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Iraq Report: April 30, 1999

30 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 17

BAGHDAD-BELGRADE-MOSCOW COOPERATION. Five weeks ago a team of Serbian military experts visited Baghdad. Three weeks later, a small Iraqi delegation, headed by Abd Al-Hamid Humud, an aide to President Saddam Husseyn responsible for military and war industrialization, paid a visit to Belgrade, according to "Al-Watan Al-'Arabi" on 23 April. This exchange of visits is the latest indication of a deepening relationship between Yugoslavia and Iraq, ties which have been developing since the appointment of Lieutenant General Mahmud Al-Muzaffar as "scientific counselor" at the Iraqi embassy in Belgrade in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 and 9 April 1999).

The report in "Al-Watan Al-'Arabi" suggests that the flourishing Serbian-Iraqi relations are only a part of a more complex mosaic and includes Tehran and Moscow in this picture as well. The paper claims that a secret Iranian-Iraqi oil smuggling deal to help Serbia, an accord the paper described as "the biggest operation that violated the oil embargo." The newspaper explains that "through this three-sided network Iran used to smuggle oil out of Iraq while the companies established by Milosevic sold it in the world market partly paying Iraq back in arms and military equipment."

The obvious purpose behind such cooperation is "to confront the NATO military campaign against Serbia repulse the U.S. plan to impose its hegemony on the world." And some in each of these countries are pressing for an even closer alliance to oppose the West. The congress of the perversely named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, which advanced the idea of creating a union of Russia, Belarus, and Yugoslavia, has also called for cementing Russia's ties with Iraq, India, Libya, Iran, Cuba, Sudan, and North Korea. LDPR leader and extreme Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky told that forum that "brilliant opportunities are now opening up for us to not only restore the territory of the Soviet Union, but to expand southwards to the Balkans," Interfax reported on 25 April. He added that such a new alliance will be joined after Yugoslavia by Slovakia, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, and the Caucasus and Central Asian republics, India, Iran and Iraq."

Husseyn is equally interested in backing Milosevic precisely because the Iraqi leader finds himself in the same bind. Like Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam also faces international sanctions and bombing. And in addition, he is confronted by open American efforts to promote his departure from office.He certainly believes that if the U.S. succeeds in the Balkans, it will then move even more actively against him.

Baghdad's involvement with Moscow is already clear. Its oil minister was in Moscow on 26 April to discuss LUKoil exploitation of the West Qurna oil fields (see item below). But suggestions that this grouping of states will ever formally include Iran as well seem premature if not preposterous, given the enmity between these states. (David Nissman)

IRAQI OIL MINISTER DISCUSSES TIES WITH RUSSIA. Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Muhammad Rashid met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 26 May. At the meeting, the Russian side highlighted the "active steps" Russia is taking on Iraq's behalf, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 May. These steps include Russia's proposal to the UN Security Council for the creation of a new system of international monitoring which would simultaneously lift the sanctions imposed against the country. Iraq is actively preparing for that day. As of now, Iraq has signed letters of intent with the French companies Elf and Total, a Russian consortium, and the China National Oil Company.

Iraq desperately needs some $30 million to revamp its delapidated petroleum sector and boost its oil output from the current two million barrels a day to six million, according to AFP on 29 April. From Iraq's point of view, the current picture has a brighter side. Crude oil prices surged to a 15-month high in the London market. Contributing to this increase was a decision by the United States government to increase its strategic oil reserves by 28 million barrels.

But there may be clouds on this horizon as well. Ali Hamid Muhammad Salih, director of the North Refineries Company, recently said that contracts signed within the framework of the fourth phase of the oil for food progran have not been fulfilled due to inaction by the UN Sanctions Committee. This does not permit the company to recycle the necessary industrial waste, Baghdad radio reported on 26 April. (David Nissman)

IRAQ UPGRADES ANTI-AIRCRAFT WEAPONRY. Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Minerals has said that it has "utilized its technical and industrial capabilities" to participate in the production of anti-aircraft guns, "Al-Hayah" reported on 23 April. In addition, an Iraqi diplomatic source told the paper that Baghdad is introducing advanced surface to air missiles and that French and Russian companies have supplied Iraqi air defense with equipment to improve its radar systems as well. (David Nissman)

'RED LINES' SADDAM NOT TO CROSS DELIMITED. A source in the Iraqi National Congress told "Al-Quds al-'Arabi" that Washington has refused to receive a message from Iraqi Shi'ite figures who were demanding that their region be put behind the "red lines" Saddam Husseyn is not to cross, the paper reported on 26 April. Failure to do so might prompt Baghdad to launch attacks against them, the religious leaders said.

The "red lines" were first outlined by Martin Indyk, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, to highlight the importance of the two no-fly zones. One reason Washington may not have been willing to receive this missive is that it may not want to offend the Saudi government. Riyadh is very much opposed to any security arrangements of this type which might strengthen Shi'ites in southern Iraq because of the latter's close ties to Shi'ite groups in the Saudi city of Al-Qatif, a major oil center.

Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. representative for transition in Iraq, reportedly said that Washington would have dealt with the demand if it had come from the leadership of the Iraq National Congress or the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). In fact, he had met with Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati, the SCIRI representative in London, to discuss the venue and the date of the forthcoming INC national assembly.

Meanwhile, what are described as "bloody clashes" occurred in southern Iraq and in Baghdad between demonstrators and security forces last week. The focal point of the disturbances was the Al-Hikma mosque, from which the faithful were prevented from attending Friday prayers by security forces and Saddam's Fedayeen. Sources claim that Al-Kindi hospital issued more than 250 death certificates, "Al-Hayah" reported on 25 April. Senior Iraqi opposition sources said that the conflicts were between fighters from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Following the clashes, the SCIRI soldiers reportedly withdrew from southern Iraq. (David Nissman)

MED-TV LICENSE REVOKED. Great Britain's Independent Television Commission permanently revoked the license of MED-TV on 23April because broadcasts contained statements "likely to encourage or incite to crime or lead to disorder," Reuters reported. MED-TV had been off the air for close to a month while its programming content was being investigated.

In response, MED-TV issued a press release vowing to challenge this decision, noting that the decision to close the station down is "undoubtedly political" and made under pressure from the Turkish government.. It addds that "only the Turkish state will rejoice at this decision which is contrary to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of expression."

But MED-TV's problems are financial as well as political. The Turkish news agency Anatolia reported on 24 April that $100 million which had been earmarked to cover the station's expenses has disappeared and that the organization's administrators are now suspects. The money involved had been sent to it by the European branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in September. According to the "Turkish Daily News" on 27 April, the European branch has not been sending any money to the PKK's military wing. PKK camps in northern Iraq and Iran are having difficulty in obtaining food or weapons. (David Nissman)

KTV HAS 'NO FINANCIAL PROBLEMS.' Kurdistan Television, a station sponsored by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and initially designed to counterbalance MED-TV's pro-PKK position, now has the Kurdish broadcasting field to itself.. Last week, Ilnur Cevik gave an interview wherein he made several allegations about the state of KTV's financing and technical equipment (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 April 1999). While no official response from KTV itself has yet been received, there has been a response from the Office of the Representative of the Kurdish Regional Government in Germany.

The KRG takes issue with a number of Cevik's assertions, particularly concerning financing. Cevik had contended that the KDP ran out of money after spending $2 million. The official response says that "KTV is running into no financial problems as suggested by Ilnur Cevik." But the KRG acknowledges that it is having to use money originally allocated for social services and other sectors to support the broadcasts.

The KRG has been especially irritated by the widespread reporting of the Cevik interview, not only in PKK press outlets but also in the "RFE/RL Iraq Report." And it concluded its official response with the admonition that "KTV expects its commercial and technical partners to refrain from unwarranted political interpretation or advice." (David Nissman)

SELF-RULE "ONLY" OPTION FOR KURDS. Sa'dun Hammadi, speaker of the National Assembly of Iraq, has stated that self-rule, as opposed to federation, is the only option for the Kurds. He said that "neither the National Assembly nor the Iraqi leadership will approve any other formula, such as federation," "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 25 April. He added that "any formula other than self-rule will lead to partition and will be rejected."

Hammadi was also asked about the American plan to organize an opposition military presence in northern Iraq. He answered that "any such military presence will mean partition which we will never allow."

A few days earlier, a "high-ranking Kurdish source" gave an opposing view. He said the Kurdish dialogue with Baghdad "is continuing." Matters under discussion include Kurdish rights within Iraq. But Baghdad is "offering us nothing to present to our people. It is clear that their mentality with regard to Kurdish rights has not changed. They interpret these rights as merely a cultural autonomy, but we are demanding a federal solution to the Kurdish problem within Iraq. We do not want to secede from Iraq, but we want a more developed formula," "Al-Hayah" reported on 22 April.

This Kurdish source adds that the regime in Baghdad has based its strategy on getting the embargo lifted. Then, they believe "the Kurds will have two options: either to accept the solution offered by the Iraqi regime or to return to the mountains to resume the fighting."

In the meantime, federalization is gaining support in northern Iraq since the signing of the Washington Agreement between Mas'ud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. According to the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet" on 15 April, Iraqi Kurdistan has already made a considerable effort toward creating a state apparatus: Kurds there have made efforts to reform education, improve the arts, and provide health services. A bank has been established; a "general directorate of police was created"; a Kurdish theater group has started performing; and the Kurdish parliament has begun to meet regularly.

Baghdad is not the only country concerned by these developments. Turkey is as well, obviously fearing that a federalized Iraqi state might provide an even safer haven for Kurdish militants who seek to establish an independent Kurdistan on Turkish territory. (David Nissman)

KURDS, TURKMENS EXPELLED FROM KIRKUK. A 28 April press release from the Iraqi National Accord office in Amman reported by the Iraq Foundation notes that 400 Kurdish and Turkmen families have been expelled from several neighborhoods in Kirkuk. The Iraqi authorities claim that the Turkmen families were expelled "when they denounced the repressive measures the authorities partice against the local families in the area. It appears that the Turkmens were specifically targeted for "helping out the Kurdish families."

This process of expelling Kurds and Turkmens is merely another form of ethnic cleansing that has been adopted by the Iraqi regime. On 25 October, A.A. Taib, governor of Duhoq in Iraqi Kurdistan, sent a letter to the UN claiming that Baghdad is systematically arabicizing Kurdish, Assyrian, and Turkmen areas. This process involves the deportation of non-Arab inhabitants. He pointed out that this is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 688 which calls for an end to the persecution of Kurds and other minorities in Iraq. The UN special rapporteur on human rights issues has pointed out that the region around Kirkuk has been most strongly affected by the arabicization process. (see especially "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15, 22, and 29 January 1999). But what makes this latest report important is that the Kurds and Turkmen felt some sort of solidarity with each other, something more extremist Turkmen groups, such as the Turkmeneli movement, have repeatedly denied as existing. (David Nissman)