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Iraq Report: September 29, 2000

29 September 2000, Volume 3, Number 32

RUSSIAN, FRENCH PLANES LAND IN BAGHDAD. A Russian flight which had the clearance of the UN Sanctions committee and a French flight which defied that committee's call for its delay landed in Baghdad last week.

The Russian plane, operated by Vnukovo Airlines and carrying five tons of medical supplies, musicians, a soccer team, and a delegation lead by Yuri Shafrannik, head of the CEO oil company, landed at Saddam International Airport on 23 September, AFP reported on 23 September.

The French plane, which landed the day before the Russian one, carried a 75-member delegation, including some 30 medical staff and 40 French sports figures and activists. Because the French ignored the UN committee, Washington accused Paris of violating the sanctions regime.

An expert at Moscow's Institute for Oriental Studies downplayed the importance of the flight, suggesting that it was "a kind of advertising campaign" for Vnukovo airlines, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 September. Aleksandr Filonik added that any suggestion that this flight or others like it violated the sanctions regime would be "ridiculous." But at the same time, he noted that the sanctions regime had failed and that Russia's presence in Iraq was "very profitable."

Shafrannik, the head of the Russian delegation, echoed this notion. He told the Russian news agency on 23 September that "we not only can but should express ourselves in Iraq, considering the rich oil resources of this state." And he concluded that "If we lose Iraq we will never have a good balanced budget like we have for 2000-2001." (David Nissman)

FLIGHTS AFFECT ARAB ATTITUDES TOWARD EMBARGO. A BBC survey of the Arab press taken in the aftermath of the Russian and French flights to Baghdad reported on 25 September found ever greater support for ending the embargo against Iraq. According to the report, Qatar's "Al-Watan" argued that it is time for the Arab countries to take the initiative in breaking the 10-year embargo on Iraq. Bahrain and Oman's views are similar. The only countries still taking a hard-line on Iraq in the Gulf are Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The "Mideast Mirror" of 25 September carries a piece by the editor of the London-based "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" in which he asks the question: "Why doesn't Syria resume civil flights to Iraq? Why doesn't Jordan do the same? What about Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen?" And further: "What can the Arabs lose? What do they have left to lose?"

Meanwhile, on 26 September the leading Jordanian daily "Al-Ra'y" noted that a Jordanian passenger plane will be the first Arab plane to break the embargo, leaving Amman and landing in Baghdad on 27 September. There are also reports that Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu-Al-Raghib may visit Iraq aboard a civil plane. (David Nissman)

SYRIAN MINISTER IN BAGHDAD TO PROMOTE ECONOMIC INTEGRATION. Syrian Minister of Industry Ahmad Al-Hamou met on 24 September with several Iraqi officials in Baghdad. He noted the importance of quick and effective moves to achieve Arab economic integration and urged that methods be found for supporting economic and trade ties between Syria and Iraq, reported the "Syria Times" on 25 September. In response, Iraqi Minister of Trade Muhammad Mahdi Salih said that Iraq has a great desire to develop its economic and trade relations with Syria for the welfare of both countries. He hoped that the trade exchange between the two countries will increase within the framework of the oil-for-food program. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, INDIA DISCUSS EXPANSION OF TRADE TIES. A 35-member Indian delegation led by Indian Junior Minister for External Affairs Ajit Kumar Panja visited Baghdad to discuss the expansion of trade ties between the two countries, the Press Trust of India reported on 24 September.

India now has a total of 150 contracts with Iraq of a value of more than $280 million. These are primarily in the areas of food, pharmaceuticals, electrical and oil equipment. "South Nexus" of Manipal, India, reported on 25 September that Panja had said that India's share in the oil-for-food program was only 3 percent, which was not consistent with the traditionally strong friendship and economic interaction between India and Iraq.

Iraqi officials reportedly told Panja that Baghdad is willing to buy up to half a million tons of wheat, up from the 100,000 tons it purchased last year under the oil-for-food program. These same officials also expressed their readiness to import a number of commodities, including tea, sugar, and lentils, and also stressed the potential for pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, autos, fertilizer, and construction and equipment.

Salih told Panja that once the sanctions were lifted, business opportunities would open up and India would be welcomed without restrictions. To stress the point of India's determination to strengthen ties to Iraq, the All India Radio Home News Service on 24 September said that India has called for the immediate lifting of sanctions against Iraq, saying that "they had proved to be counterproductive and affected the common man."

At a meeting between Panja and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan on 24 September, Panja emphasized that India's ties with Israel were "not at the cost of New Delhi's ties with any other nation, and that it "highly valued it relations with Arab world countries and would not take any steps that would undermine this historic relationship," according to Bangalore's "Deccan Herald" of 25 September. The Indian Foreign Ministry subsequently disavowed this statement. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, SERBIA DISCUSS OPPOSITION TO UNITED STATES. Iraqi Interior Minister Muhammad Zimam Abd-Al-Razzaq met with his Serbian counterpart, Vlajko Stojiljkovic, in Belgrade on 23 September to consider ways to expand cooperation and "to bolster the joint struggle against the imperialist U.S. enemy," Baghdad radio reported on 24 September. Formally, Abd-Al-Razzaq led an official Iraqi delegation to act as international observers at the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Yugoslavia, according to "Tanjug" on 22 September. (David Nissman)

SADDAM AGAIN DENOUNCES SAUDI ARABIA, KUWAIT. Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn on 25 September again told his cabinet that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are guilty of crimes against Iraq because they have allowed U.S. and British planes to use airstrips on their territories. He called on his regime's spokesmen to make this an issue: "You must explain to your people every day that, in addition to desecrating the holy places with the fleets of infidel foreigners, the Iraqi people are hit by American-Zionist weapons that are paid for by the wealth of people in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait."

Saddam added that "the power of the United States and Zionism in applying the embargo against Iraq is ineffective without the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the rulers of Kuwait [who are] the ones applying the embargo and encouraging others to maintain it." And he suggested that "the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the ones murdering the Iraqis. Those who will be liable for all the property spoiled, wasted, and destroyed in Iraq are the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the rulers of Kuwait."

Because of the implied threat in Saddam Husseyn's remarks, Iraq's minister of culture and Information interpreted his statements. Humam Abd-Al-Khaliq, speaking on Baghdad Television later that same day, said that "we know the Kuwaiti regime will once again start an uproar and allege that Iraq is making threats and that the Iraqis are preparing for a new invasion, and so forth in the series of allegations and inflammatory statements, of which I am sure you are well aware." He explained that "there are no threats whatsoever in the statements made by the president at the Council of Ministers meeting today. We confirm once again that we do not have any intentions for any military action against Kuwait or any other country." (David Nissman)

SADDAM TO MOVE TOWARD EURO-BASED TRADE? Baghdad's "Al-Ittihad" reported on 19 September that many Iraqi businessmen and industrialists have stopped dealing with the dollar since the 36th session of the cabinet designated a committee of economists to examine the possibility of replacing the dollar in trade deals with the Euro or any other currency. As a result, the paper said, the dollar has fallen in value. The paper said that Iraqi economists believe that the shift to the euro will improve the rate of exchange of the Iraqi dinar.

But the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" pointed out on 26 September that, in fact, Iraqi's finances are exclusively based on the sale of oil and thus will remain denominated in dollars. It also notes that Saddam had attempted a similar gesture 10 years ago, during the Kuwait crisis, but this did not have a lasting result. (David Nissman)

UN MEDICINE BEING SOLD ON BLACK MARKET. Children's medicines sent to Iraq by a British pharmaceutical company under a UN program are being smuggled out of the country and sold on the Lebanese black market, according to the electronic "Telegraph" of 24 September. The UN has set strict controls to ensure that the medicines went to civilians and not the regime, but a spokesman for the British pharmaceutical company Glaxo-Wellcome said that the company has traced 15,000 units of Vertolin, part of a consignment of asthma medicine shipped to Iraq, circulating in the Lebanese market.

Glaxo-Wellcome, the "Telegraph" says, has launched a campaign to warn pharmacists in Lebanon and other Arab countries not to sell the smuggled goods because the company is concerned about safety implications of selling prescription goods over the counter. The company is also afraid of being undercut in markets where it is already. Lebanon last week made a number of arrests of those involved in selling the smuggled drugs.

The story was originally broken by Radio Free Iraq (RFI) on 5 September. John Mills of the UN's Office of Iraq Program, told an RFI correspondent that the UN was unaware that the Ventolin had entered Iraq and subsequently left it.

Syria and Jordan are also recipients of large quantities of medicines and other medical supplies destined for Iraq but smuggled out and sold.

A report issued by the Security Council recently found that some $180 million of drugs were still in Iraqi warehouses and had not been distributed. (David Nissman)

ICP SAYS IRAQI ATTACK ON KURDISTAN 'IMMINENT.' The "Iraq News," a news bulletin of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), reported on 23 September that Baghdad is preparing "to wage an aggressive attack directed in particular against the [Chamchamal] region and the city of Sulaymaniyah. The Jalal Talabani-led PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) is headquartered in Sulaymaniyah.

According to the information received by the ICP, the attack has been assigned to the 12th division of the Republican Guards, which has already deployed itself in areas facing Chamchamal. In addition to troops, there is also heavy artillery, armored units, and the air force.

In a possible confirmation of this report, London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 24 September said that an Iraqi official source has confirmed that Iraqi forces stationed on the contact lines with the Kurds have raised their state of military alert. But he denied that the purpose of this was to attack the Al-Sulaymaniyah Governorate. The source explained the state of military alertness by saying it was due "to U.S. threats against Iraq." (David Nissman)

PKK, PUK SIGN CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT. Cemil Bayik, member of the PKK Presidential Council (Kurdish Workers' Party), told MEDYA-TV, a pro-PKK television station, that following nine days of attacks by PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) a ceasefire was signed between the two groups on 23 September. He claimed that the PKK would make "any kind of sacrifice in order to maintain a lasting peace," reported the "Kurdish Observer" on 25 September.

He also said that "after Chairman Apo (Ocalan) was taken prisoner as a result of conspiracy, [the] PUK and Talabani should have given us support. However, they thought that [the] PKK was weak as a result of the conspiracy and they attempted to capture the PKK. [The] PUK took our calls that we made in order to please the Kurdish people as [a] sign of weakness."

Bayik maintained that the PKK will support a democratic federation for the Kurdish people's national interests with the PUK and the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party). He added that the PKK had proposed a "National Peace and Democracy Project" which they want discussed. He suggested that "the other parties should also propose projects. Then, we can come up with a final project which will serve the Kurdish people's wish."

PKK Presidential Council member Duran Kalkan told MEDYA-TV on 19 September that the U.S. and Germany were involved in the attack on the PKK because they were opposed to the democratization of Turkey and are opposed to the forming of alliances by peoples in the Middle East because they "want an order that will serve their interests to become sovereign in the region." He also contended that "we see, however, that Iran is also supporting the attack for the sake of trivial profits." (David Nissman)