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Iraq Report: March 2, 2001

2 March 2001, Volume 4, Number 6

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS SADDAM HUSSEIN. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanyan met with Iraq's President Saddam Husseyn while in Baghdad to open Yerevan's embassy. Oskanyan delivered a letter from Armenian President Robert Kocharian to Saddam Husseyn, Iraqi television reported on 26 February. Oskanyan said that Yerevan has been following, "with great sympathy and sorrow, the grave injustice done to Iraq since 1991." Saddam Hussein told Oskanyan that "the Armenians have never complained of any Arab country in which they have lived. They always assimilated quickly into the Arab community, while maintaining their special character."

After returning to Yerevan, Snark reported on 27 February, Oskanyan said that the bilateral talks had focused on economic cooperation. Oskanyan added that the cancellation of sanctions "is important in the viewpoint of Iraq and further development of Armenia-Iraq relations." Also, Oskanyan participated in the opening of the Armenian embassy, Iraqi state television reported on 25 February. Oskanyan was accompanied by Minister of Energy Karen Galustian, some parliamentarians, and Armenian business representatives. The Armenian delegation was greeted at the airport by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Foreign Ministry representatives, and other Iraqi officials. According to the Iraqi News Agency, Oskanyan expressed the hope that Iraq will open an embassy in Armenia soon. (Bill Samii)

U.S. CONDEMNS IRAQ'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD. The U.S. Department of State's 25th annual report on human rights practices around the world noted that the Iraqi government's human rights record "remained extremely poor." The report also comments on events in the Kurd-controlled northern part of the country. The State Department relied on information from Amnesty International, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Iraqi Communist Party, the Iraqi National Congress, Human Rights Watch, and the UN, although it noted that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' Special Representative for Iraq was not allowed to visit the country.

The report's first section discusses respect for the integrity of the person and points out that the regime has a long record of executing its perceived opponents. Sometimes political detainees are killed en masse, and at other times government agents target family members of defectors. The security forces beheaded a number of suspected female prostitutes and the men involved in their business. Disappearances also appear to be common, and there is still no information on Assyrians and Yazidis who were arrested in 1996. Nor has Baghdad been forthcoming about Kuwaitis and Saudis who disappeared in 1990-91 or Iranians who were captured in the 1980-88 war.

Torture is commonplace, the report says, and Iraqi asylum seekers have displayed the scars to substantiate their claims. Tongue amputation has been introduced as a punishment for those who criticize Saddam Husseyn. Women in custody frequently are raped.

Although Shia Muslims make up the majority of the population, the regime continues to target them. It refuses to comment on the death of Ayatollah Abol Qasem Khoi during his house arrest, nor will it say what happened to his companions. The situation is similar in the case of Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was murdered in Najaf in February 1999. Hundreds of Fayli Kurds, who are Shia, and others of Iranian origin have been in detention since the 1980s. The government targets the Shia community with arbitrary detention and arrest. Political organizations formed by the Shia (or by the Assyrians) are not recognized. Shia mosques and sites have been desecrated, Shia religious instruction is interrupted, and government agents stationed at Shia mosques interfere with the worshippers. Pilgrims to Najaf and Karbala are subject to harassment, and the Ashura processions are blocked.

The second section of the report covers civil liberties in Iraq and points out that the government does not permit freedom of speech or the press, and political dissent is not tolerated. Foreign journalists are accompanied by Ministry of Culture and Information officials who make it almost impossible to interact with locals, and broadcasts from outside the country are periodically jammed. Freedom of association and of assembly are restricted. Freedom of religion of the Shia, Christians (Assyrians, Chaldeans, Roman Catholics, Armenian Orthodox), Yazidis, Jews, and Mandeans is restricted. The government has forcibly relocated and deported Kurdish and Turkoman families as part of its Arabization process.

In the Kurd-controlled northern part of the country, there are many political parties, social groups, and cultural organizations. But there have been reports of political killings and terrorism, too. KDP forces reportedly entered Assyrian villages and attacked the inhabitants, and Assyrian groups report being the victims of Muslim mob violence. The KDP and PUK allegedly maintain their own unofficial prisons and will not give international inspectors access to them. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI WMD AND ACM DEVELOPMENTS CONTINUE... Iraq is continuing low-level research and development in the nuclear field, according to a recently released "Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMD] and Advanced Conventional Munitions [ACM]" prepared by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. What hampers Iraq's nuclear program the most is problems in procuring sufficient fissile material. The report offers the qualification that it is difficult for the U.S. and UN to make an accurate assessment of Iraq's WMD programs, because UN inspectors have not returned to the country since Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, and the UN's automated video monitoring system is not functioning.

Iraq may not need to continue its R&D activities, however, because it already has three Hiroshima-type nuclear bombs, three implosion-type nuclear bombs, and three thermonuclear devices, and these are stored in an underground bunker in the Hemrin Mountains. Furthermore, Iraq has already tested a nuclear bomb, according to a detailed report in the 25 February edition of London's "Sunday Times." Relying mainly on an Iraqi defector who identified himself as a "military engineer who was a member of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission," the report states that the device was tested in September 1989 in an underground tunnel 150 kilometers southwest of Baghdad in a militarized zone near Lake Rezzaza. The warhead's gun assembly, which used an explosive charge to drive pieces of highly enriched uranium together, was purchased from Russia in the late 1980s, according to the defector, and the HEU came from South Africa via Brazil. The Iraqis were able to avoid U.S. satellite detection of the test through information provided by Russia, and all evidence of the test, including the clean-up personnel, was eliminated.

Although UNSCOM inspectors eventually found evidence of the Iraqi nuclear research program, the defector told the "Sunday Times," they missed the most successful part. UNSCOM apparently overlooked a military organization called Group Four that handled all stages of the bomb's assembly and was also involved in missile development, launch systems, and uranium acquisition. Group Four also acquired Russian and American nuclear bomb designs with help from India. The defector added that Group Five dealt with thermonuclear devices. The defector's legitimacy and the validity of his claims were confirmed in interviews with a Western nuclear scientist, other defectors from the Iraqi nuclear program, South African intelligence officers, and a representative of the Iraqi National Congress.

The CIA report indicates that Iraq was capable of resuming its chemical and biological warfare research within weeks of the December 1998 air raids. It adds that "[f]ollowing Desert Fox, Baghdad again instituted a reconstruction effort on those facilities destroyed by the U.S. bombing, including several critical missile production complexes and former dual-use CW production facilities." Also, Baghdad has tried to purchase dual-use items. Iraq admitted to having a biological warfare program in 1995. Because the information on the program could not be verified, UNSCOM assessed that the knowledge base is maintained and the industrial infrastructure for producing BW agents is in place.

Work continues on Iraq's L-29 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program, according to the report. This UAV is a converted jet trainer, and it is believed that refurbished models of this aircraft have been modified to deliver chemical or biological weapons. Iraq also is developing Short Range Ballistic Missile systems, and the report says that "Iraq probably retains a small, covert force of Scud-type missiles." (Bill Samii)

�BUT INSPECTIONS UNLIKELY TO RESUME. Baghdad has refused to permit inspections by the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency's Iraq Action Team, and statements by Foreign Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahaf indicate that such inspections will not occur any time soon. After the first day (27 February) of talks in New York on weapons inspections, Sahaf referred to Security Council resolution 687, which mentions the goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Sahaf said Iraq wants to focus on this proposal for a regional disarmament scheme and inspections should begin in Israel. Sahaf insisted that Baghdad has fully complied with Security Council resolutions requiring it to eliminate its nuclear, biological, chemical warfare, and ballistic missile programs. Sahaf did not meet with UNMOVIC, and he referred to its chief, Hans Blix, as "a detail from a bad resolution" in an allusion to resolution 1284, which created UNMOVIC. (Bill Samii)

U.S.-BRITISH STRIKES SAFEGUARD OWN PLANES. United States and Britain planes on 16 February targeted six Iraqi command centers, including radar and communications centers, in order to prevent Iraq from being able to fire upon and bring down allied planes in future raids.

U.S. officials explained the necessity of this massive raid by pointing out that Iraqi air defenses had fired some 13 missiles at allied pilots in the first six weeks of this year, compared to one missile per month prior to that time. What's more, Iraq's radar-tracking equipment is growing more sophisticated. Chinese workers have helped Iraq link its radar systems with fiber-optic lines, making it more difficult for U.S. and British planes to counter the radar by electronically jamming it.

Nigel Vinson, a military analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London, discussed the high-tech contest between the allied planes and Iraq's surface-to-air-missile systems with RFE/RL. Vinson said that this month's attack was intended to keep Iraq from making its command-and-control network more inaccessible to allied planes, which largely defend themselves by electronically jamming radar sites trying to track them. "We know that in recent weeks assistance from the Chinese has been forthcoming in terms of laying fiber-optic cables between the various air-defense nodes, particularly in southern Iraq. The purpose behind this is to reduce the electronic emissions given out by the air-defense facilities which, normally, the Americans either would jam or spoof [electronically deceive], or indeed collect intelligence data from."

Vinson said there is another reason that the Iraqi improvements with Chinese equipment worry the allies: it is a sign that Iraq's military is increasingly modifying its once standard Soviet-era air-defense systems with newer equipment from a variety of sources. The result is that Iraq's air-defense systems are becoming amalgams of Western, old East European, and Far Eastern technologies that behave in non-standard ways. That makes them less predictable for the U.S. and British planes that are their targets and increasingly difficult to counter. Vinson said, "[That] makes them extremely difficult to counter because their radar frequencies are unknown, their operational profile is unknown."

Vinson added that British pilots flying over Iraq have become particularly concerned by the upgrading of Iraqi air defenses because they have less sophisticated capabilities for dealing with non-standard threats than do their U.S. counterparts. "The U.K., albeit one of the most sophisticated European air forces, is lagging behind [the United States], and it felt that either the Iraqi air-defense network needed to be degraded, sooner rather than later, or alternatively, the threat to the U.K. aircraft would be such that they would be unable to operate with impunity above the skies of Iraq."

Vinson said that U.S. pilots are less threatened because they have supporting aircraft which are specifically designed to smother surface-to-air-missile radar sites under broad blankets of electronic noise. In addition, the U.S. pilots have the ability to strike the radar sites from tens of kilometers away. By contrast, British planes use laser-guided bombs which must be launched from only a distance of a few kilometers. Britain is moving to improve its own systems. But its newest attack warplane, the GR-4 Tornado, has suffered software problems that have delayed its introduction into service.

During this month's raid, the allies hit about 40 percent of the targets they sought to destroy or damage. Vinson told RFE/RL that the low hit rate has caused many defense analysts to call the strikes only a qualified success and to predict that there will be more such raids in the future. "The raid has been judged a qualified success and is being graded by people within the U.S. as a B-minus or a C-plus, by which they mean that a number of targets were degraded but not all of the six targets that were engaged were sufficiently destroyed. Which leads one to believe that at some point in the future there may well be a return attack on these particular command-and-control and surface-to-air [missile] sites."

Some analysts argue that there are no signs that Iraq was able to counter the allied attack through measures of its own, such as jamming, even though Iraqi forces are seeking to develop such capabilities. In parts of the country, Iraq has deployed some systems to try to jam the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) that NATO members use to help guide missiles to their targets. Vinson said it is uncertain whether Iraq's GPS jammers are homemade or were smuggled in. Such doubts go a long way toward explaining why both the United States and Britain are today so eager to tighten military sanctions upon Iraq.

A 26 February report in London's "Times" daily highlighted the issue's urgency. It said that UN staff in Baghdad often are refused access to airplanes arriving at Saddam International Airport. In recent months planes from many countries have been flying to Iraq without first seeking approval from the UN Sanctions Committee. That makes it difficult to know what is going in and out of the country. (Charles Recknagel)