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Iraq Report: June 16, 2000

16 June 2000, Volume 3, Number 19

IRAQI REACTION TO AL-ASSAD DEATH MUTED. Initial Iraqi reactions to the death of Syrian President and longtime Saddam Hussein enemy Hafez al-Assad's death were strikingly muted. His death was announced on 10 June at 4 pm (Baghdad time) on Iraqi Television. An hour later, Baghdad Television carried a brief item noting only that al-Assad was dead and mentioning that the constitution had been amended by the National Assembly in Syria in order to allow al-Assad's 34-year-old son Bashar to assume the presidency. The following day, Baghdad Radio announced that Iraq would be represented at the funeral by Vice President Taha Muhyi-Al-Din Ma'ruf.

A generation ago, Saddam and al-Assad were both members of the Ba'th Party, a nationalistic party founded on the dreams of Arab unity. But they split in 1966 over the question of control and, despite repeated efforts--the last in 1979 just before Saddam took power in Baghdad--never were able to reach agreement on how to achieve Arab unity. Then, during the Iran-Iraq war, al-Assad supported Iran. And when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, al-Assad sent troops to join the multinational force which drove the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait.

But there have been some indications that Baghdad may seek a rapprochement with the new government in Damascus. AFP reported from Dubai on 11 June that diplomats there are watching to see if the regime that emerges in Damascus will pursue the opening. And Baghdad Radio did report on 13 June that Ma'ruf met with Bashar al-Assad at the funeral. (David Nissman)

WATER IS PRETEXT FOR INVASION OF NORTH. Citing Iraqi opposition sources, London's "Al-Hayat" said on 9 June that Baghdad "has deployed massive forces on Kurdistan's border in preparation for an imminent large-scale attack on and invasion of the area." Baghdad has avoided crossing the red line and challenging the U.S., the chief protector of the northern no-fly zone, but now there are suggestions that the Iraqis may be preparing to move "on the pretext of liberating the water springs" near Sulaymaniyah, according to a newsletter published by the Iraq Broadcasting Company (an information-collecting branch of the Iraqi National Congress).

The IBC says that "a state of alert has been declared in military units and the Ba'th Party centers in the region." Saddam Husseyn's son, Qusayy, reportedly is in charge of the operation. Similar reports have surfaced within the last few weeks (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 June 2000). Current Baghdad planning supposedly is based on the growing importance of water given the drought afflicting the country.

Meanwhile, London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 2 June featured an article saying that "informed Iraqi sources say that legal proceedings will be brought against all those who entered northern Iraq without having obtained permission from the government in Baghdad. The charges will range from bringing about a situation conducive to the division of Iraq, perverting the cause of justice, and entering the country illegally. Those guilty of the first charge could face a death penalty; the other charges all require seven years in jail. Lists of names have been drawn up of those indictable, including politicians, party leaders, writers, journalists, and businessmen as well as those whom the Iraqi government has named as Mossad or CIA agents." (David Nissman)

SCIRI RELEASES 1992 BAGHDAD PLANS FOR MARSH DRAINAGE. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq released a report on 6 June which provides details on an earlier Baghdad plan to drain the marches of southern Iraq and which appears to be a reaction to a recent article in the 25 May "Kuwait Times" strongly critical of Iraq's river drainage projects (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 June 2000).

According to the SCIRI report, based on what it describes as captured documents, Baghdad has a five-stage plan: beginning with the building of dikes in Amarah Province (a project completed in 1991), extending to changes in river banks, diversion of the Euphrates to Al-Masab Al-Am and ending with the now-reported plan to drain the marshes.

The SCIRI study argues that Baghdad wants to take this step to break the resistance of the people living there. But if the Iraqi government does dry up the marches, that will disturb the ecosystem of the northern Gulf as well. (David Nissman)

INDIA NOT GIVING IRAQ SUPPORT. Salah Al-Mukhtar, the Iraqi ambassador in India, complained to "The Times of India" on 13 June that Delhi has not stood by Baghdad in its hour of need. He said that "the government of India believes that they are supporting Iraq by signing contracts with Iraq, by giving scholarships and technical training to our students. These are not the [kinds of] support we need from India." Al-Mukhtar added that India is not supporting Iraq politically, "but they believe they are supporting Iraq economically, but Iraq does not need economic support." (David Nissman)

EGYPTIAN EXPORTS TO IRAQ RISE. Egyptian exports to Iraq in the oil-for-food program over the last six months have risen to $392 million, Xinhua reported on 12 June. These include equipment and raw materials worth $160 million, foodstuffs worth $185 million, $42 million in autos, and $5 million in soaps and industrial detergents. According to an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, this rise in Egyptian exports shows that there are wider prospects for economic and trade cooperation between Egypt and Iraq ahead. Under the UN deal, Egyptian exports to Iraq have totaled $1.442 billion, making Egypt Iraq's largest trade partner in the Arab world, and the fifth largest after Russia, China, France, and India. (David Nissman)

OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM EXTENDED. The UN Security Council on 8 June extended the oil-for-food program for another 180 days. In an analysis of UNSC 1302, the Iraq Foundation on 12 June suggests that the document contains some new elements, including giving the UN secretary-general greater authority over implementation, simplifying and speeding up procedures for contract approval before the Security Council's Sanctions Committee, and making financial transactions more timely and efficient. Under its terms, for example, the secretary-general alone, rather than the Security Council, has the authority to oversee oil export contracts negotiated by the government of Iraq. (David Nissman)

VIETNAM BACKS BAGHDAD ON SANCTIONS ISSUE. Saddam Husseyn received Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tang Dun on 10 June. At the meeting, the Vietnamese official said that "we are doing our best now to have the Iraq blockade lifted. We have a great desire to contribute toward the implementation of the memorandum of understanding by concluding contracts with Iraq in all fields. This will enable us to develop and enhance relations of economic cooperation in all fields." Husseyn, for his part, said his government considered Vietnam "their number one friend." (David Nissman)

KURDS COMPLAIN TO UN ON PALESTINIAN RESETTLEMENT PLAN. Six Kurdish political parties have written to the United Nations urging the international body to block Baghdad's Arabization campaign in Kirkuk which they view as a precursor to the resettlement of Palestinians there, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 11 June. The Arabization of Kirkuk has sparked an international campaign. The founding of the Kirkuk Identity Protection Center in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 June 2000) was the first recent effort to draw world attention to this issue, which is also connected with massive deportations of non-Arabic ethnic groups from Kirkuk as well as Iraqi laws on education that deny ethnic minorities the right to be educated in their own mother tongues.

The Kurdish political parties are: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party of Kurdistan, the Communist Party of Kurdistan, the Basok Party, and the Kurdish Socialist Party.

The issue of the resettlement of Palestinians has been emerging as a factor in the regional politics of this area of the Middle East, and the process has been denied by official Palestinian circles. The problem is that the question has become intertwined with the Middle East peace process, and denials of the process do not make the issue disappear, largely because the Arabization process is undeniably occurring, and Arab tribes are being moved in from the south of the country to occupy lands and houses formerly owned by the ethnic minorities deported from Kirkuk. (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 May 2000). At the same time, a correspondent for Radio Free Iraq reported on 12 June that all civil servants of Kurdish origin in Kirkuk are being transferred to other parts of Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQI OPPOSITION IN IRAN URGES SCIRI LEADER TO STEP DOWN. Groups within the Iraqi opposition movement in Iran are calling for reforms in the structure of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and for the replacement of the long-time SCIRI chairman, Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, according to an article in London's "Al-Zaman" on 10 June. The paper further reports that the vocabulary of the Iranian reformist movements has spread to the Iraqi oppositionists there who now speak about "despots and autocrats." Al-Hakim has accused the Islamic Al-Da'wa Party, Baghdad, and Iraqi intelligence of orchestrating this campaign against him.

"Al-Zaman" reports that this effort gained prominence on the first anniversary of the assassination of the prominent Iraqi religious leader Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr in February, when demonstrations and meetings calling for the dismissal of Al-Hakim took place in Qum. One of Al-Sadr's former deputies called for the composition of a long letter signed in blood to Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, asking him to intercede to enable the oppositionists to select a new leader without intervention from Iranian quarters. In the past, Khamenei has strongly supported Al-Hakim's chairmanship of SCIRI and the Badr Corps, SCIRI's military wing.

The opponents of Al-Hakim, including some members of his inner council, or shura, say that elections have become necessary. They want to replace members of the council appointed by Iran.

"The problem is," said Shaykh Muhammad Baqir Al-Nasiri, secretary-general of the Mujahidin Scholars in Iran and a founder of SCIRI, "that Iraqi scholars and mujahidin who reject autocracy and autocrats...might contribute in one way or the other to perpetuating the state of autocracy." But he added that "I believe the attempts at reform are stronger and wider than before." (David Nissman)

KURDISH TELEVISION ON INTERNET. A new Kurdish television station, Mesopotamia TV, will soon be available on the Internet at The station, based in Denmark, plans to offer Kurdish language courses as well. Its managers hope to expand its range of broadcast languages to include Kurmanci, Sorani, and Danish in addition to English. (David Nissman)

PUK MARKS 25TH ANNIVERSARY. Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) marked its 25th anniversary in early June. Accompanying the celebrations were announcements of an alliance between the PUK and the Democratic Movement (DM) in Iraq, and a keynote speech by Philo Dibble, the director of Northern Gulf Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

In an attempt to lay fears of a renewed armed conflict between the forces of the PUK and the army of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Talabani refuted any PUK plans to attack areas under the control of the KDP and said: "these claims which are in circulation by hostile horns bear no truth." He maintained that the "PUK adopts democratic means to solve its problems and the barriers in order to stop the regional governments' interventions in the Iraqi Kurdish matter, as happened in 1995, 1996, and 1997." He also asked for political dialogue "away from the media wrangling which excites political, economic, and social climates."

Philo Dibble, at the PUK 25th anniversary dinner in Washington on 2 June, stressed the importance of the Washington Agreement, of which the PUK and KDP are co-signers. He also said that the PUK and KDP must work together to preserve the democratic advances achieved in the region, "and their leaders must continue to exercise the leadership, the vision, and the statesmanship that have created the situation we have in the north today."

As far as the United States is concerned, Dibble added that the U.S. "will support you as you work together for the common good of Iraqi Kurds and we will remain engaged and remain ready and willing to help implement the Washington Agreement." He also promised that the U.S. "will work outside the frame of this agreement also; we will work to improve the UN oil-or-food program for the effect of Kurds and all the Iraqi people. We maintain a ready and able force in the region and we affirm that should Saddam move against the north, we will respond." (David Nissman)

NO KURDISH REGION IN RUSSIA. Russian ombudsman Oleg Mironov told Moscow's Kurdish community on 9 June that the Russian government will not establish a Kurdish region but will promote their cultural autonomy, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 June. He said that "no other country has 89 regions, and it would be an excess to add one more." Mironov's remarks came in response to issues raised at a Kurdish meeting in Moscow at the beginning of May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 May 2000). At that time, the Kurdish political journal "Ozgur Politika" reported on 2 May that federalism for the Kurds was discussed, but cultural autonomy was actually offered and accepted. (David Nissman)