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Iraq Report: January 8, 1999


8 January 1999, Volume 2, Number 1

IRAQ SEEKS TO RALLY ARABS AGAINST THE WEST. Baghdad has responded to the Desert Fox operation in three different ways: It has challenged U.S. efforts to maintain the no-fly zones in both the northern and southern portions of the country. It has sought to find international support for its position through a series of diplomatic moves. And it has launched a propaganda campaign in the Arab world to try to redefine what the conflict between Iraq and the international community is about.

In the first case, Baghdad has suffered some highly public defeats with American planes routinely humbling Iraqi ones. In the second, it has achieved only some of its goals, winning some statements of support but also highlighting the opposition of many of the region's governments in which Saddam had placed so much hope. But in the third, it has gained some -- although so far much less noted -- propaganda victories among the populations of some Arab countries.

The primary Iraqi target in this propaganda campaign has been the Arab population across the Middle East. In his speech on the anniversary of the establishment of the Iraqi army, Saddam Husseyn laid out the basic message, one that was amplified in a 5 January "Al-Jumhuriyyah" article by Tariq Aziz.

Attempting to tap into pan-Arabist sentiments, both men suggested that Arabs must work together to prevent any outside interference in Arab affairs and that Arab people must oppose and even overthrow Arab governments which have compromised with outsiders.

Indeed, Saddam Husseyn specifically called upon the pan-Arab masses to rise up and cast out such governments. He apparently had the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia in mind because the two had successfully sought the delay of an Arab summit at which Husseyn hoped to rally support.

In his speech, the Iraqi leader not surprisingly denounced the United States and Zionism and said that "talk about reforming them is a waste of time." But he also sharply criticized the rulers of certain Arab countries who he said have been "accomplices with the enemy." And he said that "those who assume a post in a certain country and amongst a certain people must represent the true patriotism and pan-Arabism of that country and people, and not the foreigner."

Saddam Husseyn even named names: Saudi Arabia and countries in the Gulf attracted his wrath because "the aircraft of the aggression took off and its missiles were launched and are being launched against your land, people and holy places in Iraq, from the water, airspace and land of the Gulf." And he called on the Arabs to "rebel against those who are proud of the friendship of the United States, those who are proud of being U.S. proteges, those who are being guided by the Jew Cohen."

Demonstrations in several Arab countries during and after the Desert Fox operation suggest that Saddam Husseyn may have struck a cord with these propaganda points. But most of the elites have clearly rejected his ideas. Egypt's "Al Ahram" newspaper, for example, questioned how the creator of "the Iraqi regime, the like of which contemporary Arab history has not seen in terms of its bloodiness, ugliness, and recklessness" could imagine that he had the right to "appoint itself a judge to pass the verdict that the Arab leaders had separated from their peoples. He is the one who left no single political force in Iraq without torturing or driving it into exile."

And a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State went even further. He noted on 6 January that Saddam Husseyn does not have support anywhere in the Arab world. But the real test of whether Saddam Husseyn's propaganda ploy will work is likely to come if and when the Arab League meets later in January.

ARAB GOVERNMENTS DIVIDED ON HOW TO RESPOND. The rescheduling of an Arab League foreign ministers' meeting from 30 December to 24 January has angered Baghdad and left others in the Arab world wondering why this body has so far failed to react to the U.S.-U.K. airstrikes against Iraq.

Baghdad reacted to the postponement of the Arab League meeting with "astonishment." A spokesman of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry noted that only three of the Gulf States had requested the delay and suggested that the postponement was at the request of Saudi Arabia, a country he claimed was "subservient to the U.S. influence." (INA, 29 December 1998). Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also came under fire from Tariq Aziz because Mubarak had blamed the actions of the Iraqi government for the air strikes. According to AFP, Aziz accused the Egyptian president of being "a tyrant and a lapdog of the United States."

In an extensive interview published in "Al-Ahram" on 27 December, and in a written statement issued the following day, the Arab League's secretary general, Dr. Abd Al-Majid, provided an answer of sorts as to why the meeting had been pushed back. He suggested that the meeting had been postponed so that "further consultations may be held with a view to emerging with a united stand based on a collective Arab view on all developments," noting that Arab governments were "fragmented and divided" on what to do. Dr Al-Majid argued that UNSCOM chief Richard Butler should abandon his post because he supposedly has "acted on a personal basis, not under the UN umbrella." And at the same time, Al-Majid said that he believes that Iraq "is committed to the full implementation of the Security Council resolutions."

One indication of the splits within the Arab world that Saddam Husseyn has sought to exploit was a closed meeting of five Arab foreign ministers at the Egyptian resort town of Al-Ghardaqah at the beginning of January. Reportedly called only to discuss the possibility of an Arab summit or foreign ministers' meeting, this session was attended by the chief diplomats of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman, all of whom oppose what Saddam Husseyn has been doing.

Not surprisingly, Iraq's foreign minister, Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf, claimed the Al-Ghardaqah meeting was "another example of the intense dissolution and deviation afflicting the rules and laws of institutional work within the framework of the Arab League." And according to a report on Iraqi state radio on 4 January, he suggested that "Many of the rules of sound work have regrettably disappeared and the Arab League has turned into a field for the implementation of personal whims or peddling the stands of a minority regardless of the opinion of the majority."

Al-Sahhaf's comments drew an immediate rejoinder from MENA's political editor: "If by this strange statement al-Sahhaf is expressing his sadness over the deviation or the absence of rules and laws governing work within the framework of the Arab League, this immediately arouses questions on what the Iraqi regime did to these rules when it decided, naturally without consulting anyone, to invade, occupy, and destroy a neighboring Arab state, the State of Kuwait."

The MENA commentator continued in the same vein, referring to Iraq's "irrational adventure" when it went to war with Iran. This war is described as a "reckless act that affected the Arab interests in general and placed the entire Arab world in an unjustified and absurd confrontation with a major Islamic power." And he ends his comment with a question for Al-Sahhaf: "Who has given you the right to interfere in others' affairs at a time when the ruling regime in Iraq continues to embark�on destructive and extremely foolish acts for which the entire Arab world is paying the price today, as always?"

On the same day as the al-Ghardaqah meeting, there was also a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Abu Dhabi. According to "Al-Hayah" (London, 3 January 1999), the GCC states have agreed on a common stand on the existing issues in the Arab arena, "especially concerning Iraq and the developments toward holding a consultative meeting of the Arab foreign ministers and the proposed summit." There will another meeting at the foreign ministers' level between the GCC countries before the end of Ramadan.

SADDAM OFFERS BIN LADEN LEADER A NEW HOME. Faruq Hijazi, Iraq's former Secret Service director and current ambassador to Ankara, met with Usama Bin Laden in Afghanistan on 21 December to reiterate Saddam Husseyn's offer of shelter for the terrorist leader and his men. Because of Bin Laden's opposition to Israel and the Untied States, Saddam believes him to be one of Baghdad's most reliable supporters. According to a report in the "Corriere della Sera" on 28 December, Hijazi "is the person who has been responsible for nurturing Iraq's ties with the fundamentalist warriors since 1994." His role as intermediary between Saddam and Bin Laden's group is also consistent with Baghdad's recent decision to reshuffle its diplomatic corps and give the more important positions to those with a strong intelligence background.

DESERT FOX OPERATION MAY DIM RUSSIA'S FINANCIAL OUTLOOK. The Russian government budget may be one of the casualties of the Desert Fox operation, according to a commentary in the 25 December "Izvestiya." Aleksandr Privalov suggested that the proposed 1999 state budget, which had always rested on some extremely optimistic assumptions, was still within the realms of possibility, if not probability, until Desert Fox. But he said that these "bombing raids had destroyed almost everything instantaneously" and that Moscow had, as a result, overreacted to what had taken place.

Not all of Russia's analysts are as pessimistic as Privalov, but most may agree with him that Moscow overreacted. Yurii Dunayev, also writing in "Izvestiya" on 22 December, said that Moscow had reacted to Desert Fox with "unprecedented harshness." But he argued that "from the economic viewpoint the strike against Iraq is advantageous to Russia" because Russia is losing billions of dollars due to falling oil prices."

Dunayev thus joins a number of Russian commentators who suggest that the Gulf crisis is actually about oil rather than anything else. For example, in "Segodnya" on 29 December, Andrey Smirnov notes that Iraq now ranks in fifth place among exporters of oil to the United States. Citing figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, he points out that the U.S. purchases 650,000 barrels of oil a day. But he does not acknowledge that the Gulf provides only 6 percent of American oil needs.

IRAQI KURDS TO LAUNCH NEW TELEVISION STATION. The Kurdish Democratic Party announced on 29 December that it planned to launch a satellite television station to its audience in northern Iraq. This will be the second Kurdish-language satellite television in the region. The other is MED-TV, whose programming is strongly slanted toward the PKK ( the Kurdistan Workers Party). The station has begun by sending test patterns and short programs.

Broadcasts of the station will concentrate on news of interest to a Kurdish viewership and cultural events. It will have two immediate consequences: it will counterbalance PKK propaganda aimed at the Kurdish regional government (KRG); and it will provoke the Turkish government to take some action. Broadcasting in Kurdish is illegal in Turkey, and, according to an AP report (29 December), authorities in the southeast of Turkey have cracked down on satellite dish owners whose dishes are turned to enable them to receive MED-TV.

Initial reactions by the Turkish government to the new Kurdish station were bland. A spokesman for the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said only that "we cannot interfere with other countries' choice of broadcast language." The Turkish army is fighting alongside the KDP against PKK guerrillas in northern Iraq, and this alliance may affect the Turkish response.

Electronically speaking, the Kurdish regional government is becoming increasingly more sophisticated. According to the Kurdish regional government's website (www.krg.org) the KURDNET intranet was established on 17 October 1998. Its central computer section is located in Erbil. Its purpose is to facilitate communications between all governmental and private institutions in the region and to enable computer users throughout the KRG to have their own websites via the KRG Internet Section.

The joint Anglo-American air strikes in mid-December had very little impact on northern Iraq, although it did prompt a meeting of the KRG's Council of Ministers. According to the Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan on 17 December, all duties were carried out by the government "without any defaults."

Sefin Diza'I, a representative of the KDP in Ankara, said on 29 December that "the Baghdad administration's not abiding by the no-fly zone will not have a direct and immediate impact on the situation in northern Iraq," according to the Anatolia agency.

In the meantime, the situation in northern Iraq (or �South Kurdistan') has returned to normal. The Turks reopened the Habur bordercrossing through which a route passes that is used in the diesel oil trade, and it is expected that traffic will soon regain its normal flow. In the first week of January, about 300 trucks per day will roll through it; it is expected that it will pick up to about a 1,000 trucks a day by next week.

OCALAN APPEALS TO BARZANI, TALABANI. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan broadcast an appeal over MED-TV on 13 December to Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He warned them that "a second Algerian treachery" might be in the offing. By this, Ocalan was referring to the 1975 Treaty of Algiers when the Shah of Iran and Saddam Husseyn, then Iraqi vice premier, agreed to end their territorial dispute. As a consequence, Israel, the U.S., and Iran all ended their support for the Iraqi Kurds and stopped supplying them with arms.

Emphasizing that accusing the leadership of the PKK of terrorism brings the Kurdish people "no advantage," Ocalan added that "if the agreement reached in Washington between the parties of the South, the PUK and the KDP, goes into effect, it must also be valid for the North." By the "North," he means eastern Anatolia, where the Turkish army is fighting the PKK.

And he said that "I'd like to renew my call to Mr. Talabani and Mr. Barzani, and if they respond positively, there will be no more problems for the PKK."

Forces of the KDP are fighting alongside Turkish military units against the PKK in northern Iraq (South Kurdistan).

AL-HAKIM SAYS SCIRI NOT "POLITICAL." Mohammad Baqir Al-Hakim, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), spoke to Al-Jazira Space Television on 23 December from his offices in Tehran and outlined SCIRI's aims and relationships with Iran and Iraq, noting that his organization is now taking advantage of the cross-border situation to further his own cause.

While he indicated that he wanted to be "at the heart" of developments in Iraq, he noted that he draws much support from the some 700,000 Iraqis in Iran and also from tribes which have members on both sides of the 1400-kilometer long border. But in his most important observation, Al-Hakim said that his movement is not "political," but "popular." And he reiterated his position that the present regime in Iraq can be changed only from within, not by an external force.

Asked by the interviewer about the Badr Forces, SCIRI's fighting wing, Al-Hakim said that "our movement in complete unison is acting in complete unison with the Kurdish forces." And he pointed out that the Badr Forces are currently based on Iraqi territory and that they are all Iraqi, not, as widely thought, personnel from Iranian revolutionary guards. He said that they acquire arms from the Iraqi army and Iraqi tribes.

Further, the SCIRI leader suggested that there are now three factors working against the Iraqi opposition: Saddam's suppression of their activities, the situation in the Middle East, and the situation in the world as a whole. "The real opposition to Saddam," he said," is the Iraqi people, but they must be roused in a way that will spare them from a repressive response by the Baghdad government.

But he pointed to Saddam's recent decision to reorganize the country's military district and his appointment of General Al-Majid to command the Southern Military District as an indication that the Iraqi dictator feels far less secure than he did in the past and that Saddam Husseyn's days are numbered.

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