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Iraq Report: November 9, 2001

9 November 2001, Volume 4, Number 36

RUSSIA TO HOLD ROUNDTABLE ON COOPERATION WITH IRAQ. The Russian Committee for International Cultural and Business Cooperation with Iraq plans to hold a roundtable on cooperation with that country on 26-27 November, reported Interfax on 5 November.

Russia will be represented by delegates from large private and state companies, as well as ministries and agencies, while Iraq will be represented by Abdul-Razzaq Al-Khashimi, chairman of the Organization for Peace, Friendship and Solidarity with Foreign Countries, and Faiz Shakhin, chairman of the Iraqi-Russian Friendship Society and former oil minister, as well as representatives from the Iraqi parliament and deputy ministers for the oil industry, trade, and industry.

The Iraqi deputy ministers are expected to acquaint the participants with the situation in their respective branches and "comment on the Iraqi government's decision to create favorable conditions for Russian businessmen on the Iraqi market." The participants plan to send an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Russian government and parliament, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging them to create normal conditions for trade and economic cooperation with Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQ WANTS 'NEW PAGE' IN RELATIONS WITH FRANCE. Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Naji Sabri Al-Hadithi said that his country wishes "to open a new page" in its relations with France. But, he adds, France "sometimes depends" on the United States, according to AFP on 31 October.

Al-Hadithi added that "this will depend on the attitude adopted by France since the more it moves away from the influence of the United States, the closer it moves towards Arabs." He explained in an interview with AFP that "France's position has sometimes been influenced by some countries, including the United States, which has affected relations between Paris and the Arab world and Iraq." Iraq has criticized France for supporting an American-British project at the UN, revising sanctions imposed by the UN since August 1990. Al-Hadithi elucidated further by stating that "relations between Iraq and France are continuing despite its negative position concerning stupid sanctions." "Stupid sanctions" in an Iraqi allusion to "smart sanctions" which aim to soften sanctions against the civilian population while strengthening checks on military goods. (David Nissman)

RESHUFFLING OF FOREIGN MINISTRY CONTINUES. Two senior Foreign Ministry deputies have been pensioned off, "Iraq News" reported on 6 November. They lost their positions due to a row with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Al-Hadithi. Nizar Hamdun, formerly Iraq's ambassador at the UN, and Riyad Al-Qaysi have also lost their jobs. Hamdun had been nominated as Iraq's ambassador in France; Al-Qaysi was nominated to be ambassador in Austria. A new diplomatic shuffle is expected soon. Iraq's ambassadors to Turkey, Libya, and Sudan will soon be asked to return to Baghdad. Al-Hadithi is backed up in his personnel decisions by Qusay Saddam Husseyn. (David Nissman)

U.S. PRESSURES UN OVER WEAPONS INSPECTORS FOR IRAQ. The "Financial Times" of 4 November reports that the U.S. has been pressing the UN for renewed weapons inspections in Iraq. There is some concern about Baghdad's programs to develop biological and other weapons of mass destruction. The American effort, to come before the UN before the end-of-the-month deadline for renewing the UN-monitored humanitarian program in Iraq, comes with what U.S. officials say "is growing evidence of contacts between Iraq and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network."

The "Financial Times" says that "that evidence has shattered previous U.S. assumptions that the secular Iraqi regime could not cooperate with religious extremists." A senior U.S. defense official has said that the information has not, so far, led to the conclusion that Iraq was involved in the 11 September terror attacks or the later anthrax outbreaks.

The U.S. believes that Iraq is closer to redeveloping deadly weapons as UN arms inspectors have not set foot in the country since 1998. Suspicions that Iraq may be in contact with the Al-Qaeda network only makes renewed inspections more urgent. (David Nissman)

DEFECTOR CLAIMS IRAQ-BIN LADEN TIES. A high-ranking defector who served for 16 years in an Iraqi intelligence agency said on 2 November that the Baghdad regime has controlled and funded Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network since 1998. He was briefing members of the Iraq National Congress (INC) in London, according to Melbourne's "The Sunday Herald Sun" on 4 November.

He claimed that the funding for Al-Qaeda came from illegal oil exports channeled through Dubai in the Persian Gulf. An INC activist said "he has first-hand information about the link between Saddam and bin Laden because he also worked as a money-launderer and sanctions-buster for the Iraqi leader."

The defector's name was withheld for the sake of his personal security, but London-based sources say he has been living "in one of the Scandinavian countries."

An INC activist continued to say "this is the third time a reliable Iraqi informant has come forward with disclosures about how Iraq has been in control of Al-Qaeda for the last three years."

AFP reported on 3 November that "La Reppublica" of Italy had also reported on the defector's testimony before the INC. Here, the former officer is identified as "A.S." Among his claims is that Iraq had sent a ton of anthrax to bin Laden. He also said that members of bin Laden's terror network have been trained in Salman Pak in Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, TUNISIA, MOROCCO TO BOOST TRADE RELATIONS. The prospects for improving trade and economic relations between Iraq and Morocco were discussed at a meeting between the Iraqi Minister of Communications and Transport Ahmad Murtada Ahmad and the Moroccan Secretary of State for Social Economy Abdelkrim Ben Atiq on 3 November. Possibilities of implementing joint projects in the transport and communications sector were also discussed, reported INA on 5 November. The next day there was a meeting between Ahmad and the Tunisian Minister of Trade Tahar Sioud within the framework of the Baghdad International Fair, which Sioud is visiting. (David Nissman)

LEBANON, IRAQ TO SIGN FREE-TRADE AGREEMENT. Lebanon and Iraq are to sign a free-trade agreement, Lebanese Minister of State Beshara Merhej said on 4 November, reported "L'Orient Le Jour" on 5 November. The agreement will be signed during the visit of Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan to Lebanon. Trade turnover between Lebanon and Iraq totaled $400 million in 2001, Merhej said during his visit to the Baghdad International Fair.

The Omani Chamber of Commerce and Industry has signed a trade and economic cooperation agreement with the Union of Iraqi Chambers of Commerce on 3 November. Forty Omani companies are taking part in the Baghdad International Fair.

The allocations fixed for Omani exports to Iraq under the UN oil-for-food program is $350 million, but the Omani private sector has not utilized the opportunities provided by the Iraqi government as exports to Iraq only amounted to $49 million, according to the Oman News Agency on 5 November. (David Nissman)

ALGERIA, IRAQ SET UP FREE-TRADE ZONE. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan ended his trip to Algeria on 31 October. A number of agreements were signed between the two countries: an agreement to establish a free-trade area between Algeria and Iraq, and two other agreements in the fields of trade and transport, according to APS (Algiers) of 31 October.

Ramadan called for "carrying on dialogue and the exchange of views and visits between both countries in order to realize common objectives." He was also received by Mohamed Cherif Messaadia, chairman of the Nation's Council. The two men assessed bilateral relations, which have been considerably revived over the last few years, and they exchanged views on the situations in Palestine and Afghanistan.

In a subsequent meeting with Chairman of the National People's Assembly Abdelkader Bensalah at which the importance of unifying Arab ranks and coordinating "efforts to take up the challenges faced by Arab-Muslim countries in the light of current developments in the Arab region and the world."

APS also reported a joint communique in which the two countries "condemned international terrorism and expressed their full support to the efforts to eradicate this phenomenon within the UN framework." (David Nissman)

CAR BOMB DEFUSED IN BAGHDAD. A car bomb, containing 11 kilograms of highly explosive materials and plastic boxes filled with gasoline was discovered and defused in a densely populated part of Baghdad on 31 October, according to Baghdad Radio on 1 November. An authorized security official stated that the enemy continues "to repeat their desperate attempts to commit criminal, subversive acts.... In so doing, they are serving the schemes of their failing U.S.-Zionist masters, who falsely claim to be fighting terrorism while it is they who export and carry out terrorism the world over." (David Nissman)

RAMADAN MEETS WITH SYRIAN PRESIDENT. Iraqi Vice President Ramadan, on his return from Algeria, held talks with Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad, according to Baghdad Television on 1 November. Topics of discussion included bilateral ties and "international developments in the aftermath of the U.S. aggression on Afghanistan and their consequences." Ramadan said that the atmosphere was positive and the two countries shared the same analysis of the situation and had an identity of views. Ramadan was accompanied by Dr. Ahmad Murtada Ahmad, minister of transport and communications, and Karim Mahmud Huaysn Al-Mulla, chairman of the Youth and Sports Commission. (David Nissman)

KDP, PUK HOLD TALKS. The two rival Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), are holding talks in Salahuddin in order to carve out a unified policy, according to "Iraq Press" of 3 November. The talks are occurring at the same time that Turkish troops are being reinforced along one border, and Iraqi troops along the other.

On 3 November, a report from Hawler of 4 November reported that Barham Salih, of the PUK Politbureau, met with Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the KDP. Salih briefed Barzani about the outcome of his visit to the United States.

Informed Turkish sources have told "Iraq Press" that both the KDP and PUK are eager to put their differences aside after years of estrangement and fighting. They have joined forces to fight terrorism in their own region. Last month PUK militias mounted an attack on the Jund al-Islam, thus forcing the Jund to abandon its stronghold of Halabcha. However, the Jund al-Islam is still entrenched in Biyara and Tawila, on the Iranian border.

Talks to resolve differences with the Jund have failed, and PUK militias are once again attacked Jund positions on the night of 3 November. Jund al-Islam abandoned their positions, but booby-trapped them first. More than 25 PUK militia were killed and they were forced to abandon their positions. There are, as yet, no reports on Jund casualties, according to of 4 November.

In this context, PUK leader Jalal Talabani has met with a delegation from the Islamic Union headed by its secretary-general, Salahal-din Muhammad Bahaddin. Talabani reaffirmed his commitment to the principle of political, peaceful, and civil dialogue as the preferred method of resolving public issues; at the same time, he stressed that the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) will not tolerate any encroachments against the people's right of political and religious freedoms, reported the "Kurdistan Newsline" of 4 November. The meeting covered the threat posed by the armed activities of the Jund Al-Islam. Bahaddin emphasized his desire to consolidate his group's ties with the PUK and efforts to maintain stability in the region.

At the same time, the PUK reinforced its front lines against the Jund Al-Islam, according to on 5 November. A high-level PUK delegation led by Kosrat Ali visited the PUK-Jund front lines. He was accompanied by Prime Minister Barham Salih and Politbureau member Arsalan Bay.

The talks are occurring as Iraq masses troops along the border to the KRG. According to travelers, Republican Guard units are involved in the latest Iraqi deployment of troops. According to them, some units are deployed along an artificial lake. These units are equipped with pontoon bridges and amphibious equipment. In addition, the travelers report seeing new rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers, and military vehicles. Turkish troops reportedly have strengthened positions along the mountainous borders between the two countries, and some Turkish troops are said to be already in Iraqi territory.(David Nissman)

IRAN INCREASES PARTICIPATION IN BAGHDAD FAIR. The public relations department of Iran's International Exhibition Company announced Iran's participation in the Baghdad International Fair, reported IRNA on 4 November. A total of 62 industrial-manufacturing, export, and service companies in various fields, including electricity and electronics, home appliances, service, food industries, medical and medicine, chemical and cellulose, construction and building equipment, and automobile and affiliates are taking part. The number of Iranian companies participating in the fair has risen by 30 percent in comparison to earlier events. Other countries taking part include Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Austria, Yugoslavia, Cuba, South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, Thailand, Syria, South Africa, Egypt, Libya, Vietnam, Morocco, Oman, Algeria, UAE, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar, India, Palestine, Myanmar, Nigeria, Tunisia, Jordan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and the Sudan. (David Nissman)

GRAVE ROBBERS IN AL-NAJAF ARRESTED. "Iraq Press" reported on 5 November that five people have been arrested in the act of removing scores of skeletons from the cemetery of Al-Najaf, one of the largest cemeteries in the world. The thieves were looking for gold teeth, which they pulled out, melted and sold to goldsmiths. Eyewitnesses said the digging up of skeletons in search of gold teeth was the first such crime in Iraq. The initial suspects were wild animals which roam freely in the nearly 600-square-kilometer cemetery. Police set up an ambush, and five people were arrested as they dug up a grave.. The robbers confessed that they had removed 120 skeletons and found 50 gold teeth. The robbers were found guilty, but the judge was not sure what sentence to pass. (David Nissman)

ETHNIC CLEANSING IN KIRKUK CONTINUES. Iraqi authorities have confiscated, without compensation, all the lands belonging to Galabat village in Jabar district, and have forcibly deported the citizens to the liberated region of Kurdistan (north of the 36th parallel). An eyewitness, in response to a question by Kurdistan Newsline of 30 October, said that Iraqi security agents had started to harass the 35 Kurdish families resident in the village and subsequently deported them and took over their lands and properties.

The Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence agency, had already prepared a list of 200 Arab families from the Al-Lahib and Al-Jibur Arab tribes who are to receive the lands. The eyewitness has confirmed that Iraqi security is deporting anyone who refuses to change the designation of his or her nationality from Kurdish or Turkmen to Arabic.

The office of the Iraqi presidency has issued a decree through the governor of Kirkuk that no official of Kurdish nationality must remain in any government department of Kirkuk after the end of 2001. It is reported that severe penalties will follow if the decree is not fully implemented. (David Nissman)