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Iraq Report: July 16, 1999

16 July 1999, Volume 2, Number 26

ILISU DAM IGNITES INTERNATIONAL CONTROVERSY. On behalf of the British government, British Minister of Trade Brian Wilson published in the "Guardian" on 1 July a spirited defense of the decision to express support for the Ilisu Dam project.

The Ilisu Dam is an integral part of Turkey's Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP). Its primary purpose will be to generate hydroelectric power for the region, one of the most impoverished in Turkey. It is located on the Tigris River, some 60 kilometers from the Syrian border. According to an article by Alan George that appeared in the May issue of "Turkey Business and Finance," Ilisu will also store water for irrigation. It has been bitterly attacked not only by the "Guardian" in a series of articles over the last several months, but also by Friends of the Earth and the Berne Declaration, a Swiss non-governmental organization that focuses on issues related to development politics.

Control of the waters of the Tigris has generated controversies between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq in the recent past. The problem is that Turkey is the up-river country, where both the Tigris and Euphrates originate, while Syria and Iraq are located down river and are dependent on Turkish control of the river water for much of their water needs.

The project is being built by an international consortium headed by Sulzer Hydro, a Swiss company, together with the Swedish-Swiss firm ABB Power Generation. The lead contractor will be Britain's Balfour Beatty. Other members of the consortium are Italy's Impreglio, Sweden's Skanska, and three Turkish companies.

The Ilisu project will involve some relocation of the local population. According to a spokesman for Sulzer Hydro, quoted by George, their resettlement is "relatively uncomplicated" because of the "comparatively small number of affected persons."

According to an earlier article in the "Guardian," the project "will wipe out scores of Kurdish towns and villages and destroy a site of international archeological interest." That article noted that "the World Bank has refused to have anything to do with Ilisu because it believes the project violates the UN convention aimed at preventing border disputes and wars between states that share water resources." In addition, the newspaper claimed that "the danger is that Ilisu could be used for political blackmail: Turkey could stop the flow of fresh water into Iraq and Syria simply by closing the dam's sluices."

The Sulzer Hydro spokesman disputed the claim by the "Guardian" that the World Bank had opposed the project. He noted that the World Bank "as a rule does not finance so-called shared water projects, i.e., projects that concern international waterways. Thus, Turkey did not approach it for financing for the project and consequently the World Bank refrained from taking a position on this project."

The reason for the spate of articles about the Ilisu project is that Balfour Beatty is now trying to win some 200 million pounds (somewhat more than $300 million) in financial guarantees for the scheme from the U.K.'s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD). Other consortium members are in the process of applying to the export credit agencies in their own countries.

Debate over the ECGD's role in this project was taken up by the House of Lords earlier this year. On 23 March, the government was asked what advice it had received concerning possible increased international tension as well as the environmental impact resulting from the proposed Ilisu Dam. Lord Simon of Highbury maintained that "a full environmental assessment" had already been carried out. He added that "more analysis will be required to enable the project's implementation to be fully managed and monitored."

However, in November 1998, the Berne Declaration had issued a release on the Ilisu project spelling out the political and sociological problems that would be caused by the project. It said "the Ilisu reservoir will flood 52 villages and 15 small towns, including the [archeologically significant] town of Hasankeyf, and will affect 15,000-20,000 people." The exact number of people affected is still unknown because the estimates were made from a helicopter.

As far as political problems are concerned, the Berne Declaration release points out that "the claims of Turkey, Syria and Iraq on the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates exceed the capacities of the two rivers by 55 and 12 percent respectively." It adds that "dams on the Euphrates reduce the average annual water flow by almost 50 percent, while the Tigris projects, used primarily for power production, will reduce water flows by approximately 10 percent." They add that Turkey is as yet unwilling to negotiate a peaceful compromise on the management of the rivers. The Berne Declaration report concludes by saying that "Ilisu must be considered a political project predominantly motivated by the strategic interest of the Turkish government to strengthen its position of power vis-a-vis Syria and Iraq and to control the unruly Kurdish areas."

In October 1998, Iraq's National Assembly denounced Turkey's efforts to use its control of the Tigris and Euphrates headwaters, which provide Iraq with most of its potable water (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 January 1999). Turkey maintained that it does not intend to use GAP or any of its projects as a "strategic weapon" but rather as a "peace project."

In a speech delivered at the OSCE Economic Forum at the end of May, Turkish Ambassador to the Czech Republic Temel Iskit said that Iraq and Syria demand 148 percent of the flow capacity of the Euphrates and 111 percent of the Tigris. "In short, the demands of Iraq and Syria tacitly assume that Turkey should release all of the flow of the rivers without utilizing any of it."

The issue is one of conflicting claims and counterclaims, in which there are no obvious points of possible compromise. The Ilisu project, and future ones like it, will undoubtedly trigger similar controversies, equally without resolution under the present international and geopolitical situation. It has often been predicted by pundits that water will be the major cause of conflict in the next century. It seems such conflicts may already have begun.

Behind these conflicts is a struggle between maintaining the status quo and improving the economic and social situation of the region, as envisaged by the Turkish planners of GAP. Turkish thinking is that by bringing hydroelectric power and an irrigation network to southeast Anatolia, they will put an end to the predominantly Kurdish region's chronic poverty and the threats posed by that impoverishment, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Syria and Iraq, however, see the Turkish plan as a veiled effort to threaten their own sovereignties, as manifested by Turkish control over the water.

The Friends of the Earth and the Berne Declaration see GAP and the projects connected with it, such as Ilisu, as driving the Kurds out of the region and into the cities, a displacement that they say will ultimately lead to more human misery.

A greater diplomatic effort is needed by the three countries involved to resolve issues related to sovereignty. Also required is more fine-tuning of the Turkish social plan for the populations displaced by the Ilisu Dam project and others in order to satisfy the NGOs. (David Nissman)

WHO BURIED THE LOCUST EGGS? A New Zealand de-mining expert has been accused by the Iraqi government of burying locust eggs in the Khanaqin region close to the Iraq-Iran border on 8 April. Ian Broughton, a former senior non-commissioned officer with the New Zealand Army's 2nd Engineer Regiment, left Iraq on 8 July. According to AFP of 7 July, he was working for the British company Greenfield Consultants, which has provided a number of de-mining experts to the UN in Iraq.

On 8 July, AFP reported that the UN denied the Iraqi charge that one of its employees had tried to sabotage the country's crops, saying it could have been a case of "mistaken identity." A UN probe, "including evidence from witnesses, indicates that neither Broughton nor any other UN-related person was in the area identified by Iraqi authorities on the 8th of April, which seems to suggest a case of mistaken identity."

Following the expulsion of Broughton, AFP quoted Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn as saying that "this disgusting behavior on the part of certain UN employees amounts to germ warfare against Iraq." He pointed out that "UN employees possess and are using weapons of mass destruction, even to the point of waging bacteriological war on Iraq, while at the same time accusing others of violating international law." He also said that "most but not all" UN employees have either indulged in smuggling out archeological treasures from the country or espionage against Iraq. (David Nissman)

IRAQ FOUNDATION TO INVESTIGATE ANTI-ASSYRIAN ACTIONS IN IRAQI KURDISTAN. On 8 July the Iraq Foundation announced that it is investigating a number of incidents, listed below, affecting Assyrians in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. The incidents do not all follow the same pattern.

In October 1996, six Assyrians working in the Presidential Palace in Baghdad were arrested. In March 1997, Amnesty International wrote to the Iraqi government requesting information on their fate and whereabouts. It received no answer.

In December 1997, six Assyrians died as the result of a PKK ambush near Dohuk. There is no information on why this Assyrian group was targeted.

In December 1998, an Assyrian woman and her young daughter died in a bomb explosion in Arbil. The Iraq Foundation has contacted the representative of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Washington to ask about the status of any ongoing investigation into the case.

In May 1999 (or thereabouts), Miss Helena Sawa was murdered--a tragedy that has received much coverage (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 June, 2 and 9 July 1999). The Iraq Foundation will report on this case and the others as well as it receives information. (David Nissman)

TALABANI ATTACKS U.S. IRAQ POLICY. Jalal Talabani, secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), attacked U.S. policy toward Iraq in an interview with the London-based newspaper "Al-Hayat" on 12 July. He said that U.S. policy is weakening the Iraqi opposition and consequently strengthening the regime of Saddam Husseyn.

He claimed that the policy is "a failure and futile because it does not focus on the forces of change inside Iraq." He asserted that the reason for the continued existence of the Baghdad regime is the deficiency of Arab-Sunni and Arab-Shiite representation. He added that the regime is isolated and weak and could be brought down by creating an alliance that relies on Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis inside Iraq and through cooperation with the sons of the major Arab tribes in the Iraqi Army.

He confirmed that a number of senior military officers have joined the Kurdish opposition and said they represent an opposition current inside the army. This current, which includes prominent officers from the Tikriti clan as well as officers from Samarra' and central Iraq, is operating under the name "the Vanguards Organization." Whether these "Vanguards" are the same as the "Iraqi Vanguards for National Salvation" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 July 1999) is unclear.

Talabani refused to discuss relations with the PKK and with Turkey "because of the extreme sensitivity of these issues for the ongoing negotiations (with the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Mas'ud Barzani) and for the sake of facilitating the attainment of the required climate of calm."

He maintained that the PUK would prefer the presence of a U.S. coordinator residing in Kurdistan, similar to the appointment of Frank Ricciardone as the U.S. Special Representative for Transition in Iraq to examine facts on the ground. He added that the United States so far does not appear to be enthusiastic about this proposal.

Barzani, however, does not support the concept of a counterpart to Ricciardone in northern Iraq. He is quoted by "Kurdish Media" on 12 July from Irbil as expressing his opposition to using Kurdish-held northern Iraq as a bridgehead to topple Saddam Husseyn, saying that he "lacks assurances that this change will be in the interests of the Iraqi people and the Kurdish question." (David Nissman)

RICCIARDONE ON WASHINGTON POLICY TOWARD IRAQ. "Al-Iraq Al-Hurr," published by the opposition Iraqi Free Council, recently featured an interview with Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. Special Representative for Transition in Iraq, on Washington's policy toward Iraq and its opinion on the Iraqi opposition. Radio Free Iraq correspondent Ahmad Al-Rikaby reported on that interview in a 2 July broadcast.

Ricciardone said that the U.S. Department of Defense is prepared "to train Iraqi resistance individuals" who adhere to the political program of the Iraqi National Congress. Before such aid is forthcoming, he stressed, there must be a clear program of national revival by Iraqi opposition movements that have strong representation abroad. This program must also become an active channel for material support to the Iraqi resistance.

Ricciardone also emphasized that the U.S. is concerned about protecting all Iraqis, not only Kurds. He indicated the principal pressures the U.S. can apply to the Iraqi regime: continuous military pressure through the no-fly zones, preparation to retaliate strongly if limits laid down by the U.S. are crossed, and diplomatic efforts to convince other governments that Saddam Husseyn's regime is not a legitimate representative of the Iraqi people.

He pointed out that other states should feel ashamed before the Iraqi people for accepting the Iraqi regime's officials and diplomats as true representatives of the people.

The U.S. special representative indicated that Saddam Husseyn's propaganda apparatus was partially effective in revealing the principle causes of the Iraqi people's suffering. He contended that giving in to the Iraqi regime's demands to lift the sanctions would give the regime a feeling of power. Ricciardone said there is no lack of food or medicine in Iraq. The Iraqi regime's storage facilities are full, and the group Husseyn's son Udayy controls makes "unimaginable profits" at the expense of people's suffering.

Finally, Ricciardone defined his stance on the role of the Iraqi opposition, maintaining that "we do not see the Iraqi opposition in exile replacing the internal forces that play a role for change within Iraq." The U.S. does not, at this stage, support changing the status of the Iraqi opposition movement to one of a government-in-exile imposed artificially from abroad. (Ahmad Al-Rikaby/David Nissman)

KDP ACCUSES PUK OF PKK SUPPORT. According to the "Turkish Daily News" of 8 July, Ferhad Barzani, the Kurdistan Democratic Party's (KDP) Washington representative, has claimed that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is continuing to provide support to the PKK in northern Iraq.

This accusation stems from the capture of three PKK terrorists who were carrying explosives allegedly acquired in Suleymaniyah, which is in the PUK-controlled region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Barzani claimed that "the PUK's support to the PKK is a violation of the Washington Agreement. In the recent Washington meetings, PUK authorities had guaranteed the U.S. State Department that they would not provide aid to the PKK. However, in reality, the situation is just the opposite."

Barzani, however, denied having directly implicated the PUK. Rather, he insisted that he had said "if the confessions of the three PKK terrorists are true about the source of the explosives, then the PUK may be in violation of the terms of the Washington Agreement," according to the "Kurdistan Observer" of 10 July.

The PUK has not issued its own statement on the matter, but Shazad Saib, representative of the PUK in Turkey, indirectly addressed the issue in his speech to the Ankara Diplomatic Club on 6 July. He pointed out that Turkey's incursions into Iraq and the PUK-KDP conflict as well as "the PKK's military presence in the region has increased significantly. Cross-border incursions by Turkey have become frequent, raising serious questions about the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq." He warned that "Turkey must realize that the continuation of the PUK-KDP conflict can only lead to the legitimization of radical Kurdish groups--from the right and the left--and surely this cannot be conducive to the security of Turkey nor to the stability of the wider region." He proposed that Turkey initiate a "constructive engagement" with Iraqi Kurdistan, meaning that the PUK and KDP be helped to reach a peaceful settlement of the outstanding issues between them so that a unified administration for the region can be established.

Although Saib barely mentioned the PKK, he was implying that once this unified PUK-KDP administration is achieved, organizations like the PKK will fade away. Whether this is an expression of his optimism or a veiled threat of continued support for the PKK until an acceptable conclusion to the PUK-KDP conflict is reached is hard to determine. At the most recent round of talks between the KDP and PUK in Washington, U.S. observers generally concluded that the PUK could do nothing about the PKK on its territory. (David Nissman)

IRAQI KURDISTAN NEW PKK TARGET. According to an article by Isma'il Zayir published in "Al-Hayat" of 13 July, the PKK has entered a new phase in its activities, following changes in its leadership in the wake of Abdullah Ocalan's trial in Turkey.

This phase will be characterized by "an intensification of activities in Iraqi Kurdistan in keeping with its new organizational setup, which has established a PKK branch in Iraq under the name 'Kurdish Workers Party -- The South.'" The objective of the new branch is to lend legitimacy to the PKK's military and political activities against the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

The southern branch is led by Khalil Ataj, also known as Abu-Bakr. He is a military commander and a member of the PKK's Central Committee. The relationship between the activities of the southern branch of the PKK and the PKK operations originating in Mosul, which are sponsored by Saddam Husseyn (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 July 1999) are unknown.

Zayir's report says that "Kurdish sources expect the PKK to launch sabotage tactics within the large Kurdish towns of northern Iraq, such as Irbil and Dahuk, or launch lightning military strikes against villages along the border with Turkey." (David Nissman)