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Iraq Report: October 22, 1999

22 October 1999, Volume 2, Number 39

NEW U.S. PLAN TO TOPPLE SADDAM IN THE OFFING? An unidentified Arab diplomat with many contacts in Washington and in the Gulf claims that the Clinton administration is working out the details of a new campaign against the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn, according to the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman" of 16-17 October.

Rumors of a possible shift of U.S. strategy to oust Saddam Husseyn from power are taken very seriously in Baghdad. The London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" noted on 15 October that Iraq had launched several recently developed missiles against U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zone in the north, and that intensive military movements are taking place near Baghdad. "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" reported further that in Iraq there is a move to concentrate the air defenses and military equipment in the Baghdad area in the south and in Tikrit.

Supposedly "well-placed" Jordanian sources told "Al-Bayan" on 16 October in Amman that Washington's plans for a post-Saddam Iraq include the establishment of a federation between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds so that each group "will enjoy self-rule and preserve its political rights."

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz discussed these reports about a new U.S. plan in an interview he gave to the Egyptian state-owned weekly "Al-Ahram Al-'Arabi" of 16-22 October. He said that the United States has persistently sought to discredit Baghdad. Among American fabrications, Aziz said, were claims that the Iraqi government "oppresses certain population groups, the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south. Under this pretext the sanctions were imposed."

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen is currently paying a visit to Egypt, Israel, and the Gulf coast countries. He said in Manama that Washington is continuing its efforts to overthrow the Saddam Husseyn regime. Cohen's statement was subsequently denounced by the chairman of the Iraqi National Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, Khalid Shihab al-Duri, as "futile, hopeless, and unacceptable because they constitute interference in the internal affairs of others." (David Nissman)

RAMADAN TALKS TRADE WITH CHINA. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan has told visiting Chinese Deputy Foreign Trade Minister Zhou Keren that Iraq hopes to expand economic and trade relations with China, the Xinhua news agency reported on 13 October. In other comments, Ramadan praised China's participation in Iraq's oil-for-food program but added that Chinese companies should gain a better understanding of Iraq's market requirements in order to expand bilateral trade and economic ties.

Zhou reportedly offered 5 million yuan (approximately $600,000) as humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people. Xinhua noted that "this indicated the deep sympathy of the Chinese people with the sufferings of the Iraqi people under the nine-year-old economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations." (David Nissman)

SERB, IRAQI OFFICIALS MEET IN BELGRADE. The Serbian minister of information, Aleksander Vucic, met with Iraqi First Deputy Minister of Information Hamid Sa'id, and Iraqi Charge d'Affaires Walid Salim al-Adham in Belgrade, according to a Tanjug dispatch of 18 October. Vucic said the Serbian people feels solidarity with the Iraqi people as a symbol of resistance to the U.S. imperialism and fascism. Sa'id replied that the Iraqi people fully understand the nature and the causes of the aggression on Serbia and Yugoslavia, and condemned U.S. interference in Yugoslavia's internal affairs. (David Nissman)

VATICAN, IRAQ CONTINUE TO DISCUSS PAPAL VISIT. The papal nuncio to Iraq, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al Sahhaf on 16 October to discuss a possible papal visit to Iraq in early December, Reuters reported on 17 October. But no final decisions appear to have been taken.

The papal advance team, headed by Father Tucci, S.J., has not yet departed for Iraq. And the Iraqi foreign minister has not yet issued a formal invitation. Moreover, according to an Ansa report on 19 October, the Vatican itself is waiting for assurances that a papal visit would not be used for propaganda purposes.

Earlier this month, several Italian papers reported that the papal trip may not take place in early December as had been hoped because there remain a number of "serious stumbling blocks." But Turin's "La Stampa" of 18 October reported that the visit will go ahead precisely at that time. (David Nissman)

BARZANI, AZIZ MEET WITH UNICEF DIRECTOR. Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, who is visiting the region to see for herself the impact of food, medicine, and educational supplies on the children of Iraq, met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and separately with Mas'ud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Baghdad Radio reported on 14 October. Aziz expressed his appreciation for UNICEF's efforts to alleviate suffering which he said was "the result of the continued unjust blockade" imposed on Iraq for the last nine years. Barzani, on behalf of his party, thanked Bellamy for UNICEF'S role in providing more help to the people of Kurdistan in general (David Nissman)

FAO VACCINE TEAM TO VISIT IRAQ IN JANUARY. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization will send a team to Iraq in January to determine whether a vaccine factory, which allegedly also produced components for chemical and biological warfare, should be re-equipped, Reuters reported on 14 October. According to Iraq, the factory produced about 12 million doses of animal vaccine a year for the hoof and mouth disease, which infected roughly one million animals in Iraq this year. UNSCOM confiscated and destroyed much of the plant's equipment in 1986, because it was believed the equipment could also be used to produce biological warfare agents. (David Nissman)

FAO OFFICIAL ON DROUGHT IN IRAQ. Amir Khalil, the FAO representative in Iraq, told Reuters on 19 October that an FAO mission would also visit Iraq at the end of this year to assess the effects of drought on the Iraqi people. Khalil added that if there is another drought next year, Iraq faces disaster. FAO data indicate that water levels of the Tigris and Euphrates have dropped to 40 percent of their normal flow. As a result, wheat production stands at 63 percent of normal production, and barley output fell by 37 percent.

Khalil said that Iraq's lack of resources and equipment hampered efforts to soften the impact of the drought.

Baghdad allocated $223 million for irrigation projects this year. Prior to the sanctions, Iraq routinely spent $500-$600 million for farm and irrigation needs. Nonetheless, Iraq imported some 70 percent of its food needs. A rationing system was introduced under the oil-for-food deal, but this provides little more than half a family's food needs.

Iraq has repeatedly complained the UN Sanctions Committee has delayed contracts to purchase the necessary equipment, but a UN spokesman in Iraq maintained that the committee passed many items through very quickly. (David Nissman)

U.S. TO GIVE IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS $5 MILLION. On 14 October the U.S. State Department wrote Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, informing him that President Bill Clinton intends to exercise his authority under the Iraq Liberation Act (ILA) to "direct the drawdown of up to $5 million of defense articles from the stocks of the Department of Defense to provide military assistance to the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Also included in this package is military education and training. Of the new monies, $3 million will go for military education and training and $2 million for "non-lethal defense articles and services" -- including items needed by the INC to establish its operational headquarters and communications base in London. (David Nissman)

U.S. GULF FORCES TO REMAIN AT CURRENT LEVELS. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen told Saudi Prince Sultan bin Abd'ul-Aziz that American forces in the Gulf will remain at current levels "indefinitely," AFP reported on 19 October. The two also discussed joint ground training exercises. A senior U.S. defense official accompanying Cohen told AFP that such joint exercises would provide "[practical benefits] in improving interoperability and have a deterrent effect at the same time." Prince Sultan, when asked if Saudi Arabia supported U.S. air strikes on Iraq, replied that "we have nothing to do with it. We are hopeful that Iraq will comply with UN resolutions for the sake of the Iraqi people." Many of the air strikes are launched from an airfield near Riyadh. (David Nissman)

BARZAN AL-TIKRIT'S FOREIGN CONTACTS INVESTIGATED. Saddam Husseyn's half-brother, Barzan Al-Tikrit, who recently returned to Baghdad from Switzerland, is to be questioned by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and Lieutenant-General 'Abd Hamid Humud concerning his contacts and activities in the two months he spent outside Iraq, London's "Al-Zaman" reported on 20 October. (See also "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 October 1999). The questioning reportedly will focus on his contacts with the leaders of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates as well as with unspecified European and American officials. The Iraqi official in Amman also predicted a new round of fighting between Barzan and Saddam's sons, Udayy and Qusayy. (David Nissman)

KPD CONGRESS ENDS IN IRBIL. The 12th Congress of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, ended on 14 October. Attended by 1,500 people, the meeting received messages of greetings from U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Austrian, French, Swedish, German, and British politicians as well as from the Spanish Basque Party and the leadership of the Kosovar Albanians. But despite this attention, the meeting appears to have made relatively few changes in KDP policy.

The Congress did elect a Central Committee. According to the Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan, broadcasting from Salah Al-Din on 14 October, Mas'ud Barzani was re-elected leader of the party despite his efforts to retire, and 'Ali Abdallah is the KDP's deputy chief. Thirty-one others were elected to the KDP's leadership, six fewer than the previous membership. An article in the "Kurdistan Observer" of 16 October notes that one of the new members is Masrour Barzani, the elder son of KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani.

Sources within the KDP reportedly expect that some of these changes in the party may lead to changes in the Kurdish administration in Irbil. The "Kurdistan Observer" quotes an item in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat" which reported that the administration presidency will pass from Roj Shawees to Naichirvan Barzani. While the congress was taking place, the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Hayat" reported on 10 October, three new governorates were formed in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. The three new governorates are Aqrah, Halabjah, and Harir. These arrangements pave the way for possible future talks with Baghdad on a confederation. (David Nissman)

KURDS BLOCKADE EIGHT ASSYRIAN VILLAGES. AINA reported on 16 October that at the end of August forces of the KDP imposed a blockade against eight Assyrian villages in the Nahla region of northern Iraq. The Bahdinani forces had ordered the inhabitants not to transport any food into the villages. The villagers appealed to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to intervene on the Assyrians' behalf, which they did. At the time, the KDP withdrew its forces although they laid siege against them only two days later.

The Nahla area is several kilometers east of Aqra in Dohuk province. The eight villages are relatively isolated and rely on food brought in from Aqra. The KDP maintained that PKK guerrillas were benefiting from the foods supplies entering the villages. PKK penetration into the region from Turkey increased over the summer, and AINA reported that a number of villages have been raided by PKK forces in search of food and other supplies in the recent past. An AINA dispatch of 28 December 1997 reports the PKK had massacred seven Assyrians near Dohuk.

Assyrian presence in the area used to be much larger, but the Iraqi government destroyed many villages in the 1960s and 1970s. AINA claims that these villages were "subsequently illegally expropriated by Bahdinani settlers." Property and ethnic rights have been a major bone of contention in recent years (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 March 1999), and they are often in the crossfire between various Kurdish groupings.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, reports of interethnic clashes are not uncommon. There are not only the well-documented Kurdish-Assyrian events, but the Iraqi Turkmen have also had their share. In Irbil, the Arabic-language newspaper "Turkoman Ale" reported on 29 September that an armed security force pursued an unarmed Turkmen Front security guard into the premises of the Turkmen Ayli Sports Club on 22 September. This drew a sharp protest from the Turkmen Front (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 February 1999). (David Nissman)