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Iraq Report: February 8, 2002

8 February 2002, Volume 5, Number 5

IRAQI VP: RUSSIAN PLAN ON WEAPONS INSPECTORS 'BAD IN ESSENCE.' Baghdad has criticized the most recent attempts by Russia's Foreign Ministry to persuade Iraq to receive international weapons inspectors, according to Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan. He claimed this was only a rehash of a plan presented eight months ago which Iraq has already dismissed, according to Interfax on 4 February.

Insisting that Russian President Putin had responded positively to Iraq's suggestions and that the Foreign Ministry had begun work on a new draft, Ramadan said that the plan put forth by Russia at the Security Council is "very bad in its essence." He predicts that "Iraq will not accept the draft and Russia will not be able to vote it down in the UN Security Council because it is a Russian draft" and "the United States may use it as a pretext for new aggression."

Since Iraq was concerned about Russia's return to the previous proposal, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was sent to Moscow in January to present Baghdad's position and attempt to dissuade Russia from drawing closer to the Western position about the return of the UN weapons inspectors. Ramadan denied suppositions that Aziz had brought to Moscow "a certain positive answer" to the Russian proposal. Ramadan claimed, "It looks like we are back to the situation that existed during my visit [to Russia] almost a year ago."

Baghdad is also against U.S.-Russian consultations on a new list of goods prohibited for import to Iraq, which is planned for this week in Switzerland. He complained, "It is high time to lift sanctions against Iraq instead of discussing new lists. If this list is approved, Russian businessmen will be the first to be affected." (David Nissman)

GCC CONCLUDES MUSCAT SUMMIT, ISSUES FINAL COMMUNIQUE. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) concluded its 22nd summit in Muscat on 31 December and issued a final communique. As reported by Sultanate of Oman Television on 31 December, this final communique was primarily economic in nature. Its primary points are: an endorsement of the Economic Agreement among the GCC member states to replace the Unified Economic Agreement which went into effect in November 1981; an agreement to move the enforcement date of the GCC Customs Union forward to 1 January 2003 and lower the customs tariff to 5 percent on all imported, non-Customs-Union foreign commodities; a decision to enforce the Unified Customs Law for the GCC states effective 1 January 2002; the establishment of a GCC Monetary Union which will launch a unified currency tied to the U.S. dollar by 1 January 2010; and unification of general census timings starting in 2010.

Politically, the council reiterated resolutions adopted in previous summits. It renewed its call on Iraq to meet its obligations according to the Security Council resolutions related to the Kuwait-Iraq situation; it also discussed Iran's occupation of the three UAE islands, and called on the Islamic Republic of Iran to accept referring the dispute to the International Court of Justice. It also voiced its full support for the Palestinian Authority and Yassir Arafat, and it stressed that it is essential that Israel join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and bring all its nuclear installations under the international inspection regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Finally, the Supreme Council condemned the terrorist measures which targeted the U.S. on 11 September and expressed its support for the U.S.-led international alliance for eradicating terrorism. (David Nissman)

IS IRAQ SMUGGLING MILITARY EQUIPMENT THROUGH SYRIA? Western intelligence services said Iraq is smuggling components for tanks, armored systems, and anti-aircraft batteries, as well as materials for weapons of mass destruction, though Syria, "Middle East Newsline" of 1 February reported. The sources say the smuggling began more than a year ago and has increased over the last few months. Mainly, the goods are smuggled through the Syrian port of Tartus. The Iraqi smuggling route has led to a sharp increase in traffic at Tartus.

On 29 January, the London-based Arabic language daily "Al-Hayat" reported that two Syrian merchant ships were stopped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. The ships were taken to Cyprus and searched for unspecified weapons and materials. Nothing was confiscated from the Syrian ships. (David Nissman)

SYRIA DENIES OIL SMUGGLING CHARGE. Syria's delegate to a UN sanctions panel on has denied charges that Damascus imported Iraqi crude oil in violation of a UN embargo (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 February 2002), Reuters reported on 1 February. Previously, Russia had blocked attempts by Britain and others on the committee to confront Syria, saying not enough evidence had been presented, a position it repeated on 1 February.

Syrian counsel Faysal Makdad denied his country was importing illicit oil and said it was building a new pipeline that it hoped would be placed under UN control.

Britain, represented by its Middle East expert, Carne Ross, presented news reports and oil industry figures to support the smuggling charge. British officials believe that an increase in Syrian oil exports means that Syria is smuggling in at least 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iraqi crude over a pipeline that had been shut down for almost 20 years (until November 2000).

Oil industry officials say that in 2002, the rate of smuggling will increase to as much as 200,000 bpd, which would be worth more than $1 billion a year at current prices.

Some UN diplomats believe Syria's membership in the sanctions panel makes it immune to the British allegations. A Western diplomat pointed out that Syria has veto power, and that there is nothing that can be done about these allegations unless Syria agrees to any proposed action, which they will never do.

Russia, an Iraqi ally on the panel, has sided with Syria. And France and China say that Syria should not be singled out when Iraqi oil is also allegedly smuggled through Turkey and Jordan. Britain has said that the amount of oil traveling to Turkey by road has dropped in recent years, and the Jordanian situation has been acknowledged by the council as a special case. (David Nissman)

TURKEY'S ECEVIT TO SADDAM: PERMIT INSPECTIONS! Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has sent a letter to Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn, in which he notes that Iraq is facing a serious threat and advises him to open his country up to UN weapons inspectors, according to Istanbul's NTV of 4 February. In his letter, Ecevit says Iraq's territorial integrity is very important for Turkey, but now "Iraq is facing a new threat." He points out that "we have taken intense initiatives to prevent this threat." He adds that achieving positive results from these initiatives will depend on Iraq taking certain urgent steps: "Had the situation not been very serious, I would not have sent you this reminder."

He explains that Turkey will also be harmed by the grave developments that might take place in the event Iraqi territory is not opened to UN inspectors. He continues: "Turkey believes that, from the viewpoint of its interests, it is Turkey's duty to do all it can to secure Iraq's security and territorial integrity. I firmly ask you to lift as soon as possible the obstacles in front of the UN inspection." (David Nissman)

IAEA ENDS NUCLEAR INSPECTION TRIP TO IRAQ. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded its inspection of a nuclear facility in Iraq that began on 25 January as part of routine work carried out under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Middle East Online reported on 2 February.

Seven IAEA specialists examined nuclear materials at the Tuwaitha facility. The team's activities were limited to verifying stocks of nuclear materials -- low-enriched, natural and depleted uranium �- which had been sealed under IAEA safeguards. These inspections are not related to the UN Security Council mandate as part of the cease-fire resolution which ended the Gulf War.

The IAEA director general, Mohamed El-Baradei, emphasized that these safeguard activities "do not serve as a substitute for the verification and monitoring work required by the resolutions of the Security Council, nor do they provide the needed assurances that the Council seeks." He added that "a number of questions and concerns remain regarding Iraq's past nuclear program, and it remains important to clarify them." El-Baradei stressed that the IAEA stands ready at short notice to resume its Security Council-mandated inspection activities in Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQIS LEAVE ON HAJJ. An AFP correspondent reported on 4 February that 750 pilgrims had boarded buses for the 1,250-mile journey to Mecca via the Ar'ar crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. A second group was to leave Baghdad in the coming days. Iraqi Religious Affairs Minister Abdul-Munaym Ahmad Salih said some 14,000 Iraqis were to take part in this year's hajj, which culminates on 21 February. He also accused Saudi Arabia of delaying entry visas to members of an Iraqi delegation charged with preparing for the pilgrims' stays in Mecca and Medina. He said: "This is not right. They [Saudis] treat Iraq differently from other Muslim countries."

In 1999, 18,000 Iraqi pilgrims traveled by bus to Saudi Arabia before being recalled by Baghdad, which refused to allow them to proceed to Mecca unless the United Nations released frozen Iraqi assets to cover their expenses. (David Nissman)

UN TO CONDUCT CENSUS IN NORTHERN IRAQ. The United Nations is to conduct a large-scale census in Northern Iraq. The World Food Program hopes the data received will facilitate the relief Kurds receive under the oil-for-food program, "Iraq Press" reported from Irbil on 5 February. UN estimates put the Kurdish population in the region at 3.5 million, but it wants to obtain exact data due to recent demographic changes.

The region was the target of massive relocation in the decade following the Gulf War. The census is expected to provide information on the movement of peoples, living standards, types of houses, and even the number of disabled persons.

Iraq carried out its first census under the UN trade sanctions in 1997, but it did not cover the three northern provinces of Dahuk, Irbil, and Sulaymaniyah, which constitute the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Iraq's population was then estimated at 22.4 million.

Iraq has one of the highest population-growth rates in the world. All forms of contraception were made illegal in the 1980s, and doctors and pharmacies dispensing pills or abortions were severely punished. (David Nissman)

EGYPTIAN COMPANIES TO HELP OVERHAUL IRAQI POWER NETWORKS. Egyptian Electricity and Power Minister Hassan Younis said that Egyptian companies will aid the overhaul of old power networks in Baghdad, reported MENA on 31 December. Other provinces will also be included in the overhaul plan, but only in the second phase, Younis said following a meeting with chairmen of Egyptian electricity companies. Egypt will also participate in setting up joint ventures with the aim of overhauling a number of power stations and electricity networks. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TO SEND MISSION TO SPAIN. Iraq plans to send a government mission to Spain for talks with Spanish government officials, "Kyodo" reported on 3 February. "Kyodo" believes the purpose of the mission is to reach out to the European Union for support amid fears that the U.S. might make a preemptive attack in order to topple the Saddam Husseyn regime. INA said that Iraq plans to reopen the Iraqi Embassy in Switzerland, which has been closed since the Gulf War. (David Nissman)

PUK, JUND AL-ISLAM CONTINUE NEGOTIATIONS. Negotiations between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Jund al-Islam have resulted in a number of "Afghani-Arabs," formerly fighters for the Jund, leaving the organization and heading for Baghdad, according to of 1 February. During the negotiations, the proposals on the table included: that the Jund al-Islam [Army of Islam] change its name to Ansar al-Islam [Supporters of Islam] and that the "Afghan-Arabs" leave the organization.

The Jund al-Islam is close to Osama bin Laden, something the group does not deny. In one of their communiques, quotes the Jund as saying: "the Lord of Osama is with us."

The leader of the Jund, Abu Abdullah al-Shafi, explains the beliefs of the Jund as the necessity of retaliation, punishment of those who deviate from Islam, cutting off the hands of thieves, punishing single adulterers with 80 lashes and married adulterers by stoning to death. The Islamic Committee of the Jum'a is responsible for applying laws and educating people.

The PUK, on the other hand, is trying to build a modern, civil society in Kurdistan. It is unclear how the Jund will contribute to the society the PUK is trying to build.

In a similar context, on 4 February, the PUK and the Islamic Group in Kurdistan repeated their commitments of continued reconciliation and cooperation, and also reaffirmed their willingness to abide by all points of the Tehran Accord, signed in 1997. The accord calls for a limited PUK force in the Halabcha area that would otherwise be under the firm control of Islamic groups.

In the same context as the Jund al-Islam negotiations, the Ministry of Culture of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has sponsored a week of seminars in Suleymaniyah devoted to various aspects of terrorism, according to of 1 February. The seminars were held on 1-6 February and are devoted to themes like: terrorism and democracy, terrorism and the violations of women's' rights, and how political Islam develops and how does one eradicate it. (David Nissman)

COMMITTEE FORMED TO COMBAT ARABIZATION. The Higher Committee of Combating Arabization of Kurdistan (HCCAK) was formed on 23 January. The head of the committee, Arif Tayfur, said in a recent article that resisting the Iraqi government's policy of Arabization of the Kurdish regions under its control by bringing the issue to the international arena is an urgent necessity, according to the "Iraqi Kurdistan Dispatch" of 1 February.

Tayfur said the Iraqi policy of Arabization, "which is based on a special plan, aiming at changing the demography of Kurdistan has been carried out in phases by successive Iraqi governments.... It may have dangerous repercussions on the relations between the Iraqi peoples."

He explained that HCCAK "is not a party organization, but a broad-based committee, comprising also displaced people from the Arabized areas. We intend to contact Sulaymaniyah [under the PUK administration of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan], as well as individuals and organizations in Europe in order to lead a joint action."

HCCAK will take peaceful means to foil the policy: among the measures are informing the Arab tribes who have been settled in the area to leave the region; issuing a monthly publication; urging the UN not to spend money on the Arabized areas within the framework of UN Resolution 986 [oil-for-food program]; and holding a broad conference on this topic this year.

A census has revealed that the number of people expelled from the Kirkuk Governorate who have been housed in the Irbil Governorate (under the Kurdistan Democratic Party) has reached 22,955 families (slightly more than 120,000 people); the number of displaced people sheltered in the Sulaymaniyah Governorate (under the PUK) is believed to be somewhat higher.

The "Kurdistan Observer" of 5 February says the name of the committee is the Higher Committee Against Arabization of Kurdistan (HCAAK). Arif Tayfur is described also as a "KDP official." (David Nissman)

REPUBLICAN GUARD MASSING OUTSIDE DUHOK. Military units from the elite forces of the Republican Guards have been redeployed in areas south of the city of Duhok, which is within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), "Iraq News" reported on 30 January. Residents say thousands of soldiers backed by tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery were seen digging into positions in and around Mosul, which is in Baghdad-controlled Iraq. Military hardware was also moved to Fayda, close to the Syrian border and just south of Duhok.

Mas'ud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party is reported to have placed his militias on full alert and deployed battalions of his fighters in areas facing the Republican Guards.

It is Iraq's second massive deployment along the Kurdish areas in two months. (David Nissman)

TURKMEN PARTY ASKS TURKISH PROTECTION IF IRAQ ATTACKED. The head of the Iraqi Turkmen National Party (ITNP), Jamal Shan, said at the conclusion of the party's third congress: "The participants called on the countries that are sponsoring international peace and security, especially Turkey, to protect the lives and property of the Turkmens if the situation erupts in Iraq," the "Iraqi Kurdistan Dispatch" reported on 1 February.

In an interview with the "Turkmeneli" newspaper, which is published by the Turkmen Front, on 23 January, he pointed out that "as everyone is aware there is a possibility of a military strike against Iraq. The call on the Turkish Republic stems from a humanitarian specificity and dimension based on human rights, which concerns Turkey and comes under the legitimate international umbrella of the superpowers, as it happened in Kosovo and other countries."

The ITNP is one of the three Turkmen parties that make up the Turkmen Front, which does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). There are several other parties that do recognize the KRG operating outside the Turkmen Front (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 February 2002). Shan's call was addressed to "the Turkmen parties which are outside the Iraqi Turkmen Front to join the march and to unite action, efforts, and aims in order to achieve the Turkmen people's aspirations." (David Nissman)

IRAQ INSTITUTE FOR DEMOCRACY HOSTS LONDON CONFERENCE. The Iraq Institute for Democracy, based in Irbil (Kurdistan Regional Government), held a conference in London called "Prospects for Democracy in Iraq," reported on 31 January. The institute was established by Hussayn Sinjari on 31 December 1999 and is based in the KRG because the climate of democracy in Baghdad-controlled Iraq is still not open to this type of non-governmental organization.

The institute also hopes to be instrumental in the formation of a grassroots movement called Friends for Democracy, a non-sectarian, non-partisan association in which Iraqis from different ethnic, religious, regional, and linguistic backgrounds can share in what Sinjari calls "democracy-building sessions."

He says: "My foundation will provide an opportunity for Iraqi democracy and human rights organizations active in exile to be connected with the people inside Iraq. We will have a workshop in Iraqi Kurdistan for members of groups in exile to discuss how to build a network so that people inside and outside are connected and the experiences of both sides are shared."

The London conference focused on change and the relevance of the Kurdish experiment in democracy for the rest of the country. The KDP's London representative, Dilshad Miran, stressed that in Iraqi Kurdistan the democratic experiment started from zero. He continued: "Now, we have political parties, a number of newspapers, radio stations ,and activities for all the minorities that are living in the area and enjoying cultural rights..."

Conference participants expressed concern that outside powers could exert a disproportionate influence over Iraqi affairs. Dr. Mahmud Osman, a veteran Kurdish politician, said that "action inside Iraq has not brought about change in 34 years. But the people of Iraq, the Arabs, the Kurds, the Turkmens, must come together to reach a consensus about the kind of state they want and present a united voice to the outside world. If each group only thinks about itself, no one will get what they want." (David Nissman)