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Iraq Report: March 16, 2001

16 March 2001, Volume 4, Number 8

UN TO INVESTIGATE TORTURE IN IRAQ. The UN Human Rights envoy to Iraq, Andreas Mavromattis, will visit Iraq to probe "numerous" allegations of torture, inhumane treatment, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests by Iraqi authorities, according to an AFP report of 12 March. Mavromattis said he also wanted to investigate the fate of prostitutes because of reports that several women suspected of prostitution had been executed.

Mavromattis toured Iraq in November 2000 and has gathered the testimonies of Iraqi refugees who detailed hundreds of arbitrary arrests and executions carried out by Iraqi security forces against the country's Shi'ite community. The UN envoy also said he wanted to look into allegations that the death penalty was often applied retroactively and the victims' families were only told of it years later. (David Nissman)

IRAQ BEGINS TRAINING 'JERUSALEM LIBERATION ARMY.' Iraq began training the second batch of volunteers for what it calls the "Jerusalem Liberation Army" on 11 March, INA and Xinhua reported on 11 March. This is part of the effort Saddam Husseyn announced on 17 February to create a 21-division-strong command to be used against Israel. Baghdad has claimed that more than six million Iraqis have volunteered to serve in it so far. Saddam has pledged to spend one billion euros ($930 million) to support the Palestinians, and already has sent four shipments of relief goods to Jordan for eventual distribution to the Palestinians.

Despite these reports, no one yet knows what this "Army" will do, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has ridiculed Saddam's calls for war. But meanwhile, according to AFP on 13 March, Arab foreign ministers have appealed for an international protection force for the Palestinians. An Arab League statement said that "Arab countries together address the United Nations Security Council asking it to meet immediately to study ways to set up an international force to protect the Palestinian people." (David Nissman)

RUSSIA DENIES BAGHDAD PRODUCING WMD. The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied a report in London's "Financial Times" that the UN inspection commission had found evidence that Baghdad is producing weapons of mass destruction, Russian and Western agencies reported. Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" even suggested that the UN commission had not really been functioning since December 1998 and therefore could not have found any evidence. The ministry suggested that the report had been planted by those in Britain and the United States who want to justify recent U.S.-U.K. bombing attacks against Iraq. (David Nissman)

NEW U.S. ADMINISTRATION SEEN SHIFTING FOCUS. Iraqi political activist Ghasan Al-'Atiyah noted in London's "Al-Hayat" on 8 March that the U.S.-U.K. bombing beyond the no-fly zone areas represented a shift in allied strategy and suggested that the new U.S. administration is prepared to be "quick and decisive" in dealing with Saddam Husseyn. And a Paris newspaper, "L'Expansion" said on 1 March that "if George Bush and Colin Powell put an end to the strict embargo that has harmed the civilian population in particular and focus their strategy on a true destabilization of the government that is in place in Baghdad, the United States could find a life saver to make their regional policy take off in another way; because by more intelligently inconveniencing Saddam Husseyn,they will above all inconvenience the most hard-core Islamists in Tehran and the most intransigent military men in Damascus." But then on 10 March, the "Chicago Tribune" reported that the Bush administration is considering a plan to scale back enforcement of the no-fly zones over Iraq. (David Nissman)

TURKEY'S CEM: 'NO PRESSURE BEING APPLIED ON IRAQ ISSUE.' In an interview on 6 March on Ankara's TRT 2 Television, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said that "no pressure is being applied [from Washington and London] on Turkey regarding the issue of Iraq," adding that reports to that effect "do not affect the reality." His comments come as Turkey has upgraded its representation in Baghdad to the ambassadorial level and expressed a strong desire to up its level of trade to the pre-Gulf War level.

Cem added that " one would even think about imposing conditions on Turkey that would counter its national interests." The day before, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was asked by "Anatolia" whether the U.S. government had asked Turkey to change its Iraqi policy in order to obtain financial aid from the IMF and the World Bank. Ecevit replied that these were two separate issues and that the United States never attempted to view them together. An AFP report of 11 March said that a 400-member Turkish trade mission headed for Iraq on 12 March "to relaunch economic ties now considered obsolete."

Meanwhile, U.S. officials said on 13 March that Turkey could set up economic relations with Iraq on condition it does not violate the embargo imposed on the Baghdad regime. Richard Boucher, U.S. State Department spokesman, said they had discussed with Turkey and other regional countries an Iraq policy which would tighten measures against smuggling, and weapon and money transfers to Iraq, however at the same time would facilitate transfer of equipment necessary for civilian people, according to a report from "Anadolu Ajansi" on 13 March. (David Nissman)

SADDAM SAYS IMF IS 'SATAN OF IMPERIALISM.' Saddam Husseyn on 11 March told visiting Ricardo Alarcone, president of the Cuban National Assembly of People's Power, that the IMF "is lethal because it is now the main tool of modern imperialism and is an imperial command center intended to not only control people, but also affect their political stability in one way or the other." He added that "the IMF is the Satan of imperialism." Saddam insisted that inter-Arab ties are good and improving and that "the United States and Britain are now losing with their continued aggression against Iraq." (David Nissman)

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER AT ARAB LEAGUE MEETINGS. Baghdad Radio on 10 March reported that Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf left for Cairo to attend the 115th session of the Arab League Council which is preparing for the Arab summit to be held in Amman later this month. Al-Sahhaf was quoted as saying that Arab foreign ministers will discuss ways and means of upgrading joint Arab action to face the challenges and dangers facing the Arab nation, inter-Arab relations and the coordination of stands vis-a-vis current regional or international issues. Al-Sahhaf indicated that he will concentrate on bilateral relations and on coordination of efforts to confront the ongoing U.S.-U.K. aggression against Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQ JOINS ARAB DRUG-FIGHTING EFFORTS. Baghdad has joined an Arab treaty to combat drug trafficking, UPI reported on 12 March. An Iraqi Interior Ministry official told the service that Baghdad had recently issued a decree on this, thus confirming Iraqi membership in a measure endorsed by other Arab interior ministries earlier this year. (David Nissman)

EGYPTIAN-IRAQ TIES EXPAND. Two Egyptian trade delegations visited Iraq at the end of February, the latest indication of expanding ties between the two countries, Cairo's "Al-Akhbar" reported on 6 March.

During the fourth phase of the oil-for-food program, Egypt's share was $54 million -- now it is $1.2 billion, the paper said, and Egypt has become Iraq's third largest supplier, behind only Russia and China. Yusuf Butrus Ghali, Egyptian economy and foreign trade minister and leader of one of the Egyptian delegations in February, stressed that "the Iraqi market is a new and expanding market for Egyptian products that would boost Egyptian exports and create more job opportunities inside Egypt."

But not all Egyptians feel the trade is worth it. Rida Khilal, a correspondent in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion, wrote an article critical of Egypt's "Iraqi lobby" in "Al-Ahram" on 8 March. He wrote that "we have no objection to the concept of forming a lobby, but every pressure group in the world announces its activities and declares that it applied pressure in order to realize specific interests....The convoys of artists, intellectuals and businessmen claim that they flock to Iraq to support its children, but this feeble excuse would be worthless if the pilgrimage to Baghdad was aimed at realizing personal goals that could only be achieved by pledging allegiance to Saddam Husseyn and his regime. He adds "the Iraqi lobby is asking us to believe the lies and respect the crimes." (David Nissman)

JORDAN SEEKS TO EXPAND ECONOMIC TIES WITH IRAQ. A Jordanian delegation, headed by Trade and Industry Minister Wasaf Azzar, visited Baghdad to expand ties, Reuters reported on 3 February. Azzar said that Jordan is interested in signing a free-trade accord with Iraq similar to those signed between Iraq, Syria, and Egypt.

He also focused on problems facing Jordan in exporting $450 million of goods under a barter deal that ensures that Baghdad supplies Jordan with all its energy needs. Iraq currently delivers 4.8 million tons of crude oil and about $600 million of other goods via Jordan.

A commentary in "" from Jordan on 28 January put the free-trade agreement in a clearer context. Professor Muhammad Saqar of the University of Jordan said that the "Iraqi-Egyptian [agreement] is a significant and substantial example other Arab countries must follow" and that it will also have consequences on Egyptian-Jordanian trade. Nasir Ahmad Khalil, minister plenipotentiary of the Egyptian Embassy in Jordan, noted that he believed that the "free-trade agreement with Iraq will eventually strengthen economic relations with Jordan." (David Nissman)

LEBANON SECRETLY NORMALIZES RELATIONS WITH IRAQ. Beirut's "Daily Star" on 12 March said that diplomats and analysts are still puzzled by Lebanon's decision to secretly normalize its relations with Baghdad. The paper said that Arab pressure on Lebanese authorities had intensified after Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf supported Lebanon at the Arab League meeting last year to support Lebanon during the Israeli occupation of the South. Another factor in the decision was a demand by Iraq that Beirut rehabilitate an existing petroleum pipeline linking Iraq to Lebanon via Syria. And still a third was pressure from Lebanese businessmen who hope to benefit from better ties. (David Nissman)

IRAQI TIES WITH ALGERIA ALSO EXPAND. Proceedings of the Algerian-Iraqi follow-up committee on 10 March began in Algiers under the chairmanship of the director-general of the Arab Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdelhamid Bouzahir, and the secretary-general of the Iraqi Finance Ministry, Hasim Ubayd, according to Radio Algiers. The committee is to assess bilateral cooperation within the framework of implementing the recommendations of the last meeting of the same committee in Baghdad on last 11 June.

The two sides have agreed to set up sectoral working groups, the first of which will take charge of all social and economic issues, and the second will examine issues related to cultural, scientific, and social cooperation between Algeria and Iraq. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD TO OPEN EMBASSY IN ARMENIA. The Armenian Foreign Ministry informed Interfax on 12 March that Iraq plans to open its embassy in Armenia sometime this year. Armenia opened an embassy in Baghdad in February 2001. (David Nissman)

SLAVNEFT TO DEVELOP IRAQI OIL DEPOSIT� The Russian-Belarusian oil company Slavneft and the Iraqi Oil Ministry on 5 March initialed an agreement on the development of the Subba oil deposit, "Interfax" reported on 6 March. A final contract may be signed within 45 days, after additional financial consultations. The Subba deposit reserves are estimated in excess of 105 million tons. (David Nissman)

�AND IRAQI VP TO VISIT MOSCOW. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan has been invited to visit Moscow at the invitation of the Russian government, INA reported on 11 March. In January Iraqi Minister of Health 'Umid Midhat Mubarak visited Russia. No date for Ramadan's visit has been set. (David Nissman)

UKRAINE BIDS TO SELL TRUCKS TO IRAQ. Ukraine's AvtoKraz is bidding to supply 13-20-ton trucks to Iraq, Interfax reported on 13 March. The company is offering its KRAZ-6510 13.5 ton and KRAZ-650055 16-ton four-wheel drive dump trucks. The trucks have eight cylinder 330-horsepower engines. The winner will be announced in May. Other Russian and European producers are also involved in the bidding. Currently, Iraq has some 1500 KRAZ trucks that it purchased before the Gulf War. (David Nissman)

ANOTHER BOMBING IN IRBIL. On 9 March, an explosion occurred on the main street of the working class Surchiyan district in Irbil, the regional capital of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-controlled part of the Kurdistan Regional Government, according to a report from Kurdistan Satellite TV from Salah Al-Din on 9 March. It was by no means the first such bomb to be set off in Irbil (see "RFERL Iraq Report," Vol. 3, 24 November on the bomb on 16 November). There seems to be no specific target in mind. In this case; two cars and a number of shops suffered heavy material damage, and two women were injured lightly. (David Nissman)

KDP, UN DISCUSS COOPERATION. Sami Abd-Al-Rahman, deputy head of the KDP-controlled territories of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) met John Almstrom, coordinator of the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordination for Iraq (UNOHCI) and two of his assistants to discuss preparations for the visit of Tun Myat, UN coordinator for UNOHCI. Abd-Al-Rahman also met with a representative of the Swedish Qandil organization, and discussed, among other items, the construction of 70 houses that are ready for distribution in the town of Binaslawa. (David Nissman)

KURDISH SDS BACKS PUK-KDP PEACE PROCESS. The Kurdistan Social Democratic Party Central Committee met to discuss the political situation in the region, Al-Sulaymaniyah's "Rebazi Azadi" reported on 28 February. The committee expressed its support for the peace process between the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party). (David Nissman)