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Iraq Report: January 22, 1999

22 January 1999, Volume 2, Number 3

'AL-GHARDAQAH FIVE' HOLD SECOND MEETING. The Al-Ghardaqah' group -- consisting of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Sultanate of Oman -- held a second consultative meeting to prepare for the Arab foreign ministers gathering on 24 January. According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa (Middle Eastern News Agency, 14 January), there were a number of consultations going on between Arab states, among the Gulf states and others.

The current series of consultative meetings started at the beginning of January when the same five countries met in a secret session at the Egyptian resort town of Al-Ghardaqah at the same time as a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was taking place. At both meetings, the major topic under consideration was the holding of an Arab summit to discuss a response to the situation in Iraq.

According to London's "Al-Zaman" on15 January, there is some concern that holding an Arab summit at this time would require sufficient preparation to ensure that its results meet current challenges. A premature summit could exacerbate disagreements among the Arab states about the present situation in Iraq and the possibility of additional air strikes by the United States and Great Britain.

London's "Al-Hayah" reported on 15 January that the differences revealed at the meeting reflected reactions to the Saudi initiative, the new French proposal, and continuing calls for Baghdad to comply with UN Security Council resolutions.

While members of the Al-Ghardaqah group generally agree to differentiate between the Iraqi people and Saddam Husseyn, they have not yet defined a policy to implement a clear course of action. Radio Free Iraq pointed out on 15 January that Baghdad had denounced the meeting, claiming it was a move in the framework of creating political axes and blocs. Possibly further limiting the impact of the Al-Ghardaqah meeting was its limited nature and continuing divisions among those countries which did take place. For example, the Arab Maghreb Union states have already expressed surprise at the failure to invite them to join in the Al-Ghardaqah and Cairo discussions. Asked to comment on the forthcoming Foreign Ministers meeting, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Amr Musa claimed that it was "incorrect" to think that the exclusion of some Arab countries was a "plot" or "maneuver.'' Furthermore, he added that "we do not want to return Arab relations to that situation when a meeting between two is considered to be a plot against a third (MENA, 17 January)." Concerning possible Iraqi participation in an Arab summit, the Saudi position is that "the timing is inappropriate for a summit which is attended by Saddam Husseyn. This is especially the case following his statements against the Kingdom and other Arab states, and also because the leading figures of the Iraqi regime are continuing to make similar hysterical statements." (Jeddah: Al-Madinah, 17 January)

The Arab Foreign Ministers meeting should not be confused with an Arab summit, which had been suggested by Yemen earlier this month. A 17 January AFP report, filed from Riyadh, quotes Riyadh-based diplomats as saying that prospects for a summit have vanished following Saudi Arabia's success in urging other gulf states to refuse to meet the Baghdad leadership.

And the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, which had previously been in favor of a summit, said that the Gulf states were "profoundly shocked" by Iraq's threats. He was referring to both Saddam Husseyn's Army Day speech, in which he asked the Arab people to arise and overthrow some of their leaders, and Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz's threat to invade Kuwait again.

Although no full-fledged Arab summit appears likely to be held soon, a "mini-summit" will take place in Amman next week, probably on 27 or 28 January. According to a report in "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" (London, 17 January), the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Palestine, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar will attend. This meeting, which has not been officially announced, will be held on the pretext that the leaders of the Arab countries are coming to Jordan to congratulate the Jordanian monarch on the occasion of Id, his recovery from illness, and his return home. (David Nissman)

CHINESE MILITARY NEWSPAPER ON DESERT FOX. Two Chinese analyses of various aspects of Desert Fox conclude that the manner in which the Americans and British fought Desert Fox was highly combat efficient but that it nonetheless was a "strategic defeat" for the United States. The daily military newspaper of the General Political Department of the Peoples Liberation Army, "Jiefangjun Bao" on 11 January carried articles by Zhang Zhaozhong, a professor at the National Defense University, discussing weaponry and tactics in "Noticeable New Characteristics."

He finds three ways in which Desert Fox differed from Desert Storm. First, Desert Fox employed fewer newly developed hi-tech arms and more improved new-type night-vision arms. He claims that in the Gulf War the U.S. Navy's carrier aircraft could not conduct a night operation or carry a laser-guided bomb or an air-to-surface missile at night. This limitation has now been overcome.

Second, Desert Fox employed numerous precision-guided arms. These amounted to "up to 70-80 percent of the total amount of arms employed in Desert Fox (compared to only 9 percent in the Gulf War)." According to Professor Zhang, "Insofar as combat efficiency is concerned, precision-guided arms raised combat efficiency by scores or even hundreds of times."

Third, the C4 ISR (command, control, telecommunication, computer, intelligence, monitoring and reconnaissance) system proved effective. Because of this system, it "ensured a networked, integrated, and informationized battlefield system and raised U.S. forces digitized combat capability to a significant extent compared to the Gulf War."

The second article, by Peng Guangqian, a research fellow at the Academy of Military Science, is entitled "Dangerous Mode." He finds that Desert Fox was strategically speaking "nothing but a strategic defeat to the United States." Peng thinks that Desert Fox enhanced Saddam's control at home instead of unseating him from power.

In view of the turbulence in the Arab world surrounding Saddam's subsequent speeches calling on the Arab masses to overthrow their leaders, and the lack of reaction by the masses to such statements, the possibility of a unified opposition to the Ba'thists surfacing both in Iraq and elsewhere and the Iraqi airforces inability to protect itself against the enforcement of the no-fly zones, Peng's conclusion is debatable.

He also concludes that Desert Fox narrowed U.S. room for political and strategic maneuver in the Gulf area, isolated the United States, and reduced U.S. moral influence.

The Chinese author also feels also that the operation "set a dangerous U.S. diplomatic precedent." The U.S. has broken the UN framework, Peng argues, and has acted "in the absence of a UN mechanism . . . with a blind faith in its own super military strength." He suggests further that such actions, if they become regularized, will allow the U.S. to implement hegemonistic policies in the future." (David Nissman)

SCIRI REJECTS U.S. FINANCIAL AID. A Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq has rejected any financial aid from the U.S. Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati, the London SCIRI representative, said in an in an interview with Al-Jazira Satellite Television (Doha, Qatar: 21 January) that SCIRI believes U.S. aid will harm the reputation of the opposition in the eyes of the Iraqi people. In addition, he stated that "we have some doubts about the U.S. intentions. We do not think there is enough seriousness to bring about change." Dr. Al-Bayyati also pointed out that SCIRI needs neither weapons nor funds. Many observers feel that SCIRI is one of the most effective opposition forces within Iraq. It has concentrated its forces in the south of the country and works with Kurdish and Sunni forces within the country. (David Nissman)

AZERBAIJANI PUBLIC DIVIDED ON DESERT FOX. The independent news agency Azernews-Azerkhabar (23-30 December) has surveyed various political parties and social organizations in Azerbaijan to tap their attitudes towards the joint American-British air strikes against Iraq. The reactions the agency found were far more varied than they were during the Gulf War.

The Caucasus Clerical Office, a spin-off from the old Soviet Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of the Caucasus, issued a public statement which condemned "U.S. politicians, responsible for the attack on the peaceful Iraqi population, and expresses its hope that the world community will denounce this aggression in order for the conflict to be resolved only by peaceful means." During the Gulf war, the predecessor of the Caucasus Clerical Office also adopted a basically pro-Iraqi position.

Fazail Agamali, the chairman of the pro-government Ana Vatan Party ('Motherland' Party), voiced his support for U.S. policy towards Iraq. He feels that this step was taken by Washington "to prevent eventual massacres." He also says that Saddam Husseyn, "despite all the demands of the world community, keeps searching for ways to produce weapons of mass destruction."

Ali Kerimov, Deputy Chairman of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, claimed that "Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseyn, by disobeying the UN resolutions, subjected his nation to an attack." At the same time, he says that the U.S., by intervening without a UN mandate, has damaged the UN's interests. He also draws a parallel between the case of Iraq and Armenia, pointing out that Armenia, by occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory has also violated UN resolutions. Yet, it is not considered an aggressor. He decries the double standards occasionally applied on the international scene.

Kerimov is not the only one who sees double standards at work. The United Communist Party of Azerbaijan condemns the air strikes on Iraq and said that this kind of action without the sanction of the UN Security Council is a "blatant violation" of international law. At the end of its statement, the UCPA says: "This fact has again illustrated that the ruling circles of the U.S. and some other European countries pursue a double standard policy towards democracy and human rights. We wish the U.S., UK, and other countries, which consider themselves democratic, show their principle position towards Armenia, which occupies 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory and keeps one million refugees from their homes." (David Nissman)

IRAQI TURKOMANS TO MEET IN FEBRUARY. The Council of the Turkmen Front, which meets twice a year, is to meet in Irbil in February to work out a strategy concerning the Washington Agreement, brokered between the two leading Kurdish factions in northern Iraq. The Turkomans were excluded from the agreement. They will also discuss the possibility of taking part in the elections next July.

The Iraqi Turkomans have complained about Turkey's lack of a policy towards them, and, according to the 14 January "Turkish Daily News," also oppose the alliance between Turkey, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the United States.

In a recent statement, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit stressed that he favors the current dialogue between Kurdish leaders Barzani and Talabani, but he noted that solidarity between the two groups should also take into consideration the Turkoman presence in northern Iraq.

The Turkmen Front's basic complaint about Turkish and Kurdish policy toward them was echoed by Abbas Al-Bayyati, secretary-general of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turkomans. In an interview with a journalist from "Al-Riyad" (Riyadh, 17 January), he stated the general Turkoman position with regard to themselves and the other peoples of Iraq: "There is diversity in Iraq, that is, an ethnic and sectarian mosaic. Thus, a future regime must reflect this mosaic in its structure in a balanced way so that each side can obtain its rights within the framework of Iraq's unity and sovereignty." (David Nissman)

ASSYRIANS CLAIM 'ETHNIC CLEANSING' CONTINUES. A recent dispatch from two Assyrian organizations based in northern Iraq has documented a trend toward "ethnic cleansing" in the region directed either by Baghdad or the Kurdish organizations in control of the Assyrian-populated areas. Most of the recent events -- bombings and the use of explosive devices -- have taken place in the vicinity of Irbil. According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), "the overt goal of intimidating the Assyrian community is believed to ethnically cleanse northern Iraq of Assyrians and to force the remaining Assyrians to acquiesce to Kurdish political objectives." (David Nissman)

IRAQ'S GOVERNMENT TO REORGANIZE. According to a report in the London-based "Al-Hayah" on 17 January, sources in the ruling Ba'th Party have disclosed that the Iraqi government is to be reorganized at the highest levels. A new State Council is to be established which will include members of the Revolution Command Council, the highest ruling authority in Iraq since the 17 July 1968 coup.

The Ba'th Party sources also said that the new council will guarantee absolute control for the leaders of the ruling Ba'th Party, which will be the majority in the council. The council will also include "non-Ba'thists' and other political parties "that will recognize the leading role of the Ba'th party in the society and in the state."

The reason for the reform may be an effort to reestablish a link with Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. The changes in the structure of the Iraqi state coincides with a "serious trend" of openness toward the Kurdish leaders by calling on them to hold talks with Baghdad that would guarantee "autonomy" under the leadership of the central government. and its return to the Kurdistan region.

Another reason may be a meeting held between Saddam Husseyn and eight opposition factions that visited Baghdad on 12 January to hold talks with the government. According to a report in "Al-Hayah" on 14 January, the factions "do not have a major influence among Iraqi opposition organizations involved in a major action aimed at toppling President Saddam Husseyn's regime." The organizations signed an agreement with the Iraqi government. The factions include the Unified Democratic Organization, the Communist Youths, the Pan Arabist Union-Iraqi Bureau and others. It is widely suspected among the anti-Saddam opposition groups that these factions are largely fictional forces created by Baghdad.

It is unclear whether the Kurdish Democratic Party leadership would be invited to join in the membership of the new State Council. Some observers have suggested that, on one hand, a rapprochement with Baghdad would give the Kurdistan Regional Government greater security; on the other, allowing the central government to return to northern Iraq would also water down Kurdish sovereignty to an unacceptable level. (David Nissman)