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Iraq Report: February 12, 1999

12 February 1999, Volume 2, Number 6

IRAQ SEEKS TO OPEN INTER-ARAB DIALOGUE. At the beginning of February, Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn sent a message to the Secretary General of the Arab League, Dr. Ismat Abdul-Majid, which, the latter said, "reflects Iraq's desire for a constructive dialogue, at the highest level, with the Arab League" (MENA, 4 February).

Subsequently, Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf visited the Maghreb states, as well as Syria and Lebanon, in order to counter U.S. mobilization of Arab support for Washington's Iraqi policy. Al-Sahhaf repeatedly told the leaders of these countries that Baghdad considers them to be uninvolved in what Iraq considers to be "the hostile U.S. scheme against Iraq" (Radio Monte Carlo, 4 February). He thus reiterated the message that he had delivered in Cairo on 24 January when Al-Sahhaf and his delegation walked out to protest Arab opposition to Baghdad's policy.

According to a report from the Iraqi News Agency (INA), "Iraq was positive throughout the consultative meeting, so that the goal for which the meeting was supposed to have been held would be achieved." However, he added: "certain known parties strove to derail the meeting from its natural course by adding irrelevant topics to the agenda" (INA, 8 February).

In recent days, Iraq has also taken a conciliatory tone with those Arab nations it feels may have been alienated by Iraqi rhetoric in the past. Iraqi Vice President Taha Muhyi-Al-Din Ma'ruf told the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" (8 February), that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are "two sisterly states, the geography cannot be altered, and we will remain side by side; we urge the two sides to engage in a dialogue."

The only country in the region about which he had nothing good to say was Turkey. He maintained that Turkey "attaches no importance to its relations with the Arabs. In fact, it prefers to enter into alliances with Israel." As far as Egypt is concerned, he denied that Iraq had started the media campaign against it. He claimed that Egypt was "a sisterly state, dear to us."

According to sources at Radio Free Iraq, Ma'rouf's credentials as a spokesman for Iraqi policy are somewhat questionable. The only view that really counts is that held by Saddam Husseyn or his views as expressed through his subordinates, namely, Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz. In this context, the statement issued after a meeting of the Revolution Command Council on 14 February in which it is stated that "...we caution the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and tell them that you are now being involved in an aggressive and hateful war in which the people of Najd and Hejaz and the Kuwaiti people have no interest." The statement refers to the U.S.-British use of Saudi and Kuwaiti territory to launch their planes to patrol the no-fly zones of Iraq (Baghdad Television, 14 February).

Whether Iraq's public statements will retain their conciliatory tone over an extended period of time is yet to be seen. It is trying to make the best of a very defensive position. (David Nissman)

SUPPORT FOR PKK, OCALAN ERODING. A press release issued by the Center for Kurdish Political Studies (CKPS) on 27 January states that "the staff of the Center for Kurdish Political Studies have concluded that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has decidedly moved away from its original pronouncements to help with the creation of a free and united Kurdistan." This move has been prompted by public directives issued by PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan after his arrival in Rome last November. Ocalan is quoted as saying that the PKK "does not seek independence but a simple autonomy for the Kurds in Turkey." This repudiation by Ocalan of the Kurdish struggle for national self-determination and independence has aroused the ire of the CKPS.

The CKPS asks: "What is it, one may ponder, that makes many smaller ethnic neighbors of the Kurds worthy of having their own sovereign states -- as is the case with the Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis -- but not the Kurds?" The Center reached the conclusion that the PKK has been sacrificing the welfare of the Kurds in all the neighboring states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Syria, and Iraq for its own short-term tactical gains. "In conclusion, the CKPS called on all members of the PKK to question the leadership of that organization and demand an explanation for the radical change in direction."

A week later, the Kurdish parliament-in-exile announced its latest set of proposals for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem. Yet almost all of them applied only to the Kurds in Turkey and thus are more or less in line with the Ocalan proposals, although they do include a call for the recognition of the other peoples and minorities in Turkey and Kurdistan, only the Assyrians and Syriacs are mentioned by name. (David Nissman)

SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REPORTS "NO PROGRESS" ON WATER-SHARING. Although he maintains that Syrian-Turkish relations are not bad, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara noted that "there had been no progress in tackling other bilateral issues, particularly that of water and the sharing of the Euphrates River," Al-Hayah reported on 5 February. But it is an indication of the caution with which the Syrians approach Turko-Syrian relations that he did not mention the Tigris, which cuts through territory that has been a matter of dispute between the two nations (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 November 1998 and 29 January 1999).

As recently as June 1998, the Iraqi minister of irrigation accused Turkey of procrastinating in the settlement of this dispute, delays which Baghdad claims have allowed Turkey to retain a large portion of the Euphrates flow -- even though Iraq and Syria had been holding continuing negotiations on the matter. The minister noted that Iraq has called many times for joint meetings among the three countries to solve the Euphrates water problem according to international law. But because there is no universally accepted international law to resolve disputes between up-river and down-river countries, this issue is likely to prove increasingly explosive for the region as a whole. (David Nissman)

U.S. ASKS TURKEY TO ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR FEDERATION IN NORTHERN IRAQ. According to "Sabah" on 2 February, the United States has asked Ankara to be responsible for the federation soon to be officially established in northern Iraq. Turkish diplomatic sources indicate that the Sabah statement may have been planted by the Turkish government in order to prevent such a request. But both the Turkish General Staff and the Turkish government have raised objections to this proposal. Turkey wants the U.S. to modify its 36th parallel line so as to include Kirkuk and Mosul, but Washington has said no. Without the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, the new federation would have a population of some 4 million and an average per capita income of $435. According to "Sabah," Ankara believes that "security cannot be established only through the use of arms in northern Iraq, if the per capita income is not increased to $2,000." It is unclear where these per capita income figures come from, as no economic surveys are known to have been conducted on the territory of the Kurdish Regional Government. (David Nissman)

PKK CONGRESS HELD ON IRAN-IRAQ BORDER? A report in the Turkish newspaper "Milliyet" on 3 February indicates that the 6th Congress of the PKK was held in northern Iraq recently. According to "Milliyet," the Congress took place "in an area under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan," led by Jalal Talabani, in a region near Hac Umran in a mountainous region on the Iran-Iraq border.

The congress was originally scheduled to be held in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan under Armenian control. However, the danger of an operation by the Turkish military, whose intelligence about the region is at least as good as "Milliyet's," was considered to be too great.

The congress was expected to conclude with a purge of high-ranking militants. According to a "Milliyet" source, described as "a high-ranking official," the ERNK is attaching great importance to PKK initiatives that would allow them to assume a political identity in European eyes.

The next step for the PKK would likely be the convening of a session of the Kurdish parliament-in-exile, which is expected to create a Kurdish government-in-exile. Efforts to hold this session of the Kurdish parliament in the Basque region of Spain have yielded no results so far. (David Nissman)

THE HASHEMITES AND IRAQ. The designation by the United States of the Constitutional Monarchists as one of the seven opposition groups eligible to receive funding under the terms of the Iraq Liberation Act came as a surprise to many observers of the Iraqi scene. The Constitutional Monarchists have no army, very little organization, and no known support among the people in Iraq. A recent article by Kemal Balci in the "Turkish Probe" issue of the "Turkish Daily News" on 31 January sheds light on the subject, especially the family connections of the Iraqi and Jordanian royal families, all of whom are Hashemites and the fact that the current Constitutional Monarchist Party also claims to be Hashemites.

In 1992, King Hussein of Jordan gave a speech in which he referred to the Hashemites' "sovereign rights" in all Arab countries, including Iraq. At the time, just after the Gulf War, according to Balci, the king's words had a "special resonance." Later in his speech, King Hussein dwelt on his childhood, when he was the deputy of his close relative, the Hashemite King Faisal II of Iraq, "when I was his deputy and heir in presiding over the Arab union which unites our two countries [Iraq and Jordan]." Subsequently, he referred to the mixed ethnic and religious composition of Iraq: "And we wished that the different elements of its [Iraq's] social fabric, be they Sunni or Shiite, Arab or Kurd, brought together by the Hashemites, would not be disentangled."

Bulent Ecevit, the current prime minister of Turkey, was in Jordan at the time of the speech. He asked Prince Hassan what the purpose of the speech was. Hassan's answer was that the speech was "only directed at the Muslim mentality and toward a quest for legitimacy." Balci argues that in late 1992 "observers closely following developments have always considered the possibility that certain Western countries may be designing a significant role for King Hussein, the present leader of the Hashemite dynasty, in Iraq's future."

This may help to explain the designation of the Hashemite Constitutional Monarchists as potential recipients of aid under the Iraq Liberation Act. Balci says that King Hussein's trip back to Jordan to name his son as crown prince keeps alive the possibility of the creation of a Jordanian-Iraqi state under Hashemite control. Ecevit, while admitting that this is a "possibility," does not attribute too much importance to it. Balci adds: "Yet those who have been focusing on the U.S. attempts to redraw the Middle Eastern map consider it a 'very serious possibility.'" There is even a feeling that only a monarchy can unify the different ethnic elements residing in Iraq.

The question in Turkey is a different one. In Turkey, there is the fear of the establishment of Kurdish regional autonomy in northern Iraq will ultimately lead to Kurdish independence. An article by Huseyn Bagci, also in the 31 January issue of the "Turkish Probe," discusses a Turkish view of the Kurdish policy of the U.S.

Bagci suggests that the discussions regarding whether an independent Kurdish state will be established are taking on a new dimension, but it is an issue that U.S. policy does not address. First of all, there are some problems in allowing the establishment of an independent Kurdish state on the territory of northern Iraq. For one thing, it violates the territorial integrity of Iraq and would potentially lead to the breakup of the country.

Second, Bagci says, "ignoring the sentiments of the Iraqi people may be the biggest error the American administration could commit. Supporting Kurdish groups and attempting to organize them against Saddam is only fanning the flames of Arabic nationalism."

What is the official Turkish policy towards these moves? The Turkish political commentator and journalist Sami Kohen said recently that Turkey's foreign policy toward Iraq is far from clear, noting that there are too many ways in which Turkey could come out the loser in the triangular relationship between the U.S., Turkey, and Iraq. Primarily because Turkey has taken the American side, despite the fact that, long after the current crisis is over, Iraq will still be Turkey's neighbor. Bagci notes that "...the Arab mind does not easily forget, nor does it let the events of the past remain buried. Because of this nature of the Arab psyche, Iraq could be a potential enemy to Turkey in the long run."

And this may help to explain the American designation of the Constitutional Monarchists. They are supposedly above ethnic and religious feuding. But without an army and without major support among the Iraqi population, they may be too far above the fray to provide much of a contribution to any solution. (David Nissman)