5 January 2001, Volume 4, Number 1
REPORT OF SADDAM HUSSEYN'S DEMISE. On 2 January, the German Press Agency (dpa) cited a report by a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) that Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke after reviewing a 31 December military parade in Baghdad. This report, which Iraqi officials vigorously denied, has sparked a series of other reports that Saddam is either near death or already dead and lead to speculation over what the political succession in Baghdad might look like and what the future of the country of Iraq might be. But as of this writing (4 January), none of these reports have been confirmed, nor have there been the kind of activities in Iraq -- military alerts, rapid movement of leaders around the country, unusual broadcasts -- that observers would expect in the event of his demise.
Since his alleged demise, Saddam has made a number of personal appearances. (David Nissman)
UDAY CALLS FOR MOVES TOWARD MULTIPARTY DEMOCRACY. Uday Saddam Husseyn, the son of Saddam Husseyn who was elected to parliament last month, has called for greater progress toward multiparty democracy in Iraq, according to the 4 January "Financial Times."
During his election campaign, Uday had presented himself as someone who could infuse new blood into Iraqi politics and help usher in a new generation of politicians untouched by the corruption and failings of the past. In his first parliamentary presentation, Uday accused that body of failing to be effective in its work.
Uday is also chairman of the Iraqi Journalists Union and his outlets, including the "Babil" newspaper and the "Shabab" television network, have been criticizing government inefficiency and corruption over the last several months. Given his father's supposed incapacity or even death, his remarks have attracted far more than the usual level of attention. (David Nissman)
IS IRAQ SOWING ETHNIC UNREST IN IRANIAN PROVINCE? The "Tehran Times" on 3 January said that efforts were being made to sow discord between Arabic-speaking and non-Arabic-speaking people in Khuzestan Province. The paper said that "there are enough evidences [sic] that Iraq imposed the war on Iran in order to separate Khuzestan Province from the Islamic Republic...The enemy failed in its nasty mission and the war veterans did all to keep national integration intact." The next day, the paper reported that the Iraq-supported Mojahedin Khalq had fired three shells on Eslamieh township in Ilam Province near the city of Mehran. (David Nissman)
IRAQI MINISTER SAYS BAGHDAD CAN 'DESTROY' ISRAEL. Iraq's defense minister, Lieutenant-General Sultan Hasim Ahmad, told Baghdad's "Al-Zawraa" in December that "Iraq can destroy Israel because it possesses a large combat experience in dealing with all possibilities," UPI reported. Ahmad added that Baghdad would not hesitate to defend any Arab country targeted by Israel even though there currently is no ongoing coordination between them and Iraq. In other comments, the minister said that Iraq is prepared for any future escalation by the United States and Great Britain, which patrol the southern and northern no-fly zones. He explained that "maybe the technology used by the United States is highly developed, but the field combat experience that the Iraqi forces have gained allows it to confront and even surpass American technology in the battlefield." (David Nissman)
MOSCOW CONTINUES TO URGE LIFTING SANCTIONS. Moscow's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Lavrov, told ITAR-TASS on 3 January that the Russian government believes that conditions inside Iraq could be radically improved by a lifting of sanctions. He said that the recent UN Security resolution prolonging the oil-for-food program was a step forward because it increased the number of products Iraq can purchase without the approval of the UN Security Council but with the blessing of the Secretariat staff. Lavrov suggested that "another important decision made is the disbursement of 600 million euros in the next six months for the restoration of the Iraqi oil infrastructure and compensation of production costs." (David Nissman)
GCC TO EXPLAIN POSITION ON IRAQ TO ARAB STATES. The 21st summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which took place in Manama, Bahrain, resolved to send a ministerial committee to tour Arab states to explain the position of Arab Gulf leaders on Iraq, KUNA reported on 31 December. A commentary in Amman's "Al-Ra'y" noted, however, that the Gulf countries have rejected Iraq's call for dialogue for the sake of achieving reconciliation.
In response, Baghdad rejected GCC calls for Iraq to demonstrate its peaceful intentions. The Ba'th Party newspaper "Al-Thawra" said on 1 January that "the position of the GCC is that of the Saudi leaders, which mirrors that of the United States," AFP reported. The paper added that the GCC itself is only "a primitive assembly that recalls tribal alliances from the days before Islam." (David Nissman)
IRAQ SEEKS TO EXPAND TRADE WITH IRAN. Iraqi Deputy Trade Minister Fakhri Rishan is in Iran to promote trade, IRNA reported on 2 January. He expressed the hope that his talks would be fruitful despite tensions between the two neighboring states. His visit is the latest effort at improving relations between Baghdad and Tehran. Two months ago, Iran's transport minister visited Iraq, and last month Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi came to Baghdad. (David Nissman)
IRAQ-TURKEY RAIL LINK TO OPEN. An Iraqi transportation official said that Iraq and Turkey have agreed to open a rail link between the two countries that would run through Syria before the end of January, Baghdad's "Nabdh Al-Shabab" reported on 1 January. The paper said that a project for a rail link between Iraq and Jordan is also being discussed. Meanwhile, Baghdad Radio reported on 2 January that the accord with Turkey also includes civilian aviation and telephone communications. If this plan is realized, Turkey would become the telephone bridge for Iraqis to the rest of the world. (David Nissman)
SYRIA SEEKS BROAD MILITARY, POLITICAL LINKS WITH IRAQ. Citing Arab diplomatic sources in Damascus, London's "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" on 29 December reported that a Syrian delegation led by Vice President Abd-Al-Halim Khaddam is working to promote military and political ties with Baghdad. This committee, which includes military and intelligence officials, was formed after a secret two-day visit to Iraq by Mahir Al-Asad, the brother of the current Syrian president. While there, he met with Qusay Saddam Husseyn, who supervises security issues and is in charge of the Republican Guard. (David Nissman)
IRAQ-INDIA WHEAT DEAL UNDERWAY -- BUT BIG FIRMS STAY AWAY. Six Indian companies have received letters of credit to deliver grain to Iraq at the price of $190 a ton, India's "Economic Times" reported on 4 January. But the paper said that the largest multinational traders are staying away from this deal because they believe the risks involved are too high. Iraq is buying the Indian wheat under the UN-controlled oil-for-food program. (David Nissman)
EGYPT AIR TO RESUME REGULAR FLIGHTS TO BAGHDAD. Egypt's national airline, Egypt Air, will resume regular flights to Iraq in January, UPI reported on 20 December. Initially there will be one flight a week between Cairo and Baghdad. There is no indication that these flights have been approved by the UN sanctions committee, but Jordanian officials appear to have responded positively to Cairo's request that Egyptian planes be allowed to cross Jordanian territory. (David Nissman)
PUK CONFIRMS TURKISH FORCES IN IRAQI KURDISTAN. London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 20 December that PUK official Adil Murad has confirmed that a Turkish military force, now stationed around the Qandil Mountains, entered Iraqi Kurdistan in order to pursue members of the PKK. Murad said that this force consists of 700 soldiers and 80 military vehicles. And he noted that the Turkish army had entered the region in cooperation with the PUK.
A press release by the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) said Turkish intervention could push the region into war even if it succeeded in destroying the PKK. According to the "Kurdistan Observer" on 21 December, the Confederation of Kurdish Associations in Europe (KON-KURD) echoed that KNK statement. Meanwhile, the Kurdish Youth Union (YCK) called for sensitivity from Kurdish youths against the occupation movement initiated by the Turkish army against South Kurdistan.
KNK Executive Council member Remzi Kartal, on pro-PKK MEDYA-TV on 29 December, reacted to a report that the PKK is prepared to withdraw if the PKK and PUK can reach an agreement by saying that "this call, which is aimed at eliminating the clashes among the Kurds at a time when a scenario that targets the entire Kurdish people and that wants to render ineffective or do way with Kurdish politics is on the agenda, is extremely significant." (David Nissman)