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Iraq Report: April 5, 2002

5 April 2002, Volume 5, Number 8

ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT REJECTS ATTACK ON IRAQ. Much of the 27-28 March Arab League summit in Beirut was devoted to discussions about Iraq and Arab fears of a new U.S. military campaign against Baghdad. Those fears have prompted many Arab leaders to warn in recent weeks that a U.S. attack on Iraq would endanger regional stability.

The summit adopted on 28 March a resolution reiterating concerns about stability by stating Arab leaders' "total rejection of any attack on an Arab country, particularly Iraq." The resolution also called for the lifting of UN sanctions imposed for Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait while stressing the need to respect all UN resolutions.

The summit statement emphasized that the Arab world wants to see political solutions to the Iraq crisis within the UN framework. That approach is in line with the position of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who on 27 March urged Baghdad to cooperate peacefully to solve the crisis over arms inspections. Annan said: "I appeal to the Iraqi leadership once again, for the sake of the Iraqi people and the sake of the region, to comply without delay with all relevant (UN) resolutions. The sooner they accept that there is no other path to ending the sanctions regime and relieving the suffering of the Iraqi people, the sooner this problem will be resolved."

Existing UN resolutions on Iraq call for sanctions to be lifted on Iraq when Baghdad demonstrates through arms inspections that it has no more weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has barred UN weapons monitors from Iraq for more than three years. Iraq and the UN restarted discussions recently on a wide range of issues -- including arms inspections -- after a one-year interruption. The two sides are due to meet again in April.

The summit was held on the heels of U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney's visit to the region to build support for a tougher Iraq policy. During Cheney's tour, key Arab allies of the U.S. publicly warned against military action, with Egypt offering instead to pressure Iraq politically to cooperate on UN arms monitoring. Nevertheless, Cheney declared his satisfaction with the results of his private meetings with Arab heads of state, and U.S. officials hinted that Arab leaders' private support for tougher action against Iraq may be greater than their public statements suggest.

Frederick Tanner, a regional specialist at the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland, predicted beforehand that the Arab leaders would have difficulty in agreeing on how strong a statement of opposition to U.S. military strikes they should make in Beirut. The reason is that they will have to individually weigh their relations with Washington against their publics' hostility to any outside attack on an Arab state. Tanner added that the final statement would be sufficiently vague to leave Washington with room to pursue tough action against Iraq while publicly underlining the leaders' concern over any use of military force: "I think the [final summit] document will give the United States in final account still some room for the U.S. to pursue its anti-Iraq policy, but I am sure in terms of rhetoric there will very strong condemnations in general terms of any kind of interference or intervention into the internal affairs of Arab states." (Charles Recknagel)

IRAQ-KUWAIT AGREEMENT GETS MIXED REVIEWS. The Arab summit also witnessed an agreement between Iraq and Kuwait that could improve relations for the first time since Baghdad invaded the emirate in 1990, but the depth of the agreement remains unclear in light of outstanding unresolved issues.

The summit's closing statement said, "Arab leaders welcome the guarantees of the Iraqi government for the respect of the independence, sovereignty, and security of the state of Kuwait and the guarantee of the safety and unity of its territories, in order to avoid anything that might cause a repetition of what happened in 1990." Iraqi Foreign Minister Ahmad al-Naji Sabri al-Hadithi added, on 28 March, that "We have expressed clearly, at their [Kuwait's] request, our respect of their independence and sovereignty," Saudi Arabia's English-language "Arab News" reported the next day.

Naji Sabri added that the agreement is "a first step towards normalization between the two countries and an assertion of good intentions," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 29 March. This agreement, resistance to military action against Iraq, and the public embrace of the Iraqi representative and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, according to "The New York Times" on 29 March, "appeared to be a rebuff to the Bush administration and another sign of its limited influence" in the region.

Kuwait appeared the least enthusiastic about the agreement with Iraq. In an interview that appeared in Dubai's "Al-Bayan" on 29 March, Kuwaiti Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Muhammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah expressed the hope that Iraq would match its words with deeds, and he added his wish that Iraq was not just reacting to pressure. Meeting with Kuwaiti editors on 30 March, Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah called for the implementation of UN resolutions concerning the release of Kuwaiti prisoners, and returning looted Kuwaiti property, KUNA news agency reported. (Bill Samii)

U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY DESCRIBES IRAQI WMD THREAT. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet in 19 March testimony to the Senate Armed Service Committee said that the dangers to the U.S. have never been "more clear or more present." Iraq is continuing to build its weapons of mass destruction capabilities -- it is expanding the civilian chemical sector, which could be diverted to weapons production, and it maintains an "active and capable" biological weapons program. Baghdad is continuing its pursuit of ballistic missile capabilities, and it never abandoned its nuclear weapons program. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Admiral Thomas R. Wilson also addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee on 19 March. Wilson said that Iraq has a "residual level of WMD and missile capabilities," including SCUD-B variants and their launchers and warheads. Baghdad also is working on shorter-range (150 kilometer) missiles. One of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's goals is to "undermine all UN restrictions on his military capabilities," Wilson said, whereas UN sanctions and the U.S. military presence are the keys to restraining Saddam's ambitions. (Bill Samii)

BAGHDAD WILL NOT ADMIT WEAPONS INSPECTORS. In a 19 March interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan denied that Iraq would accept the return of UN weapons inspectors. Ramadan was touring Arab states in advance of the Beirut Arab summit in an effort to generate support for Iraq's position. Ramadan said Baghdad refuses to admit the inspectors because they would "spy on and conspire against Iraq's national security." Ramadan claimed that he has conveyed this viewpoint to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and also discussed UN sanctions. (Bill Samii)

BAGHDAD, KHARTOUM SIGN TRADE AGREEMENT. Iraqi Vice President Ramadan arrived in Khartoum on 18 March, and said that two main objectives of his trip are support for the Palestinian Intifada and preparing the ground for the upcoming Arab summit in Beirut, Baghdad radio reported on 19 March. Nevertheless, trade appears to have been a major topic. Sudanese External Trade Minister Abd al-Hamid Musa Kasha and his Iraqi counterpart, Muhammad Mahdi al-Salih, on 18 March chaired a Sudan-Iraq ministerial committee to discuss establishment of a free-trade zone. The need to boost trade was stressed during the meeting between Ramadan and Sudanese First Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and they subsequently signed an agreement to create a free-trade zone, according to Sudanese TV on 19 March. (Bill Samii)

ATTEMPT TO KILL KURDISH LEADER FAILS... Two unidentified armed men drove up to the house of Kurdistan Regional Government leader Barham Salih on 2 April, and were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Salih's bodyguards. Five bodyguards were killed, too, KurdSat television reported. Later in the day, Salih met with Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani, who said, "I am very pleased that the terrorists were killed and did not escape -- we do not want them to get used to shooting at us and then escaping." Talabani added, according to KurdSat, "We are used to offering sacrifices, but we are not used to jumping up and fleeing from them [attackers]." (Bill Samii)

...AMID RUMORS OF ANOTHER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. The Kurdish weekly "Hawlati" on 25 March reported that there had been an attack against Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani's motorcade on 18 March in Arbil. "Hawlati" added that several of Barzani's bodyguards were wounded in the attack. The KDP daily "Brayati" on 29 March rejected this version of the incident, saying that Barzani was not on the Shorish-Ayn Kawa road at the time of the alleged attack. "Brayati" explained that there was a shootout between wanted murderer Ismail Sabah Ismail and the security officials who had come to arrest him. According to "Brayati," the other newspaper's report is "false, and a deliberate distortion of reality. It can only be considered as defamation." (Bill Samii)

TALABANI MEETS WITH TURKISH OFFICIALS. PUK leader Talabani met with Turkish Foreign Ministry officials in March, KurdSat television reported on 20 March. A PUK spokesman explained that their talks focused on the improvement of bilateral relations, particularly in the economic field. Talabani encouraged Turkish firms to invest more capital in Kurdistan. The Turkish officials, in turn, agreed to promote bilateral economic relations and expressed their understanding of PUK policies regarding the "democratization of Iraq." When Anatolia news agency reported on 2 March that Talabani would meet with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal, it said that Ankara would remind Talabani that it would not accept an independent Kurdish state in the region. (Bill Samii)

PUK EMPHASIZES IRAQ'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY. PUK leader Talabani on 7 March visited Turkmen Front leader Sanan Ahmet Aga and the Turkmen Front's representative in Turkey, Mustafa Ziya, according to Ankara's semi-official Anatolia news agency. Ziya subsequently said that the two sides have no disagreements regarding the importance of Iraq's territorial integrity, regardless of regime change. Ziya added that the Turkmen Front would participate in an upcoming meeting in Washington, D.C., of Iraqi opposition leaders. Talabani also met with Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 7 March, according to Anatolia. Talabani said that the PUK had enjoyed good relations with Turkish parties in the past and he was happy to establish a relationship with the new AK Party. Talabani expressed the hope that this would improve relations between the Iraqi and Turkish people: "We have heard that Erdogan is a militant working for the success and democracy of Turkey. We heard about his struggle even when he was in prison. We will give him information about our party. We will tell him that we are an Iraqi party and defend the territorial integrity of a democratic Iraq." (Bill Samii)


By Jean-Christophe Peuch, Sami Shoresh

In the early 1990s, NATO member Turkey was the first country in the Middle East to join the U.S.-led coalition to drive Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Then-President Turgut Ozal opened Turkey's airspace and military bases to U.S. and allied war-planes in the hope that endorsing the U.S.-led operation against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would help Ankara boost its role as a Western stronghold in the region and accelerate its admission into the European Union. Yet the political dividends imagined by Ozal did not materialize, and although the UN compensated Ankara later, the war cost Turkey an estimated $40 billion in lost revenues.

Leaders in Ankara now do not want Washington to solve the Iraqi issue by force and they instead favor diplomatic efforts to force Saddam to allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country. The Turks say that attempts to force Saddam out might create a political vacuum that could stir unrest in Iraq's ethnic Kurd northern provinces and affect Turkey's own restive Kurdish regions, reviving the specter of an independent Kurdish state.

Hamit Bozarslan of the Paris-based School of Higher Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) told RFE/RL that Ankara wants to preserve the regional balance of forces, fearing any disruption could affect its national interests: "True, Turkey today is much more frightened by the Iraqi Kurd experiment and its possible impact on its own Kurdish regions today than it was in 1991. But I think that [it] is also very, very strongly committed to preserving the existing status quo, the existence of states in their present form, and to preventing any possible change, any possible re-mapping [of the region] that could result from an outside intervention."

Bozarslan says that this commitment originates from the "nationalist" trends that have re-emerged in Turkish politics over the past few years, even though Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's cabinet has been trying to bring Turkey closer to the West. This trend explains why Turkish politicians and military leaders are so concerned by what Bozarslan describes as "imaginary threats." "The Turks [also] fear that, if an attack on Iraq or on any other country is decided, states would no longer remain free to decide for themselves, and that the policy of interference might someday become common practice and -- who knows -- applied against Turkey itself."

Northern Iraq is covered by one of the two "no-fly" zones imposed on Baghdad by the U.S. and Great Britain after the Gulf War. Controlled by two rival Kurdish factions -- Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Mas'ud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) -- the region has been enjoying de facto autonomy for most of the past decade. After years of infighting, the two groups have progressively normalized their relations, creating calm in the region for the first time since the 1960s. Northern Iraq's 3 million Kurds have been living under relative economic self-sufficiency since 1991, receiving a 13.5 percent share of Baghdad's export revenue under the UN-supervised oil-for-food program and levying taxes on cross-border trade.

The fact that the area is off-limits to Baghdad has proved a valuable asset for Ankara, as well. Turkish contractors are helping Kurds build much-needed infrastructure; Turkish businessmen are involved in illicit cross-border trade with Iraq and Iran transiting through Iraqi Kurdistan; and Ankara's armed forces conduct regular incursions in the area in pursuit of militants of the Turkish-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who fled there three years ago after the arrest of their leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Although Ankara maintains alternatively good relations with both the PUK and the KDP, which have helped Turkish troops crush the PKK, it fears a change in leadership in Baghdad might result in the Kurds being granted a say in Iraqi politics. Although Kurds are formally opposed to Saddam, they also oppose any U.S. attempt to remove the Iraqi leader from power, fearing an uncertain future.

David McDowell is a U.K.-based historian and an expert on Kurdish affairs. He told RFE/RL that there is no guarantee the situation will change for the better under new Iraqi leaders, even if Washington backs them. "Although I am sure [the Kurds] would be very happy to see Saddam's regime disappear, they also have to be very realistic. And realism implies quite strongly that even if [Saddam] personally disappears, his apparatus is unlikely to. And that's because the [ruling] Baath [Party] regime under Saddam Hussein is not really replaceable. It's only replaceable in terms of changing a few names. But basically, the intelligence network [and] the armed forces will remain [no matter] who takes control in Baghdad. And [the Kurds] know perfectly well that any ruler in Baghdad will view [them] with immense distrust."

In a February interview broadcast on Turkey's NTV private television channel, KDP leader Barzani -- who says he is negotiating with Baghdad to create a federative state that would legitimate Kurdish autonomy -- said he saw "no guarantee that the alternative will be better than Saddam." And in comments aired on NTV that same day, PUK leader Talabani said: "We prefer the current situation to a change we cannot accept. At least, Saddam is now under pressure and contained, isolated, and powerless, and we are under international protection."

Bozarslan of EHESS believes that four decades of war have exhausted the Kurds' fighting spirit and that the population of northern Iraq longs for peace. Therefore, he says, they might consider relinquishing their dream of an independent state, provided they can secure their autonomy: "They [now] consider the creation of a Kurdish state with extreme caution. My impression is that they would content themselves with changes in Iraq -- not [necessarily] democratic changes, because I think they're not the kind of people to be fooled -- but with more or less pacific changes, provided their current status is preserved. I believe they would prefer to live in a modified Iraq rather than in an independent state squeezed between Turkey and Iran."

McDowell also dismisses the possibility of a landlocked independent Kurdistan coming into reality because of the stiff opposition such an outcome would raise in neighboring countries, which he says would not allow the new state to survive. "Although I am very sympathetic to the Kurdish feelings about self-determination, I actually think that if they would have a state of their own, that would turn into a nightmare. And, ultimately, it would be a nightmare because Iraq, Turkey, and Iran would, in fact, compete to dominate this rather weak -- economically weak -- state and to control it. The pressure would be absolutely intolerable. I think life might be easier for Kurds, quite honestly, within the states that exist if only they could achieve a kind of recognized basis, on which they would be allowed to operate as Kurds."