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Iraq Report: January 12, 2001

12 January 2001, Volume 4, Number 2

SADDAM BOOSTS PALESTINIAN CAUSE ON ARMY DAY. In a speech largely devoid of content, Saddam Husseyn used his 'Army Day' address on 6 January to call for support of the Palestinian cause. In his summation, he said: "Long live Palestine in whose battle Iraq has represented, with the assistance of Allah, the potency of faith, side by side with the heroic Palestinians and the armies and the will of the Arab nation wherever the banners and the true stands endeavor to fortify the nation and those who take those true stands..."

Timed to coincide with this speech, London's "Al-Zaman" featured an interview with two Iraqi army officers now in exile about the state of the military in their homeland. The two said that the army remains even now "the principal national institution that the people rely on despite the damages inflicted on its traditions and formations and the attempts to keep it away from its national tasks."

Both officers, Staff Colonel Amir Mukhif Al-Juburi and Air Force Brigadier General Jawdat Mustafa Al-Naqib, said that the army had deteriorated significantly over the last 30 years. Al-Naqib said that "the Iraqi Army had been a professional one when the current regime came to power in 1968, famous for its high discipline and excellent military efficiency."

He added that the majority of the commanders and officers now are grumbling about Saddam's dictatorship. And he concluded that the unification of the people and army will lead to a modern democratic Iraqi state where the sons of its people can enjoy prosperity, justice, and freedom. (David Nissman)

MOSCOW CONDEMNS �ILLEGAL BOMBING� OF IRAQ. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 9 January demanded that the U.S. and Britain end what it called their illegitimate actions against Iraq and respect that country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Interfax reported. Its statement said that Moscow has often protested about the illegal nature of bombing in the no-fly zones and said that "[w]e proceed from the fact that the continued illegal bombing of the Iraqi territory not only results in more innocent victims among the civilian population, but to a large extent hampers the process of the political settlement of the Iraqi problem." According to Iraqi data, in the year 2000 U.S. and British aircraft violated Iraq's air space 11,605 times � 8,199 times from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and 2,866 from Turkey. (David Nissman)

'UDAY SAYS RUSSIANS 'FRONT' FOR U.S., BRITISH FIRMS. 'Uday Saddam Husseyn, the eldest son of Saddam Husseyn, said that a number of Russian firms working with Iraq were actually being used as covers for British and American companies, UPI reported on 4 January. He made this accusation in a report to Iraq's parliament. He added that some of these firms are being financed by Jewish businessmen and rely on products imported from Israel. And he called on the Trade Ministry to check all the companies with which it is doing business. Since the start of the oil-for-food program in 1996 under which these firms operate, Russian companies have won contracts worth more than $2.5 billion. (David Nissman)

UAE MINISTER SAYS SADDAM WILL FALL AFTER SANCTIONS END. Shaykh 'Abdallah Bin-Zayid Al-Nuhayyan, the UAE's information and culture minister, told Kuwait's "Al-Ra'y Al-'Amm" on 8 January that "the Iraqi regime will not fall unless the sanctions imposed on Iraq are lifted." Al-Nuhayyan explained that "during the Islamic summit in Doha, the GCC stood alone with regard to the position on Iraq, while there was Arab and international pressure toward sympathizing with Iraq. Reaching a decision concerning Iraq looked hopeless, but we managed to achieve the best thing possible."

While the policy of each Gulf country might differ on Iraq, the UAE official stressed that "there is total commitment by the Gulf states toward Kuwait and its demands. The Gulf states will not stop supporting Kuwait, but these states, including Kuwait, cannot bet on a losing horse." And he added that "the Iraqis can only hear Saddam and the Iraqi media all he time. They do not have satellite dishes and they cannot receive any foreign broadcasts to learn the other point of view. All the time they hear that the planes fly from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to bomb them and that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia make them starve by working to maintain the sanctions. Therefore, their hatred intensifies and this affects the stability of the region." (David Nissman)

IS IRAQI-IRANIAN DETENTE COLLAPSING? According to London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 8 January, an Iranian source said to be "close to the government" said that the 7 January explosions near a Revolutionary Guards center north of Tehran should be considered "a declaration of the end of the truce between Tehran and Baghdad."

When Iraqi Assistant Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Qaysi visited Tehran recently, the source said, a "quasi-agreement" was reached to put an end to the activities of the opposition groups in both countries in preparation for concluding a comprehensive security agreement between them. This accord was followed up by a joint decision to stop strengthening the radio and television programs broadcast by the Mojahedin-e Khalq from Iraq and Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq from Iran.

The potential conflict between the Mojahedin-e Khalq and SCIRI may be in part responsible for the rumors that began to circulate about Saddam Husseyn's alleged heart attack/stroke/death. The rumor was launched into the media when the SCIRI representative for Iraq gave an interview to a dpa reporter (see RFERL Iraq Report, 5 January 2001) in which he claimed that Saddam had been hospitalized after suffering a stroke following the military parade in Baghdad on 31 December. From that point on, the rumor took on a life of its own, acquiring a kind of virtual reality. Seen from this angle, the Mojahedin-e Khalq attack could be considered retaliatory, but the SCIRI-Mojahedin-e Khalq factors may merely be an appendix to the ongoing Iran-Iraq dialogue.

According to the Iranian source, the explosions proved the validity of Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani's views that Baghdad's pledges cannot be relied upon and that a policy of vigilance must be continued and the defense and security preparations on the western border upgraded. But at the same time, Iraq Deputy Trade Minister Fakhri Rishan, in Iran on a trade mission, expressed the hope that Tehran-Baghdad trade and economic relations would deepen in the future. He termed his talks in Iran as "fruitful", according to an IRNA dispatch of 9 January.

Subsequent to that report, the Mojahedin-e Khalq announced that it had attacked the State Security Forces' headquarters. According to a colonel from the office of the commander of the complex, the shells fell at random on an area of housing complexes. (David Nissman)

TURKEY DISPATCHES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ. Istanbul's "Milliyet" reported on 6 January that Ankara has named an ambassador to Baghdad for the first time since the Gulf War. In February, Mehmet Akad will replace charge d'affaires Selim Karaosmanoglu who has been representing Turkey there, the paper said. (David Nissman)

IRAQI BOEING 747 GOES INTO DOMESTIC SERVICE. A Boeing 747, given as a gift by Saddam Husseyn to the Iraqi Airways Company, flew the 300 miles from Baghdad to Basra for the first time on 8 January, Baghdad radio reported. Eleven passengers were on board, including Minister of Transport Ahmad Murtada Ahmad, an Arab actress, an Egyptian art delegation, and several media delegations. (David Nissman)

IRANIAN PILGRIMS VISIT SHIITE SHRINES IN IRAQ. The thousands of Iranian pilgrims who annually visit Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf are a major source of income for Iraq, according to the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" of 9 January. Each Iranian pilgrim pays approximately $350 for the six-day tour. With some 3,000 pilgrims each week, the Iraqi state earns $40-$50 million a year in funds which are not subject to UN control. Nonetheless, Baghdad regulates the influx of pilgrims very carefully. At the border crossing with Iraq, Iranian pilgrims must change from Iranian buses to Iraqi ones and be examined by security officials. The newspaper suggests that Baghdad is frightened that additional pilgrims might spark disorder. (David Nissman)

SADDAM'S INNER CIRCLE DESCRIBED. London's "Al-Wasat" of 25 December reports that "by means of old and new periodic purges, Saddam has managed to close off all avenues through which the winds of change could blow and has strengthened his hold over the army, the Ba'th Party, the security organs, and the media." Saddam's 'inner circle', those who control access to Saddam himself, wield exceptional influence and are worthy of closer attention, the paper suggests. This inner circle now includes the president himself, his son Qusay, Saddam's secretary 'Abd Hammud and Saddam's cousin 'Ali Hassan Al-Majid.

Qusay and 'Abd Hammud control all of Saddam's movements and appointments as well as the paper flow to his desk. Al-Majid controls the Ba'th Party, especially in Baghdad. His role is synonymous with the Republican Guard and Special Guard, both of which are under the direction of Qusay, "but one should bear in mind that 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid has great influence in both of them," the paper says.

As for 'Ali Hasan Al-Majid, one diplomat told the paper that the majority of the main officers in the guard units are his direct relatives. Al-Majid's influence increased recently when the director of his office, Tahir Jalil Hamish, was appointed director of intelligence.

This inner circle has convinced Saddam "that he has tremendous influence on the Arab man in the street and is able to mobilize Arabs to threaten other regimes or overthrow them. He also feels that there is no reason to count on the peace process and that he would reap the fruits of this situation sooner or later.� (David Nissman)

PALESTINIAN DELEGATION IN BAGHDAD. A Palestinian delegation, led by Faruq Qaddumi, head of the PLO Political Department, arrived in Baghdad for a stay of several days on 7 January, the "Voice of Palestine" reported. 'Azzam Al-Ahmad, Iraq's minister of public works and coordinator of Palestinian-Iraqi relations, told the group that the visit "aims at continuing talks with Iraqi officials on a mechanism to implement Iraq's decision to provide one billion euros to support our people's steadfastness and provide them with food and medicine for a year within the oil-for-food program. Al-Ahmad added that the Palestinian National Authority will present this issue to the UN Security Council if the UN's Sanctions Committee refuses to approve it. Meanwhile, on 4 January, Baghdad Radio reported that 'Abd-Al-Ghani 'Abd-Al-Ghafur, secretary-general of the National Patriotic and Progressive Front (NPPF), has said that legal responsibility obliges the UN secretary general and the UN Security Council not to succumb to U.S. pressures with regard to the allocation of the one billion euros, based on the concept that Iraqis and Palestinians are part of one nation. (David Nissman)

TALABANI, BARZANI MEET ON KDP TERRITORY. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), stopped off on his way to Turkey at Pirmam, near Salah-Al-Din in Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-controlled Iraqi Kurdistan, according to a report by "KurdSat" on 8 January. In Pirmam, Talabani and his delegation were received by Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the KDP as well as by members of the KDP Political Bureau and the KDP Central Committee -- Jawhar Namiq Salim, Hoshyar Zebari, Masrur Barzani, Karim Sinjari, Brusk Nuri Shawes, and others. The PUK delegation consisted of Umar Fattah, Muhammad Tawfiq Rahim, Dr. Barham Salih, Sa'di Ahmad Pira, and Bavel Talabani. Barzani and Talabani had a closed meeting during which they reportedly had a general discussion which a KDP spokesman described as "productive." (David Nissman)

TALABANI INVITED TO TURKEY FOR TALKS. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was invited to Ankara to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and with Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Faruk Logoglu, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 8 January. A Turkish official told the paper that "we neglected Talabani for a long time. Now we feel the PUK is doing an excellent job along with Mas'ud Barzani's KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) in the struggle against the terrorist PKK group in northern Iraq and deserves Turkey' support." Barzani reportedly also will be invited to Ankara for consultations. (David Nissman)