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Iraq Report: August 20, 1999

20 August 1999, Volume 2, Number 31

IRAQI, IRANIAN TROOPS ON THE MOVE. "Iran and Iraq have moved huge military units toward their common border areas in the biggest move of its kind since the war between the two countries ended in 1988," London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on 17 August.

According to this source, Iraqi troops from the 10th and 11th Divisions and a number of armored brigades have concentrated in the border area and on the right bank of the Shatt Al-Arab. At the same time, Iran reportedly has strengthened its military presence on the other side of the Shatt Al-Arab.

The report also says that Tehran has moved brigades of the Badr Forces towards the border. These forces consist of Iraqi volunteers supervised by Iranian military intelligence.

In an interview on 23 December, Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), talked about the Badr Forces, the military wing of SCIRI, to a correspondent of Al-Jazira Satellite Television. At that time, he said that the Badr Forces were all situated on Iraqi territory (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 January 1999) and had acquired their arms from the Iraqi Army and Iraqi tribes.

But at least one part of the "Al-Zaman" article is corroborated by one in the London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper. That report suggests that "informed Iraqi sources" now say that Baghdad has placed its military and security forces on maximum alert and recalled all army, General Staff Operations Command, and administrative officers as well as officers of the Military Intelligence Directorate.

"Al-Hayat's" sources claim that these movements occurred after Baghdad received word on "expected developments in the Kurdistan region." Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn, they say, will give a "special message" in which he will announce detailed plans for "foiling any threat to national sovereignty from the region of Kurdistan."

These areas adjacent to Kurdistan are all under the northern sector command. Qusayy Saddam Husseyn, Saddam's son, has been in charge of this command for more than a week.

The same reports also indicate that security measures in the central and southern Euphrates areas have also been stepped up. Tribal leaders have also been warned against any anti-regime efforts. Ali Hasan Al-Majid, member of the Revolution Command Council and Southern Sector commander, stressed in his warnings to tribal leaders in the south that the area "would be the graveyard for the traitors and agents," the paper said. (David Nissman)

SADDAM BLAMED FOR HIGH CHILD MORTALITY. A UNICEF survey of childhood conditions in Iraq since shortly after the Gulf War in 1991 found a dramatic increase in child mortality in government-controlled areas but a significant decline in the now autonomous north. And it says that Baghdad should have done more to alleviate suffering in the sections of the country under its control.

In central and southern Iraq, where 85 percent of the population lives, children under the age of five are dying at twice the rate they were ten years ago. In the northern area, on the other hand, the mortality rate of children under five has declined by more than 20 percent over the same period.

Iraq, which jointly published the report but did not distribute it widely, has dissociated itself from the findings about the northern part of the country.

In a news release on 12 August, UNICEF recommended that Baghdad "should urgently expedite implementation of targeted nutrition programs. It also asked that the Security Council sanctions committee, which governs imports to Iraq, put a priority on supplies that would benefit children.

Since 1996, when the "oil-for-food" program was put into effect, UN officials running the program have told the Security Council that Iraq appears to be warehousing medicines and not acting on recommendations that more nutritional goods be purchased for children under five and lactating mothers.

Commenting on the UN report, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin noted that "the fact that in northern Iraq the infant mortality rate is improving with the same sanctions regime as the rest of the country shows that in places where Saddam Husseyn is not manipulating with medicine supply [the program] works."

Baghdad has reacted sharply to these suggestions. On 13 August, a commentator on Iraqi television said that "what the UNICEF report failed to mention and the point that James Rubin does not want to raise is that the use by the United States and Britain in the thirty-state aggression against Iraq has led to an increase in congenital defects among newborns and caused the spread of malignant cancerous diseases which had not been known in Iraq among infants. This has greatly contributed to doubling the mortality rate."

A statement from the British Foreign Office echoed the American comments and said that Iraq was "consistently refusing to prioritize the needs" of its most desperate citizens. He added that "millions of pounds of medicines are lying undistributed in Iraqi warehouses." (David Nissman)

'SILENT WAR' CONTINUES WITH NO END IN SIGHT. According to Iraqi figures, between 17 December and 16 August the U.S. and Britain flew 11,433 sorties over the no-fly zones killing 113, AFP reported on 17 August. And that statistic has led the Iraqi Defense Ministry to complain that the Western media now "treat the bombings as a routine matter, or like a forgotten or silent war."

In a similar vein, an article by Steven Lee Myers in "The New York Times" of 13 August on the Iraq campaign opens with the statement "it is the year's other war."

He points out that American and British pilots have fired more than 1,100 missiles against 359 targets. Despite this, Myers adds, "there seems to be no end in sight to the war--to the surprise and chagrin of some administration and Pentagon officials."

In Washington and elsewhere, air strike advocates argue that broader, more punishing strikes would deter the Iraqis and do more to weaken President Saddam Husseyn's government. But other analysts suggest that a tougher stand would only draw attention to strikes that so far have generated little opposition at home or abroad.

Iraq has remained defiant in the face of this air onslaught, forcing administration officials to concede that Iraqis have remained more resilient than expected.

A "New York Times" editorial on 15 August pointed out that when Richard Holbrooke becomes the U.S. ambassador to the UN, the stalemate over Iraq is likely to be one of the most important issues he will face. And it suggested that he will have to direct his efforts to uniting UN members to send inspectors back to Iraq with full authority to carry out the requirements imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

This will not be an easy task. So far, Iraq has been successful in manipulating the divisions on the Security Council to frustrate any attempts to renew the inspections. Washington is supporting a new British plan to create a new inspection commission. If Baghdad were to cooperate with the disarmament requirements, then the Security Council would lift its export sanctions regime for four months. If Iraq continues to cooperate, the sanctions stay lifted. But if Baghdad cheats, the sanctions would be reimposed.

Whatever happens at the UN and whatever happens with the air campaign seem certain to have a major impact on the future implementation of the Iraq Liberation Act. At the very least, debates about the first two are likely to spark a new debate about the third as well. (David Nissman)

SADDAM HUSSEYN TO FORM A NEW GOVERNMENT? A commentary by Al-Jazira Satellite Television on 16 August said that Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn will form a "government of technocrats" in the next few days and will appoint current Finance Minister Hikmat Al-Azzawi as Prime Minister.

His selection could signal a major shift in policy. Al-Azzawi is a former member of the Ba'th Party's Regional Command and trade minister, but he was excluded from all posts after being accused of being a Baha'i in the early 1980s. Three years ago he was recalled by the president and put in charge of the Central Iraqi Bank. Two weeks ago he was appointed to his present post. According to analysis in London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper, he believes in the theory of swamping the markets with local production, state support for the domestic commercial, agricultural, and industrial activities, and expansion of small projects.

Other media reports from the region also suggest that Al-Azzawi, who was appointed deputy prime minister only two weeks ago, has held talks with a number of university professors, some of whom are not members of the Ba'th Party, to discuss their possible role in running ministries dealing with technology and economics. And these reports indicate that several veteran members of the government, such as Deputy Prime Ministers Tariq Aziz and Muhammad Hamzah Al-Zubaydi, are not likely to figure in the new government.

London's "Al-Zaman" echoed these reports on 16 August, sayaing that a new "government of technocrats" is to be formed in Baghdad. The newspaper's sources say that Nizar Hamdun is the leading candidate to take over the Foreign Ministry, and current Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf will move over to the Culture and Information Ministry.

Other imminent changes reported by "Al-Zaman" include the departure of Muhammad Abdul-Raziq from his post as interior minister in order to allow him to devote more time to Ba'th party affairs. The frontrunner to replace him reportedly is Lt.-Gen. Sa'dun Al-Muslih, currently the undersecretary for political and security affairs.

The current ministers of defense, oil, and justice will remain in their posts, according to these reports. But technocrats and experts are to be appointed to head the ministires of agriculture, trade, industry, health, labor, finance, education, and higher education. (David Nissman)

YEMEN, SUDAN ASK FOR 'EMERGENCY ARAB SUMMIT.' reports that Sudan and Yemen pleaded on 10 August for an emergency Arab summit to consider the challenges of globalization and what these two countries called the plots targeting the Arab nation in the third millennium. While it has not been mentioned in any of the dispatches, the joint Sudanese-Yemeni call for a summit echoes some of the vocabulary used at the "popular summit" convened in Baghdad at the end of July (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 August 1999). The plots against the Arabs mentioned in Baghdad were all spearheaded by the United States, Israel, or other Western countries. (David Nissman)

A CAUSE OF GULF WAR ILLNESSES IDENTIFIED? The Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) of the U.S. Department of Defense issued an information paper on 16 August on "inhibited red fuming nitric acid" (IRFNA), a missile fuel oxidizer used by the Iraqi military to propel its Scud, Guideline, Silkworm, and Kyle missiles. Exposure to "IRFNA" may be directly linked to some of the symptoms connected with Gulf War illnesses, the paper suggests.

During the Gulf War, Iraq used the oxidizer together with kerosene to create the thrust needed to launch a rocket or missile. The report hypothesizes that "when a Scud broke up, impacted or was intercepted by coalition weapons, the missile fuel and IRFNA combination could have exposed some troops to the hazards of nitric acid and nitrogen dioxide which some have mistaken for a chemical or biological warfare agent exposure."

The Pentagon report notes that "permanent lung damage can result from IRFNA exposure." But it is less clear on the possible long-term health effects of prolonged exposure to low concentrations of nitric acid vapor, and more particularly, nitric dioxide. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TURKMEN DEMAND AUTONOMY. The Turkmen of Iraq now say that any peace settlement in Northern Iraq must include autonomy for their community, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 13 August.

The paper featured an appeal by Riyaz Sarikaya, the leader of the Turkmeneli Party there. In his comments, Sarikaya said that "Autonomy should be given to the Turkmen within the territorial integrity of Iraq. A High Council of Iraqi Nationals should be established in order to guarantee our national rights and control laws and implementations, and the Turkmen should be represented in any Iraqi administration."

He also suggested that there should be proportional representation among those groups that will have a role in the administration of any new national structure.

The political organization of the Iraqi Turkmen is relatively recent. The Turkmen Front was established on 24 April 1995 to unify existing Turkmen political structures and parties and thus enable them to lobby in Baghdad and elsewhere for national rights. According to the most recent Iraqi census, the Turkmen amounted to some 16 percent of Iraq's population, just behind the Kurds.

There are also some other Turkmen political groups not necessarily aligned with the Turkmen Front but whose goals are similar or even identical. One of these is the Islamic Union of Iraq's Turkomans. The Islamic Union's view of a post-Saddam Iraq is that a future regime must reflect the "ethnic and sectarian mosaic" which is Iraq's diverse population. Each side must be able "to obtain its rights within the framework of Iraq's unity and sovereignty." There must be a "pluralistic political system absorbing all components of the people within its legislative and executive mechanism according to each component's percentage of the population." (Interview with Abbas al-Bayyaty, secretary general of the Islamic Union of Iraq's Turkomans, "Al-Riyadh," Riyadh, 17 January)

An October 1997 report by the United Nations, concerning human rights in Iraq notes some of the problems now confronting the Turkmen of Iraq. One of them is the problem of forced displacement. The report states that at present forcible relocations continue to take place in the context of a policy aimed at changing the demography of the oil-rich sectors of Kirkuk and Khanaqin by deporting ethnic Kurds and Turkmen families.

Also, according to this UN report, the expropriation of Turkmen agricultural land has become commonplace. People whose lands were expropriated were paid a sum not even equivalent to one year's yield. "Ownership of the land has allegedly been transferred to high-level officials of the regime, including some of Saddam Husseyn's family," the report said.

The Turkmen had representation in the Iraqi government until the Ba'th Party took over in the late 1960s. Since then the Turkmens, like some other ethnic or religious minorities in Iraq, have been stripped of the rights they had had in the past. (David Nissman)

KDP, PUK SPOKEMEN ON PKK CEASEFIRE. According to the "Turkish Press Review" of 12 August, Latif Rashid, spokesman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has denied news claiming that the PUK was providing support for members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan under their control. He reportedly claimed that "we will not let the PKK engage in violence in our area." The reason for his statement is that the PKK has declared a ceasefire in Turkey beginning on 1 September, and PKK units are believed to be crossing into Iraq and Iran (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 August 1999).

On the same subject, the "Turkish Press Review" says that the British BBC-TV has reported that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) representative in Ankara, Safin Diza'i, said that "the PKK has killed many people in our region and set many houses and villages ablaze. I hope they are sincere in their ceasefire proposal. However, this does not mean that they can use our territories as a base in their attacks against Turkish security forces."

A KDP press release dated 10 August responded to the PKK's offer of a ceasefire in the following way: "The PKK's aggression has resulted in displacing the inhabitants of more than 400 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan along the regions with Turkey, they were prevented from rebuilding their homes and lives, and to date the PKK still continues its policy of destruction."

According to the 15 August "Kurdistan Observer," Elizabeth Jones, U.S. principal deputy assistant of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said on 13 August that "there was agreement between the KDP and the PUK to halt the PKK operations in northern Iraq. They are committed to each other and to us to cooperate in every way possible to prevent PKK military actions from taking place in northern Iraq."

In response to a question as to whether the PKK's decision to regroup in northern Iraq would deteriorate the situation there, Jones said that the PKK and the Turkish government should come to an agreement about the circumstances under which the PKK would leave. She commented that it is not appropriate for the PKK to move into northern Iraq as a military organization or individuals with a military goal. (David Nissman)

PUK UNDER PROPAGANDA ATTACKS. According to a report in 13 August, the Baghdad newspaper "Babil," which is run by Udayy Saddam Husseyn, son of the Iraqi leader, has claimed that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) had approved the formation of a party for Kurdistan's Jews which will be based in Al-Sulaymaniyah and be backed by Israel.

A statement by the PUK which rejected "Babil's" story said that "there is not even one single Jew in Kurdistan's Iraq, therefore Israel's backing for a claimed party as such is not true."

The statement by the PUK added that the Babil story was "fabricated for the purpose of deceiving world public opinion on the everlasting lies over the Israeli presence in Iraqi Kurdistan."

"Kurdish Media" on 14 August reported that the PUK has also been accused of collaborating with Iran against the Mojahedin Khalq (MKO). They accused the PUK of handing some of its members over to Iran.

The MKO has also been implicated in anti-Kurdish activity. An MKO refugee in Europe claimed that during the Iran-Iraq War, the MKO joined Iraqi troops in attacking Iranian and Iraqi Kurds.

A Kurdish activist is quoted by "Kurdish Media" as saying "while the Kurds are welcome to use Kurdish regions to attack their enemies...enemies of the Kurdish nation like the MKO are not welcome on Kurdish lands." (David Nissman)