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Iraq Report: December 14, 2001

14 December 2001, Volume 4, Number 41

The next issue of the "RFE/RL Iraq Report" will appear 11 January 2002.

ARAB-KURDISH DELEGATION TO INITIATE DIALOGUE WITH IRAQI KURDISTAN. Kurdish sources have informed the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat" on 6 December that a popular delegation including Kurdish and Arab figures is on the way to Kurdistan to meet the leaders of Kurdish factions there. They say this is a reconciliation initiative within the framework of a united Iraq and aims to overcome conditions which have led to an estrangement between the Kurds in the north and Baghdad.

According to the sources, the principle basis for the dialogue is Saddam Husseyn's recent call and his assertion during his meeting with the Kurdish politician Fuad Ma'ruf of the importance "of having our Kurdish people settle on one view, make their choice by themselves, and maintain it for a long time without letting whims change it."

Husseyn had met earlier with members of the central committee and political bureau of the pro-Baghdad Kurdistan Democratic Party, a wing not recognized or accepted by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Mas'ud Barzani, and had also stated the need for direct contact and dialogue.

At the same time, he hinted at the connection of some Kurdish leaders with a "foreign state." Recently "Al-Iraq" newspaper, which is published in Baghdad by two Kurdish groups that cooperate with the central government, commented on the dialogue requested by Saddam Husseyn. "The others [Kurdish leaders in the north] must resort to reason and give precedence to rational solutions over power and the lap of strangers." It warned the Kurds of the Kurdistan Regional Government by quoting a Kurdish proverb: "Do not eat the strangers' bread as this diminishes your stature. It is better to be naked in your place than to be a pasha with strangers."

On 11 December the "Kurdistan Observer" ran an AFP item mentioning that the U.S. State Department has announced it had begun mediating a long-running dispute between rival Kurdish groups in Kurdistan.

A high-level team led by Ryan Crocker, deputy assistant secretary of state for middle east affairs, is now in northern Iraq to mediate between the KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) at their request. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Crocker's mission is aimed at demonstrating "continued U.S. engagement with the Iraqi opposition, consultation with key players on issues in northern Iraq, providing for direct discussion on the status of reconciliation among the Iraqi Kurds and evaluating implementation of the oil-for-food program in northern Iraq."

The American visit to Iraqi Kurdistan has drawn fire from an Iraqi parliamentary deputy. Salim al-Kubaysi, head of the Arab and International Relations Committee, claimed that the U.S. team's trip constitutes "meddling in Iraq's internal affairs" and is a "flagrant violation of all international conventions," according to AFP on 11 December. (David Nissman)

BLIX: IRAQ NEEDS WEAPONS INSPECTORS. Hans Blix, the executive director of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said that UN inspectors would have cleared Iraq's name from all suspicions had it allowed them to go back in. "If Iraq had effective inspections and cooperated with UNMOVIC since 1999, then it might not have been subjected to the suspicions based in the media which it is being subjected to now," Blix told KUNA on 7 December.

Iraq's name has come up as a possible facilitator of the terrorist attacks of 11 September and as a possible source of the anthrax spores used in attacks in the U.S. "No one has seen such evidence but I don't think the suspicion would have been there if they had cooperated with UNMOVIC." He argued that "this demonstrates, in a way, that Iraq could have a need for UNMOVIC."

He noted that any evidence that Iraq was complicit in the attacks of 11 September or linkage to the anthrax cases would have a "major impact."

A study of satellite pictures taken of Iraq by a commercial company shows that there has been some changes since 1998 to Iraqi buildings. Blix said: "There has been some reconstruction, of course, and we are still in the early phase of getting new images. We have not seen so many but new images will show us to what extent Iraq has rebuilt or expanded existing buildings." (David Nissman)

ROMANIA EXPELS IRAQI SPY. The Romanian government recently expelled an Iraqi diplomat because he was involved in "activities that are incompatible with his diplomatic status," reported the Bucharest newspaper "Ziua" on 7 December. Confidential sources say that his expulsion took place following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, which appears to indicate that the Iraqi diplomat was engaged in actions in support of certain terrorist networks.

The same sources have revealed that the information has been verified by the SRI (Romanian Intelligence Service) and SIE (Foreign Intelligence Service) in cooperation with similar Western intelligence services. The name of the expelled spy is Muhammad Abdal-Razzaq, who occupied the position of consul.

The article further reports that, according to Romanian secret services, there are hundreds of "ghost" companies through which millions of dollars have been sent out of Romania. Secret service experts suspect that a considerable part of these funds have been transferred to the bank accounts of organizations that support extremism and terrorism. (David Nissman)

RUSSIAN ENVOY ON TALKS WITH IRAQI OFFICIALS. Nikolai Kartuzov, Russian special missions envoy, was interviewed on his tour of the region by the Amman newspaper "Al-Arab Al-Yawm" on 3 December. He said the purpose of his tour was part of the continuous consultations with the Iraqi leadership to find a way out of the present impasse in the Iraqi issue.

In his most recent talks, he met with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi. In his talks with Aziz, he said: "Moscow believes that there is an urgent need to resume the dialogue between Baghdad and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. We said it is not important who begins, the main thing is to start the dialogue."

Iraq affirmed that the decision on the dialogue with the UN secretary-general still exists, and it is waiting for an invitation by Annan, as well as an initiative to determine the place and time for this dialogue. Baghdad feels that the initiative must come from Annan because he is the one who suspended the dialogue with Baghdad in the past.

Kartuzov also discussed the potential for a U.S. attack against Baghdad with Iraqi officials. As far as Baghdad's viewpoint, Kartuzov said: "First of all the Iraq leadership affirmed that there was absolutely no justification for such aggression or for the threat to carry out this aggression. It also affirmed that Iraq is not involved in any activity to again produce weapons of mass destruction, or anything connected with them�There hasn't been any new development since the 1998 aggression."

As far as Moscow's view on the chance of a U.S. strike, "Russia is exerting its maximum effort to prevent a U.S. strike against Iraq. We are warning all circles and quarters that such a plan would only threaten to dismantle the world coalition against terrorism," Kartuzov said.

If such a strike took place, "Russia would consider it an unjustifiable aggression and it would denounce and condemn it strongly," Kartuzov continued.

He does say, however, that with regard to the objective of turning the entire Middle East region into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, "the solution of the Iraqi problem represents the first phase toward this aim, especially if many things were accomplished to this end."

For that reason, Moscow has called for a return of the UN weapons inspectors to Iraq with an "honest mission" under the UN resolutions, Kartuzov concluded. (David Nissman)

CORRECTION: The third paragraph of the item "Iraq Accepts 'Oil-For-Food' Extension, But Not Trade Constraints" of "RFE/RL Iraq Report" of 7 December 2001 should read:

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi said on 1 December that "those who concocted this resolution sought to ignore Iraq's right to obtain a lifting of the embargo, skirt the provisions of the (1996) memorandum of understanding, which established the oil-for-food program, and clamp new restrictions on Iraqi imports."

TURKISH TROOPS REINFORCED IN NORTHERN IRAQ. The Neu-Isenburg Kurdish "Ozgur Politika" of 7 December reported that Turkey positioned 120 more tanks in northern Iraq at the beginning of December. The tanks are positioned in the Soran region as well as Begova and the vicinity of Zakho. Including the newly positioned tanks, the number of Turkish tanks in northern Iraq, numbers 150-160.

According to sources, Turkey has also deployed a special unit of 500 soldiers in the Soran region. Reportedly, the troops were stationed there with PUK leader Jalal Talabani. It was also reported that Talabani, soon to visit Turkey, will ask for money in return for permission to station the troops.

The "Iraq Press" on 11 December reported that Iraqi Kurds view "the latest Turkish troop movements with alarm." Some doubt is expressed whether Ankara can resist pressure from the United States to join a military coalition against Iraq. This would give Turkey a role in drawing up the map for a future Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQI ESPIONAGE UNIT LOCATED IN DENMARK. According to an Iraqi defector, a lieutenant general of the Iraqi intelligence services, a spy cell formulated specifically for Denmark exists containing seven Iraqi exiles linked to the unit as regular agents. The leader is an intelligence officer from the Iraqi intelligence service (Mukhabarat), reported the Copenhagen newspaper "Politiken" on 8 December.

The lieutenant general defected in October. He was responsible for recruiting Iraqi agents working in the Scandinavian countries, and also gave instruction in execution techniques and sabotage.

The cell in Denmark is part of a network of 14 espionage units throughout Europe and the Middle East, said the defector, who was interrogated in Turkey by both the CIA and FBI.

The former lieutenant general said that the last recruiting he had done for intelligence work involved seven agents at a conference for exile Iraqis (mughtariban) in Baghdad from 15-19 April 2000.

According to the defector, rank-and-file agents concentrate on infiltrating the Iraqi opposition in Denmark and establishing contacts with private companies. (David Nissman)

IRAQI, QATARI, OMANI FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN DOHA. An unpublicized meeting was held on 5 December by Qatari Foreign Minister Shaykh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabr al-Thani, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi, and the Omani official in charge of foreign affairs, Yusuf bin-Alawi bin-Abdallah, reported the London-based Arab newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat".

According to reliable sources, the tripartite meeting was concerned with current political developments in Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, the situation in Iraq, and the Middle East situation and the peace process in general.

Despite what diplomatic sources told "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat", the Iraqi foreign minister denied any knowledge of the meeting, and said that "if the Omani minister visited Doha without our knowledge, this is quite normal in Gulf Cooperation Council states where officials are used to exchanging courtesy visits, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan."

In the past, the Sultanate of Oman acted as an intermediary and passed on letters between the United States and Iran, and it cannot be ruled out that it may be playing a similar role between the United States and Iraq. (David Nissman)

AL-HADITHI MEETS QATARI FOREIGN MINISTER, SYRIAN PREMIER. On 2 December Iraqi Foreign Minister al-Hadithi met with Qatari Foreign Minister Shaykh Hamad bin-Jasim bin-Jabr al-Thani to discuss mutual ties and ways to strengthen and develop them, according to Baghdad Radio of 3 December. They also discussed regional and international issues of mutual concern.

Also, on 2 December al-Hadithi was received by Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa Miru. Both the Syrian prime minister and al-Hadithi expressed their satisfaction with the growing bilateral relations, which are considered an important step on the way to joint Arab economic relations. They stressed the desire to follow up the promotion of bilateral relations on the bases set by the recent visits of the Syrian prime minister to Baghdad and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan to Damascus. (David Nissman)

FIFTEEN PRISONERS GASSED TO DEATH IN IRAQI PRISON. The Center for Human Rights of the Iraq Communist Party has confirmed that 15 prisoners were gassed on 10 August by being placed inside a specially designed gas chamber and then releasing a poisonous gas through vents. The execution was under the direct supervision of Saddam's youngest son, Qusay, according to the "Kuwait Times" of 8 December.

The victims were dead within 27 seconds. The execution was videotaped. The bodies were left there until the gas was extracted through special vents.

The executions were part of the "prison clean-up" campaign which has so far claimed 3,000 victims. (David Nissman)

THAILAND TO EXPAND TRADE WITH IRAQ. Thailand's Commerce Ministry is expected to sign a 16 billion baht ($366.4 million) trade account with Iraq by the beginning of next year in order to expand Thai exports to Middle Eastern countries, an advisor to the commerce minister said. Tawatchai Sajjakul said that under the agreement, Thailand would exchange products for 20 million barrels of Iraqi crude oil, reported "Business Day" on 11 December.

Tawatchai was assigned by the commerce minister to oversee trade with Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Libya, Iran, and Kazakhstan.

Last year's trade volume with Iraq accounted for only 5 billion baht of Iraq's total trade volume of some 500 billion baht. Tawatchai claimed that "Thailand still has a small market share in Iraq. Most imported goods in Iraq come from China and India. Trade with these countries accounts for about 40 percent of its total imports." (David Nissman)

JORDAN TO RESUME FLIGHTS TO BAGHDAD. Royal Jordanian Airlines intends to make its first flight to Baghdad since canceling its Amman-Baghdad run after 11 September, reported AP on 8 December.

Samir Majali, the director-general of the airline, told the Petra News Agency that the insurance companies had agreed to cover all flights between the two capitals, and Jordan would seek UN approval to make its first flight on 14 December. It plans to fly to Baghdad four times a week. (David Nissman)

JORDAN-IRAQ PIPELINE TENDER FLOATED. A Jordanian government official announced on 9 December that the Jordanian government has floated a tender for the construction of the Jordan-Iraq pipeline, reported the "Jordan Times" on 10 December.

Local and international firms must submit proposals by 16 April 2002, and the selected firm or consortium will be announced by July 2002.

The pipeline will be 700-750 kilometers in length and is expected to cost an estimated $365 million. Jordan will cover the cost of the section of the pipeline within Jordanian territory (roughly 300 kilometers), and Iraq will cover the remainder.

The pipeline will have an estimated capacity to transport 350,000 barrels of crude a day and will extend from the Iraqi pumping station at Haditha, 260 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, to Jordan's refinery in Zarqa, northeast of Amman.

Under the Jordanian-Iraqi trade protocol for 2001, Iraq supplies Jordan with all its oil needs, amounting to around 5 million tons at a cost of some $600 million. (David Nissman)

IRAQI MINISTER: U.S. WILL NOT BE ABLE TO REMOVE SADDAM. Iraqi Minister of Culture Hamid Yusif Hummadi said on 8 December that the United States will not be able to remove Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn from power.

Hummadi told Xinhua on 8 December that "they [U.S.] have been trying this for the past 20 years and they admitted many times that they did not succeed. They are not going to succeed because Saddam has the whole population behind him." Hummadi was attending the opening of a Chinese photo exhibition in Baghdad.

Hummadi also reiterated Iraq's rejection of the return of UN arms inspectors. He said, "We reject spies and intelligence people to come [to Iraq] as arms inspectors, and they are not allowed back."

He claimed that the charges that arms inspectors served as spies came not from Iraq, but were made by Richard Butler, former head of the UN special commission in charge of Iraq's disarmament. (David Nissman)

TRADE MINISTER ASKS FOR MORE EGYPTIAN INVESTMENT IN IRAQ. Iraq Minister of Trade Muhammad Mahdi Salih has called on Egyptian businessmen and the private sector to benefit from the available opportunities in the Iraqi market following the signing of the free-trade agreement between Iraq and Egypt, reported Baghdad Radio on 7 December. Salih noted in statements published in Egypt that the free-trade-zone agreement has given the Egyptian private sector an opportunity to export Egyptian commodities and products to Iraq without customs fees.

Salih, who chaired the delegation to the Arab economic unity council, said that the agreements on the Arab common market have been activated to prepare for the implementation of the Arab quadripartite market which will include Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Libya. The agreement, called the Baghdad declaration, was signed in June of this year. (David Nissman)