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Iraq Report: March 9, 2001

9 March 2001, Volume 4, Number 7

KURDISH ASSASSINATION CONDEMNED. Thirty-five Kurdistani and Iraqi political groups issued a joint statement on 27 February condemning the assassination nine days earlier of Kurdistan Democratic Party central committee member Franso Hariri, according to Arbil's "Brayati." The fate of terrorists is bleak, the statement warned, and it is against the Kurdish democratic experience. Among the signatories of the statement were groups representing Assyrians, Chaldeans, Communists, Faylis, Islamists, and Turkmen.

KDP leader Masud Barzani described his organizations' stance on terrorism at the mourning ceremony for Hariri. "We struggle, in all ways, that there would be no terrorists. I reassure the martyr's comrades that his blood will be avenged from the terrorists and traitors in a way that will make them an example." After expressing his condolences, Barzani warned that "[t]he perpetrators will remain mortified and they will not escape punishment of the justice," "Brayati" reported on 24 February. Two days later "Brayati" reported that the U.S. State Department sent a message of condolences to Barzani.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani discussed the assassination in an interview with the Suleimanieh's "Kurdistani Nuwe" on 25 February. "We believe that this is a vile crime [committed] by the enemy of the Kurdistan people, peace, brotherhood and general reconciliation." Talabani expressed the hope that the killing would not affect the peace process in Kurdistan. At a 4 March meeting with KDP representatives Jawhar Namiq and Fadil Mutni at the Pirar border point between KDP and PUK areas, Talabani expressed his regrets again, Suleimanieh's KurdSat reported.

Kurdistan politician Davud Bagistani believes that PUK leader Talabani is responsible for the Hariri killing, the pro-Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) newspaper "Ozgur Politika" reported on 23 February. Hariri was always hostile to Talabani and his alleged proposal that the KDP go to war with the PKK, according to Bagistani, and the PUK saw him as an obstacle to its plans. But the PKK itself may not appreciate the recent rapprochement between the KDP and PUK. (Bill Samii)

WILL U.S. FUNDS GO TO SCIRI? State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 6 March that the Bush administration is consulting with the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and other groups on how to dispense $29 million to fund programs implemented by the opposition to Iraq's President Saddam Husseyn. It is not clear how much of that funding will go to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), however, possibly because of its close relationship with Iran.

The office of SCIRI leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim announced on 5 March, according to Tehran's "Jomhuri-yi Islami" newspaper, that the ayatollah is in Mecca performing the Hajj. Hakim had not met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, nor did he intend to do so. Furthermore, Hakim "emphasized" that the SCIRI "had nothing to say to the American Government."

The announcement was in response to a report in the previous day's issue of London's "Al-Hayat." Citing "informed sources" in Washington, the influential Saudi-owned daily had reported that attempts are underway to arrange a meeting between Powell and Hakim as the Bush administration charts its Iraq policy. Abd-al-Aziz Baqir al-Hakim, the ayatollah's brother, met with U.S. officials in Kuwait recently, "Al-Hayat" added.

Dr. Hamid al-Bayyati, who is the SCIRI's top liaison with the West and part of the INC leadership, said the SCIRI had some contacts with the U.S. government at the London embassy in the early 1990s. The relationship became weaker later, al-Bayyati told the PBS "Frontline" program last year, although direct contacts to exchange views about events in southern Iraq continue. Indeed, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with an INC delegation, as well as al-Bayyati, in September 2000 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 October 2000).

Al-Bayyati told "Frontline" that sensitivity on both sides has hindered stronger ties: "The Americans always feel that we are an Islamic movement based in Tehran, and that our activity could be controlled or influenced by the Iranians. The Americans were actually frightened that, even if something happened inside Iraq, it would be under the influence of the Iranians. From our side, the Iraqi people feel betrayed by the Americans, who brought Saddam to power, supported Saddam, and didn't take him when they have the chance during the second Gulf war. Even when we had the popular uprising, the Americans stood with Saddam, rather than with the Iraqi people. So, after that in 1995, 1996, the Iraqi people are sensitive about the American attitude." (Bill Samii)

IRAQI SPIES APPREHENDED. Two Iraqis are being held in Heidelberg, Germany, on espionage charges, having been arrested on 20 and 25 February. A spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe said that "they are suspected of carrying out assignments for an Iraqi secret service in various German cities since the beginning of 2001," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported. The agents' activities may have been in connection with President Saddam Husseyn's threat of retaliation for the mid-February air raids by the U.S. and U.K. on Iraqi military targets.

It is also possible that the agents' initial assignment was to act against members of the Iraqi opposition in other countries. Paris's "Al-Watan" had reported on 8 December that the Iraqi security services had increased their activities in their embassies in Arab and European countries. A member of the Islamic Iraqi opposition in Tehran said that Baghdad has tasked its Lebanon embassy with preparation of lists of Iraqi opposition figures, their activities and movements, and the Iraqi areas from which they originate. (Bill Samii)

IRAQ, PAKISTAN DO FOOD AND DRUG DEALS. Pakistani and Iraqi officials signed a contract for the purchase of 100,000 metric tons of Pakistani "hard milling" quality wheat, Islamabad radio reported on 4 March. Seyyed Masud Alam Rizvi, chairman of the state Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP), signed the contract in Baghdad, and when he returned to Karachi he said there may be another 150,000-ton shipment. TCP hopes to ship the first load of wheat to Baghdad in early May, pending UN approval and receipt of a Letter of Credit. Rizvi went on to say, Karachi's "Dawn" reported, that the sale is for $196 per ton. Baghdad initially was negotiating to purchase 35,000 tons, but it increased the amount to 100,000 tons when it learned that "Pakistani wheat was second to none in quality."

Pakistan has being trying to sell its wheat to Iran since at least November and has consistently been rebuffed because of excessive prices and poor quality. Pakistan offered the commodity to Iran at a rate of $157 per ton (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 20 and 27 November 2000). Tehran refused to purchase the grain for being "sub-graded and infectious," Karachi's "Business Recorder" reported on 23 February.

In what may be a related matter, Iraq has begun demanding "kickbacks and illegal commissions on contracts for food, medicine, other essential civilian goods" that are purchased under the oil-for-food program, according to "diplomats and UN officials" cited by the 7 March "New York Times." One of the ways in which this is done -- this may explain the $39 per ton difference between the prices offered to Iraq and offered to Iran by the TCP for its wheat -- foreigners secretly offer discounted prices on commodities and record them as being sold at prevailing world prices. The difference is paid to the Iraqi leadership.

Rizvi also told "Dawn" that the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) has signed a contract with Iraq for the export of basmati rice. Pakistani Commerce Minister Abdul Rezzaq Daud had mentioned receipt of the 40,000-ton order during a 2 March press conference in Islamabad. He said that group of Pakistani rice exporters would leave for the Philippines on 5 March to negotiate the deal.

Baghdad and Islamabad signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in health care on 22 February, Islamabad radio reported. According to an Iraqi press release cited in the 2 March "Dawn,", the MOU addressed epidemic disease control; teaching of Iraqi physicians, pharmacists, medical, and health staff in Pakistan; pharmaceutical exhibitions; and exchanges of medical and pharmaceutical experts. (Bill Samii)

IRAQI MEDICINE AND DOCTORS SENT ABROAD. The sixth Iraqi medical team charged with providing treatment to individuals injured in the Al Aqsa Intifada, consisting of specialists in general surgery, neurology, orthopedics, anesthesiology, and internal medicine, was dispatched to Amman on 26 February. According to Iraqi state radio, they were seen off by Health Ministry senior undersecretary Zuhayr Said Abd-al-Salam. The fifth medical team is working at the Al-Urdun Hospital in Amman. Some of the injured people are being treated at Saddam Medical City, and some of those who have recovered from their injuries "have returned to Palestine to continue their jihad against the racist Zionist occupation forces," state television reported on 8 February. Two truckloads of medical supplies left Baghdad on 8 February, and Health Minister Umid Midhat Mubarak saw them off. (Bill Samii)

FLIGHTS TO IRAQ DELAYED. Qatar Airways chief executive officer Akbar al-Baker said that his firm is ready to fly to Iraq "anytime," and Qatar Airways has already leased an office in Baghdad. But the airline had to postpone a charter flight to Iraq. Al-Baker explained that Qatar Airways requires an extra $62,000 in insurance coverage for each flight, Doha's "Gulf Times" reported on 28 February. "Ours is not the only airline which faced cancellation problems. Four other carriers faced a similar situation," al-Baker continued.

UN spokesman Steven Dujarric told ANSA on 23 February that a Baghdad-bound flight from Rome's Ciampino airport was not allowed to leave after U.S. representatives to the UN sanctions committee objected, having been informed that the carrier, Moldova's Modl Transavia, may be involved with smuggling. The aircraft allegedly was to transport medical aid and 90 people, including Italian parliamentarians, aid group representatives, and journalists.

South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on 22 February the postponement of a fight to Iraq. The shipment of six to eight tons of baby formula and medicine originally was scheduled to leave in mid-February. The South African Iraq Action Committee, which is opposed to the sanctions, has called for the delays so it can accommodate the massive response to its call for contributions, Johannesburg's SAPA news agency reported on 16 February. (Bill Samii)

IRAQ COMPLAINS ABOUT SHORTAGES OF MEDICAL GOODS. Health Minister Umid Midhat Mubarak complained that Iraq has received only 42 percent of all the concluded contracts relating to medical goods, Iraqi state television reported on 2 March. He added that American and British representatives have put ten of the most urgent contracts on hold. Previously, Mubarak complained that much of the equipment that reaches Baghdad is inoperative because contracts for some of the components were rejected or suspended, London's pro-Libyan, Arab nationalist, and anti-American "Al-Arab al-Alamiyah" daily reported on 15 January. Iraqi officials made similar statements in December and November Iraqi radio and television reports. (Bill Samii)