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Iraq Report: June 3, 2002

3 June 2002, Volume 5, Number 16

BUSH ADMINISTRATION RESPONDS TO CAUTIOUS PENTAGON REPORTS. Reports in the American media that the U.S. military would be overstretched by the requirements of military action in Iraq appeared to irritate the Bush administration. A "USA Today" report on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 May 2002) was followed by similar stories in "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" on 24 May. "The Washington Post" carried a leaked report of a secret briefing by General Tommy Franks, the head of Central Command, confirming an earlier Pentagon estimate that a force of at least 200,000 troops would be needed to depose Saddam. "The New York Times" carried reports of a simulated Pentagon "war game" which revealed that too early an invasion of a large country such as Iraq would stretch American military capacity beyond its limits. The timing of the reports was politically embarrassing for President George W. Bush -- he had just started a week-long European tour, one of the purposes of which was to convince U.S. allies of the need to act against Saddam.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is said to have brushed aside the leaked reports as "unrecognizable." On 25 May he told a news conference that from the point of view of any individual commander, almost invariably in peacetime or wartime there are going to be things they would like to have more of. Later the same day, interviewed on Fox News, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said: "The problem with Iraq is what the president stated. It is a very clear problem, and there is no question that the solution is a change of regime in Iraq." He went on to say that if you could ever take a free vote of the 25 million or so Iraqi people, "you get somewhere well in the 90s, high 90 percentiles, agreeing with that view." Wolfowitz declined to put a timetable on military action, saying: "You'll keep hearing all these different reports. Maybe a little confusion is little helpful in this subject."

Outside the government, conservatives cautioned President Bush that his administration was on the line and urged him against reverting to President Bill Clinton's policy of containment of Saddam Husseyn. "Weekly Standard" editor William Kristol wrote: "Surely the president will step in and save the day. His presidency is on the line. As is the credibility of the United States and the whole security structure...of the post-11 September world."

A further report on 29 May in "The Wall Street Journal" said that the U.S. Army had run short of Hellfire missiles used by helicopters and Predator-type drones and it would take at least six months to build up the number in stock to pre-Afghan-war levels. The article repeated the view of senior military officials that a campaign to oust Saddam Husseyn would require at least 200,000 troops but said there existed a small group in both the Pentagon and the White House who believed it could be done with considerably less. The leading advocate of this group was identified as retired army General Wayne Downing, the White House coordinator for counterterrorism, who believes that the Iraqi regime, like the Taliban, could be toppled with a combination of special operations soldiers working with indigenous fighters and aerial attacks.

The newspaper reported that the biggest concern of senior U.S. military officials was that Saddam Husseyn would set up his defenses in Baghdad or Takrit and force a costly urban-warfare campaign. By massing his forces in a city among a civilian population, the Iraqi leader would take away much of the U.S. military's ability to use air power and high-tech surveillance to spot enemy troops and destroy them from a distance.

On 29 May a further opinion piece in "The Wall Street Journal" took issue with the notion that the U.S. did not have enough available troops and equipment to mount a campaign in Iraq. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution argued that whether a U.S. campaign against Saddam was "a good idea or a necessary option," "American adversaries should have no doubt about [U.S.] ability to mount a large-scale military operation and to do it soon if necessary." O'Hanlon reviewed the recent criticisms made of the capability of the U.S. military and found:

-- about 10 army divisions are available, unencumbered by current commitments. The figure of 250,000 troops, he noted, implied about four or five army divisions.

-- about 24 air combat wings are available. Between 12 and 15 would be needed for an operation in Iraq.

-- ammunition stocks, including missiles, were adequate, and sophisticated guided bombs were not available to U.S. forces in previous confrontations with Iraq.

-- there would be enough transport and refueling aircraft available. The navy's sea transport capability, enhanced during the Clinton administration, has hardly been used in the Afghan war.

One problem O'Hanlon did indicate was the need to solve the diplomatic problem of wartime access to bases in the Persian Gulf. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ'S ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION INVIGORATED. On 27 May the Iraqi News Agency reported that Saddam Husseyn had met the head of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Organization, Dr. Fadil al-Janabi, and a number of Atomic Energy Organization researchers and engineers. Al-Janabi promised to Saddam that they would "sacrifice their souls and all they have in order to be in the forefront of the group of rapid and comprehensive development and progress during the next 10 years."

On 26 May, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Saddam Husseyn presented a letter that he had written laying out a vision for progress over the next 10 years. He called on ministers to "specify their vision of progress" and said there will be a wider debate "in which the issue will be discussed in a vital and realistic way that is based on faith and a revolutionary vision."

On 23 May U.S. officials revealed that Iran had carried out an apparently successful test of its Shihab missile. Between 25 and 28 May Pakistan carried out three missile tests including a test of its 800-mile-range Ghauri missile, like the Shihab-3, believed to be based on a North Korean development of the original Soviet Scud missile. On 28 May Israel launched a military satellite using a three-stage Shavit missile, believed to be a derivative of its Jericho tactical missile. (Simon Henderson)

SECURITY FORCES ACCUSED OF KILLING KARBALA PILGRIMS. Up to 40 people were killed by Iraqi security forces after attacks in Karbala at Ashura, the anniversary of the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who is venerated by Shia Muslims. The 26 May issue of London's "The Sunday Times" went on to say that the incidents had occurred "earlier this month," although Ashura fell on 26 March this year.

An Iraqi Shia told the newspaper by satellite telephone from the autonomous Kurdish area in northern Iraq that he had witnessed the attacks. Iraqi soldiers had attacked pilgrims "when young [Shia] men began beating their chests as a sign of the emotion they felt at nearing the burial place of Hussein." The witness, identified as Abu Fadi, whose full name was withheld for fear of reprisals against his family, said: "They began beating the people with the butts of their Kalashnikovs and megwaor [sticks with nails embedded at the end]. Everyone panicked. It seemed to me there was blood everywhere -- screams and blood."

The story in "The Sunday Times" was illustrated with a photograph of Saddam Husseyn and two pictures, apparently video stills, one of which showed Iraqi soldiers on duty at the mosque. The other, more blurred, was captioned: "Iraqi security forces, including one wielding a club, close in on the pilgrims in Karbala." The newspaper only quoted one witness by name, saying that Abu Fadi had seen at least seven people whom he believed had been killed. The newspaper said several sources in Karbala and Baghdad put the death toll at 40, based on reports from the hospitals in the city. It said that not a word of the incident was officially reported.

The newspaper's witness had traveled from his home in Baghdad to Karbala to make the pilgrimage along with his two young sons. The minibus in which they traveled had been stopped and searched twice at checkpoints before being halted at Aoun, seven miles short of Karbala, from where the pilgrims had to walk. The road onwards had been covered in wet sand to make walking difficult but thousands of pilgrims pressed on to the Iman Hussein shrine. The journey, which would normally take an hour from Baghdad, instead took seven hours.

"The Sunday Times" quoted unspecified Iraqi sources as saying hit-and-run attacks on Saddam's forces in the south had now increased to the point where even heavily armed Iraqi military convoys had stopped travelling at night. It said that opposition groups such as the Iraq National Congress are working in exile to unseat Saddam but they believe that the population will need a firm sign of American military support before risking a general revolt. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ CLAIMS TO HAVE FORCED DOWN AMERICAN DRONE. Iraq claimed on 26 May that its forces had taken control of an unmanned American plane the previous day and forced it to land "by our own means" in the north of the country. Iraq has claimed to have shot down such planes in the past but this was the first time it said a plane had been forced to land. An American spokesman said the Iraqi report was false. The BBC quoted defense sources in Kuwait as saying an unmanned U.S. drone had crashed in the sheikhdom on 25 May as it was flying back from a surveillance operation. There was no American confirmation of the Kuwait crash.

On 23 May U.S. military aircraft struck an aircraft- and missile-control center and a surface-to-air missile system in southern Iraq in retaliation for Iraqi attacks on coalition aircraft, the U.S. military announced. The Iraqi official news agency quoted an Iraqi spokesman as saying two Iraqi civilians were killed and two others wounded in 22 May raids "on civilian installations" in Ziqar Province. The U.S. Central Command said the air strikes, the second within a week, were launched after coalition aircraft patrolling the no-fly zone in southern Iraq came under fire from Iraqi air defenses.

On 28 May U.S. military aircraft struck air defense targets in the northern no-fly zone. A Defense Department spokesman said it followed the latest of an increasing series of Iraqi challenges to aircraft patrolling both the northern and southern no-fly zones. The spokesman said precision-guided weapons were dropped after antiaircraft guns were fired at aircraft patrolling in the vicinity of the Saddam Dam. (Simon Henderson)

BRITISH NAVY INTERCEPTS SANCTIONS-BREAKING SHIP. The British Ministry of Defense announced on 29 May what it termed a "major success" in enforcing the United Nations sanctions against Iraq. On 28 May the Royal Navy frigate HMS Portland had intercepted a ship carrying 3,100 tons of contraband fuel oil. The official statement said the frigate tracked the ship and then put aboard, in the dark, a boarding party of marines. The ship had barbed-wired barricades and hatches welded shut to deter searchers. The statement said the ship would be handed over in due course to UN and customs officials in a nearby Persian Gulf port.

Neither the name nor ownership of the ship was revealed. Nor was it said where the ship was intercepted and to which port it would be taken. A photograph of the frigate escorting the ship, published on the British Ministry of Defense website, showed the tanker was about the same size as the frigate. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ'S OIL PRODUCTION INCREASED IN MAY. "Dow Jones News" reported on 29 May that Iraqi oil output was sharply higher in May, up 25 percent on the month to 1.6 million barrels a day from 1.28 million barrels a day. Citing the tanker-tracking consultancy Petrologistics, "Dow Jones News" reported that exports were expected to rise following Iraq's 30-day embargo in April in support of the Palestinians. The day before, the UN had reported that Iraqi oil exports were 1.3 million barrels a day in the week ending 24 May, up from about 1 million barrels a day the week before.

Iraq earned more than $6 billion in illegal revenue from oil smuggling and surcharges on commodity trading from 1997 to 2001, the General Accounting Office (GAO), the watchdog arm of the U.S. Congress, reported on 29 May. "We conservatively estimate that Iraq illegally earned at least $6.6 billion since 1997 -- $4.3 billion from smuggling and $2.3 billion in illegal surcharges on oil and commissions from its commodities contracts," the report said. In 2001 the GAO estimated that Iraq earned $1.5 billion by smuggling oil through Jordan, Syria, and the Persian Gulf. (Syria, a member of the UN Security Council, has repeatedly denied it is importing Iraqi oil through a pipeline that has been closed for 18 years.) It went on to say that oil industry experts estimate that Iraq smuggled out as much as 480,000 barrels of oil per day in March 2002.

The 27 May issue of the "Middle East Economic Survey," an oil industry newsletter, carried a report of the proceedings of the seventh Arab Energy Conference in Cairo, held on 11-14 May. A paper by the chief executive of the Arab Petroleum Investment Corporation (Apicorp) had given projected financial requirements for the maintenance and expansion for the Arab oil sector for the five-year period 2002-06. The figures for Iraq were $2.5 billion for maintaining current available capacity and $3 billion as the cost of expanding capacity in line with published plans. The total of $5.5 billion was noted as being inclusive of renewing production capacity and raising it to its previous level and assuming the lifting of UN sanctions. Iraqi oil production reached a high of 3.82 million barrels a day in 1979, the year before Saddam Husseyn invaded Iran. It then slumped before partially recovering to 2.82 million barrels a day in 1989, the year after the end of the Iran-Iraq war, and the year before Saddam invaded Kuwait. Over the last year Iraqi oil production has achieved levels of over 2 million barrels a day. (Simon Henderson)

KURDISH LEADERS REPORTED TO ACQUIESCE TO U.S. ACTION. "Kurdish leaders seem to be convinced that sooner or later the Bush administration will remove [Saddam's] regime, and that they themselves will go along with the plans," according to an article in the 25 May "The Economist" that is datelined Irbil. But instead of making preparations in the Kurdish autonomous area to help the U.S., "The Kurds are more interested in extracting a high price from America, including support for a future federal arrangement as the condition for any help they might give."

"The Economist" reported that U.S. officials have held off from making any such pledge, partly because the Iraqi Kurds have to work out their future status with fellow Iraqis and partly to avoid upsetting the Turks. The magazine reported that Turkey has warned that any hint of Kurdish independence would be met with a military response.

The magazine's correspondent had met Mas'ud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), at his compound overlooking Irbil. He and Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and described by the magazine as his arch-rival, had just returned from meeting U.S. officials in Germany. "The Economist" said they had discussed the possible contribution of the Kurds to an Iraqi "regime-changing" operation. Barzani was quoted as saying he would not take his people into anything "that fails to guarantee their security and their rights as equal citizens in a federal, democratic Iraq."

The magazine said the 3.6 million Kurds in northern Iraq had 50,000 men under arms but unlike the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, they lacked sophisticated weaponry. The Kurds were also encircled by "unremittingly hostile neighbors." Also, Iraqi tanks are in positions just six miles from Irbil. It reported that 250 Turkish troops are permanently stationed in the Kurdish enclave, partly to arm and train a Turkoman militia based in Barzani's area. The Turkomans, between 800,000 and 2 million strong in Iraq, the magazine reported, is a pretext for Turkish intervention. Relations between the Turks and Barzani have sharply deteriorated in recent months, mainly over Barzani's refusal to collaborate in military operations. Turkey has responded by halting the illegal export of Iraqi diesel fuel to Turkey since February, which has severely affected the local Kurdish economy. In addition Turkey has been providing modest aid to Talabani to dilute Barzani's strength. This, in turn, has prompted Iran to boost the activities of Ansar al-Islam, described by "The Economist" as a murderous Islamic group. The group has been allowed to operate in the mountains near the Iranian border.

Despite the tensions, Barzani and Talabani are reportedly speaking to the Americans "largely with one voice" and have avoided fratricidal fighting. (In 1996, Barzani had invited Iraqi troops into Irbil to drive out Talabani's forces. Hundreds of Iraqis opposed to the Baghdad regime were killed.)

Articles on two consecutive days in London's "The Daily Telegraph" also reported on the circumstances of the Kurds in northern Iraq. On 24 May the newspaper reported that in their meetings with U.S. officials in Germany, Barzani and Talabani asked that the city of Kirkuk should be incorporated into the Kurdish federal administration that they were demanding as the price for their support for an American-led "regime-changing" operation in Baghdad. The newspaper reported that this had deepened Turkish suspicions that the Iraqi Kurds were seeking to establish an independent state, considered viable only if Kirkuk was part of it. Senior PUK official Barham Salih was quoted as saying: "Kirkuk is a highly explosive issue. We have to keep the Turks as comfortable as possible. Their intervention would produce chaos. We cannot say it is a Kurdish city. Arabs, Turkomans, and Assyrians have lived there for centuries too." The newspaper reported that non-Arab families were being driven out of Kirkuk and the Baghdad regime was offering financial rewards for Arabs to take Kurdish wives as well as Arabizing Kurdish and Turkoman names.

In the second article, on 25 May, "The Daily Telegraph" spoke of the shiny new hospitals and schools dotting the landscape, financed by money from the United Nations oil-for-food program. It also described dirt roads being transformed into smooth highways and bullet-riddled buildings into five-star hotels. But it quoted aid workers as saying American "warmongering" could prompt Saddam to hit first. One said, "Iraqi Kurdistan is unprepared for the humanitarian disaster that would almost certainly ensue." (Simon Henderson)

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES IRAQ. The latest annual report of Amnesty International documents 152 countries and territories during the period January to December 2001. The section on Iraq in summary states: "Scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience and armed forces officers suspected of planning to overthrow the government, were executed. Scores of suspected antigovernment opponents, including people suspected of having contacts with opposition groups in exile, were arrested. The fate and whereabouts of most of those arrested, including those detained in previous years, remained unknown. Several people were given lengthy prison terms after grossly unfair trials before special courts. Torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners and detainees were systematic. The two Kurdish political parties controlling Iraqi Kurdistan detained prisoners of conscience, and armed political groups were reportedly responsible for abductions and killings.

The report says that in January 2001, Amnesty International requested a visit to Iraq to investigate reports of civilian killings following U.S. and U.K. air strikes. In March 2001 Baghdad turned down the request without giving a specific reason.

A key indicator for Amnesty International is whether a country has the death penalty or not. Iraq is labeled in the introduction to the review of its human rights conditions as being a "retentionist." The report says the death penalty continued to be applied extensively. "In November [2001] the Revolutionary Command Council, described as the highest executive body in the country, issued a decree to provide the death penalty for the offenses of prostitution, homosexuality, incest, and rape." The decree also stated, according to the Amnesty International report, that "those convicted of providing accommodation for the purposes of prostitution would be executed by the sword."

The report also lists some of the scores of people executed. Military officers were executed in March 2001 for either plotting against the government or criticizing it. Two lawyers were sentenced to death in July 2001 for distributing leaflets critical of the lack of independence of the judiciary. Shia Muslim clerics were executed in May and a group of mainly Shia political prisoners were executed in October 2001.

Amnesty International also reports that scores of people were arrested during 2001 for their suspected antigovernment activities or simply because of their family relationship to people sought by the authorities. Many were held incommunicado without charge or trial. Trials before special courts, it reported, always conducted in camera (without public witnesses) continued to fall far short of internationally recognized standards for a fair trial. One example given was the case of a nuclear scientist, Hussain Ismaili al-Bahadi, who was sentenced in April 2001 to 31 years in prison by a special court. The charges were not made public.

Political prisoners and detainees were subjected to systematic torture. Methods used included, electric shocks, cigarette burns, pulling out fingernails, long periods of suspension by the limbs, and beatings, including falaqa (beatings on the soles of the feet). In addition, detainees were threatened with rape and subjected to mock execution. Sleep deprivation was common. One example given was the July 2001 punishment of two men accused of slandering Saddam Husseyn. They had their tongues cut out by members of Fedayee Saddam, the militia created in 1994 by Saddam's eldest son, Uday. The punishments took place in a public square in Diwaniya City, south of Baghdad.

The Amnesty International report is also critical of human rights abuses in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is outside the control of Baghdad. Some of the examples given refer to arrests made by the KDP. The report refers to clashes between the PUK and the new Islamist group, Jund al-Islam. Dozens were killed on both sides. The PUK later offered an amnesty to Jund al-Islam fighters except this did not cover anyone who had beheaded and mutilated PUK prisoners in the village of Kheli Hama, nor anyone involved in the assassination of Franso Hariri, the governor of Irbil and a member of the KDP's Central Committee. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQ DISTRIBUTING MILLIONS TO PALESTINIANS IN JENIN. Saddam Husseyn is arranging the distribution of large sums of money to Palestinian families in Jenin whose houses were destroyed by Israeli military forces during operations against suicide bombers in April. On 30 May, London's "The Daily Telegraph" reported that checks for $25,000 were being distributed by the local representative of the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), a Palestinian group funded by Iraq and loyal to Saddam. The money will not have to be spent on rebuilding the destroyed houses. That expense is being taken care of by UNWRA, the UN agency that provides for Palestinian refugees, thanks to the promise of $25 million for that purpose from the United Arab Emirates.

The newspaper reported that Saddam's reward for losing a home applies only to the Jenin refugee camp, in honor of the camp's status in Palestinian folklore as a "citadel of steadfastness." About 60 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers died in the fighting in April. The newspaper estimated that 140 houses were destroyed in the fighting and by Israeli bulldozers.

Saddam is also making payments via the ALF to the dead and injured in the intifada. The newspaper reported the current bounty as $500 for a wound, $1,000 for disablement, $10,000 for death as a "martyr" and $25,000 for a suicide bomber. The local ALF representative, Mahmoud Besharat, asked by the newspaper if Saddam was fomenting the recent wave of suicide bombings against Israelis, replied: "You would have to ask President Saddam why he is being so generous. But he is a revolutionary and he wants the distinguished struggle, the intifada, to continue." (Simon Henderson)

UDAY'S RADIO STATION 'MAKES HIM POPULAR.' London's "The Sunday Telegraph" on 26 May carried an article about what it described as Iraq's most popular radio station, VOI FM, which is run by Saddam Husseyn's eldest son, Uday. The acronym stands for Voice of Iraq FM but the newspaper commented that "eclectic, Westernized programming...makes it an unlikely national mouthpiece." The station broadcasts American and British music 24 hours a day and its disc jockeys speak in English, not Arabic, as do callers to its phone-in programs. The sole concession, the newspaper reported, to Iraq's more traditional image is when the programming is interrupted without warning by the sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer five times a day.

The radio station is run by Jawad al-Ali, a broadcaster brought in from Baghdad Radio. Al-Ali credits Uday Saddam Husseyn as being the inspiration for the station. "Mr. Uday persuaded his father that following the bombing in 1991, he should find a way to lift the people's spirits," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "The Sunday Telegraph" reported that ordinary Iraqis believe that Uday sees VOI FM and its sister television station, Youth TV, as important tools in his battle to succeed Saddam, "boosting his profile with their seductive, Westernized programming on the tightly regulated state broadcasting network." The newspaper said the radio station's audience was appreciative, quoting a 28 year-old man sitting in a Baghdad juice bar as saying, "It makes us think he will provide what we want in the future, too."

Al-Ali told the newspaper that the combined audience of Youth TV and VOI was an estimated 18 million (ed.: a little less than Iraq's entire population). He saw the broadcasting as bringing Iraqis closer to the world beyond sanctions. Al-Ali admitted that critics thought young Iraqis should not be exposed to Youth TV's cocktail of American and European sport, or its Hollywood films complete with sex and violence. The radio and TV station are partly funded by advertising and partly from "Mr. Uday's budget," "The Sunday Telegraph" quoted al-Ali, who declined to say how much they cost to run. Together they employ 200 people but spend little on programming. Ali-Ali admitted the Hollywood blockbusters were pirate copies taken from satellite broadcasts while music is downloaded from the Internet. "America has stolen our entire country," he joked. "Why shouldn't we steal a little bit from them?"

The newspaper reported that al-Ali was soon to hand over his broadcasting role to his deputy while he was to become the press attache at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Such a position is comparable in significance to his present job, because trying to influence the Jordanian press to remain sympathetic to continuing close Iraqi-Jordanian ties is an important Iraqi foreign policy objective. (Simon Henderson)