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Iraq Report: April 13, 2001

13 April 2001, Volume 4, Number 12

SCIRI ADDS CONDITIONS TO ANY U.S. TALKS. Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said that Iraqi Islamic groups would be willing to hold talks with the U.S. government only as part of an effort to gain international support for the Iraqi nation's struggle against Saddam Husseyn, IRIB reported on 8 April. He thus distanced himself from a report in London's "Al-Hayat" last week which said that SCIRI is prepared to talk to Washington. (See RFE/RL Iraq Report, 6 April.)

Meanwhile, London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 6 April that Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i had personally approved a direct link between SCIRI and the U.S. A source close to the Maqar Al-Nasr headquarters command told the newspaper that the approval was the result of long-drawn-out efforts by SCIRI, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, and the Maqar Al-Nasr, which is a bureau under Khamene'i.

"Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 10 April suggests that this willingness on SCIRI's part reflects a coming together of Saddam Husseyn's opponents into "an anti-regime alliance." The paper said that "there are now people on both sides (Iran and U.S.) who believe that cooperation against Saddam could ultimately lead to the normalization of relations between Tehran and Washington." (David Nissman)

FIC SEES EXPANDED U.S. SUPPORT FOR OPPOSITION. The Free Iraqi Council (FIC) held a meeting in London under the chairmanship of Sa'd Salih Jabr to discuss the new possibilities for the Iraqi opposition in the light of "the new U.S. administration's approaches and contacts with new Iraqi opposition groups," London's "Al-Zaman" reported on 5 April.

Among those in attendance were Iyad Alawi from the National Accord Movement, Abd-Al-Sattar Al-Duri from the Pan-Arab Grouping, and Husayn Al-Sha'lan in a personal capacity and not as a representative of the Centrist Tendency. Independent figures, such as Muhammad Bahr Al-'Ulum, Husayn Al-Sadr, Major General Fadil Assaf and the independent Kurdish figure Mahmud 'Uthman,also took part. Sources added that the Iraqi Communist Party sent apologies for not attending the meeting, as did certain factions in Damascus. SCIRI and the Democratic Accord Grouping were not invited.

The session produced little agreement besides a commitment to meet again in two weeks. (David Nissman)

25 PRISONERS EXECUTED NEAR BAGHDAD. Irbil's "Tariq Al-Sha'b" reported on 1 April that 25 people had been brutally executed at Abu Ghurayb prison, south of Baghdad. The paper cited an eyewitness account that the bodies had been disfigured by the large number of bullets used. (David Nissman)

SADDAM CHANGES INTELLIGENCE CHIEFS. London's "Al-Hayat" on 5 April reported that Saddam Husseyn had fired General Tajir Jalil al-Habbush as the country's intelligence chief and named Major General Hasib Al-Rifa'i in his place. An opposition newspaper, "Al-Ittijah Al-Akhbar," put out by the Iraqi Homeland Party said that Al-Habbush has been named governor of Salah Al-Din Province and that Al-Rifa'i's appointment was intended to improve the image of the intelligence services. Al-Habbush, who was head of the military intelligence branch in Basrah during the Iran-Iraq War, was involved with the use of chemical weapons in the past. (David Nissman)

GCC MEETING PROVOKES BAGHDAD. The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council discussed the Iraq situation at a meeting in the Saudi border town of Hafar Al-Batin, the home of the GCC defense forces, AFP reported on 6 April. Baghdad's "Al-Qadisiyah" reported that the Hafar Al-Batin meeting was held under U.S. orders and represented an attempt by Saudi and Kuwaiti leaders to increase tension. The Ba'th party newspaper "Al-Thawra" on 8 April added that in its view the meeting was a "provocation." It asked rhetorically: "What would happen if civilian or military Iraqi leaders met in Basrah and announced from there that their meeting was devoted to discussing the situation in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and that the meeting served as a message? Would the Saudi and Kuwaiti rulers not say that Iraq is threatening them or preparing for an attack on them?" (David Nissman)

PUTIN SEEN EXPANDING MOSCOW-BAGHDAD TIES. Iraqi Ambassador in Moscow Muzhir Al-Duri said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 April that Russian-Iraqi ties have increased dramatically since Vladimir Putin became president a year ago. He added that the upcoming visit of Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramazan to Moscow on 18 April will feature the signing of framework accords that should lead to the expansion of trade between the two countries. Such trade now amounts to "more than $1.5 billion," the ambassador said. Al-Duri also agreed with recent Russian suggestions that the sanctions regime has cost Moscow some $30 billion in lost income. And he thanked Putin and the Russian government for pushing to end the sanctions regime. (David Nissman)

YUGOSLAVIA, IRAQ DISCUSS ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Miroljub Labus, Yugoslav deputy premier and foreign trade minister, and Sami Sa'dun, Iraqi ambassador to Yugoslavia, discussed expanding cooperation under the oil-for food program between the two countries, Tanjug reported on 9 April. (David Nissman)

WASHINGTRON SAID MULLING MORE AID TO KURDISTAN. Barham Salih, the head of the PUK-controlled region of Iraqi Kurdistan, was quoted by Kurdsat on 7 April as saying that David Welch, who is the acting assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, backs improving assistance to Kurdistan under UN Resolution 986. Salih made these comments after attending a meeting at the U.S. State Department. Another Kurdish official who took part in the meetings told Kurdsat on 4 April that the new U.S. administration is still considering its policy options in the Middle East. (David Nissman)

KDP, PUK AGREE ON CRIMINAL PROCEDURES. KDP and PUK officials agreed that individuals charged with crimes are to be tried where they committed them even if those involved are from a different place, the "Kurdish Observer" reported on 10 April. The two established a Joint Security Committee to consider problems in travelling between the regions they control as well as other legal and security questions. In other developments, the KDP is preparing to hold local elections in Irbil (Hewler), Duhok, and other regions next month. Such voting has already taken place in the PUK-controlled area. (David Nissman)

WILL THERE BE A WATER WAR? Turkey's efforts to exploit water in the Tigris and Euphrates to help develop its southeast have increased tensions between Ankara and the capitals of Syria and Iraq, which must deal with the loss of water flow through their countries. In the past, these states have attempted to develop water-sharing agreements to ensure that downriver states do not suffer from the actions of those upriver. But these accords have been difficult to achieve and equally difficult to enforce.

Iraq has been growing increasingly concerned by Turkey's dam projects. In December 1998, the Iraq National Assembly denounced what it said was Turkey's inappropriate use of Tigris and Euphrates waters (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 November 1998.). The recent rapprochement between Syria and Iraq gave Baghdad hope that something could be done. At the beginning of February this year, Iraq and Syria signed a water-sharing accord, something London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" said on 2 February was "the clearest message to be sent yet by the two Arab countries to their common neighbor Turkey on the need to take into consideration the needs of littoral countries."

Intriguingly, even the Iraqi opposition is seeking to play a role in the matter. Dr. Adnan Al-Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister who now heads the Iraqi Centrist Democratic Trend in London, said in the same paper last 23 September that his movement has set up an ad hoc committee on water-sharing issues.

Al-Pachachi said that water has always been one of the major issues between Turkey and Iraq, even since the Lausanne Agreement of 1923, and despite the provisions of the friendship treaty between Iraq and Turkey in 1946. When Al-Pachachi went to Ankara in the 1960s, he said, he stressed to Turkey that it had to respect Iraq's historically acquired rights to the river flows.

Conflicts between Iraq and Turkey on this issue are complicated by the rise of the Kurdish areas in northern Iraq as a result of the no-fly zone and the moderation of the PKK-led Kurdish uprising in Turkey itself. The former means that Baghdad may have to find some way of reaching agreement within its own borders and the latter that the international community and funding agencies may be less willing to help Turkey build dams and thus develop the southeast, particularly if such construction could trigger a broader conflict. (David Nissman)