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Iraq Report: June 4, 1999

4 June 1999, Volume 2, Number 22

PKK ACTIVISM IN IRAQ AND OCALAN TRIAL. KK terrorists have struck a number of villages near the Iranian border, according to a 31 May statement released by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KRG said that the attacks had been launched from an area now under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

According to the KRG--which is hardly disinterested--its officials found evidence of this in the possession of captured Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) operatives. Two weeks earlier, the KRG had demanded that the PUK "implement unequivocally, without reservations and without delays" all provisions of the September 1998 Washington Agreement which, among other things, bans such activities.

The latest KRG statement notes that "the events of 26 May, once again demonstrate that there is no progress on that point and that the PUK is unwilling to fulfill its obligations evolving from the agreement."

The National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (ERNK)--the political wing of the PKK--earlier rejected charges that it was involved in the events of early May. It maintained that they were by the Turkish state in cooperation with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, noting that the initial protests were signed by six Turkoman parties "which reveals the intention behind the news."

The renewed outbreak of PKK violence in Iraq is taking place in the context of the Turkish trial of Abdullah Ocalan, its group's leader. Some Kurds believe that this trial is a trial for the national identity of the Kurdish people. One of them, Kani Xulam, put the question succinctly but pessimistically in a 30 May article on the American Kurdish Information Network: "will the island of Imrali be a symbol of national humilation for the Kurds or will our Kurdish oppressors treat Mr. Ocalan with magnanimity?" In the course of the trial, Ocalan has admitted responsibility for the program and tactics of the PKK. He defined the basic Kurdish issue as one of language and culture. As "The New York Times" pointed out on 2 June, Ocalan's "abject apology for years of war and avowed determination to reinvent himself as a democrat seemed dubious but also tantalizing."

Ocalan also told the court that he believes that there has been an "improvement in the human rights situation in Turkey" and that his current "conviction is that...there is no more need for a (Kurdish) rebellion in Turkey."

In other comments, Ocalan said that "Greece's primary goal is to foster a Turkish-Kurdish quarrel in the 21st century." And he suggested that relations with Greece remain very important to the PKK.

As for his links to Armenia, he avoided questions on the PKK's role in the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh.. He did say, however, that the Armenians "have serious aims with regard to Turkey" and that they have a map that encompasses territorial demands from Turkey. He claimed that the PKK rejected this map and relations with Armenia "lessened."

Since Ocalan's capture, a "leadership council" has been running the PKK, but it appears to be just as uncertain as his opponents concerning how to react to his testimony or offers to cooperate with his past enemies. Ocalan's admission of guilt to the Turkish charges has clearly caused a split in both the leadership and the ranks of the PKK--something that by itself may lead to free-lancing by some PKK groups and unpredictable behavior by all of them. (David Nissman)

TIGRIS-EUPHRATES ISSUE RESURFACES. Turkish efforts to expand its use of water from the Tigris-Euphrates river system is generating new tensions among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Shakir Bazu'a, director of the Thawra dam in Syria, for example, told the 1 June "Mideast Mirror" that "all we want is a fair share of the Euprates waters as provided by international law. Turkey is trying to create a new life in southeast Turkey at the expense of a society 4,000 years old in the downstream states of Syria and Iraq!"

Turkey clearly recognizes these dangers. Speaking at the OSCE Economic Forum in Prague at the end of May, Ankara's ambassador to the Czech Republic, Temel Iskit, noted that there are few generally agreed upon rules concerning the sharing of water from the 215 river systems which cross international borders.

He also explained why Turkey voted against the May 1977 UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. According to Iskit, this new convention goes "far beyond" the scope of a Framework Convention and establishes a mechanism for planned measures on the watercourse, creates an obvious inequality between upstream and downstream countries by granting close to veto rights to the latter over the planned measures to be taken by the former, and ignores the indisputable principle of the sovereignty of concerned states over the parts of the watercourses situated in their territory.

The Turkish position on this issue has been consistent precisely because Turkey is not a water-rich country. Even more, the three riparian states taken together need more water than this river system can provide. Iraq and Syria, for example, currently demand a total of 148 percent of the flow capacity of the Euphrates and 111 percent of the Tigris. In short, as Iskit says, "the demands of Iraq and Syria tacitly assume that Turkey should release all the flow of the river without utilizing any of it."

To attempt to regulate these water issues, a Joint Technical Committee has been functioning between the three countries since 1984. As a step towards reaching an agreement between all three countries, Turkey has been proposing a three-stage agreement since 1984, to which their has been no response from either Iraq or Syria.

But according to a recent article by Patrick Seale, any chance for cooperation may soon be lost. Writing in the 1 June "Mideast Mirror," he suggests that "the Turks are trying to deprive Syria of as much water as possible." The Syrians maintain that the Turks now argue in private that the Tigris and the Euprates are not "international" rivers, but rather "transboundary" rivers and that they have no obligation to share the rivers' waters. The Syrians also claim that the Turks send to Syria water that has already been used to irrigate and drain the land, water that has been polluted "with fertilizers, pesticides, and excrement."

All of this has been exacerbated by the drought that affects the entire region, by Turkey's effort to overcome the Kurdish separatist conflict in its eastern region, and by rising demands for water in both Syria and Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQI TURKOMAN FRONT LEADER VISITS WASHINGTON. Dr. Muzaffer Arslan, representing a unified Iraqi Turkoman front, met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington last week to urge that his group be included in future talks about Iraq's future.

Arslan complained to the "Turkish Daily News" that "up to this week, there was no Turkoman representation at any of the official meetings in Washington relating to Iraq. Our participation at the April meetings of the Iraqi opposition in England and my inclusion in this official visit carries a symbolic value for us. We interpret these developments to mean that Turkomans and their rights are finally being remembered and recognized."

The Turkoman leader said that his group sought to ensure that the Turkomans will be able to assume their "rightful place and are represented in a unified Iraq with its territorial integrity kept intact." In his view, the Turkoman position on Iraq's territorial integrity is very definite: "It is a known fact that a large number of ethnic Arabs are very concerned that Iraq may be broken into pieces. We Turkomans share this view as well. Because we would like to see Iraq as whole." But "if a given [ethnic or linguistic] group has more rights than others, other groups would be subject to unjust treatment."

Speaking about Kurdish autonomy, Arslan said that he wishes the Turkomans would have been given equivalent autonomy at the same time as the Kurds and says "because these rights have been granted only to the Kurds, these exclusive rights have become a bleeding wound." (David Nissman)

SADDAM HUSSEYN REARMING? Iraqi representatives abroad have been ordered to accelerate their purchases of equipment for use in making nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, according to the London-based "Foreign Report" on 2 June. It provided no evidence for this assertion. If this report is true, Iraqi scientists might be able to resume their chemical and biological weapons programs within nine months and their work with nuclear weapons in approximately 18 months. (David Nissman)

IRAQ BEGINS EXPLOITATION OF QORNA OIL FIELDS. Iraq has begun pumping oil from the huge Qorna oil field, according to an AFP report on 3 June. Situated between Basrah and Nassiriyah, the field has estimated reserves of 20 billion barrels. Initial production from this field stands at 40,000 barrels a day but that is expected to rise to 80,000 or more by the end of the year. (David Nissman)

'DAY AFTER GUYS' COMMENT SPARKS CRITICISM. An unfortunate turn of phrase by an unnamed U.S. official last week on the American refusal to supply the Iraqi opposition with arms has aroused considerable anger among Iraqi opposition figures. The official said that the Iraqi opposition figures who had assembled in Washington were the "day-after guys," a clear indication that the U.S. did not think any of them were capable of bringing an end to Saddam Husseyn's rule but might play a role after someone else did.

Former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Al-Pachachi, who participated in the Washington sessions, told the London-based newspaper "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" on 3 June that the opposition was far more capable than this dismissive phrase implied. He said the Iraqi opposition was working hard "to prepare the regional and international climate, to undermine the regime's international legimacy, and to encourage those influential elements at home to bring about the change needed."

And he pointedly suggested that he remains convinced that the Americans are serious "unless the opposite is proven true."

The Iraqi opposition was not alone in denouncing this statement. Congressman Benjamin A. Gilman (R-NY), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said on 25 May that "Congress did not pass the Iraq Liberation Act to aid 'day after guys.'" He added that it is insulting to the various resistance groups to suggest that they are nothing more than that. (David Nissman)