2 February 2001, Volume 4, Number 5
BAGHDAD HAS NUCLEAR WEAPONS, DEFECTOR SAYS. A recent Iraqi defector who had served in the Iraqi military engineering troops, told London's "Daily Telegraph" on 28 January that Saddam Husseyn has two operational nuclear weapons and is rapidly working on building more.
He said that there are some 64 factories and institutions at work on the bombs, some of them in Hemrin in northeastern Iraq near the Iranian border. That area, he reports, is restricted and remains under the control of the Military Industry Ministry, which is responsible for developing weapons systems.
According to the defector, the program is directed by Abed Hmoud, who runs Saddam's personal office. Others involved in the project, he said, include General Raad Ismail, who runs the Committee for the Use of Nuclear Weapons, and a certain Dr. Khalid, who directs the Al-Athir factory where the weapons are assembled.
A spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said that that body "will want to investigate [this report] as soon as possible." Meanwhile, however, Iraq's Ambassador to Russia Muzkir al-Duri denied that Baghdad had any such weapons, describing reports to the contrary as "fabrications and a specially mounted campaign" by portions of the Western media, Russia's Interfax agency reported on 31 January. (David Nissman)
BAGHDAD'S TIES WITH EGYPT GROW� Egypt is already Iraq's leading trade partner within the framework of the UN oil-for-food agreement, Egyptian Minister of Economy Yusuf Butrus Ghali said recently. He noted that Egypt's exports to Iraq in 2000 reached $1 billion and is expected to double in the near future due to the free-trade-zone agreement signed between Egypt and Iraq last week. And now Cairo's "Al-Ahram Al-'Arabi" of 27 January reports Egyptians have been persuaded to push for the linkage of sanctions and that President Husni Mubarak will raise the issue when he goes to Washington this spring
Meanwhile, MENA reported on 27 January, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa, speaking in Davos, Switzerland, already said that the situation in Iraq should be reevaluated, arguing that the sanctions and the suffering of the Iraqi people cannot last forever and pointing out that Arab and international public opinion have called for lifting the sanctions regime.
But Cairo's "Al-Jumhuriyah" on 28 January provided a qualifying note by suggesting that Mubarak may not be as interested in advancing Iraq's interests as in solidifying his standing in the Arab world and acting as its spokesman in dealing with Washington on various issues. (David Nissman)
�AS CAIRO HELPS RECONCILE SAUDIS WITH IRAQ. Dawn.com reported on 29 January that Egyptian President Husni Mubarak used his recent visit to Riyadh to relay an Iraqi offer of reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Saudis have not denied the report, London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" notes, adding that the reconciliation offer was first made by Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan during his visit to Cairo. At that time, Ramadan asked the Egyptian government to play this role. (David Nissman)
SYRIANS DISCUSS COOPERATION WITH BAGHDAD� Syrian irrigation and housing ministers held talks in Baghdad on boosting bilateral cooperation on 27 January, according to "Iran News" of 28 January. Both Syria and Iraq are angry at Turkey for what they say is Ankara's monopolization of waters in the Tigris and Euphrates basins. The next day, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan arrived in Damascus to discuss broader bilateral issues including the signing of a free trade agreement. Despite this warming trend, no Syrian political official has yet visited Iraq. (David Nissman)
�BUT DAMASCUS SAYS IT WILL DEFEND KUWAIT. Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shar'a told a Kuwaiti National Assembly delegation that Syria will defend Kuwait if its security is ever threatened, Damascus Radio reported on 30 January. He added that there was no reason to think that Syria's position would change. As far as the Iraqi threat is concerned, Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khalid Sulayman Al-Jarallah said in Riyadh that the Arab states must work together to form a united front against Saddam Husseyn. As to a reported offer of reconciliation, Al-Jarallah said that he had "never heard of anything like this." (David Nissman)
IRAQ OFFICIALS ON FREE TRADE ACCORDS Salim Qubaysi, head of Iraq's parliamentary commission, said this month that free trade agreements between Baghdad and Syria and Egypt "will transform the Iraqi, Syrian, and Egyptian markets into a single one [and represent] the start of the erosion of the embargo," AFP reported on 30 January. Sa'd Qasim Hammudi of the ruling Ba'th Party echoed that view, noting that "they are outside the oil-for-food program and thus contribute to the erosion of the sanctions regime." And 'Abdul 'Aziz Shawish, head of the parliamentary commission for financial affairs, said that Iraq will soon sign trade accords with other countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. On 29 January Jordanian Prime Minister 'Ali Abu Raghab confirmed that his country would be holding talks with Iraq to set up a free trade zone. (David Nissman)
RUSSIAN ENERGY MINISTER IN BAGHDAD. Russian Minister of Energy Aleksandr Gavrin arrived in Baghdad on 29 January to discuss issues related to oil cooperation. He was accompanied by executives from LUKoil, Zarubezhneft, and Mashinoimport, Russian and Western agencies reported. At the top of the agenda is Russian interest in developing the West Qurna oil field, about which LUKoil earlier signed a $3.5 billion contract. That field is estimated to contain some eight billion barrels of crude. Iraq currently owes Moscow $8 billion for past military goods and has said it wants to repay in trade. (David Nissman)
IRAQ-TURKEY BUSINESS COUNCIL FOUNDED. The Turkish side of the Turkey-Iraq Business Council was established on 25 January under the structure of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK). At the general assembly meeting, Yavuz Zentinoglu, chairman of the executive board of the DEIK, pointed out that prior to the Gulf War, Iraq was Turkey's second most important trading partner, "Anadolu Ajansi" reported on 25 January. Zeytinoglu suggested that the business council "will play an important role in accelerating economic and commercial relations between the two countries." In a related development, Turkish products will be displayed at the Third Turkish Export Products Fair in Baghdad in May. (David Nissman)
ARE IRAQ'S WATER PROBLEMS EBBING? Iraqi Irrigation Minister Mahmud Dhiyab Al-Ahmad told Baghdad's "Alif Ba" on 30 January that heavy rains had increased water levels in Iraq's lakes and thus reduced water shortages brought on by what he described as the worst drought in 200 years. In a speech to the National Assembly Al-Ahmad said that his ministry was actively combating the spread of Shambalan weeds which are clogging waterways and sucking up water. Meanwhile, the "Kurdish Observer" of 30 January reported that heavy snows in Iraqi Kurdistan have brought daily life to a standstill but that ultimately these snows will ease water shortages there as well. (David Nissman)
EGYPTIAN COPTIC POPE TO VISIT IRAQ. The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, has responded positively to an invitation extended to him by the Iraqi government to visit Baghdad, MENA reported on 28 January. Coptic church leaders have frequently expressed their solidarity with the Iraqi people and its sufferings. (David Nissman)
TARIQ 'AZIZ SAYS USSR'S COLLAPSE HURT ARABS. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq 'Aziz told the Arab Poetry Festival, organized by the General Federation of Arab Intellectuals and Writers in Baghdad, that "the Arab nation has faced major cultural, political, economic and security threats in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting attempt by the U.S. to impose its hegemony on the world," Baghdad Radio reported on 29 January. He called on other Arab states and friendly countries to support Iraq, he praised Russian positions on international questions, and he attacked Turkey for providing airbases to U.S. and British planes which have attacked Iraq. (David Nissman)
KIRKUK ETHNIC CLEANSING DETAILED. An Iraq Foundation report released on 26 January describes in detail Baghdad's ethnic cleansing of Kurdish and Turkmen families from Kirkuk, a process that has left more than 100,000 people homeless and destitute. It notes that "typically, Kurdish and Turkmen families are singled out in official records, ordered deported, and stripped of their property, possessions, ID cards, and ration cards. Some are deported to areas in Kurdistan under Kurdish control; others are deported to Iraq under government control, to face a dangerous future." (David Nissman)
BAGHDAD SAYS KURDISTAN 'TEEMING WITH SPIES.' Baghdad's "Al-'Iraq" of 27 January claims that "hundreds of spies working for different foreign parties" are operating freely in Iraqi Kurdistan and are even meeting openly with leaders. Among those singled out for mention are PUK leader Jalal Talabani and his meetings with an Italian Solidarity Organization that the paper says is known to be "linked to foreign intelligence services." And the paper criticizes a meeting between Kurds and an Iranian delegation in Bandar-I Khan. The paper says that the Iranians involved were intelligence officers as well. (David Nissman)
PUK'S TALABANI INVITED TO LONDON. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-controlled area of Iraqi Kurdistan, has been invited by the British Foreign Ministry to London for consultations, the "Kurdish Observer" reported on 30 January. The British have urged him to continue his meetings with Mas'ud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)-controlled part of Iraqi Kurdistan and to fulfill the provisions of the Washington Agreement. The "Kurdish Observer" also mentions that Barham Salih, the new PUK prime minister, has suggested that the KDP and PUK international relations bureaus be merged into a single body as had been the case in the past. (David Nissman)