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Iraq Report: October 8, 1999

8 October 1999, Volume 2, Number 37

PROSPECTIVE PAPAL VISIT STIRS CONTROVERY IN IRAQ. No date has yet been set for a papal visit to Iraq, but the possibility of such a visit has already stirred controversy both outside Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 September 1999) and now inside as well.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Sahhaf told London's "Al-Hayat" that the Vatican has not yet discussed its ideas about the trip. But some aspects of any visit seem obvious. As British and American opponents of the trip have noted, the Pope is not only the leader of a religion but also a chief of state, and consequently, it appears likely that he would have to meet with Saddam Husseyn if he visited Iraqi territory.

But there are other problems. According to a 28 September AP report, seven Iraqi scholars have sharply criticized the possibility of a papal visit, arguing that the pope should not expect Muslims to line the streets and cheer his visit. INA went even further, saying that the letter had accused the pope of seeking to use the trip as a way of acquiting the West of its crimes against the Arabs and to swing Arab and world public opinion behind Israel.

A commentary in Milan's "Corriere della Sera" on 2 October points out hat "so far the trial of strength over this trip has been played out solely between the Vatican, which firmly intends to go ahead with it in order to comply with the Pope's wishes; the United Nations, which has adopted a basically neutral stance but that would like to see an act of fair play in the Pope's favor; and the United States-Britain partnership, which is opposed to the idea but is amenable to allowing the trip to take place as long as it makes sure that its own position of opposition and protest is publicly noted." (David Nissman)

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER DENOUNCES SANCTION 'SUSPENSION' IDEA. Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf said that Iraq will never accept any of various proposals for "suspending" sanctions in order to force Baghdad to cooperate with the United Nations, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 30 September. Indeed, Al-Sahhaf continued, such efforts are little more than "a U.S. trick on other members" of the Security Council.

In summing up Al-Sahhaf's remarks, "Al-Hayat" said "the common denominator in the five countries' stand remains their agreement on starting by suspending the sanctions and not lifting them, despite their differences over the conditions and terms for suspending them."

As far as "financial transparency" is concerned, Al-Sahhaf objects to the scrutiny it will entail. He states: "We are not a refugees' camp where others build for us. We are not a colony or protectorate where colonialists and those in charge of these [protectorates] are given the task of rebuilding their economies and infrastructure."

In essence, Al-Sahhaf says "there is a contract and an agreement between us and them. The Security Council resolutions and particularly Resolution 687." He stresses that "we will not build our economy and hegemony of any foreign power."

Al-Sahhaf is equally adamant on the issue of disarmament. He contends that "the claim that there are still unresolved problems in the disarmament issue is baseless." And on the monitoring issue, Al-Sahhaf maintains that "we are not against the return of monitoring because we accepted Resolution 715." He adds that "they want to impose new rules on us." (David Nissman)

IS SADDAM SEEKING A DIALOGUE WITH CLINTON? The London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman" on 5 October discusses the content of a letter written by Saddam Husseyn to U.S. President Clinton. King Abdallah II of Jordan is reportedly to hand it to Clinton on his arrival in Washington on 6 October.

"Arab sources" in Amman say that the letter includes practical proposals about the situation in Iraq, including Iraq's willingness to reconsider all the oil agreements with Russia and France and various other concessions on oil investment opportunities for American companies. Saddam Husseyn also reportedly has offered to abandon the mass destruction weapons programs and guarantee control of Iraqi armament in the future.

There has not been a U.S.-Iraq bilateral dialogue since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. (David Nissman)

RUSSIA, IRAQ TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION. Last week Russian Minister of Fuel and Energy Viktor Kalyuzhnii and Iraqi Oil Minister Amr Muhammad Rashid reached an agreement on expanding economic cooperation between Russia and Iraq in general and upgrading of the Iraqi oil complex at the Iraqi oilfields at West Qurna, Rumaila, and Al-Lahis, in particular.

Cooperation with Iraq gives great economic benefits to Russia as the West Qurna oilfield is considered the richest in the world and will provide Russian oil companies no less than one billion barrels of oil.

Differences still exist between Moscow and Baghdad on the launch dates for the various oil and gas projects. They are hindered by the nine-year old international economic blockade on Iraq. The Iraqi oil minister has urged the Russian oil companies to start the projects despite the sanctions on Iraq. Russia, according to ITAR-TASS, would rather wait until the restrictions on Iraq are completely lifted.

While Kalyuzhnii was in Iraq, according to Interfax on 4 October, he gave Husseyn a letter from Boris Yeltsin in which Yeltsin said he would not overstep international law but would try to overcome strong oppositional policies toward Iraq. Husseyn reportedly expressed "extreme satisfaction" with the letter.

In addition, Baghdad Radio said on 1 October that the Russian Minister had condemned the daily bombing of Iraqi cities by U.S. and British aircraft, and said that Saddam is a courageous leader who has a clear strategical line.

Oil was not the only matter under discussion at the meeting of the Russo-Iraqi intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation. Kalyuzhnii told RIA that the two sides had discussed cooperation in the fields of thermal and hydroelectric engineering within the limits of applicable UN economic sanctions.

The exploitation of Iraq's natural gas was also discussed. The "Moscow Times" of 5 October reported that Gazprom officials are to visit Iraq for discussions of 15 October. Gazprom is studying the development of a gas collection and transport system able to handle about 7 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Russian firms will also participate in a Baghdad oil and gas exhibition due to be held in Baghdad at the end of November.

Russia is not the only beneficiary of Iraq's oil wealth. HINA (Croatian agency) reported on 30 September that President Husseyn issued a decree saying that Iraq's entire debt to (former) Yugoslav companies would be repaid in oil. In this context, Tanjug reported on 5 October that Sami Sa'dun Kati, Iraq's new ambassador to Yugoslavia, met with the Yugoslav premier in Belgrade and agreed to discuss the expansion of economic cooperation at the next joint interstate committee which is to convene in Baghdad shortly.

And Petrovietnam is now negotiating a deal with Iraq to develop the Ammara oil field, with an expected yield of 80,000 barrels per day. This, too, will take place only after the sanctions are lifted, according to a Reuters report of 4 October. Vietnamese companies have developed good trade relations with Iraq. They have successfully planted rice in various parts of Iraq, supplied Iraq with various pumps and machinery, and have sold Iraq 600 buses under the oil-for-food deal. (David Nissman)

HISTORIANS CRITICIZED FOR HARMING IRAQ'S FUTURE. The London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 5 October reports that Izzat Ibrahim, deputy chairman of Iraq's Revolution Command Council, has stated that "the claim that the Islamic commander Salah Al-Din Al-'Ayyubi (Saladin) was Kurdish contravenes the facts, even though we are extremely proud of the Kurdish people."

Ibrahim expressed his thoughts on the matter in Baghdad at a seminar to mark the anniversary of the occupation of Jerusalem by Salah Al-Din. He stressed that adopting what historians said in their writings "harms the nation's interests and future."

"Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" points out that Ibrahim's views are "incompatible with what history says."

Ibrahim explained his conclusions by saying that "Salah Al-Din was from a noble Arab tribe that--with the passage of time--"became Kurdish" due to their residence and environmental factors, exactly as was the case with numerous Arab families whose sons led the Kurdish struggle against colonialism in Iraq." (David Nissman)

IRAQI OPPOSITION DOUBTS WASHINGTON'S 'SINCERITY.' The London-based "Mideast Mirror" of 4 October comments on a detailed article by the well known Iraqi independent opposition figure Ghassan Al-'Atiyyah which appeared in the opposition monthly "Al-Ma'laf A;-'Iraqi." That article says that "Iraqi dissidents are increasingly suspicious of [Washington's] sincerity not just of its professed desire to topple President Saddam Husseyn's regime but also of its commitment to unifying the Iraqi opposition."

He accused Ahmad Chalabi, the long-time leader of the Iraq National Congress (INC) and still a member of its steering committee, of "sabotaging plans to form a truly representative broad coalition of Iraqi opposition forces, and of trying to pose his group as the umbrella organization for the entire Iraqi opposition--even though most anti-Saddam factions are against that."

He added that Chalabi has been promoting himself with the help of right-wing and pro-Israel forces in the U.S. who have been using the INC to advance their political agendas or to settle scores with the Clinton administration. In its turn, Washington has been exploiting the opposition as a front to give the impression it was trying to depose Saddam.

Atiyyah is a co-founder of the recently formed Democratic Centrist Current (DCC), an alliance of opposition groups and figures trying to work with the INC to try to bring other parties into a new unified opposition front.

According to this article, a key problem is that the INC have been maintaining contacts only with the DCC after other factions, including Islamist, leftist, Arab nationalist, and others, took a stand against the interim leadership of the INC.

Now there is to be an expanded meeting of the opposition immediately following the New York meeting of the INC's National Assembly. Atiyyahs view these meetings with a certain degree of incredulity because the preparations for the National Assembly have not been completed yet. The intervening step, which has not occurred--namely, the formation of a preparatory committee consisting of members of opposition factions which had been excluded from the INC's orbit in the past.

As for American policy, the article continues, the DCC and Atiyyah applauded the American shift from a policy of containment to one of "containment plus regime change." But, he says, in practice the shift in U.S. policy is only geared to giving the impression of working for change" in Iraq.

Atiyyah writes that "the problem most Iraqi opposition forces have in cooperating with the United States is that they are not convinced that it is serious about overthrowing the Iraqi regime." (David Nissman)

ARABIZATION STRUCTURES DESCRIBED. Kurdish Media on 6 October describes the bureaucracy of displacement now being used to deport Kurds and Turkmen from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The first part of this bureaucracy involves a form letter to be filled out by those wishing to return to "autonomous Kurdistan." It is addressed to the governor of Kirkuk, and claims the signatory was "displaced to the city of Kirkuk after the page of treason and oppression opened up." It also claims that the letter is signed "on my own free will."

The "treason and oppression" refers to the separation of Kurdistan from Iraq as a result of the uprising of 1991. "Autonomous Kurdistan" is the regime's name for the Kurdish-controlled part of northern Iraq.

If the citizen, Kurd or Turkmen, does not wish to be deported to Kurdistan from Kirkuk, he also has the option of applying to change his nationality to "Arab." In this case, a letter must be written to the "Director of the National Census of Kirkuk." The letter is also a form letter, saying only "please change my nationality in the records from 'Kurdish' to 'Arabic' as it was recorded erroneously."

Kurdish Media says that "Saddam's policies to change the composition of the Kurds in Kirkuk are inhuman and against all the international laws related to rights of citizenship and human rights." And it asks for UN officials and human rights organizations to intervene to protect the rights of Kurds and Turkmen. (David Nissman)

KURDISH LEADER ON U.S. POLICY, IRAQI OPPOSITION. In an interview with the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman" on 28 September, Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said that the recent meetings of the Iraqi opposition in New York was "not accomplished by American initiative alone, but achieved by the Iraq opposition's initiative." The opposition also brought together groups representing the Higher Islamic Committee for the Islamic Revolution, the Iraq Communist Party, and the Movement of Islamic Unity in Kurdistan."

In meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Talabani said, the opposition called attention to the oppression, displacement of peoples, and the depopulation of Kurds and Turkmen from Khanaqin, Kirkuk, Makhmur, and other parts of Kurdistan controlled by the Iraqi regime.

He further pointed out that they had asked Albright to end the suffering of the Iraqi people and the removal of the sanctions. He also stressed the importance of removing the current regime. And he added that "we object to the U.S. policies that do not lead to the liberation of Iraq" and also maintained that opposition groups based abroad cannot liberate Iraq.

In his interview, Talabani complained that the PUK has not received any money from the $97 million set aside by the U.S. for the liberation of Iraq.

Two weeks ago, Talabani rejected an offer of computers, according to the "Philadelphia Inquirer" on 5 October.

Last July Talabani issued a somewhat stronger criticism of American policy in Iraq and claimed then that the policy was weakening the Iraq opposition and consequently strengthening the regime of Saddam Husseyn (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 July 1999). (David Nissman)

PUK ASKS UN TO EXAMINE UNEXPLODED CHEMICAL WEAPON. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has officially asked the United Nations to investigate an unexploded chemical weapon found on 25 September in Halabche.

The PUK requested the UN investigation because it would "assist in identifying the types of chemicals in Iraq's arsenal, serve as a foundation for identifying prophylactic and therapeutic treatments, and add to the body of evidence necessary for indicting the Iraqi regime for war crimes and crimes against humanity."

More than ten years after the use of chemical and biological weapons in Halabche, some interest has been stirred in the international community about the fate of its inhabitants. On 6 August plans were announced for the establishment of a post-graduate medical institute based in three medical colleges in Kurdistan and a hospital in Halabche in order to begin treatment and research on those exposed to chemical weapons (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 August 1999). The population is known to have been exposed to mustard gas, tabun, and sarin. Some 5,000-7,000 died in the attacks in the first moments, and a further 30,000 to 40,000 were injured. But at present no one knows how many have died in the years since the bombing, nor how many are suffering from long-term effects of the attack.

As for the recently discovered bomb in Halabche, UN officials in Sulaymaniyah have confirmed that the weapon contained a chemical weapons agent, but they lacked the means to neutralize it, according to the PUK letter. (David Nissman)

CORRECTION: The Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP) has asked that the "RFE/RL Iraq Report" correct a story contained in its last issue. That story, based on a 25 September 1999 AINA dispatch, said that the Assyrians had been closed out of INC meetings. In fact, the APP notes, Albert Yelda has been the "first and only candidate Assyrian member in the INC executive committee" since 1992.