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Iraq Report: May 4, 2002

4 May 2002, Volume 5, Number 12

MOSCOW, BAGHDAD DISCUSS LIFTING SANCTIONS. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri held talks in Moscow on 29 April with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov. At a joint press conference held after their talks, the two men said that they discussed efforts to lift UN sanctions against Iraq that have been in place since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Russia has made diplomatic efforts to persuade Baghdad to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq in exchange for an eventual lifting of the sanctions.

Ivanov expressed his belief that a political solution to the weapons inspection dispute could be found. "We are convinced that it is possible to find a political solution. Furthermore, we think it is the only possible solution of this (Iraq) problem, the only way to resolve the situation around Iraq and to bring stability to the entire Persian Gulf region."

UN Security Council resolutions specify that Baghdad must permit international weapons inspectors into the country to ensure that Iraq is not developing weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad says that it no longer has prohibited weapons or the means to produce them.

Ivanov said that Russia does not have any special solution to ending the impasse over weapons inspections. He said that Russia -- which currently presides over the UN Security Council -- believes the problem should be solved on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions. He added that Moscow is trying to convince Iraq to comply with the resolutions.

Sabri said that Iraq would continue its talks with the UN in an effort to solve the crisis. He said: "[Ivanov] and I discussed the dialogue that we are having at the moment with the United Nations. Iraq and Russia agree it is necessary to continue this dialogue in the direction established by the United Nations." Sabri added that he would meet with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the issue of international weapons inspections.

Sabri and Ivanov discussed bilateral economic relations, too. Sabri said Russia is Iraq's biggest trading partner. Sabri told Interfax on 28 April that Iraq owes Russia $7 billion in outstanding debt, and bilateral trade between Russia and Iraq could reach $30 billion if UN sanctions are lifted. Sabri also said that relations between Russia and Iraq are improving and are based on the principles of friendship and mutual cooperation.

Ivanov later met with the UN's chief arms inspector for Iraq, Hans Blix. Blix left Moscow for New York on 30 April to meet with Annan on the Iraqi crisis. Sabri subsequently said that his visit to Moscow was "rather successful," ITAR-TASS reported on 30 April, and relations between Moscow and Baghdad "are developing from good to better." (Francesca Mereu, Bill Samii)

SABRI IN NEW YORK TO END SANCTIONS. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is to meet with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 1 May and again on 3 May, after Annan returns from Washington. The critical question to be discussed is whether international inspections will resume.

Iraq initially called for the meetings with Annan without preconditions. Baghdad insists that it will readmit the inspectors only if there is a linkage with an end to economic sanctions and a halt to the no-fly zones patrolled by British and U.S. warplanes over Iraq, as well as U.S. threats against Iraq's government. But Iraqi officials have expressed growing concern at what they called the "aggression" of the U.S. and will attempt to make it an issue at the talks this week. "The New York Times" reported on 28 April that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is considering a major air campaign and ground invasion of Iraq -- involving up to 250,000 troops -- early in 2003.

The UN's Kofi Annan has repeatedly said the talks must center on the implementation of Security Council resolutions. That means permitting UN inspectors to return to Iraq to verify that Iraq has eliminated its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. The resolutions also call for Iraq to address the issue of more than 600 missing Kuwaitis and other nationals and Kuwaiti property missing since the Gulf War. Once those issues are addressed, sanctions against Iraq could be suspended and then lifted entirely.

An anonymous "high-ranking Russian expert" said that Iraq is ready to discuss resumption of international monitoring of its military facilities, according to ITAR-TASS on 30 April, as he commented on talks between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and the head of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission for Iraq (UNMOVIC), Hans Blix. "Much will depend now on results of the dialogue between Baghdad and the UN planned for the first days of May," the expert added.

Diplomats in Baghdad, furthermore, believe that Iraq is "on the verge of trying to strike a deal to let the inspectors resume work after a four-year absence," according to "The Washington Post" on 1 May. Charles Duelfer, former deputy chairman of the international weapons inspection group that left Iraq in 1998 (the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM) said in "The Washington Post" that the Iraqi delegation includes experts involved in Baghdad's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons development program. Duelfer speculated that "They may be authorized to make proposals." Nevertheless, Duelfer remained skeptical, expressing doubt that inspection teams could uncover all the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs even if Baghdad permits visits to military sites and surprise inspections. "They will probably argue after three months [that] if nothing is found, they will want sanctions ended and they get their oil money back," Duelfer said in "The Washington Post."

Nancy Soderberg, a former top U.S. diplomat at the UN and a vice president of the International Crisis Group, believes that UNMOVIC's Blix could be part of a compromise discussed by Iraqi and Russian officials. She told RFE/RL: "Most people, I think, don't expect any great breakthroughs tomorrow in the meeting. I think the best outcome that you could expect is an invitation for Blix to go to Iraq and begin a dialogue about the inspectors." Blix is due to attend the talks at UN headquarters along with Annan and Mohammed El Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But Soderberg also is skeptical about Baghdad's intentions. She told RFE/RL it is unclear whether Iraq will commit to any major changes in its position and permit inspections for the first time since December 1998, when the monitors were pulled out of the country ahead of a U.S. and British aerial bombardment.

Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow have reached agreement on a reform of the UN sanctions program aimed at increasing pressure on Iraq. The reform involves revising the list of goods that are reviewed as part of the oil-for-food program. The new list would focus on goods with a military potential and allow all other goods into Iraq unchecked. The Security Council as a whole could vote on the new list by 3 May. (Bill Samii, Robert McMahon)

PRAGUE DENIES SHIPPING WEAPONS TO IRAQ... Iraqi defectors associated with the Iraqi Officers Movement assert that a consignment of Czech arms bound for Baghdad arrived in the Syrian port of Latakia on 23 February, "The Guardian" reported on 29 April. The consignment included anti-aircraft missiles, rockets, and Scud missile guidance systems, all of which are illegal under the current UN arms embargo. Two other consignments are inbound, the defectors asserted. Czech Industry and Trade Ministry spokeswoman Anna Srakova told CTK news agency on 29 April that her ministry has not sold any weapons directly to Iraq because it would be illegal. She added that none of the weapons described in "The Guardian" were sold to Syria this year. (Bill Samii)

...AND BAGHDAD DENIES BUYING THEM. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan denied that Iraq imported any weapons or military equipment from the Czech Republic, whose President Vaclav Havel has "strong ties with Zionism and Israel," Al-Jazeera television reported on 29 April. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI LINKS WITH AL QAEDA DISPUTED. An anonymous senior official in the U.S. administration said that there is no evidence linking Mohammad Atta, presumed leader of the 11 September hijackers, and an Iraqi diplomat-cum-spy in the Czech Republic, "The Washington Post" reported on 1 May. American intelligence and law enforcement officials believe that Atta was not even in Prague when the Czechs say he was, reported on 29 April, and a few months ago Prague "quietly acknowledged that they may have been mistaken about the whole thing. "The Iraqi spy, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, was expelled from Prague in April 2001 after he was caught surveying the RFE/RL headquarters several times. But after 11 September a Czech intelligence source claimed that Atta had met with Ani in the Iraqi Embassy in April 2001.

Indeed, Atta had flown from Prague to the U.S. in June 2000, but the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency could not find any visa or airline records showing that he had traveled into or out of the U.S. in April 2001. noted that Pentagon analysts still are searching for evidence that might tie the hijackers to Baghdad.

Iraqi officials, not surprisingly, are denying a relationship with the terrorists responsible for killing thousands of Americans. Iraqi Ambassador to Pakistan K.A. Rawi said on 27 April that "Iraq neither had an open nor a secret contact with the Al-Qaeda or the Taliban in the past nor it has [sic] any connection with them at present," Peshawar's "The Frontier Post" reported on 28 April. The ambassador went on to say that Baghdad would not maintain any contacts with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban in the future. (Bill Samii)

NOT ALL ASYLUM-SEEKERS WHAT THEY APPEAR TO BE. Iraqis are among the largest group of asylum seekers in the world. Some of these Iraqis get involved with opposition groups once they have fled their homeland, others could be government agents, and some are apolitical.

As the threat of another U.S. air campaign against Iraq looms larger, Iraqi military desertions are increasing according to interviews with several recent defectors who are associated with the Iraqi Officers Movement. One of them said in the 29 April "The Guardian" that some 15 percent of the army had deserted already. They all conceded that the regime is conducting a campaign of repression against potential dissidents. This terror campaign has accelerated the rate of military desertions.

Hungarian police on 29 April arrested a group of 37 Iraqis and Afghans who had entered the country illegally, Budapest radio reported the next day. And in Karachi on 29 April, three Iraqis formally applied to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugee status on humanitarian grounds, the daily "Dawn" reported the next day. All three said that they were forced to flee their country because they refused to enlist in the military. Two other Iraqis are being held in Malir Jail for crossing the border illegally.

Four Iraqis were arrested on 26 April after they crossed the border from Iran into Azerbaijan. Bilesavar District police chief Azafar Abiev said that the Iraqis intended to request political asylum at the UN High Commission for Refugees office in Baku, "Ekho" newspaper reported on 27 April. Security forces in Turkey's eastern Van Province captured 73 Iraqis and Afghans on 26 April, Anatolia news agency reported. And Turkish gendarmes captured 81 Iraqis who were hiding in the back of a truck in Elazig's Kovancilar township, according to Anatolia.

A large number of Iraqi asylum seekers are genuine refugees, but according to one opposition group, some of them are Iraqi intelligence agents. Nabil Masawi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) said in the 28 April "The Sunday Age" of Australia that the "vast majority" of asylum-seekers "were genuine and deserved compassion." But on the basis of information from Mukhabarat (Iraqi intelligence) defectors, Masawi said, the INC has learned that the Iraqi regime actually operates and funds part of the people-smuggling operation. This is done so the agents can raise funds for Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction program and to spy on Iraqi dissidents. After settling in a remote place like Australia or New Zealand, the Iraqi agents can gain legitimacy and then move on and work on Saddam Hussein's behalf, according to Masawi.

Masawi suggested that the INC could help the Australian government identify genuine asylum-seekers. "We could be of help here. We could help Australia and other countries establish who is not a genuine case and who might be using asylum as a cover for something else."

There are some 100,000 to 200,000 Iraqi immigrants living in Great Britain, "The Guardian" reported on 30 April, and they have been coming since the 1950s. The flow increased dramatically in the 1970s as a reaction to the regime's brutality. Initially the refugees were professionals, political activists, or Anglophiles, but now they are more likely to be average citizens who are fed up with the difficulty of daily life in their country. According to "The Guardian," none of the exiles it interviewed were confident about American and British plans to depose Saddam Hussein, nor were they confident that his successor would be any better. Iraqi opposition groups such as the INC, the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Kurdish Democratic Party, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan all have offices or representatives in London. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI OPPOSITION LOOKS TO THE FUTURE. As the White House prepares to eliminate the regime in Baghdad, new questions about some of the main opposition groups -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Iraqi National Congress (INC) -- have surfaced. This could complicate the U.S. administration's plans, and it raises questions about a successor to President Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, some of these groups are planning for their country's future.

The U.S. initially was reluctant to involve the SCIRI in its plans because of its links with Tehran, Iran's "Bonyan" newspaper reported on 28 April, and the SCIRI was similarly disinclined to work with the U.S. But earlier this year the SCIRI gave its conditional support for American plans to change the Iraqi leadership. At the same time, splits appeared within the SCIRI, with Al-Dawa calling for a change in the SCIRI leadership. And in early April, according to a Radio Free Iraq report cited by "Bonyan," a "united front of Iraqi religious movements" announced its existence. Members of this new group are the European branch of Al-Dawa, the Vilayat-i-Faqih tendency of Al-Dawa, Harakat al-Kawadir al-Islamiyah, and the Mahdi al-Khalisi branch of the Hizb al-Harakat al-Islamiyin.

"Bonyan" suggested that these schisms are related to jockeying for power in a post-Saddam Iraq. It is not clear, however, whether the differences would subside when the regime is changed. Nevertheless, Al-Dawa has said that it would cooperate with the U.S. in overthrowing Saddam.

The INC, of course, is clearly part of the plan for changing the Iraqi regime, and the U.S. Congress has allocated some $97 million for this. INC leader Ahmad Chalabi complained in the 16 April "New York Sun" that so far only about $1 million has been disbursed. Chalabi called on the administration to "start doing something significant" towards replacing the Iraqi regime. He also said that military planning is important, but mobilization of people in Iraq and planning for the political future is more important. Chalabi said, "Iraqis must be involved in the process. We don't want this operation to be set up to fail." Requirements include the training of law enforcement personnel, judges, and prosecutors, as well as thinking on how to deal with Iraqi men who are somehow involved with Saddam's repressive apparatus. Chalabi said: "We need advice from people who did de-Nazification in Germany."

Chalabi told "The New York Sun" that the most important thing is to have significant Iraqi participation in the liberation process. "This is not going to be a war between Iraq and the United States. This is going to be a war of national liberation of Iraq by the Iraqi people against the regime in Iraq, with the United States providing assistance to the Iraqi people."

However, there is skepticism about the INC in Washington. The National Defense University's Judith S. Yaphe accused the INC of "whining" in response to the delays by the Bush administration, according to "The New York Sun." "They certainly thought they would have everything they wanted quickly, and that hasn't happened," she said.

Questions about INC financial practices are delaying the release of money it desires. The INC's Liberty TV (Television Hurriah) went off the air on 1 May because its funding from the State Department ran out. INC Leadership Council member Sharif Ali said, "Although the U.S. Congress has appropriated funds for broadcasting to the Iraqi people, the State Department has not released any funds to Liberty TV since February," according to the AP. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained that $5 million was provided to the station earlier this year and more money would be forthcoming, but the INC's financial management practices complicate the situation. Said Boucher: "We're happy to fund it [the station], but it has to be done under conditions that ensure the appropriate use of the money."

The Kurdish opposition also is planning for the future. According to the "Turkish Daily News" on 1 May, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has presented a draft constitution to the other opposition parties. Citing a report in London's "Al-Zaman" daily, the draft lays out an Iraqi Federal Republic that would be administered by a pluralistic parliamentary system. Iraq will consist of two federal regions, with Kurds living in the north and Arabs in the south, and minority rights would be constitutionally guaranteed. The Northern Federal Province of the Kurds would include Duhok, Irbil, Suleimanieh, and Kirkuk. According to "Al-Zaman," the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is warm towards the proposal's general framework. The KDP's representative in Ankara, Safeen Dizayee, said that the opposition groups would meet soon to discuss the draft constitution. (Bill Samii)

KURDISH COMMUNISTS UNITE... The Kurdistan Regional Government dissolved the Independent Action Party of Kurdistan in December 2001 following a complaint from its Interior Ministry. Now, members of the Action Party have reunited with the Kurdistan Communist Party, according to a statement published in "Regay Kurdistan" from Irbil on 22 April. The Action Party statement explained that it wanted to form a legal Kurdistani left-wing party, and members of its cadre deemed it "appropriate to continue our work and struggle to join forces and work with the ideological program and perspective which is the closest to ours." Continuing the struggle in the ranks of the Kurdistan Communist Party is, therefore, a "patriotic and class duty." (Bill Samii)

...BUT WILL THEY FIGHT ISLAMISTS? Last autumn the Kurdistan Communist Party allied itself with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the fight against Jund Al-Islam militants, and the militants' activities have furthered more recent reconciliation between the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 October 2001 and 26 April 2002). According to a recent report, the PUK has met clandestinely with this Islamist organization (Jund-al-Islam has had a number of names, including the Supporters of Islam in Kurdistan or "Peshtiwani Islam le Kurdistan," the Islamic Unity Movement, and Ansar-i-Islam).

The meetings were held on 18-19 April, Suleimanieh's "Hawlati" reported on 22 April, and the Islamist participants were media official Aiyub Afghani, Consultative Committee member Abd-al-Rahman Abd-al-Rahim, and a member of the Islamic Movement's Consultative Committee. The main topic of discussion was the release of Supporters of Islam personnel who had been jailed for the assassination attempt against PUK leader Barham Salih. The PUK, in turn, asked the Supporters of Islam to denounce the assassination attempt, something it has not yet done. The Supporters of Islam asked the PUK to allocate a monthly budget to it. (Bill Samii)

ARABIZATION CAMPAIGN ACCELERATES. Baghdad's ethnic-cleansing campaign against the country's non-Arab citizens is continuing (for earlier reports on Arabization of Kurds, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 April 2002, and of Assyrians, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 February 2002). New groups of Arab families are being settled in the villages of Girdashina and Gultepe in the Makhmur Administrative District and they are receiving land that belonged to the previous Kurdish occupants, the Kurdistan Democratic Party newspaper "Khabat" reported on 26 April. "Khabat" also reported that Kurdish shepherds in Makhmur are not allowed to conduct business in the square designated for that purpose. Some 140 villages in Kandinawa and Qaraj have been Arabized completely and their inhabitants have been deported. Moreover, the central authorities have prevented the Kurds in the Dibagah Administrative Subdistrict from visiting the graves of their relatives, the KDP newspaper "Brayati" reported on 22 April, and the tombstones have been defaced by the addition of Arabic names. According to "Brayati," inhabitants of all the villages in this subdistrict were expelled, and the regime brought in Arabs as the new residents. (Bill Samii)

MARSH ARABS SUFFERING CONTINUES. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned in August 2001 about the gradual disappearance of the Mesopotamian marshlands, the largest wetland in the Middle East and one of the most important freshwater wetlands in the world (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 August 2001). The situation is only getting worse because of Baghdad's continuing efforts to drain the marshlands.

Baghdad has at least three reasons for draining the marshlands, which are the home of Shia Marsh Arabs. The predominantly Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein wants to improve its military access and it also wants to have greater control over the Marsh Arabs, who participated in the 1991 uprising against the Baath regime. Iraqi military records show the removal of 50,000 people and the destruction of 70 villages, according to a 24 April report from the U.S. State Department's Office of International Information Programs. Baghdad also began negotiations in 1991 with international oil companies to develop the oil fields near the marshes.

AMAR (the Assisting Marsh Arabs and Refugees charity) recently released a report based on satellite imagery that says draining the marshes is causing environmental devastation. It also is destroying the Marsh Arabs' way of life, and some 95,000 are in an Iranian refugee camp. AMAR has been providing the Iraqi refugees in Iran with assistance for 10 years. (Bill Samii)