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Iraq Report: October 15, 1999

15 October 1999, Volume 2, Number 38

ANTI-REGIME ACTIVISM MAY BE INCREASING IN IRAQ. Murals depicting Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn have been defaced or otherwise destroyed in three governorates in Iraq--Wasit, Diyala, and Babil, travellers to these regions have told London's Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat." And in Baghdad, pamphlets calling for a "fair Islamic regime" have appeared in eight mosques.

One of "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat's" sources in the Iraqi Embassy in Amman said these reports about internal disturbances were baseless, but Iraqi security organs have mounted operations to find those who defaced the Saddam murals.

The "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" report also notes that an Iraqi human rights group now says that 59 Iraqis have been arrested without any known charges. In addition, the Iraqi Communist Party claims that 11 Iraqis were executed in Baghdad last month.

In the traditionally Shi'ite strongholds of Kerbala and Al-Najaf, the mood is calm, almost secretive. According to a report in the Dutch newspaper "De Volkskrant" of 8 October, mosques which had been badly damaged during the last revolt are being restored.

The guardian of the Abbas mosque in Kerbala, Sa'id Mahdi Fadhil Al-Gurabi, said that "our leader Saddam Husseyn has made available 15 kilograms of gold and 150 kilograms of silver for the restoration." He added that this was "despite the criminal sanctions and the continuing aggression against Iraq by Iran and the West."

There are other reports on anti-regime actions. The London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat" reported on 6 October that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has released a statement stating that "a group of Islamic resistance men killed Sa'd Salman Al-Najm, a very close aide to Udayy Saddam Husseyn, in an ambush" in Baghdad.

According to the Iraqi Communist Party, Baghdad has reinforced its military deployments in Kurdistan along the contact lines between the areas under its control and the liberated areas. The reinforcements consist of soldiers from the Republican Guard as well as from the Mujahadin-i Khalq.

SCIRI added that Iraqi forces had also been reinforced in various southern governorates, and have issued threats against "Army deserters, oppositionists, and those collaborating with the opposition." (David Nissman)

WHAT HAPPENED TO SADDAM'S MESSAGE TO CLINTON? The "RFE/RL Iraq Report" reported last week that Jordan's King Abdullah was carrying a letter from Saddam Husseyn to U.S. President Bill Clinton. The Iraqi authorities subsequently denied this. The London-based "Mideast Mirror" of 11 October comments on this exchange and asks two fundamental questions: Did Iraq deny sending a conciliatory message via King Abdullah after the press leak about it to avoid giving the appearance that it was groveling to the country that is throttling it? Or did Iraq deny the message after Washington made it clear it would not talk to Baghdad under any circumstances?"

According to the "Mideast Mirror," the chief of the Jordanian court, Abdulkarim Kabariti, said there were no specific ideas or demands that the Iraqis had asked Jordan to convey to Washington.

"Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" of 9 October, however, said that Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul-Ra'uf Rawabdah had invited Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to Amman to brief Jordan's leaders on a number of issues in the hope of them being conveyed to Washington. Iraq is Jordan's biggest trading partner and has every incentive on material and moral grounds to have the embargo ended against its neighbor.

But the pro-Saudi "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," also of 9 October, claimed that the Jordanian monarch was warned by the Americans that if he raised the issue of an Iraqi message, President Clinton would cut the message short.

No Iraqi message apparently was ever delivered, AP reported on 12 October. Indeed, Rubin said that "contrary to reports in the press, there was no message from the Iraqi government delivered by King Abdullah to Secretary Albright, and at this point we have no reason to believe there would be a message in his later meeting with the president." (David Nissman)

QUSAYY ACCRUES MORE POWER. According to a statement quoted by the Kuwaiti newspaper "Al-Watan" on 12 October, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has announced that owing to the worsening health of the vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim Al-Duri, Saddam Husseyn has transferred his powers to his younger son, Qusayy. Qusayy will share Duri's powers and responsibilities with Iraq's second vice president, Taha Yasin Ramadan. The SCIRI statement also says that "disputes" have broken out in Saddam Husseyn's immediate family on the distribution of Duri's powers. His eldest son and his first wife Sajidah maintain that Saddam is favoring Qusayy over Udayy. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TRIES TO BUY RADAR DOCUMENTATION. On 6 October, the Prague newspaper "Lidove noviny" reported that the Czech Ministry of Defense is trying to block the sale of the Tamara radar system and its technical documentation. According to the paper, this type of radar is even able to detect "Stealth" aircraft. Moreover, this secret technology could become the property of whoever buys the HTTP Tesla Pardubice company, which is now up for sale. The Tamara documentation makes it possible for anyone to make the radar. Among those interested in buying the company is Iraq, "Lidove noviny" says. Czech Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy insists the state will not lose Tamara's documentation. (David Nissman)

IRAQI CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN SUDAN? The London-based "Foreign Report" (published by Jane's Information Group) has received an unconfirmed account of cooperation in the field of chemical weapons between Iraq and the Sudan. "Foreign Report" warns that the account may be only disinformation.

According to the account, 12 Iraqi scientists, specialists on nerve and blister chemical weapons, arrived in the Sudan in June 1998. Their task was to check the Iraqi arsenals hidden in the Sudan. To do this safely, they were given advanced Yugoslav equipment for early warning and protection in the handling of chemical warfare (CW) materials. According to "Foreign Report's" source, the tests carried out by the Iraqi scientists are to serve as the basis for determining the priorities and logistics for transporting the materials back to Iraq. So far, CW storage sites in southern Khartoum, Wadi Seidina, Wadi Madan, and the Shajara region have been checked.

The Iraqi scientists reportedly are using advanced Yugoslav equipment for identifying and protecting themselves against CW accidents and leakage. This equipment allegedly arrived in Iraq from Yugoslavia in March of this year.

Iraq-Yugoslavia cooperation in the realm of CW has been reported before. Zagreb's "Globus" reported details of this cooperation last April (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report" on 9 and 23 April 1999). A Sudan connection is a new factor in the equation. (David Nissman)

YUGOSLAV FIRMS HAVE PRIORITY IN IRAQ'S RECONSTRUCTION. The independent Serbian news agency Beta reported on 8 October that Sami Al-Sa'dun, Iraqi ambassador in Belgrade, has said that Yugoslavs would be given priority in the work of the reconstruction of facilities destroyed in the aggression on his country. According to Beta, during Sa'dun's meeting with Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Nikolic, Sa'dun stressed that "friendly Yugoslavia has a special place in cooperation with Iraq, because it has been a firm pillar for all countries fighting for independence." (David Nissman)

IRAQ A 'ZONE OF RUSSIAN ECONOMIC INTEREST.' The head of Russia's Central Fuel Company, Yuri Shafranik, told Interfax on 7 October that "Iraq, Iran, and the Caspian area are zones of Russian economic interests." He added that Russia should not lose its positions in those areas where experts had developed oil fields "in Soviet times."

Safranik said that a nongovernmental committee was recently established to coordinate the efforts of Russian companies and their opposite numbers in those regions. And he stressed at the news conference that "if we fail to secure a foothold there now, we will be unable to compete with others on the market when Iraq opens up again."

No doubt this foothold has been rendered more secure by the recent sale of $57 million worth of materials and equipment needed by Iraq to increase its oil output. This sale was one of the results of the visit by a delegation to Baghdad led by Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyy, according to Interfax on 7 October. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TRIES TO MEND RELATIONS WITH SYRIA. Recent talks between Iraqi Assistant Foreign Minister Nabil Najm with Syrian officials represented the latest effort to reopen diplomatic relations broken off between the two countries 17 years ago, according to a report in the London-Based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat."

Najm specifically said that he had "discussed with the Syrian brothers ways of improving Syrian-Iraqi relations in general with the aim of strengthening joint Arab action."

Najm currently is lobbying for Arab support in Iraq's struggle with the UN Security Council. In his interview with "Al-Hayat," he mentioned "relations between Iraq and the Security Council, and the questionable proposals being presented to the Security Council by some states" had been discussed. He added that he had stressed "the dangers posed by the no-fly zones which constitute a clear violation of the Security Council resolutions." Talks also dealt with "the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq and the threat that this poses to Arab national security."

Even if they did not lead to the restoration of ties, Najm's talks did bear some fruit. Arabic News reported on 11 October that Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Suleyman Haddad had acknowledged that Syrian authorities decided to open an office for "monitoring the Iraqi interests in Syria." At the end of last year, Syria and Iraq opened two trade offices in each other's country in order to promote bilateral trade. In fact, Syria's share of the oil-for-food formula will be increased in the coming phase of the program. (David Nissman)

IRAQ BUYS SATELLITE PHOTOS FROM RUSSIA. Iraq reportedly has reached an agreement with Russian firms to purchase intelligence-quality satellite photographs, Reuters reported on 10 October. Such photographs will enable it to target neighboring Arab Gulf states as well as enhance its defenses against the American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone. Iraq reportedly has taken possession of the first 70 such digital images of the gulf region after paying $330,000 to NPO Mashinostroyeniya, even though that firm has denied all knowledge of such a contract.

Western intelligence experts fear that the contract could be extended to include more sensitive targets such as Israeli, British, and American military positions in the region. (David Nissman)

'LIMITED ACCESS' TO SATELLITE TV TO BE PERMITTED IN IRAQ. Baghdad has decided to give Iraqis restricted access to a number of unspecified satellite channels, AP reported on 7 October. Access will be gained through a network set up and supervised by the Ministry of Culture and Information. INA said that Iraqis will have to subscribe to this network. Satellite dishes are banned in Iraq and violators face a six-month prison term and a large fine. (David Nissman)

12TH KDP CONGRESS OPENS IN IRBIL. On 6 October, the 12th Congress of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KPD) opened in Irbil, northern Iraq. It was attended by a PUK delegation, that came at the invitation of Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the KDP. The PUK delegation is led by politburo member Faraidoun Abd Al-Qadir and includes members of the party leadership council, according to a press release from the PUK of 8 October.

In the opening speech by Barzani, he welcomed the PUK delegation and said he viewed their attendance as "a positive step in moving the Kurdish peace process forward." Then both Barzani and Abd Al-Qadir affirmed their commitments to a comprehensive and durable peace.

Barzani also emphasized the need to "put the Kurdish house in order" and stressed that if they did not, they would lose a historic opportunity for gaining their rights and confirming their ability of exercising them. Bavi Mediay, a frequent contributor on Kurdish affairs to the "Kurdistan Observer," explained in his essay "Daybreak on the Kurdish Horizon," which appeared on 10 October, that it is the Congress which will set new policies.

For the last several years, the Kurds have been fighting for the establishment of democracy at home and federalism in Iraq, both against each other and against those who would threaten them. A Kurdish state entity has found its most stable footing in northern Iraq, where the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), under the control of the KDP, has been able to create some of the institutions of a democratic state structure. Mediay notes that Barzani finally announced that the Kurdish flag was to be flown on KRG in Irbil, the regional capital of southern Kurdistan.

Not to be outdone by Barzani's gesture, Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls another part of northern Iraq, was announced the leader of the Kurdish national movement in southern Kurdistan. As Mediay says, an "insignificant step since it is widely known that Barzani and Talabani share control of Southern Kurdistan.

Mediay interprets Barzani's flying of the Kurdish flag in Irbil as a "significant (perhaps strategic) step." It gained much popular support and was seen as a measure of self-assertion and confidence. But the flag-raising has disturbed the Turks, who reported that Barzani was getting ready to establish an independent Kurdish state. It was reported that Ecevit, on his visit to the U.S. last month, would make the point that the territorial integrity of Iraq was not to be violated (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 10 October 1999), reflecting Turkish fears that the U.S. might make a deal would which permit the Kurdish establishment of an independent Kurdistan. A delegation of Turkish parliament deputies visited the KRG, and were satisfied by the KDP that it had no such intention.

Of course, Turkey is not the only country with an interest in Iraq maintaining its territorial integrity. Mediay reports a rumor that Saddam Husseyn's second in command, his son Qusayy, also visited Iraqi Kurdistan to voice his own concerns. If the rumor is correct, Qusay's visit was roughly at the same time as a visit of a high-level American delegation which visited both Barzani and Talabani in September.

Amid the various geopolitical factors raised by this concern of other states on Kurdish intentions, one that must be resolved is the rivalry between Barzani and Talabani, which has led to open conflict between the two. In early September, an official of the Assyrian Democratic Movement complained about the state of "no peace, no war" between Barzani and Talabani (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 10 September 1999). It was this inner Kurdish conflict that the Washington Agreement of September 1998 was supposed to bring to an end. This is why the PUK delegation at the opening of the KDP Congress is significant.

Mediay's hope is that the political turbulence in and around Iraqi Kurdistan is closer to some kind of solution than it appears. He feels that the U.S. "finally may have a plan/policy for the region." According to him, the plan is to promote a "free-trade zone" in northern Iraq and to continue to protect the Kurds from Saddam. At any rate, Mediay sees only positive developments in the region at the beginning of the next millennium. (David Nissman)