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Iraq Report: January 29, 1999

29 January 1999, Volume 2, Number 4

IRAQ WALKS OUT OF FOREIGN MINISTERS CONSULTATIVE MEETING. The consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on 24 January ended with the issuance of a formal statement. The Iraqi delegation led by Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf, dissatisfied with the course of discussions and the text of the final statement, walked out.

According to MENA (Middle East News Agency, 24 January), the source of Iraqi dissatisfaction is Iraq's demand that the final statement contain a condemnation of the U.S.-British air strikes, an immediate lifting of economic sanctions placed on Iraq, a denunciation of the no-fly zones, and a request that Iraq be compensated for the damages caused by the air strikes.

In addition, an exchange of accusations occurred between the Kuwaiti and Iraqi foreign ministers, as well as the Saudi and Iraqi foreign ministers.

In the final statement issued at the meeting, the foreign ministers expressed "uneasiness and concern over the use of the military option against Iraq" (MENA, 24 January) instead of the condemnation of the air strikes that Al-Sahhaf wanted.

In place of a call for an "immediate lifting of the economic sanctions," they expressed "full solidarity with the Iraqi people in their suffering because of the sanctions imposed on them" and called for "international efforts to lift the embargo as soon as possible."

The lifting of sanctions, said the foreign ministers, should be done "under a specified timetable coinciding with the process of comprehensive review and in accordance with the international obligations specified in the relevant UNSC resolutions on Iraq."

Immediately following his departure from the conference, Al-Sahhaf gave an interview to Iraqi television claiming that some Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, "resorted to intrigue and tricks and all the other nonobjective means to formulate a communique that, instead of condemning the aggression against Iraq, they tried to repeat the past from a biased point of view."

In an interview given later that day to MENA, Arab League Secretary General Abul-Majid expressed his sorrow that Al-Sahhaf had left the meeting but added that Iraq has to apologize for the attack on Kuwait and must "correct the mistake so as to purify the Arab atmosphere."

The next day, Dr. Humam Al-Khaliq, Iraq's culture and information minister, termed the Foreign Ministers' meeting "part of the issue of changing the game" (INA, 25 January). He said the communique "gives the green light to the United States and Britain to attack Iraq again."

Al-Sahhaf was asked if his walking out of the meeting also represented Iraq's withdrawal from the Arab League. He said leaving the meeting was only a protest against the meeting and the final communique. The meeting, he added, "failed to achieve a minimal degree of rationality." (David Nissman)

KEY IRAQI OPPOSITION PARTIES REJECT U.S. AID. Last week seven Iraqi opposition parties were selected to receive American aid in the amount of $97 million to help overthrow the regime of Saddam Husseyn. So far, three of the parties named have rejected the offer. The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), led by the Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, rejected the aid last week (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 January 1999). The Kurdistan Democratic Party rejected the offer of aid this week. Later in the week, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also turned it down.

Al-Hakim, in an interview given in Tehran to the Doha newspaper "Al-Raya," expressed his appreciation of the U.S. recognition that the Supreme Council is a real and genuine opposition force but added that "the Supreme Council will not be receiving U.S. assistance from the $97 million that has been allocated for the Iraqi opposition." He added that most of the assistance will come in the form of military equipment and material from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Al-Hakim stressed that the American approach was the wrong one; "we believe that the correct way to bring about change is for the Iraqi people themselves to bring about this change."

In a statement given to the London newspaper "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" (25 January), the Kurdistan Democratic Party said that "the party did not ask to be listed among those who want to receive this assistance, and the party's name was included in the list without its prior approval. During our talks with U.S. government and Congress officials we made clear our position on this issue, on the Kurdish situation issues, and on the political situation in Iraq, but we did not ask to be given the proposed assistance, and therefore we do not intend to accept any assistance of this kind."

The PUK statement, similar to the statements by Al-Hakim and the KDP, said that change in Iraq should be brought about by forces inside Iraq. "For this reason, the PUK is not at all prepared to take part in the American president's plan for overthrowing the Baghdad regime" (IRNA, 26 January).

The American aid, at the moment, is more theoretical than real. In an interview with Radio Free Iraq on 23 January, Elizabeth Jones, deputy assistant for Middle Eastern affairs at the U.S. State Department, said that "there is, of course, a big difference between naming these groups and actually giving them aid because aid can only be given if there is an aim and a plan and this has not yet happened."

According to a Reuters dispatch, also cited in the Radio Free Iraq broadcast of 23 January, officials in Washington indicated that it would be some time before it was thought the time was right to actually give the aid.

As far as SCIRI is concerned, Bruce Riedel, an official from the National Security Council, said that Washington is in constant contact with them. On the issue of aid to any of the organizations named, Riedel told a Radio Free Iraq correspondent on 23 January that "organizations like SCIRI would be theoretically eligible for aid, and the question would be whether they wanted it or not in the future." (David Nissman)

TURKISH-SYRIAN-IRAQI WATER CONFLICT RESURFACES. In October 1998 the Iraqi National Assembly denounced Turkey's efforts to use its control of the headwaters of the rivers -- the Tigris and Euphrates -- that provide Iraq with most of its potable water. The issue came up when Turkey was threatening Syria with the use of force unless it expelled the members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), especially its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, from the country. Ocalan and the PKK were duly expelled, and the water conflict subsided.

At the time, the Turkish government said that Turkey did not intend to use its Southeastern Anatolia Project, which involves building a dam on the Euphrates, as a "strategic weapon" against Syria and Iraq but rather as a "peace project" to bring the three countries closer together. Now, however, the issue has once again hit the news due to a report published by the Office of the Chief of the General Staff, entitled "The Cross-Border Waters" (Anatolia, 26 January). The report affirms that the water project has now become a military, instead of a government, concern.

The report describes a three-stage plan: determining precisely the level of water resources in the Tigris-Euphrates region; conducting a land inventory and establishing what the water needs of each country are; and determining the fairest way of allocating the water resources.

The General Staff report claims that "even though Turkey, as an upper littoral country, has the possibility of controlling the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris, it has never claimed absolute sovereignty." In addition, the report asserts that Syria's and Iraq's water problems stem not from insufficient water but from their inability to carry out "rational irrigation of their agricultural land."

Under the terms of a 1987 protocol Turkey had promised to supply a monthly average flow of 500 cubic meters per second at the Syrian border. Baghdad has calculated that the average flow of the Euphrates is approximately 1000 cubic meters per second and that Turkey, Syria, and Iraq should divide this water equally.

As it now stands, unless some agreement is reached between the three states, each will tend to view the other as a threat to its water supply and, thus, to its national economy. Iraq, being the furthest downstream, it will probably be the most unwilling to seek any compromise.

Turkey currently has the upper hand. Iraq cannot move its armed forces into northern Iraq without great risk from U.S. and British aircraft. It cannot with any assurance deploy its missiles to threaten the Turkish borders, or even the dam Turkey is constructing as part of the Southeast Anatolia Project, as Turkey now possesses Patriot missiles with which to respond to any Iraqi threat. And Syria is no threat to Turkey; it backed down from a confrontation with the battle-hardened Turkish Army less than six months ago. Nonetheless, the water allocation issue has been an irritant in the region for the last several decades, and probably will continue to cause controversy well into the future. (David Nissman)

ASSYRIANS PROTEST CENSUS IN NORTHERN IRAQ. Under the terms of the Washington Agreement, signed in September 1998 between representatives of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a parliament is to be established in northern Iraq on the basis of a "unified, pluralistic and democratic Iraq." The agreement asserts that seats must also be set aside for representatives of all the ethnic groups living in the region -- in this case, the Kurds, Turkomans, and Assyrians. In order to hold parliamentary elections, a census must be held in order to establish an electoral register. Herein lies the rub.

The Assyrians are protesting the census on two counts. First, they feel that a census of Assyrians must account for all Assyrians in Iraq rather than only the Assyrian population in northern Iraq. According to a recent news dispatch by the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) from 31 December 1998, any concept of proportional representation must include Assyrians from throughout Iraq, because the way in which the census is currently organized will give an overwhelming advantage to the Kurds, the majority of whom live in northern Iraq. The Assyrians maintain that there are two Assyrians for every three Kurds. At the heart of the matter is whether the meaning of "democratic and pluralistic" in the Washington Agreement applies to an Iraq which retains its territorial integrity.

The second issue is that the Kurdish plan divides the Assyrian community in two along religious lines. Chaldeans, according to the AINA dispatch, should be considered Assyrians. Yet, in the Kurdish plan, they are categorized separately. AINA asserts that this is a "crude political plan to split and trivialize the Assyrian community."

In the past, Iraqi Turkomans have refused to participate in such a parliament. If the Assyrians boycott the parliamentary elections as well (as recommended by the Assyrian community in the United States), the resulting all-Kurdish parliament would only advocate Kurdish policy objectives. The AINA report states that "without Turkoman and Assyrian cooperation, even the appearance of a 'democratic and pluralistic' parliament in northern Iraq will vanish." (David Nissman)

TURKOMANS WANT ESTABLISHMENT OF AUTONOMOUS REGION IN IRAQI KURDISTAN. Almost as many Turkomans live in Iraq as Kurds. A recent article by Saadet Oruc in the "Turkish Daily News" (24 January) and its weekly magazine, "The Turkish Probe," highlighted their aspirations and their current difficulties with both the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad. The articles claim that the current problems are an outgrowth of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which also prevented the Kurds from seeking autonomy after World War I.

Riyaz Sarikahya, leader of the Turkmeneli Party, told "The Turkish Probe" that the protection offered the Kurds under the terms of the Washington Agreement should also be offered to the Turkomans. Sarikahya proposes the formation of an autonomous Turkoman region, "Turkmeneli region," between Mosul and Kirkuk.

In his analysis, Oruc points out that "following the signing of the Washington Agreement, which sought to reconcile the two rival Kurdish groups, the Turkomans started voicing their anger in a louder voice. The Turkomans complain that a policy of ethnic cleansing was being applied against them by local Kurdish authorities. They argue that the implementation of the no-fly zone still gives them no protection."

Mustafa Kemal Yaycili, head of the Iraqi National Turkoman Party, said in an earlier interview with "The Turkish Probe" that Turkomans also have a right to Iraqi land. Yaycili said that "if something happens in the north, then the Turkomans should be included in the process. As it is, the plan being implemented under the Washington Agreement offers two options: the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, or a tripartite federation of Kurds, Shiites and Arabs."

The Turkomans will decide on a common strategy at the February meeting of the Turkoman Council in Irbil. Major topics under discussion will be Turkoman participation in the regional elections, coming up on 1 July, and the revitalization of relations between the Turkomans and the Iraqi opposition.

One problem not confronted directly by either the Turkomans or another Iraqi minority, the Assyrians, is the Iraqi Constitution -- which recognizes neither the Turkomans nor the Assyrians as separate ethnic groups. According to Safin Diza'i, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) "this problem should be settled with Baghdad." Baghdad has so far shown little willingness to make a deal.

The census soon to be conducted will probably not alleviate Turkoman concerns. In his statement, Diza'i made it clear that "only the Turkomans living in the Kurdish-controlled areas can take part in the elections." He added that some 90 percent of the Turkomans live in Baghdad-controlled areas.

Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to international recognition of the Iraqi Turkoman cause is that their ethnonym is misleading. The name 'Turkoman' suggests that their closest ethnic and ethnolinguistic relationship is with the Turkmen, who mainly inhabit Turkmenistan. In fact, as argued by the Turkish delegation at the treaty negotiations in Lausanne, they are linguistically closer to the Turks and Azeris. In the case of the Iraqi Turkomen, an ethnically ambiguous name breeds confusion. (David Nissman)