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Iraq Report: February 22, 2002

22 February 2002, Volume 5, Number 7

The next issue of "RFE/RL Iraq Report" will appear as soon as we are able to bring it to you. We apologize for any inconvenience that this interruption in the weekly publication schedule causes.

RUSSIA OPPOSES MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia opposes military action against Iraq. He told French reporters at a news conference in Paris on 15 February that "any unilateral actions, especially those contradicting the resolutions and decisions of the UN Security Council, may aggravate the situation in Iraq and in the area in general even more." He also said that such actions "in which the opinion of the other members of the antiterrorist coalition are not taken into account could weaken the united front of the fight against terrorism."

Ivanov called on Iraq to resume dialogue with the UN secretary-general and "take a more accepting stance" towards the position of the international community.

He said that Russia also wants international inspectors to return to Iraq and fulfill their mission. After this, the sanctions can be removed from Baghdad "only by the Security Council, which imposed them," reported Interfax on 18 February.

At the same time, the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, is expected to consider a draft resolution in support of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea after U.S. President George W. Bush called them an "axis of evil." The argument in the resolution is that the overthrow of the political regimes "under any pretext, whether this is to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or is action against terrorism" amounts to interference in the internal affairs of these states. (David Nissman)

SUDANESE FOREIGN MINISTER IN BAGHDAD. Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Isma'il arrived in Baghdad on 18 February, and was interviewed by state television regarding the purpose of his visit. He was invited by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri al-Hadithi, and the purpose of his visit is to "discuss the relations between the two countries and pan-Arab and international issues of common concern," reported Baghdad Television on 18 February.

Isma'il is also carrying a letter from Sudanese President al-Bashir to Saddam Husseyn. In the letter, he expressed solidarity with Iraq, and noted that "the Arab nation is required to express a unified position and show solidarity, because if we accept that Iraq can be attacked today, then the next target will be Sudan and then the rest of the Arab countries.... The Arab countries and people and the non-Arab countries that advocate security, peace, stability, and justice should reject any attempt to strike Iraq." (David Nissman)

JOINT IRAN-IRAQ MIA COMMITTEE TO START WORK. Iran and Iraq have agreed to launch a joint search operation for MIAs, an Iran official told reporters in the Dehloran border region, reported the "Tehran Times" on 18 February.

Colonel Feysal Baqerzadeh. The Iranian officer in charge of the MIA combatants committee of the joint staff command said that a joint Iranian-Iraqi search committee will start looking for the remains of the countries' MIAs "in the near future."

He added that since the exchange of the Iranian and Iraqi bodies, Iran has received the corpses of 3,998 martyrs and delivered those of 5,323 Iraqi soldiers' corpses to Iraq's officials. (David Nissman)

UN TO REPATRIATE IRANIAN REFUGEES FROM IRAQ. The United Nations announced it would repatriate some 3,000 Iranian refugees living in Iraq in March, according to the "Turkish Daily News" of 20 February. According to an official from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Daniel Bellamy, there are an estimated 23,000 Iranian refugees in Iraq.

The Iraqi weekly newspaper "Al-Rafidayn" quoted Bellamy as saying that the "Iranian government has agreed to receive the first group of refugees, who will be repatriated in March of this year." He added that some 6,600 Iraqis have returned from Iran since the Baghdad government issued an amnesty in 1999.

Last week Iraq and Iran exchanged the remains of 134 soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), and last month 682 Iranian POWs were exchanged, while Iraq released 50 Iranians. (David Nissman)

BANKS COMPETE FOR IRAQI MONEY. The "Financial Times" reported on 19 February that at Baghdad's insistence BNP Paribas will no longer be the only bank the UN uses for Iraq's closely monitored transactions. Baghdad has recently agreed to open the contract up for bidding, and the UN Secretariat has agreed to this.

European banks, such as BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole of France, Deutsche Bank and Hypovereinsbank of Germany, Banco Bilbao of Spain, and the Credit Suisse Group of Switzerland are now competing with each other to become one of several banks that will handle the money Iraq makes from oil sales and issue letters of credit for companies wishing to do business under the UN's oil-for-food program.

Iraq has 77 billion euros ($67 billion) plus $6.5 billion in the escrow account, partly because it cannot import goods as quickly as it can export crude oil because of restrictions on items that could be used for military purposes.

An official close to the UN said: "It will be easier for the Iraqis to play games after the diversification than it is now. When you are a customer of several banks you have more power than when you are the customer of just one bank." (David Nissman)

IRAQ BUYING ADVANCED MISSILES? IRNA of 17 February cites the Arabic newspaper "Al-Qanat" of 16 February claiming that authorities in Amman are saying that recently Iraq has imported a consignment of advanced missiles to be used in the event of an attack by the United States. The missiles have reportedly already entered Iraq. They are believed to have been supplied by either North Korea or Russia.

The missiles will not be used against the American and British planes that patrol the no-fly zones to prevent revealing Iraq's positions before possible U.S. attacks. (David Nissman)

SADDAM NOVEL IS BEING PUSHED BY BAGHDAD. Saddam Husseyn's new novel, "Impregnable Fortress" is being heavily promoted in Iraq. According to "Iraq Press" on 19 February, about 2 million copies of the novel have been printed. Copies of the novel are being sold to civil servants, teachers, university students, the armed forces, and members of the ruling Ba'th Party. The book costs approximately $2 a copy.

Saddam's eldest son, Uday, is said to have bought 25,000 copies and is planning to give them to his employees in the various trade unions he controls, as well as to the National Olympic Committee.

Saddam is alleged to be writing a third novel. His novels carry no byline. (David Nissman)

GENERAL AL-KHAZRAJI INTERVIEWED BY BEIRUT NEWSPAPER. General Nizar al-Khazraji, ex-chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces, was interviewed by the Lebanese newspaper "Daily Star" on 18 February. He received political asylum in Denmark in 1999.

He is a strong candidate to play the role of an "Iraqi Hamid Karzai" in lists being circulated in Washington and London. He said in a telephone interview with the "Daily Star" that, were he to be appointed to this position, " is a sacred duty that any Iraqi would be honored to be entrusted with."

Last September it was claimed by a Danish newspaper that he was the army field commander in March 1988 when Saddam's army killed up to 5,000 Kurds with mustard and nerve gas in the Iraqi town of Halabcha near the Iranian border. Khazraji has denied the accusations and has blamed Iraqi intelligence services of being behind them in order to remove him from the political stage.

Both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have come out in support of al-Khazraji, while another group, the Kurdistan National Congress asked the Danish minister of justice to press for his prosecution. Still, there has never been an official investigation because the Danes had reached the conclusion that the whole issue was fabricated. With regard to the events at Halabcha, al-Khazraji says it is Saddam Husseyn and Ali Hasan al-Majid who bear responsibility for the massacre. (David Nissman)

INC MONARCHIST HOPES FOR OVERTHROW OF IRAQI REGIME. Al-Sherif Ali bin Al-Husseyn, a member of the Iraq National Congress (INC) as well as the head of the Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy Movement, told KUNA on 18 February that he hopes that relations between Kuwait and Iraq will be restored and that the Saddam Husseyn regime will be overthrown.

With regard to Kuwaiti POWs in Iraqi prisons, he said the INC is working on gathering evidence and information about them. He stressed the necessity that the international community pressure Saddam into releasing the over 600 Kuwaiti and third-country POWs who are still detained in Iraqi detention camps. He also warned against the Iraqi regime's resort to deceitful acts before the upcoming Arab summit in Beirut.

Al-Husseyn, who met with U.S. officials, claims that the U.S. decision to carry out a military strike against Iraq has become final.

Responding to a question on divided factions within the INC, he answered that the INC will be playing a central role in the transitional process and Iraq's future.

As for this process, he added that several Iraqi opposition figures are expected to meet in Washington next month to discuss the future of Iraq after Saddam Husseyn. (David Nissman)

KURDISH PM DENIES THE PRESENCE OF U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL IN KURDISTAN. Dr. Barham Salih, prime minister of the PUK-controlled part of Iraqi Kurdistan, in an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" has called for measures to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, including the full implementation of Resolution 688 of the UN Security Council.

He also noted the presence of the Islamic extremist group Jund al-Islam that is still occupying some pockets in the eastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan.

He denied reports concerning the presence of American military personnel whose job is to train Kurdish fighters for an expected U.S. military attack on Iraq. He stressed that the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the PUK is formed by the Kurdistan people's national interest and their belief in the need for a comprehensive democratic solution for the Iraqi issue. (David Nissman)

SADDAM PLANNING PEACE INITIATIVE WITH KDP, PUK? "Iraq Press" of 19 February reports that Saddam Husseyn is planning a peace initiative to bring the Kurds to the negotiating table. He has held a meeting with senior aides to discuss the possibility of granting the Iraqi Kurds sweeping autonomous powers.

The Kurds have turned down Saddam's previous calls for negotiations, saying that there is no guarantee that Saddam will not renege on any promises he makes.

Husseyn is expected to address the nation shortly on this matter.

The Kurds are administering most of Iraqi Kurdistan themselves, away from Baghdad's authority. (David Nissman)

IRANIAN BOOK FAIR OPENS IN AL-SULAYMANIYAH. An Iranian book fair opened in Al-Sulaymaniyah, the capital of the PUK-controlled region of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The fair marks the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran according to "Kurdistan Newsline" of 16 February.

Jalal Talabani, head of the PUK, spoke at the fair and praised the exchange of cultural relations between Iran and the Kurdistan region. He also noted the Iranian Republic's favorable stands to the Kurdish people during grave crises such as the chemical gas massacre at Halabcha and the exodus of millions of Kurds. He also expressed the hope that "this year will be the year for emancipation, freedom, the end of injustice and subjugation of the Kurdistan people, and the fundamental democratic transformation of Iraq such that Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, and Assyrians can enjoy happiness in their own country." (David Nissman)

KURDISH HEALTH WORKERS FIND NEGLECT IN RURAL AREAS. The PUK-controlled part of the KRG's Ministry of Health held its first conference on health on 5-7 February in Sulaymaniyah, according to "Hawlati" on 15 February.

Jabbar Muhammad, the Health Personnel Union secretary, made the point that his personnel are "prisoners of old and outdated laws" and says the union is working for an amendment to these laws. Among his demands are that the "public sector should not be put in the service of the private sector," and that the public health centers too often become a pathway to doctors' private clinics.

There is also some question about the implementation of various suggestions put forward at the conference. Fakhriya Mahmud, head of nurses at Al-Sulaymaniyah Public Hospital, also stressed the implementation issue. She had asked for the establishment of an institute for training nurses that would offer five-year courses for training nurses, as well as overtime pay and night-shift allowances.

Others present complained that they were not allowed to speak, and were downgraded and belittled by the doctors present. (David Nissman)

THREE HUNDRED TURKMEN WORKERS DISMISSED FROM KIRKUK OIL COMPANY. As part of the arabization policy pursued for the last several years by the Ba'th regime, 300 Turkmen workers have been dismissed from their jobs as oil workers in Kirkuk and replaced by Arab workers, according to the Irbil Kurdish newspaper "Brayati" of 10 February. The same policy has been followed in the case of Turkmen oil workers in Bayji and a few other establishments. (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 February 2002, on expulsion of Assyrians).

Officials in the registration and nationality offices in Kirkuk and its vicinity have been informed that under no circumstances should newborn children of Kurds, Turkmens or Assyrians be registered with Kurdish, Turkmen, or Assyrian names. Such names are changed to Arabic names without the parents' consent. (David Nissman)

THREE NEW CHALDEAN BISHOPS APPOINTED TO IRAQI KURDISTAN. In the presence of the personal envoy of the World Chaldean Church to Iraqi Kurdistan, Archbishop Shlimon Wurduni, three new bishops were appointed in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to "Khabat" on 8 February.

At the ceremony, Fadhil Mirani, representative of KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani, praised the "co-existence and cooperation between the different religious communities who live in the Kurdistan region." He added that "the intellectual and religious diversity which exist in Iraqi Kurdistan would be further developed."

The Chaldean religious community constitutes the second-largest minority group in Iraqi Kurdistan, after the Turkmens. They are represented in the Kurdistan regional parliament with five seats, and have officials, at the level of minister, in the KRG. (David Nissman)