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Iraq Report: February 18, 2000

18 February 2000, Volume 3, Number 7

'AZIZ SAYS BAGHDAD READY FOR PLURALISM. Tariq 'Aziz, deputy prime minister of Iraq told Madrid's "El Mundo" on 14 February that Baghdad is ready to accept a plurality of political parties, as long as each party presents a list of at least 150 supporters. He also said that the ruling Ba'th Party will give the opposition a "provisional authorization" for the appearance of an opposition newspaper.

In other comments which suggest the degree to which he should be believed on this point, 'Aziz said that Iraq did not invade Kuwait "to seize its oil wells" but rather to defend its "national interests. The US responded, 'Aziz said, because in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US President George Bush saw this as "a golden opportunity for the USA to obtain hegemony in the Gulf. Iraq was the problem; it was progressive and independent and therefore had to be punished." (David Nissman)

IRAQI ANTI-SANCTIONS EFFORT GAINS GROUND IN ASIA. At the latest meeting of the Joint Iraqi-Pakistani Committee, Baghdad gained some additional support for its anti-sanctions campaign among Asian states. According to the Iraqi News Agency, Pakistani officials said that there was "a need to put an end to this embargo so that Iraq may regain its stand within the international community" and that Pakistani businessmen were ready to contribute to the "rehabilitation of oil projects and electric power stations" in Iraq. Elsewhere in Asia, the Iraqi effort also continued unabated. Baghdad Television reported on 12 February that Muhammad Mahdi Salih, Iraqi trade minister, met with Thai Foreign Minister Dr. Surin Phitsuwan to discuss the enhancement of bilateral trade between the two sides during which Phitsuwan "expressed understanding towards Iraq's fair stance to get the embargo lifted."

Thai rice exporters are also potential beneficiaries of the lifting of sanctions. According to an article in the Bangkok-based "The Nation", they are still owed $72 million plus accrued interest of some $52 million for rice sold to Iraq before the outbreak of the Gulf War At the end of this week, there will be a six-day meeting of the Joint Trade Committee between Iraq and Thailand where the and other issues will be discussed. At present, Thailand accounts for 35 percent of Iraq's rice imports.

Meanwhile, a delegation from Indonesia brought similar reports, and Iraqi media predict that an upcoming visit by a Republic of Korea group will do the same. (David Nissman)

UN AID COORDINATOR FOR IRAQ RESIGNS. Hans von Sponeck, the head of the UN relief program for Iraq, resigned his office effective 31 March. His resignation was accepted by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan "with regret", according to an AFP dispatch of 14 February. Sponeck told AFP that the major factor behind his resignation was "my belief that the resolution passed in December last year for humanitarian programs here in Iraq is to a large extent unimplementable."

A day after Sponeck's resignation, Jutta Purghart of Germany, resigned her post as head of the UN Food Program in Iraq. According to a report in the "Guardian" on 16 February, she said that she could not continue in her job because she believed the sanctions were a failure and had caused much suffering. But a spokesman for the World Food Program said that her resignation was not a protest over sanctions.

Iraq has already weighed in on Sponeck's resignation. The political editor of the Iraq New Agency on 14 February said that Hans von Sponeck "could not tolerate being a false witness and seeing with his own eyes a genocide crime being committed against the Iraqi people and remain idle toward it." (David Nissman)

IRAQ, ARMENIA TO EXCHANGE AMBASSADORS. On 15 February, Iraq and Armenia raised their diplomatic ties to the ambassadorial level. An AFP dispatch of 15 February quotes INA as saying the decision was taken in an effort "to develop relations in all fields and strengthen the links of friendship between the peoples of Iraq and Armenia." (David Nissman)

DCT MOVEMENT OUTLINES ITS GOALS. Pachachi, the leader of the Democratic Centrist Tendency movement, told London's "Al-Hayat" on 15 February that the DCT had been established to unify the opposition. To this end, the DCT has held meetings with the Iraq National Congress and even took part in a joint delegation that went to Washington in May 1999.

To overcome what he called stagnation in the ranks of the Iraqi opposition, Pachachi said, "we urgently need to reorganize the oppositionists' ranks on the basis of national constants so as to hold an expanded meeting for the adoption of political tactics in stages that ensure the opposition's credibility and end its fragmentation."

But on the very day the Pachachi interview was published, "Al-Hayat" carried a story that the Free Iraqi Council has withdrawn from the DCT. The FIC statement accused the DCT of "irresponsible behavior" and suggested that "some elements and quarters linked to the Iraqi regime infiltrated the meeting." (David Nissman)

IRAQ TO SETTLE PALESTINIANS IN KURDISTAN. Kurdish sources report that Iraq is preparing to resettle as many as 500,000 Palestinians in northern Iraq. In return for this, the international embargo against Iraq would have to be lifted. A memorandum written to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, signed by former Kirkuk governor Jalal Jawhar 'Aziz, said that "in this context the [Iraqi] government has begun to give lands belonging to Kurdish citizens in Kirkuk, Khanaqin, and other areas; lands which the authorities seized after deporting the owners", according to the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 11 February. (David Nissman)

U.S. OFFICIAL WARNS BAGHDAD AGAINST CROSSING 'RED LINES'. Edward Walker, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, said in Qatar on 13 February that "Iraq should not ignore the red lines set by the United States." He warned Baghdad against entering its Kurdish populated northern areas. But he did not say what the US reaction might be to any Iraqi violation. Earlier, when he was in Kuwait on 12 February, Walker said that it would be better for the Iraqi people if Saddam Husseyn accepted the latest UN resolution, which would open the way for better use of the oil for food program. He added that while the U.S. would like to see a move in this direction, "...right nor, we don't see that happening." (David Nissman)

MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN KRG A "FARCE". The municipal elections held in early February in the Kurdistan Regional Government took place without the participation of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the KRG's largest party, an arrangement that the "Kurdistan Observer's" Lise Storm Grundon said had reduced them to the level of "farce."

She said that other factors had corrupted the process as well. The only party which had the time to prepare for elections was the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), which had organized them in the first place. As a result, she points out "the voters did not get the optimal information about each party, its candidates, and its visions."

According to Grundon, genuine elections would require the formation of an independent election commission, a decision on the proper electoral system, the creation of electoral districts, an election campaign with all parties participating, and a declaration by all parties that they will accept the results of the election. An initial step, not mentioned by Grundon but recognized in the past as being of great importance is the conducting of an unbiased census, preferably by international experts, before the districts are drawn up.

Grundon concludes that "the Iraqi Kurds must show the world that what they wish is not a further division of Kurdistan." She expresses the fear that this is what the municipal elections in the PUK-controlled territory of the KRG is about to create. (David Nissman)

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT DELEGATION VISITS KURDISTAN. Faillo Dipple, director of North Gulf Affairs at the US Department of State, met with the leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leadership and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in early February February to work on confidence building measures between two that would lead to "the implementation of the peace agreement.".

The KDP and PUK reportedly agreed that all remaining POWs should be released and that 30 internally displaced families from each side would be repatriated. According to a KDP press release, these issues are to be settled by 21 February when the Higher Coordination Committee (HCC) meets. And all sides agreed to hold regular meetings to oversee the implementation of the Washington Agreement. (David Nissman)

IRAQ LIBERATION ACTION COMMITTEE FORMED IN WASHINGTON. A new organization called the Iraq Liberation Act Committee (ILAC) announced its existence in a 14 February press release and said it is ready to begin active work to "promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace the totalitarian regime of Saddam Husseyn" in cooperation with the Iraqi National Congress leadership. ILAC has already met with officials from the Departments of State and Defense, and presidential campaign coordinators for Vice President Gore, Governor Bush, Senator Bradley and Senator McCain. (David Nissman)

ASSYRIAN PATRIARCH OPPOSES SANCTIONS. Raphael I Bidawid, the Assyrian-Chaldean patriarch from Baghdad, told the "St. Anthony Messenger," as reported by Zinda on 8 February, that "the embargo is inhuman and immoral...It is disaster for the Iraqi people." Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, an auxiliary bishop in the Assyrian archdiocese of Detroit, who visited Iraq in December, says the only way to eliminate sanctions is for people to inundate thew White House with phone calls, postcards and letters. (David Nissman)