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Iraq Report: November 19, 1999

19 November 1999, Volume 2, Number 42

TARIQ AZIZ SEEKS MOSCOW'S SUPPORT. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz is scheduled to visit to Moscow at the end of November with a message from Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn urging the Russian leaders to exercise its UN Security Council veto against the British-Dutch resolution making the lifting of sanctions contingent on the establishment of a new inspection regime. Aziz is expected to meet with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as well as with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

To bolster its case with Moscow, Iraq recently has granted preferential treatment to Russian firms. Russia is now the leading foreign customer in trade with Iraq under the oil-for-food deal. Dow Jones adds that Russia has allegedly bought up to 40 percent of Iraq's oil under the sixth phase (which began on 25 May) of the oil-for-food arrangement. Iraq has also backed Russia's campaign in Chechnya, and urged Muslims within the Russian Federation not to weaken Russia.

Last week, Taha Yasin Ramadan said that Iraq was ready to risk another military showdown with the U.S. and U.K. rather than accept the new proposals. AFP reported on 17 November that Baghdad has reiterated its rejection of all proposals stopping short of an end to sanctions. As far as the Anglo-Dutch draft resolution in concerned, Iraqi deputy Khalid Al-Duri said that it is merely an attempt to prolong sanctions and said Iraq "categorically rejects it." (David Nissman)

FRENCH TRADE WITH IRAQ TO EXPAND. A French diplomat in Iraq said that trade ties between France and Iraq "will witness a noticeable progress in all domains," the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported on 16 November.

The head of the French Interests Section in Baghdad pointed to the participation of 130 French trading and industrial firms in the Baghdad Trade Fair as an indicator of this French interest. In addition, he added that this interest signaled three trends: first, Iraq had returned to the regional trade scene; second, French firms now understand that the Iraqi market is increasingly competitive; and third, French traders have appreciated the interests of the Iraqi markets.

The diplomat added that French firms have signed agreements to modernize Iraq's communications system. These deals require the approval of the UN Sanctions Committee, especially since the Sanctions Committee has concluded that the materials and equipment included in the deal are dual-usage in nature.

France is not the only country interested in doing business in Iraq: The 32nd Baghdad Trade Fair, which ended last week, attracted 950 companies from 36 countries. (David Nissman)

KURDS AS MEDIATORS AT INC CONGRESS. The Kurdish representation at the Iraqi National Congress conference (29 October-1 November) was strong enough to mediate between various rival groups there. At the same time, the Kurds were also able to gain "an unequivocal endorsement of the federalist movement in Kurdistan." This achievement was underscored in Bavi Mediay's analysis of the meeting, published in the "Kurdistan Observer" on 12 November.

According to Mediay, the conference's other positive aspects were that it was well attended and that Washington's support was clear and unequivocal, as evidenced in speeches by Congressman Benjamin Gilman, Senator Sam Brownback, and State Department Undersecretary Thomas Pickering.

But Mediay suggested that the meeting had certain negative aspects as well: Many groups boycotted the meeting. The Turkmen Front withdrew from the proceedings. And the statements of U.S. and INC officials suggested that expectations for the immediate future are not high. He also noted that there had been a power struggle among various factions for representation on the Leadership Council of the INC and that there had been problems in the organization of the conference.

According to Mediay and other commentators, the basic problem confronting the Iraqi opposition is the current state of Iraqi society. Mediay points out that "Sunnis are broken into tribal or regional groups. The Shiites are divided into nationalist-Islamists and pure sectarian inclinations. The Kurds are further divided along party and/or dialectical lines as well as Islamist groups. Turkmen and Assyrians are not in any better shape. The common factor shared by all the groups and factions is that "each opposition group has suffered and sacrificed for the cause." The only true common denominator among them is that each has interests conflicting with those of most other groups.

Mediay concludes by saying that the INC "needs to redefine its mission and structure, needs to refine its procedures, and put forth its best efforts to establish itself as a democratic institution in principle and practice."

Other comment on the INC meeting has been much less positive. David Hirst, writing in the "Al-Ahram Weekly" of 11-17 November, notes the persistence of questions among the opposition about the intent of the United States. "The scandalous truth, some say, is that the U.S. actually likes the status quo, and such benefits -- strategic hegemony in the Gulf, lucrative arms deals -- as accrue from it. Others, less severe, share the widely held Western view that what, at bottom, plagues the administration is its fear of being drawn into a Contra-type insurgency, or a large-scale, direct military involvement in the all-too-probable event that, upon Saddam's fall, Iraq, this most strategic of countries, collapses into chaos and civil war, and the competing interventions of regional powers."

And the "Iraq News" of 18 November points out that the $5 million distribution of defense articles to the opposition, something promised by the State Department in a letter to Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 14 October, has not yet happened. (David Nissman)

PROSPECTS FOR OVERTHROWING SADDAM 'WISHFUL THINKING.' The "Mideast Mirror" of 16 November carries a commentary by "Al-Hayat"'s Abdul-Wahhab Badrakhan reviewing U.S. policy on Iraq. He finds that the sanctions regime, while it has enfeebled Iraq and reduced the regime's scope for maneuver is unlikely to achieve its goal of overthrowing the Iraqi dictator. "Prospects for overthrowing Saddam Husseyn's regime are still pie in the sky--wishful thinking, and not only on the part of the United States and Great Britain."

Badrakhan also finds the efforts to bring the opposition together are "dubious." He finds that there is no "convergence of interests linking a lifting of the sanctions to a change in the Baghdad regime. Nor is there a clear idea about the nature of a successor regime."

The last few months, he argues, "have demonstrated that Washington still lacks a coherent policy to solve the Iraq crisis." The Anglo-Dutch proposal, to be shortly presented to the Security Council, has the grudging support of the United States, but not necessarily the support of Russia, China, or France. If it were to pass, its implementation would require some months to bring about. A new arms commission would be set up, and the new body would then have 60 days to draw up an arms program for Iraq to follow. A chief arms inspector would be appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan 30 days after the resolution is adopted.

The entire procedure would take about eight months before sanctions could be suspended. Under the terms of the Anglo-Dutch proposal, this suspension would lapse every 100 days unless the Council renewed it.

Badrakhan points out that sanctions have been tried for long enough for their effectiveness and consequences to be fairly evaluated.

Criticism of the sanctions has been growing. On 15 November, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a statement stating that "it's time for a new approach to Iraq. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the suffering of the Iraqi people or a blind eye to the moral obtuseness of current U.S. policy." (David Nissman)

TALABANI DISCUSSES IRAQI KURDISTAN. On 9 November, Jalal Talabani, Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told the XXIst Congress of the Socialist International in Paris that the Kurdish question is no longer confined to the remote mountains of Kurdistan but is rapidly affecting "regional developments, balance of power, and the role of major powers there."

He emphasized that northern Iraq, or "southern Kurdistan," was ruled by a state that "failed to consider the diverse ethnic and religious identities of its citizenry." But he said that the administration in Kurdistan had been successful and that the relevant UN agencies, especially UNICEF, had reported a "significant improvement" in the life of the citizens in the region. Talabani also underlined the need to maintain the "oil for food" program and Kurdistan's share of the proceeds of Iraq's oil sales.

But despite these successes, Talabani said that Baghdad has persisted in its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds and Turkmen in Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Makhmur, and Sinjar. He noted that since 1991 "nearly a million people have been deported as part of this vile policy." And he called for intervention by the "civilized world" to to end this campaign. (David Nissman)

KURDS, SHIITES RETURN TO IRAQ FROM IRAN. An Iranian senior Interior Ministry official, Hassan-Ali Ebrahimi, told IRNA that 16,000 Iraqi Kurds and 2,000 Shiites have returned to Iraq from Iran in recent months, Reuters reported on 15 November. This trend, which Ebrahimi deemed "desirable," began after Baghdad announced an amnesty to people who had left the country illegally.

Some half a million Iraqis, predominantly Shiites, still remain in Iran. The Iranian parliament on 15 November approved a measure requiring the government to repatriate all foreign workers residing in Iran illegally by March 2001. The Reuters report noted that Iran hosts the largest number of refugees in the world. There are also some 1.4 million Afghan refugees in Iran. (David Nissman)

'NATIONALITY CORRECTION' CAMPAIGN CONTINUES. A new edict issued by Baghdad on 1 October requires the transfer to southern Iraq of all Kurdish teachers and government employees who refuse to complete the so-called "nationality form."

A report appearing in the "PUK Kurdistan Newsline" of 15 November notes that these latest measures targets agricultural lands and personal possessions of Kurdish families. In these instances, the "nationalization governor informs the family of the need to sell its lands within a period of several days or be prepared to sell it to the government at a price set by the government. Under this new campaign, some 2,600 acres of land in the Qahre Hassan and Teppeh Souz districts.

In addition, Iraqi security agents have begun to collect data on Kurdish families in Kirkuk City who are refusing to sign the "nationality correction" forms. So far, 500 plots of land in Kirkuk have been redistributed to Arab settlers from southern Iraq. Also, each new settler family receives a stipend of 10 million dinars for the purposes of building a residence on the plot.

Special benefits are reported to accrue to Kurdish Ba'th Party members who change their nationality from Kurdish to Arab. In Daquq, 300 square meters of land are granted to each Kurdish Ba'th Party member in return for correcting his nationality. It is also reported that Sunni Ba'th Party members of the rank of comrade or above who move to the Kirkuk area are being given the homes of deported Kurdish families.

The editor of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's newspaper "Kurdistan-i Nau," Stran Abdallah, argues that "the forced migrant suffers from the psychological and social side effects to his or her deportation." In addition, many of them lose the critically important "Food for Oil" UNSCR 986 ration card. He adds that the forced migration policy also contributes to the "creation of personal, tribal and ethnic enmities between diverse groupings of the Iraqi people." And he stresses the fact that these processes are "distorting the historic feature of co-existence and religious toleration that has so characterized the region." (David Nissman)

ASSYRIAN POLITICAL FRONT TO BE CREATED? In a joint press release issued on 11 November, the Assyrian Patriotic Party (APP) and Bet Nahrain Democratic Party (BNDP) stressed that Assyrian participation in the INC Congress in New York reflected hard work among 15 Assyrian parties over the last few months and the willingness of these groups to put aside their differences in the name of cooperation. The release noted that the INC had recognized Assyrian rights in Iraq and that the Assyrians confirmed the unity of Assyrians with the struggle of other ethnic groups in Iraq--the Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. And it confirmed that the APP and BNDP will continue to work to guarantee Assyrian representation in the INC leadership. (David Nissman)