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Iraq Report: November 5, 1999

5 November 1999, Volume 2, Number 41

INC ELECTS LEADERSHIP, DEFINES POLICIES. The New York meeting of the INC elected a new Central Council consisting of 65 representatives of various groups within the Iraqi opposition, as well as a seven-person leadership team which the INC press release said is "unified, representative, and re-invigorated. This narrower body includes Dr. Ayad Allawi from the Iraq National Accord, independents Riyad Al-Yawer and Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, the Constitutional Monarchist Movement's Sharif Ali Bin Al-Husseyn, Islamic representative Shaykh Muhammad Muhammad Ali, Dr. Latif Rashid from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and Hoshyar Zibari of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

According to the "Mideast Mirror" of 2 November, the chairmanship will rotate among six of the seven; Chalabi, however, will not be allowed to occupy the chairman's position.

The New York sessions generated reports concerning the future of Iraq, political issues, fundraising and finance, human rights, constitutional issues, and a new charter, reports that an INC spokesman said "represent a blueprint for a new Iraq." The meeting decided to launch a major fundraising campaign. And it also agreed to "aggressively" pursue the indictment of Iraqi leader Saddam Husseyn and his inner circle for war crimes.

The sensitive question of some kind of military action against Saddam Husseyn, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 1 November, will only be discussed at a "less public forum in the future," a session Chalabi said will likely take place in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

Attendees at the New York sessions downplayed the absence of several groups, including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and they expressed the hope that SCIRI and other groups would attend other meetings held outside the United States.

Baghdad's response to the INC meeting was terse. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan is quoted by Reuters on 1 November as saying that "we, and all honest people in the world, ridicule the meeting of the Iraq opposition." Saddam Husseyn also was reported to have instructed aides to study the possibility of forming new political parties and formulating a new constitution, an announcement likely made to offset the barrage of press coverage generated by the New York sessions. (David Nissman)

INC APPROVES OF FEDERALISM FOR NORTHERN IRAQ. The meeting of the Iraq National Congress (INC) has approved of federalism as the form of administrative relationship with the Kurds in the north of Iraq. All Kurdish political leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan have insisted on this as a condition of their future relationship with Baghdad. The Baghdad government of the Ba'th Party and Saddam Husseyn has constantly refused this request.

"Al-Hayat," a London-based Arabic newspaper, on 1 November quoted from the INC political statement: "The INC recognizes the legitimate national rights of the people of Iraq's Kurdistan on the basis of federalism and the national, historic, and geographic facts within the framework of a parliamentary, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq and will act to guarantee this constitutionally." Nothing is said about the other minorities in Iraqi Kurdistan, such as the Assyrians and Turkmen.

The south of Iraq has not been left out of consideration. A unnamed U.S. official is quoted by "Al-Hayat" as confirming the "U.S. determination to confront any military attempt that the Iraqi regime might think of." He stressed that Washington "has sent Baghdad a clear message to the effect that it would respond forcefully and directly to the regime if it thought of launching a military campaign against the Iraqi people in Kurdistan or the south."

The military training program for four members of the Iraqi opposition is to start next week for four members of the INC, two of them Kurds, at a military base in south Florida. The nature of this training remains unclear.

The final statement of the INC, cited by the London-based Arabic language newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 1 November, asks that the no-fly zones be turned into safe zones and that they be expanded to include central Iraq. The statement also called on Iran to allow the media to reach the southern areas of Iraq for the purposes of documenting human rights violations. There has, as yet, been no response from either Washington or Tehran to these appeals. (David Nissman)

VALUE OF NEW YORK INC MEETING QUESTIONED. Saddam Hussein is not the only one questioning the significance of the New York City meeting of the INC's National Assembly. Independent Iraqi thinkers and writers have also cast doubt on the importance and value of the meeting.

Ghassan Al-'Atiyah, a prominent Iraqi writer and politician, described the INC New York session a "dead end" in a long essay published on 29 October in London's "Al-Hayat." He argued that the meeting was based on several mistaken premises that have reduced its possible impact.

The first mistake, Al-'Atiyah said, was "relying on the entity causing the INC problems to remedy them." When the independent Islamist groups withdrew from the presidential body, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) refused to replace him. This left matters in the hands of the two main Kurdish parties, the National Accord movement, former Executive Committee Chairman Ahmad al-Chalabi, and Riyad Al-Yawar.

As a result, he continued, "the Kurdish leaders did not take the plan to develop the INC seriously," citing a statement by Kurdistan Democratic Party Political Bureau member Hoshyar Zibari that "we place the interests of our Kurdish people above any consideration."

But even more fundamental, Al-Atiyah said, is the meeting's "attempt to adopt the [U.S.] Iraq Liberation Act as a complete substitute for any Iraqi national plan." Instead, he says, Iraqis should try to achieve unity within their own ranks, including Kurds, liberal groups, Islamists, nationalists, and other national minorities.

Al-Atiyah argued that the U.S. is the key player in the international community on Iraq, but he suggested that Washington should also bring regional factors, especially the Arab factor, into the game.

Another critic of the INC New York meeting, Iraqi writer and journalist Harun Muhammad, told London's "Al-Quds Al-Arabi" on 28 October that he considered the New York meeting to be "marginal," designed only to show the U.S.'s ability "to mobilize the largest number of Iraqis regardless of their status or position within the opposition."

Muhammad added that even an unnamed party within the INC complained that "major forces in the opposition were not given an opportunity to contribute" to the meeting. Muhammad adds that "the party is a link in the Iraq Liberation Act and one of the beneficiaries of the $97 million."

An unnamed U.S. State Department official responded to this criticism by telling "The New York Times" on 1 November: "We know what they're against. The question is what are they for?" (David Nissman)

WATER ISSUES AGAIN BUBBLE UP. Israel may be getting ready to purchase water from Turkey, a move that could have serious implications for the region as a whole. Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Uri Bar-Ner, told the "Turkish Daily News" on 8 September that "we made a strategic decision not to import water and to desalinate seawater, but our trust in Turkey caused us to explore the water industry with Turkey."

On 12 October, said that if Israeli authorities approve, this might involve transporting 2,000 tons of water from the Manavgat River by a fleet of ships to the port of Askalon in Israel. Two weeks later, "Ha'aretz" reported that Israel's Finance Ministry was examining the feasibility of transporting Turkish water to Israel.

Both Iraq and Syria have expressed their fear in recent months that Turkey is using its control over the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates as a political lever over them. Syria and Iraq now must face a situation where two of their close neighbors not only have extremely impressive military might, but also control over a basic resource. And Ankara's discussions with Israel will only exacerbate their concerns. (David Nissman)

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY KEEPS TO SANCTIONS. In a statement released on 1 November, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow will continue to adhere to "its international obligations" with regard to sanctions on Iraq, but it added that Russia seeks "to facilitate a speedy political settlement and a lifting of sanctions" imposed on Iraq, according to ITAR-TASS.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that foreign media "have carried reports saying that a number of Russian companies, primarily oil ones, are allegedly developing cooperation with Iraq in violation of existing UN Security Council sanctions against that country."

The statement added that "some countries systematically block in the UN Sanctions Committee contracts for the delivery of vital equipment and materials to Iraq under the humanitarian program approved by the UN Security Council." And it suggested that efforts to block contracts are "directed first of all against Russian companies."

Russian oil companies and the Russian government have often been at odds on policy issues. For example, when the Russian government objected to any investment in the Caspian Sea on the grounds that the ownership of the sea's oil deposits was yet to be determined, Russian oil companies went ahead and signed joint venture agreements with Azerbaijan on the exploitation of its resources. An analogous situation may be now be surfacing in Iraq. (David Nissman)

BAGHDAD STAGES TRADE FAIR. The 32nd Baghdad International Trade Fair opened on 1 November with some 900 foreign representatives taking part. In a speech to the group, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan condemned the continuation of the UN sanctions on Iraq and contended that they had killed, according to the UN Children's Fund, more than one million Iraqi children in the past nine years.

Ramadan said that Iraq had lost a total of $140 billion in oil revenues but had only received $5.2 billion in humanitarian aid since the beginning of the oil-for-food program in 1996. He accused the U.S. and British representatives at the UN Sanctions Committee of deliberately delaying and suspending Iraqi contracts. (David Nissman)

MAURITANIA COMPLAINS ABOUT IRAQI SABOTEURS. Mauritania has complained that "agents of the Iraqi Ba'th Party in Mauritania, particularly members of the Vanguard Party, have received orders from their masters in Iraq, to carry out sabotage acts and foment riots inside our country." A commentary over ORTM Radio in Nouakchott on 2 November suggested that "sabotage, repression of people and sending spies to other Arab countries are not the ideal way to build Arab unity."

The Mauritanean opposition Vanguard Party immediately denied charges that it had received orders from Baghdad to carry out such subversive activities, Rabat's "MAP" reported on 2 November. The party acknowledged its opposition to the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel but argued that the government is using the sabotage allegations "to pursue the party and seek a legitimate cover for a vengeful action." (David Nissman)

IS DROUGHT OVER IN KURDISTAN? It rained in Kurdistan on 30 October, the first rainfall of the season. "Kurdish Media" reported on 2 November that "people hope this is the end of the drought season that hit the area last season and affected many aspects of Kurdish life."

Because the drought caused many people to leave their farms for the urban areas, new problems were created: housing shortages, and an increase in crime, poverty, and unemployment.

The drought had been exploited by Baghdad to prevent the Kurds from recovering from earlier attacks against them, and according to "Kurdish media," many believe that any end of the drought may lead Saddam's regime to adopt new and harsher actions against them. (David Nissman)

SENIOR OFFICIALS SELLING CONFISCATED PROPERTIES? Citing "reliable sources," the Sorani Kurdish newspaper "Kurdistani Nuwe" of 31 October reports that senior officials and members of the regime in Baghdad have been selling off properties which they had forcibly seized and possessed for several years.

This process reportedly began on 11 October. The properties include private farms, palaces, factories, and valuable belongings. The goods were not necessarily the holdings of regime opponents, but also the belongings of Iraq's minority populations, such as Kurds, Turkmen, and Assyrians who were swept up in the 'Arabization' campaigns pursued by Baghdad over the last several years (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 11 December 1998, 22 January 1999, and 13 August 1999).

Why this sell-off is taking place remains unclear. "Kurdistani Nuwe's" sources also say that there is a power outage on most nights in districts around the presidential palace, the Directorate of Intelligence, and other sensitive areas. During these outages, goods are taken out of Baghdad institutions and moved secretly to Tikrit. (David Nissman)