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Iraq Report: April 16, 1999

16 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 15

THE BATTLE OVER SANCTIONS HEATS UP. Iraq will reject any new conditions imposed by the UN to monitor its arms programs, the Ba'th Party newspaper "Al-Thawra" said, because that is Iraq's legal right "and not a gift of the Security Council," INA reported on 12 April.

These comments appear to have been triggered by recent discussions in three Security Council subcommittees that were set up in January to end the deadlock in that body concerning Iraq. And they may also reflect new Iraqi confidence that pressure to lift the sanctions is growing. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan has rejected the sanctions as recently as this week.

On 9 April, the U.S., Great Britain, and the Netherlands reiterated their opposition to any lifting of sanctions because Iraq had not been fully disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction. But the ranks of those completely opposed to the lifting of sanctions are thinning: the other 12 member countries are now calling for a lifting of the oil embargo as an incentive to Iraq to cooperate with a future arms-monitoring system.

The split reflects differences of opinion about the status of Iraq's weapons program. The International Atomic Energy Agency is prepared to certify that Iraq has no nuclear capability at the present time. But there is no agency willing to assert that Iraq does not have a chemical and biological weapons capability. In part that reflects the difficulties of monitoring such weapons programs, but it also reflects mounting evidence that Baghdad is seeking to replenish its capability in these areas (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 April 1999 and an AFP report of the same day).

In responding to these charges, Iraq has lashed out at UN weapons inspectors for supposedly destroying an animal vaccine factory which could have helped prevent the hoof and mouth epidemic that is taking an enormous toll on the country's livestock. Iraqi officials have even demanded compensation for the losses (AFP, 8 April; also "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 March 1999).

On other issues raised at the Security Council, Iraq has also maintained its former positions. As concerns the return of Kuwait POWs, Baghdad officials said at the Arab League Consultative meeting it was not unwilling to discuss the situation but insisted on calling them "missing persons." But these Iraqi representatives conceded that Kuwait could call the "missing persons" "anything they want" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 March 1999). (David Nissman)

IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS MEETING INCONCLUSIVE. A London meeting of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) last week that was intended to produce a "transitional government" for the north and south of Iraq generated only a vague statement clearly intended at papering over rifts between various member-groups and factions and a new Executive Council, according to the Voice of the People of Kurdistan on10 April.

But the parties did agree to continue to work to "effect political reconciliation within the framework of the INC." A five-member committee was established to make contact with INC members who had boycotted the sessions and to explore ways to bring them back to the INC, "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" reported on 9 April. Meanwhile, the Executive Council, which will disband when a National Assembly is held on 7 July, will focus on expanding contacts with Iraqi groups which are not INC members and seek to persuade them to join its ranks. After that assembly meets, the leadership of the INC will then be in a position to discuss implementation of the U.S. Iraq Liberation Act. One INC official, Nabil Musawi, told the London meeting that U.S. Senator Robert Kerrey, who attended the meeting in London, had asked the Executive Council to hold the INC National Assembly as soon as possible in order to elect a new leadership. According to a meeting participant who wished to remain anonymous, Washington currently is forced to rely on the INC, "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" reported. This source added that Kerrey had told some participants that the U.S. is determined to topple Saddam Husseyn before the end of the year for reasons to do with the American presidential election. Ahmad Chalabi, the former president of the INC, has seen his powers seriously diminished. He is now chairman of the newly-formed Executive Council, but that is a collective leadership in which any member can veto the suggestions or plans of any other members. "Al-Zaman," a London-based Arabic language newspaper, said on 12 April that many members of the INC "became distressed when they learned that the seven-member leadership would be just a collective one that could make its decisions unanimously." The paper suggested that the new council will be united only "in making excuses and explanations." Commenting on the role of Frank Ricciardone, the United States official responsible for Washington's approach on Iran, "Al-Zaman" argues that he has "failed to produce a well-scripted play about tangible policies on the future regime in Iraq." The INC assembly is scheduled to convene in early July. American officials reportedly want the meeting to take place in Washington and have offered $700,000 to cover the expenses of those attending. But other INC members believe the meeting should take place in Cairo, Amman, or Riyadh in order to give it "an Arab dimension," "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" reported on 9 April. Efforts to organize INC meetings in these countries have run into difficulties, "Al-Quds al-'Arabi" said on 13 April, though it provided no details. (David Nissman)

MAGHREB STATES REFUSE TO JOIN ARAB COMMITTEE ON IRAQ. The Maghreb states reportedly have turned town efforts by Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq Al-Shar' to get them to join the Arab Committee on Iraq, "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 12 April. The Syrian diplomat who chairs the seven-member committee, had sought to involve them in order to overcome the current impasse among committee members.

The refusal of the Maghreb states to agree reflects their anger at being excluded from some of the preliminary maneuvering over the formation of this committee. Members of the Arab-Maghreb Union, for example, expressed surprise in January when they were not asked to become part of the meetings that came to be known as the "Al-Ghardaqah Five" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 January 1999). At that time, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa claimed that it was "incorrect" to think that the exclusion of some Arab countries was a "plot" or "maneuver" (Middle Eastern News Agency, 17 January).

Dr. Abd al-Majid, head of the Arab League, said that Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco had based their refusal to participate on "reservations about this committee's formation and the nature of its work," "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 12 April.

Iraq is also upset about its exclusion from membership in the committee. Dr Sultan Al-Shawi, Iraq's envoy to the Arab League, has said that "Iraq's exclusion, though it is the main party involved, sparks Iraqi fears that the aim of the committee is somehow to prolong the sanctions by implying that Baghdad has failed to live up to its international responsibilities. And he is now suggesting that the Maghreb countries have refused to participate because they accept and support Baghdad's views. (David Nissman)

MORE DETAILS ON 'OPERATION SAMSAM'. A biweekly magazine published by 'The Economist" revealed that Iraqi purchases of components from South Africa will help Baghdad to speed up its secret program for the production of biological weapons. The publication, "The Foreign Report," in this week's edition said that these purchases are taking place within a secret operation known as the "Samsam Operation." "The Foreign Report" quoted what it described as "very informed sources in the Middle East" saying that Iraq has tried to get around South Africa's security and customs agencies to guarantee that the deal, a clear violation of international sanctions imposed on Iraq through UN resolutions for the removal of all of its weapons of mass destruction, is not discovered. "The Foreign Report" said that the deal might have been discovered and foiled. It added that the plan started three years ago with the recruitment of agents in South Africa. One of the agents was described as a businessman working in a local pharmaceutical company and another was described as a microbiology expert. The agents were supposed to present themselves as civilian intermediaries who want to sell equipment to be used for civilian purposes but the real aim was for this equipment to transferred to the biological weapons production sphere in Iraq, the magazine said. According to the plan, equipment would be purchased from local companies and South African branches of European companies. The equipment would then be sent either to companies that are fronts for Iraq working outside South Africa or to local companies in South Africa and then transferred to Iraq with forged documents. "The Foreign Report" went on to say that the agents were given a list of items for purchase and instructions to find out whether they were available for purchase in South Africa or whether they were classified as secret because of their dual usage. But their use for peaceful purposes makes them easier to export. At the top of the Iraqi list were things like equipment for a central sorting/isolation machine made by German companies with branches in South Africa. The British report then went on to say, referring to its sources, that the agents were supposed to claim that the machine for sorting, a machine that can spread germs, was wanted for a dairy factory in Iraq. The Iraqi list also included cartridges for biological filters made by another German company and stainless steel that can be used to manufacture fermentation tanks, cartridges for air filters, and mechanical covers. "The Foreign Report" said that the "Samsam Operation" was prepared in 1997 by the military biological project and the Central Intelligence Committee and in 1998 an officer appointed specifically for the "Samsam Operation" accompanied a government delegation to South Africa and prepared a list of names of promising companies and businessmen. Some of them working in pharmaceuticals and some were experts, who were working in a secret biological weapons program, known as "The Coast Project" in apartheid South Africa that was closed at the beginning of the 90s leading to many of them becoming unemployed. "The Foreign Report" said that the Iraqi plan had probably been foiled but it said that it can be seen as an important indication of Iraq's intentions. (Naim Iskandar, Radio Free Iraq)

KURDS ON KOSOVO. Many commentators have draw analogies between Yugoslavia and Iraq, both of which have been subjected to air strikes for their failure to respect either the rights of the people living on their territories or international agreements into which they have entered. But there is an additional way in which these analogies hold, one that links the Kosovars and the Kurds.

The Kurds themselves have been anxious to draw that analogy, clearly hoping to attract more international support to their cause. On 10 April, the Kurdistan Democratic Party issued a statement making this linkage explicit:

"The suffering of Kosovars today is similar to what the Kurdish people had to suffer throughout the century and especially in 1991 in Iraqi Kurdistan; they are suffering the consequences of the destruction of their countryside, mass deportation, genocide, murder, rape, and other crimes against humanity...The Kurdistan Democratic Party condemns the crimes committed by the Belgrade government against the Muslim Kosovars." (David Nissman)

UDAY ON KURDS, YUGOSLAVIA. AP quoted the Iraqi president's eldest son, Uday Saddam Husseyn, saying in an article he published on 1 April: "When it is done with Yugoslavia, the U.S. and its NATO allies will use their weapons to help Iraq's Kurds to get their national rights." In an article that was printed on the front page of "Babel," Uday, the editor of the paper, added: "NATO, through its help of the Albanian minority in Yugoslavia, is creating a precedent that it intends to use in helping the Kurds in northern Iraq." He added: "What is happening in Kosovo at the moment will reflect on Iraq in one way or another, especially on Iraqi Kurdistan." Uday's words came at a time that saw Baghdad increase its moral support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn has called the members of his government to meet twice since the start of the air strikes on Yugoslavia to issue statements supporting Milosevic. The official Iraqi media has also defended what it called "Iraqi and Yugoslav steadfastness in the face of the aggression led by the U.S." The London paper "Al-Hayat" said on 1 April that Iraq and Yugoslavia have cooperated militarily for two years and it quoted Iraqi opposition sources in Amman as saying that the governments of both countries had used diplomatic pouches to exchange spare parts for medium-sized and small weapons. (Naim Iskandar, RFI)

TAJAMU' PARTY'S KURDISH SYMPOSIUM. In an attempt to understand the Kurdish issue, the Arab Affairs Committee of the left-wing Tajamu Party in Egypt held a wide-ranging symposium. Experts in the Kurdish issue and dozens of people interested in the Kurdish issue took part. The symposium intended to answer a number of unclear issues between Turkey's accusation of Abdullah Ocalan being a terrorist and another view that sees him as a fighter leading a big battle for the sake of Kurdish self-determination. Secretary of the Arab Affairs Committee and member of the political office of the Tajamu Party, Farida Al-Naqqash, stressed at the opening of the symposium that the issue of the Kurds is a very important one and that it comes amidst difficult circumstances that have seen the emergence of national liberation movements all over the world. Al-Naqqash drew links between the Arab and Kurdish people in historical terms. She stressed the deep and very good relations between them throughout history. She gave proof of this in the names of people, who have been important to Arab minds and existence, who were of Kurdish origin. Among these was the "champion" Salah Al-Din Al-Ayubi, the "Prince of Poets" Ahmad Shawqi, the "Liberator of Women" Qasim Amin, and the prominent writer Abbas Mahmood Al-Aqqad. In a presentation of the history of the Kurds, Dr. Mohammed Al-Sayed Salim, head of Asian Studies in the Political Studies and Social Science Faculty at Cairo University, said that the Kurds are not a politically, culturally, economically, or linguistically homogenous group, but in spite of this, they belong, in a general sense, to a Kurdish identity. He added that the Kurds number nearly 30 million--half of the total number living in Turkey, with a majority of the Kurds being Muslim and a minority being Christian, along with several hundred Jews. Dr. Salim also detailed four waves of Kurdish resistance before the latest one by Ocalan. Their first revolution came in 1880 and was led by Sheikh Ubaid Allah, who called for an independent Kurdish state. It is of note that this revolution coincided with the growth of the Arab Nationalist movement, but it did not achieve its goals. The second one came in 1924 and was led by Sheikh Said. This revolution was predominantly religious in nature and this was in response to Turkish leader Kamal Ataturk, who abolished the Caliphate and removed religion from politics. The Turkish response to this revolution was severe and they totally crushed it. The very next year, the third revolution came under the leadership of Ihsan Nouri Pasha, a Kurdish officer in the Turkish army. This, too, was crushed like the previous two. The fourth wave came in 1937 under the leadership of Sheikh Rida. His movement was popular, but he was arrested and executed. The journalist Dourriya Aouni, who gave her talk through her intimate knowledge of the PKK and her meeting with Abdullah Ocalan, said that the PKK depends on a centralist Leninist ideology. She also said that when she had asked Ocalan about the secret of the progress made by the PKK, he had said that the Kurds succeeded because of Turkish stupidity. Professor of Political Science Jalal Muawad said that talk about the Kurds and their rights had reemerged among officials in Turkey when Turgut Ozal, the former Turkish president, succeeded in canceling an article in the Turkish Constitution relating to the illegality of using the Kurdish language and presenting the idea of self-rule in the framework of regional administration. At this time Ocalan presented his first initiative for a cease-fire and for giving up the idea of separation. When Ozal died and was succeeded by Suleiman Demirel, he was the first Turkish president to say that the Kurdish problem was not one that could be solved through violence, rather only through negotiation, and that its solution could lead to the setting up of a confederation. As a follow-up to the recent dramatic events of the kidnapping and arrest of Ocalan and the positions of the international powers, Nabil Zaki, the editor in chief of the weekly "Al-Ahali," the paper of the Tajamu Party, said that the current suffering of the Kurdish people was caused by international maneuvers and conspiracies. He said: "The international position is shocking as much as it is terrible." He pointed to the international intervention to help the people of Kosovo achieve self-determination, while not looking at the right of the Kurdish people for the same. He also said that the Kurdish problem is because of the mistakes of their leaders throughout history which permitted the Kurds to be used in external struggles. He said that the Kurds paid the price for this in the end--"as happened in Iraq in the 50s and is being repeated now." He was also critical of the international community for its stance on the Kurdish issue. He said that the EU had only made isolated statements on the issue so far. He also questioned the U.S. role: "The U.S., which bangs on about human rights, where is it now as the Turkish army commits atrocities in Anatolia, where whole villages are wiped out and millions made homeless?" (Soulafa Ibrahim, RFI in Cairo)

A HEAD COUNT IN THE KRG. A planned census on the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) continues to spark debate precisely because so much rides on its outcome: the future course of interethnic dialogue, water rights, property and grazing rights, and the political balance. Indeed, as its organizers have suggested, the purpose of this head count is to determine who will be allowed to vote in elections for the KRG parliament.

An article by Alexander Sternberg in the 12 April edition of "Zenda" about the census operation promises to heat up this discussion further. Earlier, Sternberg had issued his comments via the Internet, but in his article, he goes even further and suggests that problems with the census will almost certainly result in a delay of the elections until at least the fall.

Sternberg knows whereof he speaks. He has been a regular visitor to the region since 1963 and knows almost all the key players. He has even compiled a database on the region. According to his count, there were some 38,000 Assyro-Chaldeans and approximately 58,000 Turkomans. This is out of a total estimated population of between 3.7 to 3.9 million in KRG territory. While these groups find such figures far too low, Sternberg suggests they may be an exaggeration.

Only a professionally conducted census, under UN or some other internationally-recognized supervision, will satisfy the various factions concerned. It findings may match those of Sternberg, but in the minds of many, such an internationally supervised count would be seen as more acceptable. (David Nissman)

CORRECTION: A study of chemical weapons exposure in Iraqi Kurdistan reported in "RFE/RL Iraq Report" of 9 April was based on what was purported to be a press release by the Washington Kurdish Institute. The WKI advises that it did hold discussions on these issues at a U.S. State Department sponsored seminar in November 1998 but that it did not issue a press release on this. Further, WKI disassociates itself from the unauthorized dissemination of information about such discussions.