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Iraq Report: March 31, 2000

31 March 2000, Volume 3, Number 8

IRAQ HOLDS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. For the second time since 1991, Iraqis went to the polls to elect a national assembly. Baghdad Television reported on 27 March that nine million, one hundred thousand Iraqis went to the polls to make their selection among the 512 candidates running for 220 National Assembly seats.

'Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council and head of the Higher Committee Supervising the National Assembly's Elections, said that the elections would be "free and democratic.", according to a report on the Republic of Iraq Radio on 21 March. The London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 17 March commented that "in these elections, as in previous ones, only the Ba'th Party will take part," since the other parties were not granted a permit to operate legally and the opposition parties abroad were not allowed to take part.

If only Iraqi officials could describe this vote as free and fair, it nonetheless appears to promise some change: On the one hand, 'Uday Saddam Husseyn is making a bid to enter the political arena. And on the other, the list of other candidates do not include any members of the Ba'th Party regional command.

In addition, the candidates include representatives from the tribes, who are expected to increase their share of influence over the past. Especially strong showings are expected from the Al-Sa'dun tribe in the Al-Basrah governate, and the Al-Jubur tribe. Only the tribes from Tikrit and western Iraq have a larger number of candidates.

As for Uday, the London-based "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" of 27 March noted that banners in Baghdad urge Iraqis to vote for "the Ba'th Party's candidate -- Dr. Uday Saddam Husseyn". The signs may have turned the tide, as AFP reported on 28 March that he had won with a mere 99.99 percent of the vote, thus launching his political career in a manner which left Iraq-watchers unsurprised. As far as the official results are concerned, Xinhua reported on 28 March that 'Uday received more than 200,000 votes, the highest among the elected members according to Justice Minister Shabib Lazim Al-Maliki.

There are actually 250 seats in the National Assembly, but 30 of them are for the northern districts behind the no-fly zone in Kurdistan. Al-Maliki told Xinhua that these seats will be filled by appointments from Saddam Husseyn. (David Nissman)

OPEC TO INCREASE OIL PRODUCTION. The OPEC meeting in Vienna decided to increase oil production by 1,452 million barrels per day, according to an AFP report from Abu Dhabi on 29 March. Leo Drollas, deputy director of the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies, said the increase will not be "enough to bring prices down to the twenty one-twenty two dollar level."

Both Iran and Iraq had initially opposed the increase in production. The Iranian reaction, said Drollas, was for "public consumption" because of the US pressure on OPEC to increase production. Ultimately, Iran went along with the increase.

Iraq, which has been excluded from quota systems since the Gulf War, continued to resist any increase. Iraqi Oil Minister Dr. Amir Muhammad Rashid called on OPEC to make its decisions with complete freedom, away from U.S. political pressure. By that time, he had met with his Russian counterpart as well. According to Rashid, the Iraqis and the Russians have an "identical" position on oil issues. (David Nissman)

IRAQ RUMORED TO BUILD MISSILE FACTORY IN SUDAN. An unconfirmed report suggesting that Iraq and North Korea are building a missile factory in Sudan has sparked comment. Iraq is known to be rebuilding its missile capacity, but according to Kyodo News, U.S. intelligence officials have expressed doubt about this specific claim. The project was formulated when Iraqi Oil Minister, Amir Rashid, visited Pyongyang two years ago, and a year later met with a North Korean delegation in Baghdad to discuss plans regarding the factory. Some six weeks ago, the two countries allegedly met in Khartoum to discuss factory construction.

Meanwhile, London's "Sunday Telegraph" on 26 March cited Iain Duncan Smith, the shadow defense spokesman, to the effect that Saddam Husseyn has forged a nuclear cooperation pact with Slobodan Milosevich. Smith claimed that Yugoslavia holds about 50 kilos of weapons-grade uranium, enough for several nuclear bombs, stored outside Belgrade. Smith further suggested that it is "increasingly likely that Milosevich will agree to give Saddam the enriched uranium to enable the Iraqis to complete production of their own nuclear weapons arsenal." (David Nissman)

REPRESENTATIVE GILMAN: U.S. 'LOSING GROUND TO SADDAM HUSSEYN.' On 23 March, the chairman of the U.S. House International Relations Committee Benjamin Gilman said that the U.S was losing ground to Saddam Husseyn because the international community has not conducted weapons inspections for 15 months during which time Saddam has restarted his WMD programs. Gilman added that Washington's current effort to "degrade" Saddam's military capabilities are not working and that the Iraq Liberation Act has not resulted in any real changes. He called on the Clinton Administration to "immediately deliver to the opposition the assistance that is currently being withheld. And he urged that the Administration establish "a cross-border humanitarian aid program into Iraq, run by the Iraqi opposition." (David Nissman)

OFFICIAL OPPOSES LIFTING OF SANCTIONS. C. David Welch, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international organizations, told the House International Affairs Committee on 23 March that Washington remains opposed to any lifting of sanctions against Iraq. He argued that much recent criticism of the sanctions regime has been misplaced because the critics have been "overlooking three important points:" the continuing brutality of Saddam Husseyn's regime, the impact of sanctions on Saddam's financial resources, and the way in which sanctions are preventing the restarting of his WMD programs.

Welch also pointed out that the oil-for food program is having a "clear and measurable impact on the ground in Iraq." Nutrition has improved; per capita calory intake among the population has increased from 1300 calories per day before the program began to over 2000 now." He acknowledged that the program has been most effective in the three northern provinces of Iraq because the UN manages the program without interference from Baghdad. In south and central Iraq, where Baghdad manages the program, child mortality has risen, but in the north it has fallen below prewar levels. (David Nissman)

KUWAITI ON SADDAM'S 'STRATEGIC MINDSET.' Shafiq Ghabra, the director of the Kuwait Information Office in Washington. told the Philadelphia-based "Middle East Forum" on 27 March that Saddam Husseyn's "strategic mindset" on Kuwait has "not changed since 1990."

Every other country in the region is in the process of changing its political discourse by debating reform and economic change, Ghabra said, but the situation in Iraq is different. There, he continued, "the greatest danger flows from the degree Saddam is out of touch with reality." This makes miscalculation by Saddam "a constant danger to those around him." As a result, "those who say that Iraq poses no threat are gravely mistaken."

Ghabra asserted that the Gulf Cooperation Council and its allies have force sufficient to reverse any aggression Saddam might attempt against his neighbors, but he identified three dangers that the Iraqi leader represents:

The first is that Saddam is still engaged in trying to rebuild his military to pre-1990 levels. The second is that Saddam is pushing against "the constraints and pressures surrounding him because he wants revenge against the allies over the longer term, and Kuwait will be at the top of his list." An ancillary problem to this is "containment fatigue" afflicting the allies. And the third is that "a lack of dialogue could develop between the GCC leadership and the next U.S. administration." (David Nissman)

IRAQI FORUM FOR DEMOCRACY ON ASSYRIAN RIGHTS. Rommel Eliah, the U.S. and Canada representative of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ZOWAA) told the Iraq Forum for Democracy Town Hall meeting, held on 26 February in Anaheim, California, that the divisions among the Iraqi opposition reflected its vitality rather than its weakness. "In today's world, unity in position among all groups is an expression of dictatorship," he said.

Other speakers included Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati, representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; Dr. Hassan Akif Hammoudi, member of the Politburo of the Iraq Communist Party; Dr. Barham Salih, representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Mr. Dhargham Kadhum, representative of the Iraq National Accord; and Mr. Frank Ricciardone, Coordinator for the Transition in Iraq of the U.S. Department of State.

Dhargham Kadhum said that ethnic and political rights are "secured in a democracy". But Dr. Barham Salih argued that "democracy is not a magical word that would solve all Iraq's problems. Assyrians are entitled to seek assurance from the next government about their rights and treatment." He stressed that "we in the Opposition need to study among ourselves the broad baselines in regard to securing the rights of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmens, and all segments of the Iraqi population..." (David Nissman)

KURDISH NAWRUZ RECEPTION IRKS TURKS. A Nawruz reception sponsored by the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) offices in Ankara has hit a nerve in Turkish policy circles. The reception, held at the Ankara Sheraton and attended by members of the diplomatic community, was said by Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Sermet Atacanli to have "caused sensitivity", according to TRT Television on 22 March.

The problem, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 23 March, was blown out of proportion by the media. The editorial points out that Turkish parliamentarians representing the eastern and southeastern provinces attended the reception, while officials from the Foreign Office who are sensitive to the Nawruz issue stayed away.

The paper's editorial stressed that "this was a simple social gathering on a special day...blown out of proportion by the Turkish media." It adds that friction caused by the event "has the potential to create friction between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey" and "will not serve any constructive purposes."

But its impact has lingered. "The Kurdistan Observer" of 25 March quotes a Turkish newspaper "Radikal" which says that a delegation headed for Ankara and led by Prime Minister of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) Nechirvan Barzani had requested to hold talks with government officials in Ankara, but this request has been rejected.

"The Kurdistan Observer" had earlier added that the Middle East Affairs Department of the Turkish Foreign Ministry "will inform the delegation on the importance Turkey attaches to Iraq's territorial integrity and will warn against any initiative that might be seen as a move to achieve independence for Iraqi Kurdistan." (David Nissman)

PUK TARGET OF PKK, IRAQI PROPAGANDA. The process of reconciliation between the Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP), led by Mas'ud Barzani, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Jalal Talabani, has made both leaders targets of propaganda attacks by those parties most opposed to any reconciliation between the leaders of the Kurdish factions in control of northern Iraq -- Baghdad and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party).

Early this month, the visit of a PUK delegation to Turkey to discuss relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey was the subject of an article by Abdullah Hicab in the pro-PKK journal "Ozgur Politika" on 11 March. Hicab pointed out the the actual subject on the agenda was PUK-PKK relations, and he contends that "Turkey and the United States aim at taking the region under their control through the mediation of the PUK." Following the meeting with the Turks, the leader of the PUK delegation said that they had come in order to "strengthen relations with the KDP and follow up on the Washington Agreement." Hicab then asked why is the PUK trying to solve its issues with the intervention of Turkey now?

The Iraq Workers Communist Party (IWCP) claimed that their offices and party members in PUK-controlled regions of Iraq Kurdistan are also under attacks by the PUK. An article in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman" of 20 March published a letter states that the PUK is threatening to close its headquarters on 4 April, and also claimed that a number of its members had been jailed.

The pro-Baghdad Kurdish newspaper "Al-'Iraq" of 21 March, reporting from Sulaymaniyah, the capitol of PUK-controlled Kurdistan, also reports that the head of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, is backing the formation of a party known as "Jews of Kurdistan" (Yahud Kurdistan). Talabani asserted that the activity of such a party is "part of democracy in Kurdistan."

"Al-'Iraq" quotes Talabani speaking at a meeting at his headquarters in August 1999 wherein he is alleged to have said that opposing the opening of the headquarters of the Jews of Kurdistan is impossible party because "preventing the opening of such headquarters will prompt the United States to ask us to officially open the headquarters." He allegedly claimed that "anyone who objects to this will have to stop the armies which the United States brings to Kurdistan."

"Al-'Iraq" also manages to bring Iran into the issue. It maintains that "Jalal has allowed elements from the Iranian intelligence service to open dens in Al-Sulaymaniyah under the cover of practicing religion (Persian style) - and organizations that promote atheism and claim they belong to "communist" parties."

As a backdrop to this series of attacks by various parties was an appeal by Talabani broadcast over Kurdsat Television on 6 March directed at the KDP. Talabani said: "when our Kurdistan Democratic Party brothers appointed Nechirvan Barzani as the new head of government, I openly said that we accept Nechirvan to be the head of a joint government." He also proposed the holding of new elections with the presence of foreign supervision. If this takes place in the near future, the result would be a more stable Kurdistan Regional Government.

Meanwhile, "Kurdistan Newsline" reported on 24 March that the exchange of Nawruz greetings between Barzani and Talabani has raised the hopes of an improvement in PUK-KDP relations, something that could help to promote the implementation of the Washington Accord. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD EVICTS TURKMENS FROM KIRKUK. The "Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmens" has confirmed the settlement of a group of Palestinians in Kirkuk, which adjoins a region under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. (PUK). According to a report published in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat" on 15 March, Turkmen families have been forcibly removed from Kirkuk.

The backdrop to the process was the distribution of Kurdish opposition pamphlets calling on the people "to expect big events in Kirkuk before Nawruz, which fell on 21 March." In 1991, the uprising that temporarily removed Kirkuk from Baghdad's control erupted on 21 March.

A spokesman for the Political Bureau of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkmens said that 300 Turkmen families from a district in Kirkuk were forced to resettle in Ramadi, a city east of Baghdad, and Palestinians were put in their place.

Rumors of the resettlement of Palestinians in Kirkuk and other regions of Iraq have been in circulation for some months. "Al-Hayat" mentioned on 10 March that a recent Baghdad decision to permit Palestinians to own land provided they had taken refuge in Iraq in 1948 gave some credence to a Palestinian resettlement process. "Al-Hayat said that due to the all-pervasive corruption in Iraq, a small sum, about $100, paid to officials of the Central Statistical Office, would suffice to get a piece of paper proving the bearer was a Palestinian who had taken refuge in 1948, or otherwise complied with the decree. Subsequently, large numbers of Palestinians poured in from Jordan to buy property "after receiving the necessary approvals".

Iraqi sources indicated that there is a "distribution" plan extending from Badra, a town bordering Iran in the south to the city of Kirkuk in the north as well as through other towns with Kurdish or Turkmen majorities. These regions have seen a process of intensified "ethnic cleansing" since the beginning of the year. The Palestinians share two elements which Baghdad wants to emphasize. First, they are Arabs, and second, they are Sunni. The resettlement of Palestinians would enable Baghdad to fix an ethnoreligious balance in the country which is thought to be to the advantage of the current regime.

The Palestinian representative of the PLO and the Palestine National Authority have rejected resettlement plans in Kurdish areas in talks with a representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government in February, according to the Sorani Kurdish internet source "Kurdistani Nuwe" of 26 February. (David Nissman)