25 March 2003, Volume
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IRAQI PRESIDENT SPEAKS TO NATION.
Iraq Satellite Television and international media carried footage of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein addressing the Iraqi people and military personnel on 24 March. It was unclear whether the speech was live or prerecorded. Although Hussein speaks about the current war and appears to make references in his speech to key battle areas, there are no explicit references that verify his appearance was current.
Hussein said the United States and Britain "have daily tried to undermine [Iraqi] responsiveness with new pretexts since the cease-fire in 1991 and up to the war that has started now once again, on a broad scale, not to mention the embargo." He also referred to a ground invasion, saying the "battles" were unlike those conducted in 1991, when coalition forces placed more reliance on air attacks. "Wherever they conducted an incursion into our territories, leaving the desert behind them, they are embroiled. They will find Iraqis surrounding them, directing their gunfire at them." Heavy on religious rhetoric, Hussein repeatedly said the Iraqi people will "achieve a clear and final victory" based on their reliance on God.
The "reappearance" of the Iraqi leader was followed by state media reports of meetings held by Hussein on 24 March. Iraq-based The Voice of Youth Radio reported that Hussein held a meeting with a member of the Iraqi Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party (ASBP), Aziz Salih al-Numan, and Qusay Hussein, son of the Iraqi president and head of the Republican Guard. The radio station is run by Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Saddam Hussein. Iraq Television reported that Hussein met with another member of the Iraqi Command of the ASBP, Yahya al-Ubudi, who is reportedly in charge of the Al-Basrah organizations of the ASBP and "assistant to the commander of the Southern Region in the governorate." Qusay Hussein also reportedly attended the meeting. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT CRITICIZES UN SECRETARY-GENERAL.
Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan criticized UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan during a Baghdad press conference on 23 March, Al-Jazeera reported. Ramadan accused Annan of doing the bidding of the United States and Britain by withdrawing UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) observers from the Iraq-Kuwait border on 17-18 March, as well as UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspectors from Iraq on 18 March. "With his behavior, the UN secretary-general has not acted within the spirit and atmosphere prevailing over the UN Security Council or what most of the UN Security Council believes. He acts as if he is an employee of the U.S. State Department," Ramadan said.
The Iraqi vice president also criticized Annan for a proposal the latter presented, and which the UN Security Council began considering on 22 March, that includes the appointment of Annan as administrator of the UN oil-for-food program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2003). Regarding the move, Ramadan said Annan "started to act in a way that contradicts all laws, norms, and charters of the organization of which he is secretary-general." (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER SAYS IRAQ WILL ABIDE BY GENEVA CONVENTIONS.
Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf told a press conference on 24 March that Iraq will abide by the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Sahhaf said the decision was made to do so despite images of Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs) shown in the Western press in recent days. "We completely abide by the Geneva Convention. It is they [coalition forces] who should abide by it," al-Sahhaf said, adding, "They showed footage of Iraqi civilians and lied to us by saying that they are members of the Iraqi Army and that they are Iraqi soldiers.... As a matter of fact, they treated Iraqi civilians very badly. They aimed their weapons at the Iraqi civilians' heads and threatened to open fire on them." Al-Sahhaf claimed the images of coalition captives broadcast on Iraqi television were an interview by local reporters. "What the television showed was not an investigation. There were local reporters in Dhi Qar, including the Iraqi TV correspondent. Iraqi TV's general channel, as shown by the logo, was there and they asked the POWs what cities they came from and so forth," al-Sahhaf said. He accused U.S. officials of "shedding crocodile tears" over the broadcast. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI GENERAL COMMAND ISSUES FIFTH COMMUNIQUE.
The Iraqi Armed Forces General Command issued "military communique No. 5" detailing military activities on 23-24 March, Iraq Television reported on 24 March. The communique claims that Iraqi forces inflicted huge equipment and weapons losses on coalition forces in Al-Najaf, and that the Al-Minded forces of Iraq's 11th Division inflicted a "large number of casualties" and destroyed several tanks, weapons, and equipment in an undisclosed location. It reports that forces in Al-Faw caused so many coalition casualties that "the enemy was forced to summon a medical ship to evacuate the dead and wounded," adding, "God bless our valiant navy fighters." The communique also reports that Iraq's 5th Mechanized Division (Muhammad al-Qasim Forces) "lay in wait" for coalition forces west of the Sa'd Airport (Khan Bani Sa'd), where it destroyed four tanks and two armored vehicles and inflicted human losses on coalition troops.
In the Al-Muthanna Governorate, the General Command claimed, the Al-Quds Army forced coalition troops to retreat, again inflicting "huge human and equipment" losses. The Saddam Deaden, a paramilitary force founded by Saddam's son, Uday, and deeply loyal to the regime, has inflicted the most damage and "caused panic," according to the communique, by destroying 11 tanks around Al-Basrah, capturing a U.S. corporal, killing two U.S. soldiers, among other activities. The communique claimed 32 "lethal [Al-Tariq] missile attacks" and the downing of an Apache helicopter gunship in the Karbala Governorate and two "enemy drones" in an undisclosed location. The casualty figures provided in the communique in most cases have not been confirmed by U.S. or U.K. sources. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON CRISIS.
Al-Jazeera television broadcast a 24 March news conference by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in which he alleged the U.S. and Britain are trying to revive a colonialist past in Iraq, adding that statements by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.S. Congress about U.S. intentions of "reshaping the region" are proof of this intention. He stressed that Iraqi troops fighting in the south are not Republican Guard forces, as reported in the international media, but rather "ordinary army brigades." Aziz also addressed rumors that a speech given by Iraqi President Hussein and aired on Iraq Television on 24 March was not in fact, the president, saying, "Imagine that the leader does not appear at a critical and dangerous time for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government." Regarding media and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reports that Iraqi forces are presenting small pockets of resistance, Aziz said this was the best way to "resist the invaders," adding, "You should not expect our officers, who are very efficient, experienced, and competent, to appear in front of the U.S. and British armies in long columns in broad daylight so as to be easily killed and hunted down by enemy aircraft and artillery. They fight in their own way." (Kathleen Ridolfo)A BATTLE FOR THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF IRAQIS?
As the Iraqi regime battles U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, they are not only scurrying to refute CENTCOM and international media reports on Iraqi desertions and civilian responses to the advance of troops, but they are launching their own campaign championing the efforts of "ordinary Iraqi citizens," who allegedly are joining Iraqi forces in defending the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi Information Minister al-Sahhaf told the 25 March briefing in Baghdad that the "shock and awe" strategy of coalition forces has backfired after being confronted by Iraqis receiving them with "bombs, shoes, and bullets." He added that an Iraqi woman destroyed an armored personnel carrier with a rocket-propelled grenade in Suq Al-Shuyukh on 24 March. The claims coincide with other Iraqi government attempts to convince its people that all Iraqis are capable of confronting coalition forces. Earlier, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on 24 March praised a peasant farmer who Iraqi sources claimed was successful in shooting down a U.S. Apache attack helicopter using his Czech-made Brno rifle, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day.
CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks commented on that incident, telling reporters during a 24 March briefing, "I know with some precision how many helicopters have been shot down, and I can assure you...those events did not occur as a result of farmers." (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI OFFICIAL DENIES WOMEN, CHILDREN USED AS SHIELDS.
Iraqi Electricity Authority Director Sahban Faysal Mahjub has denied U.S. and British claims that Iraqi authorities have placed women and children at strategic sites in order to prevent the destruction of those sites by coalition forces, Iraq Satellite Channel Television reported on 22 March. Mahjub's comments were made to reporters during a tour of the Al-Dawrah Electricity Station in Baghdad. AP reported on 22 March that there are 12 international "human shields" at the power plant, including at least one American, who have been at the plant since 13 February.
Meanwhile, reports from the field indicate that Iraqi paramilitary forces are using locals to march in front of them as they fire on British troops in Al-Basrah, Sky News reported on 25 March (http://www.sky.com/skynews/). (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQ PROTESTS U.S. CONFISCATION OF IRAQI ASSETS.
Iraq responded to an executive order issued by U.S. President George W. Bush on 20 March that demanded that Iraqi assets in the United States be frozen (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 March 2003), Iraqi Satellite Channel Television reported on 22 March. Iraqi Central Bank Governor Isam Rashid Huwaysh issued a statement to the Iraq News Agency, calling the confiscation "an act of piracy." "The U.S. authorities are committing a new stupidity by violating international law," Huwaysh said. The United States also urged that Saddam Hussein's assets be frozen, wherever they are around the world. (Kathleen Ridolfo)COALITION FORCES TARGET ANSAR AL-ISLAM.
Coalition forces hit an Ansar Al-Islam stronghold close to the Iranian border in northeastern Iraq overnight on 21-22 March, AP reported. The group controls about 18 villages close to the Kurdish village of Halabjah. According to AP, five coalition missiles hit an Ansar base; "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 24 March, however, that Ansar villages, as well as villages held by the Kurdistan Islamist Group (KIG) -- a.k.a. Komala Islamiyya -- were struck in two waves of attacks. The move appeared to precede a ground offensive launched by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) opposition forces. "We have begun attacking their positions with rockets," one PUK official said on 22 March, adding, "There is no way that we can move south during the liberation with them in place; we have to be able to protect our backs," Reuters reported. Retaliation appeared to come quickly -- a car bomb was detonated at a Kurdish checkpoint outside Halabjah on 22 March, killing three Kurds, an Australian cameraman, and the bomber, and injuring another two dozen people, "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 24 March. The United States has linked Ansar Al-Islam (Supporters of Islam) to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden. The KIG, headed by Shaykh Bapir Ali, is less radical than Ansar, and has been operating under an agreement with the PUK, receiving a monthly stipend of $250,000 from the PUK, according to "The Christian Science Monitor."
Meanwhile, London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 20 March that as many as 2,500 "Lebanese fundamentalists" and approximately 700 "Algerian volunteers" have been residing in camps inside Iraq for the past six months. The fighters reportedly entered Iraq with the permission of the Iraqi regime. The Lebanese and Algerians, along with Al-Qaeda-related groups, are reported to have an agreement with the Iraqi government, which allows them to undertake suicide operations, against U.S. troops in northern Iraq, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." The fighters would operate "not under the Ba'ath Party banner" though, as they "refuse to fight under the banner of a secular party."
Speaking on the presence of "volunteers," Iraqi Information Minister al-Sahhaf told reporters on 24 March: " The volunteers are numerous. They are from our glorious Arab nation, the friends, Muslims, and the world. They are too many. We welcome all of them. God willing, they will serve to demonstrate a sign of solidarity between the Arabs and all free men in the world," Al-Jazeera reported. Iraqi officials have made several statements in recent weeks regarding offers from Arab and Muslim volunteers to fight on the behalf of Iraq. However, it should be noted that the Iraqi government, and specifically President Hussein, has been criticized by Muslim religious leaders for decades for its secular, anti-Islamist stance. Only in recent years has the Iraqi leader attempted to make use of religious rhetoric to appeal to the Iraqi people and Muslims worldwide for support for Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SCIRI GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETING IN NORTHERN IRAQ.
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) associate Muhsin al-Hakim said in a 24 March telephone interview with IRNA that the Shi'a opposition organization's General Assembly would meet in Sulaymaniyah on 25 March. Members of the SCIRI leadership council have held a series of meetings in recent days, he said, to discuss their role in current events and in Iraq's future. "An important meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday [24 March] was between the high-ranking commanders of the Badr Corps stationed in the region, with the head of the Jihadi Bureau of the SCIRI Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim," he added. SCIRI, in a 24 March message, called on the Iraqi armed forces to "help end [the Ba'athist] regime's domination," IRNA reported. The SCIRI blamed the regime for Iraq's current problems. (Bill Samii)IRAQI SHIA OPPOSITION LEADERS DESCRIBED AS IRANIAN 'APPARATCHIKS.'
Saddam Hussein has little to fear from senior Iraqi opposition figures because Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has turned many of them into "Iranian government apparatchiks," Alireza Nurizadeh writes in the 24 March issue of Beirut's "The Daily Star." Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, for example, used to be a leading figure in SCIRI, and International Assembly of the Ahl al-Bayt Secretary-General Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi al-Asifi used to lead the pro-Iran faction of the Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call) party. SCIRI head Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim might soon be appointed to a similar post, according to "The Daily Star." "The yellowed Iranian birth certificates (issued by Iranian consulates in Karbala and other cities) of [the named individuals] bear witness to the fact that those Shi'a who dream of ruling Iraq are more Iranian than Iraqi," according to "The Daily Star." SCIRI's Abdul Aziz al-Hakim has been touted as a possible future Iraqi leader, but his close relationship with Tehran precludes the United States allowing such an occurrence, according to a commentary in the "Gilan-i Imruz" daily of Rasht on 10 February. (Bill Samii)WARNING OF AN ANTI-U.S. SHIA UPRISING.
"Closely informed Lebanese and Iraqi Shi'a sources" said in the 23 March issue of Manama's "Akhbar al-Khalij" that Iraqi Shi'a refuse to take power by relying on the United States, which is why they have not staged an antigovernment uprising in southern Iraq. Iraqi Shi'a who are inclined toward Lebanese Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah are preparing for armed resistance against a U.S. occupation, according to the Bahraini publication. Other anonymous sources close to the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, according to "Akhbar al-Khalij," say that Sunni Islamists are prepared to join with the Shi'a in their resistance. (Bill Samii)
ARAB LEAGUE ISSUES RESOLUTION CONDEMNING WAR ON IRAQ.
A 24 March meeting of Arab League Ministerial Council in Cairo produced a seven-point resolution condemning the U.S.-led war on Iraq, MENA news agency reported the same day. Council members, minus Kuwait, demanded an "immediate and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. and British troops from Iraqi territories" and held coalition forces accountable for the "moral, legal, and material repercussions" of the conflict. Calling the war "a violation of the UN Charter and the principles of international law and legitimacy, [and] a threat to world peace and security," members called upon the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to address the issue. Seventeen of the 22 Arab League member states attended the meeting; all voted in favor of the resolution except Kuwait, which refused to endorse it. The meeting was also marked by a historical irony of sorts: Turkey, which ruled over much of the Arab world during the Ottoman era, attended the meeting for the first time as an observer, "Anatolia" reported on 24 March.
The Kuwaiti representative to the Arab League, Ahmad al-Kleib, had submitted a formal request asking ministers to discuss "Iraqi aggressions" against Kuwaiti territory on 23 March, KUNA reported on 24 March. Emerging from the one-day meeting, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told reporters, "We call on all forces to withdraw from Iraq and to put an end to this attack, to this assault," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri praised the resolution during an interview with Iraq Satellite Channel Television on 25 March, calling it "an Arab consensus." (Kathleen Ridolfo)JORDANIAN PRIME MINISTER DENIES COALITION ACTIVITIES LAUNCHED FROM JORDAN.
Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb denied international press reports that coalition forces had launched military strikes on Iraq from Jordanian soil, Jordan Press Agency reported on 23 March. He reiterated to reporters that Jordan's stance remains the same -- it "is not party to the ongoing war and will never be used as a launching pad for a military operation against Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)WAR HOLDING UP FLOW OF OIL FROM IRAQ.
Jordanian Prime Minister al-Ragheb said on 23 March that Iraqi oil shipments to Jordan ended on the first day of war, adding "We are bringing in crude oil from our reserves in [the] Aqaba oil refinery," Jordan News Agency reported the same day. The announcement contradicted earlier statements reported by Jordan News Agency on 20 March by the director-general of the Jordanian Iraqi Land Transport Company, Hisham Asfour, that the transport of Iraqi petrol to Jordan was continuing. An unnamed Jordanian official told AFP on 24 March that Jordan would receive its first shipment of Saudi oil in 10 years by 26 March. "A tanker transporting oil from the Saudi port of Yanbo on the Red Sea should arrive in the Jordanian port of Aqaba in the next 48 hours," the official said. Jordan had been completely reliant on Iraqi oil, which it has received at grossly subsidized prices.
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan attacked the Jordanian government in a Baghdad press briefing on 25 March broadcast on Al-Jazeera Television. Ramadan criticized Iraq's western neighbor for not closing its waterways and overland routes to coalition forces, saying, "These routes are open to the aggressors' equipment but are closed to the commodities and foodstuffs that are bound for Iraq." He then responded to a statement made by Jordan's al-Ragheb on 23 March concerning a cessation of oil imports from Iraq due to the conflict, saying that it was Jordan's fault for the cessation, since it did not send any tanker-trucks into Iraq to pick up the oil. "The Jordanian people know that in pumping or transporting oil to Jordan, in accordance with the protocol signed between the two countries, 50 percent of it is free as a reward from the leaser to the fraternal people of Jordan in appreciation for the positions of the Jordanian people."
Ramadan insinuated that Jordan had become a front for U.S. aggression against Iraq. He called on the Arab Workers Federation to ask all trade unions to "close all the waterways and not to cooperate in the ports with any enemy ships." Ramadan also accused unnamed Arab intelligence organizations of providing coalition forces with information about Iraqi sites and facilities that were recently bombed.
Meanwhile, Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler told CNN Turk that the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik oil pipeline was no longer operating, "Anatolia" reported on 24 March. Guler said that the number of tankers presumably used to transport oil from Yumurtalik had decreased, adding the pipeline "can be operated now and there is oil inside the pipes. We suspended the flow of oil as of 23 March as the number of tankers decreased" as a result of the war. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SYRIA ACCUSES U.S. OF BREACHING GENEVA CONVENTION IN BUS BOMBING.
Syria has accused the coalition forces of a "criminal act" and a breach of the Geneva Convention following the 23 March bombing in Iraq of a bus that was reportedly carrying 37 Syrian civilians home from Iraq, Reuters reported the next day. At least five Syrian nationals were killed and another 10 injured in the blast, according to Syria's SANA news agency, as cited by Reuters. "This act represents a breach of the 1949 Geneva Convention on protecting civilians during war...therefore the Syrian Arab Republic condemns this act and reserves the right to demand compensation in line with international law," Syria said in a statement following news of the tragedy, Reuters reported on 24 March. The incident reportedly occurred about 160 kilometers inside Iraq's border with Syria, in an area called Al-Rutbeh. The bodies of the dead have since been transferred to a Damascus hospital, Reuters reported. Syria, the only Arab state on the UN Security Council, has been a staunch opponent of military action to disarm Iraq.
At the U.S. Pentagon on 24 March, Major General Stanley McChrystal confirmed Syrian press reports regarding the incident, saying: "After the bombs were released, a bus came into the pilot's view but too late to recall the weapons. The bombs struck the bridge and the bus," he said, adding: "Unintended casualties like this are regrettable. We extend our sympathies to the families of those civilians who were accidentally killed." (Andy Heil/Kathleen Ridolfo)RED CROSS WARNS IRAQ AND COALITION FORCES TO RESPECT GENEVA CONVENTION.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on 24 March that the Iraqi government and coalition forces are not allowed to broadcast images of prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, Reuters reported. "The Geneva Convention completely prohibits publishing pictures of prisoners of war, as has been happening," ICRC spokeswoman Tamara al-Rifai said. "It applies to all parties.... All the parties involved in this war were signatories."
ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani criticized Al-Jazeera on 23 March for violating Article 13 of the Geneva Convention regarding the protection of prisoners of war, AFP reported the same day. Article 13 states that "prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation, and against insults and public curiosity," Doumani said. "The responsibility for the Geneva Convention is a state's responsibility, it's not a journalist's responsibility. Concerning the journalists, it's a question of ethics," Doumani added.
In Geneva, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told the press on 24 March that the organization would submit a formal request to view U.S. or British prisoners of war in Iraq, AFP reported on the same day. "Our delegation in Baghdad will today be making the approaches necessary for us to see the prisoners of war in Iraqi hands as swiftly as possible," Kellenberger said. Preparations were already under way to visit Iraqi POWs held by coalition forces, he added, but said no specific date for the visit had been set. (Kathleen Ridolfo)JORDAN, PHILIPPINES EXPEL IRAQI DIPLOMATS, BUT NOT LEBANON.
Jordan has expelled five Iraqi diplomats working at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman, Jordan News Agency reported on 23 March. The expulsion was "for security reasons," and Jordan accused the Iraqis of "performing actions that contradict the nature of their work as diplomats," the agency reported. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri called the expulsion an "unfortunate measure," Al-Jazeera reported on 24 March. The Philippines expelled two Iraqi diplomats, according to President Gloria Arroyo, amid allegations of espionage, "The Philippine Star" reported on 24 March.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Foreign and Expatriate Affairs Minister Mahmud Hammud rejected a U.S. request to expel Iraqi diplomats, "Al-Safir" reported on 23 March. "Lebanon is a sovereign country that decides for itself and by itself its international relations based on international laws and conventions, including the 1961 Vienna treaty on diplomatic relations," Hammud said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES UN SECRETARY-GENERAL.
Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad al-Duri on 21 March criticized UN Secretary-General Annan for not condemning the U.S.-led attack on Iraq and implied that Annan, who has submitted a proposal to the UN Security Council that would allow him to administer the oil-for-food program, is in collusion with the U.S. and British "oil mafia." "It is a flagrant material breach of international law, the UN Charter, and the Security Council resolutions relevant to Iraq, all of which emphasize respect for Iraq's sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity," al-Duri said of the proposal, Reuters reported Al-Duri also said Annan failed to criticize the U.S. and U.K. decision to take military action against Iraq. "What draws regret and deploration [sic] is that the secretary-general did not make any statement condemning or deploring this attack," al-Duri said.
Annan addressed al-Duri's criticisms at the UN on 24 March, as well as those made by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan on 21 March (see above), saying, "I think I can understand the anger, the frustration, the exasperation of Mr. Ramadan and the other Iraqis." He added that their anger is understandable, but said: "I am doing my work as secretary-general working with the council. The UN or I have no interest in becoming a high commissioner and it is ironic that as a former colonial subject, I'll be accused of being a colonialist," UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/apps/news/). (Kathleen Ridolfo)UN HUMANITARIAN AGENCIES BRIEF PRESS ON CRISIS.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq along with UN humanitarian agencies, has held daily briefings with reporters in Amman, Jordan, since 20 March, according to the UN website (http://www.un.org/apps/news/). The participating agencies include the World Food Program (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Environmental Program.
In a 24 March briefing, David Wimhurst, spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, stressed that postwar aid distribution should be carried out by civilian humanitarian aid organizations -- i.e. the UN agencies and their partner NGOs, rather than by military organizations. "Only civilian organizations specializing in humanitarian assistance and emergency relief...can guarantee the impartial distribution of essential supplies," Wimhurst said, adding: "The [nongovernmental] independence permits them to coordinate the distribution of aid based on professional needs assessments. It provides them with the protection that is necessary in such situations, where close identification with one or more parties to the conflict creates a security risk."
The WHO reported in the 24 March briefing that local power failures in Al-Basrah has left the city without potable water. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has restored service to about 40 percent of the population, the WHO reported. UNICEF added that there are high rates of malnutrition in Al-Basrah, and risks of diarrhea and dehydration, leaving approximately 100,000 children under the age of five at risk. The ICRC on 24 March requested the restoration of water supplies to the city of Al-Basrah following their destruction by coalition air strikes, AFP reported the same day. "The situation remains critical, as the provisional water-distribution networks only partially and temporarily cover the needs of 1.2 million residents of Al-Basrah," spokeswoman Doumani reportedly told AFP. The ICRC was seeking access to Al-Basrah's main water station, Wafa' Al-Qaid, which is located north of the city, AFP reported.
In Baghdad, UNICEF reports an urgent need for clean water, and a need for emergency water tanks at city hospitals. The WFP noted that 19 trucks entered northern Iraq before the outbreak of war, carrying 380 tons of food for distribution under a northern province distribution program. Food is being distributed in the north, WFP reported. UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told the briefing that no refugee movements had been reported on 23-24 March.
IOM spokesman Chris Lom said that the IOM has processed 482 third-country nationals out of Jordan in the last week. "Some 359 of them, including 294 Sudanese, have already left Jordan to return home on flights and buses provided by IOM. Some 123 people remain in the Ruwayshid transit camp [in Jordan], pending their return home," Lom added.
The aid agencies have said repeatedly that they do not have the ability to enter Iraq at this time, but noted that they have made preparations along several entry points, and will begin emergency food and supply shipments as soon as possible. One provider said: "Umm Qasr port used to be the port for 60 percent of the humanitarian supplies under the oil-for-food program. We have a logistics plan to bring supplies into Iraq using four to five corridors," adding that humanitarian aid agencies could still provide relief without access to the port. Meanwhile, UNICEF reported on 23 March that its representatives inside Iraq were able to deliver food and blankets to an institution that cares for disadvantaged and abandoned children, as well as an elderly care center in Karbala.
Meanwhile the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) released a fact sheet on 24 March outlining a $105 million aid commitment by the U.S. for Iraq. The aid program allots $60 million to the WFP, $21 million to UNHCR, $10 million to the ICRC, $8.6 million to the IOM, $3 million to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, $2 million to UNICEF, and $1.2 million to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The factsheet can be viewed at http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/iraq/humant.htm. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. ASKS RUSSIA TO INVESTIGATE SALES OF PROSCRIBED ITEMS.
U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on 24 March to express concern that at least one Russian company has been providing the Iraqi military with equipment and weapons deemed prohibited under UN sanctions, the White House website reported the same day (http://www.whitehouse.gov). "We are very concerned that there are reports of ongoing cooperation and support to Iraqi military forces being provided by a Russian company that produces GPS [global positioning system] jamming equipment," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters in a 24 March briefing. "There are other causes of concern, as well, involving night-vision goggles and antitank guided missiles," he added. Fleischer told the press that President Putin assured Bush the matter would be investigated.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Information Minister al-Sahhaf has denied the U.S. charges. Speaking to reporters on 25 March, al-Sahhaf said: "We inform you frankly that [these allegations are] completely baseless. We do not have Russian experts in Iraq. We did not ask, and we received nothing, because we did not ask any country and in particular Russia, to supply us with anything, whether it is weapons or technology," Al-Jazeera reported. Major General Victor E. Renuart told reporters at a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) briefing (http://www.centcom.mil/) on 25 March that coalition forces had succeeded in locating each GPS-jamming system and destroyed all six jammers in bombing raids on 23 and 24 March. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. DEFENSE OFFICIALS SAY IRAQ VIOLATING LAWS OF WAR.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke and Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed reporters at the Pentagon on 24 March, according to the U.S. Defense Department website (http://www.defenselink.mil), saying Iraqi forces are violating the laws of war. Calling the actions of military forces "deadly deceptions," Clarke told reporters, "They are sending forces out carrying white surrender flags or dressing them as liberated civilians to draw coalition forces into ambushes," adding, "Known as perfidy or treachery, such acts are strictly prohibited because they make it extraordinarily difficult for coalition forces to accept surrendering forces or protect civilians." (Kathleen Ridolfo)TURKEY-U.S. DISCUSSIONS DRAG ON.
Talks between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Turkish officials on the issue of a Turkish military deployment into northern Iraq ended on 24 March without an agreement, Ankara's TRT 2 Television reported the same day. The station then reported on 25 March that the talks between Khalilzad and Turkish officials appear to have been suspended temporarily. U.S. Secretary of State Powell told Fox Television on 24 March that there were no Turkish troops crossing the Iraq-Turkey border at the time, adding: "Turkey has assured the international community over the weekend -- they did it in NATO [on 24 March] and there have been other statements -- that they have no plans at the moment to send any troops across the border.... There is no need for Turkish troops to cross the border," the State Department website reported (http://www.state.gov).
Meanwhile, Istanbul's NTV television reported on 24 March that the United States has assured Turkey that Iraqi Kurds will not enter Kirkuk and Mosul during Operation Iraqi Freedom. White House spokesman Fleischer told a press briefing on 24 March that the U.S. position regarding the entry of Turkish troops remains unchanged, adding, "But it does remain a matter of ongoing discussion and concern." Senior U.S. officials, including President Bush, have repeatedly stated their opposition to such an incursion by Turkish forces. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. FORCES MAY HAVE CAPTURED CHEMICAL-WEAPONS FACILITY.
"The Jerusalem Post" on 24 March reported that the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division on 23 March captured an installation near Najaf, 150 kilometers south of Baghdad, that "apparently used to produce chemical weapons." The deputy commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Lieutenant General John Abizaid, declined to confirm the report, but was quoted by the newspaper as saying the United States has "one or two general officers who are providing" information in custody. The Israeli daily said unidentified U.S. officials "have since confirmed that the site is indeed a suspected chemical-weapons factory." There are no reports of U.S.-led forces in Iraq having captured sites related to Iraq's alleged weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs, but the majority of Iraqi WMD programs in the past were concentrated around Baghdad. (Amin Tarzi)