20 February 2003, Volume
IRAQI PRESIDENT SAYS IRAQ DOES NOT WANT WAR.
Saddam Husayn told a Russian parliamentary delegation on 19 February that while Iraq did not want a war, it would achieve victory over the U.S. in a war because of the Iraqi people's determination, Iraq Radio reported. "The people of Iraq do not want war, but not at any price. We will not relinquish our independence, dignity, and right to live as free people and to act freely. While our people need their freedom, dignity, and sovereignty, they respect the freedom, dignity, and sovereignty of others, including the United States, if it respects the freedom and sovereignty of Iraq and the Arabs," Husayn said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER TO HEAD DELEGATION TO NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT SUMMIT...
Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is expected to lead the Iraqi delegation to the Non-Aligned Movement's (NAM) summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur on 20-25 February, Iraqi Ambassador to Malaysia Kais S. A. al-Yacoubi told Kuala Lumpur's Bernama news agency on 18 February. Ten Iraqi officials, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, will be in the delegation headed by Sabri. Ramadan is expected to discuss the economic sanctions on Iraq and its efforts to disarm and comply with UN resolutions. "Iraq is working on all positions and possibilities to avoid a war," al-Yacoubi stated. Iraq is an active member of NAM, which has 114 members, 50 of whom are also members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, according to Bernama. (Sarah Horton)...AS ARAB LEAGUE DELEGATE COMMENDS REPORT TO UN.
The Iraqi delegate to the Arab League, Muhsin Khalil, praised the reports presented on 27 January and 14 February to the UN Security Council by UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad al-Baradei, MENA reported on 18 February. Khalil said the reports confirmed that U.S. allegations of Iraq harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are false and that "no violations were made on [the] part of Iraq with regard to possessing banned weaponry." The reports were "fair to a great extent," according to Khalil, and any "outstanding issues pertaining to providing more information and responding to queries raised by inspectors" will be resolved. (Sarah Horton)IRAQI OPPOSITION NOTES SLIGHT DELAY OF IRBIL MEETING.
Kurdistan Democratic Party member and foreign relations representative Hoshyar Zebari told a news conference in Irbil on 19 February that the Iraqi opposition meeting scheduled to begin that day will be postponed for "a few days" due to bad weather conditions to allow delegates more time to arrive in the northern Iraqi city, Al-Jazeera TV reported. About half of the 65-member Coordination and Follow-up Committee had arrived in time. Zebari addressed some of the issues up for discussion at this week's meeting, including U.S. objectives for a postwar Iraq outlined by U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Douglas Feith in an 11 February hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see RFE/RL's "Iraq Report," 14 February 2003). Zebari stated that delegates "Will proclaim a clear and explicit stand on this issue and show that most of the opposition parties agree that Iraq is for the Iraqis and that the Iraqi people are the ones who should define their fate by themselves and decide their future." He added that the delegates remain committed to the political statement issued in December 2002 at a conference in London that called for the Iraqi opposition to play a primary role in ousting the regime and rejected "any form of occupation of, local or foreign military rule in, or foreign mandate over" Iraq (see RFE/RL "Iraq Report," 22 December 2002).
Meanwhile, the London-based "Al-Hayat" reported on 19 February that Akram al-Hakim, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has said that the meeting will not address the idea of forming an interim government in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI OPPOSITION WORKING GROUPS PRESS FORWARD.
Iraqi Opposition working groups met in Washington for a few days, according to 12 February press statements by the U.S. State Department (http://www.state.gov). The local-government working group was reported to have met on 12-13 February to discuss the "separation of local, regional, and central government powers, local governmental accountability, and how private institutions, community organizers, and businesses can work with local governments to provide more effective services to the Iraqi people," according to the statement.
Meanwhile, the anticorruption working group was to meet in mid-February to discuss "the importance of open and transparent government procedures in public contracting, public appointments, banking, and other institutions that must earn and keep the public trust," the State Department announced. The meetings are part of an ongoing effort by the United States to encourage the participation of Iraqis in any post-Husayn government. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI ENGINEER REPORTEDLY DEFECTS, GIVES NEW LEADS.
An Iraqi engineer described only as "close to several weapons scientists" has defected to an unnamed European country and is providing "new and credible leads," abcnews.go.com reported on 10 February. The defector reportedly told ABC News that Iraqi scientists and researchers are under extreme pressure from Iraqi authorities and are too afraid to speak freely to UN weapons inspectors. "They [scientists] were scared and threatened in different ways, including threatening to go after their families if they leave Iraq to meet with inspectors and going after their relatives if their families go with them and going after them even if they were in exile," the purported defector added. He said many of the scientists working within Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program are now being housed with their families at a secret compound in downtown Baghdad. He added that scientists have been forced to sign two documents -- one stating that they will fully accommodate UN inspectors, the second stating that they are "legally responsible" and will not divulge any Iraqi "secrets." "The first pledge is public and a copy is sent to the UN, while the second is only for some Iraqi security agencies," the defector reportedly said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)KURDS SPRING INTO ACTION.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-led (PUK) Kurdish Regional Government interior minister, Faraydun Abd-al-Qadir, described the PUK's contingency plans in the event of war, Al-Sulaymaniyah's "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 17 February. The PUK's Interior Ministry has established a joint committee consisting of security, police, and civil-defense forces to expedite emergency procedures that include providing emergency shelter to refugees from Baghdad and southern Iraq. Camps in Bazian and Maydan have been proposed for this purpose, and camps for refugees from areas adjoining Iraqi-controlled regions are being prepared in Qaradagh, Penjwin, and Mawat, according to Abd-al-Qadir. Emergency plans for Kurdish cities, including al-Sulaymaniyah, Irbil, and Kirkuk, include the establishment of centers that will have "the necessary equipment and tools such as shovels, buses, and ambulances...[and] will be responsible for the protection of the citizens' lives and property," Abd-al-Qadir stated. He added that 600 people have recently begun to receive civil-defense training. (Sarah Horton)PUK LEADER SAYS IRAQI REGIME OFFERED U.S. OIL TO STAY IN POWER.
Jalal Talabani, head of the PUK, told a press conference in Dokan on 15 February that the Iraqi regime failed to broker a deal with the U.S. which would have preserved the regime in exchange for oil concessions, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 16 February. "A minister from a Western country on friendly terms with Iraq told us that one of the Iraqi president's sons had asked him to convey a message to the Americans to the effect that the Iraqi authorities are ready to give oil to the Americans for 50 years to come on the condition that they would allow the regime to stay in power. However that offer has been turned down," Talabani said. There has been no U.S. confirmation of the offer.IRAQ ACCUSED OF HIDING 'THOUSANDS OF TONS' OF WEAPONS.
The former chief adviser of Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission, Husayn al-Shahristani, claimed that Iraq's nuclear facilities were destroyed by U.S. and British bombing and UN inspectors from 1991-95, "The Philippine Star" reported on 19 February. Al-Shahristani alleged that although President Husayn failed to develop an atomic weapon, he has still not accounted for "thousands of tons" of chemical and biological weapons, including mustard gas and sarin. These nerve agents and other chemical and biological weapons are still used on Kurds and Shi'ites, according to al-Shahristani, who is the head of the London-based Iraqi Refugee Aid Council. Al-Shahristani was arrested on suspicion of sabotage at Iraq's Al-Tuwaythah atomic-research center in 1979, and he was imprisoned and tortured for 11 years for allegedly failing to cooperate in Iraq's development of a nuclear bomb. He escaped in 1991 and fled Iraq. (Sarah Horton)
U.S. CALLING TURKEY'S BLUFF?
White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer hinted that the U.S. is growing impatient with Turkish delay-tactics concerning a decision on whether to allow U.S. troops on its soil in the event of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Fleischer told reporters at a 19 February news conference, "There comes a moment when plans must be made, decisions must be made, and [negotiations] cannot stretch on indefinitely," Reuters reported. He added that the U.S. military is "sufficiently flexible" and could still carry out "any military operations" if Turkey refused to help.
Turkey had presented the U.S. with a 100-page memorandum of understanding detailing its economic- and military-aid request on 17 February, NTV reported on 18 February. Then, Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis announced on 18 February that Turkey had postponed a parliamentary vote scheduled for that day, to decide whether to allow U.S. troops on Turkish soil, because the United States had not approved the aid package requested by Turkey. The U.S. had offered a package to Turkey, which included $6 billion in grants and another $20 billion in U.S. government-backed loans. Turkey is reportedly holding out for $30 billion in aid.
Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan told NTV Television on 19 February that there were no plans for a parliamentary vote on the U.S. request this week. Meanwhile, Fleischer told reporters, "There is not a lot of time left." (Kathleen Ridolfo)TURKEY MIGHT SEND TROOPS TO NORTHERN IRAQ.
Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yusuf Buluc told reporters at a 19 February weekly press conference that Turkey could send troops into northern Iraq to ensure stability, TRT 2 Television reported on that day. In an apparent reference to possible Kurdish movements to establish an independent state, Buluc said, "The potential developments that could come about within the framework of a possible military intervention will vitally affect Turkey's interests in many aspects." If such a situation were to arise, "Turkey will attach importance to having a military presence there above all in order to secure political and military stability in the region," Buluc added. The spokesman also noted that Turkey would work to prevent an influx of Iraqi refugees across the border in the event of war. (Kathleen Ridolfo)AN ARAB SUMMIT: WILL THERE BE ONE?
Arab leaders appear unable to agree on whether they should hold an emergency summit on the issue of Iraq. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had proposed a meeting ahead of the annual summit scheduled for late March. But, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud told "Okaz" newspaper on 19 February that there was no need for an emergency Arab League summit saying, "If that summit does not emerge with a decision concerning the Iraq crisis agreed upon by all Arab states, then it could make matters worse." The Saudi government has been critical of the Arab States in recent weeks for their growing lack of credibility on the world stage. A 20 February editorial in "Riyadh Daily" states, "On the Iraqi issue, it appears that the Arabs are totally incompetent to come up with a united stand, which would lead to the world respecting their opinion." Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 20 February that following consultations with Egypt, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has agreed to call on Arab states to move the annual summit meeting to 1 March in Cairo. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SAUDI ARABIA WARNS U.S. AGAINST UNILATERAL STRIKE ON IRAQ.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud has warned the United States that unilateral action against Iraq will be seen as an "act of aggression," the BBC website (http://bbc.co.uk) reported on 17 February. Prince Saud al-Faysal said Iraq's neighbors will suffer the consequences of a military strike: "If change of regime comes with the destruction of Iraq, then you are solving one problem and creating five more problems." He added that unilateral action by the United States "would encourage people to think...that what they're doing is a war of aggression rather than a war for the implementation of the United Nations resolutions."
Prince Saud al-Faysal contended that fundamentalism is on the rise in the United States and the West. "Our worry is the new emerging fundamentalism in the United States and in the West. Fundamentalism in our region is on the wane. There, it's in the ascendancy. That's the threat," Prince Saud al-Faysal said.
Meanwhile, Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Abd al-Rahman bin Abd al-Aziz told a rally at the Military Parade Range of the King Khalid Military City on 17 February, "I want to assure you that nobody will set foot on the territory of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to fight any Arab state," according to the official Saudi Press Agency's website (http://www.spa.gov.sa). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UNMOVIC HEAD BRIEFS UN SECURITY COUNCIL.
The UN Security Council met on 14 February to receive progress reports by UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) chief Hans Blix, who told the council that some progress has been made with Iraq since the council last met on 27 January, but more cooperation was needed. Nevertheless, Blix said that inspections should continue.
Blix stated that UNMOVIC has conducted over 400 inspections at more than 300 sites since inspections began in late November 2002. The number of staff present in Iraq includes around 100 UNMOVIC inspectors, 15 IAEA inspectors, 50 aircrew, and 65 support staff, Blix added. But the main purpose of his briefing was to focus on outstanding issues concerning inspections, including the results of UNMOVIC meetings with Iraqi officials on 8-9 February. Blix said that on the issue of Iraqi minders, who accompany inspectors on each inspection, Iraq has complied with a UNMOVIC request to reduce the number of minders, which had averaged around five minders per inspector to a ratio of about one to one.
Regarding inspections, Blix told the Security Council that over 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected by inspectors at different sites. Seventy-five percent of the samples have been analyzed at the Baghdad-based UNMOVIC laboratory and preliminary results suggest that the findings are consistent with Iraqi declarations. Blix also noted that UNMOVIC has begun the process of destroying some 50 liters of mustard gas at the Al-Muthanna site. Blix reiterated that although Iraq has provided a document which suggested that approximately 1,000 tons of chemical agent remained unaccounted for, it has not provided credible evidence that the agent was destroyed. "Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it," Blix stated. Blix also told the council that experts from UN member states have determined that the Al-Sumud 2 missile is capable of exceeding 150 kilometers (the maximum range allowed by the UN) and is thus a proscribed weapon under UN Security Council Resolution 687 (1991). The Al-Fatah missile's capability is still under investigation.
Blix also noted that Iraq's declaration regarding the reconstituting of casting chambers (originally designed to aid production of the now-proscribed Badr-2000 missile system) has been deemed by inspectors to be capable of also producing motors for missiles whose range could "significantly" exceed 150 kilometers, and is thus forbidden to Iraq. Likewise, Iraq has admitted to illegally importing 380 SA-2 missile engines in contravention of resolution 687. "Any such engines configured for use in this missile system would also be proscribed," Blix noted.
Blix said Iraq handed over several papers during the 8-9 February meeting concerning anthrax, growth material, and the nerve agent VX, but that material did not include any "new evidence." He also noted that Iraq made suggestions as to verifying the quantities of anthrax and two VX-precursors it claims to have destroyed unilaterally in 1991, but said that UNMOVIC experts "are not very hopeful that it could prove possible to assess the quantities of material poured into the ground years ago." Blix added that Iraq has provided the names of 83 participants to the destruction of chemical agents, and called on Iraq to provide documentation and eyewitnesses to the destruction of biological materials as well.
On the issue of aerial surveillance, Blix welcomed the assistance of member states, but noted that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 5 February presentation to the Security Council using satellite images taken weeks apart at one particular site did not necessarily prove that Iraq was moving munitions, as Powell contended, in an effort to avoid detection by inspectors. Blix added that Iraq's acquiescence to the use of U-2 planes for surveillance would aid inspectors in surveying ground movements, especially the movements of trucks. Blix concluded that the period of disarmament in Iraq could be short if Iraq were to offer "immediate, active, and unconditional cooperation" to UN inspectors. Blix's entire statement to the UN Security Council can be viewed on the UN website (http://www.un.org). (Kathleen Ridolfo)IAEA CHIEF AGREES INSPECTIONS SHOULD CONTINUE, IRAQ NEEDS TO COOPERATE MORE.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad al-Baradei told the UN Security Council on 14 February that he agreed that inspections should continue in Iraq, but that further Iraqi cooperation was needed in order to facilitate the inspectors' work.
Al-Baradei said that IAEA inspectors have conducted 177 inspections at 125 sites since November 2002. IAEA inspections have entered what al-Baradei termed as the "investigative phase," meaning that inspectors are now focusing on Iraq's activities in the nuclear field since 1998. Al-Baradei added that the IAEA has conducted environmental sampling including air sampling and radiation detection surveys across Iraq and will soon begin helicopter-borne gamma surveys. Regarding interviews with Iraqi scientists and nuclear experts, the IAEA had conducted four private interviews since 27 January, al-Baradei noted, but added that those interviews were recorded by the interviewees.
On the issue of uranium enrichment, al-Baradei said that the IAEA was still investigating whether Iraq's import of high-strength aluminum tubes were intended to be used for uranium enrichment. He added that Iraq has provided documentation on magnets which might be used to restart a nuclear program, but the matter remained under investigation. Al-Baradei stated that documents pointing to Iraq's procurement of carbon fiber suggests that the fiber is not intended for use in a uranium-enrichment program.
Regarding the issue of Iraq's use of 32 tons of HMX, which had been under IAEA seal and transferred by Iraq for use in mining quarries, al-Baradei stated that although Iraq has provided some documentation on the use of HMX, the IAEA may not be able to verify its use.
Al-Baradei also told the Security Council that the 2,000-plus pages of documents seized from the home of an Iraqi scientist on 16 January that detail Iraq's laser enrichment program, "appear to be the personal files of the scientist." He added that while Iraq has provided the IAEA with further documentation on weapon and centrifuge design, "no new information was contained in this documentation."
The IAEA head said that he intends to increase the number of inspectors and support staff in Iraq in the coming weeks and to expand the IAEA's "capabilities for near-real-time monitoring of dual-use equipment and related activities." He concluded that a number of issues regarding Iraq's nuclear program remain under investigation, adding that the IAEA is "not yet in a position to reach a conclusion," but is making progress. Al-Baradei said that full and active cooperation by Iraq would help speed up the process. His entire statement to the UN Security Council can be viewed on the IAEA website (http://www.iaea.org).
The next scheduled briefing to the UN Security Council by UN weapons inspectors is slated for 1 March. It will be the first quarterly briefing since the resumption of inspections in November 2002. (Kathleen Ridolfo)NATO APPROVES DEFENSIVE DEPLOYMENT TO TURKEY.
NATO approved the deployment of NATO AWACS aircraft as well as missile and chemical and biological defenses to Turkey, according to a 19 February announcement on the NATO website (http://www.nato.int). The statement noted that the decision followed a 16 February agreement by the Defense Planning Committee to undertake planning for three defensive missions to protect Turkey: deployment of NATO Airborne Early Warning Aircraft (AWACS); the deployment of theater-missile defenses; and the possible deployment of allied chemical and biological defenses, the statement noted. The plans will be implemented immediately. For background on the controversy surrounding the NATO decision, see last week's Iraq Report (RFE/RL "Iraq Report" 14 February 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)U-2 OVERFLIGHTS OF IRAQ BEGIN.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in its 17 February daily statement on UN inspections that a U-2 entered Iraqi airspace that day to perform aerial reconnaissance, according to the ministry's website (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa). The plane surveyed "several areas," according to the ministry, and was in Iraqi airspace for over four hours. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI LEADER DISCUSSES U-2 CONTROVERSY.
Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told Iraq Satellite Television on 12 February that UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Blix did not properly inform the UN Security Council of Iraq's concerns regarding U-2 overflights. Ramadan said Iraq had proposed that other reconnaissance aircraft be used in conjunction with the U-2 aircraft, adding that France and Russia have offered the use of their Mirage and Antonov reconnaissance planes "free of charge" to weapons inspectors. Ramadan claimed that it was agreed that all three types of aircraft would be used and that prior notification be given to the Iraqi government before the aircraft would enter Iraqi airspace. In addition, the routes and time of departure from airspace were to be predetermined, he said. "These procedures will be followed every time so that our missions and the missions of our air defenses vis-a-vis Iraqi airspace violations may not be restrained," Ramadan told Iraq Satellite Television. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI OFFICIALS DENY MISSILES IN VIOLATION.
"We are still within limits that are decided by the United Nations," Reuters quoted Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz as saying on 13 February about the Al-Sumud 2 missiles found by UN inspectors to be capable of exceeding a range of 150 kilometers (the maximum range allowed by the UN), thereby making it a proscribed weapon under UN Security Council Resolution 687 (1991). The range of the Al-Fatah missile is still under investigation. Aziz hinted that any increase in the missile's range was merely accidental. "The main problem is that Iraqi missiles which are of a very short range don't have a guidance system and when a missile doesn't have a guidance system it goes 5, 10, 15 kilometers beyond (target)," Reuters quoted Aziz as saying. Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad al-Duri has made similar statements in recent days. The missile controversy was detailed in Blix's presentation to the UN Security Council on 27 January (see RFE/RL "Iraq Report," 2 February 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RUSSIA, SAYS NO NEW RESOLUTION NEEDED.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 18 February that "coordinated steps will be made to attain unanimity in the Security Council" on the issue of Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov told Interfax News Agency on 19 February that Russia's position concerning Iraq remains unchanged and that no new UN Security Council resolution was needed. "Russia believes that international weapons inspectors working in Iraq have sufficient powers, including those provided by UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which is hard-line, but still feasible," Fedotov said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)EU ISSUES JOINT DECLARATION ON IRAQ.
The European Union issued a joint declaration on Iraq following an emergency summit in Brussels on 17 February. The declaration (http://ue.eu.int/newsroom/ec17022003.asp?bid=118&lang=1) calls on Iraq to fulfill its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and disarm peacefully. The statement adds that "war is not inevitable." The declaration also states that inspections in Iraq "must be given the time and the resources that the UN Security Council believes they need" but adds that "inspections cannot continue indefinitely in the absence of full Iraqi cooperation." The declaration goes on to say that the Iraqi regime "alone will be responsible for the consequences" should it fail to disarm. The declaration defers to the authority of the UN Security Council in resolving the crisis in Iraq, and pledges full support to the council in its task.
The EU saga did not end however, on a harmonious note. EU leaders remained firm on their positions vis-a-vis Iraq as they emerged from the 17 February meeting in Brussels, but they stressed that a compromise was reached for the time being. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters in Brussels that Iraq must comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 or it will be deemed in "material breach," adding, "I hope very much those points of agreement [between EU member states on Iraq]...send a strong message and signal to Iraq: This really is the final opportunity to disarm peacefully," BBC reported on 17 February. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the joint declaration a compromise, telling reporters, "Formulations such as 'time is running out' were not acceptable" to Germany, AFP reported the same day. Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that a UN Security Council resolution concerning the use of force in Iraq is inappropriate at this time, adding, "We consider that war is always, always the worst solution. That is our position, which leads us to conclude that it is not necessary today to have a second resolution, which France could only oppose," itv.com reported on 17 February. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. WORKING ON NEW RESOLUTION.
White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer confirmed in a 19 February press conference that the U.S. administration will present a new resolution to the UN Security Council on Iraq. "The president intends to work with our friends and allies to offer a resolution, either this week or next, at the United Nations Security Council," Fleischer said, adding, "If the United Nations Security Council fails to act, the president, along with a coalition of the willing, will enforce Resolution 1441 by disarming Saddam Husayn." Fleischer told reporters that it was important that the UN Security Council "have its chance to protect the peace and to back up the resolutions that they, themselves, passed." Fleischer added that no date has been set for the presentation of the new resolution, and that it had not been decided "who it will be who actually tables the motion," referring to ongoing consultations with the U.K. on the resolution. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PHILIPPINES EXPELS IRAQI DIPLOMAT WITH ALLEGED LINKS TO ABU SAYYAF.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Blas Ople informed the Iraqi Embassy in Manila on 12 February that it is withdrawing the accreditation of Iraqi Second Secretary Husham Husayn, saying Husayn "has ceased to enjoy the rights and privileges of a diplomat of the Embassy of Iraq," AFP reported. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement on 12 February (http://www.uruklink.net/mofa/) that the Filipino government has declared Husayn persona non grata and given him 48 hours to leave the country. Husayn has reportedly been identified as having contact with an alleged member of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf shortly after an October 2002 bombing in the city of Zamboanga, AFP reported. The bombing killed three civilians and a U.S. soldier. Husayn has also been identified as having met at the Iraqi Embassy with "front organizations" of the National Democratic Front (NDF). The NDF is the political wing of the Philippine Communist Party (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), according to AFP. The United States has labeled both the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry, in its 12 February statement, accused the U.S. embassy in Manila of "fabricating" the charges against Husayn, adding that Iraq supports the view of the Philippine government with regard to Islamic groups. The statement contended that Husayn and a second Iraqi diplomat were approached by U.S. embassy officials on separate occasions earlier this month. The U.S. officials requested that the men "betray their country," according to the Foreign Ministry. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EYEWITNESS: THE AL-AMIRIYAH SHELTER BOMBING
By an Iraqi of known reliability to Radio Free Iraq, whose name is withheld to protect the family.
The bombing of the air-raid shelter in the Baghdad suburb of Al-Amiriyah has been called the biggest blunder of the Allied air campaign during the 1991 Gulf War. But was it? For despite all the accusations and recriminations, there still remains a story to be told about that fateful early morning of February 13th: an eyewitness account of what really happened in the days leading up to the attack and its immediate aftermath. An Iraqi exile and his son who lived in that western suburb of the Iraqi capital, less than half a mile away from the shelter, have for the first time spoken about what they saw. This is their story.
The coalition air campaign against Baghdad began at around 2:30 a.m. on 17 January, and to many Iraqis it seemed that the heavens had opened up to reveal a window into hell. Many citizens of Baghdad, believing that the entire city was a valid target for the expected waves of attacking aircraft, had fled the city to sit out the war with friends or relatives in the smaller and less important towns and villages of Iraq. The result was, as dawn broke on that first morning, Al-Amiriyah looked like a ghost town; except for the few families who had decided to stay put, most of the homes and streets were deserted. Others chose to stay at home, believing that any real danger was to those houses located near a government installation.
But some were having second thoughts. The sheer intensity of the bombing was enough to make most people, particularly the women, worry about their families. This was also true at the Al-Baghdadi (not their real family name) home. So on the morning of the 18 January, two of their women decided to walk over to the shelter that was a mere few blocks away, to see what the procedures were for using it. Was it open around the clock, or only when the sirens began to wail? Were there enough mattresses and blankets available? Practical, reasonable questions.
Armed guards stopped the two women as they approached the building. They were surprised that even in Iraq one had to justify approaching an air-raid shelter, but they asked their questions anyway. The reply was a sarcastic smile and, in an admonishing tone: "This is a special shelter. Ordinary citizens are not allowed in here." (The Arabic word "khass" actually combines the meanings of "special," "private," and maybe even "exclusive"). They returned home, told the rest of us what had happened, and we all agreed rather fatalistically that it was probably "all for the best."
As the days went by and the air campaign raged on, we gradually realized that the countless strikes were indeed being carried out with "surgical precision." Those of us who had had the foresight to bury a few jerry cans of gasoline in the garden were able to venture out, to have a look and to see if we could find some shops or bakeries open. We often stopped near the shelter that stood across a narrow side street from a mosque and its surrounding perimeter of small shops to see what we could find. Throughout the rest of January and early February, the shelter remained under guard and we never saw anybody entering or leaving it.
One day in early February, when our gasoline cache had begun to dwindle, my son and I walked over to see what the shops had on offer. We witnessed a strange sight: cables were being laid from a source we never determined toward the shelter. Neither electrical cables, nor phone cables. This cable was smaller in diameter than most, and it lacked the limp "sag" of ordinary cable. A closer look revealed that it was fiberoptic cable, made by Siemens. A small crowd had formed to have a look, and the crew told them that they were laying new telephone lines for the whole neighborhood; (the entire Baghdad phone system had been knocked out -- or shut down -- in the early days of the air campaign). My son and I exchanged glances and we moved on. It's never healthy to be too curious or express an opinion about anything in Saddam Husayn's Iraq, but we certainly didn't believe the story about the new phone lines.
Not many days later -- around 9 or 10 February -- the local Ba'ath Party organization began sending out its people to all the homes in the area. The teams of canvassers -- usually a man and a woman -- visited each and every house in the vicinity, exhorting the residents to seek the safety of the Al-Amiriyah shelter and pointing out that the attacking aircraft were becoming more desperate and more dangerous. Not only was the shelter safe, it also had its own electricity generator and we could all watch TV and the women could even blow-dry their hair. "Come on," they said, "we are all here to serve you and to make sure you are safe!" Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I was never a Ba'ath Party member and thus never belonged to the Baghdad elite, but I had friends and relatives who had clawed their way to the upper echelons of the regime. That's how I learned of the bitter dilemma facing Husayn since the very first night of the air campaign. He was beside himself with rage and frustration at the lack of civilian casualties. He knew full well that he was no match for the coalition and that his only hope lay in showing the whole world the extent of the brutality to which his hapless population was being subjected to by President George Bush and his allies. The only way for him to do that was to be able to show -- on worldwide television -- countless scenes of civilian casualties. As the air campaign wore on it became absolutely clear to him that this was not going to happen. Broken bodies were what he needed, and broken bodies he would have, by the hundred, one way or another.
The shelter was struck at around 4:30 a.m. on 13 February. I was in the kitchen boiling water for some coffee and the force of the blast almost swept me off my feet. It wasn't a loud bang, but it definitely shook the ground. I thought at first it was Saddam's compound near the airport that had been hit yet again, but it did seem to be a lot closer than that. It wasn't until after daybreak when people started moving around on the streets that we heard the news about the shelter. My son and I walked over to have a look.
There was smoke coming out of a hole in the roof, and a small crowd had gathered on the side of the building that faced the mosque -- which showed no signs of damage except its shattered windows. The door to the shelter had apparently been broken down by rescuers, who were coming out in pairs, each pair carrying a blanket wrapped around what we assumed were bodies. Judging by the size and shape of each blanket's contents, it was obvious that none of them contained complete bodies. The crowd stood in stunned silence watching the heap of blankets grow, except for one old woman who was running back and forth screaming at a poster of Husayn: "It's what we get for all the singing and dancing we've done for you. It's all because of you!" The few party and security men whom we recognized didn't say a word. The atmosphere was such that they would have been torn to pieces had they tried to subdue the woman or otherwise try to establish their authority.
My son and I moved away and turned the corner towards the rear of the building on our way back home. But what we stumbled onto kept us there a while longer. The rear wall had also been breached, and other bodies were being pulled out, this time from the second underground level of the shelter. These were the bodies of military officers (I counted three colonels among them). They were all intact, showing only signs of burning, but they were left lying on the ground. At that moment, a line of hearses pulled up to the rear of the shelter -- a highly unusual sight in a Muslim country. Anyway, the hearses were not there to remove the victims. Instead they were then loaded with aluminum cases -- the kind usually associated with expensive, fragile, sensitive equipment -- dozens of them. As each hearse was filled, it quietly backed out and drove away in the least used direction.
I don't know what those cases contained, but they were in a big hurry to get them away, before the orchestrated media event started. The bodies of the officers were the last to be removed -- in ordinary ambulances.
Was the Al-Amiriyah bomb shelter a helpless civilian target? Of course not. It never even played its role as a gathering place until the third or fourth week of the war. Was the second underground level a command-and-control center, as the allied command insisted? I am not in a position to give an expert opinion, but I would say that it suddenly became convenient to make one in a very safe location. Better yet, if its' true function were to be discovered by the allies, making it a legitimate military target, it would be full of innocent civilians who would become the several hundred bodies Husayn so badly needed.
* This article was first aired on 13 February 2001, the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, and again on 14 February 2003 on Radio Free Iraq.