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Iraq Report: March 21, 2003


21 March 2003, Volume 6, Number 12

NOTE TO READERS:
A Review of the Arab Press for 21 March is available on the "War in Iraq" website (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis/).
INSIDE IRAQ
IRAQI PRESIDENT CHAIRS MEETING. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein chaired a meeting with his advisers on the evening of 20 March, Iraq Television reported on the same day. The meeting reportedly addressed military and political measures, and was attended by Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Hikmat Ibrahim al-Azzawi, Deputy Prime Minister and Military Industrialization Minister Abd al-Tawwab al-Mulla Huwaysh, Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf, acting Oil Minister Amir Muhammad Rashid, Defense Minister Staff General Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, and Latif Nusayyif Jasim, member of the Iraq Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

WHAT THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT TOLD THE NATION. Iraq Radio broadcast an Iraqi Armed Forces General Command communique on 20 March detailing the first hours of battle with U.S.-led coalition forces. The general command reported that coalition missiles hit several government buildings, houses, and shops in Baghdad and its suburbs, and fired 72 cruise missiles. The Iraqis claimed that a number of the missiles were shot down by Iraq "before reaching their target." The communique added that coalition forces attempted to "penetrate" Iraqi borders around Al-Nukhayb (in western Iraq, northeast of the Ar'ar border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and Akashat (close to the Syrian border in western Iraq). The communique said Iraqi missiles targeted the Al-Dawhah (west of Kuwait City), the Ali Al-Salim Air Base (west of Al-Dawhah), and the Al-Shuwaykh Port (the main commercial port in Kuwait). The communique reported that four "mujahedin fighters" were killed, and one officer and five "fighters" were wounded. "Our armed forces and courageous Ba'ath Party vanguards, in splendid cooperation and creative military performance, confronted the invader forces that uselessly tried to penetrate our borders." The communique vowed that invading forces "will know what fate they will face at the hands of Iraq's soldiers and men, who will deal to them devastating and crushing blows." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI INFORMATION AND INTERIOR MINISTERS BRIEF REPORTERS, SAY PRESIDENT ESCAPED ATTACK. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf and Interior Minister Mahmud Dhiyab al-Ahmad briefed reporters in Baghdad at 1:00 p.m. local time on 21 March, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Sahhaf confirmed that U.S. planes targeted a house belonging to the family of President Hussein, but insisted that Hussein escaped unhurt. He asserted that "international law does not apply to the invading forces," calling U.S.-led coalition troops "mercenaries" and "war criminals," and hinting that they would be treated as such -- presumably suggesting that Iraq might not adhere to international conventions related to the treatment of prisoners of war. Al-Sahhaf also denied that video reports of Iraqi soldiers surrendering being played in the international media are fabricated and insisted that no Iraqi soldiers have surrendered. Al-Ahmad told the press that he had spoken with an official in Umm Qasr, Iraq's sole deep-water port, and "confirmed" that coalition forces had not entered the area. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 21 March that U.S. marines raised the U.S. flag over the new port area in Umm Qasr, and British troops secured the Al-Faw Peninsula, according to CNN. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PRESIDENTIAL STATEMENT CONDEMNS 'ACCURSED ACTIONS.' Iraq Television read a statement attributed to Saddam Hussein at 11:00 p.m. local time on 20 March in which the Iraqi president cites his country's ability "to hold onto right against falsehood" as U.S.-led forces invade his country. The statement addressed the United States and coalition forces, saying: "What have you found after you sunk in your sick, devilish imagination that led your friends, accursed be they, to say that the Iraqi Army and people will receive your aggression and the armies carrying out your orders by chanting and dancing with over-excitement? Or, have you seen and heard what Almighty God promised us and the mujahedin -- the power to hold onto right against falsehood to inflict disgrace on the criminals? What will you tell your people and humanity after all the crimes you committed and those you intend to commit?" The statement ended with Hussein remarking, "May you be accursed and may your actions fail." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI LEADER OFFERS 'CASH AWARDS' TO FIGHTERS. President Hussein has offered cash rewards to "stalwart Iraqi fighters" who are successful in shooting down enemy aircraft or in capturing or killing coalition forces, according to a 21 March announcement read on Iraq Satellite Channel Television. The awards range from 10 million Iraqi dinars ($3,300) to 100 million dinars. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KURDS, OPPOSITION SUPPORT FEDERAL STATE FOR IRAQ. According to Interfax on 17 March, Latif Rashid, a member of the Iraqi National Congress's Central Committee, said in Moscow that both Kurdish organizations and the Iraqi opposition support the idea of Iraq as a federal state. Rashid said further: "We have made a case on this issue [during consultations] at the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russian diplomats supported [our idea] and agreed that Iraq should become a federal, free, and independent state." He also accused Baghdad of failing to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction. (David Nissman)

SCIRI TROOPS MARCH THROUGH NORTHERN IRAQ. Hundreds of fighters belonging to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) forces in northern Iraq put on a show of force with their leadership vowing to act independently of the United States, AFP reported on 16 March. During a parade by the Al-Badr Brigade, the armed wing of SCIRI, the group's number two said his army would move quickly to secure areas captured from the Iraqi regime in the hours following a U.S. assault. The commander of the Al-Badr troops, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, said that Al-Badr was going to provide on the ground security and, with regard to field actions, was not going to coordinate these with Washington. The Al-Badr Brigade is believed to number 10,000-15,000 men and is based near Darbandikhan, 45 kilometers south of Al-Sulaymaniyah. (David Nissman)

REGIONAL NEWS
A TURKISH-KURDISH COMPROMISE? U.S. officials participated in a meeting with their Turkish counterparts and with Iraqi opposition groups on the eve of U.S.-led attacks on Iraq that highlight the Bush administration's efforts to facilitate improved relations between Turkey and Kurdish leaders.

Iraqi opposition groups wrapped up that meeting on 19 March, agreeing on a set of principal objectives on any post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. The objectives include the construction of a "fully representative and democratic government," and the preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity. Regarding the issue of internally displaced persons, the participants agreed that all reparation claims would be addressed through a commission that will be established "for a legal and organized process to address the restitution of homes seized previously by the Iraqi regime, and other claims." The participants called on Iraqi citizens not to take the law into their own hands or to incite internal discord. Participants also agreed that the Iraqi military would be restructured to include the reintegration of all militia organizations, including forces that now operate under the command of the Iraqi opposition.

The opposition participants to the Ankara meeting included the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), The Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM), the Iraqi National Accord (INA), The Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Iraqi Turkoman Front (ITF), the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

The meeting was a clear attempt by the U.S. administration to usher in better relations between Turkey and the Kurds on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Turkey has been quite vocal in recent months over the possibility that Kurds might seek to establish an independent state in northern Iraq in a post-Hussein era -- the Kurds, meanwhile, have denied any intention of doing so. Turkey insisted that it has an interest in the area because of the ethnic Turks -- known as Turkomans -- who live there. In addition, Turkey has hinted that it has historical claims to areas of northern Iraq, including oil-rich Mosul and Kirkuk, dating back to the 1920 Treaty of Lausanne (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 January 2003).

Turkey's insistence that it would enter northern Iraqi areas in an effort to protect the Turkomans and presumably "maintain order" (prevent the possibility of a Kurdish political separation) evoked an outcry from the Kurds, who have their own long history of friction with their northern neighbor. The Kurds have experienced relative autonomy for years under the protection of the United States in the northern no-fly zone, which protects northern Iraq, incidentally, from the Incirlik air base in Turkey. Neither the Kurds nor the U.S. government, it seems, were keen on the idea of Turkish intervention.

The United States, however, recognized the concerns of its Turkish ally vis-a-vis the Kurds (Turkey has its own Kurdish population to deal with), and appeared to make several attempts in recent weeks to placate these concerns, all the while trying to secure additional basing rights for U.S. troops to launch an offensive against Iraq. For their part, Kurdish leaders have warned Turkey not to enter northern Iraq, interpreting a possible entrance as a hostile act. PUK Prime Minister Barham Salih held talks with Turkish officials on 7 March, telling reporters afterward that Turkey promised to him that it would not invade northern Iraq in the event of a war.

Speaking about the 18 March meeting of U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Turkish and Kurdish officials, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a press conference on 19 March that U.S. officials had been in Turkey for nearly a week. "We [the U.S.] have had a number of discussions with the Turkish government about the situation in Iraq, particularly with regard to northern Iraq," he said. "We have made clear to them, as we have made clear to all others, that we oppose any unilateral moves into northern Iraq." Boucher said of the tripartite meetings, "These discussions, I think, have brought us forward into a considerable amount of understanding of the future of Iraq as we see it together.

Khalilzad told journalists in Ankara on 18 March that he did not believe that Turkish troops would enter northern Iraq alone, adding that discussions focused rather on alternatives to prevent such an occurrence, Anadolu Agency reported the same day. The alternatives reportedly include Turkish-Kurdish cooperation regarding refugees and fighting terrorism. An Iraqi representative for the KDP, Nechirvan Barzani, told reporters that the Kurds requested that Turkey permit international aid agencies to enter the area to assist in accommodating a possible refugee crisis. Barzani added that the KDP reiterated to the Turks that they considered Turkish soldiers as "friendly" but remained opposed to any intervention at this time, "Anatolia" reported on 20 March.

However, the Turkish National Assembly approved a motion granting overflight rights to U.S. forces on 20 March, "Anatolia" reported on the same day. The motion also provides for the deployment of Turkish forces across its border. It is unlikely however, that Turkish troops would do so outside the scope of an agreed upon plan between the U.S., Turkey and Kurdish leaders reached on 19 March. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM PUTS PAID TO TEHRAN'S DIPLOMACY. Tehran's immediate official reaction to Operation Iraqi Freedom, which commenced on 20 March, was a statement from Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi saying that "American military operations on Iraq are unjustifiable and illegitimate," according to a Foreign Ministry statement cited by IRNA. Later in the day Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei referred to Iraq during a gathering for the Shi'a feast of Id al-Qadir (the anniversary of the day when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his cousin Ali to succeed him) and said, "The major powers of the world are proud to be bullies, to be aggressors," state radio reported. Khamenei described the attack on Iraq as "a 100 percent beastly move."

Such statements reflect Tehran's skepticism about U.S. motives and its geopolitical concerns. They may also reflect bitterness over the failure of Tehran's last minute diplomatic efforts to prevent a conflict. Nevertheless, such diplomatic are continuing.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud al-Faysal on 18 March greeted Kharrazi when he arrived in Jeddah, IRNA reported. Kharrazi met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah Bin-Abd al-Aziz al-Saud and the foreign minister to discuss the possible U.S. attack against Iraq. "What is happening in the region is to safeguard the interests of Israel," Kharrazi said during a meeting with his counterpart. He added, "Unfortunately the gap between the Islamic countries is so wide and the Iraqi regime is responsible for this by sowing the seed of discord among Islamic states through imposing a war on Iran."

Kharrazi visited Sana'a on 17 March, met with President Field Marshal Ali Abdallah Salih and Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qurbi, and expressed Tehran's opposition to a U.S. attack against Iraq, IRNA reported on the same day and the Yemeni Saba news agency reported on 18 September. Kharrazi added that the Iraq crisis represents an American effort to divert attention from Palestine, Iranian state radio reported.

Kharrazi is not the only concerned and active Iranian diplomat. Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati was tasked as President Mohammad Khatami's special envoy and sent eastward. Velayati visited Jakarta on 18 March and delivered a message from Khatami to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Iranian state radio reported. Velayati said, "The attack on Iraq will start a new phase of international disorder and it will threaten world security and weaken the role of the UN as well." Megawati concurred on the need to resolve the Iraq crisis under UN auspices.

Velayati arrived in Islamabad on 19 March, IRNA reported. The Iranian state news agency had reported three days earlier that Velayati was to discuss the Iraq crisis with Pakistani officials and to relay a message from President Khatami to General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan is currently one of the nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council, and Velayati said on 19 March that "Iran and Pakistan have been consulting and coordinating at different world fora such as the UN, OIC, and NAM."

Iranian efforts did not stop after Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Velayati arrived in New Delhi on 20 March, IRNA reported, bearing a message for Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with whom he is scheduled to meet on 21 March to discuss events in Iraq. Moreover, Kharrazi on 20 March chaired a meeting of the Foreign Ministry's "Iraq Crisis Headquarters," IRNA reported.

These diplomatic efforts are in line with Tehran's stated policy of "active neutrality." Khamenei's anti-American statements, meanwhile, reflect Iranian hard-liners' long-standing antipathy to the United States, as well as Tehran's geopolitical concern of being surrounded by the U.S. and its allies. (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN RADIO SAYS BAGHDAD COUNTERING U.S. 'PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE.' Baghdad is repeatedly changing its radio frequencies in an effort to counter "America's psychological and propaganda warfare," Tehran radio reported in the hours after the United States launched an attack on Iraq on 20 March. Iran's IRNA later cited Iraqi dissident sources as saying that Baghdad has both fixed and mobile radio stations for this purpose. American Commando Solo II missions are broadcast from Pennsylvania Air National Guard EC-130E aircraft on AM, FM, and other frequencies. Tehran radio added that the United States started broadcasting on the Radio Baghdad frequencies soon after the attack commenced, so Al-Shabab, Baghdad, and Sawt al-Jamahiriyah radios have changed their frequencies. An early announcement from Tehran radio, citing Reuters, said the U.S. Army had taken control of the Iraqi frequencies, with an Arabic-speaking announcer stating, "The attack on Iraq has begun." (Bill Samii)

MUJAHEDIN-E KHALQ EXPLORES OPTIONS. The analyst of Iranian politics Mahan Abedine published a thinkpiece in the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin of February/March 2003 on recent activities of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MKO) as it tries to explore its options in the event of an American invasion of Iraq. In June 2002 the leader of the MKO, Massoud Rajavi, held a secret meeting attended by some 6,000 people at which he spoke of the inevitability of an American invasion. Rajavi said that the MKO had three options: voluntarily withdrawing from Iraq, preemptively attacking Iran, or assisting the Iraqi regime against invading American forces.

It is clear that a mass exodus of MKO members from Iraq is not feasible, according to Abedin. While some 200-300 MKO operatives have been exfiltrated from Iraq via Jordan, and several high-ranking MKO officials, such as the head of MKO army intelligence Mahnaz Bazazi, have already fled the country, Abedin says that an MKO delegation recently toured European capitals searching for a safe haven for Rajavi and his family. It is not likely that any European country will offer political asylum to MKO leaders for fear of offending Iran

Abedin said that "informed sources" will launch an attack into Iran either just before or after the American invasion. This force of 4,000 soldiers, is expected to be butchered when it tries to cross the border, but it is claimed that this mass "martyrdom" would serve political objectives: in the short term it would deflect attention from the flight of the MKO's senior leaders, and in the long term it could be used by the organization's propagandists to justify the MKO's establishing itself in Iraq in the 1980s.

Iraqi Kurdish media have reported that a large MKO force has been deployed around Kirkuk. And Kurdish and Iranian newspapers have reported that MKO units have been deployed in Ba'ath Party facilities in several key Iraqi cities.

The MKO has also been implicated in Iraq's concealment of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Abedin cites evidence going back to 1991 on MKO efforts to conceal Saddam's WMD. (David Nissman)

BAHRAIN OFFERS EXILE TO IRAQI PRESIDENT. Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has offered asylum to Saddam Hussein, the "Bahrain Tribune" website reported on 20 March (http://www.bahraintribune.com/). King Hamad made the offer during an emergency cabinet session on 19 March, saying, "The alternative to war and destruction is that the Iraqi president passes on the ruling responsibilities to sides who can handle the situation in a way that preserves Iraq's dignity and the Iraqi president's status," adding, "Bahrain, as the second home to all Arabs, is ready to host Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should he wish to live here in all dignity and respect without this in any way undermining Iraq's capacities and status," King Hamad said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT BACKS USE OF FORCE TO DISARM IRAQ. The Afghan government on 19 March expressed backing for the United States in its effort to disarm Iraq, Radio Free Afghanistan reported the same day. A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Kabul, issued roughly 12 hours before the expiration of U.S. President George W. Bush's 48-hour ultimatum demanding that President Hussein and his sons leave Iraq, said the use of force is justified because the Iraqi leader "does not seem to have complied with all UN demands to fully disarm and eliminate all weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in due time." The statement added that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved and that the Iraqi people must control their destiny under a democratic system. The Afghan Foreign Ministry further urged the U.S.-led coalition forces to put special measures in place for the protection of civilians in the event of war in Iraq. The statement concluded by wishing the Iraqi people peace and security. (Amin Tarzi)

THE UN AND IRAQ
ANNAN PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR IRAQI PEOPLE. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a videotaped statement on 20 March pledging that the UN would do its best to provide assistance and support to the Iraqi people, the UN News Center reported on the same day. Annan called on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law in the conflict. The secretary-general expressed regret that the situation had deteriorated into a military conflict, stating, "Perhaps if we has persevered a little longer, Iraq could yet have been disarmed peacefully, or -- if not -- the world could have taken action to solve this problem by a collective decision, endowing it with greater legitimacy, and therefore commanding wider support than is the case now." Annan called on states to work towards forging a stronger unity in the future. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
NATO STRENGTHENS RULES OF ENGAGEMENT FOR NATO FORCES IN TURKEY. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson issued a statement on the NATO website (http://www.nato.int/) in Brussels on 20 March in which said the NATO Defense Planning Committee approved amendments to strengthen the rules of engagement for NATO forces in Turkey in light of the military conflict in neighboring Iraq. "These rules will ensure our forces can effectively carry out their mission, whatever the circumstances," Robertson stated. He said NATO's deployments are for "purely defensive measures," adding, "If there is any attack on Turkey, NATO will fulfill its obligations under the Washington treaty," which includes a clause defining an attack on one member as an attack on all members. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

WHITE HOUSE RELEASES NAMES OF ADDITIONAL COALITION MEMBERS. The White House released the names of additional states that have publicly jointed the "coalition of the willing" to disarm and oust President Hussein, according to a 20 March statement on the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov/). Newly listed states include: Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Kuwait, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Palau, Portugal, Rwanda, Singapore, Solomon Islands, and Uganda. The U.S. State Department released a list of 30 countries it considered part of the coalition on 18 March, including a number of postcommunist states, Spain, Italy, Japan, Turkey, and the Netherlands, among others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPEAN COUNCIL ISSUES STATEMENT. The website of the European Union's Greek presidency (http://www.eu2003.gr) on 20 March issued a "statement on Iraq" on the occasion of the union's Spring European Council 2003. The statement noted that the EU is committed to the territorial integrity, sovereignty, stability, and full disarmament of Iraq. It called on the UN to play a "central role during and after the current crisis" and committed the EU to assist in meeting the humanitarian needs in Iraq, adding, "We support the UN secretary-general's proposal that the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people can continue to be met through the 'oil-for-food' program." The entire statement can be viewed on the Greek presidency's website. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. CONFISCATES IRAQI ASSETS, URGES INTERNATIONAL FREEZE ON HUSSEIN'S HOLDINGS. U.S. President Bush issued an executive order on 20 March confiscating all nondiplomatic Iraqi assets in the United States and determining that they be used to provide humanitarian assistance in a post-Hussein Iraq, according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/orders/). Iraqi assets in the United States have been frozen since the 1991 Gulf War. The U.S. State Department (http://www.state.gov/) released a statement by U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, whose department is charged with overseeing the management of the Iraqi funds. "The United States calls today upon the world to identify and freeze all assets of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi regime, and their agents pursuant to established international obligations," Snow said, adding, "The success of economic sanctions requires international cooperation and effective enforcement." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RUSSIAN GENERALS ANALYZE IRAQ CAMPAIGN. Nikolai Kovalev (Fatherland-All Russia), deputy chairman of the Russian Duma's Defense Committee and a former director of the country's Federal Security Service, said on 20 March that the United States opted against a massive air attack against Iraq because the military operation is viewed so negatively by world public opinion, Russian broadcaster ORT reported. Therefore, U.S. planners chose limited and precisely targeted attacks. Kovalev said that he is not persuaded by U.S. claims that tactics were changed at the last moment because the CIA allegedly received precise information about the whereabouts of President Hussein. Such information, he said, would have had to have been checked and rechecked, and there simply was no time to do so, Kovalev said.

Major General Vladimir Slipchenko, a noted military analyst, commented that the U.S. military is a full technological generation ahead of the rest of the world, including Russia, ORT reported on 20 March. Slipchenko said this advantage should enable the United States to conduct a "contactless" war, meaning that it will be able to destroy the Iraqi military at considerable distances and largely avoid direct contact. Slipchenko also said that the Iraqi military's greatest weakness is its senior commanders. Under any totalitarian regime, he said, there is a lack of people who are able to think independently and creatively.

Major General Aleksandr Vladimirov, vice president of the Russian government's Military Expert Collegium, said the United States demonstrated its striking military superiority during its campaigns in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and, now, Iraq. These demonstrations have "frightened many countries," which are now making intense efforts to boost their military strength. Russia, Vladimirov said, still has one unique advantage in that it can still destroy the United States within 20 minutes with a massive nuclear strike, ORT reported on 20 March. (Victor Yasmann)

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER ADDRESSES COUNTRY. British Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed his country on 20 March, saying British forces "are engaged from air, land, and sea" in the military campaign to unseat President Hussein and disarm Iraq, according to the 10 Downing Street website (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/). Blair said that he gave the order on 18 March for British forces to engage in military action in Iraq. "Their mission [is] to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," he said. Blair told the British people that the world is under threat from "disorder and chaos born either of brutal states like Iraq...or extreme terrorist groups." Blair added that intelligence reports led him to fear collaboration between such regimes and terrorist groups that might "come together and deliver catastrophe to our country and world." He said the choice is clear: "Back down and leave Saddam hugely strengthened; or proceed to disarm him by force. Retreat might give us a moment of respite, but years of repentance at our weakness would, I believe, follow." Blair won parliamentary backing for a military attack on Iraq on 19 March (see "Iraq: Blair Wins Parliament Backing For War," rferl.org, 19 March 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 'WAR IS NOT THE SOLUTION.' French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin addressed the French Senate on 20 March, reiterating his country's position that war in Iraq is not the solution to resolving the Iraqi disarmament crisis, France 3 Television reported on the same day. "France rejects this action. We regret it because it does not have United Nations backing. We regret it because another path was possible. The wish of most members of the [UN] Security Council was to continue the inspections, which were producing results," Villepin said. The foreign minister added that France intends to participate in international humanitarian efforts in Iraq, saying, "We also hope that this mobilization will be carried out in close consultations with the European Union, which must resolutely participate in the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance."

Meanwhile the French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau said in a weekly press conference that France was ready to provide assistance to its allies in the region, should those states come under threat, AFP reported on 20 March. "In the event that the American or allied forces were faced with a chemical or biological attack, France would assess the situation in a spirit of friendship and solidarity," Bureau said. France has defense agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, according to AFP. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS WAR IS 'WORST OF ALL SOLUTIONS.' German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer addressed the Bundestag on 20 March, stating, "This is a sad day," Phoenix television reported on the same day. Fischer added that he believed there was a peaceful alternative to war, stating, "I am firmly convinced, both personally and politically, that we [in the Security Council] had the opportunity to peacefully and comprehensively disarm Iraq and to eliminate the danger posed by weapons of mass destruction." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DEPLORES U.S. RESORT TO 'LAW OF THE FIST' IN IRAQ. In a statement responding to the onset of U.S.-led military operations against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, President Vladimir Putin said on 20 March that Washington has made "a big political mistake," and insisted on the quickest possible cessation of hostilities, Russian news agencies reported. Putin deplored the idea that "international law is being replaced by the law of the fist and the principle that the strongest are always right." He added that Iraq poses no danger to the international community, and said that Russia's policy will be "to return the crisis to a peaceful track and to search for a solution to the Iraq problem based on UN resolutions." He said that he has already received reports of casualties and damage in Iraq. (Victor Yasmann)

LEADING ECONOMIST PREDICTS STABILIZATION OF OIL PRICES... Leonid Grigorev, director of Moscow-based Expert Institute and formerly World Bank director from Russia, said that the war in Iraq will alter the nature of the global economy, RTR reported on 20 March. He said that he does not believe, as many analysts do, that world oil prices will fall to $12-$14 a barrel. This would not be in the interests of the OPEC countries or of consumers, because if the price falls too low, the incentive to conserve energy will be undermined. Grigorev said that prices should stabilize at about $20 a barrel, which is the optimal price for both the United States and OPEC and will help maintain global economic and political equilibrium. (Victor Yasmann)

...AS RUSSIAN COMPANIES WRITE OFF THEIR ASSETS IN IRAQ. Russian businessmen who left Iraq in recent days handed over their assets to members of the Iraqi regime and have no hope that they will ever recover them, strana.ru reported on 19 March. Representatives of LUKoil, Zarubezhneft, and Mashinoimport -- which have the largest presences in Iraq -- have written off their losses and said that although their property in Iraq is partially insured, it will be extremely difficult to collect damages if the regime in Baghdad is changed. (Victor Yasmann)

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER ADDRESSES THE COUNTRY ABOUT IRAQ. In a televised speech on 19 March that was posted on the government's official website (http://www.government.bg), Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski iterated his government's support for U.S.-led efforts to disarm Iraq. He also explained once again parliament's decision to authorize Bulgaria's participation in the so-called coalition of the willing. Saxecoburggotski said Bulgaria has used all diplomatic channels to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but that those efforts have failed. "The conclusion is that Iraq has refused to disarm in response to the will of the international community and itself opted for the serious consequences of its own behavior," Saxecoburggotski said. "The actions undertaken by Bulgaria are in pursuance of the political decision of the National Assembly on 7 February 2003.... That decision clearly stated the parameters of our support in pursuance of [UN Security Council Resolution] 1441: transit, temporary deployment of aircraft, and the sending of Bulgarian [anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical] troops on a defensive and humanitarian mission to a country neighboring Iraq." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE CANNOT ACCEPT WAR ON IRAQ. In a televised address to the parliament published on his official website (http://www.president.bg), President Georgi Parvanov said on 20 March that he considers the war on Iraq unacceptable, as it is weakening the United Nations because it was started without a UN Security Council resolution. Parvanov said in the future it will be difficult for Bulgaria to defend national interests within the framework of the UN, the EU, and NATO. He also queried whether the decision to participate in the U.S.-led anti-Iraq coalition was legitimized by the 7 February parliamentary decision. "We have been part of a [process of exerting] forceful pressure, but this does not necessarily mean that we will also become part of the military, forceful solution," Parvanov said, adding that Bulgaria must make clear that it cannot share political responsibility for a war that is not legitimized by the UN. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

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