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Iraq Report: May 27, 2002

27 May 2002, Volume 5, Number 15

PRESIDENT BUSH URGES EUROPE TO BE TOUGH ON TERROR. President George W. Bush started a week-long European tour in Germany on 22 May with Saddam Husseyn expected to be high on his agenda. But the U.S. president, who is also visiting France, Russia, and Italy, was expected to meet broad opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq. A day before he flew into Berlin an estimated 100,000 people had demonstrated with another 20,000 demonstrating the day he arrived. There were violent clashes between police and left-wing and anarchist groups. The protesters were reported as saying they were not anti-American but against the policies of President Bush. Apart from Iraq, other subjects of disagreement were steel tariffs, the environment, and support for Israeli action against Palestinians, as reported by Western news agencies.

After a meeting on 23 May with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, President Bush spoke of the need to act against "those who despise human freedom, who attack it on every continent." He said, "Our generation faces new grave threats to liberty, to the safety of our people and to civilization itself." He singled out the Iraqi regime as a danger to world peace but also warned that Al-Qaeda posed a direct threat to Europe as well as the U.S. On Iraq, the U.S. leader said he did not seek war with Iraq and had no current plans for action: "I don't have any war plans on my desk." But he said all civilization would be threatened if Saddam Husseyn shared weapons of mass destruction with Al-Qaeda. Chancellor Schroeder said there were no differences between Germany and the U.S. on the issue of Iraq but stopped short of backing a U.S. policy of regime change in Baghdad. He said that he had been assured Germany would be consulted if a military operation against Baghdad were being planned. He called for Baghdad to allow back in United Nations weapons inspectors.

Later three German members of parliament briefly interrupted an address by President Bush to the German parliament. They heckled the U.S. leader and held out a protest banner, which said: "Mr. Bush, Mr. Schroeder. Stop your wars." Several German politicians, including close associates of Chancellor Schroeder, had earlier warned they would tell President Bush they would only give their support if he gives clear evidence that Saddam Husseyn is supporting the Al-Qaeda network.

Also on 23 May "The New York Times" reported that diplomats in the UN Security Council in New York were reported to be working "quietly but persistently" to head off U.S. military action against Iraq. The diplomats, including unidentified European allies of Washington, were trying to persuade Baghdad to reopen the country to weapon inspectors. The diplomats told the newspaper that failure to persuade the Iraqis "would only strengthen the hand of those within the Bush administration who favor war, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld." It went on to say that if Iraq once again allowed inspections it may create a substantial diplomatic obstacle between Bush administration hawks and an Iraq invasion. It might also bolster those, like Secretary of State Colin Powell, who favor diplomacy, the newspaper reported.

"The New York Times" quoted senior American officials as saying they will continue to operate on two tracks. "On one track, they will use international pressure, diplomacy and the sanctions, to tighten the noose on Baghdad. On the other, they will keep alive the military option to topple [Saddam]."

Another American newspaper, "USA Today," reported on 22 May that U.S. armed services leaders are questioning whether their forces are ready for another war in Iraq. It quoted senior uniformed officials as saying the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have concluded that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld must address concerns about an overtaxed military before they can plan action to oust Saddam Husseyn. One of the officials said the military chiefs have serious problems with battle plans under development, the newspaper reported. The official said the concerns were not over how to oust Saddam but other possible war aims, such as whether the military had to destroy the Iraqi military or remain in Iraq after the war.

Other concerns reported by the article were that special operations commandos, already in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Yemen, were stretched too thin; the absence of close support from Arab allies, including the use of bases; and the need for adequate refueling aircraft and military transports. The Pentagon refused to comment for the article but the newspaper quoted administration officials as saying any attack was not expected to begin until late fall or winter this year. (Simon Henderson)

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER SPEAKS ON IRAQ POLICY. In a major interview with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 22 May, London's "The Times" reported that it was clear that military action is not imminent. Speaking of the strains four months ago between the U.S. and Europe, Blair said, "There were concerns...first over Afghanistan and secondly over the issue of Iraq that America would take precipitous or unthought-through action." He went on: "Now as I keep saying to people here, they [the Americans] haven't done that, they have acted perfectly sensibly, responsibly, and in consultation with other international partners. There was a time when there was such a swirl around the issue of Iraq that I think some Europeans thought...they were going to wake up next morning and military action had begun. But it didn't." (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ AGAIN IN U.S. TERRORISM LIST. The U.S. State Department has again named Iraq in its annual terrorism update as a state sponsor of terrorism. In the report, entitled "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001," presented to Congress on 21 May, the other countries identified in this category were Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba. They were all the same countries as had been named in last year's report. The report noted that Iraq was the only Arab-Muslim country that did not condemn the 11 September attacks against the United States. In fact, a commentary on Baghdad radio stated that America was "reaping the fruits of [its] crimes against humanity." A subsequent commentary in a newspaper owned by Saddam Husseyn's eldest son, Uday, expressed sympathy for Osama bin Laden after the initial U.S. strikes in Afghanistan. According to the report, Iraq helped to train and to encourage "numerous" terrorist groups, although its main focus was on dissident Iraqis abroad opposed to President Saddam Husseyn.

The report noted: "Iraq provided bases to several terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Palestine Liberation Front, and the Abu Nidal organization. In 2001, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) raised its profile in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by carrying out successful terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. In recognition of the PFLP's growing role, an Iraqi vice president [ed.: not named in the report] met with former PFLP Secretary-General [George] Habash in Baghdad in January 2001 and expressed continued Iraqi support for the intifada. Also, in mid-September [2001], a senior delegation from the PFLP met with an Iraqi deputy prime minister [ed.: also unnamed]." The report continued, "Baghdad also continued to host other Palestinian rejectionist groups, including the Arab Liberation Front, and the 15 May Organization."

The report also makes reference to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which produces Radio Free Iraq programs. It said that Czech police continued to provide protection for the Prague office of the radio station, which employs expatriate journalists. It said the police presence was augmented in 1999 and 2000, following reports that the Iraqi Intelligence Service might retaliate against RFE/RL for broadcasts critical of the Iraqi regime. As concerns over the facility's security mounted through 2000, the Czechs expelled an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001. (Ed.: presumably Ahmad al-Ani, who was reported to have met the 11 September hijacker, Muhammad Atta, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 11 May 2002.)

The State Department report also noted that the Iraqi regime had not met a request from Riyadh for the extradition of two Saudis who had hijacked a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight to Baghdad in 2000. "Disregarding its obligations under international law," it says, "the [Iraqi] regime granted political asylum to the hijackers and gave them ample opportunity to voice their criticisms of alleged abuses by the Saudi government in the Iraqi government-controlled and international media."

Also on 21 May Defense Secretary Rumsfeld listed Iraq as one of the countries developing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He told a Senate subcommittee that apart from Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Syria were also developing such weapons. Terrorists with links to these countries, he told the subcommittee, "inevitably will get their hands on them." (Simon Henderson)

NEW TALKS IN JULY ON RETURN OF WEAPONS INSPECTORS. United Nations spokesman Fred Eckhard said on 20 May that the third round of talks this year between Iraq and the United Nations on the return of UN arms inspectors is expected in early July. He would not give precise dates. Reuters quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the discussions between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri would take place between 1 and 5 July in Vienna rather than New York. The news agency noted that Iraqi officials have complained frequently that the U.S. has held up visa applications, thereby forcing some of their delegates to arrive late. (Simon Henderson)

U.S. AIRCRAFT RESPOND TO MISSILE IN SOUTHERN NO-FLY ZONE. U.S. officials said an Iraqi air defense installation was attacked on 19 May, two hours after a missile was fired at an aircraft patrolling the southern "no-fly" zone. The target, described as an aircraft direction-finding site, was near As-Salman, 170 miles south of Baghdad. It was the second time in 12 days that Iraqi air defenses had targeted a U.S. plane. The state-controlled Iraqi news agency claimed four Iraqi civilians were wounded in an overnight air strike by American and British aircraft. It made no mention of the earlier missile attack but said the attacking allied aircraft took off from Kuwait just before midnight and during the operation were controlled by an AWACS aircraft flying in Saudi air space. (Simon Henderson)

BAGHDAD CONDEMNS NEW SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan described the new UN sanctions system as being "worse than the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Iraq and the UN General Secretariat in 1996" -- an apparent reference to the original oil-for-food resolution, number 986. In an interview on 19 May with the Iraqi Satellite Channel, Ramadan said the new resolution (number 1409) "reflects the grudges and aggressiveness the U.S. administration harbors against the Iraqi people and their free and heroic leadership. It also reflects this administration's quest to continue to impose and tighten the unjust and criminal blockade on steadfast Iraq."

Under the new sanctions, approved unanimously a week ago, the UN Secretariat checks the contract to see if it contains goods that cannot be imported into Iraq. If the goods are not on a special list, the contract is automatically approved within 10 days. If questions arise, the contractor has 90 days to submit additional information to the monitoring body.

The new resolution was also condemned by Iraqi Permanent Representative to the United Nations Muhammad al-Douri. He told the local correspondent of the Iraqi News Agency that Resolution 1409 added more complications and restrictions. In a report carried on Iraqi Television on 21 May, al-Douri said the list of commodities includes those related to electricity, water, health, and industry. These sectors would therefore be affected negatively in a way that harms Iraq's economy. He said, "Iraq and the Iraqi people will never be pleased until the Security Council decides to lift the unjust blockade imposed on Iraq."

The new resolution was not referred to in the Iraqi Television report of the council of ministers chaired by Saddam Husseyn on 20 May. Instead the meeting was reported to have discussed a variety of domestic issues including industrial complexes, archaeological sites, identity cards for Iraqi expatriates, military education, and an increase in pensions for laborers. (Simon Henderson)

NEW RESOLUTION AFFECTS KURDISH ECONOMY. The prices for gold and dollars was reported to have fallen swiftly in the Kurdish areas. The Washington Kurdish Institute reported that the dollar fell from 1880 dinars to 1600 dinars and gold fell from 820 dinars for five grams of 21-carat gold to 760 dinars. The price of food had also fallen but many traders were expected to suspend their activities until the dollar stabilized. (Simon Henderson)

RUSSIAN FIRMS REPORTEDLY TAKING 40 PERCENT OF IRAQI OIL. The Russian news agency Interfax reported that Russian oil companies have so far taken 68 percent of their contracted amounts in the 11th phase of the oil-for-food program under UN Security Council Resolution 986. Russian First Deputy Energy Minister Ivan Matlashov, interviewed at a Russian-Iraqi meeting in Moscow to discuss sanctions against Iraq, was quoted as saying that Russian companies have a quota of 120 million barrels of oil, amounting to about 40 percent of Iraqi oil exports.

Speaking about the new UN Security Council Resolution 1409, which changes the sanctions regime, Matlashov said the main aim of Russian oil companies was to remain in Iraq in the post-sanctions period. He added that agreement had nearly been reached on a long-term program for Russian-Iraqi cooperation, including over 60 contracts "in various areas of the economy" worth about $40 billion. A Russian government delegation would travel to Iraq in the near future to sign it.

The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry department for international organizations, Yuri Fedotov, speaking at the same meeting said he expected "a transfer period, a period of getting used to" the new sanctions regime, which comes into force on 30 May, would be required.

Another Russian official, Foreign Ministry department of the Middle East and North Africa head Mikhail Bogdanov, described the new sanctions resolution as "a temporary measure to be in effect until the sanctions are lifted." The Russian Foreign Ministry says contracts signed with Iraq in 2001, not including oil contracts, were worth $2.3 billion. The total cost of contracts signed by Russian companies since 1998 exceeds $5 billion. Bogdanov said the UN has unblocked and permitted Russia and Iraq to carry out more than $700 million worth of contracts. (Simon Henderson)

NEW IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO MOSCOW. The Iraqi ambassador in Moscow, Mazher al-Douri, is being transferred to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to be replaced by a department head from the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad. Al-Douri, speaking in an interview with Interfax published on 20 May, gave his replacement's name as Abbas Halaf, saying he would be taking over in the first half of June. Al-Douri, who has only been in Moscow two years, would be taking up his appointment in Kyiv from mid-June. Interfax noted no reason was given why al-Douri was being transferred after such a comparatively short time in what is one of Baghdad's most important diplomatic assignments. (Simon Henderson)

OIL PIPELINE TO JORDAN WILL HAVE CAPACITY OF 100,000 BARRELS PER DAY. An oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan, which could be operational by October 2004, would be able to deliver 100,000 barrels per day, according to the secretary-general of the Jordanian Ministry of Energy, Azmi al-Said Khreisat. Speaking in Abu Dhabi, Kreisat said the capacity of the pipeline could later be boosted to 150,000 barrels per day, then 350,000 barrels per day, according to the 20 May issue of the Paris-based specialist energy weekly "Petrostrategies."

Kreisat said his ministry was in the process of studying bids from 35 international companies to carry out the first phase of the pipeline. This would be a 190-mile (305-kilometer) section linking Jordan's main refinery at Zarkah, northeast of the capital, Amman, to the border with Iraq to the east. He told "Petrostrategies" that the company chosen to construct this section, at an estimated cost of $100 million, should be revealed in December.

Jordan currently imports more than 5 million tons of crude oil and oil products by tanker truck from Iraq. This equates to about 70,000 barrels of oil a day. Whether the international community would tolerate a pipeline to Jordan carrying more than the kingdom's domestic needs -- and therefore producing a surplus for export -- is open to debate. An early test for Jordan will be whether it is able to secure the international financing needed for the first phase of the proposed pipeline. In current circumstances, especially given the likely opposition of the U.S. government to such a deal, this seems unlikely. (Simon Henderson)

U.S. PLANS FOR POST-SADDAM LEADERSHIP REPORTED. "The Boston Globe" newspaper reported on 21 May an account of State Department plans to have a credible government-in-waiting that could take control of Iraq following a U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Husseyn. What it called the "emerging American strategy" was a move away from the "much-criticized" Iraqi National Congress (INC) in favor of a wider spectrum of Iraqi opposition figures. The State Department intends to spend $5 million on the effort to draw together factions including Kurds, Shias, as well as exiles, it reported. The goal is to have Iraqi dissidents working with Western experts from "as soon as next month [June]" on issues "ranging from how Iraq's post-war oil industry and military would function. They would also address questions of justice, amnesty, and war crimes regarding members of [Saddam's] government."

"The Boston Globe" described this development as "a striking illustration of how far the Bush administration has moved towards consensus on overthrowing the Iraq leader and shaping a post-Husseyn government." "While differences persist between the Pentagon and the State Department," it reported, "on how and when [Saddam] would be removed from power, the evolving blueprint suggests the administration doesn't want a repeat of Afghanistan, where the civilian nation-building efforts lagged behind the military campaign."

A U.S. official told the newspaper that five or six working groups would be set up, sponsored by nongovernmental organizations, to tackle policy issues including health, justice, and education. The number of groups could expand to 12 or more and would draw in 15 to 20 Iraqis and experts.

Disagreements remain about how to handle the Iraqi opposition, described by the newspaper as always having been "divided and driven more by personality than ideology." The newspaper reported a growing consensus in Washington that the "opposition players appear incapable of engineering [Saddam's] ouster, leaving that job to the U.S. military." Instead of relying on the INC, which the newspaper said still retains support in Congress and the Pentagon, the State Department had stepped up efforts to court other opposition groups, some still nominally tied to the INC. The focus, the newspaper reported, was on the military, as well as organizations that draw on Iraq's ethnic and religious diversity.

The newspaper reported that a forum of organizations had recently gained prominence, known as the Group of Four. This consisted of the two Kurdish organizations -- the Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; the main Shia opposition party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq; and the Iraqi National Accord, which is made up of former Iraqi military officers. Officials from the group met in London last month, the newspaper reported, with a delegation of nine members of Congress, including U.S. Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Massachusetts. Its officials have also had meetings in Washington this year with the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council. It is sending another delegation to Washington in June and has begun planning an opposition conference in Europe, the newspaper reported. In a disparaging reference to the vocal lobbying of the INC, Salah Shaikhly, a leader of the Iraqi National Accord, told the newspaper, "You come to do a job, and not to make a circus of it."

"The Boston Globe" article points out the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is also backed by Iran and contacts with Washington remain "tenuous". But a leader in London, Hamid Bayati, was quoted as saying, "I think the Americans have more positive attitudes towards the Supreme Council."

A big opposition meeting in Europe drawing in hundreds of exiles and dissidents had been initially envisioned but the State Department delayed the meeting after the Washington-based Middle East Institute, chosen to organize the conference, faced a row with the White House and Congress. The head of the institute, Ambassador Ned Walker, had ridiculed President Bush's description of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 10 May 2002). "The Boston Globe" did not quote Walker in its article but instead interviewed his deputy. The newspaper implied that the Middle East Institute had retained its role as the facilitator of the new opposition meetings. (Simon Henderson)

FINANCING IRAQI KURDISTAN'S LITERACY EFFORT. While the UN oil-for-food program (UN Security Council Resolution 986) has for six years funded a variety of humanitarian projects across Iraq, both the Iraqi government and the de facto autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the northern three governorates can apply outside revenue for a variety of local projects. According to "The Washington Post" of 27 February 2001, in the first five years of the oil-for-food program, Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn spent $2 billion on new palace construction. At present, the Iraqi government raises an additional $1 billion annually outside the confines of the oil-for-food program by exporting oil illegally to Syria through the Banyas pipeline (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 April 2002).

The largest source of KRG income is through the application of customs duties on cross-border trade, especially from the Habur/Ibrahim Khalil border crossing between northern Iraq and Turkey. Other major border crossings include Hajji Umran and Penjwin, both of which are on the Iranian border. Rather than palace construction, the KRG has applied its discretionary funds in a massive program to combat illiteracy. According to information supplied by the KRG's Ministry of Education in Irbil, illiteracy in Iraqi Kurdistan is now 36 percent. The Ministry of Education is currently engaged in literacy training for approximately 41,000 individuals. Much of the training is occurring outside the auspices of the UN oil-for-food program, and instead depends upon revenue raised locally by customs duties and also by the contribution of independent NGOs. The KRG's Council of Ministers has provided two levels of instruction for 8,000 adults in 300 new centers. Classes extended from 15 February 2001 through 15 March. (Michael Rubin)

UAE MINISTER AND BUSINESS DELEGATION IN BAGHDAD. The Emirates News Agency, WAM, reported on 22 May the first joint ministerial meeting between the United Arab Emirates and Iraq since the signing of a free-trade agreement. The UAE was represented by Minister of State for Finance and Industrial Affairs Mohammed Khalfan bin Kharbash. The minister had arrived earlier the same day accompanied by what the news agency described as "an official delegation, which included many UAE businessmen." The UAE has been a vocal supporter of the campaign to lift sanctions, arguing that the Iraqi people are suffering. For several years Iraq has been smuggling volumes of fuel oil to the UAE for use in local power stations. The trade, via Iranian waters before the last dash across the Persian Gulf, has been in defiance of UN sanctions, imposed by the U.S. and other navies. The UAE has occasionally been embarrassed by the trade because the often unseaworthy ships used have sunk, creating a pollution hazard to UAE beaches and the intakes of desalination plants.

On 21 May, Iraqi Television reported that Iraq's permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, Muhammad al-Douri, had written to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for action to stop what he called "acts of piracy" by the U.S. Navy. Al-Douri said the U.S. was stopping ships to search them both in "Arabian Gulf waters and Iraqi territorial waters." (Simon Henderson)