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Iraq Report: July 26, 2002

26 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 22

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER WARNS OF IRAQI NUKES. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has directly accused Saddam Husseyn of seeking to add nuclear weapons to his arsenal. Interviewed in the August 2002 issue of "Prospect," a British intellectual monthly magazine, he said, "Be in no doubt at all that he is certainly trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, in particular a nuclear capability." In the past, Blair has leveled the more general accusation at the Iraqi leader that he is developing "weapons of mass destruction," a phrase that covers chemical and biological weapons, which Iraq has used in the past. Asked about suggestions that U.S. President George W. Bush is preparing military action to oust Saddam, Blair said, "If the time comes for action, people will have the evidence presented to them." (Simon Henderson)

RUSSIA URGES DIPLOMATIC ACTION. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis, saying that the United Nations Security Council is moving to convince the public that action would be justified. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" published on the magazine's website on 24 July, Ivanov said there might be "some activity to prepare public opinion for a dangerous turn of events." The Russian foreign minister acknowledged that Iraq must allow weapons inspectors to return to the country "in the nearest future" to verify that the country is not producing weapons of mass destruction. (Simon Henderson)

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAQ IS 'TOTALLY PREPARED.' Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has said his country is totally prepared for any military action. While on a visit to Algiers he was interviewed by a local journalist whose report was carried in the London newspaper "Al-Zaman" on 22 July. Sabri said, "Our capabilities to confront the U.S. strike exceed what we had in 1990," adding that the "enemy will only suffer defeat if he is tempted to strike Iraq." (Simon Henderson)

ASSEMBLY SPEAKER CALLS FOR EMERGENCY ARAB SUMMIT. Iraqi National Assembly Speaker Saadoun Hammadi has written to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and asked for an emergency session to discuss the U.S. administration's "hostile threats" against Iraq. According to Iraqi TV on 22 July, Hammadi also sent letters to Arab heads of state and heads of parliaments in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the European Union. He attached the statement issued by the National Assembly at the conclusion of its extraordinary session a week earlier. According to Iraqi TV, the National Assembly statement also denounced the hostile U.S. policy towards Palestine. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BELGIUM. Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri held talks in Brussels on 22 July, Iraqi Radio reported. He spoke with Louis Michel, the Belgian deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Sabri told an Iraqi News Agency correspondent that they had discussed bilateral relations, the dialogue between Iraq and the United Nations, and the last round of talks in Vienna. The minister said he looked to a greater European role and better European understanding of Arab issues, in particular Iraq and Palestine. He said relations between the Arabs and Europe required the European Union countries to be free from U.S. hegemony.

The account of the meeting in the Belgian newspaper "De Standaard" on 23 July had Foreign Minister Michel urging Iraq to implement UN Security Council resolutions. He strongly urged the return of weapons inspectors who should check whether Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction and whether it has the capacity to produce such weapons. If the inspectors judge that Iraq has fulfilled its obligations, the sanctions imposed on the country can be lifted. The Belgian minister stressed that he still believes in a peaceful solution, which was the reason he met with Sabri. The newspaper quoted diplomatic sources as being skeptical about the meeting, fearing that Iraq will abuse such events to divide the international community. (Simon Henderson)

CUBAN ENVOY VISITS SADDAM. An emissary of Cuba's President Fidel Castro met with President Saddam Husseyn , Iraq Radio reported on 20 July. The envoy, Rodrigo Alvarez Cambras, conveyed a verbal message from Castro and congratulated Saddam and the Iraqi people on the occasion of the anniversary of 17-30 July revolution, which marks the coming to power of the Ba'th Party in 1968. Cambras is a member of the Cuban parliament and the head of the Cuban-Iraqi Friendship Society. Saddam is said to rely on a team of Cuban doctors and surgeons for his medical health. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQI CONSUL IN UKRAINE DENIES ARMS DEALS. The honorary consul of Iraq in Ukraine, Yuriy Orshanky, has said that all accusations of illegal arms deals reported by the "Financial Times" of London (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 July 2002) are nonsense. His remarks appeared in the 19 July issue of the Ukrainian weekly "2000." Orshanky noted that the "Financial Times" story had coincided with a visit by the NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and so had caused much speculation. He said the article was full of misconstrued statements and was riddled with mistakes. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ CLAIMS FIVE CIVILIANS KILLED IN BOMBING RAID. An Iraqi military spokesman claimed on 19 July that bombs from U.S. and British aircraft killed five people and 17 injured in a residential area 125 miles south of Baghdad. An American spokesman confirmed that an attack had taken place but said a military communications site in the town of Al-Diwaniya had been targeted and destroyed. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said the strikes came in response to continued Iraqi hostile actions. Precision-guided weapons were used. The Iraqi spokesman said the attacking aircraft had flown in from Kuwait and had staged "armed sorties" over 11 other towns in southern Iraq before being "forced to flee back to their bases" by Iraqi antiaircraft fire. U.S. and British aircraft attacked the same target on 23 July, a CENTCOM spokesman announced. Iraq said the area bombed was civilian and reported one person had been killed and 22 injured. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQI SECURITY FORCES ARREST SABOTEURS FROM IRAN. On the morning of 23 July, Iraqi TV carried an unscheduled announcement saying that later it would broadcast confessions by two Iranian agents, exposing "methods of plotting against our great Iraq." Later in the afternoon both Iraqi TV and Iraqi Satellite TV carried a statement from the Public Security Directorate announcing the arrests of pro-Iranian agents accused of terrorist activities. Shortly afterwards Baghdad Television carried a recording of the confessions of two men, labeled as "criminals" and identified as Hamzah Qasim Sabat and Ibrahim Abd-Jasim Mohammed. Wearing light-colored suits with no ties, the two men alternated in speaking about how they were recruited and the training they received. Most of the events they discussed went back to the 1980s. They also described how they were given orders to try to exploit the situation in Iraq after 11 September 2001.

A statement from the Public Security Directorate carried on the Iraq News Agency gave the names of the men, adding they were known as Abu-Hatham and Abu-Ayyub. It referred to other unnamed people, "a prodigal clique who helped these men," saying they had been sent to court and a fair verdict of the people had been served. It gave no details.

The man identified as Sabat told Iraqi TV that he was born in 1956 and had lived in Saddam City, part of Baghdad. He said he carried out "subversive acts" in 1981 and escaped to Tehran after the arrest of his group. He recalled how he was transported by an Iraqi fugitive to a camp in the Ahwaz area. He explained that individuals at this camp were trained to use weapons so they could be sent either to battle fronts or into Iraq to carry out "subversive acts."

The second man, identified as Mohammed, said he had been born in 1959 and had lived in Basra. He has two wives and seven children. He had escaped to Iran in 1981 with the assistance of his brother, named Mehdi. He said he had been transferred to a military camp for Iraqi fugitives about 26 miles from Ahwaz.

The two men said they had been trained to infiltrate back to Iraq in 1991, so as to monitor the situation in Baghdad and Basra. Mohammed had been wounded in Basra during the Shia rebellion at the end of the 1990-91 Gulf War and had been evacuated to Iran. After the war both had been involved in "subversive acts." Later operations had been re-focused from southern Iraq to Baghdad. Sabat said missiles were fired at specific targets in Baghdad -- five operations were carried out in 2000 and 2001. "Baghdad was chosen because it was the capital and because these operations would have a greater political and media effect than those carried out in the southern governorates."

The two men were arrested after 11 September 2001. They said that "orders were given to the saboteur elements to keep a close watch and to be prepared more than before to exploit the opportunity that would present itself after the U.S.-British strike on Iraq." After being detained in the Baghdad area, they reported that they realized that all their contacts had been arrested also -- "this shows that we [had] been under close observation since the first day we entered Iraq."

Sabat and Mohammed ended their confessions by appealing to Iraqis "not to abandon their country, families, or their Iraqi affiliation." One of them appealed to his brother Iraqis in Iran and to "the saboteur elements that worked with us, particularly the sons of grasp the opportunity" and return to Iraq.

The Public Security Directorate statement also said: "This proves that the Iranian regime is behind acts of terrorism that are in harmony with the goals of the enemies of the security of our country and the stability of our proud people. We consider this to be a blatant interference in our internal affairs and a flagrant attempt to harm our country's sovereignty." (Simon Henderson)

PRISONER REMAINS EXCHANGED WITH IRAN. On 21 July Iraq and Iran exchanged the remains of 1,736 soldiers who had been captured during the 1980-88 war between the two countries. The Associated Press described the exchange as "a further step towards normalizing relations between the two neighbors." On 24 July coffins bearing the remains of 570 Iranian soldiers were paraded through the streets of Tehran after being flown to the capital from the border crossing where the exchange took place. They were carried through Tehran on the shoulders of Iranian soldiers as crowds watched. Among the bodies returned was that of an air force pilot whose mission over Baghdad in 1982 apparently caused Iraq to cancel the nonaligned summit due to be held that year in the Iraqi capital. A movie based on the story of his mission has been made and was being shown in Tehran cinemas, AP reported. Baghdad says it has no more Iranian prisoners from the 1980-88 war although Tehran believes over 2,800 are still to return home. (Simon Henderson)

INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS INVITED FOR OCTOBER REFERENDUM. Iraq has called on representatives of "world parties, organizations, and unions" to attend a planned referendum on the post of president in October. Saddam Husseyn has already been voted president for life and the referendum is merely expected to endorse this state of affairs. An Iraqi News Agency report on 19 July quoted the acting secretary-general of the Ba'th Party-dominated National Progressive and Patriotic Front, Abdel-Baqi Abdel-Karim al-Saadoun, as saying that "this democratic practice will refute the allegations of the U.S. enemies." He added that "this democratic experience allowed Iraq to occupy an advanced status in defense of the national and pan-Arab causes and stand against neo-colonialism, represented by globalization and the new imperialist regime." (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ HALVES AUSTRALIAN WHEAT IMPORTS IN PROTEST. Baghdad has told Australia that it has decided to reduce its Australian wheat imports by 50 percent of the total quantity of 1 million tons, under the oil-for-food program. Iraqi Trade Minister Mehdi Salih announced the decision in a press statement broadcast on Iraqi TV on 22 July. He protested that Australian Prime Minister John Howard and some of his ministers had supported the "hostile threats of the U.S. administration of evil against Iraq." He went on to say that Australia might be put on an Iraqi blacklist if its hostile position continues. (Simon Henderson)

DISCUSSION ON RENOVATING PIPELINE FROM SAUDI ARABIA. Jordanian and Saudi officials discussed the reopening of the Tapline oil pipeline during talks on 9 and 10 July, according to the 8 July issue of the Paris-based industry newsletter "Petrostrategies." The pipeline carried all of Jordan's oil needs until 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Saudi Arabia angrily cut the line after Jordanian ruler King Hussein expressed sympathy for the Iraqi action. Since the Gulf War, Jordan's energy requirements have been met by Iraq in an arrangement tolerated but not strictly permitted by the United Nations.

Earlier this year, Jordanian Energy Minister Mohammed Batayneh said his country wanted to "diversify its energy sources." The U.S. has been anxious to persuade Saudi Arabia to restart oil exports to Jordan but has been unable to secure terms acceptable to both Riyadh and Amman. Iraqi oil currently supplied to Jordan by truck is heavily discounted and over the years the Jordanian economy has become increasingly dependent on Iraqi trade links.

A Jordanian economic delegation returned to Amman on 23 July after visiting Baghdad. Jordanian Minister of National Economy Salah Bashir said the trip had accomplished its goals, Petra News Agency reported. Bashir told reporters that the discussions focused on signing a free trade agreement, and "things should be clearer in the coming weeks." He said the Iraqi leadership would maintain the level of imports from Jordan. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ ASKS FOR OIL EXPERTISE FROM BELARUS. An Iraqi delegation visited the Belarus capital of Minsk for talks beginning on 14 July. The Russian Interfax news agency reported on 19 July that the Iraqi team discussed the possibility of using Belarusian expertise to improve the efficiency of the Iraqi oil industry and the production of consumer goods using petroleum products. The Iraqi delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Military Industrialization Minister Abedl-Tawwab Huwaish. Interfax also said the two sides discussed prospects for Belarusian companies to help restore Iraq's production of tractors, engines, trucks, and glass sheets. Any increase in trade relations will start from a low base. In 2001 Belarusian exports to Iraq totaled $26 million. The figure for January to May this year was $11.5 million. (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM MEETS ELECTRICITY WORKERS. On 22 July Saddam Husseyn met the head of the Electricity Commission, Sahban Faysal, along with a group of technical and engineering staff. Addressing the group as "Electricity Commission Mujahedin (holy warriors)," Saddam started by saying he did not want to tell them about the importance of electricity in life but added: "Electricity is now part of life. There are things that may change according to seasons or years, or things that may change in type and model. There are things that may be replaced by substitutes. But electricity has been the same since it was invented and tested. It is an energy, on which humankind relies to achieve progress." Saddam expressed the hope that the electricity staff would reach a stage where imports of equipment will be minimal.

He ended, according to Iraqi Satellite Channel, with one of his usual homilies, saying that Iraqis are well-known for their courage and generosity. "We do not want anyone to say that they are more brave or generous than the Iraqis."

The day before Saddam had chaired the weekly cabinet meeting. He used the occasion, according to Iraq Radio, to praise Palestinian suicide operations. The cabinet "hailed the heroic martyrdom operations against the racist Zionist enemy," it reported. Among the otherwise mundane list of agenda items was an apparently classic delaying tactic "to refer the issue of rebuilding and developing a number of main hotels and developing the tourism sector to a committee."

Scholarships abroad were also discussed after the presentation of a report by a committee chaired by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. Before the 1990-91 Gulf War many Iraqis were sent abroad to study at foreign universities. Far fewer have gone since because of a lack of funds and reluctance by many foreign countries to provide visas. The Iraq Radio report gave no details of the discussion or what may have been decided other than to say, "The cabinet approved the new regulations and instructions proposed by the committee." (Simon Henderson)

AL-JAZEERA TV RETURNS TO BAGHDAD. The Qatar-based, pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite television service has resumed its activities in Baghdad after a hiatus of five days caused by the Iraqi government's ban on one of its correspondents. The journalist, Dyar al-Umari, had apparently upset the government by referring to the "ruling Ba'th Party" rather than by calling it by its full title, the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party. He had also referred to President Saddam Husseyn as simply that phrase or "Saddam Hussein" rather than his much longer official title. The original ban on al-Umari had been for 10 days but Al-Jazeera stopped its operations in protest of the ban. An AP report on 24 July said there had been no comment from the Iraqi government. (Simon Henderson)

OPPOSITION GROUP CALLS FOR PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT. The Iraq National Movement (INM) -- a London-based civilian-military opposition group -- has announced that it has held consultations with two members of the Iraq National Congress (INC) with the aim of calling for the formation of a provisional government in Iraq. The opposition "Al-Zaman" newspaper, based in London, said in its 24 July edition that this provisional government will include figures from inside and outside Iraq. The INC members it had talked to were Ahmad Chalabi and Sherif Ali bin Husseyn.

An official of the INM, Dr. Mudar Shawkat, said the INM will announce details of its proposal at a news conference to be held in London soon. The INM executive committee would be holding a meeting in London on 25-26 July. Among the topics to be discussed will be the officers' conference held in London earlier in July, in which the INM did not participate although it is headed by Major General Hasan al-Naqib and includes many officers. Shawkat said the INM had suggested postponing the officers' conference. He also said the formation of a military council at the end of the conference had come as a surprise, but the INM believes that Major General Naqib is qualified "to head the council." (Simon Henderson)

TURKOMAN FRONT LEADER OPPOSES U.S. INTERVENTION. The leader of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, Sanan Ahmet Aga, warned on 23 July that "possible U.S. intervention in Iraq will lead to a civil war in the future and will give rise to a situation the results of which are unknown." He was speaking in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, and his remarks were broadcast by Turkish Cypriot Radio. Aga was in northern Cyprus to mark the anniversary on 20 July of the intervention by Turkish troops on the island. He said 3 million Turkomans live in Iraq and want an administration based on a pluralistic and democratic parliamentary system within the framework of Iraq's territorial integrity. (Simon Henderson)

KURDISH LEADER CONDEMNS DESECRATION OF GRAVES. The leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Mas'ud Barzani, has condemned the attacks on the graves of past leaders of the Naqishbandi sect. The graves were attacked on the night of 15 July, according to a broadcast of the KDP's Kurdistan Satellite TV on 18 July. That day Barzani had met members of the Naqishbandi family and followers of the Naqishbandi sect. The TV said Barzani had condemned the "detestable act of the gunmen of supporters of anti-Islam," a reference to the hard-line Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam (Patriots of Islam).

The graves desecrated were those of Sheikh Husam al-Din, Sheikh Baha al-Din, and Sheikh Siraj al-Din, described as the "known guides" of the Naqishbandi sect, a Sufi form of Islam with followers in Kurdistan and across the world.

A story on "BBC On-line" on 24 July looked at Ansar al-Islam, which it described as violently anti-American militant Islamic extremists. Written by the Tehran-based correspondent Jim Muir, the group was said to be made up of Iraqi Kurds belonging to several radical Islamic groups which merged last year. The group was said to be causing havoc in Iraqi Kurdistan. Its members control a string of villages in the plains and mountains between the town of Halabja and a mountain ridge marking the border with Iran. Many were said to have returned from fighting with the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, earning the area the nickname of "Iraq's Tora Bora." Last year they captured and massacred 42 Peshmerga fighters belonging to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK); some died with their hands tied.

The latest attack was described by the BBC as occurring on 4 July during which eight Peshmerga were killed before the attack was beaten back. The report said Ansar al-Islam appeared to be receiving help from both Baghdad and Tehran. A former Iraqi army officer, Abu Wail, appeared to be manipulating the group on behalf of Iraqi intelligence. Other sources said Ansar fighters were receiving help from Iran; the wounded were being treated in Iranian hospitals. Iran maintains close relations with the PUK but is said to be annoyed by PUK contacts with the U.S. The Ansar leader is known as Mullah Krekar. He has Norwegian citizenship after receiving asylum there once. (Simon Henderson)

INTERVIEW WITH HEAD OF MINE-CLEARING PROJECT. The head of the Mine Coordination Office of the Kurdistan Regional Government recently set out the extent of the continuing danger of mines in Iraqi Kurdistan. In an interview with "Iraqi Kurdistan Dispatch," a web-based news service, Siraj Barzani estimated that 12-15 million mines had been laid in Iraqi Kurdistan. There were around 3,500 known minefields. More than 3,600 people had been killed by mines since 1991 and more than 6,000 had been injured by blasts that often left them maimed or handicapped. Each month there are between 10 and 20 civilian casualties on average. There are 25 different types of mines that have been identified, the most common being a fragmentation type and a blast type, both intended for an antipersonnel role.

Barzani said mines were laid in Kurdistan during four different periods. The first was during the 1970s when the Iraqi army was trying to curb a Kurdish uprising in pursuit of self-rule. The second was during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war when both sides heavily mined the border areas. The third period was prior to the Gulf War when the Iraqi army laid barrier minefields along the border with Turkey to prevent an allied invasion from the north. The fourth period was during fighting between rival Kurdish groups between 1994 and 1997, when Kurds laid minefields to protect themselves from their rivals. He noted that mine-laying during this period was much less extensive.

Two organizations are at work clearing mines. The Mine Advisory Group (MAG), an international nongovernmental organization, has been working since 1993. Also, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has been at work since 1998. Together they have destroyed nearly 100,000 mines and nearly 150,000 pieces of other unexploded ordinance. The area cleared of mines is over 14 million square meters.

The main reason for such slow progress, Barzani explained, is the absence of minefield maps. The UN has asked Baghdad for such maps but has not received any cooperation. Another difficulty is that the minefields are often parts of larger battlefields so there is a huge amount of metal fragments, which confuses the mine-detecting equipment. In these circumstances the whole area has to be dug out by hand. This is extremely slow. Specially trained dogs and mechanical flails are also used.

The Mine Coordination Office is part of the Ministry of Humanitarian Aid and Cooperation in the Kurdistan Regional Government. The office supervises and monitors the work of all local and international NGOs as well as UN agencies. Barzani said the emphasis was now on developing local capacities. "When local assets are promoted, project implementation tends indeed to be more cost-effective and sustainable," he was quoted as saying. (Simon Henderson)