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Iraq Report: April 24, 2000

24 April 2000, Volume 3, Number 11

RUSSIAN-IRAQI ARMS DEAL IN THE OFFING? Iraqi Defense Minister General Sultan Hasham Ahmad met in Moscow on 14-16 April with his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeyev. The meetings, kept secret until after they happened, focused on the sanctions regime and other aspects of the international situation in the Middle East. Russian Defense Ministry sources told Interfax on 18 April that the two had not discussed arms. This Russian report was confirmed by London's "Al-Hayat" on 18 April. It said that Russia "will not export arms [to Iraq] but can give Baghdad military advice."

Meanwhile, however, London's "Sunday Telegraph" of 16 April reported a multimillion dollar arms deal between Russia and Iraq that will enable the Iraqi military to upgrade and modernize its air defense systems. This deal was allegedly signed in February between Iraq and Beltechexport, the state-owned Belarus military hardware company. The Belarusian Security Council has denied any such deal, according to "Belapan" in Minsk on 18 April.

The paper notes that the deal is a "blatant breach of the United Nations arms embargo" and, if implemented, it will make it possible for the Iraqis to target American and British aircraft. The exposure in the press of an earlier $100 million agreement brokered by former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had angered international opinion, and Moscow reportedly gave instructions that all future deals with Iraq be negotiated through intermediaries. Hence, the present deal was set up between Tariq Aziz and Serhei Linh, the Belarus premier in July 1999.

Under the terms of this agreement, technicians from Belarus will update Iraq's SA-3 anti-aircraft missile batteries, extending their range from 12 to 18 miles. Also, 17 Soviet-made Iraqi warplanes in Belarus since the late 1980s will be overhauled at the Baranovichi aircraft repair plant. (David Nissman)

BA'TH PARTY, RCP HOLD JOINT SEMINAR IN BAGHDAD. In a speech given at a two-day seminar in Baghdad on ideological dialogue attended by members of the Ba'th Party Foreign Relations Bureau and the Russian Communist Party (RCP), Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz stressed that the continuation of dialogue between the two parties had great importance for many in Iraq, in the Arab world, and in the RCP, Baghdad Radio said on 17 April. Aziz added that the Ba'th Party still believes that socialism is not something of the past but that it is the future.

The Iraqi leader called for a return to socialism not because it is an ideological requirement but because it is "a practical national need for the protection of our homelands from capitalist hegemony."

Valentin Kolso, first deputy chairman of the RCP Central Committee and leader of the Russian delegation, said that the RCP is still committed to its relations with Iraq and strongly supports lifting the embargo.

The opening of the seminar was attended by many Ba'th Party Revolutionary Command members, including Dr. Sa'dun Hammadi, National Assembly speaker, the Iraqi minister of justice, the minister of culture and information, and many ranking Ba'th Party cadres. (David Nissman)

EGYPT, IRAQ BEGIN NORMALIZATION PROCESS. The opening of the Baghdad International Fair will be marked by the attendance of a group of Egyptian state-owned companies, London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 17 April. The newspaper added that "official moves are in evidence, giving observers the impression that Cairo intends to proceed with restoring full diplomatic representation by reopening its embassy in Baghdad and also the Iraqi embassy in Cairo." Relations between the two countries were broken in the course of the Gulf War.

Egyptian Business Sector Minister Mukhtar Khattab was asked by the prime minister to give these public companies maximum profile at the Fair. Sources in the ministry said participation is "political" before it is economic because Egypt wants to activate the "Oil-For-Food" program and emphasize reviving the historic relations between the two countries. (David Nissman)

WATER ISSUE BETWEEN TURKEY, IRAQ RESURFACES. Iraqi Minister of Irrigation Muhammad Diyab Al-Ahmad was cited in the Baghdad weekly "Sawt Al-Talaba" as having urged Turkey to reach an agreement on sharing the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates river with Iraq and Syria, Reuters reported on 16 April.

Both rivers originate in Turkey, and represent an issue which recurs regularly between the three countries (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 November 1998, 29 January 1999, and especially 16 July 1999). Syria and Iraq claim that Turkey's dam projects have reduced the amount of water flowing into their territories. The two countries depend on the Tigris and Euphrates for drinking water, irrigation, and power generation. The article in "Sawt Al-Talaba" says that "The construction of dams and projects on the Euphrates and Tigris has caused Iraq sustained damage...and led to great shortages in waters coming to Iraq...Such huge Turkish projects place Iraq in a difficult situation."

The region has also been facing a sustained drought. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture, the Tigris and Euphrates have dropped to some 20 percent of their normal flow.

There are no international agreements regulating or defining the riparian rights between upriver and downriver states, although these initiatives have been attempted. For example, on 21 May 1997 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, a convention which Turkey voted against. Turkey voted against it for three reasons: a) it goes "far beyond" the scope of a Framework Convention and establishes a mechanism for planned measures on the watercourse, b) the mechanism creates an obvious inequality between upstream and downstream countries by granting close to veto rights to the latter over the planned measures to be taken by the former, and c) it ignores the indisputable principle of the sovereignty of concerned states over the parts of the watercourses situated in their territory. (David Nissman)

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER ON FOUR MONOPOLIES AND THE MILITARY. The Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf, head of the Iraqi delegation at a "South Summit" convening in Havana, told that meeting on 14 April that the industrialized states are now employing five tools to impose their hegemony on the world: monopoly over modern technology; monopoly over the international financial institutions; monopoly over decision-making to get natural resources; monopoly over the world media; and lastly, monopoly over the military means "that allow them to interfere from a distance without having to engage in long military operations that may result in costly human losses."

As a result, he said, the "Southern countries are being marginalized" and "models and forms of subservient capitalist economies are being imposed in accordance with the prescriptions of the world economic institutions and the economic decision-makers within them."

During the sessions, Al-Sahhaf was also able to meet with President Tran Duc Luong of Vietnam, as well as with the Malaysian prime minister, the Jamaican foreign minister, and the Cuban foreign minister. President Tran Duc Luong expressed his support for the lifting of the sanctions against Iraq. Damascus Radio reported on 15 April that Al-Sahhaf was able to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shar'a to discuss bilateral ties. (David Nissman)

QUSAYY CONFIRMED AS SADDAM SUCCESSOR? The "Kurdistan Observer" of 17 April reprinted an article from "Al-Watan Al-Arabi" of 14 April reporting that three days after the National Assembly elections a family meeting was held at Udayy Saddam Husseyn's farm near Baghdad. Those present, including Saddam Husseyn, his secretary Abd Hammud, his cousin Ali Hasan Al-Majid, and three Tikrit clan chiefs, discussed the future direction of Iraq's policy.

Saddam claimed that "there is a plot which is being prepared by some of the ruling groups in Tehran and some Western--specifically U.S.--circles to draw us into an unplanned and unsuccessful battle." Baghdad's response, he said, should be to avoid any provocation that would lead to war. Reportedly those assembled were informed by Saddam that Qusayy was to be Saddam's successor. All present, including Udayy, immediately declared their allegiance. This is to be made public on the occasion of Saddam's 63rd birthday.

The U.S. stand was also analyzed. There was also discussion of the secret contacts between an Iraqi official at the UN and an official from the office of U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel Berger. The outcome of these talks so far was referred to as "positive". (David Nissman)

RICCIARDONE ON KURDS, IRAQ. Frank Ricciardone, special coordinator for transition in Iraq for the U.S. Department of State, had two occasions to express the American position on the Kurdish question and Iraq in recent days. First, in comments on 14 April to the Turkish government intended to assuage Ankara's concerns about a conference dealing with the Kurdish identity at American University; and second, at the conference itself on 17 April.

In Ankara, he clarified Washington's stand vis-a-vis the Iraqi opposition. He explained that the U.S. was about to allocate $250,000 to the members of the opposition which "they can use to build their own organization, make it more effective as a political organization that can better advocate the interests of the Iraqi people in a free future, in a country that stays together as a whole..."

And he added that he had asked Turkish experts how to help the "unifying tendencies among the Iraqi people against the anti-unifying tendencies which are being promoted by the current government in Iraq." Asked what answers he was given, he replied in vague terms, saying only "it's a question of problem management now."

Asked about Washington's relationship with the Iraqi Kurds, and, of course, the Kurds of Turkey, and what he will say at American University, he responded that they deal with the Iraqi Kurds "as Iraqis". As far as the PKK is concerned, the American government has branded them as terrorists. As far as any form of federalism that will lead to separatism, he states categorically that "we oppose any breakup of Iraq into separate states."

At American University, he stated emphatically that "I know of no statement of an official American "policy" toward "the Kurds" as such, and reiterated the points he made in Ankara. (David Nissman)

KURDISTAN POLITICAL PARTIES MEET WITH BARZANI. Five Kurdish political parties--the Kurdistan Islamic League, the Iraqi Kurdistan Communist Party, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Kurdistan Independent Labor Party, and the Kurdistan National Movement--met with Masud Barzani at his Kurdistan Democratic Party offices in Salah Al-Din on 1 April. On 7 April, they issued a statement, carried in the Irbil newspaper "Yekgirtu," which said that their "discussions focused on the current situation in Kurdistan, particularly the peace process and the slowness of the implementation of provisions of the Washington agreement." The statement added that "discussions also focused on the search for an efficient mechanism to further prepare the ground for the implementation of this agreement." (David Nissman)

TALABANI ON PEACE PROCESS. Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), met with a delegation consisting of various leaders of political parties in Kurdistan. He used the occasion to explain the PUK's goals and methods in seeking peace and harmony with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan. As reported by "Kurdistan Nuwe" of 9 April, the delegation included the secretary-generals of the Kurdish Islamic League and the Kurdistan Movement, a member of the Kurdistan Communist Party Political Bureau, a member of the Assyrian Movement Political Bureau, the secretary-general of the Kurdistan Independent Labor Party, and others. A few days earlier, the same delegation visited Barzani in Salah Al-Din. (See above.)

He urged the political parties of Kurdistan to participate seriously in the higher peace committee meetings (held periodically between the PUK and the KDP) "so that they may observe the way the work is proceeding and take the opportunity to assume their national and historical responsibilities and designate the side which is standing back from the peace process."

With regard to the PUK's relations with the KDP, he pointed out that "the obstacles [between them] have not been removed" and that "we are far from normalization." Above all, "discussions on the organization and establishment of a transitional government are in deadlock."

With regard to the PUK's position, Talabani said: "we are ready to make all sorts of concessions on condition that the normalization of Kurdistan starts."

By "normalization" he means the retreat of Kurdish armed forces (Peshmarga) from all cities, return of internally displaced persons to their place of origin, the opening of civilian bureaus of both parties, and the central collection of revenue, the establishment of a coalition government in which all political parties would participate, and preparations for holding democratic elections to re-elect the parliament. (David Nissman)

HIGH-LEVEL KDP-PUK MEETING IMMINENT. Amira Al-Tahhawi, writing in London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 14 April, said that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) representative, Hazim Al-Yusifi, had said that preparations were being made for a "high-level gathering" between the leaderships of the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The meeting will be either at the end of April or the beginning of May.

Al-Yusifi, speaking at a meeting of the "New Call" Society in Cairo, did not indicate whether either Masud Barzani, leader of the KDP, or Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK, would attend this meeting. The two leaders have only met since the signing of the Washington Agreement in 1998.

Al-Yusifi also rejected allegations that the Kurds were engaged in drug trafficking in northern Iraq. He also denied any Kurdish ties to Israel's MOSSAD. (David Nissman)

ISLAMIC RADIO CLOSED IN DOHUK. The Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Regay Yekbun" on 10 April carried a statement from the Press Bureau of the Islamic Unity Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan complaining about recent actions taken by security forces when their "Voice of Islam" radio station was seized in Dohuk. In addition, distribution of one issue of their newspaper, "Regay Yekbun," was forbidden in Irbil. The statement concludes by saying "while we wish to express our discontent at this behavior by the security institutions in Irbil and Dohuk, we doubt that it is the result of decisions taken by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leadership. These acts are contrary to the cooperative relations which exist between the two sides, and they do not correspond to the democratic principles that the KDP continuously appeals for." (David Nissman)

RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM IN IRAQI KURDISTAN EXAMINED. Majid Ahmad Al-Samarra'i in London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 17 April examines the role of political Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan, where political leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are still trying to establish local authority and institutions. Recently there has been a wave of events targeting the KRG's leadership and institutions under them.

The problem with extremist groups, says Al-Samarra'i, is that "they cannot practice peaceful political action because they lack the language of dialogue and therefore resort to terrorism as the main tool for their actions...and use Islamic awakening as their cover." He claims that "Iraq's Kurdistan is now a testing ground of the battle of civil modernization" and as such, is the "laboratory for Iraqi society's needs in the battle for democracy."

The responsibility for dealing with the extremist forces, he continues, falls to the present leaderships in the KRG under the control of Mas'ud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. Al-Samarra'i recommends that they encourage a dialogue with those religious figures who reject extremism and strengthen the relationship between the Kurdish citizen and the society by providing personal and collective security, starting local agricultural and industrial projects on the basis of local resources, and supply the necessary health and educational services. (David Nissman)