10 September 1999, Volume 2, Number 34
IRAQ DENIES PRESENCE OF KUWAITI PRISONERS (AGAIN). The Arab League has been unable to set up a mechanism for resolving the issues of Kuwaitis and Saudis taken prisoner or missing since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, AFP reported on 5 September. The Arab League has been conducting consultations on this issue with a panel from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Iraq has boycotted this panel since November 1998, demanding an all-Arab committee.
Kuwait is seeking information on some 600 missing or detained citizens of Kuwait and other countries. Iraq admits it took prisoners when it was driven out of Kuwait in February 1991 but claims it lost track of them after the Shiite insurrection in southern Iraq following the Gulf War.
The newspaper "Babil" on 31 August, run by 'Uday Saddam Husseyn, claims the missing prisoners affair is a "trumped up, phony case." Babil claims further that the Kuwaitis must "surely understand that the United States is responsible for the Kuwaitis whom the Kuwaiti officials insist are lost, even though Iraq has demonstrated that none of them are to be found on Iraqi soil."
The Jiddah newspaper "Al-Bilad" of 1 September maintains that it is Baghdad's strategy to continue to hold the prisoners until the blockade against Iraq is lifted. This is because the resulting openness to the world by Iraq "means the end of the Saddam regime, which is facing the biggest opposition in history inside and outside a country whose men and women are being oppressed by a man without mind or conscience." (David Nissman)
JORDAN-KUWAIT RAPPROCHEMENT SPARKS IRAQI REACTION. This week's visit to Kuwait by Jordan's King Abdullah II marked the first time in almost ten years that a Jordanian monarch has visited the emirate. The reason for the break in relations was that during Kuwait's occupation by Iraqi troops, Jordan was accused of supporting Iraq, AFP reported on 6 September. As a consequence of the freeze in ties, 300,000 Jordanians of Palestinian origin were expelled from Kuwait following the liberation of Kuwait by the U.S.-led coalition forces in 1991.
On 4 September, Kuwaiti Information Minister Sa'ad Muhammad Tiflah Al-'Ajmi said the improved political climate would hasten the overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn.
Jordanian comment on the visit was cautious, but in favor of the visit. An editorial in the "Jordan Times" of 5 September says: "It would be untimely to dwell now during this visit on any specific issue such as compensation to Jordanian returnees who were forced out of Kuwait in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion and occupation of the emirate in 1990." It adds that "the ultimate goal is putting Jordanian-Kuwaiti ties on their traditional track."
An AP report of 7 September cites King Abdullah's pledge to support Kuwait in its efforts to "bring a positive end" to the war prisoner issue.
The AFP report cited above points out that Jordan has relied on Iraq for its crude oil supplies since the Gulf crisis. The UN permits 90,000 gallons per day to enter Jordan by road. Jordan is also a crossing point for Iraqis wishing to travel abroad because of the flight embargo in force over Iraq.
On 7 September, AFP carried a report citing the newspaper of Kurdish parties loyal to Baghdad, "Al-'Iraq." It warned that "if they wanted to, Iraqis could at a single stroke throw the Al-Sabah monarchy into the waters of the Gulf." The newspaper pointed out that Kuwaiti anti-Iraq comments were "insolent statements which betray their hallucinations and aid the U.S.-Zionist plot to divide the Arab and Islamic nation."
Evidently not content with statements by "Al-Iraq," an official spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Information, quoted by Baghdad Radio on 7 September, accused the Kuwaitis of "using all their wicked methods to destroy any form of Arab solidarity and joint action." He concluded his statement by saying "any insult that is made by these lowly ones is tantamount to a testimony that Iraq is well and strong and that it is still the country of principles and good deeds." (David Nissman)
U.S. WANTS MEETING ON IRAQ STRATEGY. On 4 September AP reported that the U.S. has called for a five-nation meeting on a new Iraq Policy. The five nations are the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China--five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The purpose of the meeting is to try to narrow differences on Iraq. While three of the nations invited have accepted the invitation, China said it has to confer with its leadership in Beijing before making a decision on meeting in Washington.
The meeting was to take place on 8 September provided China made the decision to attend by 7 September. Reuters reported that "Beijing did not see the purpose of holding such a meeting outside New York and the United Nations. Ambassadors from the countries were not to attend, only the political directors of each delegation. The United States would be represented by Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering.
Observers feel that the rival drafts on the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq and the lifting or suspension of sanctions against it were to have been the subject of discussions. There are essentially two rival drafts in circulation: France, Russia, and China have put forward a draft to suspend all sanctions if Iraq cooperates with a new commission monitoring its banned weapons programs. The rival draft, proposed by Britain and the Netherlands, will suspend only the oil embargo if Baghdad answers key questions about its weapons programs. Baghdad has already rejected this variant.
The meeting was timed to take into account three factors: the annual UN General Assembly debate beginning 20 September, the end of the UN Security Council debate over the remnants of VX gas left in the Baghdad laboratory by UN weapons inspectors, and the release of a U.S. report last week that accused Iraq of continuing its program to build weapons of mass destruction. An AFP report from Baghdad on 6 September quotes an Iraqi Information Ministry spokesman as saying the U.S. report was made of "lies" and was aimed at redeploying "spies" in Baghdad under UN auspices.
It was hoped that the end of the rather stormy debate over the nerve gas and the somewhat calmer atmosphere of the UN General Assembly session will clear the way to some kind of solution on what to do about the weapons inspections and the embargo.
It is not outside the bounds of probability that the talks between Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and the Iraqi undersecretary of foreign affairs in Beijing, reported by Xinhua on 6 September, played a role in China's refusal to travel to Washington. During those talks, views were exchanged on bilateral relations and the Iraqi issue. (David Nissman)
SADDAM'S HALF-BROTHER LEAVES IRAQ. Barzan Al-Tikriti, Saddam Husseyn's half-brother, founder of the Iraqi Mukhabarat (secret police) and, until late last year, Iraq's ambassador to the UN Human Rights Organization in Switzerland, has received political asylum in the United Arab Emirates, according to a release from the Iraqi opposition broadcast by Al-Jazira Satellite Television on 8 September. On 8 September, Reuters carries a denial of the defection by the director general of the Iraqi News Agency. He claimed he merely went to visit his sons, who live in Geneva. In the same report, an official of the UAE denied that the UAE grants political asylum.
He had been recalled to Baghdad from Switzerland in September 1998 but refused to return, allegedly because his wife was being treated for cancer there. As a result, he did not return to Baghdad until late November of that year.
Another possible reason for Barzan's sudden recall to Baghdad was given in the 30 August issue of the Amman newspaper "Al-Hadath." An article by Iyad Khalifah states: "The reason behind the return of Barzan Al-Tikriti...at the end of his term as head of the Iraqi mission to the United Nations in Geneva was his fear of being tried by the war crimes tribunal after his name was mentioned on the lists of several committees concerned with human rights." At the time there was some speculation that the story was even more complicated than that presented to the press. Mahdi Al-Sa'id, an Iraqi writer in London, told London-based "Al-Hayat" newspaper on 31 October 1998 that either Saddam wanted to humiliate him for personal reasons or that Al-Tikriti was enraged by some of the diplomatic moves that occurred. Al-Sa'id claimed that Al-Tikriti "is not sure that the conditions required for his personal security are available" either in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East.
Although it is widely known that there is a running feud between Saddam's son Uday and Barzan, it is possible that Barzan was able to assuage Uday at least for a while. The Paris-based "Al-Watan Al-Arabi" on 4 June noted that on his return to Baghdad via Amman, Barzan withdrew some $5 million, which "he owed to Uday."
In Baghdad, Barzan had to undergo interrogation by Uday and was placed under house arrest. The accusations against him included meetings with U.S. public figures and politicians during his ambassadorship in Geneva and an alleged meeting with the CIA in Paris in 1998. Also, Barzan had control of some of the billions of dollars which Baghdad claimed belonged to it. Not all the money was recovered. According to "Al-Watan Al-'Arabi," the sum unaccounted for is some $10 billion.
According to a report disseminated by the Dubayy-based "Al-Bayan" on 9 September, an undersecretary of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry says Barzan is in Switzerland. Opposition sources cited by "Al-Bayan" claim that a legal case concerning embezzlement has been submitted to the Swiss authorities by Iraq.
It is thought that the primary reason for his survival was that during his term at the Mukhabarat and in the diplomatic corps, he had rendered Iraq major services. No doubt this, together with the missing $10 billion, is what protected him from the worst that Baghdad had to offer. And now, political asylum or not, he is out of Iraq. (David Nissman)
BARZANI ON BAGHDAD, PKK, PUK, ASSYRIANS, AND TURKMENS. On 2 September, the United Arab Emirates newspaper "Al-Shariqah Al-Khalij" interviewed Mas'ud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), on his relations with Baghdad, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and the Assyrian and Turkmen minorities living within the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Barzani said the economic situation in the KRG is "constantly improving...despite the difficulties we are having." Despite the destruction of the economic infrastructure, the Kurdish authorities have been able to retool some plants so that they can utilize available resources. Now, the focus is on reconstruction and the building of civil institutions.
On the situation in Iraq, Barzani said he has heard talk of the imminent collapse of the Saddam Husseyn regime for the last ten years. He says "we will determine our position in the future whenever the change occurs in light of the position of others toward the Kurdish issue."
As far as relations with the PUK are concerned, he maintains the KDP's position is that the outcome of the 1992 elections should define their relationship. Since the PUK does not accept this position, "new elections should be held and...prior preparations should be made for these elections." He adds that these elections should be held under international supervision.
He dismisses the PKK as a factor in Iraqi Kurdistan because of their insignificant numbers. He says the only thing they can do is to "plant a mine on a civilian road or try to blow up a school or a mosque." (On 3 September the London-based "Al-Zaman" reported that some PKK units had begun surrendering to the KDP.)
Barzani stressed that the necessary dialogue with Baghdad continues. He points out that "this does not mean that we are in agreement with Baghdad. Nonetheless, if we differ with Baghdad, it does not mean that we will take up arms and fight. We are calling for a civilized solution to the Kurdish issue, and the language of the age is dialogue."
In conjunction with the Assyrian and Turkmen minorities that also live in Iraqi Kurdistan, both peoples teach their own language in the schools, participate in the Kurdish parliament, and have their own political parties. He expressed the hope that "they (both peoples) will participate in the government of the region and in the forthcoming elections.
Barzani adds that "our minorities are enjoying their rights freely within the bounds of the law." (David Nissman)
ASSYRIANS CLOSER TO CONSENSUS. Talks in Chicago from May to July that were attended by various Assyrian political parties focused on agreeing on pressing the Assyrian case in various international forums addressing the future of Iraq. AINA (the Assyrian International News Agency) reported on 2 September that three Assyrian groups--the Assyrian Democratic Organization, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, and the Assyrian Universal Alliance--have stated that the meetings "targeted our efforts to agree on the selection process to represent us in the new Iraqi opposition group." The delegates selected are to represent Assyrian interests and present the Assyrian proposals. The declaration issued says "this will bring hope of furthering our cause and preserving our identity as a nation, thereby enabling us to pursue our legal and human rights."
Similar meetings have been held in Turlock, California, and London with equal success.
AINA points out that the agreement between the three political organizations has great significance not only because of the wide range of constituents these organizations represent, but also because it includes all the major religious denominations to which Assyrians belong. The three organizations also represent Assyrians in the diaspora and the Near and Middle East. Most important, "the unified consensus also show that Assyrians will no longer tolerate being divided along religious denominational lines." (David Nissman)
'NATIONAL INTEREST' VS. 'EXTERNAL FACTORS' IN IRAQ. The London-based "Al-Zaman" newspaper of 2 September carries an interview with Yonadem Yusuf Kenna, a member of the Assyrian Democratic Movement's (ADM) Political Bureau, on the current problems faced by the Iraqi opposition in its efforts to unify and the position of the ADM in this process.
He says the basic problem in Iraqi Kurdistan is that the two Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have not resolved the issue of power-sharing in the region and "the struggle is still going on between them." The consequence of this conflict is a "state of no peace and no war." Despite this power struggle between the Kurdish parties, the coalition between the KDP and the ADM in the government and the parliament still exists, but this "does not mean that we are in a struggle with the PUK."
The hope of the ADM is that the two parties will "agree on the minimum in order to extend the rule of law and establish peace and stability in the region so that this democratic experiment becomes a model for Iraqi society." Should this not come about, all of Iraqi society, including the Assyrians, will be harmed.
As far as the Iraqi opposition is concerned, it should put Iraqi national interests above all parties and factions. If, however, the opposition yields to "external factors," the divisions within the opposition will persist. Kenna stresses that "the Iraqi decision-making process must remain independent and linked to Iraqi national interests." He adds this process "must believe in human rights and in a civilized modern society and not a nationalist racist government or a religious extremist government."
Kenna notes that the opposition has gone through three phases: in the first phase, external factors were seen as hostile, that is to say, colonialist and imperialist; in the second phase, which followed the second Gulf War, the majority of the opposition began to think that external forces would decide matters "when in fact time has shown that this is not the case"; and the third stage began after 1996 when the Iraqi opposition began to rely more upon itself and benefit from external support.
The problem with the opposition, he says without elaboration, "lies in the mechanism of its dealings." (David Nissman)
ASSYRIAN AMERICAN NATIONAL FEDERATION ON IRAQ. The Assyrian American National Federation met in Los Angeles from 2-6 September to discuss issues pertaining to Iraq. According to an AINA report of 3 September, the pressing issues include: the recognition of Assyrians by the Iraqi government and the international community as an indigenous people in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, and the delineation of an Assyrian safe haven, which would provide protection for Assyrians in Iraq who have been exposed to persecution recently, and also "would entail local autonomy within the framework of a democratic and pluralistic nation." The area set aside for this is centered on Mosul (near the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh), and extend north toward the Turkish border, northwest to the Syrian border, and northeast to the Zab River.
Another issue is the return of previously Assyrian lands, villages, and churches. The report adds that "villages and churches destroyed by the government and expropriated by some Kurds need to be returned to their rightful owners or just compensation paid."
The other problems to be discussed at the meeting are an international investigation of the policies of the ethnic cleansing of Assyrians in northern Iraq, the right of return of Assyrians, whether they are still within Iraq or abroad, the lifting of UN sanctions against the civilian population of Iraq, and an international investigation into the plundering of ancient Assyrian archeological sites. (David Nissman)