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Iraq Report: February 4, 2000

4 February 2000, Volume 3, Number 5

U.S. CONCERNED ABOUT IRAQI WEAPONS BUILDUP. Iraq has been rebuilding the military and industrial sites which had been damaged by American and British air strikes in late 1998, according to "The New York Times" of 1 February. American officials, the article says, are concerned about the absence of international weapons inspectors.

Intelligence reports, the "Times" says, have provided no concrete evidence that Iraq is building biological or chemical weapons. But these reports have raised the possibility of renewed military confrontation, because the administration has repeatedly warned that any effort by Iraq to produce the weapons would prompt new American air strikes.

The bombing of Iraq that began 13 months ago set back Iraq's ability to produce chemical and biological weapons, and the missiles needed to launch them, by one to two years, according to senior commanders.

American officials have repeatedly said that there are three "red lines" Iraq is not permitted to cross: Iraq cannot threaten a neighboring country, Iraq cannot attack the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq, and it cannot reconstitute nuclear, chemical, or biological programs.

If the "Times" report is correct, Iraq may now have crossed one of them. (David Nissman)

PENTAGON, INC OFFICIALS MEET IN LONDON. A U.S. Defense Department delegation met with the provisional Iraqi National Council presidency in London on 1 February. A source at the INC told the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman" that the meeting came within the context of finalizing consultations on the Iraq Liberation Act. The source maintained that the Pentagon-INC meetings had been held regularly since the INC meeting in New York last November (David Nissman)

U.K.'S LABOR PARTY UPSET BY COST OF IRAQ CAMPAIGN. British Labor Party parliamentarians have begun to complain about the increased costs of the bombing campaign against Iraq, which they estimate to be approximately 4.5 million pounds a month. One of them, Alan Simpson, said that "this is the hidden war against Iraq which is now almost akin to punishment beatings," adding that "it is difficult to see what moral, ethical or military sense it makes."

The Ministry of Defense says that its military presence in the Gulf and the attacks on Iraq are a direct response to Baghdad's violations of the no-fly zones, concerns that Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn will continue to build up weapons of mass destruction, and a response to the persecution of Kurds and Shi'a Muslims. Sir Geoffrey Hoon, Britain's defense secretary, added during a stop in the United Arab Emirates that Saddam will be to blame if he refuses to accept UNSC Resolution 1284, which ties a suspension of sanctions to a new arms control regime, AFP reported on 1 February.

According to the UAE's "Khaleej Times" of 2 February, Hoon also argued that Britain's position had been consistent and that the British public were fully behind their government's actions concerning Iraq.

The British and American positions may be having some impact: Iraq's position on Resolution 1284 is also wavering. Although Nizar Hamdun, Iraq's deputy foreign minister, said in Nicosia that the resolution was seen by Iraq as one that contained nothing for Iraq. The "Middle East Economic Survey" was quoted by DPA on 31 January as saying that Hamdun "stopped short of formally rejecting the resolution." Another unnamed senior Iraqi official is quoted by the Middle East News Agency (MENA) as saying on 29 January that his country "has no reservations" on Hans Blix, who was appointed to head the new arms inspection unit known as UNMOVIC. (David Nissman)

AUSTRIA, IRAQ INCREASE TRADE COOPERATION. Austrian Deputy Minister of Trade and Foreign Economic Affairs Josef Mayer and the head of the Iraqi-Austrian Joint Committee, led a 27-person delegation to Iraq to promote trade relations. In discussions with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan, Ramadan said that relations between Iraq and "fraternal and friendly states" are better than they were before the "U.S.-led 30-state aggression against Iraq," according to Baghdad Radio on 29 January. Since the launching of the oil-for-food program in December 1996, Austrian companies have won contracts worth $280 million. Meanwhile, Iraqi Minister of Trade Dr. Muhammad Mahdi Salih received Yugoslav Trade Minister Borisa Vukovic in Baghdad. According to Baghdad Radio on 1 February, the two ministers reviewed economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries "and ways of enhancing them in the future in the service of the common interest." (David Nissman)

'ARMED CLASHES' AMONG BA'TH MEMBERS IN SOUTH IRAQ. London's "Al-Zaman," citing informed Iraqi sources, said on 2 February that there had been armed clashes between members of the ruling Ba'th Party in the district of Al-Daghgharah in the governorate of Al-Qadisiyah. It added that the cause of the fighting was the "allocation of night patrols" to guard the party headquarters in the district and surrounding areas. The reason for the night patrols is "the recent increase in armed attacks against members of the ruling party and the failure of the party leadership to assist its members with teams from the emergency forces." "Al-Zaman" notes that similar incidents have taken place in several party branches because of the refusal of party members to participate in night patrols. (David Nissman)

TALABANI SUPPORTS MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS. In a speech to leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's leading party cadres, PUK leader Jalal Talabani stressed the importance of the first-ever municipal council elections. In a "Kurdistan Observer" report from Sulaymaniyah on 1 February, he said that the importance of the elections provides an opportunity to "mobilize the public and help it to contribute to realize the goals of renewal and democracy." He further pointed out that the PUK needed to "demonstrate readiness to act on its democratic program and should avoid resorting to pressure tactics." And he added that no police, security, intelligence, or any other state apparatus will be allowed in the polling stations. Talabani also explained that the mandate of the municipal councils was going to be expanded so that they would have a greater role in the administration of vital concerns and services of the citizenry. (David Nissman)

BOMB INCIDENTS IN NORTHERN IRAQ CONTINUE. During January, there were ever more bombing incidents in Iraq's Kurdish regions, both those under Baghdad's control and those in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). At the beginning of the month, the Sorani Kurdish newspaper "Bopeshawa" reported on a bombing at a cosmetics salon in Irbil. On 15 January that paper reported a similar bombing at the headquarters of the Turkoman Eli party headquarters. And on 25 January, the Sorani newspaper "Gulan" reported an explosion in a house in the Pirzeen resettlement camp, injuring three people. Another bombing took place at the offices of the Islamic Unity Movement of Kurdistan (IUMK) in Irbil on 25 January (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 January 2000). (David Nissman)

MEDICINES REACHING KURDISH POPULATION. Medical services are improving in the Kurdistan Regional Government's Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, its medicine import director, Sherko Yunis, told the Kurdish newspaper "Gulan" on 17 January. His organization and the ministry that it belongs to imports medicines from Turkey and Europe, imports them via Iran and Turkey, and then sets prices and distributes them. Government-owned medical centers also receive their medicines from private stores. The medical centers are based at surgeries: there are five such centers in Irbil, five in Sulaymaniyah, and three in Dohuk. There are also 21 health insurance centers in administrative districts and towns in Dohuk Governate. (David Nissman)

FIRST WORLD CONGRESS OF YEZIDIS HELD IN GERMANY. The University of Hannover in Germany, the Society for Endangered Peoples, and the Yezidi religious community in Germany and Northern Iraq convened the First Congress of Yezidis for three days at the end of January. Because there are upwards of 10,000 Yezidis in Germany, the community there sought and received support as a religious minority. And that is why the meeting took place in Hannover.

The Yezidis, who live mainly in Northern Iraq, Turkey, and the Caucasus, are not a national or ethnic group, but believers in Yezidism, an offshoot of Zoroastrianism; in other ethno-cultural terms, it is a Kurdish movement, and they predominantly speak Kurdish, primarily the Kurmanci dialect. Since they are not an ethnic group per se, they have been victims of many of the campaigns directed against the Kurds, and sometimes they have been the victims of the Muslim Kurds themselves. In many of the countries in which they reside, they have been subject to discriminatory acts by ruling governments.

In Iraq, where the Yezidi press service estimates some 600,000 Yezidis live and which is the center of Yezidi culture and religion, Yezidi religious studies have been forbidden by Baghdad since 1963. Similarly, in the Iraqi censuses of 1977 and 1987 the Yezidis are classified and registered as "an Arabic people." The Yezidi publication, "Denge Ezidyan," notes that 10 percent of the Yezidi settlements in Iraq are on the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government, including the holy city of Lalish, while Baghdad retains control of 90 percent of them.

The situation of the Yezidis in Iraqi Kurdistan was better than in the Baghdad-controlled areas until the outbreak of the war between the two major political parties in Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. As "Denge Ezidiyan" says, "this created a serious danger not only for those who were pro-democracy, but also the Yezidi and Christian minorities." Since then, the situation has worsened because of the development of extremist Muslim parties in Kurdistan.

Yezidi settlements in northern Iraq under Baghdad's control have also been subject to other forms of arbitrary action. In 1978, 126 Yezidi villages in the Sinjar region were "collectivized" into ten villages, and eight Yezidi villages near Duhak were destroyed and the villagers forcibly driven into another village. "Denge Ezidyan" reports several such instances. The process generally involves the redistribution of Yezidi lands to Arab tribes. The Iraqi "new villages" lack basic medical services, and any economic advantages. Animal husbandry, a traditional Yezidi occupation, is not permitted by the Arabs, and pastures for livestock is generally lacking nearby the new settlements.

In August 1997 two Yezidi teachers from the Elqush region were arrested by the Iraqi secret service and tortured until they promised not to give Yezidi religious instruction. In the same month, in Ayn Sufna, an overwhelmingly Yezidi area and the residence of the highest figure in the Yezidi religion, 1,500 properties of the Yezidis were appropriated by members of the Arab Hedidi tribe and the Kurdish tribe Zediki under the sponsorship of the Iraqi government.

The Yezidis face not only a major human rights problem, but also one of identity. Yezidism, as a belief, is passed down through the family. While there are a number of religious texts, they have never been published. Yezidism, thus, became a "folk religion." At the congress, Professor Ackermann of the Essen Cultural Institute made the point that The lack of availability of texts meant that it had become a "secret" religion rather than a public or open religion. This may be one of the factors leading to the current Yezidi campaign for recognition.

The Yezidis' greatest battle is still ahead: to make their religion and beliefs public and end the constant erosion of their communities through ignorance and secrecy. For this reason, they have turned to the Internet in hopes of making their cause better known to the world at large. It is hoped that the campaign against Yezidism is recognized as a human rights issue, not only as a question of religious belief. The Yezidi publication "Denge Ezdiyan" can be found at the Yezidi homepage, (David Nissman).