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Iraq Report: May 28, 1999

28 May 1999, Volume 2, Number 21

THE IMPACT OF U.S. ASSISTANCE ON THE IRAQI OPPOSITION. The United States will begin to supply non-lethal assistance to the Iraqi opposition, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told representatives of the Iraqi National Congress Provisional Command and the Democratic Center Tendency during a Washington meeting on 24 May. This program is part of the $97 million package provided for by the Iraq Liberation Act passed by Congress in 1998.

State Department spokesman James Rubin noted that included in the first installment of the aid will be instruction in civil administration "preparing for day after scenarios for the recovery of an Iraq free of Saddam Husseyn."

Despite this statement, several opposition figures, including members of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) delegation now in Washington, remain skeptical of the American plan. Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said his doubts about the American plan were based on "the lack of answers to a number of fundamental questions." He maintained that "there has to be an agreement about what the ruling alternative would be and what the future would be like for the Iraqis and for the Kurdish nation." He pointed out that he will not allow Kurdistan to be the war grounds for a plan to overthrow the Iraqi regime without clear guarantees that the future Iraq will be democratic and that the Kurds will have a self-ruling entity in their region within a federated Iraq.

The Iraqi opposition leaders also "chafed at the restrictions" the U.S. has insisted on, including Washington's refusal to supply them with weaponry. One administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told "The Washington Post" that the U.S. did not view these opposition figures as the ones who will topple Saddam Husseyn: "These are the day after guys. These are not the guys who are going to put a bullet in the head of Saddam Husseyn."

But the U.S. appears to have little interest in arming anyone else. General Anthony Zinni, in a lecture to Britain's Royal United Service Institute, recently spoke out strongly against arming Iraqi opponents of Saddam Husseyn.

But Washington's efforts have had an impact on the Iraqi opposition if not yet on the Iraqi regime. That opposition is now something very different than it was a year ago. The Iraqi National Congress has reached agreement with a new group which calls itself the Democratic Center Tendency. According to "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" on 24 May, one prominent member of the Iraqi opposition said that ongoing negotiations will lead to unity prior to a National Assembly meeting on 7 July on how best to oust Saddam.

But if there is movement toward unity within the Iraqi opposition, there is still no accord on where the INC National Congress will in fact meet. According to "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi," the U.S. administration does not want to hold the meeting in Washington lest others be in a position to suggest that the Iraqi opposition is riding on the backs of American tanks. Some have proposed holding the sessions in Iraqi Kurdistan, but the Iraqi Kurds have requested security and military guarantees about which the U.S. administration supposedly has "reservations." Moreover, Turkey has not been invited to send observers to the meeting, "Cumhurriyet" reported on 25 May.

But even more to the point, Baghdad itself has generated enough credible threats to make that an undesirable location (see below.) In addition, according to the 24 May "Al-Hayah," Saddam recently set up a special committee to supervise the national dialogue between the Iraqi government and various political forces, including the Kurds, a probe that could make the holding of an opposition meeting in Kurdistan particularly problematic.

As a result, three European states have emerged as candidates for hosting the assembly. The Netherlands has officially accepted, while Austria and Switzerland reportedly have agreed unofficially. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD WARNS KURDS. According to the London-based Studies and Reports Center, which is run by former Iraqi military intelligence chief Major General Wafiq Al-Samarra'i, President Saddam Husseyn's government has warned the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that Baghdad could embark on various operations, including armed attack and the imposition of an oil blockade on the Kurdish areas of north Iraq if they participate in any U.S. endeavors to use the Kurdish region as a springboard for toppling Saddam's regime. These warnings were sent last month to Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the KDP, and Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK, following a meeting of the Iraqi National Security Council held at the end of April.

According to "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," the "Special Bulletin" says that "the National Security Council endorsed a number of punitive measures that will be implemented according to the circumstances and the situation, provided that is preceded by a series of contacts with the Kurdish movements. The council assigned [Deputy Prime Minister] Tariq Aziz to run these contacts in coordination with the intelligence service."

The messages sent by Baghdad reminded their recipients of what happened during the uprising of 1991 and on 31 August 1996 when army and Republican Guard units invaded Irbil. They also stressed the wish of the regime to separate the Kurdish movements from Iraqi Arab oppositionists.

The punitive measures envisaged include but are not limited to, stopping supplies of oil and gas to Kurdish cities at preferential rates, negotiations with Turkey on Kurdish issues, isolating the Kurds from Syrian territory, increasing tensions among Kurdish groups, and even the possible use of special weapons--a euphemism for poison gas--against the Kurds. (David Nissman)

A DIVISIVE CONGRESS OF KURDISTAN. A press release from the Kurdistan Congress Preparatory Committee, issued on 21 May, describes in some detail the aims of the National Congress of Kurdistan which is also known as the parliament-in-exile and widely suspected of being a PKK front.

The National Congress defines itself as a "unique body comprised of representatives from the Kurdish diaspora in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia as well as representatives of political parties which exist in all parts of Kurdistan (constituting 45 percent of the Congress), religious and cultural institutions (20 percent), independent political entities and intellectuals (30 percent), and ethnic groups." The press release emphasizes that the National Congress "possesses the characteristics not of a political party but rather of a democratic institution."

The announcement of the National Congress was hailed in a speech on 20 May by U.S. Congressman Bob Filner who noted that "150 delegates from around the world representing the Kurdish peoples of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the former Soviet republics" will assemble for the congress. which opened in Amsterdam on 24 May.

In this context, the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ERNK) issued a statement on 20 May saying that "a statement signed by certain Kurds and Turkomans has alleged that the PKK used terror tactics against the civilian Kurdish population of South Kurdistan [Iraqi Kurdistan]. These allegations are a complete fabrication, without any basis in fact." The statement maintains that the kidnapping and murder incident (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report" 21 May 1999) is a deliberate "provocation, made just before the start of the Kurdistan National Congress." Furthermore, it states that the false information was planted by the Turkish state in cooperation with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). (David Nissman)

OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM RENEWED FOR SIXTH TIME. By a unanimous vote, the UN Security Council on 21 May renewed the Iraq oil-for-food program for the sixth time, and Hans von Sponeck, the coordinator of this program, met with Tariq Aziz, Baghdad's deputy prime minister, to discuss details of the extension.

As approved, the program allows Iraq to sell some $5.2 billion of oil every six months. That would represent a significant increase: during the last phase of this program, Iraq only sold $3.9 billion worth of oil, largely due to the drop in oil prices and the outmoded plants it uses for oil drilling and production. But Iraq is now producing some 2.65 million barrels of oil a day of which two million will be exported. And an Iraqi official has said that if Baghdad can get spare parts, it will be able to increase production "another 250,000 barrels a day to output before the end of this year."

While the final vote at the UN was unanimous, there were significant differences among the members of the Security Council. Representatives of Russia, China, and France argued that oil-for-food alleviated some of the suffering of the people and called for lifting sanctions. Russia reportedly has prepared a draft resolution calling for the suspension of sanctions if Baghdad agrees to allow additional weapons inspectors.

But as in the past, the U.S. and Great Britain remained opposed to any suspension of lifting of sanctions. Both Washington and London argue that Iraq has failed to account for its weapons of mass destruction and say that ending sanctions would only reward Baghdad for bad behavior. (David Nissman)

QUSAYY'S PROMOTION LEADS TO ARRESTS OF RELATIVES. The recent elevation of Saddam Husseyn's second son, Qusayy, to a leading position in the Ba'th Party, a step that might make him the second ranking official in the Iraqi power structure, appears to have caused some turmoil in the Husseyn family, "Al-Hayah" reported on 22 May. The paper says that reliable Iraqi sources in Amman have confirmed the arrest of several of Saddam's relatives for criticizing his promotion in private. Perhaps more important, "Al-Hayah" adds, the promotion of Qusayy may make it difficult for "Udayy, the president's older son who is still suffering from the results of a December 1996 assassination attempt, to return to a position of power. (David Nissman)

PAPAL JOURNEY TO IRAQ 'ONLY A PLAN.' The visit of Pope John Paul II to Iraq, announced last week by the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Rafael I Bedawid in Rome, is already beset with technical difficulties.

Before the trip can happen, the UN must suspend sanctions on direct air travel to Iraq. Moreover, at least some in the West appear to be concerned that a papal visit to Iraq might confer some kind of legitimacy on a regime guilty of numerous atrocities. Furthermore, Western newspapers have pointed out that Rafael I Bedawid is closely linked to Saddam Husseyn. As a result and for the moment, a Vatican spokesman has indicated that the papal visit remains "only a plan."

But the trip may ultimately happen: the Vatican has full diplomatic relations with Baghdad and Mgr. Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the papal nuncio, is on friendly terms with the leaders there, according to the London "Daily Telegraph." (David Nissman)