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Iraq Report: August 25, 2000

25 August 2000, Volume 3, Number 29

SADDAM REASSUMES DIRECT CONTROL OF CHEMICAL, BACTERIOLOGICAL WEAPONS. Tel Aviv's "Ha'aretz" reported on 11 August that Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn has again assumed personal control over the possible use of chemical and bacteriological weaponry, thus ending a 30-month-long period when he had transferred the right to use such weapons to his military district commanders. According to Israeli officials, Saddam had given these officers the right to use such weapons because he feared a challenge to his regime that he personally might not be able to respond to. But now, with renewed self-confidence, he has cancelled that order. "He canceled the orders because he feels the threat to his regime has waned. His situation in the domestic arena is strong, and the international front against him is showing cracks," a senior Israeli official said. In other comments, the same source noted that Saddam has not contracted cancer, as widely reported in the Western press, and is, in fact, in good health. He stated that "we note that Saddam is resolutely determined to achieve a top-level strategic capability. He has invested almost unlimited infrastructure, personnel, and budgets to this end."

BAGHDAD PLAYS UP RITTER PRESS CONFERENCE. Baghdad's "Alif-Ba" on 9 August played up an interview it had conducted with Scott Ritter the week before. Ritter, who had served as a UN weapons inspector in the past but now is producing a film sharply critical of that process, told the paper that he had resigned as an inspector because of U.S. government interference with the inspectors and U.S. attacks on Iraq itself. He noted in the interview that he had borrowed money from an Iraqi-American millionaire to finance his film. Ritter said that he hopes his film will be the "starting point for a better and clear awareness of the situation, leading to an objective international understanding of this situation and a serious discussion calling for the removal of the sanctions on Iraq."

RUSSIA, IRAQ DISCUSS EXPANDING COOPERATION. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz that "our contacts are conducive to a significant improvement in relations between our countries," according to the "Interfax Petroleum News" of 16 August. Kasyanov added that he was pleased with the level of bilateral aid and economic relations between the two countries. The Russian official added that Moscow is standing by its positions that the sanctions must be lifted, although Russia is interested in the comprehensive development of bilateral ties with Iraq even in the context of the sanctions.

RUSSIAN PLANE VISITS SADDAM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. Without UN authorization, a Russian plane flew out of the newly reopened Saddam International Airport in Baghdad on 20 August. The plane had brought a delegation of Russian officials who were exploring prospects for Russian firms to develop Iraq's energy sector, INA reported.

At a press conference at the end of their stay in Iraq, Ruslan Tsalikov, the Russian deputy emergency situations minister, expressed Russia's rejection of the continuation of the blockade. He said the Russian flight to Iraq reflects the Russian stand, which rejects the air embargo, reported Radio Baghdad on 20 August. Meanwhile, Iraqi speaker of parliament Sa'dun Hammadi called Jordan to follow in Russia's footsteps and send a flight to Baghdad. And also on 20 August, a German plane belonging to the German Air Aid Department left Saddam International Airport. It was in Baghdad to airlift a Swedish patient from Baghdad to Germany via Turkey, reported Baghdad Television.

PAKISTANI BUSINESS SEEKS IRAQI TRADE VIA IRAN. The acting president of the Federation of the Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), Sardar Raza Mohammed Barrech, called on Islamabad to look into the possibility of an overland trade route with Iraq through Iran, according to Karachi's "Asia Pulse" of 21 August. Iraq's ambassador in Pakistan, Abd-Al-Karim, responded by suggesting that an Iraqi business delegation be invited to visit Pakistan to discuss the possibilities of trade cooperation. "Asia Pulse" notes that the envoy also sought FPCCI's cooperation in encouraging the participation of Pakistani companies in the Baghdad International Fair to be held in November this year. (David Nissman)

CAIRO DAILY SEES MOUNTING OPPOSITION TO SANCTIONS. Cairo's state-owned daily "Al-Ahram" argued last week that the "international urge to sympathize with the Iraqi people under the growing constantly." And it editorialized that "it seems that the Iraqi authorities are still relying on the economic incentives they offer some states in their attempt to mobilize world efforts to win the battle of lifting the embargo." The paper added that "this was evident in the recent statements some Iraqi sources made to the effect that Iraq would look into the contracts some countries submit in the context of the UN oil-for-food plan." In other commends, the paper called attention to the fact that some countries characterized by their deep sympathy for the Iraqi people have announced that "the Iraqi regime was not doing much to help build up the necessary pressure to guarantee success in lifting the international embargo."

RAMADAN CRITICIZES SAUDI ARABIA, KUWAIT, U.S. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan told the Iraqi parliament that the Saudi and Kuwaiti regimes were guilty of "flagrant aggression" implemented by "American and British mercenaries," according to Radio Baghdad on 21 August. He also criticized the Arab League, noting that "the Arab League secretary general has no right to assess a speech by the head of an Arab state who tries to mobilize the nation's forces against its enemies." Ramadan added that the United States opposes the convocation of an all-Arab summit because the current division of Arab countries serves its interests.

IRAQ CONDEMNS TURKISH AIR RAID ON NORTHERN IRAQ. A Turkish air raid in northern Iraq aimed at PKK camps in which more than 40 people were killed has been sharply condemned by Iraq, Kurdish parliamentarians in Iran, and pro-PKK MEDYA-TV. A spokesman for the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said that "Iraq reserves the right to respond to this aggression at the right time and place." The attack took place in the Irbil region of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is within the no-fly zone.

A fraction of Kurdish deputies in the Majlis condemned the Turkish attack, according to IRNA on 20 August. The report adds that the deputies called on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to raise this protest at the UN, the European Union, the secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and all related international and continental organizations and inform the fraction of the result.

Duran Kalkan, member of the PKK Chairmanship Council, said that the KDP confirmation of the attack was not enough. He stated that "the KDP, which is in charge of this region, and those who launched the attack, should give credible explanations to the national and international public opinions." He added that "the positions of the KDP and the PUK run counter to the changes in the Middle East. They will either renew themselves and participate in the process or the process will surmount them" (by "process" he means the Middle East peace process in general), reported the Neu Isenburg-based Kurdish journal "Ozgur Politika" of 22 August. (David Nissman)

RAMADAN RECEIVES AUSTRIAN DELEGATION. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan received a delegation from the Austrian Freedom Party led by deputy Ernst Fend Holst, according to a report from Baghdad Radio on 21 August. The delegation conveyed to President Saddam Husseyn the greetings of the president and members of the Freedom Party who also stressed their support for the Iraqi people in their struggle to lift the unjust embargo. Ramadan, expressing his appreciation for the greetings, reaffirmed Saddam Husseyn's directives to develop ties with Austria, which has had positive stands towards Austria. The Austrian Freedom Party delegation expressed a desire to expand friendly ties and cooperation with he Arab Socialist Ba'th Party and "develop political, economic, and commercial cooperation in the distant future and not in the present."

SLAVNEFT HEAD IN IRAQ. A delegation of the Russian-Belarusian oil company led by its president, Mikhail Gutseriev, arrived in Baghdad on 22 August, reported "Interfax" on 22 August, to meet with senior Iraqi officials and to explore cooperation in the development of Iraqi oil fields. A group of Slavneft experts has been working in Iraq since it opened an office in Baghdad earlier this year. The delegation asserted that Slavneft's activities in Iraq are coordinated with the Russian Foreign Ministry and do not violate the sanctions imposed on Baghdad after its invasion of Kuwait 10 years ago.

INDONESIAN PRESIDENT ADVISED NOT TO GO TO IRAQ. An Indonesian political observer from Bung Hatta University in Padang, Efrizal Syofyan, has urged President Abdurrahman Wahid to postpone his plans to meet Saddam Husseyn. Syofan told the Indonesian news agency "Antara" on 22 August that "in view of the current situation of global politics and developments in Iraq as well as issues in our own country which are yet to be sorted out, a trip to Iraq seems less than productive." He elaborated on this theme in the Padang newspaper "Medan Analisa" on 23 August that the president would be "better off concentrating on the improvement of the domestic political and economic situation now that half of his time in office has been spent traveling overseas." (David Nissman)

U.S., U.K. PLANES INCREASINGLY UNDER FIRE. Iraqi anti-aircraft guns are shooting at American and British planes approximately 12 times a month, Michael Evans, defense editor of the London "Sunday Times," wrote on 22 August. That has sparked new concerns about Iraq's short-range missile program. Iraq has begun to test the new Al-Samud missile. While its range is less than a hundred miles, thus not violating the ceasefire agreement signed by Saddam Husseyn following the 1991 Gulf War, the lack of UN weapons inspectors has raised fears that Iraq could be developing longer-range weapons. In the northern no-fly zone, American and British aircraft were fired on more than 270 times by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery and 14 times by surface to air missiles between October 1999 and June 2000. In the southern no-fly zone, the Iraqis tried to bring the aircraft down 98 times with anti-aircraft artillery, and launched 45 surface-to-air-missiles. In the northern no-fly zone, aircraft dropped 129 bombs on Iraq air defense facilities; in the southern no-fly zone, allied aircraft only responded on 12 occasions.

RAMADAN ADDRESSES KURDISTAN REVOLUTIONARY PARTY. Speaking to the 14th National Conference of the Kurdistan Revolutionary Party (KRP) on 21 August, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan said that "any dealing with the foreigner cannot be seen but as a form of collaboration, subservience, and treason," Baghdad Radio reported on 21 August. In this context, he asserted that "the Americans, British, and Zionists are trying to undermine the genuine values of our Kurdish people in the self-rule area by disrupting the social and familial fabric and spreading bad behavior there." He urged the KRP, which is subordinate to Saddam Husseyn, to play a greater role in the self-rule area.

TURKMEN FRONT SEEKS BETTER RELATIONS WITH THE KDP. On 10 August, the Turkmen Front issued a statement asserting that "the Turkmen Front's aims and principles are to establish fraternal relations based on mutual respect with our Kurdish and Assyrian brothers."

It added that "the Turkmen Front leadership has held several meetings with the Kurdistan Democratic Party leadership. The relations between us depend on various and painful incidents. Had the first incident been contained, no other similar acts would have taken place and no blood would have been shed on both sides" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 28 July 2000).

Ironically, on 20 August, another Turkmen Front institution was attacked by the KDP. "Turkmeneli" reported on 20 August that the Turkmeneli Sports Club was attacked by a KDP armed group, according to a statement from the Turkmen Front leadership in Irbil. The day before, there had been a discussion between the Turkmen Front and the Irbil Governorate. The deputy governor of Irbil promised that the tension would end if the club's guards would leave the building. Because of these promises, the guards left the premises. KDP forces immediately stormed the building.

The 10 August statement concludes: "While protesting against the situation, we urge all democratic authorities and human rights organizations to condemn he KDP's stance. We would like to say that the entity of a people cannot be destroyed by violence and injustice, and announce to the public opinion that we will continue the struggle relentlessly for the attainment of all our legitimate rights."

BARZANI ON RIGHTS OF ASSYRIANS, TURKMEN. Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani used a public meeting in Irbil on the 54th anniversary of the establishment of the KDP, according to a report in "Zinda" on 24 August, to stress his commitment to guaranteeing freedom of expression, pluralism, and religious and national rights for all ethnic communities.

Barzani said that "in its program, the KDP acknowledged the rights of the Turkoman, Assyrian, and Chaldean brothers. It struggled for realizing them. As a result of this, our brothers are enjoying these rights and are exercising them in the best possible way...I take this opportunity to tell our Turkoman and Assyrian brothers that if, in any other place, they have more rights or a better situation than the one they have in Kurdistan, I would like them to tell us so we can fill any gaps or remedy any shortcomings."

A few days before Barzani's speech, the Assyrian Universal Alliance, which has been participating for some years in UN meetings, joined an international organization known as the Unrepresented Nations and People Organization (UNPO). This year it participated for the first time in the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which was created in 1982, according to a report in "Zinda" on 24 August.

This year, they brought to the floor, through Assyrian lawyer Suzy David, the question of the Assyrians in Iraq. She said that "our people continue to be the victims of ethnic, religious, cultural, and linguistic persecution and genocide. More significantly, Assyrians, according to the United Nations and other reliable international sources, are being forced from their homes, and thus forced to become refugees in overwhelmingly large numbers."

Turkmen also have been subjected to the same pressures (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 March 1999). Both Turkmen and Assyrians are located on Baghdad-controlled territory and lands under the control of the KDP and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).