arab intellectuals signed a petition on 31 January urging Iraqi President Saddam Husayn to step down and avoid war in Iraq, the Beirut-based "Daily Star reported on 1 February. "We call upon public opinion in the Arab world to exercise pressure for the dismissal from power of Saddam Husayn and his close aides in Iraq in order to avoid a war that threatens with catastrophe the peoples of the region," the petition stated. The signatories include personalities from Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Syria, Tunisia, and the West Bank and Gaza. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TURKEY CONTINUES WITH PREPARATIONS FOR REFUGEE INFLUX. The Turkish government and international aid agencies continue to prepare for the possibility of a massive influx of refugees across the Iraqi border, should a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq occur in the coming weeks. Ankara-based "Anatolia" reported on 3 February that the Red Crescent Society has begun to assign personnel to refugee camps that are being constructed along the border. "Anatolia" reported that the Red Crescent will erect tents outside the Turkish town of Zakho, located approximately 10 kilometers from the southeaster border crossing of Habur. Quoting unnamed sources, "Anatolia" noted, "More than 300 people who were working at public institutions and organizations in the southeastern provinces of Sirnak and Mardin would be assigned in those camps." "Anatolia" also quoted "sources" as saying that 24,000 tents would be erected outside the town of Sirnak should there be a massive influx of Iraqi refugees. Meanwhile, Istanbul's NTV reported on 2 February that a "comprehensive humanitarian aid drill" will take place on 5 February in "the area of the tent city where some 200 tents have been erected so far." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

THE UN AND IRAQ
U.S. PRESENTS ITS CASE TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented Washington's evidence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terrorism links to the UN Security Council on 5 February. The transcript of Powell's statement can be found on the U.S. State Department's website (http://www.state.gov). The evidence, Powell stated in his briefing, was compiled by the United States and unnamed other countries, and included intercepted telephone conversations and satellite photographs of Iraqi military and industrial installations, as well as eyewitness testimony concerning Iraq's development of WMD. Powell said that in one of the telephone conversations two Iraqi officers discussed how to hide from UN inspectors a "modified vehicle" that was built at Al-Kindi State Company. In another conversation, Powell said, one officer asks another to "destroy the message" ordering Iraqi personnel to "clean out all the areas" containing forbidden ammunition. Powell added that the United States has evidence that President Husayn ordered his security organizations to hide all correspondence related to Iraq's Military Industrialization Organization, which oversees Iraq's WMD programs. Powell also cited unidentified "sources" as saying that computer hard drives had been replaced at some Iraqi weapons facilities. Powell reiterated the U.S. view that Iraq is in "material breach" of UN Security Council Resolution 1441.

Powell said in his Security Council presentation that the Iraqi regime has failed to account for "even one teaspoon" of the anthrax and other biological weapons known to be in their possession, either from Iraq's own admission or from evidence uncovered by previous UNSCOM inspections. Iraq has also failed to account for chemical weapons, including 6,500 bombs from the Iran-Iraq war, and stockpiles of the nerve agent VX. Powell claimed that in one intercepted telephone conversation an Iraqi officer orders another to remove the expression "nerve agents" "wherever it comes up" in wireless instructions. Powell added that unnamed "sources" indicate that Husayn recently ordered field commanders to use chemical weapons in the field. His presentation also cited eyewitness accounts of "human experiments," in which the Iraqi regime allegedly exposed some 1,600 prisoners to biological and chemical agents. Regarding nuclear weapons, Powell told the Security Council that Iraq possesses "two out of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb." Iraq has recently approached 11 countries in attempts to purchase the high-specification aluminum tubes, magnets, and high-speed balancing machines needed to develop the third component, enriched uranium, Powell alleged. Powell also alleged that Iraqi government officials, Ba'ath Party members, and scientists have hidden key documents in their homes, and other key files from scientific and military organizations are being driven around Iraq by intelligence agents in an attempt to conceal them from UN weapons inspectors. Powell presented the UN Security Council with satellite photos that he claimed suggest that banned materials have been moved from several Iraqi WMD facilities. He also alleged that Iraq has placed several of its scientists under house arrest at a "guest house" to prevent UN inspectors from speaking to them. Other scientists were forced to sign documents "acknowledging that divulging information [to UN inspectors] is punishable by death," Powell charged. Powell's presentation also addressed alleged links between Iraq and the international terrorism network Al-Qaeda and Iraq's alleged possession of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that exceed UN-permitted ranges. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI UN AMBASSADOR FLATLY DENIES POWELL'S ALLEGATIONS... Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad al-Duri addressed the UN Security Council on 5 February following U.S. Secretary of State Powell's presentation. His statement to the Security Council session can be viewed in its entirety at (http://www.un.org/webcast/). "What came in [Secretary] Powell's statement on the weapons of mass destruction is utterly unrelated to the truth," al-Duri told the Security Council, adding that the U.S. presentation contained "no new information." "It is well-known that the inspection teams took samples of water, soil, plants, air, and factory remnants, as well as production remnants from vast areas in cities, villages, on highways, farms, factories, and universities throughout Iraq," al-Duri said, noting that these samples have not indicated the presence of any banned biological, chemical, or radiological agents in Iraq. Regarding the allegations of terrorism links, al-Duri cited recent Western press reports indicating that CIA analysts complained that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "exaggerated" Iraqi links to Al-Qaeda. Al-Duri told the Security Council that he expected the upcoming 8-9 February meeting between UNMOVIC Chairman Blix and IAEA Director-General al-Baradei to be "a further opportunity to verify and ascertain the validity of [U.S.] allegations." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS IRAQI PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER REBUTS U.S. CHARGES ONE BY ONE. Iraqi presidential adviser Amr al-Sa'di has refuted U.S. allegations related to Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs that were presented by Powell at the UN Security Council. Speaking to international media on 6 February, al-Sa'di frequently referred to Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council as "conveniently forgetting" or "omitting" facts and "concocting" others. Al-Sa'di charged that the United States fabricated the recordings Powell presented of telephone conversations between Iraqi officials, saying the "concoction" was "below the level of a superpower," Iraq Satellite Television reported. Al-Sa'di also addressed U.S. charges of hidden documents and missing computer hard drives. "There is one answer.... Secretary Powell was in the U.S. Army and he should know that we have our defense secrets.... We have military secrets relating to defending our country," al-Sa'di said. Regarding U.S. allegations that Iraq is constructing a roof over a 40-meter-long missile-launch pad, al-Sa'di confirmed the construction, but added, "It is true there is a roof...but it is not for that purpose. It is [to protect the missile] against the elements, against the sun, and against rain, and it is open from the sides so that [workers there] can work." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.K. SHOWS SUPPORT FOR U.S. PRESENTATION... British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called Secretary of State Powell's presentation a "powerful and authoritative case against the Iraqi regime," the "Financial Times" reported on 6 February. "It is clear that Iraq has failed the test," Straw said. Citing the upcoming meeting between UN officials and Iraq, Straw said the Security Council must "meet its responsibilities," if Iraq fails to offer more cooperation to UN inspectors, the "Financial Times" reported. British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with UNMOVIC chief Blix and IAEA Director-General Muhammad al-Baradei on 6 February in London. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...BUT OTHER SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERS STILL ON THE FENCE. The initial reaction to Secretary of State Powell's presentation by three permanent members of the UN Security Council continued to stress the desirability of finding a political solution to the Iraq situation. Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told reporters after the 5 February meeting, "China remains in the belief that this problem should be worked out through political means, through the framework of the Security Council," CNN reported on 6 February. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for strengthening the inspection regime, stating, "Given the choice between military intervention and an inspections regime that is inadequate because of a failure to cooperate on Iraq's part, we must choose the decisive reinforcement of the means of inspections," CNN reported on 6 February. Villepin's statement to the UN Security Council (http://www.un.org/webcast/) declared, "It will fall to the inspectors, as mandated by Resolution 1441, to assess the facts [of Powell's presentation]." Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Russia's ORT television on 5 February that Russian experts intend to study the information presented by the United States, but added that "this information must above all be studied on the spot by...UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors." Ivanov said it is premature to discuss war against Iraq, adding that Iraq must demonstrate "full cooperation" by 14 February, the date set for the next UNMOVIC/IAEA report to the UN Security Council. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN INSPECTORS INTERVIEW IRAQI SCIENTIST... An Iraqi scientist agreed to a private interview with UN weapons inspectors on 6 February, according to a statement by UNMOVIC/IAEA spokesman Hiro Ueki (http://www.iaea.org). "A UN team conducted a private interview with an Iraqi biological scientist alone. The interview lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes. During the interview, a number of issues were addressed," Ueki stated. The scientist, identified as Sinan Abd-al-Hassan, did not speak to the press immediately following the interview, Reuters reported on 6 February. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...WHO WORKED FOR NATIONAL MONITORING DIRECTORATE. Abd-al-Hassan worked for the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate (NMD) in 1999 and it is possible that he still works there. The NMD was established as a liaison between United Nations inspectors (beginning with UNSCOM) and the Iraqi government. It is the agency that provides Iraqi "minders" to accompany UN inspectors throughout Iraq, and was often accused of obstruction during the 1991-98 inspection process. An unnamed UN official reportedly stated that it appeared Abd-al-Hassan had been "coached" by Iraqi officials before the interview, according to AP on 7 February. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UNMOVIC FINDS MISSILE MOLDS AT AL-NIDA'. A UNMOVIC team of biological inspectors visiting the Al-Nida' State Company in a Baghdad suburb "noticed the existence of a neglected small missile mold whose size is 20 centimeters in diameter," according to a report by Iraq Television on 3 February. According to the report, inspectors were given "the necessary technical clarifications regarding the reason of the existence of this mold there," and "additional clarifications would be provided later." Inspectors also "noticed" the "existence of a modified warhead for a 70-kilometer Luna missile," which Iraq Television reported as "a neglected and damaged warhead," adding, "The head of the [inspection] team was told that this warhead is neglected and has nothing to do with the previous banned programs." Iraq Television added that the modified warhead was listed in a 1996 report to the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and again in the December 2002 declaration to UNMOVIC. The Al-Nida' State Company has been inspected several times by both UNMOVIC biological and missile inspectors. It is affiliated with the Iraqi Military Industrialization Organization and manufactures molds and spare parts for missiles, according to previous statements by UNMOVIC. UNMOVIC has yet to release a statement on the 3 February inspection. For further information on this and other inspections, see RFE/RL's "Tracking Inspections" page at (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraq-inspec/). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S. AND IRAQ
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER STILL FAVORS UN ROUTE. British Prime Minister Tony Blair briefed the House of Commons on 3 February on his weekend trip to the United States to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush, telling the legislative body, "We are entering the final phase of a 12-year history of the disarmament of Iraq." Concerning talks with the U.S. president, Blair said, "President Bush and I agreed we should seek maximum support for [a second UN Security Council] resolution, provided, as ever, that seeking such a resolution is a way of resolving the issue [and] not delaying or avoiding dealing with it at all." Blair added, "I continue to believe [that] the UN is the right way to proceed," adding, "there is an integrity in the process set out in [UNSC resolution] 1441 and we should follow it." Blair went on to stress that the U.K. should not act weak towards the Iraq issue, stating "Show weakness now and no one will ever believe us when we try to show strength in the future." The premier's briefing can be viewed in its entirety on the Downing Street website, (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page1.asp). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FRENCH PRESIDENT TO DECIDE 'WHEN THE TIME COMES.' Jacques Chirac told reporters on 4 February that France will come to a decision regarding Iraq "when the time comes and given the circumstances." His comments came following a summit meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the northern French resort of Le Touquet. Calling war the "worst of solutions," Chirac added, "We think there is still a lot to be done on the issue of disarmament through peaceful means," AFP reported. Chirac noted that the positions between Britain and France regarding Iraq were not that different. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER SAYS HE HAS 'EVIDENCE' THAT IRAQ IS A THREAT. Jose Maria Aznar told the Spanish news agency Europa Press that he has confidential information which proves the Iraqi regime of President Husayn represents a threat to "peace, world security, and to Spain," according to a report on the website of "El Pais" (http://www.elpais.es/). Aznar told Europa Press that all governments "Have information that Saddam Husayn's regime, from the biological and chemical weapons it has and its links to terrorist groups, does in effect represent a threat to peace, to world security, and to Spain. We have sufficient evidence to that effect," Aznar said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GERMAN INTELLIGENCE ON MOBILE LABS. AFP reported on 1 February that the German intelligence service BND reportedly has evidence that Iraq's mobile laboratories are capable of producing chemical and biological weapons, according to a 3 February report in the German weekly magazine "Focus." The report notes that the laboratories are hidden in trucks that appear completely normal on the outside and that the Iraqi government even purchased equipment for the labs in Germany, AFP noted. Germany took over the presidency of the UN Security Council from France on 1 February. Meanwhile, an official from the Russian Atomic Energy Agency stated on 31 January that Iraq has no nuclear weapons. Speaking at a conference in St. Petersburg, Aleksandr Agapov, the director of the Department for Safety, Emergency Situations and the Environment, said that available information indicates that Iraq does not have the technological potential for producing weapons-grade plutonium and other key components of an atomic bomb, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. PRESIDENT AUTHORIZES MONEY FOR HUMANITARIAN RELIEF IN MIDDLE EAST. George W. Bush has authorized up to $15 million in humanitarian relief to the Middle East through the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962. The U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund will "meet unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs that would be anticipated in the event of a future humanitarian emergency in the Middle East.... Such an emergency may arise if it becomes necessary for the United States and other nations to use military force to disarm the Iraqi regime of its weapons of mass destruction," a presidential news release dated 29 January stated. The presidential determination can be viewed at: (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/01/20030130-7.html) (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GALLUP RELEASES POLL ON IRAQ. Gallup International released its latest poll on Iraq, in which 30,000 citizens of 41 countries were interviewed, according to the organization's website (http://www.gallup-international.com). Respondents were asked, "Generally, do you think American foreign policy has a positive effect on your country, a negative effect, or does American foreign policy have no effect on your country?" EU respondents overwhelmingly answered "a negative effect" -- in France 71 percent, Germany 67 percent, Spain 57 percent, Denmark 58 percent, and the Netherlands 55 percent. Meanwhile, 42 percent of respondents in the U.K. (excluding Northern Ireland) answered "a negative effect." Respondents were also asked, "If military action goes ahead against Iraq, do you think your country should or should not support this action?" Again, EU respondents were more likely to choose "should not support" (France 61 percent, Germany 71 percent, Spain 73 percent, Denmark 51 percent, and the Netherlands 52 percent). Some 41 percent of U.K. respondents answered "should not support" to the question. Asked "Are you in favor of military action against Iraq?" the percentage of respondents who choose "under no circumstances," were: France 60 percent, Germany 50 percent, Spain 74 percent, Denmark 45 percent, the Netherlands 38 percent, and the U.K. 41 percent. The poll questioned individuals across the EU and Eastern Europe, as well as the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

END NOTE
DINAR CRISIS WEIGHS DOWN KURDISH ECONOMY

By Tanya Goudsouzian

Arbil, Iraqi Kurdistan (1 February 2003) -- Money exchangers in northern Iraq are reluctant to bet their bottom dollar these days.

Nazim Muhammad, who has been running a money exchange office since 1992, said he lost a lot of money when the so-called "Swiss dinar" gained strength against the U.S. dollar.

"Two weeks ago, $100 was equal to 1,200 dinars. Now it is equal to 800 dinars. Everyone lost money. So less and less people are exchanging dollars," he said.

"Some say it is better to keep dinars because the value of the dollar is always falling; others say it is better to keep dollars because there is a danger that the dinar may be cancelled soon. There are still others who say it is better not to keep great quantities of either currency, and to buy a car or a plot of land instead."

The "Swiss dinar," or the old Iraqi dinar now used only in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq, has rapidly been gaining strength against the U.S. dollar as misguided Kurdish families hoard the out-of-print currency in anticipation of a regime change in Baghdad.

These families believe that once Saddam Husayn is removed from power the old dinar will automatically regain the value it once enjoyed at three times the U.S. dollar, according to Sami Abd-al-Rahman, deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

"This is an illusion, and it is one of the many causes of this problem," he said. "In assessing the value of a currency, perception plays an important role, but at the same time, the currency reflects the state of a country's economy. Does the Iraqi government have such a great economy?" Abd-al-Rahman added: "Can the dinar be expected to gain so much strength immediately after a war?"

There is also no assurance that the "Swiss" dinar will replace Baghdad's "photocopy dinar" after a regime change, when Kurdish-ruled areas conform to a unified currency under Iraq's Central Bank, he pointed out.

Another illusion, according to Abd-al-Rahman, is the term "Swiss dinar."

"They call it the Swiss dinar to differentiate it from Baghdad's 'photocopy dinar,' but they were actually printed in the U.K.," he said.

There are only about $2 billion worth of Swiss dinars in circulation as they went out of print in 1990 after the blockade was imposed on Iraq. Most people receive their salaries in dinars and, since it gained strength, the local market has been put off balance.

Three months ago, the rate was 14 Swiss dinars to the U.S. dollar. Today, the exchange is eight dinars to the dollar -- and rising.

"Foreign remittances come in dollars. UN workers spend dollars, as well as Kurds visiting from abroad," Abd-al-Rahman said.

"But there is a limited amount of dinars here, and we cannot print new ones. With the threat of war, local families are looking for security and they are saving their dinars. This has drastically reduced the already limited number of notes in circulation and, as a result, the value of the currency has jumped," he added.

Abd-al-Rahman, former minister of northern affairs under the Baghdad regime, said there is no "miracle solution" to the situation, and it stands to worsen.

He added that the economy in Kurdish-ruled areas has come to a virtual standstill in view of the tensions in the region.

"The regional government's revenues have considerably diminished," he said. "Contracts are not followed through, and trade has slowed down."

According to Dr. Roush Nouri Shaways, KRG parliament speaker, the "Swiss" dinar has been growing stronger over the past five years, and it has complicated the affairs of merchants who find it difficult to set the price for their goods.

"The parliament has discussed the problem and solutions have been proposed, but regional tensions must subside before anything can be done about it," he explained.

XS
SM
MD
LG