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Iraq Report: May 21, 1999

21 May 1999, Volume 2, Number 20

IS SADDAM SET TO REVOKE OIL-FOR-FOOD AGREEMENT? On 13 May, Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf said on Iraq Satellite Television that the UN-Iraqi memorandum of understanding defining the terms of the oil-for-food arrangement has failed to check the deterioration of human conditions in Iraq. And in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Iraqi diplomat said that Baghdad views the memorandum "as a temporary and exceptional measure," clearly implying that Baghdad will seek to escape from its provisions.

The fifth stage of the oil-for-food agreement ends on 24 May. But Iraqi officials have suggested that Baghdad has not been allowed to export all the oil it was allowed to during the fourth phase even though that is long past. And "Al-Zaman" reported on 19 May that as a result, Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn has told his interior ministry and civil defense serve to go to a heightened state of readiness in anticipation of an attack once Baghdad denounces the memorandum. But it remains uncertain whether Saddam's threat this time is real or simply a negotiating tactic. (David Nissman)

UN SECURITY COUNCIL EXAMINES SANCTIONS REGIME. Two Baghdad newspapers, "Al-Iraq" and the Ba'thist "Al-Thawra," have rejected an Anglo-Dutch plan that would ease the sanctions regime on Iraq. The first of these papers said that any agreement of this type would amount to putting the country under a British mandate. But despite this, intense negotiations continue at the United Nations among the outside powers.

The Anglo-Dutch plan envisions extending the current oil-for-food program, possibly raising the $5.2 billion limit on Iraq's oil exports and allowing Western firms to participate in oil exploration -- if Baghdad agrees to allow the return of UN weapons inspectors.

If Baghdad agrees -- and this proposal is to be discussed at the UN next week -- the new weapons monitoring regime would be called UNCIM -- for the UN Commission and Monitoring. A replacement for UNSCOM, this body would function only if Baghdad agreed to give its inspectors "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records, and means of transportation to carry out their duties" dpa reported on 19 May.

But this draft is unlikely to survive in its current form. Not only Baghdad opposes it. So too does China, France, and Russia. Moscow has submitted an alternative plan which calls for a 100-day suspension of sanctions subject to reimposition if the UN secretary general reports that Baghdad has not complied with the UNCIM terms. (David Nissman)

ANTI-REGIME ASSASINATIONS REPORTED. "A state of cautious alertness dominates the Iraqi capital following increased military movements and assassination attempts against a number of government officials," unnamed sources told "Al-Zaman" on 19 May. But such reports cannot be independently confirmed and may reflect only the desires of those who report them.

Among those against whom assassination attempts supposedly have been made in recent weeks was the son of former Defense Minister Hammad Shihab. People near the family said that the perpetrator came from one of the intelligence organs. Other victims include Colonel Hasan Abbas Al-Amiri, director of the Abu Ghurayb prison, and Ba'th Party functionary Fadil Jihad.

In a 15 May statement, an opposition group calling itself "the Iraqi Army Officers' Secret Organization -- General Command" took credit for two other attacks: an ambush against Staff Colonel Majid Salman Al-Hadithi in Baghdad and an attack on a Ba'th Party building in Al-Shu'lah city. In the latter incident, eleven people reportedly were killed.

Meanwhile, in Damascus, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq took credit for the assassination of Colonel Al-Amiri, Radio Kuwait reported on 18 May. And SCIRI said that violent clashes between opposition forces and armed elements of the Ba'th Party had taken place in the governates of Kut, Nasiriyah, and Amarah. These clashes reportedly left five members of the Iraqi government forces dead.

And Iraqi diplomatic sources in Amman told "Al-Hayah" on 21 May that the Iraqi armed forces recently have redeployed near the Iranian border. These sources said that Baghdad had done so both in response to Tehran's recent military maneuvers and also continuing U.S. efforts "to topple the Iraqi leadership."

At the same time, Iraqi artillery shelled several Kurdish villages not under Baghdad's control, according to a May 20 report by the Voice of the People of Kurdistan, a clandestine radio operated by Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The Kurdish source did not report any killed or wounded. (David Nissman)

IRAQI OPPOSITION TO SEEK U.S. ROLE IN KURDISTAN. A high-level meeting of the members of the coalition group formed in Washington is slated to meet next week. Conceived as a parallel body to the Iraqi National Congress, it is to be called the Center Grouping and, according to its organizers, to include "all the moderate opposition groups on a secular and non-sectarian basis," "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" reported on 21 May.

But the venue of this meeting is uncertain now that Egypt has rejected a request that the meeting be held there. President Hosni Mubarak reportedly has said that Cairo does not want to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq. Moreover, he is said to doubt that any outside attempts to activate an Iraqi opposition are futile. There are more details on what the meeting will discuss: Iyad Allawi, the leader of the London-based Iraqi National Accord Movement, told AP on 18 May that the talks will center on putting Kurdish-controlled Iraq under U.S. military protection. Allawi said: "We will tell the Americans that Kurdistan should be made a safe haven for the opposition groups against Saddam's onslaughts." (David Nissman)

IRAQ INCREASES DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan said on his return to Baghdad that his visit to southeast Asia last week had strengthened Baghdad's position in a number of ways. According to Baghdad Radio on 16 May, his visit was to help coordinate the positions of Iraq and Malaysia on the one hand and Iraq and Vietnam on the other concerning "international and regional conferences" and to expand cooperation in "economic, educational, and technical" spheres."

As a result of the trip, Baghdad will purchase 600 buses, tractors, and other agricultural equipment from Vietnam. And it will pay for them from its sale of oil under the oil for food program. And both Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai have been invited to visit Iraq.

Ramadan's trip was only one example of Iraq's increasing diplomatic activity over the last month. Sri Lanka's trade minister, who recently visited Iraq, will host an Iraqi trade mission in June. The two sides plan to agree on a larger export quota, again under the oil for food program, AFP reported on 16 May. And Iraq's agriculture minister recently visited Lebanon and Bulgaria to promote both economic and political ties, the Republic of Iraq Radio Network reported on 16 May. (David Nissman)

QUSAYY TO FORM SPECIAL BATALLION. Saddam Husseyn's son Qusayy has been authorized to put together a special battalion, the Amman newspaper "Al-Bilad" reported on 17 May. To be called Al-Nida' ("The Call"), this 2600-man-strong battalion will be part of the Special Security Force already under Qusayy's control. And it will include frogmen, media, information collection, and intelligence divisions. (David Nissman)

KURDISH PARLIAMENT-IN-EXILE TO BE FORMED� According to a report by the Dutch news agency ANP on 19 May, a Kurdish National Congress representing Kurds from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria will be founded next week in Amsterdam. The National Congress supposedly will include representatives of all political and religious tendencies among the Kurds. Its aim is to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem. Earlier efforts to create such a body appeared to have been orchestrated by the PKK, but it is not clear whether this meeting will be the same. (David Nissman.)

�AS RIVAL KURDISH GROUPS SNIPE AT ONE ANOTHER. Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) guerrillas earlier this month attacked Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) positions close to the border of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-controlled territory in southern "Kurdistan," the "Kurdistan Observer" reported on 16 May. Such attacks appear to be increasing in number despite the September 1998 commitment by the KDP and the PUK in Washington "to deny sanctuary to the PKK and to eliminate all PKK from the region." Meanwhile, Baghdad claimed that Turkish troops had penetrated Iraqi territory in pursuit of PKK terrorists and demanded that Ankara withdraw its forces. The Russian foreign ministry echoed this demand in a note to Turkey, Interfax reported on 19 May. (David Nissman)

'DROUGHT CATASTROPHE' IN IRAQI KURDISTAN. The drought in Iraqi Kurdistan is now so severe that people are leaving the region as a result of "the drying up of wells and the sharp drop in water levels of small rivers and streams," according to a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan statement published in "Al-Hayah" on 19 May. In addition, low water levels are affecting hydroelectric power production by the Dokan and Darbandikhan power nets. The Iraqi Ministry of Humanitarian Aid and Cooperation recently issued an appeal for outside assistance in order to limit the effects of the drought. (David Nissman)

POPE WANTS TO VISIT UR. Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid met with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican on 14 May. Following the session, the patriarch told Baghdad radio that the pope would visit Iraq at "the appropriate time." In December 1998, the Vatican's secretary of state, Angelo Sodano, told reporters that John Paul would like to visit Ur, the birthplace of Abraham and now a city in southern Iraq, as part of his celebrations marking the jubilee year 2000. (David Nissman)