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Iraq Report: July 22, 2002

22 July 2002, Volume 5, Number 21

SADDAM DEFIANTLY MARKS POLITICAL ANNIVERSARIES. The middle of July in the Iraqi political calendar is replete with significant anniversaries: The monarchy was overthrown on 14 July 1958; the Ba'th Party seized power from a military-led government on 17 July 1968; in July 1979, President Hassan al-Bakr, the Ba'th leader, retired on grounds of ill-health, opening the way for his deputy, Saddam Husseyn, to take power as president on 16 July 1979. These occasions are always marked by at least one speech from Saddam, but this year, there was also a newspaper interview printed by Qatar's "Al-Sharq." Given the growing American political pressure for regime change, the arguments used by Saddam to bolster his regime and deflect diplomatic pressure were awaited with special interest. (Simon Henderson)

'IRAQ WILL EMERGE EVENTUALLY TRIUMPHANT.' Saddam marked Iraq's national day, 17 July, with a televised speech to the country, which was notable in that he spoke for 40 minutes and yet did not mention the United States once. But there was no mistaking indirect references to the pressures Iraq is being put under by the Bush administration. "Iraq will emerge eventually triumphant," he said. (The anniversary is known as the 17-30 July revolution -- 30 July 1968 being the day al-Bakr was actually installed as president, with Saddam made deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council.) Saddam went on to describe the July revolution as returning "to say to all evil tyrants and oppressors of the world: 'You will never defeat me this time. Never! Even if you come together from all over the world and invite all the devils as well to stand by you, support, or incite you.'"

In an apparent reference to the opposition groups in exile that are supported by the U.S., Saddam said: "He who builds his country by himself is capable of defending himself and his country with his own means. He who relies on others to build and think for him, and to protect him, and appoint him ruler of his people, risks having the house brought down on his head and being humiliated by the same people whenever they so wish."

Saddam praised the Iraqi people as they "ably confront injustice and aggression, refusing to allow the arrows of the tyrant and his stooges to touch [their] spirit, [their] determination, [their] conviction, [their] stand, [their] will, and [their] loyalty." He went on: "Your march remains genuine, responsive to your interests and principles in a balanced manner, and immune to deviation." He also depicted the U.S. as being against Islam, saying the "wind will blow away foreign rattling as the noise of an evil covetous tyrant, the enemy of Allah." He made a direct appeal to God to protect Iraq "against the schemes of the devil or of those to whom the devil is master." Referring to Palestine, he asked God to "bestow his mercy upon our most generous martyrs in Iraq, Palestine, and all the arenas of jihad and struggle throughout our nation." (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM PROMISES 'A NEW PAGE' IN ARAB RELATIONS. In a rare newspaper interview published the day before national day, Saddam said he wants to "turn over a new page" in relations with other Arab countries, and in particular with Kuwait, which he invaded in 1990. Speaking to Qatar's "Al-Sharq" newspaper, in an interview published in other newspapers across the Arab world, Saddam blamed the U.S. for blocking rapprochement between Iraq and Kuwait. Not only was Iraq a U.S. target, but so was the "entire Arab nation." He said, "America loves war and it has declared its stance toward Iraq and other nations, but we will confront this aggression with all available force."

The Iraqi leader commented: "We have said more than once that we want to turn a new page in the history of our inter-Arab relations. Every time we try to improve relations with Kuwait, the forces of evil hurry to block such a rapprochement."

Mixed with pleas for reconciliation were claims of innocence. Iraq, he said, had "applied�[and] fulfilled all UN resolutions relating to Kuwait." Asked about the hundreds of people reported missing from Kuwait since the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam said the issue had to be settled "through research and investigations, in good faith and far from outside interference." He went on: "We had some members of the Kuwaiti ruling family, Kuwaiti army officers, and members of other Kuwaiti families, whom we asked if they wanted to stay in Iraq or return to Kuwait. They chose to return and went back with all the respect and honor they deserved. We also confiscated a quantity of gold from the central bank with an estimated value of $500 million. We have given that back completely. Iraqi people are not thieves."

Saddam combined his vitriol against the U.S. with remarks aimed at Israel, condemning Zionist-American [aggression] against the Arab world represented by Palestine and Iraq. He praised suicide attacks against Israel, saying, according to AP on 16 July, they will be "recorded in our history with shining letters. Whenever a [suicide] attack occurs against the enemy, I feel as if I carried it out myself and every Arab should look at these acts this way." (Simon Henderson)

SADDAM MEETS GOVERNMENT AND PARTY OFFICIALS. In what was certainly an unintentional remark, Saddam told Iraqi officials the separation between the country's people and its rulers had become "serious" and this was one of the main problems facing Iraq. A seven-minute broadcast shown on Iraqi Television on 17 July showed Saddam meeting top government and party officials who had come to congratulate him on the 34th anniversary of the Ba'thist takeover. Saddam addressed "the problem of the nation," which he said "is with its rulers."

Saddam said: "Over the past years, the separation has become serious. The people keep silent not because they are convinced, but because they are afraid. They find out that their words are useless or because they have become desperate and have left the ruler to act until he falls by himself." He went on: "What is happening to some officials in our nation is that they possess the factors of strength in their hands, but they cannot use them or deal with them.... This is the problem; it is not in the people, not in the nation, not in history and not in geography."

Iraqi Television also broadcast a 10-minute segment showing a meeting between Saddam and his son Qusay, who is in charge of the Republican Guard; the minister of state for military affairs; the defense minister; and members of the General Command of the Iraqi armed forces. Saddam wished victory to "all true fighters in the battlefield" and asked God "to protect them from the evil of evil ones."

Saddam, as often happens, also took the opportunity to give his commanders a little homily. He said: "Command is also management. The management of fighters in war and peace is an art." Saddam -- who never served in the Iraqi military himself -- added: "Some men are brave, but they do not know how to command others. So, they are good fighters, but not good commanders." The Iraqi leader added that it was not titles but a man's qualities and relations with people that made him great.

The Iraqi National Assembly held a special session on 15 July to condemn U.S. diplomacy and military preparations. (Simon Henderson)

CONCILIATORY NOTE TO U.S.-INTEREST SECTION. Iraq has told Poland that it will lift travel restrictions on Polish diplomats who represent U.S. interests in Baghdad. Since April, the diplomats have been banned from leaving the country via land, forcing them to use commercial air flights that remain theoretically banned by United Nations sanctions. A report in the 17 July edition of the "International Herald Tribune," citing AFP, quoted a U.S. official as saying that the Poles expected the previous day a formal note from the Iraqis reverting to the state of affairs that existed previously. (Simon Henderson)

U.S. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS TURKEY FOR TALKS. Amid a Turkish domestic political crisis, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz started a three-day visit to Istanbul and Ankara on 15 July for talks involving Iraq. He made no effort to hide U.S. intentions of securing the removal of President Saddam Husseyn, saying that Saddam's Iraq was "one that we can't afford to live with indefinitely." He called for Turkish backing for possible action against Baghdad and stressed the regional importance of such action. (The Turkish air base at Incirlik is used for patrols over the northern no-fly zone and Turkey's land border with Iraq could be crucial in any military action.) "Turkey stands to benefit enormously if Iraq becomes a normal country," he said, in remarks quoted by BBC On-Line on 17 July.

Although there had been no official reaction to Wolfowitz's visit, the local "Hurriyet" newspaper had reported that the government would back military action against Iraq if it did not harm the Turkish economy and if no Kurdish state was created in northern Iraq. Wolfowitz addressed the concerns about Iraqi Kurds joining with Turkish Kurds by saying in a speech delivered only hours after arriving in Istanbul that, "Turkey reasonably wishes to be assured that events in Iraq won't have a negative impact on its own unity." He also said the U.S. would find "unacceptable" a Kurdish state even on land confined to northern Iraq. He said that, "Fortunately, the Kurds of northern Iraq increasingly seem to understand this fact and understand the importance of thinking of themselves as Iraqis who will participate fully in the political life of a future democratic Iraq."

Later, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said in an interview with BBC: "It is possible to ameliorate the situation�without military action and we have explained our concerns to the U.S. We want to have good relations with all our neighbors, among them Iraq, of course. I believe that also many countries in the region and the United States and possibly the United Kingdom want to solve the so-called Iraq problem without military action."

Ecevit, 75, has been in poor health and under pressure to resign. More than 40 deputies have left his Democratic Left Party (DSP) after he ignored their calls to step down. His ruling coalition is split over human-rights reforms needed to advance Turkey's application to join the European Union. Seven ministers have resigned and he has lost his parliamentary majority. New parliamentary elections are scheduled for November and Ecevit has announced his intention to stand again.

Leaving the country, Wolfowitz acknowledged Turkish concerns about the aftermath of any military action. Quoted in "The Washington Post" on 17 July, he said: "We would like to see an Iraq that's democratic. The details of how that happens are not so simple. It's a very complex subject." Wolfowitz was accompanied on his visit by the No. 3 official in the State Department, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey. (Simon Henderson)

UDAY WARNS IRAN AGAINST LAUNCHING AN ATTACK. Saddam's eldest son, Uday, was quoted by the London "Observer" newspaper on 14 July as warning Iran against taking advantage of a U.S. military assault on Baghdad to launch its own attack. The newspaper also reported that Uday's newspaper "Babil" had made placatory sounds toward Saudi Arabia, warning that a U.S. attack on Iraq would lead to the division of Saudi Arabia into three sections, the return of independent Bahrain to Iranian rule, and the conversion of Jordan into a Palestinian state. The newspaper said Iraq vowed to resist what it called a new colonial division of the Middle East. "A single telephone call, a simple sign to Baghdad, and [the Saudis] will see Iraq launch all its forces to support the kingdom against those seeking to break it up." (Simon Henderson)

DISPUTE OVER JORDAN AS A BASE FOR U.S. ATTACK. A "New York Times" report that U.S. military planners were considering using bases in Jordan to stage air and commando operations against Iraq has led to a series of embarrassed denials by Jordanian officials. The report, carried in the "International Herald Tribune" on 11 June, said that, "using Jordanian bases would enable the Pentagon to attack Iraq from three directions -- from the West, as well as from the north via Turkey and the south via several Persian Gulf states." The report went on to say that such an arrangement would introduce American forces between Iraq and Israel who could help detect, track, and destroy Scud missiles that Baghdad might launch at Israeli targets.

The report noted that Jordan had not yet been consulted specifically about the possible use of its bases. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told "The New York Times" in a telephone interview: "Our public position is the same as our private position. Jordan will not be used as a launching pad, and we do not have any U.S. forces in Jordan." To emphasize the point, a few days later Jordanian officials took reporters to Muwafaq Salti Air Base, near Azraq in the east of the country, where American forces were rumored to be stationed, to show that there were no U.S. forces there. Base commander Brigadier General Mohammad Amin Quraan was quoted in "The Times" of London on 16 July as saying, "We want to make sure that you see for yourself that we have no foreign troops here." Officials were quoted as saying Jordan is opposed to the use of force against Iraq.

The original "New York Times" report had noted that U.S. aid to Jordan was increasing, partly for upgrading land and air bases. Some of the money was going to lengthen runways at two air bases -- named as Al Jafr and Al Azraq -- to accommodate larger aircraft. In the late 1990s, U.S. aircraft on detachment to Jordan flew patrols over the southern no-fly zone of Iraq. (Simon Henderson)

RUSSIA DISAGREES WITH U.S. ON IRAQ. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has repeated that Russia "does not share the U.S. position on the need to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn." Ivanov was speaking at a press conference in New York following a meeting of European Union, U.S., United Nations, and Russian officials on Middle East peace. He told the Interfax news agency on 17 July that, "If military plans in relation to Iraq are put into practice, this will further complicate the situation [in the area of] the Palestinian-Israeli [conflict], in the Gulf area, and in the Middle East as a whole."

BRITAIN READIES MILITARY FORCES. Meanwhile, a profusion of lengthy articles in the British press indicated that the British Defense Ministry was briefing journalists on the role it expected British forces to play in any action in Iraq. On 12 July, a front-page article in "The Times" said British special forces were "to be used to sabotage Saddam Husseyn's plants making weapons of mass destruction in the planned invasion of Iraq next year." The British Army is to train a new breed of "shock troops" to meet extra demands on British special forces, the report said. A "senior British military source" was quoted as saying that while there was no formal request from Washington for troops for an Iraqi campaign, "there is a general expectation that we are going to be involved in a big event next year."

As part of prudent preparations, the British service chiefs were "all engaged in making sure units, warships and combat aircraft which might be needed�are not going to be tied up elsewhere in the world during the first few months of next year," "The Times" reported.

The defense editor of "The Daily Telegraph," John Keegan, started an analytical piece on 12 July with the words: "Private conversation with those in a position to know seems to make it certain that the United States will attack Iraq within the next six months, with the purpose of toppling Saddam Hussein from power for good."

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office denied press reports that a special summit was being planned for September or October between President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss a military invasion of Iraq. (Simon Henderson)

EXILED IRAQI OFFICERS ELECT MILITARY COUNCIL. A three-day meeting in London of exiled Iraqi Army officers ended on 14 July with the election of a 15-strong military council to work toward overthrowing President Saddam Husseyn and establishing civilian rule. The group's spokesman, Tawfiq al-Yassiri, variously reported as being a major or a brigadier general, announced that the council would encourage defections from within the Iraqi Army and also ensure that a democratic government takes control when the current regime is ousted. No leader of the council was named.

The meeting avoided discussing military plans that might lead to the overthrow of Saddam, instead approving a military charter of honor, declaring their readiness to join "any effort to establish a new democratic federal regime based on the rule of law and civil society." The meeting said it would welcome "any foreign help" to get rid of Saddam's regime, and urged all Iraqi soldiers, inside and outside the country, to work together to achieve this aim.

"The Guardian" newspaper on 15 July estimated that 60 former senior officers, several with the rank of general, had attended the meeting. Among those present, apart from representatives of exiled Iraqi political and religious groups, was Prince Hassan of Jordan, the brother of the late King Husseyn and uncle of the present King Abdullah. A smiling Prince Hassan was photographed sitting next to his distant relative, Sharif Ali bin Husseyn, a cousin of the King Faisal II of Iraq, who was assassinated when the monarchy was overthrown in 1958. The Jordanian government stressed Prince Hassan's participation was a personal initiative and did not reflect the kingdom's official position, but it seems unlikely that Prince Hassan would have attended without the explicit knowledge and permission of the king.

Major Yassiri, a naval officer who was wounded in an uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, was quoted by BBC On-line on 15 July as saying that all of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups were included in the new council. Other members included Major General Najib al-Salhi, the former commander of a mechanized division, and Major General Saad Obeidi, formerly in charge of psychological warfare before defecting in 1986. "The Times" also named General Fadel Assaf as being on the council.

Yassiri also said that U.S. officials from the State Department, the White House, and the Pentagon had attended the first day of the conference. The meeting began in Kensington Town Hall in West London but by the third day had moved to a building in the less salubrious Neasden district of north London, which was rented by the Iraq National Congress (INC). "The Guardian" reported that electricity for the INC offices was being supplied by a mobile generator positioned in the car park, because the normal supply had been cut off for nonpayment.

"The Guardian" reported that the main issue debated was whether Iraq should have a federal system of government, which, it said, the Kurds strongly favor because it would guarantee them a measure of autonomy. The Turkoman representatives, and some others, urged that the decision on the system of government be left to a referendum. But the Kurds, the newspaper reported, said a referendum immediately after the overthrow of Saddam could inflame ethnic and sectarian rivalries.

The charter of honor, the newspaper reported, commits the officers to abide by the decisions of the Iraqi people and to withdraw from political affairs once a change of regime occurs. It says the future role of the army should be limited to "national defense and not committing aggression."

The highest-ranking Iraqi general in exile, Nizar al-Khazraji, was noticeably absent from the meeting. "The Guardian" reported that he was understood to prefer rule by a military council when Saddam was overthrown. General al-Khazraji, who lives in Denmark, has been accused by some opposition groups of being involved in chemical-weapons attacks against the Kurds in the late 1980s.

"The Times" commented that many of the exiled officers had not visited their native land for years, and critics rejected the weekend session as a talking exercise that would have little practical effect on the ground. (Simon Henderson)

KURDISH PARTY PRAISES LONDON MEETING. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) had welcomed the results of the London meeting of former Iraqi military officers, the London-based, pan-Arab newspaper "Al-Hayat" reported on 17 July. A PUK source had told the newspaper of the party's "appreciation" for "the efforts being made by the officers."

The Kurdish newspaper "Hawlati" reported on 15 July that PUK leader Jalal Talabani had arrived secretly in Jordan on 13 July. Quoting the Kuwaiti newspaper "al-Qabas," the Kurdish newspaper said that Talabani arrived from Saudi Arabia where he had spent several days. A Saudi source had said that Talabani went to perform umra (out-of-season pilgrimage) and had not met any Saudi officials. Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, Talabani was reported to have visited Iran for a meeting with Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Iraqi Shia opposition, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. (Simon Henderson)

INC LEADER EXPLAINS DISPUTES WITH U.S. GOVERNMENT. On 15 July, "The Times" of London carried a lengthy interview with Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi in which he was questioned about his reported difficult relations with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State Department. Chalabi explained: "The main reason is that we argue. We are not compliant. We put our point of view forcefully forward and we don't accept things on their say-so. And we have an agenda for democratic change in Iraq. Many people who are doing the operational work in America do not share this view. Our message of democracy, human rights, [and] representative government is a threat to the whole structure of American alliances in the Middle East and the Arab world. They think we are off the wall in that respect."

Chalabi told the newspaper that the Iraq National Congress (INC), of which he is a leader, had submitted a detailed 173-page rebuttal of charges by State Department auditors that it had misspent $2.2 million. Despite this, its funding had been stopped. As a consequence, the office where the interview was being conducted was likely to close soon but Chalabi seemed cheerful: "We will be free of their shackles."

Will the INC be part of U.S. "regime change" in Iraq? Chalabi shrugged to his interviewer, saying: "Who they cooperate with is up to them. We don't care any more. It doesn't matter. If the U.S. is going to remove Saddam, there will be a democratic government in the country." And would Saddam attempt to blow up Israel? "He'll blow up something anyway. He wants to go down in history among the Arabs and Muslims as the modern-day Saladin."

Chalabi predicted that the U.S. could easily overthrow Saddam and there were many options of how to do it. For him, the main issue is what happens after Saddam in a society that has been devastated by three decades of Ba'th Party rule. He said a "de-Ba'thification" program was needed like the de-Nazification program in Germany after World War II. "We must develop structure, we must train people. We must train judges, prosecutors, people who would investigate crimes, human-rights activists."

Earlier in the interview, Chalabi had been asked about Petra Bank, the bank he had founded in Jordan, which became the country's second-largest. The interviewer referred to newspaper reports about a 1989 "financial scandal," a comment that reportedly outraged Chalabi, who said the bank had become too powerful and the Jordanians sent in soldiers to take over his business by military decree. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQI OIL SURCHARGES UNDER MARKET PRESSURE. Although world oil prices have been facing upward pressure from apparently strong U.S. demand, there has also been speculation that Iraq may have to drop its controversial surcharge in order to increase exports. Downward pressure on the price was increased by a 12 July report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency predicting an increase in demand next year of 420,000 barrels per day. The London "Financial Times" reported on 11 July that according to some forecasts, increased output by non-OPEC countries will amount to almost twice this. The "Financial Times" commented that this would put pressure on members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries trying to use their self-imposed quotas to control the price. It noted that further pressure could come from Iraq, which has been producing at a rate of 1.6 million barrels per day in the second quarter, or 1.2 million barrels per day below capacity. Iraq has been finding its oil hard to sell both because of its own oil-price surcharge and because of UN attempts to stop the surcharge, the newspaper reported.

A report from Reuters in the 16 July "Financial Times" stated that Iraq had trimmed its illicit surcharge on oil sales and had exempted some traders from it entirely in an effort to lift sagging exports. Reuters reported that the $0.25-0.30-per-barrel surcharge had been halved in June. Iraq had now cut it to $0.10 per barrel and quoted oil traders as saying that in some cases, the surcharge had been withdrawn altogether.

The news agency said the charge had been imposed in November 2000 as a means for the sanctions-bound regime of Saddam Husseyn to divert funds from United Nations supervision. It said that most oil traders believed the fee eventually would be scrapped in order to revive export volumes. The Baghdad government denies the surcharge exists but, Reuters reported, Western diplomats believe the regime could not have amassed $200 million in the past 18 months without the practice. (Simon Henderson)

IRAQIS DETAINED IN PAKISTAN FOR GRENADE ATTACK. Two Iraqis are being questioned by Pakistani police in connection with a grenade attack in March on a church in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, in which two Americans and three others were killed, AP reported on 16 July. A Pakistani official said that the Iraqis were detained in Islamabad on 14 July and were not cooperating with their interrogators. The attack on the Protestant church in Islamabad's diplomatic quarter prompted the U.S. to withdraw nonessential diplomatic staff and family members of embassy employees. (Simon Henderson)