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Iraq Report: March 26, 1999


26 March 1999, Volume 2, Number 12

ARAB LEAGUE COUNCIL GIVES IRAQ LITTLE SATISFACTION. Baghdad had hoped that the meeting of the Arab League Council on 17 and 18 March would end with a resolution it had offered condemning the "no-fly" zones imposed by the U.S. and Great Britain on Iraqi airspace. But the Iraqi proposal was kept off the agenda by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait; instead, the council issued a communique reflecting the views of all sides, AFP reported on 18 March.

Another Iraqi proposal suffered the same fate. It called for a discussion on the fate of Saudis, Kuwaits, and Iraqis "missing" since the Gulf War. Once again, Saudis and Kuwaitis objected to the Iraqi terminology, saying that what the Iraqis referred to as "missing" persons were actually "prisoners of war."

After the meeting, Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf was interviewed on Radio Monte Carlo on both of these issues. He gave a very unclear answer about the "prisoners," saying "If this mechanism is agreeable to the Kuwaitis, who say that there are Kuwaiti prisoners held in Iraq, they can use it in order to arrive at a formula that will assure them of whether there are any prisoners in Iraq or not."

With regard to the "no-fly" zones, Al-Sahhaf said: "What was agreed on in this regard is even less than partial ... It is a very small step that everybody approved without naming the no-fly zones. They called them the zones that are not stipulated in the resolutions of the Security Council." He added that "what has been agreed upon inside the Arab League on this issue is less than the minimum."

An official of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry was subsequently asked if "the Arab ministers agree that the Arab league's resolution means a rejection of the military strikes against Iraq." (Qatar: Al-Jazira Satellite Television, 19 March). The official replied that "Everybody knew for sure that this relates to the two illegitimate and illegal no-fly zones, imposed by the United States and Britain, on Iraq."

The statement of the Arab League Council, issued at the conclusion of the meeting, in fact, does not mention Iraq at all.

Al-Ahram on 23 March had this to say about the Arab League statement: "With complete shyness and with a lack of a real wish to call a spade a spade, Arab countries agreed upon the need 'to end the actions against Iraq that are not backed by UN resolutions.' This is a loose term that allows each party to interpret it as it sees fit and without the need to denounce the U.S.-British airstrikes and the air exclusion zones, which are being maintained in spite of the lack of any clear reference in the resolutions issued by the Security Council." (David Nissman)

ARAB LEAGUE BACKS IRAQ ON TIGRIS-EUPHRATES WATER. The Arab League did come out in support of Syria and Iraq against Turkey concerning water sharing from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It called on Ankara to enter three-way talks "as soon as possible to land a just and logical sharing of water in a bid to protect the rights of the three neighboring countries,� the Middle Eastern News Agency (MENA) reported on 18 March.

The resolution issued by the League said "Ankara has to consult with the two countries before setting up dams and other establishments that could adversely affect the two Arab countries in accordance with the international law and the signed protocol."

In fact, there is no generally accepted international law on the sharing of water resources by riparian states, although there is a protocol signed between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq some years ago (see "RFE/RL Iraq Reports," 13 November 1998, 29 January and 5 March 1999).

At issue is the Turkish Southeast Anatolia Project, a massive irrigation project also based on the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates. As far as the situation is developing between the three countries involved in the matter, it is a case where the upriver state -- Turkey -- has the upper hand. (David Nissman)

BA'TH NEWSPAPER QUESTIONS WATER PLANNING. Water from the Tigris, one of Iraq's two major sources of water, has declined to a lower than usual level. According to the Ba'th Party newspaper "Al-Thawra" on 15 March, "this means there will be a shortage of both non-potable and potable water." Even now, the Tigris River water cannot reach the pumps of water purification stations.

"Al-Thawra" asks: "What plans has the Baghdad Water Department worked out to prevent things like this from happening?" It also recommends that some kind of coordinated activity be set in motion between the State Municipalities Directorate and the Water and Sewage Department of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Irrigation.

Less than a week earlier, "Al-Thawra" (9 March) announced an "emergency water plan to deal with an anticipated water shortage during the current year (1999)." Since the article also says that this plan is already being implemented, what was the point of its second article on 15 March? The 9 March article does list the reasons for the shortfall in water resources: the reduction in rainfall averages and the increased storage in Turkish dams of waters from the Tigris and Euphrates. It is no doubt for this reason that the water subject was raised in last week's meeting of the Arab League Council.

This water shortage, the paper pointed out, will threaten Iraqi crops "particularly given the conditions resulting from the blockade which has been imposed on the country for more than eight years."

Two years ago, a plan to optimize water usage began to be implemented. Sajid Zubayr, head of the General Union of Iraqi Farmers' Associations, called upon farmers to reduce the amount of water they waste or lose, adhere to the amounts of water rationed to them, and follow up on irrigation canal projects in coordination with agricultural experts.

On 10 March, "Al-Thawra" carried yet another article on the water shortage. It essentially reiterated the plans noted in the other articles. Iraq, which has become increasingly unstable domestically, had apparently underestimated the extent of the water shortage. That was the reason for the most recent "Al-Thawra" article on the subject �- as well as the social unrest which might ensue if greater food shortages occur. (David Nissman)

THE 'UNDEAD' IN IRAQ'S GOSSIP BAZAARS. Reporting in Iraqi media raises some difficult questions: what is real and what is fiction? Is the video footage on Baghdad television real, or from an archive tape? Is General Al-Majid dead? Is Qusay Saddam? Such is the quality of information coming from Baghdad-controlled Iraq. A few weeks ago an unconfirmed report appeared in "Al-Watan" (Kuwait, 8 March) announcing that General Hasan 'Ali Al-Majid, the commander of Iraq's Southern Command, a member of the Revolutionary Command Council and an intimate of Saddam Husseyn, had been assassinated by his aides in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. "Al-Watan" picked up the story from Al-Intifadeh Television (Uprising Television).

General Al-Majid acquired the sobriquet 'Chemical Ali' ('Ali Kimyawi in Arabic) as a result of his experimentation with chemical weapons. He was responsible for the slaughter of over 5,000 Kurds in Halabche a few years ago. Since November, he has been commanding Baghdad's efforts against a potential Shiite insurgency. According to "Al-Watan," the story has also been carried by the Voice of Rebellious Iraq under the control of Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

The story did not enjoy wide circulation in the West, but when it appeared, it was accompanied by analyses by various pundits on the significance of the event, its implications for U.S. policy and for the future of Iraq.

In fact, Al-Hakim's radio station (the Voice of Rebellious Iraq) did not carry the story. But its was apparently widely circulated inside Iraq. In a society where the media is under the strict control of the Ba'th Party, the only free flow of 'information' is through the gossip markets. But even in the Ba'th controlled media, truth has the same reality as fiction. So it is not surprising that when the Baghdad pro-government newspaper "Al-Iraq" (18 March) carries an item beginning "Fighter Staff General 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid, member of the Revolution Command Council, member of the Iraqi Command [of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party], and commander of the southern region, has met with directors of departments in Al-Basrah Governorate." Judging by Al-Iraq's reportage of the meeting, its purpose was to deliver a patriotic harangue at those assembled. The other message was that General Al-Majid had become "undead."

On 20 March, the Voice of Rebellious Iraq (the radio of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq or SCIRI, which had initially covered Al-Majid's assassination on 8 March), reported the killing of Hashim Hasan Al-Majid in an "armed clash with the gang of criminal Qusay Saddam inside of Al-Radwaniyah Palace." Hashim had been trying to find out the fate of his brother, 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid, and they, Hashim, and some of General Al-Majid's sons were going to ask Qusay to reveal his brother and their father's fate. According to the radio, Qusay was shot in the head, and Hashim and one of the sons were killed.

But the rumors of General Majid's death, at different places and times, continued. Moreover, an Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) release (21 March) claimed that "Iraqi sources announced in Damascus on Sunday that Qusay Saddam Husseyn, the second son of the Iraqi president, and the country's commander for southern areas, 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid, may have been killed. According to the IRNA report, the two were attacked by "popular forces" in a town in southern Iraq.

Only five hours after the issuance of the IRNA report, the Iraq Television Network carried a report showing "Fighter Staff General 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid" conveying President Saddam Husseyn's regards to the people of Al-Basrah. The video footage showed Al-Majid seated at a panel with other military officials and addressing an audience in an auditorium. It is noted that instead of a military beret, he is wearing an Arab headdress on his head. (David Nissman)

IRAQI MILITARY COMMANDS 'TIKRITIFIED.' That tribal allegiances and hometown (Tikrit) connections of Saddam Husseyn form the nucleus of his inner circle has been a given in the study of Iraqi influence and power structures has long attracted attention. (See, for example, Amatzia Baram, "Building Toward Crisis: Saddam Husseyn's Strategy for Survival ( Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1998). But this pattern has recently been further reinforced by changes in the country's military command structure.

A Kuwaiti newspaper recently had a list of new (old) appointees to command positions in various units of the Iraqi armed forces in which "it is noticed that the number of Tikriti officers who occupy important positions has increased in these changes, a matter which negatively affects other commanders and senior officers, because the situation minimizes the chances of their promotion" ("Al-Qabas," 22 March).

Governorships, in many cases (Kirkuk, Salah Al-Din, Babil, Maysan, and Basrah) have been handed over to various generals bearing 'Al-Tikriti' as part of their surnames; the commanders of the Air Force and Air Defence are Al-Tikritis, as are the commanders of the 1st and 3rd Corps. In the Republican Guard Takritis are commanders of the Adnan Division and the armored Nida Division.

Allies of Saddam Husseyn's Al-Bu Nasir tribe are also among the beneficiaries of this reorganization: governorships of Diyala, Anbar, and Karbala bear names familiar to those aware of Iraq's tribal allegiances: Al-Khazraji, Al-Juburi, and Al-Duri. Other positions in the military structure have been filled by other, more distant, allies.

The "Al-Qabas" report also says that some of the new appointees were previously "arrested, sent into retirement, or dismissed from the [Ba'th] party." Among those falling into this category is Staff Major-General Nawfal Isma'il Al-Tikriti, now the governor of Kirkuk.

This shift in the Iraqi armed forces is only an initial step in the revamping of Iraq's entire power structure. Last week, reportedly, a meeting of the Ba'th Party discussed and approved of the appointment of Qusay Saddam Husseyn as deputy chairman of the "state Council" soon to be formed in Iraq ("Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," 23 March). According to "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," "Iraqi diplomatic sources had in the past referred to imminent changes in Iraq's ruling structure which will cancel the Revolutionary Command Council and replace it with a state council which will be chaired by Saddam Husseyn." (David Nissman)

ASSYRIANS ASSAIL KURDS ON PROPERTY ISSUES. An Assyrian International New Agency press release on 21 March assailed the Kurdish policies pursued by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after the signing of the Washington Agreement. Specifically condemned was the timetable adopted by the KDP and PUK under the terms of which 15 October marked the deadline for an "agreement on restoration of property or compensation by responsible parties." This involves repatriation of all those who had been forced to leave their homes in the three northern provinces due to prior conflicts since the end of the Gulf War between the parties and either the restoration of their property or appropriate compensation.

The Assyrians claim that Kurdish ethnic groups have been concerned since then solely with the restoration of their own properties. The primary region affected by these practices and policies is an area commonly referred to as the "Assyrian triangle," in which most of the 52 Assyrians villages occupied by the Kurds since the Gulf War are located. It is centered in the vicinity of Mosul near the ruins of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh.

In addition to the villages there, the AINA report claims that "the Kurds have resettled nearly two hundred Assyrian villages that had been destroyed by the Iraqi government." The report adds that "prior to this destruction of Assyrian villages in the north, the Assyrians formed the majority demographic population in certain areas of northern Iraq." The Assyrians still are the majority demographic group in some areas extending from Mosul north to Dohuk and northwest towards Fesh Khabur, near the Syrian border.

The AINA report concludes that is the reason much of the Assyrian area was not included in the Final Agreement even though the region lies north of the 36th parallel.

The Kurdish drive to appropriate Assyrian lands may also be connected with the assassination of Francis Shabo, an Assyrian member of the interim parliament in Iraqi Kurdistan on 31 May 1993. He had been entrusted by the parliament to deal almost exclusively with Assyrian land issues. In an investigation by Amnesty International into the Shabo assassination, they reported that the people responsible for the killing were linked to a KDP military unit.

It is inevitable that the land issue has been connected to a spate of bombings and murders occurring in Assyrian communities across northern Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 February 1999) and the impending census in July (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 January 1999). According to the AINA dispatch, "continued Kurdish silence and inaction regarding Assyrian land claims raises concerns that different Kurdish groups hope to consolidate and possibly extend their illegal territorial gains at the expense of the Assyrian community." (David Nissman)

MED-TV BROADCASTS SUSPENDED IN LONDON. The British agency responsible for television broadcasts, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), has ordered the Kurdish broadcaster MED-TV to suspend its broadcasts for 21 days after MED-TV issued "calls for violence in Turkey," Reuters reported on 22 March. At the same time, discussions are taking place at the governmental level in Belgium about the possible closing of MED-TV's Belgian production unit (Reuters, 17 March).

The Turkish government has maintained for some time that MED-TV is financed by the separatist guerrilla organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The campaign to drive MED-TV off the airwaves picked up after the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan last month; and the recent attacks on civilians prompted Turkish officials to intensify efforts to close down the station. Hikmet Tabak, the director-general of MED-TV, denied in February that the station was a mouthpiece of the PKK (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 March).

On 17 March Faruk Logoglu, a deputy undersecretary of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, told reporters that Turkey had approached England, Germany, and Belgium to close down what it alleged were PKK-financed organizations: MED-TV, the newspaper "Ozgur Politika," and the DEM press agency.

Some 200 Kurds gathered outside the ITC and chanted "Long live MED-TV!" after the announcement. Tabak said "We were a voice for all Kurds" and claimed that Kurds in Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East watched MED's broadcasts which "provided a focal point for the Kurdish diaspora." Tabak maintained that the ITC had bowed to Turkish pressure, and told Reuters "we will challenge the decision legally."

In a letter sent to NATO member countries and the European Union on 2 March, he said that "Abusing the general atmosphere of tolerance and democratic freedoms in western countries, the PKK was able, with its web of front organizations, organized crime network, fellow travelers and accomplices, to take root in Europe and to inflict grave damage not only to the Turkish people, but also to western societies through its extortion, coercive fund raising, narcotics, and illegal immigration rackets" (Anatolia, 5 March). (David Nissman)

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