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Iraq Report: November 27, 1999

27 November 1999, Volume 2, Number 43

IRAQ SUSPENDS OIL EXPORT PROGRAM. Iraq on 22 November announced the suspension of its oil export program after rejecting a short-term UN resolution extending for two weeks the oil-for-food program. Turkey confirmed on 23 November that Iraq had stopped pumping crude oil through the pipeline that extends from Kirkuk, in Iraq, to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Iraq had been exporting about 2.2 million barrels a day, approximately 5 percent of the world's supply.

By choosing to act at this time, Baghdad may be able to increase its leverage due to increased seasonal demand and rising prices. Iraq's move pushed oil prices to a nine-year high. Nauman Barakat of ABN Amro in New York told Reuters that "clearly, the West doesn't want oil prices to go any higher and Saddam knows that." But in Washington the United States said it saw no immediate crisis from the Iraqi action. State Department spokesman James Rubin said that "there is a lot of oil in the system, and food stocks, so this is not a crisis situation."

According to Baghdad's official newspaper "Al-Iraq," "Iraq cannot accept a continuation of the embargo, and the resolution being discussed at the Security Council is a U.S. and Zionist plot which amounts to a declaration of war." Meanwhile, "Al-Jumhuriya" said the British draft resolution now under discussion "grants a new body for supervising disarmament similar prerogatives as those of the commission of spies," referring to UNSCOM.

However, Iraq has told UN diplomats it is willing to accept a further six-month round of the United Nations oil-for-food deal. According to the "Financial Times" of 24 November, this opens the possibility of a quick restart in its oil exports. Following this report, oil prices edged downwards from the nine-year high which they had reached following Iraq's announcement of its oil export halt. (David Nissman)

IS MOSCOW LINKING ITS APPROACH TO IRAQ WITH CHECNYA? Diplomats at the UN have suggested that Moscow has shown increased flexibility in its policy toward Iraq in order to blunt Western criticism of the Russian invasion of Chechnya. Russia's envoy to the UN rejected these reports, Reuters said on 19 November, but other officials there suggest that this pattern appears to be true. According to these diplomats, Russia had hinted it would be more flexible on UN policy toward Iraq if the U.S. made sure that Chechnya would not become an issue at the UN Security Council.

The linkage reportedly was initially suggested by Russian Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the OSCE meeting in Istanbul last week. Ivanov later denied the report, saying that "there is no bargaining of Russia's interests nor can there be."

At issue in the Security Council is a resolution concerning the lifting of sanctions in Iraq and the formation of a weapons inspection commission and whether sanctions should be lifted when the commission is formed or only when Iraq has lived up to its disarmament commitments. Russia has contended that the establishment of the commission is sufficient; the Anglo-Dutch draft resolution, now under discussion at the Security Council, links the lifting of sanctions to Iraqi compliance to the disarmament requirements imposed by the yet-unformed commission.

Ivanov told Interfax on 19 November that "we are trying to work out a resolution that would allow us to lift sanctions and at the same time establish strict international controls." He added that the discussions of the draft "had nothing to do with events in the North Caucasus." (David Nissman)

QUSAYY TO HEAD 'GREAT RETALIATION' FORCES. Iraqi President Saddam Husseyn has appointed his youngest son Qusayy to head the "Great Retaliation" operations to counter the "dangers facing northern Iraq," Iraqi officials told the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" on 21 November.

"Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" adds that Qusayy has been in charge of the Special Security Body responsible for the security of the president for years. He is also the Deputy Commander of the National Security Body headed by Saddam Husseyn. Due to the illness of Izzat Al-Din Al-Duri, he has also been assigned tasks of the deputy commander-in-chief of the army.

The special reaction force "Great Retaliation" was formed earlier this month in response to what Baghdad said was a Turkish military threat to northern Iraq. The Turkish Army has been regularly crossing into Iraqi territory in pursuit of Kurdish Liberation Army (PKK) guerrillas. Baghdad also has accused Ankara of being behind a program to open Turkish-language schools for the Iraqi Turkmen.

Iraq has received some support in the Arab world for its opposition to the Turkish Army's incursions into northern Iraq. Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Ismat Abd-Al-Majid this week called on Turkey to immediately withdraw its forces from Iraq. Al-Majid took this step after receiving a written message from Iraqi Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf. (David Nissman)

POPE TO VISIT IRAQ IN SPRING. The Republic of Iraq Radio Network said on 21 November that a Vatican delegation had arrived in Baghdad. Bishop Carlo Maria Vicano, the leader of the delegation, told the Iraq News Agency that he is there to discuss what the agency called the imminent visit to Iraq of Pope John Paul II. (David Nissman)

ISRAEL TO ASK IRAQ FOR $1 BILLION. Israel plans to seek more than $1 billion from Iraq in compensation for damages caused by Iraq's scud missiles during the Gulf war in 1991, reported on 20 November. This sum would include $103 million for damages from the Scud missile strike, and $903 million for increased defense costs as a result of the Iraqi strike. Israel's "Yediot Ahronot" newspaper reported said that Israel will make this request at the United Nations meeting in Geneva. (David Nissman)

IRAQI TROOPS CONCENTRATE NEAR DOHUK. Iraq's Republican Guards have consolidated forces near Dohuk, a city under Kurdish control in northern Iraq. According to a report in the "Kurdistan Observer" datelined 19 November, Iraqi military, party elite, and security forces have started military training programs for the civilians, and have established special units capable of conducting rapid mass evacuations and dangerous military missions inside urban centers.

Baghdad is clearly seeking to put pressure on the Kurdistan Regional Government, which is protected by the northern no-fly zone. At the end of August, Saddam Husseyn announced that he intended to give a "special message" in which he announced detailed plans for "foiling any threat from the Kurdistan Region" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 August 1999). The current move is a component of that pressure. (David Nissman)

NEW KURDISTAN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT TO BE FORMED. According to a report by Shammal Aqrawi in the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Zaman," Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), will entrust the forming of the government to Nechervan Barzani. Changes which had been announced earlier had been postponed due to the visit of a high-level delegation from the KDP's Political Bureau to New York to attend the Iraq National Congress meeting. KDP Political Bureau member Sami Abd Al-Rahman is widely expected to be appointed deputy prime minister. (David Nissman)

SUNNI-SHIITE RECONCILIATION DISCUSSED. Shaykh Muhammad Muhammad Ali, a representative of the Islamic Shiite Tendency, who was present at the Iraq National Congress deliberations in New York, called for continued dialogues between all religious factions inside and outside Iraq in an interview published by London's "Al-Zaman" newspaper on 21 November.

Asked about the Islamic Tendency's proclivity to confine itself to the Shiites while ignoring the reality of Iraq's religious and ethnic mosaic, Shaykh Muhammad Muhammad Ali pointed out that there are many examples of dialogue on both sides and cited a number of examples: there was the fatwa of the late Sayyid Muhsin Al-Hakim, who issued a fatwa prohibiting war against the Kurds, who are Sunni. Real problems between Sunnis and Shi'is "were created by the current regime."

Outside of Iraq, a constant dialogue between Sunnis and Shiites took place during and after the formation of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). He pointed out that Sunni Kurds were already working within the ranks of SCIRI. And he said that SCIRI's boycotting of the New York meeting was not for sectarian reasons. For example, there were also Sunni circles that boycotted the meeting.

Refusing to discuss details, the shaykh said that a crisis had developed at the INC meeting but that the Islamists were not a party to it. According to a document prepared at that meeting, "Muhammad Muhammad Ali was the representative of the Islamists in the Congress." The shaykh added that "the brothers who are raising doubts now about the legality of my selection were present with the rest of the brothers in the Islamic Tendency, where none of them raised any objection to the composition of the leadership."

As far as a successor regime is concerned, "I believe that the new regime in Iraq should deal in the language of tolerance because the current regime had involved a lot of people forcibly in crimes they did not want to take part in." He maintained that a new regime should be based on "law, the constitution, the people's sovereignty, and the protect of national unity." (David Nissman)

IRANIAN KURDISH ACTIVIST ASSASSINATED IN IRBIL. Abdullah Mushir Panhani, a member of Komala (the Iranian Communist Party -- formerly the Kurdish Communist Party), was found dead in Irbil, "Kurdish Media" announced on 21 November. Panhani reportedly had left Suleymaniyah, a town controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, on 24 October to go to Irbil, the regional capital controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and was kidnapped on the way. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing.

The Communist Workers' Party, which is based in Iraqi Kurdistan, however, has accused pro-Iranian Islamic groups of launching an assassination campaign against progressive and left-wing activists.

Komala transformed itself from being an exclusively Kurdish movement to becoming an Iranian organization, taking the place of the now defunct Tudah Party. "Kurdish Media" pointed out that after Baghdad lost control of parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, Komala, like many other Kurdish opposition groups, moved into the Kurdish self-rule area and adds that "soon Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi agents moved into the area and many activists were assassinated." (David Nissman)

U.S. APPROACH TO KURDS SAID HUMANITARIAN, NOT POLITICAL. Bavi Mediay, a Kurdish political observer and columnist, told the "Kurdistan Observer" on 21 November that "U.S. foreign policy design seems to have taken into consideration the Kurdish factor in the Middle East. But it does not include major changes. It aims at stabilizing the region to suit its own restructured interests, not restructuring the region, as hoped by many."

In American eyes, he continues, the Kurdish issue is still seen as a "humanitarian/democracy issue, which can be dropped in the face of U.S. national interests or the interests of one of its major allies in the region, i.e. Turkey."

In this light, Mediay argues, two recent significant events signal what the American approach will be. The first is President Clinton's speech delivered before the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 15 November, when he said "avenues are opening for Kurdish citizens of Turkey to reclaim that most basic of birth rights -- a normal life." He sees the downside in this approach that if a government in Baghdad friendly to the U.S. succeeds Saddam Husseyn, it is possible that Kurdish federalism in Iraq will be downgraded to countrywide democracy and human rights issues.

The second element appeared in a briefing Richard Downey, U.S. deuty assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, gave to a subcommittee of the Iraq National Congress. He said "the more Kurdish federalism looks like the U.S. the better." In the U.S., federalism is based on geography, not ethnicity. He pointed out that the weaker the bond between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq, the more difficult it will be for U.S. diplomacy to reassure Iraq's neighbors that it is not breaking up.

Mediay claims that the eyes of the world are now focused on the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, not those in Syria or Iran. He adds that there is still no recognition of a collective identity of the Kurds nor of a Kurdish nation.

He concludes with the suggestion that "the best hope for the Iraqi Kurds is to keep their "federalism," work within the framework of Iraq, and perhaps prepare to coexist with Saddam Husseyn, or a similar regime. Even now, at the threshold of a new century, no significant change to Word War I borders is envisaged. (David Nissman)

KDP, BNDP DENY BLOCKADE OF ASSYRIAN VILLAGES. The blockade of eight Assyrian villages, reported by the Assyrian International News Agency on 16 October and by the "RFE/RL Iraq Report" of 22 October, has been denied by both the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and by representatives of the Assyrian villagers in the Nahla area, according to the Sorani Kurdish newspaper "Brayati" on 14 November.

The statement of the villages points out that "we strongly protest against the report by the Assyrian International News Agency, dated 16 October 1999, which purports that KDP forces have imposed a blockade on eight Assyrian villages and prevented the inhabitants from bringing food into the area. We deny this information and stress that it is far from true. We have not appealed to any side to defend us, because there has not been any embargo on the inhabitants...On the contrary, the KDP has put the area and its inhabitants under its protection against continual attacks by PKK guerrillas."

The Political Bureau of the Assyrian party, the Bayt Nahrayn Democratic Party (BNDP), also issued a statement, apparently with regard to the same report on 13 November. The statement was published in "Brayati" on 14 November. The BNDP's statement points out that the allegations on the blockade are "untrue and distort the facts." It stresses that "as people living in Iraqi Kurdistan, we do not think that this behavior serves the interest of our cause and our people. It will adversely affect the strong historic relations between the Kurdish and Assyrian nations.

The statement adds that "since the great uprising in 1991 and the establishment of the regional parliament and government, Assyrians have been enjoying freedom in the land of their ancestors. It has been a golden and unique period; for the first time Assyrians are able to work in politics, form parties, open offices and produce all kinds of publications freely." (David Nissman)