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Iraq Report: April 6, 2001


6 April 2001, Volume 4, Number 11

SCIRI READY FOR DIALOGUE WITH WASHINGTON. In an interview published in London's "Al-Hayat" on 3 April, Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, chairman of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said that he would have no objection to "a direct dialogue" with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell or other senior American officials "to protect the interests of the Iraqi people."

Al-Hakim said that the new administration in the United States "has brought a new momentum and is trying to show seriousness in its handling of the Iraqi people's cause." And while he denied any knowledge of reported U.S. plans to establish a "safe haven" for the opposition in southern Iraq, he appealed to Washington to back up its words with actions against Baghdad's continuing repression of the people.

In other comments, he said that improving ties between Iran and Iraq will not have an impact on SCIRI or on all of the opposition to Saddam Husseyn. He also denied that his group had any links with the Mujahedin-e Khalq. As for the "Al-Badr corps" (SCIRI's military arm), Al-Hakim said that "the corps military decision is an Iraqi one and not Iranian, other than those that concern Iranian sovereignty, including the non-infiltration of Iraq from Iran."

Al-Hakim also claimed that that the Iraqi Army was cooperating with SCIRI's aims, adding that "the attack with Katyushas (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 March 2001) on the Republican Palace was carried out with the army's help after we have spread our message within it, a message that says that Iraq does not belong to a privileged group but to all Iraqis." (David Nissman)

IRAQ REJECTS ARAB SUMMIT DRAFT... Baghdad's rejection of the Arab summit draft on the situation reflects its continuing unwillingness to implement UN resolutions and to release more than 600 Kuwaiti POWs, the former chief of Iraqi intelligence Wafiq Al-Samarra'i said. Meanwhile, Hamid Al-Bayyati, the Kuwait representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said that "every time that Arabs try to reconcile with Iraq, the regime becomes more stubborn and creates more problems and tension in the region." Other opposition leaders collectively agreed that the Iraq regime's refusal of the Amman draft resolution was because "Baghdad does not want the sanctions lifted." Saddam's main concern is to maintain the flow of billions of dollars that he receives from illegal oil exports. (David Nissman)

...BUT EXTENDS CONSULTATIONS. Iraqi Vice President 'Izzat Ibrahim and Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf have remained in Amman after the Arab summit for further consultations with King 'Abdallah II, according to London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 30 March. (David Nissman)

KUWAIT 'NOT COMMITTED' TO ANY FORMULA ON IRAQ TIES. Kuwait's Ambassador to Amman Faysal Mash'an told the "Jordan Times" that Kuwait is not committed "to any formula reached during the Arab summit because Iraq did not accept the compromise reached by the...foreign ministers," according to AFP on 2 April. He added that "we presented many concessions during the summit which were not reciprocated by the other side, so we consider what has been agreed upon as cancelled." Meanwhile, Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" reported on 30 March that Jordanian Foreign Minister 'Abd-Al-Ilah Al-Khatib said that the reconciliation formula which proposed to resolve the problem between Iraq and Kuwait could have been worked out and was, in fact, within reach had Baghdad not stuck to another formula that would not have made any change. (David Nissman)

TURKEY'S CEM IN U.S. TO DISCUSS MODIFYING EMBARGO... Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem has pressed Washington to "reorganize" the sanctions regime in ways that "will be to the interest of Turkey," Western agencies reported. Accompanying Cem on his visit to the U.S. was Foreign Trade Undersecretary Kursad Tuzmen, who also asked for Washington's support for lifting the UN ban on Turkey's tenders related to Iraq. At a press conference at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, he said he had asked U.S. officials at the United Nations to overcome bureaucratic roadblocks there on Iraq as Turkey has been enormously harmed by the sanctions, according to "The Turkish Daily News" on 29 March. One-third of the $650 million volume of trade between Turkey and Iraq has been suspended as a result of UN sanctions. (David Nissman)

...AS TURKEY TO OPEN SECOND BORDER CROSSING WITH IRAQ... Even as Cem and Tuzmen were pressing the U.S. to ease sanctions, Anatolia Agency reported on 30 March that Turkey has decided to open a second border crossing with Iraq. According to the report, Ankara has not decided yet on the precise location of the new crossing point. That will be decided later in April. (David Nissman)

...AND IRAQ HOPES TO LINK UP WITH EUROPEAN GAS NET VIA TURKEY. Taha Hamud Yasin, secretary of the Iraqi Oil Ministry, has announced that current talks between Iraq and Turkey concerning the construction of a natural gas pipeline to Turkey have reached an advanced stage so that it will be possible to sign a joint agreement between the two countries to this effect, "Arab News" reported on 2 April. Meanwhile, the Turkish daily "Cumhuriyet" on 1 April reported that this agreement will allow Baghdad to link into the European gas network in the future. According to the "Middle East Economic Survey) the agreement promises to supple Turkey with amounts that may reach 10 billion cubic meters of Iraqi gas from the five gas fields of Al-Anfal, Al-Mansuriya, Jaryat Baka, Al-Khasham Ahmar in Al-Jamjal in the north of Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQI-SYRIAN FREE-TRADE ZONE LAUNCHED. As of 1 April, Iraq and Syria have dropped all duties on trade between the two, AP reported. That arrangement was reached in an accord between Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa Miru and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan. The latter noted that this agreement was "a step toward Arab economic unity and the establishment of an Arab common market." Current annual trade volume between the two countries is approximately $500 million -- under the official UN oil-for-food program. But London's "Al-Hayat" on 2 April says that each country expects the real volume to reach $1 billion this year. Syria reestablished relations with Iraq only in 1988 and reopened its borders only in 1997. In 2000, Baghdad opened an interests section in Damascus, and Syria is expected to open a similar office in Baghdad this year. (David Nissman)

EGYPT SEEKS MORE TRADE WITH IRAQ. An Egyptian trade delegation led by Public Enterprise Minister Mukhtar Khattab arrived in Baghdad on 1 April to discuss bilateral cooperation, AFP reported on 1 April. Iraqi Minister of Trade Muhammad Mahdi Salih told the Iraqi News Agency that trade between the two countries under the UN's oil-for-food program stood at some $2 billion a year. Egypt is currently Iraq's third largest trading partner, behind France and Russia. (David Nissman)

MOROCCAN TRADE FAIR IN BAGHDAD. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan opened a Moroccan trade fair in Baghdad on 1 April, AFP reported. In support of the fair, Morocco's Minister of Trade Mustafa Mansuri brought with him 160 businessmen and officials. He told the Moroccan TV channel "TVM" that Saddam Husseyn has instructed his government to give the Arab states priority in cooperation. According to "Arab News" on 2 April, the volume of trade between Iraq and Morocco is now $267 million a year. (David Nissman)

RAMADAN RECEIVES RUSSIAN ENVOY. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan received Russian Ambassador for Special Missions Nikolay Kartuzov on 2 April and thanked him for President Vladimir Putin's opposition to sanctions as expressed in his letter to the Arab summit in Amman, Baghdad Radio reported. Ramadan added that he hoped Russia and Iraq will take practical steps to foil the attempts of those who pursue a policy that conflicts with these relations. Kartuzov for his part expressed Russia's desire to lift the blockade imposed on Iraq. He also insisted that the new U.S. administration had not changed its attitude toward Baghdad. (David Nissman)

ARMENIA PURSUING OWN INTERESTS WITH IRAQ TIES. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Ruben Shugarian said in an interview published in "Respublika Armenii" of 16-23 March that "Armenia is trying to pursue an independent policy, including in the Near East, where we have many interests. Actually, there were two reasons for opening and embassy in Baghdad. There is the isolated Armenian diaspora of 30,000 in Iraq, who are critically in need of humanitarian aid. And there are our economic interests within the framework of the UN oil-for-food program. We do not concern ourselves with anyone else's political interests, for with rare exceptions small countries cannot be intermediaries in relations among large states, especially those burdened with a difficult legacy." (David Nissman)

IRAQI MINISTER IN MINSK. An Iraqi delegation headed by Minister of Industry and Minerals Adnan 'Abd-Al-Majid went to the Belarusian capital to discuss expanding trade in tractors, trucks, and mechanical engineering. Belarusian Prime Minister Vladimir Yermoshin told the Iraqis that the visit confirms "the high level of instate relations between the two countries" and added that Belarus has always favored lifting all sanctions against Iraq, Interfax reported on 30 March. (David Nissman)

KURDISH SCHOLAR MURDERED IN BAGHDAD. London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 30 March that Kurdish historian and scholar Muhammad Jamil Bandi Al-Rusbayani, 88, had been murdered with an axe in Baghdad on 27 March. He reportedly had received international support for his research. Following the coup in 1968, Al-Rusbayani was an advisor to the committee on the affairs of the north, which was then chaired by current President Saddam Husseyn. He also worked in several committees of the Kurdish department of the Iraqi Scientific Academy and has published several works on history, language, and literature. (David Nissman)

KDP, PUK TAKE STEPS TO NORMALIZE TIES. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have taken steps to normalize relations between them, according to a report in the "Kurdish Observer" of 6 April. They have decided to remove the military line that divides Iraqi Kurdistan and to open up bureaus in each others territory. And they indicated that they will consider plans to create a joint government as well. (David Nissman)

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