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Iraq Report: April 9, 1999

9 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 14

HUSSEYN-MILOSEVIC PACT: A MATTER OF CHEMISTRY? Following the agreement between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Iraqi counterpart, Saddam Husseyn (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 April 1999), "Al-Hayah" on 1 April reported that Iraqi diplomatic sources in Amman have talked about "strong relations" between Iraq and Yugoslavia. At the same time, the paper said, "Iraqi opposition sources have warned of a 'large-scale operation' aimed at building an arsenal that includes 'germ-warfare weapons' for Saddam Husseyn's regime using Serbian specialists and with Russia's blessing."

This special relationship between the two countries has been going on for roughly two years, "Al-Hayah" said. "Sources said that military experts from the two countries are currently present in Baghdad and Belgrade, emphasizing that they are working jointly to develop a type of anti-aircraft weapon."

"Al-Hayah's" report also indicates that trade and military relations between Iraq and Serbia began in 1997 with the appointment of Lieutenant General Mahmud Al-Muzaffar as "scientific counselor" at the Iraqi embassy in Belgrade.

Smaller equipment needed for weapons manufacturing generally was passed via "diplomatic bags" exchanged between the two countries; larger operations dealt with the import of units, which had to be concealed to avoid detection, needed for factories and production lines.

Also, Iraqi opposition sources maintained that Serbian and Russian experts on prohibited weapons, including germ-warfare weapons, paid regular visits to Baghdad "in the guise of press or news agency delegations."

Russian military experts have "partially" confirmed the Serbian-Iraqi ties. (See "Vesti": Russian Television Network reporting on an item in "Kommersant," 2 April). A source at the Russian General Staff also mentioned Russian aid to Serbia: "The Serbs constantly receive information about the times of flights, their routes, and the expected strength of the NATO air force."

Reports about the visits of Serbian biological and chemical warfare experts are especially disturbing in light of Iraqi attempts to import goods which could be used in the production of such weapons from South Africa.

A report appearing in the London-based "Foreign Report" newsletter and also carried by the "Jerusalem Post" on 2 April highlights Iraqi efforts called "Operation Samsam." Two Iraqi agents, one described as a businessman from the local pharmaceutical industry, the other a microbiologist, "were to have operated in South Africa as middlemen to purchase equipment which could have peaceful applications, but which were, in fact, intended to form the components of Iraqi biological weapons."

"Foreign Report" claims this plan is believed to have been compromised and aborted. "Operation Samsam" was reportedly initiated by Iraq's Military Biological Project and the General Intelligence Apparatus.

The report concludes: "Iraq is believed to be capable of making most of the components for biological weapons, but the South African project, if implemented, would accelerate the project."

Sir Charles Guthrie, Britain's chief of the defense staff, speaking at the end of March, claimed earlier that "building up over recent months there has been a continuous two-way flow of military and defense industry delegations discussing primarily Iraqi military requirements" between the two countries, according to a 31 March Reuters report. Neither country is a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified by most other countries of the world in 1997.

In the face of these reports, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan nonetheless has denied any military cooperation with Baghdad, despite Baghdad's verbal support for Yugoslavia in the face of NATO strikes, AFP reported on 5 April. (David Nissman)

"OIL FOR CAVIAR' INSTEAD OF 'OIL FOR FOOD?' The smuggling of oil from Iraq has been big business for years, but a recent article by Kamil Qubaysi in the London-based "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 31 March suggests that this smuggling may now have taken on a new twist. According to Qubaysi, "British and U.S. ships and aircraft carriers cruising in the Gulf...[are] buying smuggled Iraqi diesel without the [purchasing] department knowing that the fuel they are paying for in checks, to local agents with whom they have contacts, is smuggled."

The way the system works is simple: "the smuggling mafia obtains the fuel from its branch in al-Basrah, which buys it directly with Iraqi dinars from the local selling department of the Iraqi Oil Ministry." Ferries load the fuel under the eyes of UN observers, who feel either that the quantity involved is too small to merit comment, or are on the take. The trade, according to the report, only amounts to $120 million a year.

Trade between Turkey and Iraq in smuggled oil amounts to some $55 million a year. There is a similar, yet smaller, trade with Jordan and Syria.

The UN bureaucracy is at least partially to blame for this situation: "al-Sharq al-Awsat" notes that "whoever wants to buy Iraqi oil through the United Nations has to obtain the latter's approval first. Companies avoid this type of operations because their profits are wasted as they wait for approval. Payment for official oil is usually received after three months and is spent on food, medicine, and compensation." The report concludes that "official sales are for 20 million Iraqis' food and medicine and the smuggled oil is to meet the elite's needs." (David Nissman)

CHALDEAN PATRIARCH'S VATICAN VISIT DELAYED. A planned visit to the Vatican in March by an Islamic-Christian delegation from Iraq was postponed without explanation. The group is slated to be led by Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid and to include two Muslim clerics and a high-ranking Foreign Office official (Zenda, 5 April 1999). Last month the patriarch commented that "This visit reflects the appreciation of the Iraqi state for Pope John Paul II. His holiness always calls for an end to injustice towards the people of the world, and especially the Iraqi people." (David Nissman)

TURKEY DENIES CONFRONTATION WITH ARABS OVER EUPHRATES. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel denied that Ankara was pursuing a policy of confrontation with its neighbors concerning the waters of the Euphrates. In an interview carried on Al-Jazira Satellite Television on 5 April, Demirel said only that "Turkey has reorganized the flow of water."

The two downriver states affected by this issue are Syria and Iraq. Demirel claimed that Syria is now receiving 1,000 cubic meters of water per second which is "five times Syria's water needs." He maintained that Syrian agriculture has not been affected by a water shortage and that "the same thing also applies to Iraq." He added that "we in Turkey have proposed for the states concerned--Turkey, Syria, and Iraq--to sit together and assess the quantity of water that is available in the region on the basis of each state's share and need, but also in accordance with the needs of justice and the use of technological irrigation means."

President Demirel may have oversimplified the question.

Under the terms of a 1987 protocol, Turkey had promised to supply a monthly average flow of 500 cubic meters per second at the Syrian border. Baghdad has calculated that the average flow of the Euphrates is approximately 1000 cubic meters per second and that Turkey, Syria, and Iraq are supposed to divide this water equally.

As it now stands, unless some agreement is reached between the three states, each will tend to view the other as a threat to its water supply and, thus, to its national economy. Iraq, being the furthest downstream, will probably be the most unwilling to seek any compromise.

Turkey currently has the upper hand. Iraq cannot move its armed forces into northern Iraq without great risk from American and British aircraft. It cannot, with any assurance, deploy its missiles to threaten the Turkish borders, or even the dam Turkey is constructing as part of the Southeast Anatolia Project, as Turkey now possesses Patriot missiles with which to respond to any Iraqi threat. And Syria is no threat to Turkey; it backed down from a confrontation with the battle-hardened Turkish Army less than six months ago. Nonetheless, the water allocation issue has been an irritant in the region for the last several decades, and probably will continue to cause controversy well into the future (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 January, 5 March, and 26 March 1999).

One of the basic problems is the Kurdish issue, which is one of Turkey's obsessions.

At present, there is a major problem in the pro-PKK strategy employed by Syria and Iraq to prevent Turkey from developing its water resources to the maximum extent possible. First, Turkey is the upriver country, and there are generally no international laws concerning the rights of upriver countries as opposed to downriver countries, like Syria and Iraq, with regard to water resources. Second, the PKK, while not negligible as a threat, is no longer as serious a threat; in essence, the capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has removed the Kurdish threat from the board. And third, last fall Syria backed down when faced with a Turkish military threat, and Iraq no longer has control of its entire northern border with Turkey.

The Kurds in Turkey are concentrated in southeastern Anatolia, occupying the territory through which the increasingly valuable Tigris and Euphrates flow on their way to Syria and Iraq. The region is also the site of the aforementioned Southeast Anatolia Project, a complex of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants. When completed someteime in the next decade, that project will increase the amount of irrigated land in Turkey by 40 percent and provide one-quarter of Turkey's electrical power needs. The primary beneficiaries of this will be the population of some 6 million people, mostly Kurdish, who live in the region. The Turkish government feels that the benefits of the project will undercut the appeal of Kurdish separatism. Syria and Iraq feel that the project will deprive them of needed water. Giving the Kurds of Turkey regional autonomy where the Southeast Anatolia Project is located could potentially deprive Turkey of the fruits of its endeavors.

But development there is proceeding rapidly. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit recently described its scope. At a press conference on 1 March, Ecevit pointed out that "security from now on will not be the reason for private sector investments in eastern and southeastern Anatolia. Because security has been provided in the region." (Anatolia, 1 March).

Security may have been provided in the region, but Syria and Iraq still feel deprived of what they claim are needed water resources. The Kurds are left with only the region under control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. In the future, it is the KRG that will be most threatened by the water situation because they will become another downriver entity sharing the water resources of the Tigris and Euphrates and they will be dependent on Turkey for their water, as will Iraq. That is not a factor that will contribute to the stability of the region. In the final analysis, the capture of Ocalan will have little effect on the region outside Turkey, and even less impact on the water supply. It will, however, affect the security of southeast Anatolia by strengthening it economically. (David Nissman)

CHEMICAL WEAPONS EXPOSURE TO BE STUDIED IN IRAQI KURDISTAN. The establishment of a program for the study and treatment of chemical weapons exposure has been announced. Founded through the efforts of the Washington Kurdish Institute and Dr. Christine Gosden with support from the U.S. Department of State, the program will be based at George Washington University, where Dr. Gosden serves as dean of the Post-Graduate Program and at an "appropriate institute in Sweden." (Press release from Washington Kurdish Institute, 1 April).

According to another release from the Washington Kurdish Institute, on 16 March 1988 the people of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja were decimated by Saddam Husseyn's arsenal of chemical weapons. The residents of towns throughout Iraqi Kurdistan comprise the largest civilian population ever exposed to chemical weapons. For three days in March 1988 Halabja was bombarded with a cocktail of chemical weapons including mustard gas, and the nerve gases sarin, tabun, and VX. Between 5,000 and 7,000 people were killed immediately and a further 30,000 to 40,000 were injured, many severely. No one knows how many people have died since that time, nor is there any information about how many people are now suffering long-term effects

The proposed structure will link three university medical colleges (Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleymaniya), a site in Halabja, and the universities.

Medical treatments and research programs will begin in six major areas of the most urgent need: palliative care (care of the terminally ill); cancer; neuropsychiatric care; congenital malformations, infant death, miscarriage; cardiopulmonary disease; and other medical disorders.

A survey team, led by Dr. Gosden and the staff of the Washington Kurdish Institute, are to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan in the coming weeks to help establish the program. (David Nissman)

IRAQ NATIONAL COMMITTEE MEETS IN ENGLAND. Agence France Presse reports that eleven Iraqi opposition groups met in London on 7-8 April for talks designed to produce a "transitional government in the north and south of the country backed by American military aid.

This is the first time that the Iraqi National Congress (INC) has succeeded in gathering a majority of opposition groups opposed to Saddam Husseyn since the summer of 1996.

It is clear to observers that, despite the London gathering, there is still division among the various opposition groups.

Two relatively significant groups did not attend the meeting: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iran (SCIRI) and the Iraq Communist Party (ICP). SCIRI's London representative, Hamid Al-Bayati, said: "We cannot see any possibility that such a meeting will help in our efforts to save our country from Saddam;" and the ICP's Sobhi Al-Jumaili explained: "Our party is not ready to take part in such is not the right way" (AP, 5 April).

On the other hand, both the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan will send representatives to London for the meeting.

Also in attendance were Frank Ricciardone, U.S. special representative for the transition in Iraq, and a representative from the British Foreign Office.

A few days before the meeting, Dr. Ahmad Al-Chalabi, leader of the INC, denied rumors he was going to resign as well as reports about supposed U.S. pressure to force him to resign. According to the London-based "Al-Hayah," (4 April) some opposition forces hold Ahmad Al-Chalabi responsible for the paralysis in the Congress' activities. A statement by Hoshyar Zibari, one of the leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, says that the purpose of this meeting and the broader meeting, scheduled to be held in Washington later this month, is to choose a new leadership for the INC. Zibari said further that he sees the future of the INC as a political organization, not as a military movement. He claims that Chalabi advocates a guerrilla war using the promised U.S. military equipment in the hope of provoking mutinies within the army (Independent, 8 April).

Bayan Jabr, SCIRI's Damascus representative, said that the current phase is not one which calls for meetings and conferences of only a political nature. He added: "Focusing on conferences at this stage could open the door to new quarrels over issues that the opposition had settled earlier." (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: London, 6 April). (David Nissman)

IRAQI TURKOMANS BLAME SPECIAL SECURITY ORGANS FOR SADR MURDER. The Secretary General of the Islamic Association of Iraqi Turkmens, Abbas Al-Bayati, said in an interview with IRNA in Tehran on 7 April that the Iraqi government's execution of four Muslim clerics for the murder of the Ayatollah Sadr and his two sons in February represented an attempt by Baghdad to discredit the Najaf Ashraf seminary. He said that the Iraqi authorities hoped "to sow seeds of discord among the people and create unrest in seminaries and bring about a rift between the seminaries and the people." He added: "Everyone knows that martyr Sadr was assassinated by the Iraqi regime's special security organization."

Ayatollah Sadr allegedly had refused, shortly before his murder, to hand down an edict of Holy War (jihad) against the United States for operation Desert Fox (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 February 1999). (David Nissman)