9 August 2002, Volume 5, Number 24
CHIEF UN ARMS INSPECTOR REBUFFS IRAQ'S OFFER... The chairman of the UN Monitoring and Verification Committee (UNMOVIC), Hans Blix, said on 4 August that he will not accept an offer to visit Iraq until Baghdad first agrees to the return of UN weapons inspectors, Reuters reported. A 1999 Security Council resolution requires weapons inspectors to return to Iraq first and to determine within 60 days the questions that Baghdad must answer about its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs. In an interview on 4 August with the London-based daily "Al-Hayat," Blix stated, "I think [the Iraqis] have to say that they accept the return of weapons inspectors according to the resolutions of the Security Council." He added: "The situation would be much worse if I went to Baghdad and then talks broke down. We don't want that." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AFTER IRAQ, UN FAIL TO AGREE ON WEAPONS INSPECTORS... UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suspended negotiations with Iraq "until the weapons inspectors are allowed into the country," Al-Jazeera satellite television reported on 24 July. Annan's announcement came after the third round of talks between the UN and Iraq failed to achieve progress earlier in July. Commenting on the announcement, Iraqi National Assembly member Muhammad Muzaffar al-Adhami said, "It is clear that this decision by Kofi Annan represents the will of the United States, which has been trying to find pretexts to prolong the blockade on Iraq and to continue the aggression against it." Al-Adhami argued that raising the issue of inspectors was unacceptable, noting, "Iraq knows well what the inspection teams are, how they carried out their espionage acts, and how they tried to encroach on Iraq's sovereignty."
When asked if Iraq would allow weapons inspectors into the country in order to avoid a U.S. military strike, he said, "The presence of the inspection teams in Iraq was behind the renewal of the aggressions against Iraq," adding, "Iraq is ready to defend itself" and, "The blockade must end before discussing these issues." Al-Adhami concluded by saying, "all indications show that Iraq wants to hold dialogue even with the United States itself...however, there are U.S. interests, there is the Palestinian issue, and there is Iraq's principled stand, which contradicts U.S. ambitions and evil intentions."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told the Iraqi Satellite Channel on 28 July, "At our last session of talks in Vienna, the secretary-general indicated that contacts between the two sides would continue, including technical discussions, but the fixing of a date for a new session faces pressure exercised by the United States on the [UN] Security Council." AFP quoted Sabri as saying the U.S. focus on weapons inspections "indicates the inspectors will only come to Iraq to gather information on Iraqi economic, military, and security installations which they will give to American intelligence services to use in their aggressions which continue against our people." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AND IRAQI NEWSPAPER CRITICIZES POWELL'S REACTION TO OFFER. The United States wants to use the Iraq issue to "achieve evil colonial goals to dominate the world," "Babil" reported on 4 August. The newspaper, which is owned by Saddam Husseyn's son Uday, criticized U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's refusal to consider seriously Iraq's offer to allow the return of weapons inspectors to the country. In a commentary, "Babil" asked, "How would Powell know Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction without having the inspectors execute a fair inspection program to search for such weapons in Iraq and verify that the country has dismantled them?" Speaking from the Philippines on 3 August, Powell said that the issue is not so much inspections as "making sure that the Iraqis have no weapons of mass destruction," according "The Boston Globe." Powell noted that Baghdad has continuously tried to find a way around UN requirements to disarm, saying: "We have seen the Iraqis try to fiddle with the inspection system before. You can tell that they are trying to get out of the clear requirement that they have." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ REQUESTS UN INTERVENTION OVER U.S., AUSTRALIAN 'PIRACY.' Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri requested the intervention of UN Secretary-General Annan to prevent U.S. and Australian "piracy" against Iraqi ships in the Persian Gulf. AFP reported on 26 July that Sabri complained that Australian soldiers intercepted the tourist boat "Al-Fida" in Iraqi territorial waters on 28 June. Sabri asserted, "The Australian soldiers, who were equipped with sophisticated weapons aboard two gunboats, boarded the Iraqi ship and searched it completely for three hours before allowing it to continue its journey." Sabri also noted the interception of an Iraqi ferry travelling to the port of Khor Al Amia by the U.S. on 7 July, and again by the Australians on 8 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH HEAD OF UNIKOM. Naji Sabri met with Major General Moreno, commander of the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), on 30 July to discuss relations between Iraq and UNIKOM. The minister asked the UNIKOM head for a clearer stand in monitoring the U.S. and U.K. violations of the demilitarized zone, according to the INA website. They also discussed UNIKOM's participation in "returning the Kuwaiti archive and property, which will take place in the coming few weeks." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KUWAITI FOREIGN MINISTER URGES IRAQ TO COOPERATE. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, first deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Kuwait, stated that "Iraq has to understand, seriously, what the United States intends for it" according to a 27 July report by the official Kuwaiti news agency, KUNA. His comments came following talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov. Sheikh Sabah urged Iraq to approve the UN Security Council resolution regarding UN inspectors, adding, "The people of Iraq and the people of Kuwait are both victims of the current regime in Iraq." Minister Saltanov said, "I think the most important thing now, of course, is to reach an agreement re-establishing UN inspectors in Iraq and cooperating in the field of disarmament.... We still think the best way to reach these aims is to continue dialogue between Baghdad and the [UN] secretary-general," AFP reported. The Russian minister told ITAR-TASS that he intended to discuss the situation in Iraq with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz on 28 July, as well as coordinate with the Saudis against international terrorism. He said: "Representatives of the Saudi government repeatedly stated that they are for territorial integrity and unity of the Russian Federation. They do not support and would not support attempts to break this unity through terrorism."
Kuwaiti Ambassador to the U.K. Khaled Al-Duwaisan told BBC domestic radio on 29 July, "We cannot escape from the root of the problem...we are dealing with a ruthlessly dangerous Iraqi regime which possesses a huge arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and which has refused for nearly four years now to allow UN inspectors to enter the country and dismantle those weapons." The ambassador said he hoped that "the Iraqi regime will now listen to the voice of wisdom and open up its country for the inspectors to return to Iraq and remove these weapons.... This will defuse the tension in the area and then we will avoid the war and destruction." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ IMPROVING TRADE LINKS TO ARAB COUNTRIES. Lebanese Energy Minister Muhammad Abdul Hamid Baydhon met with Iraqi Oil Minister Omar Muhammad Rashid in Baghdad during the 15th meeting of the Joint Iraqi-Lebanese Economy and Trade Council in early July. A cooperation agreement in which Iraq will fund the development of an oil refinery in Lebanon was signed. Baydhon is quoted in "Al-Watan" on 28 July as saying that Iraq is interested in renewing operations of the oil pipeline from Iraq to Syria, and from Iraq to Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Iraqi TV reported on a 28 July meeting between Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan and Algerian Trade Minister Noureddine Boukrouth in Baghdad. The two leaders discussed bilateral economic and trade relations. Boukrouth told the Algerian Press Service (APS) that estimates of the volume of commercial transactions to be concluded by Algerian companies with Iraq as part of the 12th stage of the "oil-for-food" program would exceed $100 million, APS reported on 30 July. Boukrouth said, "Exports to Iraq will exceed $100 million" in the next six months.
In another development, "Jordan Times" reported on 28 July that the Iraqi government has agreed to remove the names of 14 Jordanian firms from a blacklist of companies who have dealings with Israel. Fifty Jordanian companies remain on the list.
Iraqi Trade Minister Muhammad Mahdi Salih described the recent opening of the 'Arar border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia as an important step toward establishing normal relations between the two states. His comments were made during the Iraqi's visit to Paris, according to "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 4 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AZIZ CALLS FOR ARAB SOLIDARITY. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told the Iraqi Satellite Channel on 24 July: "The Arab nation should demonstrate solidarity with Iraq, because as I said, the threats are the same. If Iraq is targeted today the other Arab countries will also be targeted under other pretexts and excuses. Therefore, solidarity against threats is necessary." His comments followed the 24 July signing of a cooperation agreement between Iraq and Sudan.
The Iraqi Satellite Channel reported, "The cooperation agreement and program signed in Sudan stressed the importance of strengthening cordial relations between the two parties in all fields to reinforce the steadfastness of the two sisterly countries in the face of imperialist Zionist scheme, which targets the Arab nation now and in the future." Israeli press sources in the past have speculated that following the end of the second Gulf War, Baghdad safe-havened WMD materials in Sudan and may have made contact with Al-Qaeda and Islamist extremists sheltered there. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MOUSSA: ATTACK ON IRAQ WOULD DESTABILIZE THE MIDDLE EAST. Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa told the BBC on 30 July that an attack on Iraq would "threaten the whole stability in the Middle East, which is already under constant threat by the continuation, the aggravation of the Arab-Israeli, or Palestinian-Israeli issues and conflicts." Moussa said, "Our position is clear, and a unanimous resolution was adopted during the last summit, together with the initiative on the question of the Middle East, on peace with Israel." He added, "The resolution was not to support, in fact [it was] to oppose unanimously, any invasion to any Arab country, or in particular Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
JORDAN'S KING ABDULLAH WARNS AGAINST IRAQ STRIKE. King Abdullah II met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London on 29 July prior to the king's 1 August meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington. The king expressed apprehension about a U.S. strike against Iraq, given the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an interview with "The Times" of London he said, "In the light of the failure to move the Israeli-Palestinian process forward, military action against Iraq would really open a Pandora's box."
The king also denied reports that Jordan would be used as a staging ground for a U.S. attack on Iraq. He said, "What amused me about this is that Jordan is not the fulcrum for any future American operations in Iraq," "The Times" reported. Despite the king's comments, a prominent Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood leader expressed doubts. In an interview with AFP, Abd al-Majid Zuneibat asked, "How could we believe the statements issued by the Jordanian government concerning Iraq since U.S. troops are undertaking military exercises on Jordanian soil?"
Commenting on the current U.S. debate over Iraq, King Abdullah said: "The problem is that there is always the fight of whether the Israeli-Palestinian situation is more important, or that of Iraq. The president understands the linkage and so does Colin Powell, and they have the tendency to look at the overall picture. But others in Washington are fixated on Iraq, and Iraq has to be resolved no matter what happens in the rest of the Middle East."
U.S. Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith described one aspect of that linkage in the 30 June "Financial Times," when he said that Iraq is "purposefully and systematically aggravating Palestinian-Israeli relations" through his financial support of the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Feith said that Saddam "may think that the more he can encourage terrorist bombings against the Israelis, the more the world is diverted from the issue of his tyranny, his weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, his terrorist activities, and on to another agenda."
King Abdullah was not questioned on reports that U.S. forces will implement new procedures regarding the inspection of ships entering and exiting the Port of Aqaba. The Jordanian press and local merchants, however, registered their unhappiness with the inspections, and Jordan's Information Minister Muhammad al-Udwan said that his country would not inspect ships in Aqaba (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 August 2002). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SYRIAN VICE PRESIDENT DISCUSSES POSSIBLE U.S. ATTACK ON IRAQ. Syrian Vice President Abd al-Halim Khaddam said that Damascus is completely against striking Iraq, Syrian Arab Republic radio reported on 26 July. He said that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction, and it is not a threat to its neighbors. Khaddam continued, "Why doesn't the United States say the same thing to Israel, even though the entire world knows that Israel possesses an unknown quantity of nuclear weapons?" (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RUSSIAN DEPUTY MINISTER MEETS IRAQI LEADERSHIP. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Saltanov met with representatives of the Iraqi leadership, including Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan, Deputy Prime Minister Aziz, and Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri, strana.ru reported on 26 July. Saltanov said that Russia still opposes military strikes against Iraq, especially if the UN Security Council does not sanction them, because they will not improve the situation in the region. Saltanov stressed that the consequences would be extremely dangerous to the situation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf zone, (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ'S WMD CAPABILITIES CONSIDERED. Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair for Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, examined the Middle East threat of weapons of mass destruction in the 18 July issue of "U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda." He noted that Iraq at the time of the Persian Gulf War had the capability to make extended-range Scud missiles and possessed large stocks of them. In addition, Iraq had similar capabilities in terms of advanced chemical and "wet" biological agents, an advanced nuclear-weapons program, and all the necessary elements except fissile material, and extensive calutron and centrifuge programs (systems for enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels) to acquire such material. Cordesman asserted that the war and eight years of inspections and weapons destruction by UNSCOM (the UN Special Commission) greatly reduced Iraqi capabilities. However, Iraq has retained a major covert CBRN weapons and missiles program. It also retains some Scud missiles and chemical and biological weapons, and continues to develop the technology for nuclear weapons, he argues.
Cordesman stated that President Bush is correct in singling out Iraq as a dangerous proliferator in the Middle East. He added, "Iraq is firmly committed to its proliferation and missile programs, has chemical and biological weapons, as well as some hidden missile stocks, and almost certainly continues to seek nuclear weapons. It is entirely possible that Iraq has advanced to the point where it has dry, storable biological weapons that are as lethal as fission nuclear weapons, and that it has mastered the ability to configure bombs and warheads in ways that can disseminate these weapons efficiently." The article can be viewed at http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itps/0702/ijpe/ijpe0702.htm. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
WHY THE DELAY? Amidst reports about the pre-positioning of U.S. forces and mobilization of military reserves, some observers may wonder why it is taking so long to move against Iraq. Two possible reasons for acting cautiously were described in the U.S. media recently. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that Iraq is aware of U.S. intelligence-gathering techniques, according to a 30 July AP report. Asked why the U.S. doesn't strike Iraqi chemical- and biological-weapons sites from the air, he said, "The Iraqis have a great deal of what they do deeply buried," adding that American spies defecting to the Soviet Union or Russia passed on intelligence "as to how we do things...how another country can best achieve denial and deception and avoid having the location...of things known."
Moreover, an American attack on Iraq could have a negative effect on the U.S. economy because the United States would pay most of the cost and bear the brunt of any oil-price shock or other market disruptions, according to a 30 July report in "The New York Times." If consumer and investor confidence remains fragile, military action could have substantial psychological effects on the financial markets, retail spending, business investment, travel, and other key elements of the economy. Senior U.S. officials said that the administration has not begun to consider the cost of a war because it has yet to determine the type and size of a military operation. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Persian Gulf War cost $61.1 billion, of which $12.7 billion was paid for by the United States. The House Budget Committee's Democratic staff estimates that a war with Iraq today would cost around $79.9 billion. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ STOPS TOURIST VISAS FOR ASIAN GROUPS. Effective 18 July, Iraq will no longer issue tourist visas for religious groups from Asia to visit the Shia shrine cities of Karbala, Al-Najaf, Kufa and other holy sites. Iraqi officials are reportedly instructing tourist groups that each visa application should be pre-approved from Baghdad, according to a 29 July "Gulf News" report. The Iraqi consul-general in Dubai, Taha Al-Hadethi, stated that the consulate has neither received nor issued instructions on the decision. One Gulf-based travel company reported a 51.5 percent growth in passenger traffic over the last six months for pilgrims travelling to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
OPPOSITION MEETING IN WASHINGTON. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith intend to meet with representatives from six Iraqi opposition groups in Washington on 9 August to discuss a post-Saddam Iraq, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said on 7 August. Reeker said that Secretary of State Colin Powell is not expected to participate in the talks. The State Department had confirmed previously that it had invited representatives of six major Iraqi opposition groups -- Al-Sharif Ali bin Husseyn of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Mas'ud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 August 2002).
INC spokesman Nabil Mousawi said that the congress would accept the invitation, the "Chicago Tribune" reported on 28 July. "It is the first time that the U.S. administration has issued a joint letter from the Pentagon, the State Department, and other agencies," he said. "Finally we have one intended policy from all sections of the administration." Mousawi added, "We will hear from them how this is going to be coordinated between the Iraqi opposition and the U.S. government."
SCIRI's Ayatollah Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim did not come to Washington, but he sent a delegation that includes his younger brother, Abdulaziz al-Hakim, political adviser Ibrahim Hamoudi, and SCIRI's London representative, Hamid al-Bayyati. Al-Hakim has vacillated in his support for a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq in the past. He told Voice of the Islamic Revolution of Iran radio on 31 July that the SCIRI believes "there is no need to resort to the measures intended by America in order to change the regime in Iraq. There is no difference between the American alternatives and a military coup d'etat." He added: "Extensive military attacks will inflict irreparable losses on the Iraqi people and will destroy the public infrastructure. Such a method is therefore rejected by us, by the Iraqi people, and by other political groups in Iraq."
Mas'ud Barzani of the KDP did not come to Washington, either. He is represented by Hoshyar Zibari, a member of the KDP Political Bureau. (Kathleen Ridolfo, Bill Samii)
IRAQI DISSIDENTS ESTABLISH 'COUNCIL OF NATIONAL SALVATION.' A group of Iraqi dissidents plan to set up a "Council of National Salvation," according to a 29 July AFP report. Former Iraqi Army Chief of Staff Nizar Khazraji said, "The higher council of national salvation, which will be formed within days in Denmark, will include 24 members, most of whom held key posts in the Iraqi military or the ruling Ba'th Party." Khazraji did not offer further details, but it is expected that Major General Wafiq al-Samarra'i, the now-dissident former head of Iraqi military intelligence will join the council. AFP noted that neither Khazraji nor Samarra'i participated in the mid-July meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders which established a 15-member "military council" to organize efforts to overthrow Saddam Husseyn. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI PARLIAMENT INVITES U.S. CONGRESS TO IRAQ. Iraqi parliament speaker Saadoun Hammadi issued an invitation to the U.S. Congress to send a delegation to Iraq to investigate Iraq's alleged production of weapons of mass destruction, Reuters reported on 5 August. Hammadi suggested Congress send a delegation "comprising whatever number of congressmen you see fit, accompanied by experts in the fields you deem relevant to the purpose of the visit, i.e. chemical, biological, and nuclear." The invitation promised access to "every facility needed to search and inspect any plants and installations allegedly producing, or intended to produce, chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons." In an apparent response to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's recent assertion that Iraq has hidden its facilities deep underground, Hammadi said the mission was free to inspect any site "however deep underground such facilities may be thought to exist." The invitation was issued in a letter delivered to the Polish ambassador in Baghdad. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BAGHDAD DELAYS OIL-FOR-FOOD DISTRIBUTION. Sources in Irbil say that hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment procured for Iraqi Kurdistan under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 986 (the so-called "oil-for-food" program) remain in UN warehouses. For several months the UN has refused to release machinery such as steam shovels, dump trucks, and bulldozers purchased for several million dollars by Iraqi Kurdish authorities because of a licensing dispute with the government of Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn in Baghdad. The Iraqi government refuses to send "inspectors" to check vehicles and issue license plates. Under terms of the 20 May 1996 memorandum of understanding, the UN administers the oil-for-food program on behalf of the Iraqi government, even in portions of Iraq not under control of Saddam Husseyn's government, and that it cannot or will not distribute medicine or equipment to the Kurds in northern Iraq if Baghdad raises objections.
According to a 28 March 2001 United Press International report, many Kurdish officials say privately that nationals from Iraq's Arab allies working for the UN often seek to obstruct reconstruction projects in northern Iraq. The summer and fall marks the high season for construction projects. According to Kurdish authorities, the UN is not being forceful in resolving the problem, in effect allowing Saddam Husseyn to freeze reconstruction by filibuster. Some UN agencies are experiencing similar problems themselves. The UN housing agency Habitat had equipment distribution delayed eight months. While resolved, Habitat now has more machinery impounded. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization reportedly has 32 tractors (valued between $30,000-40,000 each) unused in their warehouse since 28 February 2001, impounded because of a dispute as to how they will be distributed. (Michael Rubin)
UN OIL-FOR-FOOD ACCOUNTING QUESTIONED. According to sources in Irbil and New York, there is a growing dispute between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the UN's Office of Iraq Program (OIP) with regard to interest earned on the 13 percent share of Iraqi oil revenues slated for Iraqi Kurdistan under terms of Resolution 986. While the UN has informed Kurdish authorities that interest earned on unspent money has been paid to an escrow account, the OIP has yet to provide figures despite numerous requests from Iraqi Kurdish authorities. There is concern among Kurdish authorities that, after money has been allocated to various UN agencies for application in Iraqi Kurdistan, these agencies have in effect pocketed interest earned during the slow processing of contracts. The money in question, even calculated at low interest rates, would now total in the tens of millions of dollars. (Michael Rubin)