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Iraq Report: August 27, 1999

27 August 1999, Volume 2, Number 32

ANNAN CALLS ON IRAQ TO DO MORE TO COMBAT CHILD MORTALITY. On the basis of a UNICEF study of Iraqi children, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has told the Iraqi government that "it could be doing more to help mothers and children under the program that allows Iraq to export oil to raise money for food, medicine, and other essential goods." (For the report itself, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 August 1999.)

Annan also asked the Security Council committee on sanctions to "stop blocking the export to Iraq of goods like water and sanitation equipment which would also contribute to better health."

Annan's statement appears to have been triggered by two other factors in addition to the UNICEF report: a statement by Benon Sevan, the director of the UN Iraq Program, who said that the Iraqis had not heeded earlier recommendations to increase orders of special nutritional products; and the expectation that Iraq's oil exports, hence oil revenues, will increase in the coming six months.

The UNICEF report was highly critical of Iraq's handling of the food program. One of its widely reported conclusions was that children are healthier in Iraqi Kurdistan, where supplies are not distributed by Baghdad but by the United Nations itself.

On 23 August, Reuters reported that "Iraq will exceed its oil sales quota of $5.26 billion by at least $1 billion within the next three months, generating funds the United Nations hoped would be spent on the health and food needs of Iraqi children."

The fall in oil prices over the last years have meant that Iraq has been unable to meet its target in that period, but now prices are beginning to rise. Under the current program, Iraq must use two-thirds of the money generated within the quota to buy food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods. The rest goes into a fund to compensate victims of Iraq's 1990 occupation of Kuwait and pay UN administration expenses.

Iraq has failed to reach its quota in the previous six-month periods. Consequently, the shortfall in monies for humanitarian goods would still be $3 billion even if Iraq amounted to more than $6 billion. Annan has appealed to the Security Council to raise the $5.26 billion ceiling. (David Nissman)

IRAQ OIL BEHIND OPEC OUTPUT INCREASE. According to a Dow Jones dispatch from London on 18 August, OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) estimated on 18 August that oil output in July was 26.19 million barrels per day (bpd), up by 435,000 bpd from June. The rise reflected an increase of 368,000 bpd by Iraq to 2.76 million bpd.

Another Dow Jones report filed from the United Nations on 18 August notes that the UN has approved Iraq's official price for the sale of crude oil in September. Under the terms of the UN accord, Iraq must submit a price formula to the UN Iraq Sanctions Committee.

Iraq is currently allowed to export up to $5.26 billion of oil every six months in exchange for food and medicine. The Sanctions Committee must decide if Iraq's price mechanism is in line with prevailing market prices. Once approved, the formula become the official selling price for Iraqi crude for the next month. (David Nissman)

AL-ZUBAYDI ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ALLEGED. In a interview carried on Al-Jazira Satellite Television on 18 August, Dr. Hamid Al-Bayyati, spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said that there had been an assassination attempt against Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Hamzah Al-Zubaydi on 17 August. He said that SCIRI's sources in Iraq had confirmed the assassination in which "a group of Islamic resistance forces opened fire" on Zubaydi, at which point he was rushed to the hospital.

But Udayy Al-Ta'i, director-general of the Iraqi News Agency (INA), denied this and other similar reports, MENA said the same day. He pointed out that Al-Zubaydi had appeared in public throughout the period in question. The INA director-general claimed the reports on this are "merely a media attempt to 'fabricate news' against Iraq and distort the image of the Baghdad regime."

In his interview, Dr. Bayyati did not say that SCIRI was involved in the attempt against Al-Zubaydi directly. According to him "our sources report that there are Islamic resistance groups and they do not say that SCIRI is responsible for this incident."

Since last December, Al-Zubaydi has been head of the Central Euphrates region, one of the strongholds of the Shiite opposition and a region where an assassination attempt could conceivably have taken place. Dr. Al-Bayyati mentioned in his interview that "since the assassination of Al-Sayyid Muhammad Al-Sadr in Al-Najaf on 19 February 1999, the popular resistance escalated its operations."

All of this leaves open the question as to why SCIRI, an opposition movement with a great deal of credibility in the international community, would fabricate a report, if that is indeed what happened. (David Nissman)

IRAQI-SYRIAN NORMALIZATION HITS ROUGH SPOTS. Recent moves by Syria and Iraq to normalize their relations have been slowed by a series of developments which cast doubt on the sincerity of either side to go much further in this direction.

On 19 August, the London-based "Al-'Arab Al-Alamiyyah" carried an editorial by Ahmad Al-Huni who suggested that Israel and Saudi Arabia are among the sticking points. He argued that Syria, in its negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights, must "not become selfish and simply try to reach an agreement with Israel to ensure the return of the Golan without making it conditional upon an end to Israeli violations in other Arab areas, to Israel's continued threat to Arab security, to its theft of Arab water, to its plan to construct a river across Syria that will provide it with water from Turkey, and to various other issues."

Another straw in the wind was a 24 August report in Kuwait's "Al-Watan." It said that during a visit to Kuwait, Colonel Bashar Hafiz Al-Asad, the son of Syria's president, had "described Saddam Husseyn as a human monster, stressing that Syria knows better than others what the Iraqi president is like." He also pointed out that Syria has POWs in both Iraqi and Israeli prisons. This report was immediately denounced by the Iraqi Television Network as a fabrication; it points out that one of the officials travelling with Al-Asad denied that Al-Asad had called Husseyn a "human monster." And its political editor further claimed that "the games played by the Kuwaiti regime will not harm Iraqi stature and reputation. (David Nissman)

IRAQ TO CHAIR ARAB FOREIGN MINISTERS' CONFERENCE. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf is to chair the mid-September meeting of the Arab Foreign Ministers. The timing of the meeting has been changed from 4-5 September because that date is in conflict with a number of other engagements by Arab foreign ministers.

A MENA report of 17 August said that "it is now clear that attempts to delay the 112th Arab League council section are linked to fear that some Arab foreign ministers will decline to attend or participate in a session under Iraq's chairmanship." It is now evident that these fears have been unfounded. The MENA report added that there have been consultations between Al-Sahhaf and Arab League Secretary-General Ismat Abd-Al-Majid and others to determine the best way to run the meetings.

Arab League sources also say that the aim of the meeting is "to open a new chapter in Iraqi-Arab ties, which were tarnished after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and to "urge Iraq to give up its conventional stances on various controversial issues with a number of Arab states."

On 19 July the Cairo newspaper "Al-Jumhuriyah" carried a column by Samir Rajab in which he commented that "it would be sad if the meetings on 13 September ended without achieving progress on the Arab reconciliation track or if the tension of the conflict increased. Our situation would be pathetic. This would gradually weaken our negotiating position vis-a-vis the Israelis."

It remains unclear just how many Arab states will attend, now that Iraq is in the chair. (David Nissman)

LEADERSHIP CONFLICT RESURFACES IN IRAQI KURDISTAN. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has declared its head, Jalal Talabani, as leader of the Iraqi Kurdish territory, according to an AP report from Cairo on 22 August. Northern Iraq contains a Kurdish autonomous zone, one-third of which is under the control of the PUK; the other two-thirds is under the control of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Masud Barzani. And thus this declaration appears set to spark a new conflict between the two.

The Washington Agreement signed by the two in September 1998 was intended to prevent that. Up until then, the PUK and KDP spent more time fighting each other than anyone else. As it now stands, however, both factions have separate administrations and cabinets for the territories under their control. One factor impeding a complete reconciliation is that both sides insist on a 51 percent share in the parliament for the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Elections for this body had been scheduled for July, but they have not yet occurred.

Writing in the "Turkish Daily News" on 24 August, Saadet Oruc criticized the latest PUK announcement for its "bad timing." He said that "the appointment is seen as a move by Talabani to 'take advantage' of the difficulties Turkey is experiencing in recovering from the earthquake." Unnamed "regional sources" cited by Oruc claim the naming of Talabani as "leader means a violation of everything"--including the Washington Agreement.

According to Oruc, the KDP has reacted officially only "because the group is still evaluating the PUK move."

At the same time, Barzani was engaged in explaining Kurdish political objectives in Iraq. According to an analysis by Diyar Gekhsi in the "Kurdistan Observer" of 22 August, Barzani now has said that "Our political objective is and has been to strive to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question within a unified Iraq." The KDP leader added that this objective represents a federated solution for the Kurds within a unified and democratic Iraq. A federal solution of the type specified for the Kurds would, he said, fulfill their political aspirations.

As a result, the deepening split between the KDP and the PUK may be as much an obstacle to Kurdish autonomy as is Baghdad's continuing opposition. (David Nissman)

BARZANI DISCUSSES KURDISH-ARAB RELATIONS. The London-based "Al-Majallah" weekly featured in its latest issue an extensive interview with Masud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), on the history and development of Kurdish relations with the Arab regimes.

According to Barzani, Jamal Abdu'l-Nasir of Egypt was the first Arab leader to establish a relationship to the Kurdish movement. It began in 1958 when Molla Mustafa Barzani stopped over in Cairo on his return from Moscow and met the Egyptian president. In the aftermath of their meeting, positive articles appeared in the Egyptian press on the Kurdish movement. But Barzani noted, there was no military or financial assistance for the Kurdish movement forthcoming from Cairo.

Relations with Syria began after the 1975 Algiers Agreement between Iraq and the Shah of Iran, which was a serious blow to the Kurdish movement. At that time, President Al-Asad opened the doors of Syria before us when we were facing a deadly crisis." Barzani says that this relationship continues. Kurdish relations with King Husseyn of Jordan and his successor, King Abdullah II, have followed a similar pattern.

Relations with Saudi Arabia are of long duration. At present, due to Saudi Arabia's weight and influential role in the region, Barzani said that "we are extremely eager for the continuation of relations with it and informing it of everything that pertains to the future of Iraq and the solution to the Kurdish issue."

Relations with the countries of the Maghreb are either nonexistent or negative. With regard to Morocco, Barzani claims that the Kurds "have not found the channel through which to launch this relationship." Algeria played a negative role in modern Kurdish history: it was the site of the 1975 Algiers agreement, and Algerian President Boumedienne was the "godfather" of that agreement. In connection with Boumedienne, Barzani points out that Bouteflika, who was foreign minister of Algeria at the time of the Algiers agreement, was "the architect of this agreement." There are no relations between the Kurds and Tunisia.

And concerning the others, Barzani said that ties with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat have always been close but there are no ties with Yemen or any mention of ties with Libya. (David Nissman)

OCALAN'S RUSSIAN STAY HIGHLIGHTED. Last autumn Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan was the target of a vast manhunt. According to a 21 Reuters report of a Russian public television program, one of his hosts at that time was Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskii in the latter's country dacha outside Moscow.

According to Russian television, Ocalan "spent two weeks in Russia, played soccer, spoke to Russian deputies, and used satellite communications to talk to his colleagues and even offered his help to Russia to regulate the situation in the Caucasus."

It was widely suspected at the time (last October and November) that Ocalan had taken refuge in Russia. In fact, the Israeli Defense Forces claimed to have evidence of his presence there (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 November 1998). Ocalan was even located at a place called Odintsova, 10 kilometers from Moscow. And at that time, the Turkish Foreign Ministry had asked the Russian government to extradite Ocalan, but Moscow officially denied that he was even in Russia.

The Russian Federation has a very active Kurdish community, including many active supporters of the PKK, and they have lobbied effectively for their cause among Russian Duma members. The Duma, late last year, had voted 298 to 1 to give Ocalan asylum. At the time of his stay with Zhirinovskii, Ocalan was on the run from the Turkish government. According to a report in the "Sunday Times" on 22 August, a British security firm, Aims Ltd., was one of the British firms which provided military equipment and training facilities to members of the Turkish special forces who captured him.

Aims had proposed killing Ocalan after it was approached by the Turkish government in 1995. According to the "Sunday Times" report, Aims wrote up an 11-page proposal in which they offered to track and pinpoint Ocalan and arrange for his murder or kidnap. The price asked for this was 5.25 million pounds. In the event the kidnapping option proved to be the most feasible, their proposal suggests that "a snatch squad" would take Ocalan back to Turkey to stand public trial.

One of the factors considered in the proposal was the possibility that the outcry over the kidnapping of Ocalan would be so great that one of the countries neighboring Turkey would take action against Turkey. In this eventuality, Aims suggested that "consideration should be given to cutting off their water supply."

Yet, the story as reported by the "Sunday Times," is almost too good to be true. In it, history seems to follow the proposal of some goons for hire. Since the Turkish Army is definitely one of the major regional powers, it is difficult to imagine any of Turkey's neighbors going to war to fight a battle they could not win for a Kurdish terrorist. The water aspect of the story also does not ring true. There are only two countries dependent on Turkey for water--Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Army has already stood down in the face of a Turkish warning about the dangers of giving refuge to Ocalan and the PKK; the Iraqi Army since the Gulf War has been under close surveillance by the international community and would not make a move, even in 1995 when the proposal was allegedly put together.

In the final analysis, Ocalan was forced to leave Russia despite the temporary refuge given him by Zhirinovskii. Not even Russia's power was able to protect Ocalan, and certainly not Zhirinovski's. (David Nissman)

ASSYRIAN POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS DISCUSS IRAQI OPPOSITION. On 16 August, "Zenda" carried a mid-July "Joint Declaration of the Assyrian Political Organizations" about the regular meetings of the four Assyrian national organizations of the Assyrian Movement and the Assyrian Universal Alliance. The meetings concerned the expected changes in the Assyrian political posture and the "effort of the new Iraqi opposition group whose purpose is to reach mutual agreement and understanding among the many factions including the Assyrian delegates to represent us on the new Iraqi opposition group." The Declaration adds that "our delegates will be asked to represent our Assyrian interests and show their support for peace and the democratic process."

Only three of the four Assyrian groups signed the declaration: the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the Assyrian Democratic Organization, and the Assyrian Universal Alliance. The fourth movement--the Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party--chose to withdraw and not participate in these agreements and resulting declaration."

It is unclear from the declaration to which "new Iraqi opposition group it refers, most probably the reconstituted Iraqi National Congress. But the three signatories express their hope that the Bet Nahrain Democratic Party "will reconsider their decision of withdrawing from this program." (David Nissman)