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Iraq Report: August 13, 1999


13 August 1999, Volume 2, Number 30

SADDAM MARKS 'GREAT VICTORY DAY.' On 8 August, known as "Great Victory Day" among the Iraqi leadership, Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn delivered a lengthy speech in which he provided details of his current understanding of Islam, Iranian history, and the Iraqi 'victory' in the eight-year war against Iran.

The Iraqi leader suggested first of all that Iran had instigated the war against Iraq. He explained his interpretation by pointing out that the leadership of the Islamic Republic had issued slogans which were "arrogant, aggressive and expansionist, although they were covered with the slogans of the Islamic call. Hence, the aggression took place and war began." Saddam then enumerated other examples of Iranian perfidy against Iraq over the millennia, beginning with the theft of Hammurabi's Code by the Elamites. And he argued that the fall of Babylon was the result of "collaboration" between a Persian king and the Jews, something that prefigured what Saddam has called the Zionist conspiracy of today.

Saddam also raised the more recent issue of the fate of the prisoners of war. He claimed that "Iraq has released all Iranian prisoners some time after the cessation of fighting, except for one who was later released." At the same time, he said that "Iran continues to hold thousands of Iraqi prisoners and refuses to register some of them with the Red Cross."

The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded that Saddam Husseyn was attempting to use historical references as a cover for his own defeat and humiliation. In addition, Tehran insisted that "Saddam Husseyn's allegations of Iran having failed to settle the problem of the prisoners of war between the two countries are against the factual realities of the case." and that "the Iraqi government has consistently evaded supply of any information to the Iranian side on the fate and status of thousands of Iranian POWs in Iraq." An Iranian newspaper was even more blunt: It described Saddam's speech as "the drunken ravings of a decaying dictator have achieved nothing for the Iraqi people but hunger, destruction, and insecurity."

Questions about the fate of the POWs remain one of the most contentious issues between the two countries. Iraq claims that Iran still holds 13,000 of its soldiers, some of whom have been in Iranian POW camps for 15 years, and Iran says that several thousand of its troops are still being held in Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQI OFFICIAL ON QUSAYY'S RISE TO POWER. An Iraqi official, interviewed by the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman" on 10 August, claimed that Saddam Husseyn had granted his youngest son Qusayy wide-ranging security powers because he hoped to send a message to Washington that he is preparing a younger generation that will continue his policies.

"Al-Zaman" adds that the Iraqi official compared the current situation of the regime in Iraq to a huge hollow tree which cannot stand a sudden shock even though it appears to be solid on the outside. He said that what concerns the Iraqi president at present is to pick the right time to remove some senior officials and strip them of their powers. These powers are gradually being transferred to Qusayy (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 August 1999).

At the same time and providing support for this claim, the "Al-Hayat" newspaper noted that Qusayy has replaced Izzat Ibrahim as deputy commander of the army and commander of the northern military region. That region includes the Kurdish zone over which Baghdad lost control in the wake of the Gulf war. (David Nissman)

KTV HIGHLIGHTS SADDAM'S ARABIZATION POLICY. Kurdish television KTV--the satellite channel of the Kurdistan Democratic Party--again called attention to Baghdad atrocities against the Kurds in a special program last week called "Kirkuk--The Heart of Kurdistan." In addition to detailing the tragedies of the past, the program focused on Saddam Husseyn's ongoing efforts to Arabize the Kurds of his country, efforts that began in Kirkuk in 1963.

Baghdad's current approach includes renaming regions to stress their Arab rather than non-Arab connections, designating various regions as security and military zones from which groups can be expelled by the authorities, and mining some locations in order to restrict transit and prevent the return of those removed from their traditional places of residence (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 November 1998).

In October 1998, the governor of Dohuk and an official spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) sent a letter to UN officials complaining that Baghdad was systematically arabicizing Kurdish, Assyrian, and Turkmen territories. Such actions, he pointed out, violate UN Security Council Resolution Number 688, which calls for an end to the persecution of Kurds and other minorities in Iraq. One of the clearest examples of this policy is Baghdad's insistence that Kurds who are moved to Arabic regions must "correct" their nationality on special "National Correction Forms" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 February and 19 March 1999). (David Nissman)

SCIRI LEADER IN SAUDI ARABIA. The leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, arrived in Riyadh on 3 August at the invitation of Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz to discuss "developments in Iraq, namely, the stepping up of resistance."

A commentary on the visit appearing in the "Mideast Mirror" on 5 August quotes Hamid Al-Bayati, SCIRI's London representative, as saying that Saudi Arabia is providing "political, international, and moral support" but not military or financial aid. Al-Bayati said SCIRI did not need Saudi Arabia's financial support, he added that SCIRI "would not refuse" if Saudi Arabia or other countries in the region granted it "military facilities."

Bayati categorically rejected what he called "blatant U.S. interference" in the affairs of the Iraqi opposition, saying that Washington "was doing what it should not do and not doing what it should do"-- in other words, it was meddling in the Iraqi opposition's affairs but not ensuring the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions providing for Iraqi people to be protected against repression from the Baghdad regime

Bayati further claimed that since the assassination of the Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr in February, "popular resistance" to Saddam Husseyn had escalated and that military activities have been taking place "in various parts of the country, including Baghdad."

Bayati said that SCIRI's "reservations" about the "blatant U.S. interference" in the Iraqi opposition's affairs was one reason why it did not take up the seat allocated to it on the seven-man interim collective leadership elected by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and why it was not taking part in efforts to organize an INC General Assembly.

Yet another Islamic movement has withdrawn from the INC. On 4 August, London's "Al-Hayat" reported that the Iraqi Islamic Cadres Movement (IICM) had left the INC because of the nature of the INC's relationship with the United States and the imbalance of the Islamists' representation. The IICM also reportedly believes that the INC's relationship to the U.S. is now so close that the INC will lose its political, administrative, and financial independence and become subservient to the U.S. (David Nissman)

PKK FORCES TO WITHDRAW FROM TURKEY. Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan's call on the PKK "to end the armed struggle and withdraw their forces [to territories] outside the border [of Turkey]" by 1 September has received a positive response. According to an AP report on 5 August, an unnamed guerrilla source said on 4 August that "our party openly declares its full compliance with comrade president Ocalan's call and it will carry out its activities on this basis."

According to Turan Demir, chief editor for the Brussels-based Kurdish satellite channel Medya-TV, "They will not lay down arms; they will only leave the country." Meanwhile, a Turkish military official said that the majority of the rebels are already in northern Iraq. The official estimated that 3,500 were there and 1,000 remained in Turkey.

Hugh Pope, writing in the "Wall Street Journal" on 6 August, points out that Turkish reaction to a possible PKK withdrawal is "ambivalent." The Turkish General Staff has remained silent on the PKK statement, but Pope suggests that there is a sentiment among many influential newspaper commentators that Ocalan should not be executed and the state should seize the problem to resolve the Kurdish question.

According to ArabicNews.com, despite various appeals not to impose the death sentence on Ocalan, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit on 5 August said that Ankara will not bargain with an individual or an organization.

If the Kurdish forces do withdraw from Turkey, they are likely to go to Iran or to Iraq. In both of these countries, the PKK is known to have some bases of support. In july, for example, the PKK reportedly set up a command in northern Iraq, PKK-South, which is allegedly responsible for PKK activities in northern Iraq and hopes to establish itself as a permanent element in the region. Also last month, there were reports that Saddam Husseyn had set of a PKK camp near Mosul (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 July 1999).

PKK forces have been continuing to launch operations against KDP 'peshmerga' and KDP-controlled cities over the last few months. The reinforcement of PKK guerrillas by those withdrawing from Turkish territory will contribute nothing to the stability of northern Iraq. In this context, the PKK has offered a ceasefire to the KDP, according to the 9 August "Kurdistan Observer" quoted by the Kurdish news agency in Germany (DEM).

The terms of the ceasefire with regard to the KDP are not spelled out in the DEM report. However, the PKK Central Committee says it will unilaterally stop the war against the KDP as of 1 September. But "as of that date and as long as KDP forces do not attack, the ARGK will not engage in any military action."

If the PKK in Iraq does stop its actions against both Turkey and the KDP in northern Iraq, that by itself will not mean the PKK has ceased to be a threat. The "Turkish Daily News" of 9 August says that the support provided by Iran for the PKK has reached "frightening dimensions." According to an intelligence report prepared by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), cited by that paper, there are now some 50 PKK camps in Iran training some 1,200 terrorists annually.

The MIT reports state further that the PKK members in Iran now have official residence permits for West Azerbaijan, receive a great deal of financial support (primarily in Iran's Maku-Dambat district) and have been allowed to open offices in six Iranian cities. The report adds that "Tehran also has close relations with the Union of Kurdish Patriots (PUK), which is a supporter of the PKK." The PUK is channeling Iranian money to the PKK.

Meanwhile, the Ankara edition of the Istanbul newspaper "Posta" reported on 8 August that half the PKK cadres have been withdrawn to northern Iraq and the mountainous areas of Iran. "The majority of terrorists on the mountains will be withdrawn to Zab, Haftanin, Harkurk, and Metina, which are close to Turkey's border in northern Iraq and Bote, Zeli, Kandil, Suleymaniye, and Ranye" which are in Iran, by 1 September.

Osman Ocalan, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's brother, telephoned Medya-TV to claim that the PKK decision to end the armed struggle is a strategic initiative, not a tactical move. He is quoted as saying "we will carry out political, diplomatic, and economic activities in the future."

Despite that claim, not all PKK units have ceased their military activity. According to "The Turkish Daily News" of 6 August, PKK units operating from a PKK base in Iran carried out an artillery attack on an Iraqi village under the control of the KPD. On the same day, they attacked another village controlled by the PUK. Other PKK units also attacked a dam being built in Mus province in eastern Turkey, AFP reported on 8 August. It is unclear whether these attacks will continue until 1 September or whether they are a sign of disagreement within the PKK itself. (David Nissman)

HALABJA POST-GRADUATE MEDICAL INSTITUTE ESTABLISHED. A press release from the Washington Kurdish Institute, dated 6 August, announced the establishment of a treatment and research program for survivors of chemical and biological attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The announcement was made at a seminar held in Cartigny, Switzerland, convened by the Washington Kurdish Institute and Dr. Christine Gosden. The seminar was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Swedish government.

Seminar participants agreed to establish a post-graduate medical institute based at four centers--three medical colleges in Iraqi Kurdistan and a hospital in Halabja--in order to begin treatment and research of chemical and biological weapon exposure.

The academic structures will determine the most effective processes to determine the long-term effects of chemical weapons. In addition, the structure would integrate long-term international research and immediate health response efforts, while providing a mechanism for the delivery of international assistance.

On 16 March 1988, Halabja's population, and that of other villages and towns in the region, was decimated by Saddam Husseyn's use of chemical weapons. These included mustard gas, and the nerve gases sarin, tabun, and VX. Between 5,000 to 7,000 people were killed instantly and a further 30,000-40,000 were injured. It was the largest civilian population ever exposed to chemical weapons. No one knows how many died in the 11 years since the incident, nor is there any information about how many people are suffering from the long-term effects of the attack.

The press release notes that seminar participants acknowledged their frustration at the lack of international assistance and expressed the need to begin work at once to provide aid and support to a population neglected by the international community for more than a decade. They pledged to work together to address the suffering of those exposed to weapons of mass destruction, especially those of Halabja. (David Nissman)

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