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Iraq Report: February 5, 1999

5 February 1999, Volume 2, Number 5

HAS U.S. POLICY TOWARD IRAQ CHANGED? Since the appointment of Frank Ricciardone to manage U.S. policy towards the Iraqi opposition, some commentators have seen a change in Washington's policy. London's "Al-Hayah" thinks that American policy has undergone a "structural change" (1 February). Since the appointment, the Iraq Liberation Act emerged, which is seen as an "appropriate working mechanism ... to serve the administration but without obligating it to use it as the only tool for implementing what is now called the process for rehabilitating Iraq against the calls for bringing down the Iraqi regime by force." Needless to say, this interpretation has not won widespread approval from all sectors of the Iraqi opposition.

So far, seven opposition groups have been selected by the U.S. to receive a share of the $97 million allocated by the act for the toppling of Saddam Husseyn. Several of the opposition parties met with Ricciardone in London. Ricciardone stressed that the door was open to any opposition group if it acknowledged the following five criteria for rehabilitating Iraq: a commitment to fight and change the regime and preserve Iraq's territorial integrity; a belief in democracy; respect for the Iraqi people's human rights and citizens' basic ones; commitment to a policy of respecting neighboring peoples and countries and not developing or possessing weapons of mass destruction; and a commitment to cooperate with other opposition groups.

In the U.S., there are two options open under the Iraq Liberation Act. The first is that of "hot military confrontation," which is backed by Congress and, according to "Al-Hayah," supported by a strong lobbying effort led by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. This option would involve a military confrontation in the south in which Arab elements (including Shiite) would operate in parallel with a military move in the north in order to bring about the fall of Baghdad.

The second option, which is close to the view held by the U.S. administration and the Pentagon, is the "pyramid theory," which holds that the top of the pyramid, Iraq's leadership class of some 25 to 100 people, would be separated from the rest of the pyramid. According to Ricciardone, this latter option was the reasoning behind the air strikes which targeted the regimes nerve centers and the headquarters of its leaders.

The options cited above are considered separate from the activities of the Iraqi opposition, according to "Al Hayah." The major question is how Iraq's neighboring countries will react to this. There is a feeling in the region that the U.S. is not serious about any of this (Tehran); others are either excluded from the scenario (Damascus), or siting on the fence (Turkey).

Such plans, and Ricciardone's appointment, also are in sharp contrast to General Anthony Zinni's recent statements to the effect that the Iraqi opposition pose no immediate threat to the Iraqi regime.

Of the seven groups designated to receive U.S. assistance, three have refused it: the two leading Kurdish groups in the north -- the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan --and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Iraqi National Congress has accepted, as has the Constitutional Monarchist Movement and the Iraqi National Accord. According to Ricciardone, before any distribution of aid in the form of weapons or financial support, there are many issues which must be resolved" ( Al-Quds Al-Arabi, 30-31 January). In addition to the seven designated groups, an Iraqi Turkoman party has also requested this aid.

The Kurdish parties that control the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq have expressed some concern about the American plan to topple Saddam Husseyn. Senior U.S. sources have said that the Kurdish factions have avoided adopting any measures against Husseyn's regime and they have opposed hosting any non-Kurdish opposition factions, particularly the Iraqi National Congress, because they have gambled and lost. The key issue for them is to protect the Kurdish areas from any possible attack by the Iraqi army.

Baghdad quickly responded to Ricciardone's activities. A spokesman for the Culture and Information Ministry said on Baghdad Television on 1 February: "...we know that this Ricciardone is assigned to leading the agents and traitors -- the old mules who he called the Iraqi opposition."

But the American initiative and its support for the Iraqi opposition found some favor in the Muslim world. In an interview with London-based "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 1 February, Bayan Jabr, a member of the Central Council of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that in the past, the Arab world "did not take into account the issue of the repression to which the Iraqi people are subjected." It became clear after the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting in Cairo last week that the Arab leaderships were willing to differentiate between the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leadership. (David Nissman)

MARTIN INDYK'S MIDEAST TOUR SEEN AS UNSUCCESSFUL. A number of Arabic-language newspapers in London have concluded that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk's tour of the Gulf states to drum up support for the American plan to topple Saddam Husseyn ended with negative results. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, Indyk was unable to meet with anyone but Shaykh Hamdan bin Zayid, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The UAE had expressed its reservations about interfering in Iraq's internal affairs, "al-Quds Al-Arabi" reported on 3 February. The UAE's defense minister, Shaykh Mohammad ibn Rashid Al-Maktum, pointed out that "any political change in Iraq brought about from outside would lead to division and civil war" (AFP, 3 February). Visits to Oman and Qatar met with the same result. The only Gulf state not to voice an objection was Kuwait.

The American plan is three-pronged: the first option is to put pressure on the Republican Guard to prompt them to remove Saddam; if the first does not succeed, then to weaken the Guard and prompt other military units to confront them; if this does not occur, the regime's defenses will have weakened, which will enable an armed opposition to play a role, "Al-Hayah" reported on 3 February.

Baghdad's response to Indyk's tour was voiced by Salah Al-Mukhtar, a newly appointed ambassador. He said that Indyk and Albright's trip to the region "have failed to secure backing for the U.S. plans." He added that that is why "they have resorted to an escalation," according to AFP on 3 February. U.S. officials said that U.S. fighters attacked an anti-ship missile battery. That represents an expansion of the kinds of targets hit in coalition air strikes. An Iraqi newspaper said on Wednesday that "Indyk's visit to the one of a chain of conspiracies against Iraq...Iraq will remain a difficult target for all kinds of conspiracies," "Al-Jumhuriya" reported on 3 February.

At the same time, British Minister of State Derek Fatchett held a meeting with 16 opposition groups in London. The Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq refused to attend. The Assembly's representative in London, Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati told "Al-Hayah" (3 February) that the "Iraqi opposition should be dealt with in a way different from these meetings, which provide Saddam Husseyn with a weapon to accuse it of subservience." The Supreme Assembly has expressed its reservations about external interference in the past.

There are thus widespread doubts about Washington's ability to implement its three-pronged plan. Not only the Gulf states, but also Egypt and Syria have objected to the approach. An editorial in "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" (3 February) expressed the thought that "the U.S. administration is dealing with the Arab region and its governments as if they were banana republics where it can topple any government it wants and replace them with anyone it wants." The editorial concludes: " ...Indyk's tour and recent moves can be seen only as an insult to the Arabs and to Islam." (David Nissman)

IRAQI-SAUDI POLEMIC HEATS UP. Despite all the Arab conferences concentrating on Iraq in recent weeks, only one -- a meeting of the Arab Parliamentary Union in Amman -- has produced a statement to Iraq's liking. A major reason for this -- though far from the only one -- has been Iraq's renewed threats against Kuwait and its direct appeals to Arab populations to move against their own governments.

The various high-level meetings among Arab leaderships typically have ended with a statement of commitment toward the Iraqi people together with statements on the dangerous policies followed by a statement on the dangers presented by current Iraqi policies. Leading targets of Iraqi invective are Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

A recent Saudi response to the spate of Iraqi articles and speeches attacking Saudi Arabia was voiced by the writer Abd-al-Hamid al-Darhali in the Jeddah newspaper "Al-Madinah" on 1 February.

He writes: "The Baghdad regime has adopted a new strategy, the objective of which is to create problems between the Arab street and Arab governments, while knowing that there is no Arab country that has not confirmed a thousand times its solidarity with the Iraqi people and its sympathies with their catastrophic sufferings."

He continues by saying that the objective of this Iraqi strategy is "to create a split and sedition between the regimes and the people" and will lead to "increasing Arab fragmentation."

By contrast, the Baghdad newspaper "Al-Iraq" on 29 January featured an open letter addressed to secretary-general of the Arab League, Dr. Ismat Abd-al-Majid. The letter refers to the statement issued by the consultative meeting of Arab foreign Ministers: "it reflected ... the subservience of the Arab regimes, particularly the Saudi and Kuwaiti regimes, to Washington, London and the Zionists." It also claims that "Iraqi and Arab masses have declared their support of the leadership of President Saddam Husseyn as a symbol of Arab national sovereignty and aspirations."

An important component of the Iraqi conspiracy theory was expressed in the Baghdad Ba'thist Party newspaper "Al-Thawra" on 31 January. The Saudi-Kuwaiti axis "is using various means to blackmail other Arab countries in order to harm Iraq and pan-Arab security and in order to serve U.S. strategy and policies in the region."

Finally, an article in the Baghdad daily "Al-Jumhuriyah" (30 January) traces the history of Saudi involvement with the West. It began with Lawrence of Arabia, and based on his work in Najd and Hijaz (part of Saudi Arabia), the British colonialists targeted the region with a view to occupying the sources of Arab oil. The job of securing these oil sources was entrusted to the Al-Sa'ud family. "Hegemony over these territories and the looting of their resources was transferred from the hands of a dying Britain to the hands of the United States." And according to Saudi writer Al-Darhali: "The Arab street knows full well that reforming the house starts at home, and that the Iraqi regime and Saddam Husseyn, with all his impudence, belligerence, tyranny, and rudeness, is [Israeli Premier Benjamin] Netanyahu himself." (David Nissman)

TURKOMANS INCLUDED IN ECEVIT'S REVISED 'REGIONAL SECURITY PLAN.' Bulent Ecevit, Turkey's prime minister, has presented a new "regional security plan, updating and revising the one he had first offered in 1995. Its basic goal is the reintegration of Iraq in the changing regional scene, primarily to prevent a Kurdish autonomy in northern Kurdistan from attaining full independence and using the territory as a launching platform for Kurdish forays into Turkish territory, as well as dousing water on King Husseyn's dreams of establishing a Hashemite sovereignty in the south of Iraq. According to an article by Kemal Balci in the "Turkish Daily News" on 28 January, a major emphasis in the plan is placed on human and ethnic rights.

In Ecevit's revisions, the Turkomans, for the first time, play a role. One of the stipulations is that a new Iraqi government "must guarantee human rights and equality for all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, and reach agreement about these issues with representatives of Kurds, Turkomans, and Shiites." They must also accept the monitoring of an international organization such as the OSCE on human rights issues."

The second stipulation concerning the Turkomans is that "the world should be reminded of the Turkoman presence in Iraq. Baghdad should be aware of this presence and it should be noted that providing certain rights and guarantees to the Turkomans will contribute to ending the division in the country."

At present, many problems with their neighbors, primarily their Kurdish neighbors, have led to difficulties for them. These include the fact that they have been subjected to ethnic cleansing by the Kurds (see RFE/RL Iraq Report, 15 January 1999), as well as a barrier to education. The Iraqi Constitution forbids the use of any script save the Arabic; the Turkomans use Latin. (David Nissman)

SIX KURDISH PARTIES LAUNCH "NATIONAL PLATFORM." Six Kurdish political parties in Belgium have issued a "National Platform of North Kurdistan." North Kurdistan refers to Kurdish areas in Turkey's eastern Anatolia. By the same token, "South Kurdistan" refers to the Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Iraq.

The six Kurdish political parties involved are the Socialist Party of Kurdistan, the Islamic Party of Kurdistan, the Communist Party of Kurdistan, the Liberation Party of Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The spokesman for the parties, PKK member Abdurrahman Cadirci, also said that preparations were continuing for the convening of a Kurdish Congress

According to the "Turkish Daily News," they said they were ready to engage in talks with Turkish authorities and launched "an urgent demand for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem" (TDN, 27 January). Any solution, Cadirci said, would require that the Turks meet 14 conditions, including the declaration of a bilateral cease-fire and a "full investigation made into all state-linked gangs involved in drugs and killings and for those involved to be brought to justice." The Turkish government is unlikely to respond to any PKK-backed initiatives.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party will definitely not take part in a Kurdish Congress, and it is not known whether any of the Kurdish parties in Iran will take part.

The statement "Urgent Demands For A Peaceful Solution to the Kurdish Problem," is an obvious PKK initiative and more an ultimatum than a statement. PKK member Cadirci, also a member of the "Kurdish Parliament in Exile," is named as part of the 150 person-entourage accompanying PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan on his flight from Rome to an as yet unknown destination (Istanbul, "Milliyet;" 29 January). According to "Milliyet," the PKK is to hold its 6th Congress in Nagorno-Karabakh. Ocalan will allegedly attend the Congress. (David Nissman)