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Iraq Report: August 30, 2002

30 August 2002, Volume 5, Number 27

TENSION MOUNTS AT PROSPECT OF U.S. MILITARY ACTION. As summer vacations in the West come to an end, politicians have returned to their capitals and significantly increased their activity in the debate for and against U.S. military action against the regime of Saddam Husseyn. The tempo of contributions by leading members of the Bush administration has been particularly significant, filling a gap left open by a series of op-ed and media comments by members of the administration of the president's father cautioning against military action.

In the Arab world, Iraq has intensified its diplomatic offensive to gain support, or at least build up opposition to, U.S. military action. In Europe, there is little support for Washington's apparent intentions, with even the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair seemingly cautious so as to avoid diplomatic isolation and a split in the governing Labor Party. (Simon Henderson)

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT STEPS UP PRESSURE ON IRAQ. On 26 August, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that "time is not on our side." According to a text of his speech released by the White House, Cheney said: "There is no doubt that Saddam Husseyn now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing to use them against our friends, against our allies and against us." The vice president specifically warned that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons, although it is impossible to say when Saddam would have a nuclear bomb, since intelligence is imperfect.

"The entire world must know that we will take whatever action is necessary to defend our freedom and our security," Cheney told a meeting of American war veterans in Nashville, Tennessee. He said that inaction "could have devastating consequences for many countries, including our own." In an admission of the strong public opposition being reported in the media on the issue of Iraq, he told the gathering that President George W. Bush "welcomes the debate that is now been joined here at home," and will proceed carefully and in consultation with U.S. allies. President Bush's national security team will take an active part when Congress holds hearings next month on Iraq, he said.

Cheney argued that a tentative approach to Iraq would mean that, "Saddam would simply be emboldened, and it would be even harder to assemble friends and allies to oppose him. We will not simply look away, hope for the best, and leave the matter for some future administration." (Simon Henderson)

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY ALSO SPEAKS OUT. During what was described by AP as a "lively meeting" with U.S. marines of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton in California on 28 August, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Saddam a menace who cannot be appeased. He also suggested the U.S. will not wait for full support from its allies before launching an attack.

"It's less important to have unanimity than it is making the right decision and doing the right thing, even though at the outset it may seem lonesome," Rumsfeld told an attentive and apparently enthusiastic audience. He compared U.S. warnings about Saddam to the stand against Adolf Hitler by eventual British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: "It wasn't until each country [in Europe] got attacked that they said: 'Maybe Winston Churchill was right. Maybe that lone voice expressing concern about what was happening was right.'"

The defense secretary was confident that the United States would find support: "When our country does make the right judgments, the right decisions, then other countries do cooperate."

"Leadership in the right direction finds followers and supporters," Rumsfeld told the marines, who peppered him with questions about a possible war against Iraq. When a marine asked whether Rumsfeld thought victory in Iraq would take a long time, the defense secretary refused to answer directly, saying instead: "The frenzy on this subject, it seems to me, is not useful."

The most recent criticism from within the Republican Party to the administration's preparations for action against Saddam was an op-ed piece on 25 August in "The New York Times" by former Secretary of State James Baker. He argued: "although the U.S. could certainly succeed, we should try our best not to have to go it alone. The costs will be much greater, as will the political risks, both domestic and international." In the previous week, there was also negative comment by former Desert Storm commander General Norman Schwartzkopf, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and another former secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger. (Simon Henderson)

BUSH HOSTS SAUDI AMBASSADOR AT TEXAS RANCH. In an apparent bid to repair the damaged U.S.-Saudi relationship as well as to gain Saudi support for possible U.S. military action against Iraq, President Bush invited the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, to his Crawford, Texas, ranch on 27 August. Immediately prior to the visit, the Saudi Press Agency reported that President Bush telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah to reassure him, in an 18-minute conversation, that relations between the two countries remain strong and talk of their deterioration is "irresponsible."

A U.S. State Department spokesman also tried to minimize talk of disagreements, saying relations between the two countries are solid and cooperative. "We are both aware of the dangers [posed by the regime of Saddam Husseyn]," the spokesman said, adding, "We don't necessarily agree on every issue." The fact is, he went on: "that we and Saudi Arabia are both concerned about the dangers that the regime of Saddam Husseyn represents, about making sure that he never again threatens his neighbors, threatens his people, and [sic] threatens the regional stability. Those are issues that we also discuss very actively with Saudi Arabia." Apart from Iraq, officials said they would also be talking about "prospects of enhancing peace" in the Middle East.

Prince Bandar was accompanied to the Crawford ranch by his wife (a sister of Saudi Foreign Minister Price Saud al-Faisal) and his children. While at Crawford, they had lunch with Bush and his wife. There was no news conference after their meeting, but the White House released a photograph of the casually dressed ambassador sitting on the arm of a chair talking with the president, who was sitting nearby. The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, characterized the meeting as a warm visit by two old friends rather than an intense diplomatic session. The national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, also attended the hour-long meeting, the State Department's "Washington File" correspondent reported.

Before Prince Bandar arrived, Fleischer said the meeting would be heavy on spontaneity and light on carefully prepared presentation. After the meeting, Fleischer said Bush told Prince Bandar he has not yet decided whether to attack. "The president made very clear again that he believes Saddam Husseyn is a menace to world peace, a menace to regional peace," AP news agency reported. The president also raised the issue of disputed child-custody cases, which have aroused much media concern, "Washington File" reported, and admonished Saudi Arabia for not yet meeting its commitment to help in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

SAUDIS URGE INSPECTIONS OF IRAQ. While President Bush was meeting Prince Bandar, the foreign-affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah, Adel al-Jubeir, told AP: "There is a process under way with the United Nations to bring the inspectors back in, unfettered. We believe it will succeed, and if it does, the objective will be achieved without firing a single bullet or losing a single life."

Al-Jubeir went on to point out that Saudi Arabia is not alone in its objections to a U.S. military attack. "There is no country I know of supporting the use of force at this time. Your allies in Europe don't. Your allies in the Middle East don't." He went on: "You have a situation where the rhetoric about using force is way ahead of the policy."

On 28 August, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the BBC that dealing with the Iraqi leader by removing him from the outside would never work. "To say that the most important thing about Iraq is the removal of Saddam Husseyn we think is an unwise, to say the least, decision to make." He added that the Iraqi leader's fate should be decided by his people alone. The Saudi envoy said efforts should concentrate on persuading Iraq to re-admit the weapons inspectors barred from the country in 1998.

There remains uncertainty in political as well as media circles in the United States about the reliability of the Saudis in the war on terrorism. A seven-member delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives left for Saudi Arabia on 27 August to seek clarification of the kingdom's antiterrorism policies.

At a State Department briefing on 27 August, spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration is not "beating the war drums" for an attack on Iraq. A particular course of action on how to deal with Iraq has not been decided, he added: "We have made clear, the White House has made clear, the president himself has made clear [that] he has not decided on what options to pursue. And therefore, there are no war drums to beat."

Boucher went on to explain, according to the State Department's own account of the briefing, that "the issue is not allowing the return of UN inspectors to Iraq. Rather, the real issue is Iraqi disarmament." (Simon Henderson)

SAUDI TRADE FAIR TO BE HELD IN BAGHDAD. Saudi companies are to hold a five-day trade fair in Baghdad, starting on 9 September, the Saudi English-language newspaper "Arab News" reported on 25 August. Its correspondent in Baghdad quoted the Iraqi "al-Ittihad" weekly as saying "the biggest Saudi companies" will be represented, offering foodstuffs, electrical goods, medical equipment, and textiles.

The Jeddah-based newspaper said Saudi Arabia has encouraged its businessmen to export to Iraq following the regulations of the oil-for-food program approved by the United Nations. It said Saudi businessmen have received contracts worth $1.1 billion as part of the UN program, but the volume of trade was small compared to Iraq's trade with Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Tunisia.

Abdul Rahman al-Jeraisy, the chairman of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told "Arab News" that all business communications with Iraq must go through official Saudi channels, especially the Export Promotion Center. Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Zamil, the chairman of the Export Promotion Center, has called for a free-trade agreement with Iraq to promote inter-Arab trade.

Iraq has already signed free-trade accords with Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen.

The newspaper also noted that Iraq and the UN have reached an agreement on the reopening of the main Saudi-Iraqi border crossing point at Arar, which has been closed since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. It pointed out that the opening of the customs post will cut down transportation costs for Saudi businessmen. The border post was due to have opened for trade a few months ago, but Iraq and the UN disagreed on the deployment of monitors, the newspaper reported. During the past 12 years, the border post has only opened occasionally to allow Iraqi pilgrims to visit the kingdom.

The "Arab News" report also reported that Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said on 22 August that Baghdad will be ready to restore diplomatic ties once Riyadh decides the time is right. (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM'S DEPUTY URGES DIALOGUE. Iraq signaled that it still wants a diplomatic solution to its differences with the United States on 28 August but also said it was ready to defend itself in the event of war. "We believe that dialogue has not totally been cut off but is being blocked by American pressure," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told Reuters after talks in the Syrian capital, Damascus, with President Bashar Assad. He said Iraq took U.S. warnings seriously: "We do not consider the American threats a joke, nor do we regard them fatalistically. We believe in the right of any people to defend themselves, and in the end we have faith that any aggressors...must be crushed." He added that Iraq believes "dialogue is the correct way to solve any problem."

On 27 August, Saddam himself called for a solution to the deadlock "based on international legitimacy, international law, and the UN Charter," according to the official Iraqi News Agency. The Iraqi leader was visited on 27 August by the foreign minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. The Qatari envoy said he was visiting to avert "a catastrophe." Qatar is allowing U.S. forces to use its huge al-Udeid air base and is allowing the United States to build a new combined air-operations center, a high-tech command post, to replace one in Saudi Arabia. However, the minister said Qatar is "against any military action." (Simon Henderson)

INTERNATIONAL PRESS VISITS SUSPECT IRAQI PLANT. Iraq gave a tour on 28 August to foreign reporters of a site suspected of producing chemical and biological agents, AP reported. Baghdad insists the plant makes insecticides for domestic and agricultural use. It was the third such visit by reporters during August.

AP called the invitations to journalists an attempt by Iraq to support its contention that it is not hiding weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities previously took reporters to a livestock vaccination laboratory and a complex of foodstuff warehouses.

The plant visited on 28 August is called Falluja-3 and is 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad. Officials said the plant was destroyed by U.S. attacks in 1991 and 1998 and rebuilt each time. "The plant is producing insecticides and agricultural pesticides, and has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction," the plant manager, Haidar Hassan, was quoted as saying.

Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for the UN weapons-inspection agency in New York, said all the Falluja sites were monitored from about 1994 to 1998, along with hundreds of other sites. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BEIJING. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri started a three-day visit to Beijing on 26 August, BBC Online reported. There were no details of the itinerary, but the talks were almost certain to include discussions about President Bush's threat to use force to oust the current Iraqi leadership, the news service reported. It added that Beijing hopes diplomatic rather than military means will be found to resolve the impasse between Baghdad and the Washington over the return of international weapons inspectors to Iraq.

Later, state-run Chinese television quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan as saying, "Threatening to resort to force will not solve the problem."

After visiting China, Sabri was scheduled to visit Russia. Both Beijing and Moscow have a veto on the United Nations Security Council and maintain good relations with Iraq. (Simon Henderson)

EGYPTIAN LEADER WARNS AGAINST ATTACK ON IRAQ. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has become the latest Arab leader to speak out against potential U.S. military action against Iraq. He told a gathering of students in Alexandria on 27 August that many Iraqis would be killed and that the attack would have the potential to destabilize the whole region. "If you strike Iraq,... not one Arab leader will be able to control the angry outburst of the masses," Mubarak told the students, Reuters reported. (Simon Henderson)

GERMANY CONTINUES TO CRITICIZE U.S. POLICY... German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder criticized the 26 August speech by U.S. Vice President Cheney in an interview with RTL television the same day. Schroeder said the goal of the Bush administration no longer seems to be to get Iraq to allow unconditional arms inspections by UN experts, "The New York Times" reported. Schroeder, who is facing tough competition in elections, said: "If somebody is to be removed with the aid of a military intervention, you can hardly convince him to let inspectors into his country."

Germany's conservative opposition appeared to reverse course on 28 August when Michael Glos, parliamentary floor leader of the Christian Social Union and a close ally of Edmund Stoiber, a candidate for chancellor, unexpectedly endorsed the warnings from Chancellor Schroeder to the United States to stay out of Iraq, Reuters reported. He said that his party believes any military intervention in Iraq represents an "incalculable risk." Stoiber had rebuked Schroeder for his criticism of the United States in a national television debate the previous Sunday. But Glos's comments signaled a change of heart on Iraq. "At a minimum, a mandate from the United Nations would be required," Glos said, "but even that does not automatically mean that a conservative-led government would send German forces on an attack on that country." (Simon Henderson)

...BUT FRANCE SEEN AS CHANGING STANCE. "The New York Times" reported on 28 August that France has made "an important tactical shift," deciding to stop criticizing the United States over apparent war planning against Iraq. The newspaper reported that President Jacques Chirac and the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, have come to the conclusion that it is wiser for France to stress areas of agreement with the United States. A French source said the move could help moderate American opinion and keep French options open in case the United States decides to wage war unilaterally.

France was said to be eager to protect its own national interests in Iraq, including the oil trade, should the U.S. wage war and win. "The New York Times" argued that the emerging French strategy "is to take diplomatic cover by putting any talk of war in the context of the rule of international law." (Simon Henderson)

BRITAIN CONSIDERING A DEADLINE FOR INSPECTORS. In response to parliamentary pressure, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on 28 August that the government in London is considering a deadline for Iraq to allow in United Nations inspectors to study its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. "The Times" of London reported the foreign secretary as saying ministers will look at a recommendation from the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee to set a deadline. In his reply to the committee, the foreign secretary noted that UN resolutions require immediate Iraqi compliance. But this had been the position for several years, he accepted.

"The Times" reported that the idea of a deadline was being pushed as a way of increasing the pressure on Saddam and might also be a means of reducing opposition from the ranks of the governing Labor Party to an attack. "The Washington Post" reported on 27 August that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was annoyed that he was not receiving any sympathy for his position from President Bush. In an op-ed piece by Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote: "Last month a senior adviser to...Tony Blair told me bitterly that Washington 'was giving Blair nothing' in return for Blair's unstinting support, even as British domestic opposition was growing." Holbrooke added: "If London aggressively supports Washington, a [UN] resolution strong enough to lay the basis for action will be achievable." (Simon Henderson)

U.S. AIRCRAFT ATTACK RADAR SITE IN NORTHERN IRAQ AND OTHER TARGETS. U.S. military aircraft bombed an Iraqi air-defense site in the north of the country on 23 August after being targeted by an Iraqi missile-guidance system. A statement from the U.S. European Command said the aircraft were on routine patrol when the Iraqi radar locked onto them near the northern city of Irbil. The statement said: "Coalition aircraft responded to the Iraqi attacks by firing on the radar site. All coalition aircraft departed the area safely."

In Baghdad, a military spokesman said, "Iraqi antiaircraft and missile units fired at enemy aircraft, forcing them to leave Iraqi skies," according to the Iraqi News Agency. On 27 August, U.S. aircraft attacked an air-defense command facility near the city of Nukhayb and a military radar site near the northern city of Mosul. In both cases, U.S. officials said the aircraft were responding to Iraqi provocations. (Simon Henderson)

WITNESSES CLAIM IRAQI MONITORING STATION HIT. AP reported on 27 August that an air raid by U.S. and British aircraft on 25 August destroyed a major military surveillance site that monitors American troops in the Persian Gulf. Quoting Iraqi witnesses who later had reached Jordan, the news agency said one of the installations hit was the main headquarters of army intelligence in southern Iraq. The site, at Ashar, south of the port city of Basra, was hit by four missiles that destroyed most of its buildings and left its equipment in shambles. The explosions were heard in Basra, and a huge fire and black columns billowed above the site. Another witness said troops and Ba'th party militia immediately cordoned off the area while ambulances and fire engines rushed inside the tightly guarded complex.

The U.S. Central Command, responsible for overflights in southern Iraq, issued a statement saying coalition aircraft used precision-guided weapons to strike two air-defense radar systems near Basra "in response to recent Iraqi hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone." Iraqi officials said allied aircraft bombed areas in Basra province, killing eight civilians and wounding nine others. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ HAS 'STARTED MILITARY PREPARATIONS.' In anticipation of any eventual U.S. attack, Iraq has started military preparations, "The New York Times" reported on 25 August. The story quoted Pentagon officials and former U.S. government experts as saying, "President Saddam Husseyn of Iraq will try to compensate for his armed forces' glaring weaknesses by raising the specter of urban warfare" in the event of attack.

Iraqi forces have been digging defensive positions for military equipment around Baghdad, the newspaper reported. The Iraqi military has also been moving air-defense units around the country and dispersing army units in the field to make them less vulnerable to surprise air attack.

The newspaper said that "this time [Saddam's] goal is not so much to hold ground as to hold power. That means that Iraq can be expected to use the threat of urban warfare to try to deter the U.S. from attacking in the first place and to raise the political costs if Washington decides to press ahead with an invasion." It quoted a former CIA analyst of the Iraqi military as saying: "One way [of making the Bush administration think twice] is to make us believe that we are going to face a Mesopotamian Stalingrad." But a retired army general who fought against Iraqi forces in the Gulf War told the newspaper: "The notion that they will retreat into the built-up areas and turn them into a kind of Stalingrad is laughable." He went on: "I don't think [the Iraqi military] can handle the synergy of American military power, the violence and the speed. A war could entail a few thousand U.S. casualties. But my honest judgment is that if we are serious about this, it would take 90 days to build up our forces and 21 days for the campaign. I think they will unravel."

The Iraqi Army has a strength of 350,000 men, about one-third of its size at the start of the Gulf War, the newspaper reported. It is made up of 17 regular army divisions and six divisions of the elite Republican Guard. The regular army forces are kept far from the capital for fear that they might be involved in a coup against Saddam. This deployment enables them to contain indigenous threats but means they can directly contribute little to the defense of Iraq's capital. Eleven divisions are in northern Iraq, close to the Kurdish-controlled area. The remaining six divisions are focused on suppressing the resistance of Shia Muslims in the south.

The Iraqi air force has about 300 combat aircraft, half as many as it had during the Gulf War. Its best aircraft are the French-made Mirage F-1s and Soviet-made MiG-25s, the newspaper reported. It quoted American intelligence sources as saying the Iraqi air force is flying more often these days thanks to spare parts smuggled from Syria. (Simon Henderson)

EXILES LEARN PR TECHNIQUES. A group of Iraqi exiles living in North America and Europe started a four-day course of media training at the State Department in Washington this week. The 17-strong group will be taught how to write opinion pieces, give speeches, and do television and radio interviews, CNN reported on 26 August. The intention, the station reported, is to help "make the case that the battle is not between the U.S. and Iraq, and to convey that the Iraqi people and Iraq's neighbors will be better off without Saddam."

The funding for the media-training workshop came out of funds for the Future of Iraq project, a State Department spokesman said. It is not subject to the restrictions of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, the spokesman made clear in a transcript of the briefing. The Smith-Mundt Act is a key public-diplomacy law, the State Department said, that "governs the dissemination abroad of information about the U.S., its people, and its policies." (Simon Henderson)

OIL PRICES SURGE ON TALK OF ATTACK ON IRAQ. Crude-oil prices surged on the New York Mercantile Exchange on 26 August, the London-based "Financial Times" reported the next day. It said prices were spurred by talk of an attack on Iraq as well as the refusal of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to support an increase in oil production. Nymex crude futures for the October contract climbed 65 cents to $29.28 a barrel. (The other major oil market, the International Petroleum Exchange in London, was closed for a public holiday.) President Chavez said he backs current oil prices and that he will urge other members of the OPEC oil cartel to leave production quotas unchanged at their September six-monthly ministerial meeting, due to take place in Osaka, Japan.

By 28 August, crude-oil prices retreated from the week's highs after reassuring comments on supply from the president of OPEC offset speculation over a U.S. military strike and investors took profits, the "Financial Times" reported the next day.

"We have enough oil to put into the market if needs be," Rilwanu Lukman, the OPEC president, said on 27 August. OPEC member Algeria previously said OPEC will ensure that prices remain within the self-imposed target of $22-28 per barrel, which the cartel perceives as fair for producers and consumers alike, the newspaper reported. On 26 August, the OPEC reference export price, a notional basket of its crudes, stood at $26.67 per barrel. It has climbed by 44 percent since the beginning of the year. (Simon Henderson)