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Iraq Report: May 19, 2000

19 May 2000, Volume 3, Number 15

SCIRI TARGETS BAGHDAD PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) fired as many as nine Katyusha rockets at a presidential palace in the Al-Karkh district of Baghdad, killing a number of officials, according to Al-Jazirah Satellite Television on 13 May. Abd-Al-Aziz Al-Hakim, brother of SCIRI chairman Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, claimed that the Islamic resistance had fired nine rockets.

Baghdad's immediate response was to blame Iran. Baghdad Radio on 13 May said that "Iranian agents" had committed a crime "against a number of defenseless civilians" in the Al-Karkh district. According to an Iraqi official, eight 122 mm rockets were fired from a rocket launcher. He stressed that "the Iranian regime bears full responsibility for such heinous acts and that the crime will not go unpunished."

"Al-Jazira" on 13 May interviewed Bayan Jabr, a member of the Central Committee of SCIRI in Beirut. He confirmed that the attack was a SCIRI operation and that the group which had undertaken it operates from the Al-Ahwar region. He also stressed that, despite Iraqi claims, civilians were not targeted in the attack, but instead targeted the Republican Guard and Special Forces, which recently "destroyed the Salin village in southern Iraq, where they killed more than 120 Iraqi citizens over three days."

Bayan Jabr pointed out that the attack fell on the 20th anniversary "of the martyrdom of the nationalist and Islamic Iraqi figure Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr." And he explained that the operation itself was part of operations carried out over the last three years targeting key regime figures, "starting with Udayy, Izzat Al-Duri, Muhammad Hamza Al-Zubaydi, and, finally, the presidential palace today."

Also on 13 May, AFP reported that a London-based Arabic newspaper reported that a Shi'ite Imam had been executed in Baghdad on charges of stirring up unrest. Shaykh Ali Al-Ka'bi, the imam of Al-Muhsin mosque in the Shi'ite district of Al-Thawra, was "recently" executed at the Baghdad headquarters of the security services. The shaykh was among those rounded up last year following the unrest which broke out after the 19 February 1999 assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr. (David Nissman)

KUWAIT-IRAQI TIES DISCUSSED AT SYMPOSIUM. Discussions at the Kuwait-Iraqi Ties Symposium, which opened in Kuwait on 13 May, focused on three issues: first, the Kuwait-Gulf view of Iraq and the Iraqi view of Kuwait; second, the future of the Iraq regime, whether the current regime remains in power or it falls; and third, the horizons of the future, according to a KUNA dispatch of 13 May at the opening of the symposium. Participants included prominent Gulf political leaders, Kuwaiti academicians, selected members of the Iraqi opposition, and American specialists on the region. Many of those taking part called for the normalization of relations between Kuwait and Iraq.

Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad Bin-Jasam Bin-Jabr Al-Thani told Al-Jazira Satellite Television on 13 May that normalization of relations would require Iraq to cooperate in the matter of Kuwaiti POWs and to "recognize Kuwait unequivocally." He explained that there must be a dialogue with Iraq, and results must be reached that satisfy both sides in the Gulf, "namely the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] states and Iraq."

"Al-Thawra" said on 14 May that "this forum is part of Kuwait's aggressive actions against Iraq. It amounts to flagrant and insolent interference in the affairs of Iraq." But the chief organizer of the symposium, Muhammad Al-Saqr, issued a statement saying that "this symposium is only a forum for thinking and discussing the future of Iraq-Kuwait ties in a democratic way."

Some observers found that the mere fact that such a conference was held points to a change in Kuwait's position on Iraq. The "Mideast Mirror" of 15 May quotes Assayid Zahra of the Bahrain newspaper "Akhbar Al-Khalij" as saying that the conference "reflects a Kuwaiti realization of the need to discuss the issue from a different perspective." He also pointed out that "any objective review that takes into account the interests and future of the states of the region will inevitably entail a call for lifting the siege of Iraq and returning it to the Gulf and Arab folds."

On the second day of the conference, American specialists Anthony Cordesman and Kenneth Katzman spoke in defense of American policy toward Iraq, but Katzman acknowledged that recently there have been "rifts" in American policy, according to a report in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat."

Talal Salman, a writer for the Beirut newpaper "Al-Safir" wondered if the presence of a sizeable American contingent at this conference meant that Washington is closer to accepting the fact that Saddam Husseyn is "here to stay." (David Nissman)

IRAQ, YUGOSLAVIA SIGN CULTURAL ACCORD. The Yugoslav and Iraqi foreign ministers signed in Belgrade on 12 May a program calling for cooperation in science, education, and culture for the period of 2000-2002, Tanjug reported. Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf, Iraqi foreign minister, described the document as a "huge stride in the direction of stronger friendly relations between the two countries."

In education, there will be direct cooperation between universities and exchanges of specialization scholarships, guest professors, and delgations. It also provides for sending Yugoslav experts to Iraqi research centers, training Iraqi students and experts, and the exchange of information. In art and culture, there will be cooperation in library science, figurative art, guest performances by art and theater groups, and visits by cultural delegations. The program also calls for direct cooperation between Yugoslav and Iraqi news agencies, radio and television companies, as well as closer ties in sport. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL FAIR 2000 TO OPEN IN NOVEMBER. The Baghdad International Fair 2000, opening in November, will have more than twice as many firms from the United Arab Emirates represented than were there last year. Abdul Rahman Al-Mutaiwee, director-general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry pointed out that "trade with Iraq is conducted strictly in accordance with the mandate laid down by UN sanctions." For 1998, the latest year for which figures are available, Dubai imported Dh (dirhems) 407,000 worth of Iraqi goods and exported Dh 36.31 million. Representatives from some 50 countries are expected at this year's fair. Participants can bring in goods without being subject to inspection or other customs procedures. Exhibitors may sell their goods directly at the fair and there will be no restriction on the goods displayed or the participating countries. (David Nissman)

SADDAM ORDERS FUNDS FOR SHRINE RENOVATION. Baghdad Radio reported on 14 May that President Saddam Husseyn has ordered the allocation of 381 million dinars (approximately $200,000) for the renovation of the Al-Kazimiya Shrine. This is the third stage of the renovavtion. In a statement to the Iraqi News Agency, Dr. Abd-Al-Mu'im Ahmad Salih, the minister of Awqaf and religious affairs, said that this phase of the renovation includes constructing a hall to receive guests, maintaining the western front of the ancient porch, and covering the western side of the outer wall. He added that the ministry has made the necessary preparations to paint the domes of the shrine's minarets with solid gold. (David Nissman)

FRENCH-IRAQI COLLABORATION HIGHLIGHTED AT PARIS CONFERENCE. The Coalition for Justice in Iraq (CJI) held a one-day seminar in Paris to highlight Iraqi human rights abuses. The session was sponsored by the Human Rights Alliance and France Libertes-Fondation Danielle Mitterrand.

In her opening speech, Danielle Mitterrand (wife of the former French president) denounced the ongoing persecution of Iraq's ethnic and religious communities. The journal "CJI," vol. 1, number 2 -- which reported extensively on the conference -- notes that she criticized the French, Chinese, and Russian oil companies working with the regime to exploit the oil-rich southern marshes. She also targeted the UN Security Council for passing resolutions that offered little help or change. She said that while UNSCR 688 called for Iraq to end its oppressive practices, Article VII of the resolution states that objectives should be realized with the Iraqi government's cooperation. She pointed out that "it is unlikely that Saddam Husseyn would comply with, or have reason to fear, the resolution."

Pierre Jean Luizard, a French expert on Iraq, described the structure and operation of the government as "something akin to an organized crime syndicate."

French cooperation with Iraqi efforts to reverse the country's isolation was also highlighted. Panelists revealed that several French journalists, academics, and political parties have been on Iraq's payroll. A former general chief of staff has actively worked on behalf of Saddam Husseyn. The French interior minister, Jean Pierre Chevenement, then minister of defense, denied Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish cities in 1988. He subsequently resigned his post in protest against French participation in the Gulf War. Several Iraqis residing in France described how the close collaboration between the French and Iraqi establishments made life difficult for Iraqis in France.

Meanwhile, however, Iraqi National Assembly Speaker Sa'dun Hammadi met with Andre Janier, head of the French Interests Section in Baghdad, to discuss means of developing ties of friendship and cooperation in all fields, according to a report of Baghdad Radio on 14 May. (David Nissman)

MANDAEANS DETAINED IN INDONESIA. The Mandaean Society of America issued an urgent appeal on 12 May calling on the international community to prevent the deportation of the 158 Mandaean [The Mandaeans are also referred to as "Sabaeans"] refugees from Indonesia to Iraq. They were arrested in the process of being smuggled into a safe refuge in Australia.

The Baghdad newspaper "Babil," which is under the control of Udayy Saddam Husseyn (the president's son), described these people as "traitors" on 24 April. The Mandaean Society of America notes that "if these people are returned to Iraq, they would probably face execution. Even if their names are given to the Iraqi authorities, their relatives might suffer severe punishments as well."

The appeal also points out that "the Mandaeans are the only Gnostic religious sect that has survived in the world." Originally, they inhabited the marshlands in the Ahwar district of southern Iraq. Following the Gulf War, those who could left Iraq. They now live in exile in many parts of the world. Remaining in Iraq are still some 30,000-50,000 Mandaeans. As they do not accept converts for religious reasons, they have reached a point where their number cannot increase, only decrease.

The appeal was addressed to Indonesia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Red Cross. (David Nissman)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE OF KRG INTERVIEWED. Nijyar Shemdin, U.S. representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), discussed in an interview with the "Kurdistan Observer" on 15 May the achivements and goals of the new cabinet of the KRG in Kurdistan Democratic Party-controlled Iraqi Kurdistan. He stressed that "the mission of the fourth [present] cabinet is to adopt and support fully the UN SC resolution 986 programs and their application in Kurdistan."

As far as the KRG's economy is concerned, Shemdin pointed out that the UNSC 986 programs and private sector investment, plus the support of the local administration, have created a strong economy. Trade is booming and there is a great deal of construction, both public and private.

The concern in the KRG, he said, is that Baghdad's campaign to lift the sanctions will be successful. For this reason, the KRG would like to have some international assurances or guarantees that it will continue to receive 13 percent of the revenues of Iraqi oil as well as the food, medicines, and programs still in the pipeline at the time when sanctions are lifted, and there must also be the recognition of the rights of the Kurds to relations with the Iraqi government based on federalism within a united Iraq. (David Nissman)

PUK, IRAQI TURKMEN ISLAMIC UNION MEET. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Iraqi Turkmen Islamic Union politburos held a joint meeting in Sulaymaniyah, which is in PUK-controlled Iraqi Kurdistan. According to a report in the "Kurdistan Observer" of 15 May, the meeting was characterized as "relaxed and friendly," exploring ways of developing relations between the two parties.

Dr. Kamal Fuad, speaking on behalf of the PUK, said that "the PUK has never had, and never will have any reservations whatsoever regarding the political and administrative rights of the Iraqi Turkmen." Abbas Bayati, general-secretary of the Iraqi Turkmen Islamic Union, responded that his party supports "the aspirations of the Kurdish people for a federal political structure in Iraq. Later, he said that "the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is an Iraqi pioneer in the diagnosis of the Iraqi political and social situation, and it has taken a sound step in beginning a positive dialogue with Iraqi Islamic forces." (David Nissman)

TURKOMAN FRONT, KDP MOVE TOWARD RECONCILIATION. n 1 May, representatives of the Turkoman Front met with representatives of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Irbil. The Turkomen included Mustafa Kamal Bayjili, Riyadh Sari Kahya, Kan'an Shakir Aziz Aghali, Karkhi Alti Barmaq, and Tahir Shakirchi. The KDP members included Sami Abd Al-Rahman, Fadhil Miran, Azad Barwari, Karim Sinjari, Sidad Barzani and Abd Al-Salam Rashid. The Arabic-language Turkoman newspaper "Turkoman Eli" of 3 May, which provided extensive coverage of the event, writes that as a result of the meeting "the door to dialogue between the two sides has opened."

Following the meeting, Riyadh Sari Kahya, leader of the Turkoman Ali Party, said that "the KDP delegation may have understood the problems, as they described the Turkoman Front proposals as positive." The leader of the Independent Turkoman Movement, Kan'an Shakir Aziz Aghali, said that the meetings would continue, and indicated that the agreement that would be reached would mark a good beginning of relations, not only between the political parties concerned, but also between the Turkoman and Kurdish people.

Mustafa Kamal Bayjili, head of the Turkoman Front, praised both Mas'ud Barzani and other KDP members for "addressing the problems seriously and their understanding of the problems raised." Concerning Turkoman participation in the administration of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Bayjili pointed out that "in the past we faced many problems which prevented us from participating in the administration. But now the way is paved for these problems to be solved and surmounted."

On 9 May, a second meeting was held between the two groups, apparently with the same delegations as the first. "Turkoman Eli" of 10 May reported that at this meeting, "a climate of clarity and mutual understanding prevailed."

In an editorial, "Turkoman Eli" explained some of the problems that had continue to beset Turkoman politics. For decades, Turkoman politics had been "subjected to suppression and oppression." The critical era for them was the 90s, which "witnessed the emergence of some freedoms that the Turkomen have contributed to strengthening, together with the Kurds, Assyrians, and Arabs who want peace and safety for Iraq." Mentioning that the creation of the safe haven was an achievement for all the different peoples of Iraq, the editorial adds "however, we do not deny that political agitation has occurred because of some people exchanging passionate statements."

The aim of the Turkoman Front and other political parties, the editorial concluded, "is to achieve a free and honest life for our people under the protection of a democratic and pluralist system which provides equality for all people in our homeland."

In the recent past, Turkoman political leaders have complained they were excluded from the Washington Agreement and demanded the creation of an autonomous region (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 January 1999, 29 January 1999, 20 and August 1999). Only last month, they complained that the KDP had imposed travel restrictions, arrests and other "anti-democratic" pressures on them (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 April 2000). If the meeting between the Turkmen political leaderships and the KDP succeeded in reconciling the Turkoman Front with the KDP, it will be a step in the right direction, not only for the Kurds and Turkomans, but for all of Iraq. (David Nissman)

ASSYRIANS ON KIRKUK, ETHNIC CLEANSING. The Assyrian International Press Agency (AINA) issued a release on 16 May on the Iraqi government proposal to resettle up to half a million Palestinian refugees in the Kirkuk (Assyrian= Karkuk) region. Pointing out that a spokesman for the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has already rejected this plan because he "was clearly concerned about wedging his refugee civilian population between the Arabization policies of the central government and the ethnocidal policies of the Sorani-Behdinani-Kurmanji tribesmen (the Kurds)."

The release stresses that the lands in the Kirkuk region are Assyrian (as is the oil under the ground), the Kurdish leadership's reaction, both Sorani and Behdinani, "conveniently neglects to address ethnic cleansing of Assyrians by the central government as well as by these same Sorani and Behdinani tribes."

The AINA release concludes with a statement explaining the historical basis for the Assyrian concern. "Founded as an Assyrian city millennia ago and having sacrificed hundreds of thousands of martyrs, Karka d'Bait Sluk (Karkuk) remains forever etched in the collective consciousness of the Assyrian people. Whether illegally settled by Soranis, Behdinanis, or Palestinians, Karkuk remains essential to the Assyrian national awareness and identity. (David Nissman)