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Iraq Report: July 1, 2002

1 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 19

SADDAM MEETS WITH REGIONAL BA'TH PARTY LEADERS. President Saddam Husseyn has been conducting a series of meetings with Ba'th Party regional secretaries, the top officials of the ruling party in the various governorates of Iraq. The issues addressed appear to be real sources of concern but Saddam's responses ranged from the frank to the bizarre. Topics of discussion in one meeting in the Saladin Governorate (north of Baghdad) reported by Iraqi Satellite TV on 24 June included army deserters, the relationship between the leader and his people, and the need to keep the toilets clean in party buildings.

By mentioning deserters, Saddam gave surprising and public expression to a problem that is believed to be plaguing the Iraqi armed forces. Saddam appeared to favor understanding rather than punishment, although harsh penalties including death have been reported in the past. Saddam told the party officials to hold dialogues with deserters "to enlighten them about conditions in Iraq and the importance of defending Iraq." He suggested appealing to their sense of nationalism and their conscience: "How can you accept that your son one day will read that you are a deserter." He also suggested that he understood deserters: "If fighting takes place, three-quarters of these deserters will come and join the army."

Speaking of his own relationship with the Iraqi people, Saddam said, "The leader should know all the qualities of his people." He explained that as a young man he had been so busy with revolutionary activities that it was not until 1978 (10 years after the Ba'th Party came to power) that he was able to visit and live with people in the southern marshes area and the mountains of the north. One of the party officials said they had been instructed to "win over all tribal chiefs and men of religion to the side of the party," and Saddam praised this action.

The report concluded with Saddam telling the party officials to make sure that the kitchens and bathrooms in their offices were clean. He said that the "cleanliness of party headquarters should be an example to be followed by other Iraqi citizens."

The day before, the satellite television channel had broadcast an 84-minute segment of Saddam's meetings with party officials in Diyala and Al-Anbar, east and west, respectively, of the capital. The officials briefed Saddam on the activities of local Ba'th branches and relations with ordinary citizens. An official told him about "the difficult living conditions" of retired party members. Saddam responded by asking whether the members had been asked to be pensioned off, saying, "militant life in the party did not end with retirement, but only with death or disease."

Adopting the technique of asking a question and then answering it himself when an official gave an inadequate answer, Saddam explained why there should be a party and why citizens should be encouraged to join it. God, he said, was the first to teach humanity about the need for organization and affiliation with a party. "When God, who created us, wants to replace one religion with another, he needs a party on earth led by prophets."

On 22 June, state-controlled Iraqi Television carried a long report on a meeting between Saddam and senior party officials from the Dhiqar, Al-Qadisiyah, Al-Najaf, and Karbala branches of the party. An official from Karbala, a major Shia city, said there were no sectarian problems there except for "some who might exploit some sectarian disputes as a result of the naivete of some citizens." The Iraqi leader made an apparent reference to reports that security forces try to stop Shia pilgrims from visiting shrines by blocking the roads and making them walk. Saddam told the officials to "tell citizens that when they want to visit the mausoleums there is no difference between their walking for 20 or 30 kilometers or going there by car directly, because God's reward will be the same." Continuing a blend of apparent understanding with threatening undertones, Saddam concluded: "There are human rights that should be respected. Whoever breaches the rights of the state and people will find that we are tough in confronting him, be he from inside or outside [Iraq]." (Simon Henderson)

LONDON 'TIMES' REPEATS QUSAY SUCCESSION STORY. The suggestion that Saddam Husseyn may hand over power to his second son, Qusay, to avoid direct U.S.-led military action against his regime has been reported several times in the past. It was repeated in "The Times" of London on 22 June. The newspaper's experienced diplomatic editor, Richard Beeston, writing from Baghdad, reported Arab diplomats as saying the Iraqi leader may not seek re-election in the presidential vote due later this year but instead allow Qusay, his heir apparent, to become the country's leader. Beeston suggested that the Iraqi dictator would remain in de facto control, much as the late Deng Xiaopeng remained influential in China after he retired. He quoted a diplomat in the Iraqi capital as saying, "The aim would be to deflate the American threat." But Beeston commented that "because of the obsessive secrecy of the regime and its ruling family, the plan is impossible to verify." He added that the change would probably be used as a last line of defense, only when all diplomatic options were exhausted and a new conflict seemed inevitable.

"The Times" report described Qusay as "secretive and sober" as well as "ambitious and shrewd." The newspaper estimated that the intelligence services he controlled number several thousand men. It said that increasingly Qusay also had taken on a leading role in Iraq's foreign affairs, and is thought to have been behind the recent successful attempt by Iraq to rebuild its ties with the Arab world. "Working through his protege, Naji Sabri, the foreign minister, Qusay has successfully masterminded the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and is now making overtures to Kuwait to patch up ties," the newspaper reported. It added that the new foreign policy team had eclipsed old-time Saddam loyalists like Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who along with other figures had been "marginalised."

Little mention was made in the article of Saddam's first son, Uday, other than to say he had a reputation as a playboy. The article ended with a quote from another Baghdad-based diplomat offering a different view: "Frankly, I don't believe he [Saddam] will ever step down. He would prefer to die or see his country destroyed rather than give up power to his son." (Simon Henderson)

REPORT THAT QUSAY ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. The Shia opposition grouping the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has claimed that Saddam Husseyn's second son, Qusay, has "escaped an attempt on his life." The SCIRI representative in London, Hamid al-Bayati, told the London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper that the assassination attempt occurred on 9 June. The 23 June edition of the newspaper said Qusay's motorcade was attacked as it "left the Republican Palace [in Baghdad] on his way to the General Intelligence headquarters in the Al-Muthanna district." Al-Bayati was quoted as saying that "Qusay's decision to change cars enabled him to escape" and added that rockets were used in the attack in which "the driver and three Special Security officers were killed."

The newspaper reported that although some sources said that "the operation was carried out by the Islamic resistance," other sources saw the attack as part of a "power struggle and settlement of accounts inside the ruling family."

Al-Bayati also told the newspaper that two leading members of the Ba'th Regional Command, the top Ba'th Party organization in Iraq, had been attacked. They were Muhsin Khudayr al-Khafaji (in charge of party organizations in Al-Samawah and Al-Diwaniyah) and Aziz Salih al-Nawman (in charge of party organizations in Baghdad). Al-Bayati said they "escaped an attempt to assassinate them in the Al-Imarah governorate." (Simon Henderson)

OPPOSITION MILITARY OFFICERS PLAN JULY CONFERENCE. A group of exiled Iraqi military officers is planning to hold a meeting in London in early July to discuss means of helping the Iraqi opposition. The London-based newspaper "Al-Hayat" reported on 20 June that the initiative came from the Iraqi Military Alliance, which is led by Tawfiq al-Yasiri, an officer who joined the opposition in the early 1990s. "Al-Hayat" quoted a source in the alliance as saying that the meeting would last three days and would be totally Iraqi-financed and organized -- suggesting that the group would not be taking U.S. funds or assistance. The group expects more than 70 officers to attend the meeting and hope to agree to a "military charter of honor," committing themselves to bring down the regime and establish a constitutional civilian government "as soon as possible."

The same edition of "Al-Hayat" reported that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, a Shia group linked to Tehran) had had talks with the Kurdish Democratic Party to hold another opposition conference in London. A SCIRI delegation led by Mohammad al-Haydari, the head of the organization's Political Bureau, had visited Irbil. The newspaper reported that they had discussed U.S. plans for an attack on Saddam. SCIRI was reported to have repeated its refusal to cooperate with the U.S. in any strike on Iraq although it acknowledged it might benefit from undermining the regime in Baghdad, the newspaper said. (Simon Henderson)

NEW OPPOSITION ALLIANCE TO BE ESTABLISHED IN LONDON. A new grouping of opposition parties is expected to be announced in London in early July. The opposition "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on 25 June that the main goal of the group would be overthrowing the regime of Saddam Husseyn by Iraqis without outside intervention. It would be called "The Iraqi National Forces Coalition" and would combine the Iraqi Communist Party, the (Shia Muslim) Da'wah Party, and the Ba'th Party splinter group, the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party -- Iraq Command.

Other organizations named by the newspaper as being included are: the Group of Mujahedin Ulema in Iraq, the Islamic Action Party, the Iraqi Democratic Grouping, the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Socialist Party in Iraq, the Turkomen Democratic Party, the Arab Socialist Movement, the Islamic Union for Iraq's Turkomen, and the Assyrian Ethnic Organization, as well as unnamed independent political and military figures.

On 26 June, "Al-Zaman" reported that it had received a statement from the Assyrian Ethnic Conference announcing it had established an alliance with the Free Officers Movement. The agreement was signed for the Assyrian side by its leader, Sargon Dadihshu, while former Staff Brigadier General Najib al-Salihi signed for the free officers. (Simon Henderson)

OIL EXPORTS REVIVE. In the week ending 21 June, Iraq exported 7.7 million barrels of oil, more than twice the previous week's total of 3.1 million barrels. The average price of each barrel was $22.65, although Iraq denominates its oil price in euros, the United Nations reported on 25 June. The production fluctuations stem from Iraq's dispute with the UN committee that fixes the price for its crude sales. That price is now fixed in a manner to inhibit Iraq from charging illegal premiums.

Although not limited by a production quota, an Iraqi delegation attended the extraordinary meeting of the oil cartel, OPEC, held in Vienna on 26 May. An unidentified Iraqi oil expert told the state-controlled Iraqi News Agency on 22 June that the Iraqi delegation will request that the current production ceiling be maintained until the next scheduled meeting in September. The expert said the delegation would emphasize the need for OPEC members to comply with production quotas and warn against an increase in production, which would further reduce oil prices. He noted that current oil prices have reached the minimum in the OPEC desired price range of $22 to $28 per barrel.

The OPEC meeting decided on no change to production quotas, partly because, by the organization's own calculations, the price of oil was around $25 per barrel, the middle of the desired range. (OPEC's own price is based on a notional basket of its own crudes rather than a real price obtained by market trading.) Reuters reported concern that the absence of any production increases and tightness in the market could cause prices to soar to over $30 per barrel within a few months. Of particular concern to analysts was any success by OPEC in curbing cheating by its own members on quotas. Reuters reported that OPEC members currently produce an estimated 1.5 million barrels per day beyond the official quota of 21.7 million barrels per day. (Simon Henderson)

UNITED NATIONS TALKS MAY BE POSTPONED. An unnamed Russian diplomat, interviewed by the London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper in its 23 June edition, did not rule out the possibility that the meeting in Vienna in early July between Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan would be postponed. Moscow expected the meeting to take place eventually -- the unidentified Russian diplomat speculated that Baghdad might have taken a decision to allow the inspectors to return but was negotiating conditions. He noted that "The ceiling of Iraqi demands is very high."

The "Al-Hayat" report said the newspaper had learned that Iraq demands a defined timetable of 30 to 90 days, beginning on the day the inspectors arrive in Iraq, after which they will report "cooperation" but not allow the use of the word "full." The newspaper said the Iraqis, partially supported by the Russians, believe the word "full" may be used as a pretext to lay the blame on Iraq if the U.S. says that Iraq failed to cooperate on minor points, even if Iraq showed cooperation on the key issues. When "cooperation" had been registered, sanctions would be suspended. During the next phase, answers would be provided to the questions that remain unanswered, mostly about chemical and biological weapons.

The Russian diplomat described what he thought the response of the U.S. would be. He told "Al-Hayat": "If Iraq takes the initiative to propose new and acceptable ideas that are understood and supported by the Russians, Europeans, the Arab world and the Islamic states, the U.S. will be compelled to reconsider its stand. Even if the U.S. decides to carry out a military plan, it will not be supported."

An article published on 24 June on the website of the Iraqi newspaper "Babil," owned by Saddam's son, Uday, posed the question: "The dialogue with the United Nations -- what is required?" Author Abdul-Razzaq al-Dulaymi accused UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of "a propaganda attempt to throw the ball into our if it was Iraq, not the United Nations, that is procrastinating and refusing to answer questions." The article commented that the recent statement by Annan on an imminent meeting with a high-level Iraqi delegation in early July came as a "surprise," implying the meeting may be delayed or not take place. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQI DELEGATION VISITS UKRAINE... An Iraqi delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hikmat al-Azzawi arrived in Ukraine on 16 June. "Ukrainian News" reported on 17 June that the delegation also included the deputy minister of military industrialization, the head of the Department of Economic Relations at the Iraqi Ministry of Trade, and a senior oil official. While in Kyiv, Al-Azzawi met President Kuchma who told him that "Ukraine was interested in broadening involvement of its enterprises and companies in UN humanitarian programs," Interfax-Ukraine reported on 17 June.

A three-day meeting of the Ukraine-Iraq Bilateral Commission coincided with the visit. "Ukrainian News" reported that in 2001 Ukraine's exports to Iraq increased more than fourfold to nearly $300 million while Ukraine's imports from Iraq were insignificant.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has sent a message to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, saying a UN inspection has not revealed any grounds to say that Ukraine illegally supplied arms and military equipment, according to Interfax on 14 June. Ukraine had requested an inspection after media reports that the country had illegally supplied weaponry, including the Kolchuga-type radar to Iraq.

The news agency said the UN message read: "The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission has not received reports that a country or an organization put forward such accusations against Ukraine." UNMOVIC, the UN agency set up to replace UNSCOM three years ago, has not in fact been able to inspect inside Iraq and its mandate does not cover weaponry beyond weapons of mass destruction and missiles. The UN message implies that only an official complaint from a UN member state or international organization would merit an investigation. (Simon Henderson)

...WHILE SUDANESE DELEGATION VISITS IRAQ. Sudanese First Vice President Ali Uthman Mohammad Taha led a delegation to Iraq that arrived on 17 June for a four-day visit. During his stay a joint ministerial committee discussed ways of "boosting bilateral relations and joint co-operation for serving the interests of the sisterly Sudanese and Iraqi peoples, the Sudan News Agency reported on 16 June. The Iraq News Agency website reported on 20 June that the two countries had signed four economic, commercial, scientific, and cultural cooperation agreements. The Iraqi vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, signed the accords. While in Baghdad, Taha also met with President Saddam Husseyn, the news agency reported.

The previous week, the director of Iraqi military training, Lieutenant General Mahmud Salih Mahdi, visited Khartoum, where on 13 June he met Sudanese Minister of National Defense Lieutenant General Bakri Hassan Salih and Lieutenant General Abbas Arabi. State-controlled Sudanese Television said on 13 June that the two sides had "tackled ways of promoting and developing relations between the two armed forces."

Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 11 September, Washington has been seeking to engage Sudan as a means of encouraging cooperation against Al-Qaeda terrorists. Two weeks ago Saudi Arabia announced that a Sudanese wanted for firing a surface-to-air missile at U.S. aircraft in the kingdom had been extradited to Saudi Arabia. The U.S. government has also been trying to block a clause in a draft bill for sanctions against Sudan that prohibit investment in the Sudanese oil sector, the energy newsletter "Petrostrategies" reported on 10 June. (Simon Henderson)

MINISTERIAL CONTACTS WITH IRAN. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri met his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, on 25 June at the ministerial session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held in Khartoum. reported on 26 June that they discussed the activities of the two countries' committees in charge of following up issues remaining after the 1980-88 war. The website reported that Kharrazi referred to previous negotiations on sending Iranian pilgrims to Shia holy sites in Iraq and called on Baghdad to provide the necessary facilities. Sabri, it reported, outlined the latest development in Iraq's relations with countries in the region and the rest of the world.

AFP reported on 26 June that Iraqi Cultural Minister Hamada Yussef Hammadi was due to start a five-day trip to Iran the same day. It quoted an Iranian official as saying it was the latest sign of a thaw in relations between the once bitter foes. Hammadi was due to visit the Shia holy city of Mashad in northeastern Iran as well as Isfahan in the center of the country.

The correspondent in Tehran of the London "Financial Times" reported on 21 June that although Iran was strongly opposed to any U.S.-led attack on Iraq, it would probably remain neutral in the event of an attempt to remove Saddam Husseyn by force. The former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaei, told the newspaper: "Iran opposes such a move as we opposed the attack on Afghanistan, but I believe Iran would be neutral and keep its impartiality."

On 24 June the official Iraqi News Agency reported that Saddam had sent a cable of condolences to President Mohammad Khatami of Iran about the earthquake which hit northern Iran on 22 June. The cable expressed extreme sorrow for the human and material losses and called on God to "protect the Iranian people from all that is evil." (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM'S NOVELS BECOME PART OF SCHOOL CURRICULUM... The three allegorical novels said to have been written by President Saddam Husseyn are to be taught to Iraqi schoolchildren. "BBC On-line" on 23 June quoted the "Tikrit" newspaper as saying that they would be part of the school curriculum. The newspaper reported Education Ministry officials as saying "school debates on the content of the three novels will be encouraged so that pupils can develop creative and critical ways of thinking."

The first novel, entitled "Zabibah and the King," tells the story of a leader, assumed to be based on Saddamr, who avenges the rape of a beautiful woman, called Zabibah. The alleged rape is dated as being the day U.S.-led forces launched military action against Iraq in 1991. The second novel, "The Fortified Castle," is about an Iraqi military hero who escapes from an Iranian prison to return to study in Baghdad. There he falls in love with a Kurdish women who has left autonomous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, presumably an allegorical reference to Kurds supposedly wanting to be ruled by Baghdad. When it was published in December 2001 it was hailed by state-run Iraqi Television as being "a great artistic work." The third novel is called "Men and a City" and was only revealed in March when it was also announced a fourth novel is on its way.

None of the books carry Saddam's name but instead bear the inscription "A novel by its author." Analysts assume they are written by a team of Iraqi writers after outline ideas are approved by Saddam himself. In April a dramatized version of "Zabibah and the King" was put on at the Iraq National Theater in Baghdad as part of the celebrations to mark Saddam's birthday. Plans have also been reported for a 20-part television series for Iraqi Television. (Simon Henderson)

...AND JORDANIANS AND SYRIANS WILL SEE STAGE VERSION. As part of Iraqi cultural weeks in August, audiences in Jordanian and Syrian theaters will be able to see a visiting stage version of "Zabibah and the King." The website of the "Babil" newspaper on 10 June said the weekly "Tikrit" newspaper had reported in its latest issue that the cultural week activities would also include fashion shows by the Iraqi Fashion House, musical performances, singing, and Iraqi folklore singing. (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM'S PALACES REDECORATED. The six-month refurbishment of three of Saddam Husseyn's palaces in the Baghdad area has been completed, according to a report on 1 June in "Regay Kurdistan," the newspaper of the Communist Party of Iraqi Kurdistan. Moroccan and Indian craftsmen and professionals were brought in to do the work. The newspaper reported that the amount of gold used was greater than 250 kilograms, much of which was used to decorate the al-Nakhwua (Magnanimity) Palace, which had been badly damaged during the Gulf War. At the entrance to this palace there are four gigantic gates that have been inlaid with gold, silver, and precious gems. The newspaper said a new palace was being built for Saddam's eldest son, Uday, in the al-Rashidiyah region. (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM 'FAKED' BABY FUNERALS. The Iraqi regime has been faking the deaths of babies in order to blame UN sanctions and win sympathy from world public opinion, according to "The Observer" of London on 23 June. The report, by John Sweeney, also formed the basis of a BBC television documentary broadcast the same day. Sweeney interviewed in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq a former official in Baghdad who had been responsible for organizing the funerals.

He also spoke to the man's four-year-old daughter, who had been tortured by Saddam's forces after her father had fled to the north because of alleged involvement in a plot against Saddam's eldest son, Uday. The daughter, then aged two, had her legs damaged during the interrogation about her father's whereabouts and was wearing metal leg braces.

Although Baghdad has claimed that 7,000 babies are dying each month because of the sanctions, the former official explained this was a lie. In fact, so few babies were dying there were not enough corpses for the processions of little coffins, which the regime was staging to depict their plight. The former official, identified only by the name "Ali," said hospitals were ordered to hold the bodies of babies and small children who had died from natural causes. They were then brought by taxi to Baghdad when a procession was to be staged. (Simon Henderson)

KURDISH DISPUTE OVER ELECTRICITY SUPPLIES. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is complaining that its areas of control in Irbil are being targeted for electricity cuts by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls the power station at the Dukan dam. The KDP newspaper, "Brayati," reported on 20 June that supplies to Irbil had been reduced from 100 MW to 15 MW. Sulaymaniyah was receiving 30 MW.

The PUK newspaper "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 24 June that the head of the PUK-led Kurdistan regional government, Dr. Barham Salih, accompanied by members of the PUK Political Bureau, had visited KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani the previous morning. The PUK delegation conveyed greetings from PUK leader Jalal Talabani and reported on their recent diplomatic tour to Syria, Sweden, Finland, and Turkey. They also discussed "the state of the peace process between the PUK and KDP and the steps towards general reconciliation in Kurdistan were assessed."

The same article referred to the "Brayati" report about the reduction in electricity supplies. The PUK newspaper commented: "Regrettably, their source wants to make the people in Kurdistan believe the (PUK-led) Kurdistan Regional Government does not take the life of poor people and those who have little income into consideration." It referred to a new project in supplying electricity and said: "We hope that all sides will not relent in serving the people of Kurdistan."

The PUK newspaper then gave a lengthy explanation of the electrical supply situation, claiming that Irbil's supply had been increased back to 70 MW on 21 June. It said that the same price was fixed for people living in the city of Sulaiymaniyah as in Irbil. The cause of the problem was the level of water in both the Dukan and Darband-i-Khan dams, which would drop before the end of the year and thus had to be conserved now.

In a further development in the KDP-controlled area, the Turkish army is reported to have shelled two areas in the Sideka region on 23 June. There were no casualties reported by the KDP newspaper "Brayati" on 26 June, but fires were caused in "orchards and gardens." (Simon Henderson)