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Iraq Report: June 7, 2002

7 June 2002, Volume 5, Number 17

HIJACKER MET WITH IRAQI AGENT, CZECH OFFICIAL SAYS. According to "The Prague Post," on 5 June, Mohammad Atta, one of the hijackers involved in the 11 September terrorist attacks on the Unites States, met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Sami al-Ani, an Iraqi embassy official in Prague in April 2001. Czech officials expelled al-Ani on 22 April 2001, after placing him under surveillance for "engaging in activities beyond his diplomatic duties."

Hynek Kmonicek, who previously directed the Czech Foreign Ministry's Middle East department, was the official who ordered al-Ani's expulsion. He recently reiterated that, "The meeting took place." Reports in early May in "Newsweek," "The New York Times," and "The Washington Post," however, cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials who denied that Atta met with Iraqi officials. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller said the FBI had sought without success to trace Atta's flight tickets and car rentals.

While Mueller and some CIA officials downplay the connection between Iraqi officials and the 11 September hijackers, other senior U.S. administration officials warn that Iraq may channel weapons to terrorists. According to a 30 May Reuters report, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith told a press briefing in Cairo that the U.S. is focused on Iraq because of the "inherent danger" of Saddam Husseyn's regime's possessing weapons of mass destruction and "the support that that regime has provided to terrorist organizations." According to Feith, "The people who attacked the United States on 11 September would not have had any moral compunction about using weapons of mass destruction if they had possessed them." The 30 May "Middle East Newsline" reported that Iraq is preparing its substantive biological- and chemical-weapons arsenal for use against U.S. troops and regional countries. According to the report, Iraq currently maintains stocks of weapons-grade anthrax, botulism, sarin, and VX. Iraq possesses hundreds of short-range Scud-B missiles and 50 al-Husseyn missiles with a range of up to 600 kilometers. (Michael Rubin)

SADDAM BOLSTERS MILITARY, SMUGGLING INCOME. Assisted by a sharp surge in smuggling income, Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn appears to be preparing his military and, via state-controlled media reports, his people for conflict. According to Baghdad's official Republic of Iraq radio on 2 June, Saddam met with Abd al-Tawwab al-Mulla Huwaysh, his minister of military industrialization, as well as a gathering of elite Republic Guard fighters. Huwaysh told Saddam that Iraq's Military Industrialization Organization would continue "in the service of great Iraq and their beloved leader until God ordains a victory of which the faithful, steadfast Iraqis will be proud." Official Iraqi media has repeatedly televised Saddam with Huwaysh. In late April, Iraqi television and newspapers reported on Huwaysh's commitment "to consolidate [Iraq's] technical capabilities for the people to confront the aggressors' threats�" (See "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 April 2002).

Iraqi radio reported on 28 May that Saddam had met with Husayn Zabn Zaydan, commander of the Army Helicopter Gunship Corps, and a group of pilots under his command. Zaydan beseeched the president to "liberate the land of Palestine and its crown, holy Jerusalem, from the claws of the Zionist invaders." Republic of Iraq Television reported the same day that ministers and presidential advisers had completed a one-month rifle and handgun marksmanship course. Meanwhile, according to the 31 May "Iraq Press," armored Republican Guard units are digging trenches in both Kirkuk and Mosul, two northern cities under Iraqi government control that are near Kurdish-administered areas.

Iraq's military development is facilitated by substantial smuggling activities. Citing British Defense Ministry officials, the 29 May "Daily Telegraph" of London reported that Royal Marines based on the HMS Portland had seized a vessel in the Persian Gulf carrying 3,100 tons of illegal Iraqi oil. Under terms of UN Security Council Resolution 986 of 1995, Iraq is obliged to export its oil under supervision of the UN and to apply the proceeds toward Iraq's humanitarian needs. UN officials in Iraq routinely turn a blind eye toward Iraqi noncompliance with UN regulations, according to a 2 May "Wall Street Journal" report.

Privately, some UN employees blame complacency and an unwillingness to antagonize Baghdad for the porous embargo. UN employees depend on Iraqi cooperation for visas in order to remain in their lucrative UN jobs. Such pressure is especially effective upon UN employees from poorer countries like Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, according to temporary duty European UN employees interviewed in northern Iraq. Syria, currently president of the UN Security Council, is the lead facilitator of Iraqi smuggling, allowing more than $1 billion in illegal Iraqi oil exports each year through a "closed" oil pipeline leading from Iraq to the Mediterranean port of Baniyas (See "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 April 2002). On 29 May, the Associated Press reported on the release of a Congressional General Accounting Office report that concluded that, "conservatively�Iraq has illegally earned at least $6.6 billion since 1997 -- $4.3 billion from smuggling and $2.3 billion in illegal surcharges on oil and commissions from its commodities contracts." (Michael Rubin)

EGYPT BOOSTING LUCRATIVE IRAQ TIES. While Syria is the leading smuggler of Iraqi goods, Iraqi-Egyptian trade is rapidly expanding within the framework of the oil-for-food program. Two days after Awni Hashim, manager of the Egyptian Trade center in Baghdad, told Egypt's official news agency MENA that Egypt and Iraq had signed contracts worth $350 million in the previous six months, Egyptian Minister of Housing Muhammad Ibrahim Sulayman led a delegation to visit his Iraqi counterpart Ma'an Sarsam, Cairo's official MENA agency said on 1 June. Iraq is seeking Egyptian assistance in a drive to build 1,000 housing units "to contribute to solving the housing crisis in the country," Sarsam said. Sarsam also said that Iraq hopes to benefit from Egyptian experience in building industrial cities and labs. Republic of Iraq Television reported on 1 June that Egypt hoped to build "facilities" in addition to housing units. On 2 June, Republic of Iraq Television reported that Sulayman had delivered a letter to Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan urging further development in the Iraqi-Egyptian relationship. According to a 30 May MENA report, Egypt and Iraq have signed $4 billion in contracts since the 1996 commencement of the oil-for-food program, and Egypt is currently Iraq's largest Arab trade partner. According to a 3 June MENA report, Iraqi Finance Minister Himat al-Azzawi promised to give Egypt "priority in trade deals." (Michael Rubin)

IRAQ'S RAPPROCHEMENT WITH ARAB WORLD CONTINUES... On 26 May, Iraqi Minister of Trade Muhammad Mahdi Salih and his Syrian counterpart, Ghassan al-Rifa'i, signed a preliminary agreement to establish free transfer of capital between the two countries, according to the Syrian news agency SANA. Salih and al-Rifa'i also agreed to unify tariffs and to establish a joint telephone company. Syria requested contracts to rebuild and modernize Iraq's roads and bridges. After years of frosty relations, Syrian-Iraqi trade has blossomed in recent years according to a 30 May report in the "Iraq Press." According to the report, the value of Iraq-Syria trade is expected to reach $2 billion this year. Iraqi Airways now makes daily flights to Damascus. A recently implemented free-trade deal allows travel without visas to each other's country for Iraqi and Syrian citizens. Moreover, Iraq has rewarded Syrian officials for their assistance in eroding sanctions. According to a 3 June "Iraq Press" report, Saddam Husseyn has sent 6,000 luxury cars to senior Syrian political and military officials as gifts. The "Iraq Press" also reported that most of the tens of thousands of cars Iraq imports through the oil-for-food program are awarded as bonuses for loyalty to senior Iraqi military, security, and intelligence officials.

Syria is not the only neighbor experiencing a marked rapprochement with Iraq. On 28 May, the London-based Arabic daily "al-Hayat" reported that Saudi Arabia approved Iraq's request to send a resident ambassador to the Organization of Islamic Conference based in Jedda. With the exception of Iran, all ambassadors to the OIC are jointly accredited to Saudi Arabia. The newly appointed Iraqi ambassador will likely repossess the shuttered Iraqi consulate in Jedda. "Al-Hayat" also reported that Saudi Prince Abdallah, the de facto Saudi ruler, had agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush to "reject the launch of any military strike against Iraq and to give more chances to diplomatic action regarding Baghdad's implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions and the return of UN inspectors." The renewal of residential diplomatic contacts and the warming of diplomatic ties coincide with a sharp increase in Saudi-Iraqi trade. According to "al-Hayat," trade through the Judaydah-Ar'ar crossing will reach $1 billion this year.

Iraq is also expanding its political and economic ties to North Africa. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi traveled to Tunis in late May, where he met with both Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia and President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, according to Republic of Tunisia Radio reports on 27 and 29 May. According to a 29 May Iraqi News Agency report, Ben Ali said that economic sanctions against Iraq are no longer warranted. Ben Ali added that Iraqis "are a heroic people who have become a model to be emulated by the entire Arab nation." Ben Ali apparently seeks to apply part of the Iraqi model to his own leadership. According to the 29 May "Independent" of London, a recent Tunisian referendum on constitutional changes approved by 99.52 percent of Tunisian voters will allow Ben Ali to effectively rule as president for life.

Morocco is also a target of Iraq's diplomatic initiative. The Iraqi News Agency reported on 27 May that Moroccan Health Minister Thami Khiari met with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan in Baghdad. Ramadan called on Morocco to expand its trade with Iraq. The official Moroccan news agency MAP reported on 28 May that Khiari had voiced Morocco's support "in solidarity with the Iraqi people" in opposition to the UN's economic sanctions. According to Republic of Iraq Radio on 29 May, a letter from Moroccan King Muhammad VI "affirmed that Morocco -- king, government, and people -- supports Iraq and the Iraqi people and takes pride in their steadfastness in the face of the hostile schemes that aim to undermine Iraq's unity and independence." (Michael Rubin)

...THOUGH KUWAITI RELATIONS WITH IRAQ REMAIN STRAINED. Not all Arab states are warming to Iraq. Kuwaiti officials appear increasingly frustrated by the lack of action following Iraq's conciliatory rhetoric during the 27-28 March Arab League Summit in Beirut (See "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 April 2002). According to the 30 May "Kuwait Times," Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Atiyyah said on 29 May that Iraq must implement commitments made at the Beirut summit, as well as in UN Security Council resolutions to account for, and release, Kuwaitis imprisoned in Iraqi jails. The 29 May "Akhbar al-Khaleej" reported that al-Atiyyah also demanded the return of stolen Kuwaiti property and Iraqi compliance with the resumption of UN weapons inspections. On 29 May, Kuwait's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Muhammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah told the "al-Qabas" daily that "the Gulf leaders agree on the importance of implementing international resolutions on dealing with Iraq." On 2 June, the official Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported that Kuwaiti National Assembly speaker Jasim al-Khurafi said that "it would be impossible to tackle the strains in Kuwait's relations with Iraq because of Baghdad's continuous holding of more than 600 Kuwaiti prisoners." Until the prisoner-of-war issue is resolved, al-Khurafi said, "the Kuwaiti parliament would express opposition to possible bids by the government to seek detente with Iraq." (Michael Rubin)

NEW UN HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR FOR IRAQ APPOINTED. Adnan Jarrar, a UN information officer in Iraq, told Reuters on 2 June that, "Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to appoint Ramiro Armando de Oliveira Lopes da Silva of Portugal as the new United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq." Da Silva replaces Myanmar's Tun Myat, who has served in the position since March 2000, and who will become coordinator of UN Security in New York. According to a 31 May UN News Center press release, da Silva has 15 years of UN experience, most recently as Director of the Transportation and Logistics Division at the World Food Program headquarters in Rome. (Michael Rubin)

RIVAL SPANISH DELEGATIONS VISIT IRAQ. Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, head of the Spanish Messengers of Peace Society, and Ricardo de Lion, head of the ruling Popular Party's Humanitarian and Social Institution, visited Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on 1 June, according to the Iraqi News Agency. The INA said that both Rodriguez and de Lion sought to highlight "the suffering of the people of Iraq." While Rodriguez and de Lion reportedly seek to show the suffering of Iraq under sanctions, another Spanish delegation will highlight the progress of opposition-controlled portions of Iraq by the same sanctions, raising the question of whether sanctions or Saddam Husseyn are to blame for suffering. According to the 31 May "Brayati," a delegation representing all parties in Spanish Catalonia's parliament will visit Iraqi Kurdistan between from-8 June. The Catalonian delegation will highlight "the progress that has taken place in many aspects of life," according to "Brayati." (Michael Rubin)

BRAZIL DENIES ARMS-SALE ACCUSATIONS. Accusations by Human Rights Watch that Brazil continues to sell arms to Iraq are untrue, according to a 30 May report in the Sao Paulo center-right daily "O Estado de Sao Paulo." The "O Estado de Sao Paulo" report said that Brazil had not sold military equipment to Iraq since 1987 and that details of the Brazil-Iraq military relationship were publicly available in dossier CSN/192/90 in the old Brazilian National Security Council. The report chided Human Rights Watch for being selective with evidence and ignoring documents that contradicted its accusations. Prior to 1987, three Brazilian companies supplied Iraq with military equipment. Embraer sold 80 Emb-312 Tucano planes to Iraq, with Egypt as intermediary. However, "O Estado de Sao Paulo" said that Embraer severed all ties with Baghdad following the Gulf War and has not even supplied spare parts. Engesa, which collapsed in 1992, sold armored vehicles to Baghdad in 1987. Avibras Aerospace Industry sold air-to-ground rockets, bombs, and surface-to-surface rockets to Iraq, but it had to seek bankruptcy protection in 1991 when Iraq defaulted on a $50 million payment. "O Estado de Sao Paulo" conceded that 14 Brazilians, including at least one married to an Iraqi, are employed in the Iraqi arms industry where they remain due to exceptionally high salaries. (Michael Rubin)

KURDISH LEADERS REPORTEDLY HELD SECRET TALKS IN U.S. Both Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) President Jalal Talabani traveled to northern Virginia in mid-May for secret talks with Bush administration officials, two Arabic-language newspapers claim. According to the 1 June London-based Arabic daily "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," a private U.S. airplane took both Barzani and Talabani to Virginia, along with Masrur Barzani (the American University-educated son of Mas'ud) and Bafil Talabani. PUK Prime Minister Barham Salih, who served for a decade as the PUK's Washington representative, and London-based KDP official Hoshyar Zebari also participated in the meeting. According to unnamed sources cited in the article, a variety of U.S. officials attended the meeting, including an assistant to Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet; three Pentagon officials, including an adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; a National Security Council expert on Iraqi and terrorism affairs, as well as "a senior U.S. general."

Kurdish sources cited in the article said Barzani and Talabani demanded "continued international protection for Iraq's Kurds, whether the strike against Saddam is carried out or not and regardless of whether it succeeds or fails." Both Talabani and Barzani reportedly sought guarantees that any future Iraqi regime would be democratic with federal guarantees for the Kurds. Furthermore, the Kurdish leaders requested assurances that Turkish and Iranian troops would not occupy the Kurdish-administered region of Iraq during any regime-change operations. According to the 2 June edition of the London-based Arabic daily "Al-Hayat," "current U.S. discussions with the opposition parties shifted from the consultation phase to the phase of working out specific scenarios of action that will achieve the U.S. interests on the one hand and fulfill the Iraqi opposition forces' demands on the other." (Michael Rubin)

EVIDENCE OF POTENT OPPOSITION INSIDE IRAQ. The 26 May edition of the Iraqi Kurdish weekly "Ray Gishti" reported that "popular resistance" blew up the Intelligence Department in Khanaqin, a predominantly Kurdish city in east-central Iraq under the control of the Iraqi central government. Ten Ba'thist intelligence officers died in the blast. Security officials arrested a number of locals following the blast, including a duty officer named Isma'il who was absent at the time of the explosion. (Michael Rubin)

FURTHER RECONSTRUCTION IN IRAQI KURDISTAN... Iraqi Kurdistan continues to modernize and develop with funds allocated through UN Security Council Resolution 986, the oil-for-food program. On 1 June, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's KurdSat satellite television said that a 4,000-line digital telephone exchange opened in Raniyah, a PUK-held town north of Sulaymaniyah and Dokan reservoir (Raniyah was the site of the outbreak of the March 1991 Kurdish uprising). In the past year, the aging telephone exchanges have been upgraded throughout Iraqi Kurdistan, and direct-dial international-access mobile phones are now available.

On 31 May, "Iraq Press" reported that Iraqi Kurdish officials are currently constructing 2,000 new housing units, as well as entire villages long-abandoned in the face of violence by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas. PKK fighters often mine civilian roads and attack local farmers. The reconstruction projects are financed both by UN oil-for-food funds, as well as income from taxes on cross-border smuggling (anecdotally, PUK peshmurga near the border with Iran often differentiate between "legal smuggling" upon which the PUK collects customs duties, and "illegal smugglers" who try to bypass local-administration taxation).

On 25 May, the PUK's Kurdish-language "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported the laying of a foundation stone for a 400-bed hospital in Sulaymaniyah. In the 1980s, Iraq contracted Japanese firms to build a number of 400-bed hospitals throughout the country. However, Sulaymaniyah was excluded from the hospital construction as collective punishment for anti-Ba'th Party opposition activity in the city (both Dahuk and Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan did receive hospitals). PUK officials have long sought construction of such a hospital under terms of the oil-for-food program, but privately complained that UN officials, and in particular Arab nationals working with the World Health Organization, sought to delay or block hospital construction for political reasons so as not to antagonize Baghdad. Hospital officials throughout northern Iraq report that the Iraqi government has increasingly obstructed development in Iraqi Kurdistan's health center since a 1999 UNICEF report found that infant mortality had declined under sanctions throughout portions of Iraq not administered by Saddam Husseyn. (Michael Rubin)

...WHILE ETHNIC CLEANSING CONTINUES IN KIRKUK. The Iraqi government's ethnic-cleansing campaign in and around Kirkuk is gaining momentum, according to the 1 June "Brayati." Reportedly, the Iraqi government is offering ethnic Arabs settled in and around Hawija 6 million Iraqi dinars (approximately $2,750) and a plot of land if they move into central Kirkuk city. Arabs from southern Iraq who agree to move to Kirkuk receive 10 million dinars. Ba'th Party members and military officials receive 15 million dinars if they relocate their families to Kirkuk. Kirkuk is an oil-rich city, predominantly ethnic Kurdish and Turkoman, but controlled by Baghdad. Iraqi Kurds repeatedly accuse the Iraqi government of forcibly expelling non-Arabs in order to imprint an Arab character on the city. These accusations were supported by statements in the official Iraqi media, such as those in the 19 September 2000 official Kirkuk daily "Sawt al-Ta'mim" that announced the transfer of 10,000 plots of land confiscated from ethnic Kurds to ethnic Arab military officers and their families. According to the 27 May "Brayati," the "campaign of Arabization and displacement witnesses a threatening turn" with the seizure of Kurdish property and its auction in towns and districts around the Kirkuk governorate. "Brayati" highlighted cases of Kurds ousted from their property but still in possession of land deeds issued by Saddam Husseyn's government. On 2 June, "Brayati" also detailed confiscation of almost 45,000 hectares of agricultural land belonging to both Kurds and Turkomans in the vicinity of Kirkuk. (Michael Rubin)

IRANIAN CARROTS AND STICKS IN IRAQI KURDISTAN? Officials in the Islamic Republic of Iran are taking contradictory approaches toward Iranian relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. According to the Islamic Republic News Agency on 1 June, Ahmad Torknejad, governor of Iran's Kermanshah Province, called for the bolstering of Iranian-Iraqi Kurdistan trade. Speaking before an export-promotion committee, Torknejad said, "By making proper use of its potential, Kermanshah can serve as a transit route to link Sulaymaniyah in Iraq to the Central Asian and the Persian Gulf states." Meanwhile, the 28 May "Brayati" reported that the air link between Duesseldorf, Germany, and Iraqi Kurdistan via the Iranian town of Urumiyeh continues apace. Total travel time between Duesseldorf airport and the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital of Irbil is 10 hours, including coach service from Urumiyeh via the KDP-controlled border town of Hajji Umran. Medes Air is owned by Iran's former president and current Expediency Council Chairman 'Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to a report in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 28 May.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran sent a military delegation to meet Mulla Ali Bapir, leader of the Kurdistan Islamic Group, according to the 30 May "Komal" newspaper. One of the Iranian delegation members was listed as "Commander Foruzandeh." This may refer to Mohammad Foruzandeh, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and current head of the $12 billion Foundation of the Oppressed and Disabled (Bonyad-i Mostazafan va Janbazan). The Kurdistan Islamic Group is the latest incarnation of 'Ali Bapir's Islamist militia and political party. According to the December 2001 "Middle East Intelligence Bulletin," Bapir broke away from the Islamic Unity Movement in August 2000, because of personal differences with rivals Mullah Abdul Aziz and Mullah Sidiq. As the PUK cracked down on the Iranian and Al-Qaeda-supported Jund al-Islam in September 2001, Ali Bapir became the leader of the more moderate Islamist opposition. While not as militant or radical as the Jund al-Islam (subsequently renamed Ansar al-Islam and then Pistiwanani Islami la Kurdistan), Iranian attempts to co-opt the Kurdistan Islamic Group could spell trouble for Jalal Talabani's secular and pro-Western PUK.

The Islamic Republic has armed and financed radical Islamist groups in recent years, as well as the secular but fiercely anti-Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 April and 26 April 2002). On 27 May, the PUK's Kurdish-language daily "Hawlati" reported warnings of terrorist attacks in Sulaymaniyah by Pistiwanani Islami la Kurdistan. Officials discovered and diffused a magnetic TNT bomb in the garden of the Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Social and Cultural Center in Sulaymaniyah, according to "Hawlati." (Michael Rubin)