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Iraq Report: November 3, 2000

3 November 2000, Volume 3, Number 36

HORRORS OF IRAQI PRISON SYSTEM HIGHLIGHTED. Citing British Foreign Office documents, the "Guardian" reported that Iraqi officials had executed some 50 mental health patients in the place of prisoners who had the means to bribe their way out and that they had cut off a man's tongue under the terms of a new decree making slander of Saddam Husseyn an amputation offense. The documents cited by the paper show that the Iraqi government catalogues its abuses. It says that "each execution or torture order is signed by an immediate member of Saddam Husseyn's family or his closest advisers...The orders allow the signatory to record how they want the victim to be tortured or to die." (David Nissman)

UN APPROVES EURO PAYMENTS FOR IRAQI OIL. The United Nations Sanctions Committee has given Iraqi oil buyers authorization to pay in euros instead of dollars, the "Wall Street Journal" reported on 1 November. The paper said that France had argued that the committee had no authority to object to Iraq's demand on this point. (Iraq regularly calls the dollar the currency of its "enemy state.") It had threatened to cut off oil exports if its request for payment in euros was denied. Such a shift will give Baghdad leverage at a time when the available extra capacity of all other oil producers and exporters totals less than Iraqi exports.

Meanwhile, Iraq is pushing Russian and Chinese companies to flout UN sanctions by developing its oil fields. They have not been willing to do so. And in response, Iraqi officials have indicated that contracts with them may no longer be valid. Iraqi Minister of Oil Amr Muhammad Rashid has said, according to the Iraqi weekly "Al-Rafidayn," that "Baghdad has planned alternate measures to develop the oil fields' because the Russians and Chinese 'have been reluctant to honor their commitments.'"

Moreover, a French bank, BNP Paribas, reportedly plans to open an account for Iraq's oil export payments, as requested by Baghdad, "Oil Daily" reported on 1 November. Iraq's flow of oil -- about 2.3 million barrels a day -- means that this conversion to euros will help to offset the direct investment outflows that have been undermining the euro from its inception, according to the "Financial Times." The paper quotes the head of currency research at Goldman Sachs as saying "if others follow [this lead, that shift] will be very important." (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD FAIR ATTRACTS 1500 FIRMS. The Baghdad International Fair, which opened on 1 November, has attracted representatives of more than 1,500 firms from 45 countries, UPI reported. Also in attendance is Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Raghib, the first foreign head of government to visit the fair since sanctions were imposed in 1991. And most of the Western companies represented appear to have come with at least the tacit approval of their own governments. Belgium, Germany, and Hungary, all allies of the U.S., sent exhibits along with over 100 French companies.

One Western diplomat in Baghdad told the BBC that this fair marks "a large qualitative step for Iraq, which has managed to break the embargo. The large turnout and number of planes have turned Baghdad into an open capital, not one under siege." And the London "Times" noted on 2 November that "President Saddam Hussein celebrated Iraq's diplomatic resurrection yesterday when thousands of foreign politicians, businessmen, and journalists descended on Baghdad, making a mockery of the country's supposed decade-long isolation." (David Nissman)

U.S., U.K. HAVE 'NO PROBLEM' WITH IRAQI DOMESTIC FLIGHTS. Both Washington and London have indicated that there would be no problem with the resumption of Iraqi domestic commercial flights through the two no-fly zones in the country, Reuters reported on 31 October. It quoted a Pentagon spokesman as saying that "we don't see civilian flights as posing a threat." But a U.S. State Department official said that the Iraqi flights would be carefully monitored to ensure that they did not present a threat to Iraqi citizens on the ground, to Iraq's neighbors, or to U.S. and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones. These reactions followed an announcement by Iraqi Transport Minister Ahmad Murtada Ahmad Khalil on 31 October that Iraq Airways flights would resume on 5 November between Baghdad and Basra (600 kilometers to the south) and Mosul (450 kilometers to the north. (David Nissman)

MOSCOW TO HOST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON IRAQ. The Russian government will host an international roundtable on the problems of Iraq in mid-December, Aram Shegunts, the director-general of the Committee for International Cultural, Scientific, and Business Cooperation with Iraq, told ITAR-TASS on 31 October. Shegunts said that the conference will be attended by legislators, representatives of the public, and diplomats from Russia, Britain, the United States, and Iraq, despite the fact that Britain had wanted the meeting to take place in Paris. The meeting is to focus on the humanitarian situation in Iraq as well as on possible measures to promote the lifting or suspension of the international economic embargo on the country. (David Nissman)

IRAQI ARMORED UNITS IN WESTERN IRAQ WITHDRAWING. Israel's "Ha'aretz" reported on 1 November that the Iraqi armored units deployed against Israel in western Iraq are in the process of being dismantled and moved to other, more distant, locations. Citing Israeli intelligence sources, the paper said that the Republican Guard Hammurabi unit was only "an expression of willingness to participate in a general Arab-Israeli war should one be declared." Before the withdrawal of the Republican Guard unit, the Israeli Defense Forces had concluded that the likely point of attack was Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona. Thus, the air force was on the alert to shoot down Iraqi planes should such an attack occur. Recent events such as the Arab summit's decisions two weeks ago, however, make such an attack unlikely. (David Nissman)

TURKEY HOPES FOR CLOSER ECONOMIC TIES WITH IRAQ. Turkish State Minister Tunca Toskay said in Baghdad on 1 November that Ankara wants "as big a share as possible" of Iraqi trade, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. "We want to be Iraq's fourth largest trading partner," he stressed. Toskay added that the main aim of his visit was to set in place the infrastructure for future Turkish investments in Iraq. Turkey currently ranks seventh on the list of Iraq's trading partners. The two countries are also discussing a rail link between Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, as well as a new border gate 10 kilometers south of the Habur gate, one deemed too small to meet expected demands. (David Nissman)

JORDAN, IRAQ TO DISCUSS BUILDING OF OIL PIPELINE. Jordanian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Wa'il Sabri said he will be discussing in Baghdad this week the renewal of the oil agreement for next year as well as a project to build an oil pipeline from the Iraqi town of Al-Haditha to the town of Al-Zarqa, which is 30 kilometers north of Amman, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 2 November. Sabri is accompanying Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu-Al-Raghib on his visit to Baghdad. Jordan will also ask for the quantity of oil received from Iraq to be increased to meet its growing needs. Jordan receives Iraqi oil under a special UN dispensation which is renewable annually. Under its present agreement with Iraq, the price per barrel remains between $13 and $19 -- regardless of the price on the international market. (David Nissman)

CHINA COMPLETES POWER STATION IN IRAQ. A Chinese company has completed a major power station near Kirkuk, AP reported on 2 November. The 222-megawatt, gas-powered station is the first such facility built in Iraq since the Gulf War. The firm which built it, the Chinese National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Company, is also taking part in the Baghdad International Trade Fair. In addition to its construction work, this Chinese company currently supplies spare parts to other Iraqi power stations. And its engineers reportedly are rehabilitating another power plant near Najaf in southern Iraq. The Chinese commercial attache in Baghdad, Wang Shuan Xin, told AP that China's efforts to reconstruct Iraq's infrastructure fall within UN rules governing foreign trade with Iraq. Xiang Jun said this Chinese company recently had signed a $200 million contract for the construction of a new 1,200 megawatt power plant in Samarra, 75 miles north of Baghdad, and is waiting for UN approval to start work. (David Nissman)

BARZANI SEES NO NEED FOR MORE MEETINGS. Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), told London's "Al-Zaman" on 26 October that there was no need for a meeting with other Kurdish leaders to discuss the meaning of the Washington agreement. He said that he disagreed with the arguments of British officials who believe that there is a need to make a confidence-building effort between the two parties.

In other remarks, Barzani stated that "frankly speaking, I believe that Turkmen, Assyrians, and others who live with us in Kurdistan should enjoy their full rights." He added that "I will safeguard the rights of Turkmen and others under the umbrella of law and order, which includes everybody."

As far as his relations with the various Islamist movements were concerned, Barzani said "our Islamists are different from the Islamists you know in Algeria and elsewhere." He added "we now have Islamic parties which operate according to the law. These parties oppose the use of force and violence in advocating their ideas. If certain incidents have happened, these are isolated and individual incidents, which will not be repeated. Kurdistan will never be another Algeria." (David Nissman)

ANC ON U.S. COURT DECISION ON 'ASSYRIAN.' The Assyrian National Congress says that it will appeal a U.S. court decision on the Bureau of the Census's use of the term "Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac" category as an ethnic term (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 October 2000). The ANC argues that the use of the above category was part of a "conspiracy of 'divide and rule'" which was being used against them because, "for the first time in our history, the Assyrian people have been divided, not into religious denominations, but into deadly 'ethnic nationalities.'" And it contends in a press release that the "new category (slashing category = Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac) will have the effect of demeaning and diminishing a brave, resilient, and oft-persecuted minority of biblical times to now -- the Assyrians. The actions of the Census Bureau are contrary to the desires of an overwhelming majority of the Assyrian people." (David Nissman)