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Iraq Report: March 23, 2001

23 March 2001, Volume 4, Number 9

SENIOR BAGHDAD OFFICIALS ARRESTED FOR CORRUPTION. The Persian Gulf newspaper "Al-Watan" reported on 16 March that Iraqi security agencies on orders of Qusay Saddam Husseyn arrested Salah Kuzayyir, the head of the electricity commission, on charges of corruption. In addition, the security agencies arrested several of Kuzayyir's senior aides. The paper said that the commission has signed contracts worth more than $2.9 billion over the last decade and that more than one official there has taken kickbacks. Meanwhile, an unconfirmed report says that Kuzayyir was involved in paying more than $13 million to government officials abroad. The "Middle East Economic Digest" on 23 March reported that Kuzayyir has been replaced by Sabhan Faysal Mahjub. (David Nissman)

WASHINGTON MAY GIVE AID TO VARIOUS OPPOSITION GROUPS. According to wire service reports on 20 March, the new U.S. administration is considering channeling some of the $25 million allocated for Iraqi opposition groups to organizations not under the umbrella of the Iraq National Congress (INC). A State Department official was quoted by Reuters as saying that "We're making a good-faith effort but so far the INC has not come up with a plan that meets the legal requirements. So we're not going to rule out other potential grantees who may do the job faster and better." Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the INC had been effective in reporting Baghdad's abuses. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, RUSSIA CALL FOR LIFTING OF NO-FLY ZONES. On 18 March, Iraqi National Assembly speaker Sa'dun Hammadi and visiting Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev demanded that the U.S. and Britain stop their joint patrolling over the no-fly zones, which both Russia and Iraq consider irrelevant to UN resolutions, according to a report by Xinhua of 18 March. Seleznev, who had met with Saddam Husseyn earlier that day, also called for lifting sanctions on Iraq. Saddam, for his part, expressed his appreciation for Moscow's pro-Iraq efforts. (David Nissman)

IS KUWAIT SHIFTING ITS POSITION ON IRAQ? Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf and his Kuwaiti counterpart Shaykh Sabah Al-Jabir Al-Sabah are to hold separate talks with King Abdullah in Amman, according to the "Jordan Times" of 20 March. Kuwait reportedly will adopt a "new approach" toward resolving its differences with Iraq. "Kuwait does not object to the lifting of sanctions on Iraq but it believes also that Iraq should implement the world body's resolution," the message Al-Sabah is carrying reportedly says. (David Nissman)

KUWAIT-IRAQ RECONCILIATION AND ARAB SUMMIT. The "Jordan Times" of 21 March said that "it is a matter of some urgency that the Arab League summit meeting in Amman next week tries to achieve consensus on the need to reconcile Iraq and Kuwait to help eliminate major reasons that have contributed to the current sad state of affairs prevailing in the region." But the editorial admits that no unilateral solution will emerge permitting the lifting of sanctions on Iraq as was demanded by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan on 19 March. It adds that such a demand "is not very correct." because the sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council to prevent Saddam Husseyn from rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction and threatening the region. The editorial adds that "for their part, Arabs cannot end the sanctions unilaterally." (David Nissman)

TURKISH TRADE WITH IRAQ EXPANDS. Turkish Undersecretary for Foreign Trade Kursad Tuzmen visited Baghdad to promote trade between the two countries, according to an article in the "Turkish Daily News" on 15 March. Meanwhile, Iraqi Trade Minister Muhammad Mahdi Salih said it was President Saddam Husseyn's desire to improve economic ties with Turkey. He also said that Britain and the United States did not feel any compassion for the deterioration of Iraqi-Turkish economic relations as they were not affected by it. While in Baghdad, Tuzman pointed out that Turkey seeks to increase trade with its neighbors and believes that a floating currency system would allow them to increase purchases from Ankara, "Anadolu Ajansi" reported on 14 March. (David Nissman)

SYRIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER. Bashar Al-Asad received Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Said Al-Sahhaf at the People's Palace in Damascus on 15 March. Also attending the meeting were Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shar'a, Iraqi Foreign Minister Undersecretary Dr. Nabil Najm, and the head of the Iraqi Affairs Department in Damascus, Muhammad Rif'at Al-Ani. Baghdad Radio on 15 March reported that Al-Sahhaf also discussed Iraq's views on lifting the unjust embargo imposed on it. (David Nissman)

AZIZ MEETS WITH YEMENI FOREIGN MINISTER. On 18 March Tariq Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister, received Abd-Al-Qadir-Ba-Jammal, Yemeni deputy prime minister and foreign minister, according to Baghdad Television on 18 March. They reportedly discussed the upcoming Arab summit and the current Arab situation as well as ties between Iraq and Yemen and the need to strengthen these ties in all fields for the benefit of the two states. (David Nissman)

OMANI FOREIGN MINISTER ON IRAQ. Following a meeting of the Omani-Egyptian joint committee, the Omani minister for foreign affairs said that there was consensus among the other Arabs on the need to lift the embargo and end the suffering of the Iraqi people. But he also said reconciliation and the Iraqi file could not be achieved within one session or solved rapidly during the upcoming Amman summit, according to the Muscat "Daily Observer" of 14 March. (David Nissman)

IRAQI VP RECEIVES TUNISIAN TRADE MINISTER. Baghdad Radio reported on 16 March that Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan had received Tunisian Trade Minister Tahar Sioud to discuss economic ties between the two. Ramadan observed that the first popular Arab delegation to visit Iraq following the ceasefire in 1991 was from Tunisia, and Sioud expressed his admiration for the Iraqi people's steadfastness, which has become an example for the Arab "nation" in confronting the imperialist hegemony. (David Nissman)

ZARUBEZHNEFT RECEIVES PERMISSION TO DRILL IN IRAQ. Russia's Zarubezhneft has received UN permission to drill 45 exploratory wells in northern Iraq. According to a report from Interfax from 14 March, the UN Sanctions Committee gave Zarubezhneft approval to carry out work on the approximately $8 million contract in mid-December 2000. Another Russian company, Tatneft, will carry out the drilling work on behalf of Zarubezhneft as part of the UN oil-for-food program. In addition, Russia's LUKoil has received an official invitation to participate in the exploration of nine hydrocarbon deposits in Iraq. LUKoil's first deputy vice president told Interfax that his company will work within the framework of the international sanctions. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, MALAYSIA TO COOPERATE IN MEDICAL FIELD. Official Iraqi-Malaysian talks in the health, medicine, and prevention fields began in Baghdad on 15 March, according to Baghdad Radio. The two sides discussed a number of issues, including hospitals, training, medical instruction, preventive medicine, medicinal industries, and medical equipment. They also talked about the possibility of training medical cadres and exchanging visits by medical delegations. The Malaysian visitors reportedly emphasized the importance of Iraq's participation in the medical conferences and fairs held in Malaysia, especially the international medical conference to be held in Jakarta in September. (David Nissman)

'REPUBLIC OF SIRNAK' SCRUTINIZED BY PRESS. The "Kurdish Observer" on 14 March carried an expose of the activities of a criminal organization which it alleges is controlled by JITEM (The Gendarmerie Intelligence Agency) located in the city of Silopi, on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Sirnak's name is the name of the "il," or administrative district of which Silopi is the major city. Under Silopi's jurisdiction is the Khabur Border Gate, through which some $2 billion worth of goods, mostly petroleum products, annually goes through.

The "Kurdish Observer" claims that "the smuggling of heroin, diesel fuel, weapons, and archaeological artifacts is being carried out in a very organized manner through Khabur Border Gate." JITEM members control the border crossing. Within Silopi's borders, the center of JITEM activity is said to be BOTAS, the Turkish pipeline company headquartered in the city. As the "Kurdish Observer" says, the "strategic importance of BOTAS is highlighted in the 'protection' of this triangle in which the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria all meet."

"Sirnak" has also been implicated in the fate of some 60 people who have disappeared from the Silopi district center and the surrounding villages in recent years. A Captain Narlioglu and his team -- which have captured people crossing the border illegally -- have "riddled them with bullets" and then told the press "we killed some PKK members." The article also accuses special team members of the "government of the nation of Sirnak" of torturing the mayor of Silopi and four of his siblings. The torturers are reportedly being protected by Silopi's current mayor, Neset Okten. Many other cases are cited about the activities of the "government of the Nation of Sirnak." (David Nissman)

TWO VIEWS ON THE KURDISH FUTURE IN IRAQ. A pro-Saddam Husseyn Iraqi hailed Baghdad's approach to the Kurdish people's "legitimate national rights" in "Al-'Iraq" on 17 March. But Siamand Banaa, a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, in a speech to the "Campaign against Sanctions in Iraq" conference at Cambridge University, 10-11 March, described another facet of Baghdad's policies against the Kurds in recent years. The difference between them highlights both the problems of the Kurds and of those who seek to understand and help them.

Banaa claims that during the Kurdish uprising 10 years ago, "tons of documents captured during the uprising clearly prove that the total eradication of the Kurdish identity through the physical destruction of life and property was the regime's preferred solution to the Kurdish problem in Iraq." Moreover, he says, in April 1991, the Republican Guard -- supported by tanks and helicopter gunships -- swept back into the region, prompting the establishment of the "Safe Havens," the area above the 36th parallel. Shortly thereafter, the no-fly zones were established.

But "Al-Iraq" points to Saddam Husseyn as the defender of Kurdish autonomy, when he says from the very beginning: "we have had a principled view and an ethical position on the Kurdish issue. The circumstances, the complicated problems, and the wide and serious imperialist-reactionary conspiratorial attempts have not affected our view and position. The revolution, which regards its own commitment to the basic pillars as a substantive thing in its strength and continuity, will always continue to realize and emphasize its adherence to those pillars not only under the circumstances of the difficulties and dangers but also under the circumstances of victories and detente. This is the revolution's path and ethics." (David Nissman)