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Iraq Report: February 1, 2002

1 February 2002, Volume 5, Number 4

AZIZ COMPLETES MISSION TO MOSCOW AND BEIJING. Baghdad Television said on 25 January that Russia had restated its "absolute rejection" of any U.S. military strike against Iraq, and expressed its full support for Iraq's demand that the blockade against the country be lifted. At a news conference in Moscow with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Russia Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that fighting terrorism should be based on solid legal foundations and that the UN should play the role of coordinator of international efforts.

Aziz stressed that Iraq would not yield to U.S. threats, and claimed that Iraq had implemented all its commitments in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

Gennadii Seleznev, speaker of the Russian State Duma, also met with Tariq Aziz and said that "Russia is resolutely against United States threats to strike Iraq as part of its war against terrorism," Interfax reported on 28 January. In return, Aziz said that "Iraq has never been a burden on the shoulders of either Russia or the Soviet Union�[Iraq] completely supports Russia on the issue of Chechnya, and this is no accident. Russia is our number one partner."

Gennadii Zyuganov, head of the Russian Communist Party and chairman of the party's bloc at the Duma, also called for the lifting of the sanctions against Iraq. He stressed that the Russian leadership must adopt a firm position to foil all U.S. attempts at the Security Council to renew the blockade on Iraq.

ITAR-TASS reported on 26 January that Aziz had called his talks in Moscow "useful and constructive," and also said that "the development of economic relations between Moscow and Baghdad" was given a prominent place in the talks.

As far as international weapons inspections are concerned, he pointed out that UN inspectors had "worked in Baghdad for 7 and a half years, and during that time inspected all the objects that they believed necessary. They are aware of the fact that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Aziz left for Beijing on 27 January, but planned to return to Moscow on 31 January for a two-day visit.

On 28 January, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on Aziz's arrival in Beijing. He met with Chinese Deputy Premier Qian Qichen, who advised Aziz that his country would cooperate with the UN to end the sanctions against Baghdad, AFP reported on 28 January. He pointed out that such cooperation should also help avoid "new and complicated situations" arising from a potential extension of the U.S.-led war against terrorism to Iraq.

Qian also said: "China does not support the expansion of antiterror military action, but at the same time hopes that Iraq will cooperate with the UN to avoid new and complicated situations which might emerge."

Premier Zhu Rongji later told Aziz that China is willing to continue its longtime efforts to lobby for an end to the sanctions. AFP quoted a Xinhua item saying that Qian also pointed out that "targets should not be wantonly extended" in the war against terrorism.

A Hong Kong-based political analyst, Jean-Pierre Cabestan, director of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China, queried by AFP on the reasons behind Aziz's trip to Russia and China, said that Iraq seems willing to negotiate with the UN about allowing new weapons inspectors into the country, but wants Russia and China to help it work out a better deal with the UN. (David Nissman)

IRAQI FM MEETS PRESIDENT KHATAMI. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Hadithi flew to Tehran at the invitation of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 25 January. According to Baghdad Radio of 25 January, Hadithi said that the visit is within the context of efforts to establish good neighborly relations with Iran on the instructions of President Saddam Husseyn. He added that the visit is a practical step to be added to previous steps on the road to normalizing relations between the two Muslim countries.

In concluding his statement, he pointed out recent achievements, such as Iran's release of a new batch of Iraqi POWs and Iraq's release of a group of Iranian prisoners who were accused of violating Iraqi laws and regulations after crossing the Iraqi border and staying in Iraq illegally.

An AFP report from 25 January notes that Iraq and Iran remain at odds over POWs and support for each other's opposition groups. Iran denies Iraq's charges that it still holds 29,000 Iraqi prisoners. Iraq says another 60,000 are missing and denies Iran's charges that it still holds 3,200 Iranian soldiers.

In addition, Iraq says 113 warplanes and 33 civilian aircraft were flown to Iran for safekeeping on the eve of the 1991 Gulf war, but Tehran says that it is in possession of only 22 planes that it is ready to turn over if asked to do so by the UN.

IRNA reported on 28 January that Hadithi met with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami on 27 January. Khatami expressed the hope that "mutual respect for each other would reign" and that the meetings of top-level authorities of both countries would "open new horizons in Baghdad-Tehran relations."

Hadithi noted that one of the achievements thus far is that, despite an embargo, flights will commence in the near future between Iran and Iraq. A report in the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 28 January points out that "in reality, this is no more than an expansion of the recognized humanitarian exception [to the embargo] to Mecca, and Najaf and Karbala also fall into this category."

Hadithi stressed the need to resolve the last remaining disputes and to change the existing relationship to a brotherly one. (David Nissman)

PUK REPRESENTATIVE IN TURKEY BRIEFS GERMAN EMBASSY ON KURDISH SITUATION. Bahros Galali, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) representative in Ankara, gave Robert Mittel, director of the Political Office of the German embassy in Ankara, detailed information on the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) peace process, and also on developments in Iraq, reported.

Galali replaced the late Shazad Saib, the former PUK representative in Ankara. Saib was minister of agriculture of the Kurdistan Regional Government-PUK when he lost his life in a car accident in May 2001. (David Nissman)

IRAN ACCUSED OF FIRING MISSILES AT OPPOSITION CAMP IN IRAQ. The Iranian opposition movement, Mujahedin-e Khalq (the People's Mujahedin), accused "terrorist agents" of the Iranian regime of firing rockets at one of its camps in Iraq, AFP reported on 24 January.

"Terrorist agents of the mullah's regime launched seven 107-mm rockets against the Mujahedin camp in Muzarmi 40 miles from the Iranian border," the group said in a statement. The rockets hit villages near the camp and the mujahedin suffered no casualties.

The statement added that this was "the ninth cowardly terrorist raid" by Tehran in four months. The last rocket attack, targeting the same camp, was on 26 December.

The mujahedin often take credit for military operations in Iran, triggering retaliatory strikes by Iran. This latest attack occurred at a time when there has been an improvement in Iran-Iraq ties. The two countries did not sign a peace treaty to end the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. (David Nissman)

IAEA INSPECTS IRAQI NUCLEAR MATERIALS. Iraq allowed a team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the country on 26 January to perform a regular inspection of nuclear materials stored at a research center on the outskirts of Baghdad, the "Wall Street Journal Europe" reported on 28 January.

A spokeswoman for the IAEA said that Iraq had agreed to a "limited" four-day mission that will not be able to determine whether the government may be engaged in a secret nuclear weapons program. "We cannot provide assurances that Iraq is not pursuing a new secret nuclear program."

The IAEA is operating under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, of which Iraq is a signatory. The inspection is not connected with the UN demand that Iraq allow its weapons inspectors back into the country. Iraq has barred UN weapons inspectors from entering the country for the last four years.

The IAEA inspectors are only being granted access to the former nuclear research center at Tuwaitha, north of Baghdad, where 1.8 tons of "low-enriched uranium" are being stored. Iraq denies allegations that it is secretly developing weapons of mass destruction.

According to the IAEA spokeswoman, Iraq has stated that it will only allow a full-fledged IAEA inspection once UN sanctions against Iraq are lifted. (David Nissman)

BRITAIN ACCUSES SYRIA OF SMUGGLING IRAQI OIL. Britain has accused Syria of illegally importing and selling millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in the most serious violation of UN sanctions against Iraq since 1990, Edith Lederer of AP reported on 29 January.

The accusation on 28 January is the first time that Syria, which joined the Security Council at the beginning of the month, was directly confronted with the oil smuggling charge.

Syria has repeatedly denied it is importing Iraqi oil through a pipeline that had been closed for nearly 18 years. Britain has charged that Iraq is currently shipping over 100,000 barrels of oil a day through the pipeline. The Iraqi oil allows Syria to increase its oil exports without any corresponding increase in its own domestic oil production, said a British official speaking under conditions of anonymity.

The official said that if the pipeline was run at full capacity, it could pump 200,000 barrels a day, generating $1 billion a year in illegal revenue.

Britain submitted newspaper accounts of the Syrian oil imports from Iraq to the UN Sanctions Committee, but said the sharp increase in Syrian oil exports since late 2000 is sufficient evidence. (David Nissman)

UN HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY TO VISIT IRAQ. The Iraqi government has agreed to allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iraq, Andreas Mavromattis, to visit Iraq, AFP reported on 28 January. This is the first time a UN human rights envoy has visited Iraq since 1992.

In a statement from Geneva, the UN said: "Ambassador Mavromattis suggested to the government that an exploratory mission of a few days be conducted as the first step in a dialogue with Baghdad." Mavromattis will visit Baghdad in February and will be there for three or four days. pointed out that the last UN human rights mission to Iraq occurred in 1992, when envoy Max van der Stoel found that Baghdad was attempting to control the political opposition. Since then, further trips were banned by the Iraqi government.

Last year Amnesty International sharply criticized Baghdad, alleging that systematic torture of political prisoners was routine.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts who report to the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission. A mandate for a rapporteur for Iraq was established by the UNHRC in 1991. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, SUDAN CLOSER TO FREE-TRADE ZONE AGREEMENT. At the beginning of a visit to Iraq by Sudanese Foreign Trade Minister Abdul-Hamid Musa, Iraqi Minister of Trade Mohammad Mahdi Salih said that Iraq and Sudan intend to set up a free-trade zone.

Salih said: "The creation of a free-trade zone between Iraq and the Sudan and the means to expand commercial cooperation between the two brotherly countries will be on the agenda of our discussions," AFP reported on 28 January.

Musa said that current trade between the two countries is "limited." He did not expand on this comment.

Iraq now has free-trade agreements with Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. (David Nissman)

IRAQI TRADE MINISTER TO VISIT ARMENIA. According to a report by ARKA on 29 January, Iraqi Minister of Trade Taha Yasin Ramadan is to visit Armenia sometime in February or March, according to a member of the Armenia-Iraq friendship group, Ghukas Ulikhanian, speaking in Yerevan at the conclusion of a visit to Iraq by an Armenian delegation on 21-24 January.

In the framework of Ramadan's visit to Armenia, it is planned to sign an agreement on the establishment of an Armenian-Iraqi interparliamentary commission. Hakop Martirosian, an officer of the Iraqi embassy in Armenia, noted that the creation of an interparliamentary commission should allow Armenia to reach its export quota. He thinks that turnover between Armenia and Iraq could reach $200-$300 million a year.

The Iraqi charge d'affaires in Armenia, Abbas Badri, pointed out that Iraq is "ready to cooperate with Armenia in all directions." Badri added that there is no reason for the low level of trade relations between the two countries to continue.

In another release from ARKA, also dated 29 January, Ulikhanian noted that the humanitarian aid provided Iraq by Armenia is purely "symbolic." This last visit was the fourth one by the deputy group. Ulikhanian was honored for his services to the Armenia-Iraq group and was presented a watch that is from Saddam Husseyn. Ulikhanian said the present makes him "the personal friend of the Iraqi president." (David Nissman)

RESETTLEMENT OF ARAB TRIBES IN NORTHERN IRAQ LEADS TO CONFLICT. Iraqi government plans to resettle Arab tribes in the traditionally Kurdish and Turkmen areas in the Shamamik region of the Irbil plains continue apace, according to reports in "Kurdistani Nuwe" on 23 January. The Arab tribes affected include the Hadidi, Lahayb, Al-Shammawi, and Al-Jubur.

The report points out that the tribes have been armed by the Iraqi government, and supplied with construction materials to help them build their own homes in the villages of Mira, Sa'dawah, Awenah, and Binmarabaz.

But a report in the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Hawlati" of 21 January notes that this resettlement plan has met with fierce resistance from the local population. Farmers from the Shamamik plains launched an attack on those that were brought into the region and, after fierce fighting, drove the newcomers away and confiscated all the equipment and supplies they had brought to the region.

On 13 January, the farmers of Kawr launched a successful attack. The following day, the regime's military led the Arab tribes back with the intention of reinvading and reoccupying the region. Once again, they were driven away.

The "Hawlati" report notes that "the forces and authorities of the regional government and the political parties in that region have shown indifference and kept quiet regarding these aggressions of the regime." (David Nissman)

KRG ASKS NETHERLANDS NOT TO REPATRIATE KURDS. Dr. Shafiq Qazzaz, the minister of humanitarian assistance for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Irbil, said in an interview with the Irbil-based newspaper "Brayati" that his government is concerned over the recent news that some European countries are planning to repatriate Kurdish refugees, according to the "Kurdistan Observer" of 27 January. He added that the KRG has informed those countries through their representatives abroad, specifically the Netherlands, of their disagreement with the decision to deport thousands of Kurds to "Kurdistan."

He added that his ministry has contacted several human rights organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which assists rejected asylum seekers to return home on a voluntary basis.

He also said that those countries decisions not to grant asylum status to several thousand citizens of the KRG was the result of trips to the KRG by their officials, who had concluded that "Southern Kurdistan is blessed with peace, tranquility, and secure economic conditions."

A rejected asylum seeker returning to the KRG must land in Baghdad, which is the closest airport. In Baghdad, they are probably at considerable risk. (David Nissman)

IRAQI TURKMEN PARTY LEADER ON RELATIONS WITH KURDS, TURKMEN FRONT. Dr. Sayf Din Damirchi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Turkmen Union Party, was interviewed by the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Hawlati" on 21 January on relations with the Kurds and other Turkmen political parties. The Iraqi Turkmen Union Party is one of the few Turkmen parties recognizing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The party was established in Cyprus in 1992 and entered into its present form in 1995.

"Hawlati" asked Damirchi about the situation of the Turkmen in the KRG, particularly in Irbil. He answered: "We can assess it by comparing it to the situation when we were under the control of the Iraqi regime. We were under pressure and human and political rights were under pressure. But now in the Kurdistan region the freedom that the Turkmen enjoy is noticeable; for example, no Turkmen is free to express the truth or his national identity in the areas held by the [Iraqi] regime, or to have schools or Turkmen broadcasting. But in Kurdistan, you can see that Turkmen have political parties, newspapers, and they participate in the institutions. There is no distinction between Turkmen and Kurds. They are treated like ordinary citizens. This is why we consider the current Kurdistan Regional Government a great achievement and it is our duty to protect it."

Damirchi was asked about his relations with the Turkmen Front. He answered that "the [Turkmen] parties have two approaches: one is to rely on the foreign factor, and the second on the internal factor. Our party interacts with our society; other brothers rely on the foreign factor. This situation prevents us from finding a united strategy." However, "we, in the Union Party, have no problem with the Front and those outside the Front."

His party was asked, at one point, to join the Turkmen Front. However, there were a number of points of disagreement, he said. First, the Iraqi Turkmen Union Party recognizes the KRG and the Turkmen Front does not; the second was that the Front is excessively provocative which creates negative situations; third, his party considers the formation of Turkmen militias to be needless because the Ministry of the Interior has police forces of its own.

They do, however, want to create a front of their own and are now holding talks with three other parties (unnamed) on how to do so.

Damirchi feels it is "better for the Turkmen to remain neutral instead of becoming part of one side against another, which does not serve the Turkmen nor the fraternity that prevails in Kurdistan." (David Nissman)

ASSYRIASAT TO COMMENCE BROADCASTS ON 2 FEBRUARY. AssyriaSat, the first worldwide satellite television service, will commence operations to Europe, Russia, the Middle East, East Asia, and North Africa at 3 pm GMT on 2 February, according to a release in "Zinda" of 23 January.

The broadcasts will originate from the Assyria Vision studios located at the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet Nahrain in Ceres, California, and can be received through Eutelsat W1 at 10 East, Telestar 5, Transponder B5 on the downlink frequency of 11163.33 Mhz.

These new broadcasts give Assyrians in northern Iraq an Assyrian choice for their television viewing. Assyrians living in the Baghdad-controlled regions of Iraq, however, will most likely not be able to enjoy AssyriaSat's programs. It is illegal to possess a satellite receiver and antenna in most of Iraq. Within the Kurdistan Regional Government region there are no such restrictions. (David Nissman)