16 August 2002, Volume
CAMPS FOR 'SADDAM'S CUBS' TRAIN YOUNG IRAQI FIGHTERS.
Thousands of Iraqi teenagers are attending training camps this summer to prepare to defend Iraq, according to a 12 August report by the Associated Press. "Firing pistols and AK-47s while studying Islam and history, 1,800 boys aged between 13 and 16 are getting three weeks of training at 'Saddam's Cubs Training Camp' in a southern Baghdad suburb, one of about 30 such camps scattered across the country," AP reported. The Iraqi government established "Saddam's Cubs" camps in 1996. Similar training camps have long been employed by other Middle Eastern regimes, such as Libya. The camps typically mix weapons training and physical education with a healthy dose of socialization in an effort to elicit loyalty to the regime. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SADDAM WARNS U.S. IN ANNIVERSARY SPEECH.
Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn delivered his annual speech on the 8 August anniversary of the Day of Great Victory commemorating the end of the Iran-Iraq war. In his usual rhetorical style he said, "The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs, to die in disgraceful failure, taking their schemes back with them, or to dig their own graves, after they bring death to themselves on every Arab or Muslim soil against which they perpetrate aggression, including the Iraq, the land of Jihad and the banner." Addressing Iraq's current predicament he said: "This is the inevitable outcome awaiting all those who try to aggress against Arabs and Muslims.... But if they wanted peace and security for themselves and their people, then this is not the course to take. The right course is of respect to the security and rights of others, through dealing with others in peace and establishing the obligations required by way of equitable dialogue and on the basis of international law and international covenants."
Husseyn added: "The right way is that the [UN] Security Council should reply to the questions raised by Iraq, and should honor its obligations under its own resolutions. There is no other choice for those who use threat and aggression but to be repelled even if they were to bring harm to their targets." The text of the speech can be found on the Iraqi News Agency (INA) website at http://www.uruklink.net/iraqnews/enews1.htm
The next day, the daily "Al-Iraq" warned that "the Iraqi people, who support their leader [Saddam Husseyn], will make Iraq the graveyard of U.S. attackers and leave their bodies to be devoured by wild animals." "Al-Iraq" noted that the Iraqi people have their fingers on the trigger and they will not disarm. "We swear that the [U.S.] administration of evil will be defeated and will be confounded and dishonored for eternity." The daily added, "[U.S. President George W.] Bush will know another military defeat." And "Al-Thawra," the official Ba'th Party newspaper in Baghdad, encouraged the UN to "take a courageous and sincere initiative to settle its differences [with Baghdad] by cutting the ground from under Washington and its bellicose intentions." (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI PARLIAMENT WAITS FOR CONGRESSIONAL RSVP.
Iraqi parliament speaker Saadoun Hammadi said the Iraqi parliament is still waiting for a response from the U.S. Congress on its 5 August invitation (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 August 2002) to inspect suspected weapons sites in Iraq, INA reported on 10 August. Hammadi invited U.S. lawmakers and experts of their choice to visit Iraq for three weeks to search suspected weapons sites. In a response to reports that the White House refused the invitation he said: "The assembly extended the invitation to the U.S. Congress, in its capacity as a legislative body, and not to the U.S. administration. We are still waiting for the response. What was issued by the White House does not concern us, given that the letter was not sent to it." In a related development, Iraq TV reported on 11 August that Hammadi sent letters to the speakers of the parliaments of the EU states as well as China and Russia, with copies of the invitation to Congress. (Kathleen Ridolfo)BAGHDAD DENIES BIO-WAR ALLEGATIONS...
Former UN arms inspector Gabriele Kraatz-Wadsack said that Iraq's top industrial priority is the production of biological weapons. Her assessment, outlined in the 12 August issue of the German "Focus" news magazine, stresses that only expert inspectors could determine whether harmless-looking factories were in fact secret labs for arms production. She told "Focus," "The country continues to possess the knowledge, the facilities, and the capabilities for production of biological weapons of mass destruction." Wadsack added that Iraq's biological-weapons program is the country's most secret and top priority logistical industrial arms program.
U.S. intelligence analysts suspect that Saddam Husseyn may be moving materials or equipment out of a biological-weapons facility in anticipation of a U.S. attack, according to a 14 August report by AP. The Taji facility, located 10 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, was identified by UN weapons inspectors as a production site for botulinum toxin, which causes botulism. Iraq admitted to the UN that it had produced 400 liters of botulinum toxin at the facility. The facility also houses a missile-production plant, where inspectors found 6,000 empty canisters designed to hold chemical weapons. The weapons would then be attached to 122mm rockets.
"The Washington Times" reported on 14 August that unnamed U.S. officials said spy satellites spotted trucks moving materials and equipment out of the facility. The Taji facility has been targeted several times by U.S. air strikes. It is believed that the facility was rebuilt after the last bombing in 1998.
Iraq denies that it has reopened a laboratory in Al-Durah in order to produce biological weapons. Husam Mohammed Amin, director-general of the Iraqi National Monitoring Department, which handles relations with UN weapons inspectors, told reporters at the Foot-and-Mouth Center in Al-Durah that the center, which was closed by UN weapons inspectors in 1996, had specialized in veterinary vaccines, Iraq TV reported on 11 August. The facility had aroused suspicion by the West following charges by Iraqi defector Adnan al-Haydari that the Iraqi government is using the facility to produce biological weapons. Foreign journalists toured the facility and the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported on 12 August: "Journalists were shown empty shops at the plant, and dark, dusty premises with no light. Electric cables and various pipes along the walls had been cut through. Remnants of structures and equipment were piled on the floor." (Kathleen Ridolfo)...AND SAYS INSPECTORS UNNECESSARY.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Sa'id al-Sahhaf told Al-Jazeera satellite television on 12 August that there is no need for UN weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad declaring, "Inspections have finished in Iraq." He said: "Work within the UN framework with respect to Section C of the Resolution 687, or the issue of the so-called banned weapons in Iraq has been completed. They say that it was not completed and claim that there is still work to complete. One can reply to this and confirm that the work has been completed. There are available verification methods and means to ascertain this and they know about them."
The UN declined to comment on the Iraqi minister's remarks. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the UN is still waiting for a reply to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's letter to the Iraqi government last week. Annan sent a letter to Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on 6 August in response to Iraq's invitation to UN arms inspector Hans Blix to visit Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 August 2002) for talks on the resumption of weapons inspections. In the letter, Annan stressed that Iraq must accept the UN Security Council's terms for disarmament and weapons inspections outlined in Resolution 1284 (see http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/Keyresolutions/sres99-1284.htm).
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker responded to the minister's comments by saying: "As we've said many times before, the issue is not inspections per se, but verified disarmament. Iraq needs to disarm. It's what Saddam Husseyn and his regime agreed to do at the end of the Gulf War. Those agreements were codified in UN Security Council resolutions. We need to make sure that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction or long-range ballistic missiles. That's what's required by the UN Security Council resolutions and that's what we expect to see done." Reeker said that the Iraqis continue to look for ways to move the goalposts, rather than oblige with UN demands. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI REPORT ON U.S. AND BRITISH SORTIES.
On 12 August, in a statement to INA, an Iraqi spokesman for the Air Defense Command reported that on 11 August: "The evil U.S. and British ravens taking off from the land of Kuwait violated our airspace. They conducted 30 combat air sorties. They flew over the areas of Basra, Artawi, Al-Busayyah, Al-Julaybah, Al-Jabayish, Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Samawah, Al-Lasaf, Subaykah, Al-Salman, and Al-Nukhayb. Then they left our airspace for their bases in Kuwait." The spokesman also reported that on 12 August, U.S. and British planes conducted sorties with the assistance of an AWACS plane flying in Turkish airspace over the areas of Zakho, Jawf, Al-Amadiyah, Daybu, Aqrah, Ayn Zalah, Arbil, Tall Afar, Rawandoz, and Musul. Republic of Iraq Radio reported, "The number of the combat air sorties conducted by the ravens taking off from military bases in Turkey since the Day of Conquest, 17 December 1998, to date totals 9,148. The overall number of the combat air sorties conducted by the ravens taking off from military bases in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the land of Kuwait totals 41,280." (Kathleen Ridolfo)JORDAN COULD IMPORT SAUDI OIL, ASSIST REFUGEES.
Jordan's King Abdullah II met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Saud in Jeddah on 12 August, following meetings by their foreign ministers, to discuss developments in the region including Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In another development, "Al-Hayat" reported on 10 August that Jordan was preparing to import oil from Saudi Arabia by tankers in anticipation of a U.S. strike on Iraq. But an unnamed high-ranking Jordanian official said that no such plans were under way. In an interview on 11 August with the Jordanian daily "Al-Dustur," the official said that the Ministry of Energy had not discussed any precautionary measures to import oil from Saudi Arabia. "Al-Dustur" also reported that Jordan would not make use of the Tapline pipeline, as it is "technically unfit to transport oil from Saudi Arabia." Official Jordanian sources told "Al-Hayat" that the cost of repairing the pipeline, which closed after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, was estimated at $250 million.
Jordanian sources also refuted an "Al-Hayat" report that Jordan is preparing to receive an influx of Iraqi refugees, according to "Al-Dustur." On 10 August, "Al-Hayat" reported that Jordan was coordinating with the UN to deal with the possible arrival of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to the border areas to escape from the war. "UN sources say the plan includes preparations for sheltering 1.5 million Iraqis 'in the worst case' though they said it is unlikely that the number of Iraqis fleeing from the war would reach this level. The sources said 'temporary villages' would likely be erected for refugees on the Iraqi side of the border because the Jordanian government refuses to shelter them inside its territories."
"Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" and Agence France Presse (AFP) reported similar stories. An 11 August AFP report cited another unnamed Jordanian official, who stated, "We are waiting for a green light from the United Nations to get Iraqi oil by sea in order to build our reserves." Iraq is Jordan's only source of oil and oil derivatives, which amounted to 5.5 million tons in 2001. (Kathleen Ridolfo)JORDAN WOULD NOT BE U.S. 'LAUNCHPAD.'
Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher insisted that Jordan would not be used as a launchpad for a U.S. strike on Iraq. Speaking to the Kuwaiti daily "Al-Rai Al-Aam" on 10 August, Muasher noted: "No one has asked us to use our territory. We cannot accept such requests anyway." Speaking as to the possibility of a U.S.-led strike, he said, "It's clear that if Iraq doesn't implement UN Security Council resolutions the strike will definitely take place, 100 percent." The foreign minister stressed that it was not too late for Iraq to avoid a confrontation with the U.S. "If Iraq implements UN resolutions, there will be at least a chance, even a very slim one, to avoid the strike," he said. Muasher stated that Jordan was against military strikes in Iraq adding: "The region has its own problems, including the global crisis on the Palestinian territory. We cannot survive two fires in one place and at the same time."
Two days later, Al-Jazeera satellite TV reported that up to 4,000 U.S. troops had arrived at the Jordanian port of Aqaba for a three-week joint military exercise. A U.S. Embassy spokesman told AFP that Jordanian and U.S. troops began "routine, annual exercises code-named Infinite Moonlight following the same pattern of past" war games between the U.S. and Jordan. An unnamed Jordanian official said that the exercises were unrelated to a possible U.S. strike on Iraq and had been planned for over a year. (Kathleen Ridolfo)BAHRAINI PRIME MINISTER FEARS INSTABILITY IF U.S. ATTACKS IRAQ.
Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifah bin-Salman al-Khalifah said that the stability of the region would be jeopardized if the U.S. launches a military strike against Iraq, according to a report on the "Gulf Daily News" website on 10 August. He said, "If Iraq possesses arms of mass destruction, as some say, then any attempt to destroy such weapons will have a major impact on our nations -- not on the Iraqi people alone." The prime minister stressed that differences should be resolved in a peaceful manner and in accordance with international law. He added: "We are capable of managing and organizing our own affairs but the region must be free to live in security and stability without interference and acts of destabilization.... Bahrain suffered a lot from the war in Kuwait in 1990 -- our economy suffered great losses and our people suffered as well." (Kathleen Ridolfo)KUWAIT READY FOR 'ANY EVENTUALITY.'
Officials in Kuwait appear ready for any military activities in the region, but Kuwaiti political figures express a range of views.
Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheikh Jabir al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah told reporters on 9 August that Kuwait was ready to face any eventuality in the region, the official Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported. The minister spoke to reporters at the Kuwait International Airport upon returning from a tour, which took him to South Africa, Britain, and Egypt. The minister said that Kuwait has not upgraded its level of readiness, noting that "the situation is normal." KUNA reported: "Sheikh Jabir al-Mubarak affirmed the stance on the state of Kuwait towards Iraq concerning the necessity of Baghdad's implementation of United Nations resolutions related to its 1990 aggression on the state of Kuwait. The defense minister called for taking different stances towards the Iraqi people and practices of the Iraqi government."
Isa al-Shahin, secretary-general of the Islamic Constitutional Movement, expressed support for the removal of Saddam Husseyn from power but questioned whether the U.S. was seeking to support its own agenda or Israel's objectives in the region. In a report by London-based "Al-Hayat" on 11 August, Al-Shahin said: "The statements in Washington and London reflect the atmosphere of a real war to remove Saddam Husseyn. However, the details are vague, and there are many intertwined elements behind the decision to wage war. We are afraid that the Israeli enemy and its influential establishments in the United States will succeed in planning the military action against the regime in a manner that achieves the Israeli enemy's regional objectives, and not what we and the Iraqi people themselves seek."
Al-Shahin added that in principle the Islamists should oppose aggression against Muslim countries. But, as Kuwaiti Islamists, who "bled under the occupation of its [Iraq's] forces for seven months," they cannot adopt an absolute position against Western military action. Al-Shahin said that he expects the Kuwaiti government to oblige any U.S. requests vis-a-vis Iraq, because Kuwait is bound by a 1991 agreement with the U.S.
Dr. Abd al-Razzaq al-Shayiji, spokesman for the Salafi Movement, said that the U.S. policy to overthrow Saddam's regime "is strange because his [Saddam's] stay in power serves Western influence in the region, puts enormous pressures on the Gulf countries, and justifies the heavy military presence of the allies," "Al-Hayat" reported. Al-Shayiji added that despite Kuwait's declared position against a military strike on Iraq, "the Kuwaiti government and people will not sympathize with the regime, if it is struck." Al-Shayiji also expressed fear that a strike on Iraq will lead to more regional turmoil, especially if Washington were to be influenced by Israel in the matter. (Kathleen Ridolfo)FADLALLAH PROHIBITS MUSLIMS FROM PARTICIPATING IN U.S. STRIKE.
Lebanese Shiite cleric Seyyed Muhammad Husseyn Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious decree, prohibiting Muslims from participating in any U.S.-led strike against Iraq, according to a 12 August dpa report. The fatwa stated, "It is prohibited to help America and its allies in striking the Iraqi people or controlling their economic capabilities, natural wealth, and politics." The cleric added, "God forbids helping the infidels against the Muslims, the oppressors against the oppressed." According to the report, Fadlallah urged Muslims to "deal with their issues by themselves in trying to end internal corruption and to lift injustice from all Islamic countries." (Kathleen Ridolfo)WOULD ISRAEL STRIKE BACK?
"The Sunday Times" of London, "The Jerusalem Post," and "Ha'aretz" on 11 August reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Washington that Israel would retaliate if attacked by Saddam Husseyn. "The Jerusalem Post" reported that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have begun to deploy the Arrow antiballistic-missile system near the town of Hadera, while IDF planners are formulating a set of military options to respond to Iraqi conventional and nonconventional warheads. Other preparations include providing smallpox vaccinations to the public, and preparing for an anthrax attack. "The Sunday Times" said that Jordanian military officials have acknowledged that Israeli Air Force radar experts are stationed at Jordan's H-5 air base near the Iraqi border. Meanwhile, Sharon's office denied that Israel was preparing for a retaliatory strike on Iraq, according to a 12 August Israel Radio report. Many Israeli officials believe that Israel made a mistake by not responding to past attacks by Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf War, 40 Iraqi Scud missiles landed in Israel. (Kathleen Ridolfo)POLL: BRITISH PUBLIC OPPOSES ATTACKING IRAQ.
The British electorate believes that Saddam Husseyn is a threat to world peace, but it would not support British participation in a U.S. military strike against Iraq, according to a poll released 12 August by London's "The Daily Telegraph." The poll, conducted by Internet pollster YouGov, found that 68 percent of respondents agreed that there is a danger that if the U.K. did back American military action against Iraq, Britain and the U.S. would find themselves dangerously isolated in the world. Seventy-four percent said that U.S. action would not bring greater stability to the region, and 90 percent of respondents said that U.S. action would lead to retaliation against the West by Islamic terrorists. When asked, "Do you think the U.S. under present circumstances would be justified in taking military action against Iraq," 58 percent said, "no, would not." Finally, 53 percent said they would be "less sympathetic" to the Blair government should the U.S. attack Iraq with British support. The poll can be viewed at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/graphics/2002/08/12/npoll12big.gif.
Former British Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson said that Prime Minister Tony Blair would not join a U.S. military assault on Iraq without the support of political and public opinion, according to a "The Times" report on 12 August. He said, "While the prime minister will not want to weaken in any sense on the stance he has taken, naturally he will not commit Britain to engaging in military action unless and until it is clear that that is the best option available and political and public opinion has been prepared to support it." Mandelson also accused Washington of sending "mixed messages" on Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)GERMAN POLITICIANS AND SOLDIERS DIFFER ON IRAQ.
German Defense Minister Peter Struck said that even if the UN Security Council issued a mandate to carry out a military operation against Iraq, Germany would not support it, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported on 12 August. He said: "Germany is a sovereign state and that is why any decisions will be adopted in the context of national interests. One cannot consider us the U.S. ward: joint efforts in the fight against international terrorism do not mean Berlin will take any measures to be worked out by Washington."
Struck's comments echoed those of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who told German ARD public television on 9 August: "I think that if there is military intervention, we should be cautious. That means that Germany will not take part." The defense minister added that Germany's commitments to peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans might last decades, preventing it from taking part in a new campaign in Iraq.
Meanwhile, China's Xinhua news agency reported on 12 August that Chancellor Schroeder called on the defense ministers of the NATO countries to address the issue of a possible military strike against Iraq in the organization's upcoming September meeting. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine" newspaper reported on 12 August that top German officers, diplomats and NATO officials said they would not take a preliminary decision on Iraq at the 23-25 September meeting. It appears that Schroeder, who is running for re-election, is courting the anti-Iraq vote. Some 80 percent of Germans are opposed to a military strike on Iraq. In another development, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who has been active in pushing for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warned that the international antiterror coalition could be weakened by an "overhasty decision" on Iraq.
Schroeder's decision to not participate in a U.S.-led strike against Iraq is being criticized by Colonel Bernhard Gertz, chairman of the independent German Military Federation, a lobbying group that represents the interests of armed forces members. Gertz told the newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" on 10 August that Schroeder's decision weakened the UN, saying, "He who from the beginning says 'no' weakens the United Nations." He added, "The forces and resources of the Bundeswehr [German Army] would certainly suffice to conduct an operation aimed at ensuring the return of UN disarmament inspectors or eliminating plants producing weapons of mass destruction." (Kathleen Ridolfo)RUSSIAN DEPUTY SPEAKER SAYS U.S. WON'T STRIKE IRAQ.
Vladimir Zhirinovskii, the State Duma's deputy speaker, said that it is unlikely that the U.S. will take military action against Iraq in the next few years, the Interfax news agency reported 13 August. At a Moscow news conference, Zhirinovskii said: "War in this region is simply impossible since it would result in global oil prices plunging to $6 or hiking to $60 per barrel. The first of these scenarios means the collapse of Russia, and the second of America." Zhirinovskii added that none of the U.S. allies, including Britain would support a U.S. strike.
Zhirinovskii's comments followed a 10 August agreement between UN Secretary-General Annan and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov "on the need to pursue the search for a political solution to the Iraqi problem in line with the UN Security Council's resolutions," AFP reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also called for a political settlement on Iraq following telephone consultations on 10 August, according to ITAR-TASS. (Kathleen Ridolfo)JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER ADVISED BY PREDECESSORS ON U.S.-IRAQ.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with five former Japanese prime ministers on 8 August to discuss Japan's role if the U.S. should decide to launch a military strike against Iraq. Koizumi was advised to play the role of "consultant" for Washington, to help prevent the U.S. from being isolated by the international community, Kyodo News Service reported.
Koizumi also was advised to make clear to President Bush what the limits of Japan's contribution to a strike on Iraq would be. The Japanese Diet approved the Antiterrorism Special Measures Law in October 2001 to cooperate and support activities for U.S. forces and others in the fight against terrorism. Support includes supply, transportation, repair and maintenance, medical services, communications, airport and seaport services, and base support. The law also allows for search-and-rescue and relief activities. However, the law, which expires in 2003, requires a UN resolution in order to be implemented.
Japan's role was previously limited under the 1992 International Peace Cooperation Law, which only allowed for Japanese forces to participate in UN peacekeeping activities, as well as international humanitarian relief operations and international election monitoring activities in postconflict areas. (Kathleen Ridolfo)TENSIONS WITH AUSTRALIA CONTINUE.
Baghdad is threatening to cancel all wheat imports from Australia in retaliation for Canberra's support of a possible U.S.-led strike against Iraq. Iraqi Charge d'affaires Saad Samarai said that contracts worth up to $430 million could be cut if Australia maintained its "hostile" position, AFP reported 10 August. Iraq cancelled an order in July for 500,000 tons of Australian wheat after Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer supported the U.S. position on Iraq. Samarai charged that the Australian government was even more hostile than the American government. He went on to note the good relations between Iraq and Australian farmers, saying, "the military phase of Australian policy is harming us." In July, Iraq complained to the UN following the detention of Iraqi boats by Australian soldiers in the Persian Gulf (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 August 2002). (Kathleen Ridolfo)INC MILITANTS WOUND QUSAY HUSSEYN.
The Iraqi National Congress (INC) said on 14 August that it wounded Qusay Husseyn in an ambush earlier this month. In a statement to "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," the INC said that its gunman shot at Qusay's motorcade in Baghdad on 1 August, wounding him in the arm. Qusay is the younger son of Saddam Husseyn and head of the elite Republican Guard in Iraq. The Iraqi government has not acknowledged the incident and the report remains unsubstantiated by outside sources. (Kathleen Ridolfo)TEHRAN-AFFILIATED OPPOSITION GROUPS SKEPTICAL ABOUT U.S.
The six main Iraqi opposition groups recently participated in U.S. government-hosted meetings in Washington. But the leader of one of those groups, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), as well as the leader of an opposition group that did not participate directly in the Washington talks, Al-Da'wah, have expressed their doubts about the U.S. role in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. These two groups -- one Kurdish and the other Shia -- have in common a warm relationship with the government of Iran, although Tehran is not necessarily behind their sentiments.
PUK leader Jalal Talabani denied reports that his organization offered its services to the U.S. government for a military operation against Iraq. In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite TV on 14 August, Talabani said: "Our forces are not ready to offer services to anyone, but if the U.S. forces come to Kurdistan to protect us, then they are welcome. However, playing the role of Trojan Horse, or helping foreign forces accomplish their own tasks, are not among our tasks or duties." Talabani reiterated the position of the PUK saying: "As part of the Iraqi opposition, the PUK's position is clear; namely, that the task of change is an Iraqi task that should be carried out by the Iraqi opposition forces for the sake of a comprehensive democratic change. However, these forces do not reject international aid, including U.S. aid, to accomplish this task."
A more outspoken statement came from Al-Da'wah political bureau leader Abu Bilal al-Adib, who said that his party would not cooperate in the U.S. effort to overthrow Saddam Husseyn. The Al-Da'wah group is an Iranian-supported Shi'ite group affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which did participate in the Washington meetings. It is best remembered for its attempt to assassinate Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in 1980. On 3 July, the group joined the Iraqi Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party-Iraq Command in forming a new group, the Iraqi National Forces Coalition. The coalition advocates the overthrow of Saddam's regime, but rejects foreign interference in this endeavor.
In a 14 August interview with Al-Jazeera, Al-Adib cited differences between his group's objectives and those of Washington. "The Iraqi opposition is striving to establish a democratic government based on mutual recognition among all political forces in Iraq, a peaceful transfer of power, and using ballot boxes to decide on all that can affect the future of Iraqis. The U.S. administration on the other hand, wants to facilitate a Zionist expansion in the region. Therefore, the change that is taking place in Iraq is part of the process of changing the Middle East map. What is happening in Palestine today is really an example of how the United States will behave in this region."
Al-Adib told Al-Jazeera that his group refused to coordinate with the U.S. "We cannot see this happening, because this would not be in the interest of the Iraqi people," he said. Al-Adib added that he believed the U.S. would not allow a role for Islamists in a post-Saddam Iraq. "This is also clear from U.S. statements. The Americans are emphasizing a non-Islamic approach." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI OPPOSITION SHOWS SOLIDARITY IN MEETINGS WITH U.S. OFFICIALS
By Kathleen Ridolfo
Members of the Iraqi opposition appeared to have set aside their differences in their meetings with U.S. officials on 8-9 August in Washington in an effort to present a united front to the U.S. administration and the international community. Representatives from six leading opposition groups attended the meetings, including Ahmed Chalabi of the INC; and Sharif Ali bin al-Husseyn of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement. Other participants included Iyad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord (INA); and two Kurdish leaders, Hoshyar Zebari representing Mas'ud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP); and Jalal Talabani of the PUK. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a Shiite group backed by Iran, also sent a representative, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the brother of the movement's leader.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith co-hosted the two-day gathering, which included the participation of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Vice President Richard Cheney spoke with the opposition representatives via videophone from his home in Wyoming.
The solidarity of the Iraqi opposition leaders was intended to allay U.S. concerns about their ability to forge a united front, should these groups play a future role in a post-Saddam Iraq. The opposition reflects the state of Iraq in that both are divided along ethnic and religious lines. A major U.S. concern with the opposition stems from a commitment to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq while ensuring the participation of diverse groups in a post-Saddam, democratic government.
The opposition leaders also sought to show that they are an inclusive group that will work side-by-side with military leaders and officials inside Iraq. PUK representative Talabani, speaking from Washington on 10 August noted: "The achievement of this comprehensive and fundamental democratic change is the responsibility of the Iraqi people, which makes it imperative that the Iraqi people must be supported and helped in the process of achieving this goal. It is also essential to support the legitimate struggle of the Iraqi opposition, which is waged in order to bring about a united, democratic, parliamentary and federal Iraq," KurdSat TV reported. Sharif Ali bin al-Husseyn, of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement and cousin to the Iraqi king who was murdered in the 1958 coup, noted the consensus among opposition members on the future shape of Iraq. He told U.S. NBC television on 11 August, "We want to represent all the diversity and the wonderful multiethnicity of Iraq and to ensure that everybody shares in the running of the country and shares in the establishment of a democratic, free Iraq."
The opposition also sought U.S. assurances that any strike on Iraq would include a commitment to regime change. Iraqis remember previous promises of U.S. aid, only to see the U.S. withdraw and leave Saddam in power (the 1975 Algiers Accord betrayed the Kurds and President George H. W. Bush in 1991 failed to honor his word regarding the Shi'a). At the same time, opposition leaders assured the administration that the Iraqi military is prepared to rise up against Saddam Husseyn and assist a U.S. overthrow. Sharif Ali bin al-Husseyn noted on 10 August: "There is nobody left in Iraq who believes in Saddam Husseyn. They only fear his apparatus of terror. With the help of the United States, that apparatus of terror can be dismantled," AFP reported. Al-Husseyn went on to tell CNN on 11 August: "We have a third of the country liberated, a quarter of the population, and we are confident that regime change will happen soon.... In Baghdad, we're already heightening our level of alertness inside the city because we expect that the main battlefield will be inside Baghdad. So our forces are preparing for an oncoming struggle with the regime."
Nevertheless, history shows that the Iraqi opposition is rife with fracture. The INC, headed by Chalabi, has served as an umbrella group for the opposition movement. Many U.S. officials, as well as Iraqi opposition leaders have become leery of the INC following rumors of mismanagement in recent years. In addition, Chalabi and Iyad Allawi of the INA have had a tense relationship over the years. The INA is made up of Iraqi exiles and former leaders of the Sunni-dominated military. The INA led the 1996 failed coup attempt against Saddam Husseyn and is thought to still have strong connections to the Iraqi military and Ba'th Party. Sharif Ali bin al-Husseyn's Constitutional Monarchy Movement seeks to re-establish democratic (and, it hopes, monarchial) rule in Iraq. The PUK and KDP have longstanding rivalries, but have worked together in recent years. They formed a provisional parliament at the beginning of August in an attempt to normalize the situation in northern Iraq and prepare for regional elections. The two Kurdish groups combined have approximately 80,000 militiamen. SCIRI is a Tehran-based Shiite group. Its military wing, the Badr Corps, is made up of former Iraqi officers, soldiers, refugees, and defectors. The group claims to have 10,000 armed men inside Iraq.
The six groups that attended the meeting in Washington do not fully represent the entire opposition movement. Rather, they constitute the groups who are members of the INC, which was promised $97 million under the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998. Representatives from the Iraqi Turkoman Front as well as Christian Assyrian groups were not invited to participate in the meetings this week. Also missing were representatives of the several generals in exile who aspire to replace Saddam Husseyn. Wider participation is expected, however, in an upcoming conference in Europe, tentatively scheduled for next month. The conference will devise a blueprint for the day-to-day running of a post-Saddam Iraq to ensure the democratic rule of law, and supply of goods and services such as water, electricity, telephones, medicine, and food.
In another development, the U.S. Department of Defense has taken over responsibility for managing the aforementioned funding to the opposition. The move came following the State Department's refusal to fund Chalabi's "intelligence-collecting program," which the INC says has produced three defectors from Iraq in the last 18 months. Analysts speculate that this could signal a possible change in the administration's reluctance to fund programs inside Iraq.