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Iraq Report: July 9, 1999

9 July 1999, Volume 2, Number 25

THE SAUDI ARABIA-IRAN-IRAQ TRIANGLE. The recent signs of a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran signal a major change in the region's geopolitical and geostrategic relationships. The fact that this is a cause for anxiety in Baghdad's policy circles is indicated by Tariq 'Aziz's statements on Iranian President Khatami's recent visit to Riyadh, the clearly changing Western attitude toward Iran, and Iraq's weak response to these changes, characterized by its playing of the pan-Arabism card.

The visit of President Khatami of Iran to Saudi Arabia has thrown Iraq's geostrategic thinking into a state of confusion. Iraq's deputy prime minister, interviewed on 29 June by Al-Jazira Satellite Television, expressed his thinking as well as that of his government in the following manner: "We want relations between all the countries of the region to be normal, based on the principles of international law and good neighborliness... However, concerning what is called Saudi openness toward Iran, the ceremonial visit--I emphasize the word ceremonial--of President Khatami to Saudi Arabia has raised many questions. What is the change that took place with regard to Iranian positions to warrant such a ceremonial visit?... The Saudi regime is not emotional and does not act on impulse."

After hedging around the matter for a few more phrases, 'Aziz voiced his real fear: "Does this mean that something is being concocted against Iraq, especially since the Americans, who were applying so-called dual containment, are going easy on Iran and tough on Iraq? What is the relationship of the two?"

The answer to these questions may be found, in part, in an article by Barry Rubin in the "Middle East Review of International Affairs" of June 1999. The article, titled "The Persian Gulf After the Cold War: Old Pattern; New Era" dwells at some length on the shifting relationships between the region's two major military powers--Iran and Iraq--and changing attitudes toward them on the part of both the Gulf states and the West.

An irony developed in the geopolitical situation after the Gulf War in 1991. Rubin points out that neither Iran nor Iraq could be trusted to balance out its rival. Since they both menaced the monarchies of the Gulf, the need to depend on outside protectors became more important. "In this new situation, the United States became the Gulf's single protector. In their own way, the Gulf monarchies developed a policy of dual containment."

At present, Saudi Arabia chairs the Gulf Cooperation Council. The council's members have, according to Rubin, opened up to Iran in the late 1990s. Tehran, which has shown signs of developing some moderation, is now seen as a lesser threat than Iraq. This process continued to develop in 1999 as evidenced by President Khatami's successful visit as well as Saudi statements supporting Iran's rearmament program.

It has also been alleged by the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayah" on 2 July that the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs had conveyed "reassurances" to Iran that a change in Iraq "will not conflict with Iranian interests." According to "Al-Hayah," "Iranians sense a radical change in U.S. policy toward Iraq." Although one of the facets of the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement has been that Saudi Arabia can serve as an interlocutor for the United States in discussions with Iran, this has not surfaced in any of the press analyses of the subject. Whether Saudi Arabia will in fact play such a role is at present indeterminable, although Baghdad's policy makers must take that into consideration.

This unexpected geopolitical development, which was underlined by U.S. and British air sorties taking off from Saudi air fields and Iran's decision to hit a Mojahedin-e Khalq base inside Iraq with Scud missiles, has done little to calm Iraq's fears.

The key issue for Iraq at present is the removal of sanctions. After that, it will begin the process of reconstruction. The speed with which Iraq can recover will depend on a number of factors, such as its relations with its neighbors, the rationality or irrationality of policies pursued by Baghdad in the future, and its maintenance of a non-aggressive relationship with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Above all, it will depend on Iraq's ability to escape reprisals from the United States or others once it tries to restore its military capability--including its weapons of mass destruction.

To a certain degree, Baghdad has already begun to make these moves. Iraq and Saudi Arabia have a trade relationship, and despite Saddam Hussein's January speech in which he called on the people to topple the Saudi regime, that relationship continues to develop. The Ba'th Party newspaper "Al-Thawra" of 25 June attempted to explain the current situation to its readership, noting that "the total value of contracts signed with Saudi enterprises for food stuffs, requirements for agricultural production, and oil equipment has reached $150 million."

"Al-Thawra" provides an ideological explanation for the Saudi contracts: "Iraq's recourse to Saudi Arabia to sign trade contracts asserts that Iraq has no difficulties with any Arab country. On the contrary, Iraq is keen to cooperate with any Arab country despite the harm that some of these countries do to Iraq."

"Al-Thawra" does not fail to explain the ideological considerations behind the decision to trade with Saudi Arabia. It "manifests, without any doubt, that Iraq's pan-Arab considerations are above all other considerations."

Tariq 'Aziz's remarks on Al-Jazira Satellite Television were immediately condemned by Iran. An IRNA report of 30 June said that "Arab countries make their own decisions about Iran and Mr. Tariq 'Aziz's remarks are nothing other than interference in the affairs of other countries". On the same day, the "Tehran Times" advised Tariq 'Aziz to "mind his own country's business instead of unnecessarily trying to become the guardian of countries whose security is being threatened by Baghdad."

Earlier, an article in the Tehran newspaper "Emruz" may have cast light on the motivation behind the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In an interview, Iranian Professor Davud Bavand said that "Saudi Arabia has a special position in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, and it heads the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. On the other hand, the special relationship Saudi Arabia has with Western countries allows it to have a special place among Arab countries."

Later, Professor Bavand discussed the possibility of establishing security and defense arrangements in the Persian Gulf region. He said Saudi Arabia "will continue with its formerly established security arrangements, such as the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, and at the same time arrange for another parallel security arrangement with Iran, possibly including Iraq." (David Nissman)

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH TARIQ 'AZIZ. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq 'Aziz on 6 July, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. The agency quoted Ivanov as saying "active efforts with the involvement of the United Nations are needed in order to reach a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf."

A release from the information and press department of the Russian Foreign Ministry cited by ITAR-TASS on 6 July stated that this was the aim of the draft resolution on Iraq submitted to the UN Security Council by Russia, China, and France.

Tariq 'Aziz, in Moscow to take part in 7-9 July conference of the World Council of Ex-Foreign Ministers, stressed during the meeting that the Iraqi leadership thinks highly of Russia's efforts to achieve a speedy settlement of the Iraq problem and the return of his country to normal life.

The Ivanov-'Aziz meeting placed heavy emphasis on the economic importance of bilateral ties between the two countries. The two sides said they were ready to actively engage within the framework of implementing the UN oil-for-humanitarian-aid program and the post-sanction program in oil, gas, and other sectors. It must be remembered that Russian, Chinese, and French oil companies have a major stake in the exploitation of Iraq's oil reserves.

Russia is also providing Iraq with some military aid. According to "Foreign Report," published by Jane's Information Group, an unconfirmed report indicates that a team of Russian air defense experts is permanently stationed in Iraq in order to provide assistance to the Iraqi air defense system. The group of 10-15 experts consists of former Russian army officers, civilian scientists, and technicians. (David Nissman)

TWO NEW OPPOSITION GROUPS APPEAR. Some three weeks ago, on 30 June "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported that a hitherto unknown Iraqi organization claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack in the center of Baghdad.

The new group, the Iraqi Vanguards for National Salvation, said that its "home brigades" carried out the operation "to avenge the innocent blood of the martyrs of Islam, foremost among them martyred Shiite leader Muhammad Al-Sadr," who was killed in Karbala last February. Opposition groups blamed the Iraqi government for the killing.

According to the statement, a white Datsun was used. It was placed in the eastern Karradah district near residential buildings where members of the Special Security service live and outside the Republican palace. The car was equipped with a series of Katyusha-105 bombs which were set to detonate via an electronic switch within the body of the car. The back of the car was loaded with tank mines.

On 2 July "Al-Hayat" reported that another group, the "Command of Free Fighters," announced that its fighters stormed a secret weapons depot in the governate of Diyala and seized a biochemical weapon that "the regime's forces used in artillery shells and missiles." This statement noted that the new organization consists of "Iraqi Army officers, some officials, and [elements] from the tribes."

Over the past few months, several armed opposition movements have emerged in central and southern Iraq. It is unclear whether there is any coordination between them. It is equally unclear that these groups actually exist, and are not fabrications of Baghdad to justify the harsher methods taken against the citizenry in recent weeks.

In April, two groups emerged that were more inclined to planning rather than fighting--the Iraqi Democratic Action Movement and a group called "National Options" (see RFERL Iraq Report, 2-16).

For the more militarily oriented opposition, May saw the appearance of the apparently very effective "Iraqi Army Officers' Organization - General Command," which claimed credit for a number of assassinations as well as a number of attacks on Ba'th Party buildings. It is not clear whether this group is the same as the "Iraq Army Secret" organization.

Until recently, the only group known to have been conducting a campaign in Iraq had been the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Now, SCIRI has some competition. (David Nissman)

IRAQI TURKMEN SUGGEST 'MOSUL FEDERATION' FOR NORTH IRAQ. Orhan Ketene, the North American Coordinator for an Iraqi Turkmen organization based in the U.S., issued a statement in which he attributes much of the hostility that exists between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to tribalism. The KDP consists primarily of speakers of a Kurdish dialect called Behdinan. The PUK is primarily made up of speakers of another Kurdish dialect, Soran. One thing they have in common is that the two Kurdish groups are hostile to the Iraqi Turkmens' concept of 'Turkmeneli,' that is, setting aside a region in Iraqi Kurdistan for a autonomous Turkmen structure.

One possible solution is the establishment of a "Mosul Federation." Ketene points out that in a Mosul Federation, Turkmens, Sorans, Behdinans, Mosul Arabs, and Assyrians could live together without interfering in each others' affairs. Another advantage of a Mosul Federation is that it would be less of a potential threat to Ankara, and even to Baghdad, than an Iraqi Kurdistan.

Although Dr. Muzaffer Arslan, the leader of the Unified Iraqi Turkmen Front, was received by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when he visited Washington (see RFE/RL Iraq Report, 2-22), and it appears that the Iraqi Turkmens are receiving somewhat more international recognition than in the past, they do not seem to be any closer to being included as a party to the Washington Agreement. It is doubtful that a Mosul Federation would receive any more recognition than "Turkmeneli" has in the past. (David Nissman)

KDP ASKS KURDS IN EXILE TO RETURN TO KURDISTAN. IRNA on 6 July cited a Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) broadcast in which the KDP's political office asked Iraqi Kurds living abroad to return and settle in areas under the KDP's control in northern Iraq. The KDP states that it will guarantee the safety of Kurds in their territory without regard to past political affiliation.

According to IRNA, during the four periods of war between the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, more than 700,000 Kurds left their homeland and settled abroad, primarily in Europe. (David Nissman)

DUHOK GOVERNATE ISSUES STATEMENT ON SAWA MURDER. On 1 July, the United Kingdom Representation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) issued a statement from the Governate of Duhok about the murder of Helena Alwan Sawa (see RFERL Iraq Report, 2-23 and 2-24).

In reference to the treatment of Assyrians, the statement notes that "the Kurdistan Regional Government has striven to encourage the active participation of all national minorities and religious sects in the government and administration." Furthermore, "the regional assembly has assigned a number of seats to our Assyrian brothers, the third cabinet includes several ministers and senior military commanders of Assyrian or Chaldean origin, and administrative and cultural directorates have been created for the rejuvenation and development of Assyrian language and culture. "

Kurdish neglect of the Assyrian language and culture is one of the bones of contention between Assyrian communities in the diaspora and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which effectively rules the KRG. With this in mind, the statement adds that "in a recent visit to the region, Archbishop Rafael Bedawid, world patriarch of all the Chaldeans, expressed his pleasure and happiness with the situation, and reaffirmed that Kurdistan was a symbol of tolerance and coexistence for all and declared that 'Christians are happy and safe wherever Massoud Barzani's writ runs.'"

Despite the claim that the crime rate in Kurdistan is lower than other countries in the region, crimes such as murder do occur. The Sawa case is an example of a murder devoid of political or racial motives, according to the statement.

The KRG's statement does not fail to mention that it is "all the more regrettable that certain people and organizations, not aware of the truth or the reality of the situation, have looked upon this crime in an illogical and conspiratorial manner, giving it political and racial dimensions in a deceitful way to serve their propaganda and purposes." (David Nissman)

KDP PURSUES PKK GUERRILLAS INTO TURKEY. The Ankara edition of the Turkish centrist newspaper "Hurriyet" on 6 July reported that the Turkish Armed Forces, together with "peshmerga" [soldiers] of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, are preparing for a "sandwich" assault on forces of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Anatolia and northern Iraq. To this end, some 1,000 "peshmerga" crossed the border into Turkey from northern Iraq and were assigned to border guard units in the Uludere region. At the same time, Turkish armored vehicles have crossed the Turkish-Iraqi border into Iraq at the Habur crossing.

Reuters on 5 July cited a Turkish security official as saying that "a sweeping operation has begun against the PKK, whose morale was destroyed after Apo's (Ocalan's) trial. Thousands of specially trained troops are involved in the operation."

In a separate operation, Turkish troops have begun a siege on PKK forces in a stronghold on Cudi Mountain, which overlooks Turkey's Iraqi and Syrian borders.

In a related development, a Kurdish newspaper published by the KDP in Irbil reported on 6 July that KDP special security units found three containers filled with TNT and two 120-mm rocket shells planted by PKK terrorists on the main road to the town of Hajji 'Umran. In the last weeks of June, the PKK mined the roads in several places. While most of the mines were discovered by KDP units and detonated, some did kill innocent civilians. (David Nissman)