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Iraq Report: January 18, 2002

18 January 2002, Volume 5, Number 2

RUSSIA IS TOP IRAQI IMPORTER. Russian companies have signed more than $4 billion in business deals with Baghdad as part of the UN's oil-for-food program since 1996. In the last six months, Russia has concluded more than $1.4 billion in trade under the UN program, surpassing Egypt and France as the top importers of Iraqi goods over the last five years, according to a Colin Lynch article in "The Washington Post" of 16 January.

The expanding trade with Russia is part of an Iraqi policy of rewarding companies from countries that help it circumvent the embargo imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This constitutes a major challenge for U.S. diplomats seeking Moscow's support for a plan to strengthen sanctions against Iraq.

Iraq has exported nearly $30 billion in high-quality crude to refineries in the U.S., Europe, and Asia over the last two years. Although the proceeds from Iraq's oil revenues are controlled by the UN, Baghdad retains the authority to choose its trade partners. (David Nissman)

IAEA TEAM TO INSPECT IRAQI NUCLEAR FACILITIES. A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will visit Iraq on 25 January for what the Iraqi government called a routine inspection of Iraqi nuclear facilities, reported "Dow Jones" on 15 January.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the visit is part of a "guarantees system" the IAEA performs throughout the world. "The visit has nothing to do with UN resolutions 687 and 715." The cited resolutions require Iraq to allow UN and IAEA inspectors to conduct search-and-destroy missions for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) throughout Iraq.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman went on to say that the IAEA conducted an annual inspection last January "within the framework of the Guarantees System and the International Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Arms." (David Nissman)

SADDAM RECEIVES TERRORIST ORGANIZATION AS BIRTHDAY PRESENT. Saddam Husseyn reportedly received the "Al-Qari'a" (Day of Judgment) terrorist organization as a gift from his eldest son, Uday, for his 63rd birthday in April 2000, reported the Kurdish newspaper "Regay Kurdistan" on 1 January, as reported in "Iraq Kurdistan Dispatch" on 10 January. The newspaper was quoting a defector, Abu Zaynab Qariri, a former brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service. The newspaper claims that Qariri was one of the founders of the Al-Qari'a organization.

"Regay Kurdistan" said that members of the organization specialized in sabotage, urban warfare, hijacking, and kidnapping. It added that each of the 1,200 members held false United Arab Emirates passports, and that they were linked to the 11 September attacks in the U.S.

Qariri is currently briefing U.S. intelligence officials somewhere in the Middle East. (David Nissman)

EGYPTIAN-IRAQI TRADE HIGHLIGHTED. Egyptian and Iraqi officials are making intensified contacts to put into effect industrial and economic agreements reached between the two sides during the recent visit by Egyptian Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade Yusif Butros Ghali to Baghdad, according to a MENA report of 7 January. The agreements are aimed at increasing cooperation in some industries such as cement, biochemicals, sugar, and paper industries.

An official source from the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Minerals said that the two sides would focus on achieving economic and industrial integration, activating an exchange of expertise in different fields.

Zuhayr Abdel Ghafur, chairman of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce, said that the talks held by the Egyptian delegation in Baghdad dealt with activating the protocol signed between the Egyptian chambers of commerce and their Iraqi counterparts on 20 February, reported MENA on 11 January. Ghafur said that one of the purposes of the talks was to encourage the implementation of the twinship and cooperation agreement signed between the Alexandria and the Baghdad chambers of commerce. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TO SEND AMBASSADOR TO THAILAND. Iraq will send its first ambassador to Thailand since the Gulf War, according to the Bangladesh newspaper "Independent" of 12 January. Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said that an ambassador would arrive within six months. The decision followed a meeting with Iraqi Trade Minister Muhammad Mahdi Salih. (David Nissman)

'BABIL' REVIEWS SADDAM HUSSEYN NOVEL. "Babil," one of the Baghdad newspapers owned and published by Uday Saddam Husseyn, of 15 December reviewed the novel "The Impregnable Fortress," an anonymous novel that Iraq's critics confirm was written by Saddam Husseyn. The novel itself does not bear the name of its author, only carries the phrase "a novel written by its author."

The front jacket shows the book's hero, his brother, and two girls with one of them carrying the Al-Aqsa mosque on her head. The back cover depicts an Arab knight on horseback looking at a number of Iraqi planes and missiles aimed at Palestine to liberate it. The plot concerns the current situation in the north of Iraq over the last 10 years. According to the literary critics, this situation has prevented the hero of the novel, called Sabah al-Haj Hassan, from marrying his Kurdish friend Shatrin.

"Babil" says that through the dialogues of the hero, the author wants to stress that Iraq is the only Arab country that represents the impregnable fortress of the Arab nation in its struggle, principled stand, and the confrontations with its enemies. (David Nissman)

IRAQI FM TO VISIT TEHRAN ON 26 JANUARY. High-ranking officials of Iraq and Iran have met once again to attempt to resolve issues left over from the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88. IRNA on 13 January reported that Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi met with General Hossein Zamani-Nia, an advisor to the Iranian foreign minister on 12 January. Al-Hadithi stressed that any delays in materializing agreements between the two countries would be hazardous for both countries "under prevailing conditions."

Al-Hadithi also said that "the Baghdad government wishes to expand comprehensive ties with Iran as one of the neighboring countries."

Zamani-Nia was quoted by Iraq TV as saying that Tehran's stands regarding the existing problems and establishment of close relations are similar to Baghdad's.

Zamani-Nia is in Iraq leading an Iranian delegation commissioned to finalize talks on the remaining Iranian POWs and MIAs. On the current quality of Tehran-Baghdad relations, he said, "The two countries should not be merely pleased with the elimination of causes of tension, but to aim for the establishment of strong foundations for a comprehensive cooperation."

Al-Hadithi announced that he will visit Tehran on 26 January to end all existing disputes and to set the foundation of a new era of cooperation with Iran.

Shortly after the al-Hadithi-Zamani-Nia meeting, Iraqi Minister of Transport Ahmad Murtaza Ahmad arrived in Tehran, according to the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran television on 13 January. He told Iraq TV that Iranian and Iraqi officials are scheduled to sign new documents on mutual cooperation. AFP on 14 January reported that he held discussions with Iranian Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram on signing an accord on air transport cooperation. Ahmad said that "the resumption of flights between the two countries would clear the way to step up cooperation in other sectors."

On 19 January, the Kuwaiti foreign minister is also scheduled to visit Iran. The Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran commented that "the relative concurrence of these visits...[indicates] that the Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes tension-free relations with Iraq and seeks to expand ties with all countries of the region." (David Nissman)

JORDAN, IRAQ DISCUSS MARCH ARAB SUMMIT. Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi met on 14 January to discuss ways to ensure the success of the Arab summit due to be held in March, and lifting the UN sanctions against Iraq, according to the "Jordan Times" of 15 January. Khatib was replaced later that same day as foreign minister in a cabinet reshuffle unrelated to his meeting with al-Hadithi.

Sabah Yasin, Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, said that the two sides also discussed bilateral relations. Khatib expressed Jordan's "invariable" stand towards the unity and security of Iraqi territory and emphasized the necessity to lift the UN sanctions. Yasin said that Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb will visit Iraq but no date for this had yet been set.

The proposed visit is expected to include the signing of a free-trade agreement which Baghdad has repeatedly called for. (David Nissman)

IRAQI CABINET REVAMPS JUSTICE MINISTRY. At a meeting of the 57th session of the Iraqi Council of Ministers, chaired by Saddam Husseyn, a number of measures were discussed, among them a plan to build housing complexes in Baghdad and other governorates, study violations of oil concession areas, strengthen the Penal Code with regard to the crimes of abduction, detention and related crimes, and other purely administrative issues, according to a report by Baghdad Television on 20 December. Primary among the topics discussed was the elimination of the Justice Ministry's Legal Department. It was decided to study the possibility of justice planning at the ministry in order to upgrade it from the level of section to the level of department.

The Council of Ministers' decision was based on a proposal by the Justice Ministry on canceling the Legal Department and the Justice Relations and Planning Department and creating a Justice Planning Department and a Justice Relations Department to replace them. (David Nissman)

BARZANI ON DIFFERENCES WITH PUK. In a press conference held by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) on 1 January, KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani discussed the reconciliation process with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). He said that positive steps had been taken in the past year and "appropriate common grounds have been found, and confidence between both sides have been rebuilt to a great extent," according to the "Iraq Kurdistan Dispatch" of 10 January.

Barzani explained the problem that remains between the KDP and PUK: "It is the issue of the parliament and its function. We, the KDP and the PUK, have two different interpretations of the Washington Agreement's clauses.... Washington Agreement stipulates that the parliament is to resume work [with PUK deputies] on the basis of the 1992 election's results; which means 51 seats for the KDP and 49 for the PUK. We, in the KDP, agreed and also accepted that the chairmanship of the parliament be regularly alternated between the KDP and PUK, and that the duty of the parliament be set out, not after a new election but until a new election is held under normal conditions, and could amend the election laws if necessary. Regarding important issues which may emerge; they should be dealt with by consensus .... I can speak for the KDP and say with confidence that the KDP has strong political will for peace; and I see that the PUK stresses the same thing."

On Kurdish independence, he said: "...we, as Kurds, have not asked for a Kurdish state. This does not mean that it is not our right; it is our right. But we know that our situation is not appropriate to raise this slogan...." At present, he calls for an Iraqi Kurdistan within a democratic Iraq.

With regard to a possible strike against Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, he says the vital issue for the Kurds is "what would be the benefit to and position of the Kurdish people, and how Kurdish rights would be guaranteed in any change." (David Nissman)

PUK-JUND AL-ISLAM STANDOFF CONTINUES. A Kurdish official told AFP on 10 January that the fighters from the Jund al-Islam are in an "unenviable situation" following the "collapse" of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. Around 200 members of the group are under siege near Biyara, bordering Iran, according to Latif Rashid, the PUK's London representative.

Rashid said the PUK might have to use force to dislodge the group, but it was trying to resolve the problem without bloodshed and had not set a surrender deadline. Sadi Pire, foreign affairs chief for the PUK, said, "We have demanded that the non-Iraqi members of Jund al-Islam return to their home countries." He added that there were about 80 non-Iraqi Arabs, chiefly Moroccans, Jordanians, and Syrians with the group. Up to 60 Iraqi members of the Jund had received military training with either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. (David Nissman)

TALABANI EXPLAINS NEW INFORMATION POLICY. Jalal Talabani, secretary of the PUK, chaired a meeting of the PUK's information and media officials to discuss the current information policy the need to develop and articulate an information system based on the principle of an open society and freedom of belief and expression in the Kurdistan region, "Kurdistan Newsline" reported on 10 January.

Talabani stressed the importance of the PUK's commitment to uphold the basic rights of media journalists and writers to express their views freely and monitor the policies of public officials.

He urged officials to encourage, especially among the young people, the spirit of dialogue and creative writing, which looks at the society's conditions critically. He stressed the overall interests of the peoples of Iraq, including the interests of the Kurdish people, that should be taken into consideration when addressing the information challenges of this period.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cabinet approved the final draft of a new act governing the private media in the KRG on 7 January. Farid Asrad, the head of the journalist's association, stated that the new law will provide the right environment for the spread of private media outlets such as the printed press, television, and radio stations which are not controlled by political parties. (David Nissman)

IDPS DEMONSTRATE AT UN IN KURDISTAN. Scores of IDPs (internally displaced persons) protesting the Iraqi policy of displacing Kurds and other non-Arab communities in Kurdish areas which are under the control of Baghdad, held a demonstration outside UN headquarters in Sulaymaniyah on 30 December, reported the "Iraqi Kurdistan Dispatch" on 10 January.

The demonstrators, mostly from the Bardaqaram camp for displaced people, demanded that the UN take urgent action to provide aid and relief services and called on the UN secretary-general to pressure "the Iraqi government to halt the ethnic-cleansing campaign against citizens of the Kurdistan region which is still under its control."

Iraqi authorities have intensified the policy of displacement with the aim of arabizing Kurdish regions under their control, particularly in the Kirkuk region. Arab families from southern Iraq are settled in the place of Kurds who are expelled either to the KRG-controlled region or to the south of Iraq.

UN agencies are acting in Kurdish-held areas on behalf of the Iraqi authorities as stipulated by the memorandum of understanding signed between Iraq and the UN. The head of the PUK-led KRG government directed Minister for Human Rights Salah Rashid to raise the urgent needs of the victims with UN agencies' representatives in the region.

The Kurdish daily "Kurdistan Nuwe" of 7 January reported that Baghdad authorities have informed the Kirkuk Governor's Office to be prepared for the displacement of another 575 Kurdish families who will be forcibly removed from the city. According to unofficial estimates, more than 200,000 Kurds have been expelled from the Baghdad-held Kurdish areas in the region in the past 10 years to the KRG. There are no data available on the number of Kurds expelled to southern Iraq.

Nor are the Kurds the only ones to protest Baghdad's arabization policy. The bimonthly Iraqi Turkmen newspaper "Qardashlyq Yolu" of 8 December published by the Turkmen Brotherhood Party, complained of another displacement in Kirkuk, saying that "the displacement cycle will continue until the end of all national existence of the peoples of Iraqi Kurdistan. This policy does not reflect anything but a hostile racist policy with illusionary success for its oppression and inhumanity."

"Qardashlyq Yolu" reports that Baghdad has resettled more than 20 Chechen families near Kirkuk. The newspaper claims this is part of the regime's plan of "deforming the demographic characteristics of the regions of Kurdistan." (David Nissman)

KRG EDUCATION MINISTER ON KURDISH EDUCATION. Nermin Othman, minister of education in the KRG (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-controlled), was interviewed by on 13 January on changes in the educational system since 1991 and future plans. Asked about changes in the system from 1991 to the present, she notes that 70 percent of the villages destroyed during the Anfal campaign have been rebuilt and equipped with schools. Between 1991 and 2000 the Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the UN, has built 1,153 schools.

The ministry's needs include the building of more rural schools, and the equipping of urban schools with computers and laboratories. She adds that although 70 percent of the villages destroyed in the Anfal campaign have been rebuilt, "this still leaves 30 percent of villages that lack schools.

Children not attending school is also a problem. She says that "57,227 children are not attending school." They will need special schools to facilitate their education because they have been disenfranchised from mainstream schools for a while.

Literacy is also a problem. A survey reveals that there are 224,609 citizens between the ages of 16-45 who have never attended school. To combat illiteracy, Othman would like to see some kind of mandatory education and the setting of a minimum age of attendance. A child should attend school up to the age of 16.

She announced that soon, a television station devoted to education will go on the air. (David Nissman)