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Iraq Report: December 9, 2002

9 December 2002, Volume 5, Number 40

IRAQI OFFICIAL ADMITS TRYING TO PURCHASE ALUMINUM TUBES FOR ROCKETS. Iraqi officials told UN weapons inspectors they tried to buy aluminum tubing to use in conventional rockets, according to MENA of 2 December. The report adds that, according to a "high-ranking official close to the UN inspectors," they were unsuccessful in this purchase attempt and also denied that this type of tubing could be used in a nuclear-weapons program. Another MENA report bearing the same date said that Iraq had tried to procure such tubing "about half-a-dozen times" but their efforts met with no success.

According to MENA, Ken Pollack, a former CIA analyst, told CNN that "they're saying that they violated the sanctions which is a much lesser offense than if they had been trying to build nuclear weapons or long-range missiles." (David Nissman)

EGYPTIAN SOLIDARITY DELEGATION IN IRAQ. MENA on 2 December reported that an Egyptian private plane carrying 149 passengers went to Baghdad as a show of solidarity with the Iraqi people. The delegation includes representatives from Al-Azhar University, Egyptian trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, and the media. By the same token, MENA also reported on 2 December that Abdul-Munim Ahmad Salih, the Iraqi minister of awkaf (pious endowments) and religious affairs, expressed his country's appreciation for Egypt's stance.

Salih, on 2 December received two shaykhs from the Egyptian Ministry of Awkaf currently in Baghdad to revive the nights of the month of Ramadan.

The Egyptian shaykhs said Al-Azhar and the Egyptian people "are supporting Iraq in its calls to lift the siege and stop the aggression." (David Nissman)

TURKS PLAN MILITARY MOVE INTO NORTHERN IRAQ. According to "The New York Times" of 22 November, the Turkish Army plans to send troops up to 100 kilometers inside northern Iraq to prevent an influx of refugees inside their border in the event that there will be a war with Iraq. It is feared, they say, that Iraq will attack the Kurds in northern Iraq with poison gas and other chemical weapons.

The last time such a threat occurred Turkey was already embroiled in a Kurdish crisis of its own, and then more than a million Iraqi Kurds poured into Turkey with devastating financial consequences for the country. That migration of 1991, of a vast population attempting to flee across the Turkish borders, was trying to escape Saddam's vengeance.

There are some who might say that there are Turkish motives afoot other than preventing a flood of refugees; it could be, for example, an attempt to grab the oil resources of Kirkuk and Mosul (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 November 2002).

In the meantime, some 5,000 people in Istanbul protested a possible U.S. military operation on Iraq, according to Istanbul's NTV on 1 December. Two of the stimuli for this rally may have been a column by Ece Temelkuran in the centrist Istanbul newspaper "Milliyet" of 29 November claiming that Turkey had been rewarded for its support in Afghanistan with some $300 million in construction tenders, and another column in the Istanbul "Radikal" stressing that "countries like a heavy price" for these wars; both columns told their readers to attend the rally.

In the meantime, the "Middle East Newsline" of 2 December reported that Turkey is preparing to conduct a nationwide exercise to prepare for a U.S.-led war against Iraq. The exercise is called the National Crisis Management Maneuvers and will take place in December. No exact date was given. (David Nissman)

KURDS, TURKMENS, ASSYRIANS PREPARE FOR DECEMBER OPPOSITION CONFERENCE. Several Kurdish parties are to attend the opposition conference in London on 13-15 December, AFP reported on 1 December. The Kurdish delegates will depart via Iran on 8 December with the intention of attending as a joint team with a "common discourse," said Abdul Khalek Zangana of the Popular Movement in Kurdistan. There will be a total of eight Kurdish parties attending the conference along with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Five parties representing the Turkmen will also take part in the conference, according to Dilshad Chawishly of the Turkmen Democratic Party. He did not know if the Turkmen participants would include the Turkmen Front which has repeatedly warned the Kurds against any move toward independence.

Assyrians will also send nine delegates to the conference. They will represent three Assyrian parties operating in Iraqi Kurdistan and four operating out of the United States. (David Nissman)

KUWAIT TO SEND OBSERVERS TO LONDON OPPOSITIONIST CONFERENCE. Jalal Talabani, secretary-general of the PUK, said that Kuwait had agreed to send a group of "observers" to the conference of the Iraqi opposition scheduled for 13-15 December. Following a meeting with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Al-Sabah said "we are discussing and consulting about the situation in Iraq now and in the future, because one is entitled to know how his neighbor is doing," AFP reported on 3 December.

On his meeting with Talabani, Shaykh al-Sabah added that "our meetings with Iraqi opposition parties are not limited to the chairman [of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI] but will continue with our Iraqi brothers." Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the chairman of SCIRI, was recently in Kuwait on a visit.

In Cairo, the spokesman of the chairman of the Arab League, Amr Musa, noted that he had spoken with the Cairo representative of the KDP. At this meeting, Musa was assured that "Iraqi Kurds would not be used as a means of pressure by the United States in the current Iraqi crisis." (David Nissman)

SCIRI CLAIMS THOUSANDS OF POLITICAL PRISONERS STILL LANGUISH IN IRAQ PRISONS. Iraqi opposition sources claimed on 1 December that the "Iraqi security authorities were still holding thousands of political prisoners, despite the amnesty declared recently by Iraqi authorities," reported KUNA the same day. SCIRI felt that the Iraqi initiative had "backfired on the Iraqi regime, as it became widely known that the regime has executed big numbers of political prisoners." This became manifest when thousands of Iraqi families went to Iraqi security departments to inquire about the fate of imprisoned relatives who did not show up after the amnesty initiative freed thousands of prisoners.

In a not-unrelated interview with "Al-Hayat" on 1 December, SCIRI Chairman al-Hakim also claimed that "there are documents that prove Iraq's possession of chemical weapons." He refused to hand over the documents to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan because he said that UN agencies are biased toward the Iraqi regime and also claimed that "some inspectors receive money" from Baghdad.

He also claimed that the Badr Corps, SCIRI's military wing, would take part in any war on Iraq despite the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's decision banning them from participation in the war.

Al-Hakim said that he has not yet received any American plan for staging an invasion or forming a new government. He also maintained that there is no "Shiite fatwa banning dealing with the Americans." He noted that SCIRI would soon open an office in the United States to "follow up on the situation of Iraqis and the policies that concern them." (David Nissman)

BARZANI, TALABANI EXPRESS RESERVATIONS ABOUT U.S. INVASION OF IRAQ. Robin Wright, chief diplomatic correspondent of the "Los Angeles Times," interviewed both KDP leader Masud Barzani and PUK Secretary-General Jalal Talabani on their views of a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq. The interviews appeared on 24 November in the "Los Angeles Times" and in the "Kurdistan Observer" of 25 November. Both Kurdish leaders expressed reservations about the American invasion.

Barzani said explicitly that "we want a democratic, federal Iraq" but expressed doubts that his Kurdish militia would play a serious role in this potential invasion because "there are differences in systems of command, training, and ways of fighting." He also pointed out that there are differences between this region and Afghanistan's Northern Alliance. He noted that the problem is what happens the day after Saddam Hussein is toppled.

What Barzani wants is that Iraq establish a federal parliament and that the United States would not allow any interference in the affairs of the country and above all, any interference in the Kurdish region. As it now stands, he claims, is that there is a lack of transparency and details on the future.

One of the problems is the fate of Kirkuk. "Some Turkish politicians even warn of military intervention if the Kurds take control of Kirkuk." Kirkuk would become the capital of Kurdistan under the proposed Kurdish Constitution (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 September 2002). Barzani asks: "Is there room for compromise on Kirkuk?"

Talabani also said he would be glad "not to see a U.S. invasion of Iraq," and thought that it would be safe to rely on internal opposition forces to topple Saddam Hussein. Agreeing that the U.S. would play a dominant role in the immediate future of Iraq, he wishes that the U.S. would base any future plan for Iraq on "democracy, federalism, and a multiparty state."

As for Kirkuk, he pointed out that President Bill Clinton had written a letter to the U.S. Congress in which he described Kirkuk as a Kurdish city, although Talabani points out that it is really multiethnic.

He also touched on the Ansar al-Islam, which he said was "the main base for those who left Afghanistan." He claimed that "we are trying to contain them with our Iranian brothers." (David Nissman)

KURDISH LEADERS CONTINUE LOBBYING FOR FEDERALISM IN IRAQ. In an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 30 November, KDP head Barzani was asked how he would deal with Saddam Hussein if he is able to remain in power. He said that the Kurdish conditions for such an event would be a call for a federal state in Iraq.

Should Hussein approve federalism, he pointed out that there is a "Kurdish parliament that represents the Kurdish people's will." He added that the issue would not be decided by him alone, and that he would adhere to the parliament's decision.

He also touched on the issue of Kirkuk. He said, "Kirkuk is an Iraqi city of Kurdish identity and it is geographically located in the land of Kurdistan." He added: "Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians, and Kurds can live there. It should be the city of national co-existence but with a Kurdish identity."

He expressed some fears about the ambiguity of U.S. plans for the future of Iraq should Saddam Hussein's regime be toppled. He asked for assurances that the next Iraqi regime would be democratic, parliamentary, pluralistic, and federal.

Barzani and PUK leader Jalal Talabani also met with Javier Solana in Brussels and asked for greater European involvement in the Iraqi and Kurdish case, according to the Brussels newspaper "Le Soir" of 30 November. The two leaders, however, said that they feared the initial consequences of an American assault on Saddam Hussein "because we are on the front line, and we fear we would pay the price for a preemptive attack...." (David Nissman)

IRAQI SHIITE OPPOSITION FIGURE CRITICIZES ABSENCE OF INDEPENDENTS FROM LONDON OPPOSITION CONFERENCE. Muhammad Bahr-al-Ulum, an Iraqi Shiite opposition figure, criticized the holding of a large Iraqi opposition conference in London on 13-15 December, according to the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq al-Awsat'" of 30 November. The statement of the preparatory committee for the conference said that they had, in fact, approached all Iraqi parties and political forces to invite them to the conference. More than 300 oppositionists will take part in the conference. Yet, at least one thinks that this will not be the real case.

Bahr-al-Ulum noted in a cautionary memorandum sent to the preparatory committee: "The limiting of political action to party representatives while ignoring independent politicians renders such an action incomplete." He added, "I hope that you will avoid any move which will undermine the credibility of our political process." (David Nissman)

ANSAR AL-ISLAM IN THREAT OF BREAKUP? A report in the Al-Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Al-Ittihad" of 22 November claims that serious differences have arisen among supporters of the group. According to an unidentified Kurdish security source, the differences surfaced after a number of members had joined the Kurdish Islamic Group and others.

The source also confirmed that there was pressure from Iran to leave the area. They noted that the Ansar was engaged in creating a buffer zone of several kilometers by planting mines in order to help them withstand an attack by Iranian forces.

Ansar elements have also forbidden visits by citizens after 4:30 p.m. because mines planted have blown up and killed innocent civilians. Such an explosion occurred on 17 November and severely injured an Iranian citizen.

Testifying to the concerns among members of the Ansar al-Islam, another report from "Al-Ittihad" of 22 November noted that there were pressures, particularly from Iran, to leave the Biyara area and that, as a result, mines were being planted near Biyara and essentially in the Hawraman district to keep a buffer zone between it and any possible strike by Iranian forces.

In a related story, "Al-Ittihad" on 29 November reported that two members of Ansar were killed and three injured during an attack on PUK peshmerga (militia). Also, the Ansar forces began shelling the peshmerga trenches near the mountain ranges of Bardashan and the Shinrawi. In addition to the attacks on the PUK's peshmerga, there is also believed to be serious infighting in the ranks of the Ansar al-Islam. (David Nissman)

TURKS SUFFER 11 DEAD IN NORTHERN IRAQ. According to the Mesopotamian News Agency (MNA) -- an agency loosely connected with the former PKK, now called Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan (KADEK) -- 11 Turkish troops were killed in a clash against KADEK troops in the Habur region of Iraqi Kurdistan, according to "Ozgur Politika" of 23 November.

Turkey launched an operation against regions in the Habur area where the former PKK guerrillas are positioned. According to the MNA, no guerrillas were killed in the operation. Among the Turkish killed were four members of Turkish intelligence. The press bureau of the guerrillas said that they were only exercising their legitimate defense rights. (David Nissman)

PUK POLITICAL BUREAU DISCUSSES PEACE PROCESS IN KURDISTAN. The political bureau of the PUK held a regular meeting to discuss PUK preparations to take part in the plenary conference of the Iraqi opposition in London in December, according to a report in the PUK newspaper "Kurdistani Nuwe" of 28 November. While confirming their participation in the conference, they stressed the need for the Kurds to have a united voice and position.

They also discussed the peace process in Kurdistan, and stressed the need to "implement the steps that are required to normalize the situation in the Kurdistan region." (David Nissman)

ASSYRIAN POLITICAL LEADER REVIEWS ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN NORTH. "Zinda" on 18 November interviewed Yonadam Kanno (a.k.a. Yacoup Yosip), secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM), when he was in the United States on a tour. He was asked by "Zinda" how successful is Assyrian educational reform in northern Iraq. He said there are now 42 schools in northern Iraq serving from first grade through high school. He expressed hope that through a fundraiser in San Francisco, the ADM will be able to build a university dormitory in Irbil.

He also expressed his dissatisfaction with the draft Kurdish Constitution that "does not recognize us as a nation and treats us unfairly." Concerning the opposition meetings at which the Assyrians are allowed a 3 percent representation, he complained that they have requested a 6 percent minimum.

Kanno was also asked about "Zinda" reporting from northern Iraq, which he claimed often had twisted and inaccurate information from the area. He said the reports are so because they have often relied on "Arabic or Kurdish sources." (David Nissman)


By Kathleen Ridolfo

The second meeting of the Economic and Infrastructure Working Group on Iraq took place in Washington, D.C., on 2-3 December. The U.S. State Department sponsored the meeting, which was attended by 16 "free Iraqis." Tom Warrick, the special adviser to the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs facilitated the meeting. The working group was comprised of Iraqis from inside Iraq and the diaspora.

Following the meeting, four members of the working group gave a briefing on the two-day meeting. The first was Nasreen Sideek, an architect by profession, and the current minister for reconstruction and development in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil. Another was Ahmed al-Haydari, a telecommunications engineer by profession and director of strategic alliances for a telecommunications company living in Ottawa. He defected from Iraq in 1980 and is a member of Iraqi Forum for Democracy, an apolitical group advocating democracy in Iraq. The third was Rubar Sandi, chairman and CEO of Corporate Bank Business Group, an international finance and investment company focused on developing countries based in Washington, D.C. He left Iraq in 1975 following the Kurdish uprising the year before. The fourth was Hasan al-Khatib, who left Iraq in 1976 to attend graduate school in the U.S. Al-Khatib was a professor of computer engineering for 17 years in the U.S. and is now a U.S. citizen. He is chairman and chief technology officer of IP Dynamics, a high-tech start-up company in Silicon Valley. His background is computer networking and computer engineering. The participants noted that the technical working group included people from inside and outside Iraq, including Iraqis from the U.K. and Canada, from all ethnic and religious groups -- Sunni, Shia, Christians, Assyrians, and Kurds.

The four members of the working group addressed the achievements of their meeting in terms of developing a reconstruction plan for post-Saddam Iraq. They noted that the working group split into subcommittees following their previous meeting on 21 October. The subcommittees then put forth recommendations, which will be made available to a transition government in Iraq.

Al-Khatib noted that they devised a three-stage plan to rebuild the Iraqi infrastructure. The first stage would cover the first six months following the liberation of Iraq, and focus on essential services, including an emergency infrastructure to distribute food, and establish communication as well as a sense of peace and security. The second stage would last two years and aim to restore the level of services to meet the basic needs of the people. The third stage would focus on aligning Iraq's infrastructure with nations with a GDP similar to Iraq. Rubar Sandi noted that the most important element would be to restore a feeling of safety and security to the population.

The two-day meeting also addressed ways in which Iraq could convert the military-industrial complex to civilian use, the development of new currency, and the reform of the banking system. One achievement noted was the establishment of the Iraq Development and Reconstruction Council. The council consists of subcommittees to address issues such as food distribution, telecommunications, health, banking, and the oil-for-food program. The participants noted that they reached a consensus that the oil-for-food program should remain in place for at least the first six months after liberation, since the country relies on it for funding public services at the present time. "Our vision is for the council to fill the administrative vacuum that will be created on the day after [liberation]. It will be composed of experts with a vision of developing the long-term plan for the country," Sideek said. "The formulation of such a group provides a consistent set of technical initiatives and projects that [seek] to bring Iraq into the modern world," al-Khatib added.

Asked whether the group will recommend that a new Iraqi government honor existing contracts made by Saddam Hussein's regime, Al-Khatib said: "We don't think Iraq should deviate from its commitments and from its obligations, but any agreement is subject to renegotiation if it is in the interests of the Iraqi people. If they were agreements that were done under duress or under the interests of those other parties to profit at the expense of the Iraqi people, then they need to be renegotiated."

Likewise on the issue of Iraq's outstanding international debts, the participants were asked if a new Iraqi government would seek debt forgiveness from the international community. Sandi said that the participants agreed that Iraq's debts are of two types: civilian debts -- for food, textiles etc. -- and military debts. He said that participants felt strongly that a new Iraqi government should honor civilian debts. But, military debts should be renegotiated because they were incurred by a government that was not representative of the population. He added, "We recommend that all debt be frozen right now, and all claims be frozen for the time being until the new government has time to breathe and time to reschedule these debts." The participants would also recommend that all frozen Iraqi assets be released to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq.

Al-Khatib said he believed that the U.S. government was doing the Iraqi people a great favor by facilitating discussions among Iraqis on reconstruction. He said: "I hope it will go a long way in reconciling the differences between the West and the Middle East and [in] establishing a first step that is a positive step where America is contributing to the welfare of the people there. This effort to liberate Iraq goes a long way to show that America has a new agenda, a new interest, and [to] make Iraq an example for the rest of the Middle East to mimic." On the question of whether Iraq is ready for democracy, Sideek added: "People were ready yesterday...[they] are desperate for freedom but they cannot do it for themselves. It cannot happen from within. We need a positive intervention that can generate positive development. People want to be freed, want to be liberated."

The Economic and Infrastructure Working Group will submit working papers and recommendations to the political meeting of Iraqi opposition parties, scheduled to take place in London on 13-15 December.