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Iraq Report: April 20, 2001

20 April 2001, Volume 4, Number 13

SADDAM RESHUFFLES HIS CABINET. Saddam Husseyn on 18 April reshuffled his cabinet. In the most important shift, he moved Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf from the Foreign Ministry to the Information Ministry and named Tariq Aziz as "interim foreign minister, Baghdad television reported. The shifts appear to represent an effort to strengthen the Foreign Ministry: Earlier this month, an editorial in 'Udayy Saddam Husseyn's newspaper "Babil" criticized the Iraqi team that attended the Arab summit in Amman for not following Saddam's advice. According to the advice, they were to avoid the issue of lifting the sanctions against Iraq and concentrate only on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. In other changes, Saddam named Naji Sabri Ahmad Al-Hadithi state minister for foreign affairs and appointed Humam 'Abd-Al-Khaliq 'Abd-Al-Ghafur minister of higher education, a position which had been vacant. 'Abd-Al-Ghafur had been information minister. (David Nissman)

SCIRI'S MILITARY WING OPPOSES DIALOGUE WITH U.S. Disagreements have surfaced within the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iran (SCIRI) over whether to engage in a dialogue with the United States, according to London's "Al-Hayat" on 16 April. A willingness to take part in such talks had been expressed earlier by SCIRI Chairman Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim. But even he appears to have backed away from his assertion. (See "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 April 2001.)

Abu-Hasan Al-Haytham, an influential member of the General Committee, is quoted by "Al-Hayat" as saying that "neither the General Committee, which is SCIRI's highest body, nor the Central Shura Council has taken this decision [to engage in a dialogue with Washington]." He stressed as well that "the principle on which SCIRI was established rejects a dialogue with the United States, especially in connection with the U.S. intervention in Iraq, or asking the U.S. administration to help end the repression of the Iraqi people.

Other sources within SCIRI speaking on condition of anonymity told the London paper that "Al-Hakim's announcement that he is willing to engage in a dialogue with the United States has elicited positive reactions from the Iraqis (opposed to the regime) inside and outside the country. Al-Hakim has received many messages praising his new step toward ending the repression of the Iraqi people. Most of these messages were sent by the educated and intellectual elites among the Iraqis in Tehran and Qom and outside Iran." But any wider split within SCIRI could undoubtedly be contained if Tehran intervenes to allow such talks to go forward. (David Nissman)

IRAN LAUNCHES SCUDS AT MUJAHEDIN-E KHALQ BASES IN IRAQ. Doha's "Al-Jazirah Satellite Channel Television" on 18 April reported than Iran has fired at least 48 missiles at Mujahedin-e Khalq camps near Basra, Al-Kut, and Al-Amarah, southeast of Baghdad. AFP reported that at least one Mujahedin was killed, and several Iraqi citizens also. There has been no confirmation of Iraqi fatalities. Mas'ud Rajavi, Mujahedin leader, called on the UN Security Council to condemn the Iranian leadership for its use of "weapons of mass destruction, for exporting crises, and warmongering." The continuing Mujahedin presence in Iraq is a prime reasons Iran and Iraq have still not signed a peace treaty ending the Iran-Iraq War. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD SAID WITHIN SIX MONTHS OF HAVING NUCLEAR WEAPONS IN 1991. An Iraqi nuclear scientist, Professor Husayn Al-Shahristani, told London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 15 April that Saddam Husseyn would have produced a nuclear bomb had he delayed his invasion of Kuwait by only six months. But because Al-Shahristani refused to participate in a secret program to produce an atomic bomb, he was imprisoned at Abu-Gharib prison from 1979 to 1991. He escaped during the Gulf War and made his way to London.

Al-Shahristani said that France had helped Iraq with its nuclear program. He said that most of the project was located in the Al-Tuwaythah district and that Iraq had used a process he described as the "treatment of recycled depleted nuclear fuel." He added that the Military Industrialization Authority was responsible for building a missile to deliver the bomb and had made good progress at a site not far from Al-Hillah.

The exiled scientist said that now Iraq's current nuclear program is centered under Jabal Himrin in northern Iraq. And he said that he believes Iraq still has enough depleted nuclear fuel for at least two weapons. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD SAID REBUILDING BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS PLANT. Under the pretext of responding to the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease, Saddam Husseyn is rebuilding a plant at Al-Daura that was used to make biological weapons during the Gulf War, London's "Sunday Times" reported on 15 April. But as of this date, Baghdad has said that Iraq is free of any incidence of foot-and-mouth disease.

Iraq sent a letter to the UN Security Council saying that Baghdad "will contact specialist companies with a view to the renovation of laboratories for the production of foot-and-mouth vaccine." And it warned against "attempts by the U.S. and Britain to obstruct the renovation of the laboratories."

A British government specialist on biological weapons said that "we have no reason to trust Saddam and every reason to believe he will subvert the laboratories for military use," the British paper said. UN inspectors discovered in 1995 that the Al-Daura plant made botulinum toxin and conducted research on viral warfare agents, including infective haemorraghic conjunctivitis. (David Nissman

CZECHS TO SUPPLY ENGINES FOR IRAQI RAILROADS. The Diesel International (DI) company of the Czech Republic has received a contract worth 140 million crowns ($3.7 million), according to a report in the Prague newspaper "Hospodarske Noviny" of 10 April. A joint owner of DI, Radomir Bumbala, said that these contracts are being realized under the UN oil-for-food deal. He added that it takes a long time before one is finally paid because the UN commissioner who supervises the import of goods into Iraq has to supply confirmation -- before the goods pass into Iraq -- that the consignment cannot be misused for weapons systems. But when Prague's "Hospodarske Noviny" queried DI General Director Petr Skara, he denied Bumbala's information. (David Nissman)

JORDAN ASKS UN TO ALLOW BAGHDAD COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS. The "Jordan Times" reported on 17 April that Amman has asked the UN for permission to resume regular Baghdad-bound flights. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport Saleh Irsheyday said "we asked for new arrangements, reduced times, and facilitated procedures with regard to passenger flights." He said that these arrangements will lead to the establishment of regular air routes from Amman to Baghdad, the first since August, 1990. Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib said last week in Washington that the national air carrier was preparing to launch regular flights to Baghdad. Since Royal Jordanian's first charter flight to Baghdad on 30 November 2000, it has scheduled twice-weekly flights to Baghdad, but each must adhere to UN procedures and requires Sanctions Committee approval 48 hours before departure. (David Nissman)

AEUC TO HOLD NEXT MEETING IN BAGHDAD. The Arab Economic Unity Council (AEUC) and Iraq have agreed to hold its next meeting in Baghdad in early June, reported the "Syria Times" on 14 April. The decision to do so was taken at a meeting held between Secretary-General of the AEUC Dr. Ahmad Juwaili and Iraqi permanent delegate to the Arab League Muhsin Khalil at Arab League headquarters in Cairo. Dr. Juwaili stressed that the current Arab position stipulates that efforts be made to lift the embargo imposed on Iraq. Moving the meeting to Baghdad is an expression of the extent of Arab solidarity with Iraq to lift the embargo. And he pointed to the need to develop joint Arab economic cooperation in order to face world economic blocs. (David Nissman)

SADDAM RECEIVES ALGERIAN DELEGATION. The Algerian Business Forum, consisting of a delegation of 150 people, visited Iraq 15-18 April, Algiers' "Al-Watan" reported on 15 April. They brought with them two tons of medicine and ten tons of school equipment. Saddam Husseyn received the leaders of the delegation and said that Algerians understand Iraq because "you are a country of revolutionaries and martyrs," too. (David Nissman)

KURDS, UN DISCUSS ELECTRICITY ISSUE. Two Kurdish groups met with UN officials to discuss supplying electricity to Kurdistan, Sulaymaniyah's "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 11 April. Baghdad wants any arrangements to be linked to the central Iraqi system, something some Kurds fear could lessen their control of the region. Adnan Mufti, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) delegation, said that the UN's approach was positive; they wanted to facilitate the work in order to benefit the people of Kurdistan. He added that they are going to meet on a monthly basis. And the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) delegation, Sami Abd Al-Rahman, said that the PUK and KDP committees should be coordinated to implement Resolution 985. (David Nissman)

KDP'S BARZANI TO VISIT ANKARA AT THE END OF APRIL. The leader of the KDP, Mas'ud Barzani, is expected to visit Ankara at the end of the month to have talks with senior Turkish authorities officials about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to the "Turkish Daily News" of 12 April, his visit is also important because the new U.S. administration "has tightened it grip" on Iraq in an effort to end the Saddam regime. The Bush administration has made it clear, the paper said, that it plans to empower the Iraq National Congress to fight more effectively against Saddam and asked its allies to support its new policy, a request to which Turkey has responded cautiously. (David Nissman)

ASSYRIAN DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT HOLDS THIRD CONGRESS. The Assyrian Democratic Movement held its Third Congress in the cities of Irbil and Shaqlawa on 22-24 March. A new Executive Committee was elected by the 136 representatives to "stabilize the democratic practice, ideology, and organization." Yacob Yousip (Yonadam Kanna) was elected secretary-general, according to "Zinda" of 10 April. Mr Yousib's predecessor, Ninos Petya, had decided not to run again. On 29 March, Yousib had visited Mas'ud Barzani, chairman of the KDP, and Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK. (David Nissman)