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Iraq Report: April 12, 2002

12 April 2002, Volume 5, Number 9

IRAQ URGES OIL BOYCOTT. The official governmental Iraq News Agency reported on 2 April that Iraq has called for a "total economic boycott of the United States" until Washington ends its "despicable alliance" with Israel. Saddam Husseyn ordered on 8 April the suspension of Iraqi oil exports for 30 days. In a speech broadcast live on Iraqi television and radio, the Iraqi president said that after one month, "we will further decide [on the boycott] or until the Zionist entity's (Israel) armed forces have unconditionally withdrawn from the Palestinian territories."

Fadhil Chalabi, an oil analyst at London's Center for Global Energy Studies, questioned Arab support for an oil embargo. "I don't believe what Iraq is saying has any real value because any embargo will not work without Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states," he told Reuters. Any oil embargo will have domestic consequences, though. The oil-for-food program which funds humanitarian programs throughout Iraq is wholly dependent upon the revenue of legal sales of Iraqi oil. (Michael Rubin)

SADDAM ACCUSED OF TERROR LINK... Two Iraqi Arabs held by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Sulaymaniyah have accused the Iraqi government of financing terror, according to "The Christian Science Monitor" on 2 April. According to Qassim Husseyn Muhammad, who claims to have worked for two decades for Iraq's intelligence service, graduates of the Mukhabarat's School 999 were intimately involved in training for both Ansar al-Islam and Al-Qaeda cells. "My information is that the Iraqi government was directly supporting [Al-Qaeda] with weapons and explosives," he told correspondent Scott Peterson. Ansar al-Islam, previously called Jund al-Islam, which itself is an off-shoot of the now-defunct Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), is centered in the mountains near Tawella and has engaged in several terrorist attacks against secular Kurdish officials since September. (PUK sources allege Ansar al-Islam operatives to be behind the 2 April attempted attacks on PUK Prime Minister Barham Salih).

Rafid Ibrahim Fatah told Peterson in a separate interview that he had been in a refugee camp outside Tehran in 1989 when he met two Iraqi brothers returning from Afghan mujahedin camps in Pakistan. According to London-based Hoshyar Zebari, a London-based Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official and chief confidant of KDP head Mas'ud Barzani, Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn has made a strategic calculation to embrace Islamist groups that share his antipathy toward the United States despite his staunch secularism.

"The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 3 April that an Iranian arms smuggler, allegedly in the employ of Baghdad but now in the custody of the PUK, has claimed that Saddam Husseyn planned a series of attacks against U.S. warships. Muhammad Mansur Shahab, an ethnic Arab from the Iranian city of Ahvaz, related that he met in February 2000 with both Saddam cousin and former defense minister 'Ali Hassan al-Majid as well as Luai Khairallah, a cousin and close friend of Saddam's son Uday. (As secretary-general of the Ba'th Party's Northern Bureau during the 1988 Anfal campaign, al-Majid presided over the Iraqi government's chemical weapons attacks on civilians in northern Iraq, according to a 22 March editorial by Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth in "The Wall Street Journal.")

Shahab claimed that the plot involved buying a 400-ton trading boat, filling it with explosives, flying an Iranian flag, and ramming a U.S. warship in Kuwaiti waters. "Jane's Intelligence Review" contributor Sean Boyne told "The Christian Science Monitor" that such a plan would be plausible. "Anything is possible. Certainly Saddam has gone to great trouble to shoot down [U.S. and British] aircraft," he said. According to Shahab, the Iraqi plan was not related to the October 2000 attack by Al-Qaeda operatives on the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. destroyer docked in Aden in October 2000. (Michael Rubin)

...AND RAISES SUICIDE BOMBER PAY? U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 3 April that Saddam Husseyn had raised the Iraqi government's reward for families of Palestinian suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000. The official daily "Al-Jumhuriya" on 4 April denounced Rumsfeld's remarks, ridiculing the suggestion that "Palestinian attempts to defend themselves and resist occupation were acts of terror" and urged Arabs to hit U.S. and British interests "wherever they exist."

Iraqi media have long praised Palestinian "martyrdom operations" or suicide bombings. Saddam Husseyn publicly endorsed suicide attacks on 27 January, a move lauded by the tightly controlled Iraqi press two days later. For example, the Arabic-language daily "Al-Iraq" wrote, "It would be a great honor for the Arabs to opt for jihad as advocated by President Saddam Husseyn and to proclaim in unison their support for the Palestinian resistance and martyrdom operations."

Other Iraqi officials have continued to proclaim their endorsement of such attacks. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan told Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Faruq Qaddumi that the Palestinians' "continuous readiness for martyrdom are considered a real reflection of their awareness and realization that struggle and jihad are the only way to liberate the holy places and expel the Zionists from the land of Palestine," the official Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported on 5 March. According to INA, Qaddumi agreed that "the Palestinian martyrdom operations [suicide bombings] have overcome all Zionist fortifications and disproved the Zionist security theory." (Michael Rubin)

MIXED VIEW ON IRAQ-TURKEY RAPPROCHEMENT... Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan inaugurated on 2 April a five-day exhibition of Turkish products at the Baghdad International Fairgrounds. According to the official Republic of Iraq Television, 150 Turkish companies are participating in the exhibition. On the same day, Saddam Husseyn received Turkish Foreign Trade Minister Tunca Toskay, who also serves as deputy leader of the right-wing National Movement Party.

Republic of Iraq Television reported that Toskay "underlined his country's keenness to develop bilateral ties." According to the 1 April Turkish center-right daily "Hurriyet," Ramadan conveyed Iraq's "thanks for the brotherly and friendly attitude assumed by the Turkish people against the attacks directed at Iraq." Others in Turkey have not voiced so friendly an attitude toward Iraq, though.

Sukru Elekdag, Turkey's former ambassador to Washington, wrote in the Turkish daily "Sabah" on 25 March that "Turkey has to take its place in the operation against Iraq to protect its vital interests." Elekdag argued that should Ankara decide to remain on the sidelines in the Iraq conflict, "the opportunities will be created for the establishment of a Kurdish state."

Likewise, "Turkish Daily News" commentator Ilnur Cevik on 20 March argued that while "Turkey does not want to be dragged directly into a military conflict.... The United States is leading a very important struggle, and it is the duty of all freedom-loving people to support it right to the bitter end." Turkey's TRT 2 television reported on 25 March that Tansu Ciller, leader of the opposition True Path and a former prime minister, told an audience at Bilkent University that "the first criterion Turkey must seek is to make sure that democracy prevails in its neighbors, and the second is to maintain its stand against terrorism...." (Michael Rubin)

...WHILE DOUBT GROWS IN KUWAIT. The initial optimism expressed in some Arabic-language newspapers about the possibility of an Iraq-Kuwait rapprochement (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 April 2002) soured in the aftermath of the Arab League Summit. The Austrian daily "Der Standard" reported on 3 April Kuwaiti denials of any planned Iraq-Kuwait talks. The paper was responding to 2 April comments by Carinthian Governor and former head of Austria's far-right Freedom Party Joerg Haider who, upon his return from a visit to Baghdad, said that Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri had told him of an agreement to hold peace talks with Kuwait.

On 3 April, the editor of the Kuwaiti daily "Al-Watan" commented in an interview with AP that Kuwaiti newspapers could not oblige a government request to diminish criticism of Iraq since Kuwaiti papers are privately owned. In one break from the past, the Arabic-language Kuwait daily "Al-Siyasa" on 7 April broke a long-standing taboo by publishing an interview with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Nevertheless, Kuwaiti government officials are not altering significantly their position on Iraq. Kuwait's KUNA news agency reported on 3 April that Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Shaykh Jabir al-Mubarak al-Sabah called for Iraq to "implement all relevant [UN] Security Council resolutions, particularly the decisions concerning the commitment toward the security and stability of Kuwait...and reveal the destiny of the Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti prisoners."

According to the Kuwait Information Office in Washington, Iraq still holds 605 Kuwaitis detained during Iraq's 1990-91 occupation of Kuwait. Iraq did free one recent Kuwaiti prisoner. Dpa reported on 31 March that Iraq released a Kuwaiti driver detained 16 days earlier after accidentally crossing the border while escorting the Venezuelan ambassador to the De-Militarized Zone.

AP reported on 4 April that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for the renewal of the 11-year-old UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission that monitors no-man's land along the two countries' common frontier. The Iraq-Kuwaiti border remains tense. The previous day Annan reported to the Security Council that there had been 437 violations of the no-man's land over the previous six months. (Michael Rubin)

COMPENSATION FROM IRAQI INVASION CONTINUES. Kuwaiti individuals and corporations received the largest payout from the most recent disbursement of the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). On 4 April, the UNCC made available a payment of $995 million to a total of 25 governments and two international organizations on behalf of 1,750 claimants. According to the 4 April UNCC press release, the UNCC has now paid out $14.79 billion since its founding in 1991.

The largest award in the most recent disbursement went to Kuwait, which received an $807 million award to be disbursed to individuals, corporations, and the government. The commission awarded Saudi firms and the Saudi government a total of $82.6 million. Jordan received the third-largest award at almost $45 million. Countries receiving more than $5 million in the most recent disbursement also include Ireland ($11 million), Turkey ($9.8 million), the Philippines ($8.7 million), and the United Kingdom ($7.6 million). Arab claimants collecting payments in the most recent disbursement include Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and the Palestinians (via UNRWA).

European claimants include Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden. The United States received almost $3 million, and Israel received $516,000 in damages from Iraq's 1991 missile strikes on the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. (Michael Rubin)

IRAQ'S WMD PROGRAM? An Iraqi defector claiming to have access to some of the Iraqi intelligence service's most clandestine activities told "Vanity Fair" journalist David Rose that Iraq has been actively developing a long-range ballistic missile, London's "The Guardian" reported on 4 April. The defector claimed that the Tammooz missile now could deliver chemical or biological warheads to targets 700 miles away, and that Iraq was seeking to extend the range to 1,200 miles.

A March 2001 report by Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Anthony Cordesman reported that there are both liquid and solid-fueled Tammooz missiles, with at least one version designed to carry a nuclear warhead. According to the 16 January "Jane's Defense Weekly," the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate listed Iraq as among the three most likely countries to next achieve an intercontinental ballistic capability.

In the April "Vanity Fair" interview, the unnamed defector also listed sites where the Iraqi government designs, produces, and tests chemical and biological weapons. He claimed credit for converting Renault trucks -- purchased from France under the oil-for-food program -- into mobile WMD laboratories. He also reported the existence of one nuclear test facility, and he alleged that Iraq's nuclear program is based in the Fahama neighborhood of Baghdad.

The defector also told Rose that he began his career in a department that helped train terrorists abroad. He reported that a "stream of Hamas fighters" received sabotage, assassination, and hijacking training in Iraq, and he said: "Many weapons were being supplied to Hamas. Guns, ammunition both heavy and light, detonators, and explosives. It was Iraq which trained Hamas in how to make bombs." He reported that Hamas maintained an office in the Karrada Dakhil district of Baghdad.

While "Vanity Fair" could not independently confirm all of the defector's claims, it did report that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has debriefed the man four times. To help prove his credentials, he supplied "Vanity Fair" with a 22-page Mukhabarat report on Iraqi military radar systems.

The UN Wire reported on 3 April that Iraq's nuclear capability is unknown. According to Jacques Baute, who leads the six-member International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) Iraq Action Team, "When the team pulled out in 1998, they [Iraq] were not ready to build a weapon, but they made major progress; they solved a majority of the problems to make a crude weapon."

The IAEA Iraq Action Team differs from the much higher-profile United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and its successor organization, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). The Iraq Action Team is charged with inspecting Iraq's nuclear program, while UNSCOM was and UNMOVIC is responsible for monitoring Baghdad's chemical and biological weapons programs, in addition to Iraq's ballistic missiles with a range over 150 kilometers.

While AFP reported on 26 January that an IAEA team was in Baghdad to inspect Iraq's declared stocks of fissile nuclear material, the Iraqi government has not allowed UNMOVIC inspectors into the country. (Michael Rubin)

RUSSIA-IRAQ TRADE BOOMING. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told a visiting delegation of Russian parliamentarians and businessmen on 1 April that Moscow should "stand fully by Iraq at the Security Council or it will loose its contracts in this oil-rich country," according to a 3 April AP report from Baghdad.

The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April that since February, the "Ural" auto works has been shipping 400 trucks to Iraq every month. ITAR-TASS reported that the Miass-based autoworks only maintains its previous production levels because of Iraqi contracts. The Interfax news agency reported on 5 April that the Iraqi Oil Ministry had invited the Russian company Zarubezhneft to develop a large field in southern Iraq with estimated reserves of 3.3 billion barrels.

However, the Iraqi government remains upset with apparent Russian acquiescence to a U.S.-British "smart sanctions" proposal, as reported in the 29 March "The Washington Times." According to Iraqi Oil Minister Amr Muhammad Rashid, Iraq and Russia have conducted $30 billion in trade over the past five years. According to the UN's office of the Iraq Program, as of 29 March, Iraq has exported more than $53 billion in oil since 1996.

ITAR-TASS reported on 2 April that Iraqi Trade Minister Muhammad Mahdi Saleh had suggested that Iraq-Russia trade could increase to $40 billion. However, Rashid warned that full cooperation between Moscow and Baghdad could be "fully realized only outside the UN 'oil-for-food' program." (Michael Rubin)

STATE DEPARTMENT DELEGATION VISITS NORTHERN IRAQ. A U.S. State Department delegation completed a four-day visit to northern Iraq on 4 April, Reuters and AP reported. The delegation, headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Near East Ryan Crocker and North Gulf Affairs Director David Pearce, visited leaders from the KDP and PUK in early April. Crocker and Pearce first visited the PUK leadership.

Accordingly, they were likely in or around Sulaymaniyah during the 2 April assassination attempt on PUK Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih. Five of Salih's bodyguards were killed in the ambush outside his house (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 April 2002), including Salih's cousin and personal secretary. According to a 7 April e-mail from a source in Sulaymaniyah, Salih left this week for a working visit to Europe and Washington.

Crocker and Pearce also met with KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani on 3 April, according to a KDP statement quoted in Reuters on 5 April. According to the statement, Barzani and Crocker discussed bilateral relations, KDP-PUK rapprochement, the UN oil-for-food program in which the Kurdish north receives 13 percent of Iraq's legal oil exports, and "regional policies."

A source in Irbil remarked by e-mail on his/her surprise that the State Department officials did not appear better briefed on the backgrounds of various Iraqi generals whose names have been forwarded as possible successors to Iraqi president Saddam Husseyn.

As AP reported from Cairo on 12 March, Danish authorities are poised to investigate former Iraqi Chief of Staff General Nizar al-Khazraji for alleged liability in Iraqi chemical weapons strikes against Iraqi Kurds in 1987 and 1988. Al-Khazraji, who is currently seeking asylum, vehemently denies the allegations, telling AP that only Saddam and his family members controlled the chemical-weapons stockpiles.

According to a source in the Dahuk Governorate, the State Department officials also toured the strategic area surrounding Fish Khabur (Pish Habur). Fish Khabur is strategically on the eastern bank of the Tigris and is the KDP's only connection to Syria. Syria has long opposed building a bridge and so trade is minimal. Nevertheless, Fish Khabur remains the main point of entry (by motorboat) into northern Iraq for journalists and employees of nongovernmental organizations. The eight kilometers of territory held by the KDP along the Tigris separates Iraqi government forces from the Turkish frontier. The area -- largely populated by Yezidis and Assyrian Christians -- is the site of a proposed direct border link between Turkey and the Iraqi government. Currently Turkey's trade with Baghdad must traverse either KDP or Syrian territory, both governments of which impose tax and customs duties.

The "Turkish Daily News" reported on 3 January that Crocker had expressed his opposition to Turkish plans for a second border gate in a meeting with Serra Erarslan, head of the department for Iraq, Gulf Countries, and the Organization of Islamic Conference in Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Any Iraqi military seizure of the Fish Khabur region would mean an Iraqi military bridgehead on the eastern side of the Tigris River, their first in the Iraqi Kurdish areas. (Michael Rubin)

RECONSTRUCTION CONTINUES IN NORTHERN IRAQ... The Ministry of Reconstruction and Development (MORAD) in Irbil has released its 2001 data for projects both completed and currently under implementation. According to the figures acquired from MORAD Minister Nasreen Sideek Mustafa, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) spent $68.5 million in 2001 for reconstruction in the Irbil and Dahuk governorates (the KRG in Sulaymaniyah separately handles projects in the Sulaymaniyah and "New Kirkuk" Governorate).

In the Irbil and Dahuk governorates, MORAD completed 1,833 housing units, with an additional 3,463 under construction. UN Security Council Resolution 986 "Oil-for-food" income funded the completion of 36 educational projects (including schools, dormitories, and teacher's guest houses), with another 140 under construction. During the first eight phases of the UN oil-for-food program, MORAD built a total of 351 village schools and 91 staff houses. The KRG also built or has under construction more than 1,000 kilometers of new roads in the two governorates, as well as five bridges. All nine new veterinary clinics to support local husbandry have been completed.

Providing access to water remains a major MORAD concern in the Irbil and Dahuk governorates, especially after a three-year drought. MORAD trucked water into 193 villages at a cost of nearly $218,000. In addition, MORAD drilled 43 new wells, and upgraded 857 water systems. (Michael Rubin)

...AS ETHNIC CLEANSING CONTINUES. Citing an article in the KDP daily "Brayati," reported on 2 April from Irbil that the Iraqi government has stepped up its "Arabization" campaign in Kirkuk, displacing increasing numbers of Kurdish, Turkoman, and Assyrian Iraqis, and confiscating their property. The measures include asking Arab settlers to move their dead relatives from the place where they came from, to Kirkuk. "The government has ordered each family of Arab settlers to move at least one of their dead relatives from the graveyards of their original place to a graveyard in Kirkuk," according to the "Brayati" report.

The report continues: "Each family gets a piece of land, as a present from the president, per each dead relative moved to Kirkuk. The Iraqi government has taken this extraordinary course because its policy of ethnic cleansing doesn't work as it [is] supposed to.... As most Arab settlers leave to their original place after a while. It has been reported that many Arab settlers have sent apologies to people, who [were]cleansed from Kirkuk, for being forced to settle on their properties and offered to share the revenues of these properties with them." (Michael Rubin)