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Iraq Report: December 10, 1999

10 December 1999, Volume 2, Number 45

U.S. WORRIED ABOUT IRAQ'S WEAPONS BUILD-UP. On 2 December, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense, said that Washington remains concerned that Iraq may be rebuilding weapons of mass destruction. He added that both Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have expressed "their continuing concern about what we don't know" in Iraq.

The absence of weapons inspectors in Iraq has left a major gap in the information available to the U.S. and the international community. And, Quigley said, "given Saddam Husseyn's past track record, there's no reason to believe that he is not engaged in some sort of activity, hoping that we won't catch him at it...We have enough information to give us concern about what we don't know, to want to know more."

According to a report in the 13 December "New Yorker," in the period since the weapons inspections ended, Iraq has acquired switches that can trigger nuclear weapons. Such switches are dual use; that is, they can also trigger lithotripters, which are used to pulverize kidney stones. In addition, the magazine said, Iraq has changed the design of its planned nuclear weapon in order to have a smaller and more efficient model. (David Nissman)

AZIZ ENDS MOSCOW TRIP. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz ended his visit to Moscow on 2 December without achieving all of his goal of gaining further Russian support for the unconditional end of sanctions against Baghdad.

The Iraqi leader met with both Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who expressed satisfaction with the development of bilateral relations between Russia and Iraq, and with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Putin's press secretary told ITAR-Tass on 2 December that "Russia favors the idea of temporarily suspending international sanctions against Iraq, combined with effective international control over Iraqi military installations."

Ivanov used somewhat different words. He told Aziz that the problems of Iraq should be settled in strict compliance with the norms and principles of international law, by diplomatic means, with due account of the facts that Iraq is fulfilling the UN Security Council resolutions and that there is a grave humanitarian situation within the country.

Aziz, for his part, supported Moscow on Chechnya, declaring that "events in the northern Caucasus are an exclusively domestic problem for Russia and we categorically condemn any interference in Russia's internal affairs." According to the Iraqi official, "the goal of such interference is to destabilize the situation in Russia. Russia's stability and security benefit not only Islamic states, but also third world states." (David Nissman)

AZIZ URGES EXTENSION OF OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that was also broadcast on Baghdad Radio on 6 December, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz called for a six-month extension of the oil-for-food program. But he also used the opportunity to repeat Baghdad's opposition to the Anglo-Dutch resolution in the Security Council.

He writes: "Iraq categorically rejects the British draft because it rewrites the previous Security Council resolutions in a bad and tendentious manner, after Iraq has fulfilled its basic commitments toward these resolutions. The Security Council is supposed to fulfill its own commitments under these resolutions by issuing an immediate resolution lifting the blockade completely and without any conditions. Also, the British draft imposes new arbitrary conditions on Iraq, which Iraq cannot accept, since they threaten its sovereignty and national interests." (David Nissman)

IRAQ THREATENS FRENCH OIL INVESTMENTS. If France votes this week in favor of the Anglo-Dutch draft resolution in front of the UN Security Council, "Babil," a newspaper controlled by Saddam Husseyn's son Udayy, threatened Elf Aquitaine and TotalFina, two French companies which are seeking to close deals for Iraqi oil. The paper argued that "logic says that both Elf and Total will have to close their offices in Baghdad and leave. That means that they will lose the huge oil investment opportunities they have been granted."

"Babil" added that a French vote in favor of the draft resolution "will put an end to the preferential treatment given to French companies." "Babil's" editorial was perhaps also a veiled threat to Russia and China, which also have large investment opportunities in Iraq.

According to a report in "The New York Times" on 6 December, "the government of Saddam Husseyn apparently senses that it can no longer rely on France--and perhaps not on Russia either--to block the resumption of inspections after a year of indecision by the Security Council and no monitoring in Iraq."

Initially, Russia and France had argued for a major easing of the sanctions regime as an incentive for Iraqi cooperation with arms inspectors. The United States and Britain, on the other hand, have held out for a linkage between the sanctions and the arms inspections.

France has already refused to cast a vote this week on the controversial renewal of the oil-for-food for a period of one week. In the past, the oil-for-food agreement has run for a period of six months. The U.S. and Great Britain had clearly hoped that the one-week term of the program would put pressure on France and Russia to approve a comprehensive resolution for Iraq, rather than haggle over the content of the oil-for-food program.

A statement issued by the French Foreign Ministry explained its refusal to vote by saying "the terms of the resolution were deliberately unrealistic. they claimed that a renewal of less than three weeks blocks the humanitarian measures." Iraq has claimed for some time that it would never allow weapons inspectors into the country unless sanctions were lifted first. (David Nissman)

U.S. SEEN WEAKENING IRAQI OPPOSITION. The Iranian press has featured statements suggesting that the Iraqi opposition has been weakened because of its links to the United States. Tehran's "Abrar" newspaper on 2 December, for example, pointed out that the Iraqi opposition remained weak not only because of internal divisions but "particularly because of America's influence inside it."

"Abrar" noted that the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as certain other groups had refused to participate in the New York meeting. Many of them, the paper said, believe that "American moves about overthrowing the ruler of Baghdad are a mere propaganda maneuver" in which the Iraqi opposition is misused.

A major obstacle to change, "Abrar" suggested, is U.S. interference in Iraq's internal affairs. This is exemplified by the sanctions, "which have brought Iraq to the brink of famine." While Iran's critique of American policy is hardly unexpected, Iran is not alone in making these points. The Bengali daily "Dainik Inqilab" of 2 December repeats them by pointing out that the two objectives of U.S. policy are the "ouster of Saddam Husseyn from power," and "punishing Iraq economically through prolonging economic sanctions."

"Dainik Inqilab" concludes that as international pressure mounts against the United States, the international community should apply pressure to make the U.S. change its policies.

What is interesting about the editorializing in both the Iranian and Bengali newspapers is that they are echoing a stance taken by Iraq at the beginning of the year. On 31 January, Iraqi Interior Minister Muhammad Zimam Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Sa'dun was interviewed by the Jordanian newspaper "Al-'Arab Al-Yawm" on the opposition and other issues. He made very similar points and was clearly inaugurating the campaign to reduce or end the sanctions. The press in Southeast Asia, some countries of which also stand to benefit from substantial "oil-for-food" contracts, and oil exploration deals after the sanctions are lifted, are hewing to the same line.

Iraq, for example, has sent an eight-man delegation to Pakistan to discuss bilateral trade and economic cooperation. According to "Asia Pulse" of 7 December, the Pakistani Commercial Secretary assured the delegation that "Pakistan would try its best to promote commercial relations at a time when Iraq's people were facing difficulties due to economic sanctions. In these discussions, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are rarely mentioned.

If Iraqi money is having an impact in the subcontinent, it has not had much effect in the Arab world. The London-based "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" of 7 December notes that the Ba'th Party has been making an effort to exert some influence to attract the support of non-governmental circles in Arab states in its rejection of the British draft resolution. A Ba'th Party source in Amman expressed his unhappiness with "The silence of Arab public opinion" on Iraq "during the most dangerous phase that it is now facing."

"Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" argues that "Arab parties have said that the regime in Iraq needs to secure the support of its people first before relying on an Arab public opinion that has become fed up with supporting non-democratic regimes." (David Nissman)

ANOTHER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON QUSAYY. Five Iraqi officers from the Republican Guard have been executed, and one drank poison, for planning and preparing to assassinate Qusayy Saddam Husseyn while he was inspecting a number of military units last October. "Al-Qabas," a Kuwait newspaper, on 6 December said that the security and intelligence apparatus were still continuing the search for contacts of retired Staff Brigadier-General Muhammad Qasim, who drank poison when his office was surrounded by Special Security.

The incident has been confirmed by former Staff Major-General Wafiq Al-Samarra'i, the former director of Iraqi Military Intelligence. The assassination operation apparently was intened to involve the setting off of several explosive devices by remote control as Qusayy's car drove down the road for an inspection of a Republican Guard unit. The plot was uncovered by chance before Qusayy made his visit.

According to Samarra'i, the attempt caused a wave of panic at the Special Security Centers because it occurred in units charged with protecting the regime, because the rear lines of the operation had not been discovered, and because it was the closest evidence that army officers and those of the Republican Guard could constitute the basis of an internal threat to the regime. Another reason behind Baghdad's nervousness: this operation was clearly planned by groups entirely inside Iraq. (David Nissman)

SADDAM SEEN TIGHTENING SECURITY. Major General Wafiq Al-Samarra'i, the former chief of Iraqi military intelligence, told London's "Al-Quds Al-'Arabi" that President Saddam Husseyn had managed to tighten his grip on the security situation after eliminating what he called "points of contention." The general noted that Baghdad had dealt several strikes to its opponents during the current year. But he added that "there are secret tendencies and plans that aim at shaking the entity of the state and the pillars of the future, yet they still need time."

Al-Samarra'i pointed out that "any change brought about by ways other than through the Armed Forces would lead to a civil war." Asked why he expected a civil war, he said: "The national fabric is weaker than ever in Iraq. One can notice the divisions floating on the surface at ethnic, religious, and sectarian levels. The Turkmen have their parties, the Kurds have Kurdish parties, the Shiites have parties, and the Sunnis have a Sunni party. How else would the dismemberment be when the efforts are divided at these levels." (David Nissman)

MUJAHEDIN-E KHALQ IN KURDISTAN-IRAQ BUFFER ZONE. Elements of the Mujahedin-e khalq have been stationed by Baghdad in the buffer zone between the Kurdish self-rule area and the area controlled by the Iraqi regime. "Kurdish Media" reported on 1 December that the Mujahedin-i Khalq had been deposited into Qara-Tapa and Chamchamal in 60 vehicles.

The Mujahedin-i Khalq acted on behalf of the Iraqi regime to massacre the Kurds and Arabs of Iraq in the spring of 1991 following the Gulf War. (David Nissman)

GCC DECLARATION STRESSES 'FORM OVER SUBSTANCE.' On 6 December, Beirut's "Al-Nahar" said that the final declaration of the Gulf Coordination Council summit had concentrated "on form rather than substance." "Instead of tackling practically the problems and obstacles it faces," the GCC "has made a habit of continually deferring or avoiding them," the paper said. Its only real success, the paper continued, was that the GCC had managed to survive for 20 years.

According to that paper, the GCC's basic problem is its relationship with its neighbors, especially Iraq, a relationship that some of them try to avoid discussing. But the Beirut paper concludes that "the Gulf states must never forget that Iraq will remain its neighbor forever, whether they like it or not, and remains bound to them by bonds of blood, religion, and language." They must approach Iraq with a long-term strategic perspective in mind. (David Nissman)

JORDANIAN-IRAQI OIL TALKS STALL. Jordan and Iraq have failed to renew an oil deal scheduled to be signed on 2 December. Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Muhammad Rashid, however, denied any disagreement between the two sides, but Jordanian Energy Minister Sulayman Abu-Alim refused questions after the departure of Rashid.

The "Jordan Times" of 5 December said that the meeting had broken up over the price of the oil Iraq sells to Jordan. One unnamed official said that because of the sharp rise in oil prices since March, Iraq is seeking to renegotiate the formula used in the sale of oil. Abu-Alim, speaking to the "Jordan Times" from Cairo, said that the two days in which he met with Rashid were not enough to resolve the issue of the formula.

According to a source close to the talks, Iraq insisted on giving Jordan $250 million and selling the rest at $19 a barrel. Jordan wants 50 percent of the Iraqi oil for free, and the rest to be bought at $15.30 per barrel in order not to affect the budget deficit. World prices of Brent crude now range between $21-$25 per barrel. (David Nissman)

FREE TRADE ESTABLISHED IN KRG. The Council of Ministers in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan-controlled part of the Kurdistan Regional Government made three decisions at the end of November to facilitate free trade, according to the "Kurdistan Observer" of 6 December.

First: that permits be granted to officials and companies (including businessmen from the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP])--in the controlled part of the KRG, Iraqis, Iranian, Turkish and all other international businesses to do business without restraint;

Second: that permits be granted to businessmen and companies operating outside the Kurdistan region to open branches within it without restraint;

Third: that anyone wishing to establish productive plants or concerns in the Kurdish region be exempt from customs duties.

Following the adopting of this decision, the KRG received a delegation from the Ankara Chamber of Commerce. They felt that the "politics of openness" will encourage the Turkish private sector to invest in Kurdistan's markets.

But in welcoming the free-trade decisions, the KDP adopted a sharply critical position concerning the opening of a second appeals court in Suleymaniyah.

Sami Rahman, a member of the KDP's political bureau, said in a 2 December press release that this decision came "right at the heel of several KDP positive initiatives aimed at enhancing the peace process."

The press release also took to task another decision taken by the PUK, the declaration of Jalal Talabani, secretary-general of the PUK, as "Leader of the Kurdish Region."

The PUK has justified the creation of the Court of Cassation, claiming their had been "deliberate neglect" shown by the Arbil-based Court of Cassation in dealing with important legal matters assigned to it from the PUK-controlled KRG. As far as the title is concerned, the PUK pointed out that this issue was first aired in 1992 when the KDP imposed the election of a "Leader of the Kurdish Liberation Movement." After Talabani was named to his new position, his first act was to drop the old designation and replace it with "Leader of the Kurdish Region." (David Nissman)

KURDS FOR SALE IN RUSSIAN PRISONS. A letter was submitted to the International Human Rights Organization to complain about the situation of Kurdish refugees in Russian prisons. There are now some 72 Kurds in these prisons, some of whom have been incarcerated for more than two years, according to a report from Suleymaniyah, in Iraqi Kurdistan. "Kurdish Media" of 6 December, mentioned that Russian authorities have placed a price of $6,000 for each prisoner. (David Nissman)