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Iraq Report: August 18, 2000

18 August 2000, Volume 3, Number 28

IRAQ TO MAKE MISSILE COMPONENTS. Iraq is secretly negotiating with Russian companies to set up a plant to manufacture ballistic missile components, according to a report in the 14 August "Times" of London. Michael Evans, the "Times" defense editor, writes that recent meetings between Russian and Iraqi principals have been focused on building a plant for the construction of gyroscopes, a key component of long-range missiles. The project is believed to have been begun last year with the visit of a senior Iraqi military industry official to Moscow. In April of last year, Sultan Hashim Ahmad, the Iraqi defense minister, also visited Moscow.

For its part, official Moscow has categorically denied that such a deal is in the offing, Interfax reported on the same day. And the Iraqi charge d'affaires in Moscow, Ahmad Nazim, also issued a denial to the Russian agency.

But if such a deal is in fact in the works, it is a clear violation of the arms embargo because Russian engineers would be involved in building and running the plant. (David Nissman)

IS ABU-NIDAL BACK IN BAGHDAD? Reports that terrorist Sabri Al-Banna (Abu-Nidal) is in Baghdad have been surfacing in the Arabic press for several months. London's "Al-Hayat" on 12 May reported that he had returned to Baghdad to live there several months ago, and London's "Al-Zaman" on 15 August said that he is using his residence in Baghdad to regroup his movement, Al-Fatah. Since returning to Iraq from Egypt, Abu-Nidal reportedly has kidnapped three youths from the Iraqi Palestinian community and executed two of them "on the pretext that they had left his organization." (David Nissman)

KUWAIT, ARAB STATES REACT TO SADDAM'S THREATS. To protest recent Iraqi threats, Kuwait's government summoned the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to the Foreign Ministry, as well as envoys from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to "inform them of the gravity of the situation," AFP reported on 9 August. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah told them that Kuwait "would take all precautionary measures."

Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn's latest round of threats began during speeches on the 12th anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war and on the 10th anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The Arab League response to Saddam's remarks, as delivered by Secretary-General Ismat Abd Al-Majid was: "I deplore what was said in Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn's speech. It was totally unsatisfactory."

Al-Majid expressed the hope that Husseyn's remarks would not have a "negative effect" on a meeting of the Arab League's Ministerial Council on 3 September. Saudi Arabia dismissed the remarks. Saudi Arabian Radio on 14 August quoted Prince Sultan Bin-Abd-Al-Aziz, second deputy prime minister and minister of defense and aviation, as saying on 13 August "we have gotten used to such talk. But I would like to emphasize to our fraternal Iraqi people that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has never fired a shot against any Arab." As far as a meeting by the GCC's defense ministers to discuss the threats, he said "I do not think these threats deserve all this attention." (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD DENOUNCES 'SAUDI-KUWAITI AGGRESSION.' A joint meeting of the Revolution Command Council (RCC) and the leadership of the Iraq Command of the Ba'th Party, chaired by President Saddam Husseyn, discussed what it called the "ongoing Saudi-Kuwaiti aggression on Iraq," according to the Iraq News Agency on 12 August. The meeting held the Saudi and Kuwaiti regimes responsible for the continuing sanctions and decided to "expose this aggression by all means" to Arab and world public opinion. This meeting followed on a 7 August article in "Babil," the newspaper published by Udayy Saddam Husseyn, son of Saddam, which said that Iraq has still not relinquished "our lawful historical rights to the land, to sovereignty, and to water outlets" in reference to Kuwait. (David Nissman)

VENEZUELA'S CHAVEZ MEETS SADDAM HUSSEYN. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn on 10 August, thus becoming the first head of state to meet with Husseyn since the Gulf War. During his visit, AFP reported, the two countries signed an agreement on cultural exchanges and a letter of intent to create a joint commission to promote bilateral cooperation. Chavez dismissed U.S. criticism of his visit: "What can I do if they get upset? We have dignity and Venezuela is a sovereign country," "The Washington Post" reported on 11 August. (David Nissman)

INDONESIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT IRAQ. Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has confirmed that he will visit Iraq at the end of the summer. At a joint news conference with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he said he would like to see an end to the blockade on Iraq, according to Sydney's "Daily Telegraph" on 14 August. The deputy speaker of Iraq's parliament, Hamid Rashid Al-Rawi, stated that "the announcement of the upcoming visit of the Indonesian president signifies the beginning of the crumbling and the collapse of the embargo, and we hope that is going to continue. This visit is proof of the world's solidarity and support for Iraq and its resistance to U.S. and British aggression.

President Wahid was earlier advised by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to cancel his trip to Iraq. His response was: "We are not a lackey of the United States. We are free to go anywhere," according to the Indonesian news agency Antara on 14 August. Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Alwi Shihab expressed his belief that the U.S. government would not "isolate" Jakarta if Wahid does go to Baghdad, reported Xinhua on 15 August. (David Nissman)

OIL-FOR-FOOD DIRECTOR CRITICIZES U.S., BRITAIN. Benon Sevan, executive director of the UN oil-for-food program, criticized the U.S. and British delegates at the UN Sanctions Committee for delaying contracts to meet Iraq's humanitarian needs. According to a Xinhua report of 13 August, he made these remarks at a meeting with Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan. The Iraq News Agency in turn reported that Sevan said the repeated suspensions of vital contracts Iraq had signed with foreign countries to import humanitarian goods by the U.S. and Britain was "inhuman" and "illegal."

Sevan said that the oil-for-food program is no substitute for the resumption of normal trade activities in Iraq. But he noted that "there is no doubt that the situation for many in that country is significantly better than it was when the first oil was exported under the program at the end of 1996." Nonetheless, he added according to a Reuters report, "there is room for improvement in the behavior and performance by all parties."

Earlier in the month, Sevan traveled to Kurdistan to meet with PUK leader Jalal Talabani. "Kurdsat" reported on 9 August that the two had discussed the water shortage and the purchasing of local agricultural produce. For his part, Talabani stressed the importance of reviving and improving the economic infrastructure of Kurdistan. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD AIRPORT TO REOPEN. After having remained closed for 10 years because of the sanctions regime, Baghdad's airport is to officially reopen this month, AFP reported on 16 August. At the end of July, Iraq's Ministry of Transport said that repairs were underway at the Saddam International Airport. Russia, the news agency said, is prepared to resume flights to Baghdad "by the end of the year" in exchange for a commitment from Baghdad to implement UN Security Council resolutions. There is also to be a flight by a number of French celebrities from Paris to Baghdad on 29 September. Iraqi planes transporting Muslim pilgrims to Mecca broke the embargo in 1999, but the United Nations authorized the flights soon afterwards. (David Nissman)

TURKISH-IRAQI RAIL ROUTES TO BE ACTIVATED. Ghassan Abd-Al-Razzaq Al-Ani, director-general of the Public Railway Company, announced on 14 August that the Turkish Railway Authority has expressed the desire to establish two direct rail routes via the Turkish-Iraqi and Turkish-Syrian borders, according to Baghdad Radio.

The station said that a meeting will be held shortly to determine when this might take place as well as to resolve other issues. Impetus for this may come from the successful inauguration of the Aleppo-Mosul line, which completed its first run last week (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 August 2000). Al-Ani noted that another rail route would be inaugurated across the Iraq-Syrian border via Al-Qa'im-Ukashat. He said that the new train routes will not only expedite passenger traffic but will also facilitate the transport of goods coming to Iraq via Syria as part of the oil-for-food program. (David Nissman)

IRAQ SEEKING MORE TRADE TIES. Dr. Muhammad Mahdi Salih, Iraq's minister of trade, noted this month that Iraq's world trade has considerably expanded over the past few years. He called on countries that have suffered losses as a result of the sanctions on Iraq to utilize Article 50 of the United Nations charter, which permits countries harmed by the sanctions to have trade ties with Iraq. And he noted that the recent U.S.-British attacks on food and construction facilities in Al-Muthanna Governorate in southern Iraq had forced the relevant ministries to expedite the flow of foodstuffs to the citizens. (David Nissman)

IRAQI OIL EXPORTS DECLINE. Iraqi oil exports under the UN oil-for-food program dropped to 2.03 million barrels a day for the week ending 11 August. This represents a fall of some 77,000 barrels from the preceding week, according to a "Dow-Jones" report of 14 August. Last week's exports generated some $348 million, bringing revenues produced by the current phase of the oil-for-food program to more than $2.9 billion.

Iraq's oil exports could be increased to 3.4 million barrels a day from the current average of 2.18 million if the UN Sanctions Committee approves hundreds of millions in spare parts contracts. The "Dow-Jones" report notes that last week the U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that Iraqi oil production could rise to 3.0 to 3.1 million barrels a day (b/d) through the rest of the year.

Domestic consumption amounts to 450,000-500,000 b/d, and some 70,000-90,000 b/d is shipped to Jordan under a special UN exemption. The rest is exported under the oil-for-food program. (David Nissman)

RUSSIA, IRAQ CRITICIZE LATEST BOMBING RAIDS. Both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Iraqi government have complained about the latest bombing raids by U.S. and U.K. planes. Moscow has demanded the two air forces stop bombing Iraq at once, according to Interfax on 15 August. Meanwhile, Iraq has claimed that recent raids have killed a number of civilians and damaged a number of businesses in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Samawa. These claims have been denied by the U.S. military. According to "The New York Times" of 16 August, the targets struck included a warehouse holding anti-aircraft weapons, not food, as the Iraqis alleged. To deprive the Iraqi claims of any legitimacy, U.S. military officials discussed classified assessments of the bombing, including aerial photographs and other intelligence reports. They did not deny there may have been civilian casualties. (David Nissman)

KURDISH NATIONAL CONGRESS CONVENES IN SAN DIEGO. The 13th Kurdish National Congress of North America (KNC) met in San Diego earlier this month to discuss ethnic cleansing, human rights issues, and infighting among Kurdish groups, according to a press release of 14 August. The ethnic cleansing discussed concerned mostly the Arabization campaign in northern Iraq. Participants contended that this process has been stepped up in the Baghdad-controlled areas in the last two years, especially in the regions of Kirkuk, Khanakin, Sinjar, Makhmur, and Shaykhan. Participants concluded that "inside Kurdistan, the Kurdish government should establish camps for the refugees in a distinct area so that the issue stays alive in the international agenda."

With regard to the Kurdish infighting, especially in southern Kurdistan (northern Iraq), "the conference calls on all the parties involved to solve their differences in a peaceful and serious dialogue" and unite willingly within the framework of basic Kurdish interests. Also, they should work together in order to establish a basic Kurdish national agenda.

Above all, the participants called on leaderships in all parts of Kurdistan to "abandon policies that would lead to a renewed conflict among the Kurds." (David Nissman)