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Iraq Report: September 3, 1999

3 September 1999, Volume 2, Number 33

IRAQ INCREASES RANGE OF ITS SURFACE-TO-AIR MISSILES. Over the last few months, Iraq has been able to extend the range of one of its surface-to-air missiles, but this has not increased the effectiveness of their air defense system.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said on 17 August that Iraq now has 40 to 50 fewer surface-to-air missile batteries in the no-fly zones than it did before Operation Desert Fox last December.

Bacon suggested that Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn is "draining resources that he might spend on other parts of his defenses, or his military machine." Bacon added that the responses to the U.S. and British attacks are "slowly but measurably degrading his air defense system."

Some analysts have suggested that the Pentagon's optimism may be too great. While conceding that Iraq's conventional military capability may have been reduced by the bombing campaign, they argue that Iraq's abilities to manufacture unconventional weapons, especially chemical and biolgical weapons, remains unknown. Writing in "The Washington Times" on 23 August, Avigdor Haselkorn points out that the "bright spot" in Iraq's politico-strategic picture is "Iraq's renewed ability to fashion weapons of mass destruction, especially biological weapons. He notes that Richard Butler, the head of UNSCOM until recently, has stated that Baghdad, if it wanted, could have initiated a crash program to produce biological agents. UNSCOM has estimated that with the equipment Iraq is known to possess, it could produce 90 gallons of weapons-grade anthrax each week, enough to fill two missile warheads or four aerial bombs.

The assumption of American policymakers seems, according to analysts like Haselkorn, to be that Iraq has ceased to work on proscribed weapons since the inspections ended. But there is little or no evidence to back up that view. Indeed, Saddam's past behavior points in just the opposite direction.

Compounding the problems of this assessment are debates about what the international community should do next regarding Iraq. Robin Wright, writing in "The Los Angeles Times," thinks that "the Clinton administration must decide over the next month whether to do battle with some of its own allies to keep alive a policy aimed at undoing the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn--or to compromise in ways that might help a leader who was once compared to Adolph Hitler stay in power."

Jonathan S. Landay, in the "Christian Science Monitor" on 30 August, reports that a new White House report to Congress says "American intelligence is monitoring with concern activities at Iraqi facilities "capable of producing WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and long-range ballistic missiles."

Landay underscores that the content of this report "contrasts sharply" with recent assertions by U.S. officials that they have "no evidence" Iraq is resuming WMD development. (David Nissman)

SADDAM PUSHES FOR 'RAPID DEPLOYMENT FORCE.' A recent letter from Saddam Husseyn to Iraqi army officers and the Ba'th Party Military Bureau discussing the possibility of creating an Iraqi rapid deployment force is analyzed in the 25 August issue of the London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper. According to informed Iraqi sources, the paper suggests the rapid deployment force would consist of elements of the Republican Guard backed up by armed aircraft (helicopters).

One purpose of this "rapid deployment" force would be to plug up possible entry routes into Iraq in the event of a ground attack by the West. In Saddam's letter, "Al-Hayat" notes, these routes are referred to as "necessary action points" that must be taken into consideration "in the fact of a U.S. threat."

The letter also focuses on "tightly controlling" the border with Kurdistan Province on the grounds that it is a "potential entry route for the hostile forces." And it calls for using such a force to control "the routes used by infiltrators in the south and to move to thwart a hostile military action that could take the form of a ground intervention."

In a similar vein, emphasis is also placed on "intensifying the firepower" with the aim of "abolishing the no-fly zones." Saddam's letter also suggested that "shooting down a number of U.S. aircraft would prompt the White House's administration to reconsider its calculations vis-a-vis Iraq." (David Nissman)

PROJECTED PAPAL VISIT SPARKS CONTROVERSY. Pope John Paul II is now slated to visit Iraq in early December, a visit that some in the West have opposed but that Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini has said he sees no reason to oppose. But doubts had continued until very recently about the scheduling of the Pope's visit to Ur, the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham. Now, at least some of these doubts appear to have been dispelled.

On 26 August, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, Raphael Bedawid, announced that the pope would make the journey in early December, and, according to Madrid's RNE-1 Radio Network, the Pope might even meet Saddam Husseyn during his two-day stay in Baghdad.

Raphael Bedawid told AFP that the Vatican was in contact with the United Nations to obtain authorization for the Pope to fly to Iraq despite an air embargo in force since September 1990.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that the United States and Britain should stop military operations over Iraq during the Pope's planned visit. Aziz, echoing apparent Vatican policy, claimed that "if the Americans and the British are real Christians, as they profess to be, they should not carry out any act of aggression against Iraq."

There are conflicting reports about just how much of an effort the U.S. has made to dissuade the pope from going to Iraq. A State Department spokesman suggested that the Vatican should take into account the likelihood that Baghdad would try to exploit such a visit for political purposes. But other news accounts said that American officials had taken a hands off approach.

Regardless of which of these reports is true, many are likely to see the papal visit as a "victory and support for Husseyn that he could not have hoped for," a diplomat in Amman told AFP on 27 August. (David Nissman)

IRAQ OIL EXPORTS FALL AT END OF AUGUST. Iraqi oil exports dropped to two million barrels per day (bpd) in the week ending 27 August, Dow Jones reported on 30 August. That figure was down from 2.7 million bpd the week before, according to the UN Office of the Iraq Program. During the last few six-month phases of the oil-for-food program, Iraq's oil exports failed to meet the revenue target of $5.26 billion. This failure was a result of Iraq's antiquated oil infrastructure and last year's plunge in oil prices (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 August 1999).

If the current price level holds firm at $18 per barrel, Iraq should meet revenue targets with no difficulty. Revenues go toward paying for the oil-for-food program and reparations to parties injured in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. (David Nissman)

IRAQI JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION ANNOUNCES REWARDS, PENALTIES. The Iraqi Journalists' Association (IJA), chaired by 'Udayy Saddam Husseyn, has reacted against what they claim are efforts by "some suspect parties and renegades" to recruit Iraqi journalists abroad. So says the London-based "Al-Hayat's" Amman correspondent, 'Ali Abd-al-Amir, on 28 August.

Citing what it called "reliable Iraqi media sources in Amman," the IJA had decided to expel every journalist who does not maintain a close relationship with the [Iraqi] media attaches." And it has been decided that the files of Iraqi journalists and writers who left the country after 1991 should now be reviewed with an eye toward possible violations.

At the same time, the value of private rewards, "usually granted to writers who praise President Saddam Husseyn," are to be increased.

There are three rewards: 100,000 dinars, 150,000 dinars, and 250,000 dinars (one dollar equals roughly 1,000 dinars).

In other moves, the Iraqi Journalists' Association will also allow some accredited journalists, who have correspondence with Arab newspapers and other mass media organizations, to have fax machines. This is in line with a plan to make "a comprehensive review of the coercive laws," presented by the Iraqi president during a meeting of the Council of Ministers.

'Abd-al-Amir notes that "it is well known that Iraq is imposing a strict control on media organs and preventing people from using fax machines and satellite dishes. Every Iraqi citizen using them will be sentenced to two years in prison and forced to pay a fine double the cost of the satellite dish." (David Nissman)

LIBYAN-IRAQI RELATIONS HEAT UP. In Amman, the Libyan and the Iraqi soccer teams confronted each other on the playing field at the ninth Arab Games. When the Libyans tied the match 1-1 after an initial Iraqi lead, Libyan fans threw firecrackers onto the field causing the referees to halt the game. Three minutes before the end of the game, with the Iraqis having taken a lead of 3-1, the Libyan fans began to tear out seats and throw them onto the field and then scaled the barriers to the field.

Again the referees stopped the match. As a result, the Libyan fans started throwing various objects at those sitting in the VIP sections of the stadium. Police began to club the Libyans while the Iraqis huddled in the center of the field with the referees, surrounded by the police

The match was not resumed and the Iraqis were awarded the victory. (David Nissman)

MEDYA-TV ON PKK-KDP CONFLICT. As directed by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan, PKK forces are beginning to observe a ceasefire in Turkey and to withdraw into Iraq, MEDYA-TV reported on 25 August. In fact, the PKK is ahead of the 1 September deadline. But its Presidential Council warned that it might reverse course if it should not prove to be the case "the Turkish state should adopt the necessary stand so that the process develops in a favorable manner." In northern Iraq, the PKK has also ordered a ceasefire in its conflict against the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The PKK Presidential Council has also "called on the KDP to give the required response and on the Kurdistan forces to take a close interest in this development."

MEDYA-TV, generally considered to be a pro-PKK sender and heir to the closed MED-TV, carried a commentary by Tuncay Dogan on 28 August explaining the PKK position further. He claims that a positive response by the KDP to the PKK's announcement of the unilateral ceasefire would be an "important development for the Kurdish national movement"; the commentator adds that "agreeing to peace and dialogue will change the appearance of Kurdistan."

The PKK seems to have pinned its hopes on the amelioration of the embargo against Iraq, which has consequences on the smuggling of oil to Turkey through the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government, effectively run by the KDP). He points out that more oil will be pumped through the pipeline, which will reduce the amount of oil products smuggled through the Habur border. He maintains that the KRG receives roughly $300 million yearly from this smuggling, but a lifting of the embargo against Iraq will bring this source of income to an end. Dogan expresses the hope that, as a result of losing the income from the smuggling, the KDP will accept the "national line" (he means the PKK line). He contends that "the more the importance of the Kurdish problem grew in international politics, the more the national character of the problem is ignored in the south." Within northern Iraq, he continues "the local forces united when they chose to and did not when they did not choose to."

KDP forces, together with the Turkish army, have been fighting the PKK over the last years and have shown no inclination to reach an accommodation with them. The KDP's conflict with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) over powersharing in the territory of the KRG is still sporadic and more verbal than physical. This is an effect wrought by the meetings in Washington over the last year between the PUK and KDP. There is relative stability in the KRG as a result, and when the elections for the KRG Parliament, promised for sometime this year, take place, democracy may be on the way.

At the moment, the region enjoys relative stability, broken only by the forays of the PKK into the region. At the conclusion of his commentary, Dogan writes that "promoting the method of relations and dialogue in the solution of all problems will lead to Kurdish peace and make it permanent. All Kurdish national forces must prove to the whole world that they have the power to protect and implement democracy." The problem has been that, despite the recent European diplomatic moves made by the PKK after the capture of Ocalan, they have still not gained credibility as a force for peace. (David Nissman)

PUK MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF IRBIL INVASION. The Bureau of International Relations of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) issued a statement on 31 August in conjunction with "the third anniversary of the invasion of Irbil by Iraqi Republican Guards invited by the Kurdistan Democratic Party."

As a consequence of this invasion, the PUK suffered a serious military reversal, losing many of its military commanders and fighters. Yet, the PUK was able to reorganize and make a comeback as an important player in northern Iraq, and it now controls one-third of the region of Iraqi Kurdistan and has developed the institutions of government. The PUK statement says: "we must renew our commitment to a comprehensive peace within the Kurdish camp. Disagreements among the Kurdish parties should pale in comparison to the risks and dangers that await us. Kurdish unity is vital to enhancing the prospects of self-government evolving in Iraqi Kurdistan." (David Nissman)