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Iraq Report: October 6, 2000

6 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 33

OIL SMUGGLING NETTING IRAQ $2 BILLION A YEAR. "Iraq is smuggling out $2 billion of oil a year in spite of the UN embargo," according to the "Financial Times" of 4 October. Among those benefiting from this are officials in Iraq and Iran and shareholders in small Gulf-based oil trading companies, according to oil traders in the United Arab Emirates.

According to these traders, more than $600 million a year is being shared among senior Iraqi officials, including friends of Saddam Husseyn, with the money going for imports of "cigars, whiskey, and weapons." Estimates by oil traders of the value and volume of Iraqi oil smuggling suggest that 10 million tons a year of oil products are being sold on the open market at an average of $200 a ton; two-thirds of this is fuel oil, selling at $160 a ton, and one-third diesel and gas oil moving at more than $300 a ton. A third of the Iraqi oil products go into central or northern Iran, and the bulk of it to Gulf ports.

UAE traders say that the U.S. could, if it wanted to, completely block the Gulf smuggling route. They argue that the fact that the U.S. does not do this, "is proof that is in Washington's wider regional interests to keep Saddam in power and 'locked up in his cage.'" (David Nissman)

AN IRAQ-IRAN RAPPROCHEMENT IN THE OFFING? reported on 1 October that the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, is expected to visit Iraq to examine ways of improving relations between the two countries. But the website gave no date for the visit. This report comes on the heels of the OPEC meeting in Caracas at which Iranian President Mohammad Khatami met Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan and exchanged promises of strengthening ties.

Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, relations between these two countries have remained cool, with normalization being held up by unresolved POW issues and by the fact that each country armed groups opposed to the leadership of the other. But recently, there has been some indication of a warming trend. Iraqi Minister of Transport and Communications Ahmad Murtada Ahmad said in Tehran that Baghdad is now ready to "establish full and real peace with Iran," according to London's "Al-Hayat" on 2 October.

Ahmad noted that his visit to Iran fell "within the framework of commercial ties and its aim is to participate in Tehran's International Trade Fair." Baghdad Radio on 3 October reported that the primary topic discussed between the two ministers concerned the linking of Iran and Iraq via rail and highway. (David Nissman)

LIBYAN LEADER TO VISIT IRAQ? Ali Abd Al-Salam Al-Tarayki, secretary-general of the Libyan Public Committee for African Unity, said in Jordan that President Muammar Ghaddafi may soon visit Iraq, reported on 27 September. Al-Tarayki also called for ending the sanctions regime because he said that Iraq is no longer a danger to anyone. And he said that Libya backs the resumption of international flights into Baghdad. (David Nissman)

RUSSIA, IRAQ AGREE TO RESUME REGULAR FLIGHTS. Aeroflot will resume regular flights to Baghdad in compliance with a bilateral accord, "Interfax" reported on 2 October. The new agreement stipulates that Aeroflot will assist Iraqi Airways in opening an office in Moscow and that Iraqi Air will do the same for Aeroflot in Baghdad. In addition, Aeroflot will assist the Iraqi airline with technical maintenance and personnel training. Also, according to a 2 October IRNA report, Iraqi officials have asked Tehran to allow Russian flights to pass through Iranian airspace. (David Nissman)

IRAQI AIRLINES TO REOPEN DAMASCUS OFFICE. The Iraqi Airlines Company is preparing to reopen its Damascus office, a site closed 20 years ago when the two countries broke off diplomatic ties, London's "Al-Zaman" reported on 2 October. Citing Iraqi sources in Damascus, the paper said that the office initially will make travel arrangements for Iraqi officials and businessmen from Syrian airports to various cities of the world. "Al-Zaman" also said that the Damascus-based general secretariat of the International Federation of Arab Workers has begun to negotiate with airline companies to fly from Damascus to Baghdad. (David Nissman)

DCT URGES FORMATION OF 'COALITION FRONT.' The Iraqi opposition party, the Democratic Centrist Tendency (DCT), has called for "forming a preparatory committee to pave the way for an expanded meeting of the Iraqi opposition" that could establish a common opposition front, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 1 October.

This call was made by DCT Secretary-General Adnan Pachachi at the second conference of the DCT in London on 30 September.

That conference issued a report which, said among other things, that "the United States is not serious about the process of change in Iraq, and several Arab countries believe that the Iraqi regime no longer poses a threat to their interests. This has prompted some of these countries, as well as some opposition members, to build bridges and achieve normalization with the Iraqi government."

At the meeting, Dalshad Miran, a representative of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), said that "the permanent solution for the Kurdish situation can only be achieved through interaction with the Iraqi government. Also in attendance was Hamid Al-Bayyati, representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He said that "the regime is experiencing domestic isolation because of its rejection by the people and the army," and added that "the regime is welcoming planes arriving in Baghdad in an attempt to distract attention from this isolation and export problems." (David Nissman)

IRAN AGREES TO INC OFFICE IN TEHRAN. Sources in the Iraqi National Congress (INC) have told London's "Al-Hayat" (2 October) that Iran has agreed to allow the INC to open an office in Tehran, even though this will be done with U.S. funding. Other opposition sources told the paper that Tehran's agreement to host the office "is part of a U.S.-Iranian courtship."

According to Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. coordinator of the Iraqi opposition's activities, issues of military activities by the opposition inside Iraq were not touched upon in talks about the opposition's plans for the $4 million. Meanwhile, London's "Sunday Times" reported on 1 October that the U.S. and the opposition had reached an agreement which will allow the oppositionists to resume operations inside Iraq for the first time in six years, in addition to opening offices in Washington, Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as Tehran.

The British paper cited INC sources who said that there is an intention "to carry out operations inside Iraq aimed at building support for democracy, helping internal opposition, and providing humanitarian aid." At the same time, the Iraqi National Alliance Group issued a statement following its London meetings on 30 September-1 October, accusing the United States, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey of aggression against Iraq, condemned the sanctions and called for a dialogue with the current regime in Iraq. (David Nissman)

JORDANIAN, YEMENI PLANES LAND IN BAGHDAD. On 27 September, a Jordanian plane carrying a high-level delegation landed in Iraq, Jordan's Television Channel 1 reported, making it the first Arab flight into Baghdad in 10 years. They were officially welcomed the next day by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz who said that "The civilian trips, including this courageous trip that we salute, is a legal one that is in line with the legal interpretation of the Security Council resolutions. When this initiative comes from Jordan with such a large group of sisters and brothers, especially from the humanitarian medical sector, it will have great symbolic meaning, as well as important legal grounds."

A day later an official Yemeni source confirmed that a Yemeni plane also landed in Baghdad. London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 1 October that the plane followed "special procedures and conditions" with regard to the route of the flight. Before leaving Baghdad, Bajammal expressed his support for any joint Arab moves in the interest of Iraq. After high-level discussions, the plane was allowed to cross Saudi airspace and then entered Iraq's territory from Jordanian airspace, according to a report on Al-Jazirah Satellite Television on 29 September.

"Al-Hayat" also reported that more Arab flights are to follow. Sudan is preparing a flight which is being sponsored by the Sudanese Popular Committee for Solidarity with Iraq, as is the Moroccan Committee for Solidarity with Iraqi Peoples. Neither of these flights have scheduled their departures. (David Nissman)

MOROCCAN PLANE LANDS IN BAGHDAD. A Moroccan plane carrying food, medical supplies, and politicians landed at Saddam International Airport on 3 October, according to a report from Reuters. The UN Sanctions Committee had approved the flight the previous day. Mohammed Lakhssassi, chairman of the Moroccan National Committee in Support of the Iraqi People, said the trip was intended to send a message condemning the continuation of the embargo. He also said that Morocco's King Mohammed and the government had supported the trip.

Baghdad newspapers also say that the Sudan, Egypt, and Syria are also planning flights to Iraq. And the Tunisian Lawyers Association has announced that it intends to fly to Iraq on 15 October, according to INA of 3 October.

A flight from Iceland is still on hold because the U.S. wanted more information on the cargo and passengers. Diplomats say that Iceland had neither responded to the request nor filed departure flight plans. (David Nissman)

IRAQI CULTURAL FESTIVAL ATTRACTS PEOPLE FROM 47 COUNTRIES. According to Iraqi Minister of Culture Human Abdul Khaliq, 47 countries took part in the 10-day Babylon Cultural Festival, which opened on 22 September. That is 10 more countries than last year. Khaliq said their participation in the festival bore "witness to the solidarity of several countries with Iraq in it struggle to get the embargo lifted and put a stop to plots by the U.S. and British administrations, supported by the Saudi and Kuwaiti regimes," "Zinda" reported on 28 September. According to festival organizers, the Arab countries participating included Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. (David Nissman)

FIGHTING RESUMES BETWEEN PKK, PUK. Clashes have again broken out between the PKK and PUK in the PUK-controlled Zeli region of Iraq near the border with Iran. According to the "Kurdish Observer" of 1 October, the PUK representative in Ankara, Shazad Saib, told the Istanbul daily "Yeni Gundem" that the PUK had made no agreement with Ankara about the PKK, although he had previously said that they had promised Turkey not to let the PKK into the area.

Meanwhile, Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the KDP, was called to Ankara, according to an article in the "Kurdish Observer" of 3 October. On the agenda are the clashes between the PUK and the PKK. Talabani, leader of the PUK, was in Ankara in August.

Barzani is expected to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Other issues expected to be discussed are problems between the Turkmen and KDP, border trade, and the sharing of revenue from the border trade with the PUK. Barzani said recently that the KDP would not share the revenue with the PUK unless they could be guaranteed that the PUK would not purchase arms with it.

A spokesman for the Middle Eastern Desk of the British Foreign Ministry's Information Office said that both Barzani and Talabani have been invited to London. The reason for the invitation, according to the spokesman, is that "England is determined that Kurdish reconciliation be achieved in northern Iraq. Our invitation was made within that context."

Nechirvan Barzani, leader of the KDP administration in the Kurdistan Regional Government, met with the Iranian administration in Tehran two weeks ago. The Iranians reportedly agreed to market KDP oil and give economic aid to the KDP. (David Nissman)