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Iraq Report: October 13, 2000

13 October 2000, Volume 3, Number 34

'U.S. INTERESTS IN IRAQ ARE DURABLE...' Two U.S. State Department officials speaking on condition of anonymity gave a briefing on the substance of a meeting between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and a delegation of the Iraq National Congress on 14 September. The Iraq Foundation then released an edited transcript, which was distributed by the Washington Kurdish Institute on 10 October.

The Iraqis at the briefing were described as a "rotating delegation of free Iraqis" under the sponsorship of the INC but also including independents and others not under the umbrella of the INC. The delegation consisted of Arabs, Kurds, a Turkmen, and an Assyrian from all parts of Iraq, as well as Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and a Christian. According to the briefers, one of those present was Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati, the London representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is outside the INC.

Secretary Albright told them that "U.S. interests in Iraq are durable and will persist well into a successor administration."

Asked how the U.S. would seek to ease the suffering of ordinary Iraqis, the briefers suggested a possible strengthening of the oil-for-food program and a portion of revenues from that program set aside for the northern portions of the country where they said it is working well. They also called for more international oversight of this program in order to prevent Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn from abusing it.

As to the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA), the briefers pointed out that it, in fact, provides no money but that the U.S. can use the $97 million appropriated earlier. They noted that Iraqis are being trained in logistics and medicine, non-lethal training, not combat arms. Asked why their was no "lethal" training, the briefers responded that there are "several reasons, [but] the main that they're not there yet. We're not interested in getting Iraqis killed needlessly, pointlessly, helping more blood flow among Iraqis."

And asked about the U.S. appraisal of current humanitarian issues, the briefers said that Washington is "exactly eye to eye with the Iraqi opposition people we speak with. Humanitarian relief, in our view, is not just food and medicine," they said. "People should live free. They deserve to be able to run their own affairs. They deserve to be treated with dignity by their own government." (David Nissman)

SYRIAN PLANE LANDS IN BAGHDAD. The first flight from Damascus to Baghdad in almost a generation landed at Saddam International Airport on 8 October. It carried officials, doctors, and medical supplies, according to Reuters. A second Syrian plane carrying representatives of the Arab Teachers' Union also landed in Baghdad on 11 October, according to Baghdad Radio. Such flights, Reuters noted, are "largely symbolic" and exploit a loophole in a 1990 UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iraq. Iraq and Syria only started to normalize relations in 1997.

But other countries in the region are following this opening. Two flights from Turkey, one on 9 October and another two days later, also landed in Baghdad. The first carried a delegation headed by Lutfi Akdugan, ex-chairman of the foreign affairs commission in the Turkish parliament, as well as a surgeon and Turkish journalists, as well as a consignment of medical supplies. The 11 October flight carried businessmen who will participate in Baghdad's International Fair, Baghdad Radio reported.

An EgyptAir plane is also slated to land at Baghdad this week carrying an unofficial delegation. The Egyptians said they would inform the UN but not ask its permission for this flight, MENA reported on 6 October. (David Nissman)

UN OFFICIAL VIEWS FLIGHTS AS UNHEALTHY DEVELOPMENT. The chairman of the UN Security Council's Iraq Sanctions Committee, Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands, told UPI on 5 October that the increasing number of flights to Baghdad have not broken his panel's authority but that they do not represent "a healthy situation." France and Russia, which flew passenger flights into Baghdad last month without seeking authorization from the Sanctions Committee, argue that only notification is required. Since then, van Walsum says that France has offered the committee a plan for revising procedures which the committee has agreed to study. At the same time, he stressed that in the committee, "France, Russia, and China all stressed that they were talking about passenger flights and that cargo flights should continue to be prohibited...They, all three, said that and that it is very important that Iraq realizes we are not talking about the collapse of the sanctions system." (David Nissman)

TURKEY TO APPOINT AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ. As part of its effort to signal Ankara's displeasure at efforts in several Western countries to recognize Armenian claims about genocide in the Ottoman Empire, Turkey reportedly has decided to play the Baghdad card and name an ambassador to Iraq. According to the Ankara edition of "Milliyet" of 6 October, the Turkish government has decided to send Minister of State Tunca Toskay to the Baghdad International Fair in November and has issued a "secret" decree with the force of law appointing Mehmet Akad, undersecretary of the Turkish embassy in London, as ambassador to Iraq.

Ambassador Selim Karaosmanoglu, now charge d'affaires in Baghdad, is expected to return to the Foreign Ministry in January, and Akad's appointment will take effect on 1 February. According to "Milliyet," Baghdad agreed to it in August.

Turkey's efforts to improve relations with Iraq began somewhat before the draft resolution on the Armenian genocide appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives. "Milliyet" says that "although diplomatic sources believe that a new era in Turkey's relations with Baghdad should not be linked with the draft resolution, the developments have stepped up Turkey's initiatives to improve its relations with Baghdad." (David Nissman)

SADDAM CALLS FOR SUPPORT OF PALESTINIAN INTIFADAH. Saddam Husseyn on 8 October told a joint meeting of the Revolution Command Council and the Iraq Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party that Baghdad must support the Palestinian uprising or "intifadah." After his speech, the meeting resolved to "support the valiant intifadah and to secure additional requirements for the Palestinian mujahidin to enable them to liberate Palestine from the river to the sea; to open camps for volunteers for jihad to liberate Palestine so as to allow them to complete their military training; [and] to donate 5 million Euro for the martyrs of Palestine and in aid to the intifadah."

Three days before, Saddam said that "Let them [Israel's Arab neighbors] give us a small piece of land adjacent to [Israel]...and they will see how quickly we will shut down Zionism," according to AP on 5 October.

And three days after the meeting, "Babil," a Baghdad newspaper run by Udayy Saddam Husseyn, asserted that "the intifadah is the greatest weapon of our Palestinians. Similar thoughts were expressed by "Al-Thawrah," the newspaper of the Ba'th Party, and the official "Al-Jumhuriyah." (David Nissman)

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO VISIT BAGHDAD. According to AFP of 10 October, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is to visit Baghdad "possibly by plane" on 12 October. It is the first visit to Iraq by an Iranian foreign minister since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. An INA dispatch on 30 September had announced Kharrazi's visit, but no date was given.

Kharrazi's visit may have also been prompted by the meeting between Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Iraq Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan at the OPEC meeting in Caracas last month (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 October 2000). The two countries have had relations at the charge d'affaires level since 1990.

But AFP reported on 11 October that an Arab diplomat had said it was doubtful whether Kharrazi would make his visit to Baghdad this week because of his visits to Damascus and Beirut. He was due in Damascus on 11 October and Beirut on 12 October. Nonetheless, an official in the Iranian Foreign Ministry has said he is still going to be in Baghdad on the 12th. (David Nissman)

UK-INC CONSULTATIONS HELD. A delegation of the Leadership Council of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) met with Peter Hain, minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, on 10 October. According to an INC press release, the two sides discussed relations between the British government and the INC, INC activities, the situation in Iraq, and British policy on Iraq. The INC delegation stressed it objective of removing Saddam Husseyn's regime and establishing a genuine democratic system in Iraq. Hain, for his part, stressed the British government's support for the INC's activities and objectives. He expressed his concern for the suffering of the Iraqi people and laid the blame squarely on Saddam's regime. He said that Britain is encouraging regional countries to put pressure on Iraq to implement UN resolutions and ease the suffering of the people. (David Nissman)

RIFT WITHIN OPPOSITION ASSERTED AND DENIED. Isam Al-Buhlala, a spokesman for the Council of Iraqi Clans, which is based in Damascus, is quoted by Cairo's "Al-Ahram Al-Arabi" on 7 October as saying that the genuine national opposition "was the opposition that fought on two fronts simultaneously, against the regime and its policies and against the blockade and its injustices." Another part of the opposition has been "Americanized," he said, and opposes only the regime. But that position is increasingly unsustainable given the arrival of foreign flights to Baghdad, which he said has drawn attention to the "starvation politics" of the embargo. As a result, Al-Buhlala said, Iraqi political groups cooperating with the U.S. are "experiencing the stirrings of a wide internal rift."

But Salah Al-Shaykhali, one of the leaders of the opposition Iraqi Reconciliation Movement (Wifaq), rejected Al-Buhlala's suggestion. He said that if the opposition abroad were suffering from differences, the internal opposition was homogenous and cohesive. Al-Shaykhali said further that evidence shows that Arab countries are satisfied with the present situation inside Iraq and that there was no connection between this and the allegations of a split in the opposition. (David Nissman)

IRAQ, UKRAINE DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS. Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan discussed the possible formation of a joint committee to expand bilateral ties, Baghdad Television reported on 8 October. Ramadan told his visitor that cooperation within the framework of the oil-for-food and medicine is limited and will not promote relations. He asked for an intensification of visits between delegations of both countries in order to get a first-hand knowledge of the institutions and factories and develop joint industrial cooperation. Yekhanurov, in turn, expressed his country's readiness to cooperate with Iraq in all economic fields, particularly the oil, iron, and steel industries. He also said that a large delegation from his country will visit the Baghdad International Fair and discuss further ways and means to develop and expand bilateral cooperation. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TO IMPORT SOME 33,000 VEHICLES FROM JAPAN. The Baghdad weekly "Nabdh Al-Shabab" said that Iraq will import 29,000 cars, 2,348 taxis and 2,000 vans from Toyota of Japan. The sales fall under the oil-for-food program. But only those Iraqis who signed up to buy the vehicles before the sanctions were imposed will be allowed to purchase them, the journal said. (David Nissman)

PUK-PKK CEASEFIRE IN EFFECT (FOR TWO DAYS). According to the Neu Isenburg-based "Ozgur Politika" of 6 October, the PUK has responded positively to the ceasefire unilaterally implemented by the PKK. This news, which appeared in the PUK press organ "Kurdistani Nuwe," was based on the statement of a spokesman for the PUK's peshmerga's (fighter) command. At the same time, however, the PUK stressed that the condition for the continuation of the ceasefire was that PKK guerrillas leave regions that they had taken during the conflict and return to their former positions.

Local sources said that an important PUK meeting was to be held on 6 October. Those attending are split into two groups--one that wishes that the PUK should itself declare a ceasefire and reach an agreement with the PKK and a second which supports continuation of the war.

The PUK later announced that despite the ceasefire, PKK attacks on peshmerga positions continue, according to the Sulaymaniyah-based "Kurdistani Nuwe" on 8 October. This subjected the PKK to criticism from the Islamic Unity Movement of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Communist Party. The paper said that "[we] were all expecting the PKK to learn from its setbacks: review its path and policy; correct its mistakes, to take the special situation of Iraqi Kurdistan into consideration, and help to overcome the prevailing complications." (David Nissman)

IRAQI TURKMEN SEEK FOREIGN SUPPORT. Riyaz Sarikahya, a member of the administrative council of the Iraqi Turkmen Front and leader of the Turkmeneli Party, said in Ankara that Turkey should extend more support to Iraqi Turkmen, the Anatolia Agency reported on 9 October. Sarikahya added that U.S. support for the opposition has increased, and the opposition is being reorganized. He remarked that "the Turkmen should take their place within this new structuring and Ankara should exert efforts to that end."

He also criticized the Baghdad regime because of its "aggressive policies," but added that he supports the humanitarian flights being organized to Iraq. He stressed that the Iraqi regime and Iraqi people should be viewed separately. And he sharply criticized Baghdad for canceling the Turkmen programs that were being broadcast by Iraq television via satellite.

Concerning relations between the Turkmen and the Kurds, Sarikahya said that Baghdad "was resorting to insidious methods to pit the Turkmen against the Kurds who have, for years, been coexisting in brotherhood in north Iraq." (David Nissman)

IRAQI INTELLIGENCE PUTS ASSYRIANS UNDER PRESSURE. According to an Assyrian National Congress press release of 10 September, the Iraqi Directorate of Intelligence in early August summoned several Assyrians, including intellectuals, clerics, and activists, for interrogation in Mosul and Baghdad. An AINA (Assyrian International News Agency) report of 4 October said interrogations concerned the California-based "Bet Nahrain" magazine, the literary organ of the Bet Nahrain organization, which is linked with the Assyrian National Congress (ANC).

The Iraqi intelligence organs were trying to determine whether the readers of the magazine were members of the Bet Nahrain Democratic Party, which calls for Assyrian autonomy in Iraq and is also connected with the ANC. The Assyrians interrogated were eventually released but with the stipulation that they sever all ties with the magazine.

AINA says that this follows an Iraqi "heightened sensitivity to Assyrian cultural expression." It is related to earlier threats against Assyrian-language schools established in northern Iraq following the Gulf war. On 25 November 1999, a number of journals, including the "Kurdistan Observer," published a statement by the Iraqi Minister of Education describing the Assyrian schools as "phony" and "part of a scheme by enemies of the Iraqi people to break up the country."

At present, only one Assyrian secondary school operates in northern Iraq. It is privately funded by the Assyrian community, allegedly over the objection of the Kurds and the regime. AINA says that both Baghdad and the Kurds recognize the Assyrians as a Christian minority, rather than as a distinct ethnolinguistic group, and as a result they do not recognize the national rights of the Assyrians as a people.

AINA further asserts that Baghdad's response is to establish an alternative Assyrian leadership in Baghdad free from the influences of diaspora-based groups. This "leadership," the news agency says, would not call for Assyrian autonomy or cultural rights. The AINA report concludes that, seen in this context, the "Bet Nahrain" magazine incident represents a clear threat to Baghdad authorities. Moreover, "it exposed Baghdad's fears of Iraqi Assyrian ties to legitimate anti-Baghdad diaspora-based political organizations seeking real Assyrian rights and democratic change in Iraq." (David Nissman)