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Iraq Report: June 30, 2000

30 June 2000, Volume 3, Number 21

GORE REPEATS THAT SADDAM MUST GO. U.S. Vice President Al Gore told Iraqi opposition leaders that Saddam Husseyn "must be removed from power," AP reported on 26 June. Among his audience at the Washington meeting were representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Iraq National Congress (INC), and the Constitutional Monarchist Movement.

London's "Al-Hayat" on 27 June said that the Iraqi participants in the meeting had pressed for a change in the way the U.S. administration now deals with the INC and specifically for the release of funds appropriated by the Congress. The paper added that the INC leadership also called on the United States to change the current rules of engagement given to U.S. forces so that they can strike other targets as well as to continue enforcement of the existing no-fly zones.

The INC representatives also reportedly called on Gore to help them combat the environmental disaster now being caused by the construction of dams that prevent the flow of water into the Al-Ahwar marshes (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 June 2000 and 16 June 2000). These marshes are inhabited by supporters of the Shi'ite opposition to Saddam Husseyn. According to the "Mideast Mirror" of 27 June, the opposition urged that U.S warplanes "destroy these dams in order to thwart the Iraqi regimes plans to displace the residents of the southern marshes."

Following Gore's meeting with the Iraqi opposition groups, the two sides released a joint statement reiterating the U.S. commitment to removing Saddam Husseyn from power and arguing that Saddam's removal "is the key to the positive transformation of Iraq's relationship to the international community." (David Nissman)

IRAQ URGES ARABS TO BREAK AIR EMBARGO. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf has called on Arab leaders to break the air embargo on Iraq, AFP reported on 27 June. He said "we call on them to do that because such a move is part of their duty toward Iraq, which has always fought in the name of the Arab nation." Al-Sahhaf pointed out that UN Security Council Resolution 670, which imposed the sanctions on Iraq in 1990, "does not prohibit civilian flights destined for or proceeding from Iraq, and simply provides for 'a verification of goods'" carried on flights to Iraq.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said in April that the embargo against Iraq "has no legal existence" because there is no Security Council resolution that specifically envisages such an embargo. The AFP report adds that on 3 April a private Italian airplane became the first aircraft to land in Iraq without first obtaining UN authorization. (David Nissman)

ITALIAN MPS MEET WITH IRAQI MINISTERS. A delegation of Italian parliamentarians met with Iraqi ministers in Baghdad to discuss how to expand cooperation between the two countries, AFP reported on 27 June. Guido Folloni, the leader of the delegation, held talks with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on "ways of developing Iraqi-Italian cooperation and establishing a permanent dialogue" between the two countries.

Folloni said the Italian parliament "would ask the government to strengthen its cooperation with Iraq and work to get rid of the obstacles blocking contracts signed with Baghdad in the framework of the oil-for-food program." According to official Iraqi statistics, Italy and Iraq have signed contracts worth $477 million, most of which have been blocked by the UN sanctions committee. (David Nissman)

PAKISTAN-IRAQ TIES TO GROW STRONGER. Iraq's ambassador in Islamabad, Abd-Al-Karim Aswad, met with Pakistani Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Usman Aminuddin to explore ways to expand cooperation between the two states, Peshawar's "Frontier Post" reported on 25 June. Aminuddin noted that he was making an official visit to Iraq at the beginning of July and would seek to "expand Pakistani brotherly relations in the oil and gas sector." (David Nissman)

IRAQI, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS TIES. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf visited Damascus on 25 June, thus becoming the highest-ranking Iraqi official to visit Syria in more than two decades. After a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Al-Sahhaf said that the two had "discussed bilateral ties and positive links that the two countries want to strengthen in their interest." This meeting marks the latest step in a rapprochement between the two states which began in 1997 when Baghdad opened an interest section in Damascus.

At the same time, the Paris-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Watan Al-Arabi" reported on 23 June that Qusayy Saddam Husseyn, who appears to be Saddam Husseyn's designated successor, telephoned Bashar Asad to extend condolences on the death of his father. Qusayy said that he would stand by Bashar.

Meanwhile, London's "Al-Zaman" on 26 June said that a rumor was now circulating but remains unconfirmed that Qusayy had met Bashar in Damascus after the funeral of Asad on 13 June. But other outlets have suggested that no such meeting occurred and that rumors of it reflect confusion about a letter from Qusayy delivered to Bashar at the time of the funeral. (David Nissman)

IRAQ REOPENING EMBASSY IN ABU DHABI. Iraq is reopening its embassy in the United Arab Emirates, AFP reported on 24 June. Relations between the two countries were severed when Iraq invaded Kuwait 10 years ago. But Iraq's charge d'affaires now has already delivered his letter of credentials to the undersecretary of the emirate's Foreign Ministry. Annual trade between the two countries is now over $400 million. The UAE reopened its Baghdad embassy on 20 April. In recent months, three other Gulf Arab states--Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman--have also renewed diplomatic relations with Iraq. (David Nissman)

ARMENIA TO APPOINT CHARGE D'AFFAIRES IN IRAQ. Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said on 19 June that Armenia is dispatching a charge d'affaires to Baghdad, Yerevan's "Azg" reported on 20 June. The establishment of bilateral relations with Iraq, Oskanian said, is intended to increase Armenian exports. (David Nissman)

UDAYY IN CONFLICT WITH HOUSE SPEAKER? Saddam Husseyn's eldest son is having a "serious dispute" with Sa'dun Hammadi, the speaker of the Iraq National Assembly, according to London's "Al-Hayat" on 24 June. The paper noted that Udayy has been absent from the first round of sessions which began just after the elections in March--despite the fact that Udayy ran in that election and won the most votes for the fifth constituency.

"Al-Hayat" added that "informed Iraqi sources" say his absence indicates "a serious dispute with Hammadi" who he believes is running the assembly "in a traditional way." Hammadi became speaker of the assembly through the direct intervention of Saddam Husseyn, so that Husseyn "could rule out the notion that Saddam's family is totally in control of the state." (David Nissman)

IRAN-IRAQ TRADE AND SMUGGLING EXPAND. Both legal trade and smuggling have expanded between Iran and Iraq, London's "Al-Zaman" reported on 26 June. Most of the latter takes place on the road between the Iraqi city of Al-Basrah and the Iranian city of Khorramshahr. Tehran exports foodstuffs and luxury goods, and especially cement and asphalt along the 40 kilometer highway.

A former employee of the Iraq Military Industrialization Organization told the paper that traffic is under the protection of both the Iraqi Special Security organization and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to ensure it does not come under attack from the Mujahedin-e Khalq, who are located in Iraq, or the oppositionist Badr Forces, the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, many of whom are based in Iran.

Contracts regulating the exchange of goods are concluded by the private Al-Basha'ir Company, which is run by the Iraqi Military Industrialization Organization, and a group of Iranian companies which are under the control of Tehran.

The same source added that Iraqi General Intelligence runs drug smuggling operations on a regular basis from Iran to neighboring Arab countries and has recruited a large number of Bedouins from the areas along the borders of southern Iraq. The center for the drug smugglers is the Al-Dahmah region in the district of Al-Salman in the Al-Muthanna Governorate. (David Nissman)

CAIRO DENIES RECEIVING INC DELEGATION. Egyptian officials have denied that they had earlier agreed to receive a delegation of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress prior to its visit to Washington, London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 23 June. The Egyptian source told the paper that Cairo has a fixed and clear position of non-interference in the domestic affairs of any country. And they added that "it is better to leave the issue of making internal changes in Iraq to the Iraqi people itself and better to refrain from imposing political custodianship over its national options." Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 21 June to request that the UN adopt a more positive stands toward Iraq. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD SAYS TURKEY 'KEY PARTNER' OF U.S.-LED AIR STRIKES. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf has accused Turkey of being a "key partner" of the almost daily U.S.-led air strikes on Iraq. Some of the strikes are launched from the Turkish air base at Incirlik.

Meanwhile, "Al-Iraq" an official Iraqi newspaper of the pro-Baghdad Kurdish parties, on 24 June accused Turkey of double-talk over the sanctions regime, noting that Ankara, despite its public opposition, wants the UN embargo against Iraq to be kept in place, AFP reported on 24 June. (David Nissman)

IRAQI BORDER POSTS TO GRANT VISAS? London's "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 25 June that Baghdad is considering the possibility of giving its border checkpoints the power to grant entry visas to Iraq as part of its broader effort to break the international blockade imposed against the country. The discussions apparently began in the wake of Iraq's first annual conference of border checkpoints earlier this month. Those attending the checkpoints conference reportedly emphasized that the development of these border complexes is vital "regardless of whether the air blockade is lifted or not." The committees of the conference want to give the checkpoints these privileges, even if the air blockade is lifted, because it would energize trade. Iraq's imports reach the country through five border outlets, linking Iraq with Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. The majority of travelers use the Jordanian checkpoint at Turaybil. (David Nissman)

NEW MINISTER OF JUSTICE APPOINTED. Following the retirement, due to age, of Iraqi Minister of Justice Shabib Lazim Al-Mailiki, Saddam Husseyn named Mundhir Ibrahim Al-Shawi to succeed him on 1 July, according to Baghdad Radio on 25 June. (David Nissman)

TERRITORIAL COMMANDS IN IRAQ SUSPENDED. Saddam Husseyn sent a letter to Staff General Izzat Ibrahim, deputy secretary of the Iraq Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party on 25 June, suspending the four military commands, according to a report on Baghdad Radio. Saddam argued in the letter that "given that the enemy mainly relied on the possibility of severing communications between the centers of power facing its was decided to form commands...on 16 December 1998 as a way to mobilize resources in the field to enable our people to boost their superiority over the enemy..." and "throw the enemy into despair and grant Iraq great victory." But "now," the letter continues, "it is clear that the result of the battle is in Iraq's favor." Thus, the formation of commands have been "frozen" and hence "the authorities associated with these positions will also be frozen so that things will return to what they used to be." (David Nissman)