11 December 1998, Volume 1, Number 3
AZIZ FINDS SUPPORT IN MOSCOW. Following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Moscow on 7 December, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq and Russia are friendly nations. And he added that Baghdad hoped to develop this relationship further. While the Russian government itself was cautious in its response, other Russian leaders were more enthusiastic.
Aziz went to Moscow to lobby for a modification in U.N. Security Council 687 which requires Iraq to comply with Security Council demands and rid itself of weapons of mass destruction before sanctions against Baghdad can be lifted. The Iraqi official argued that Iraq has complied with the Security Council's demands for seven years, and he complained that the Council has failed to lift or even ease the sanctions regime.
The Russian foreign minister responded by saying that "we are calling for the full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 which should bring about an end to the oil embargo against Iraq." He said that President Saddam Husseyn's decision to allow UNSCOM to continue its inspections was correct. And he suggested that "a comprehensive review should be started without delay" of Iraq's compliance with the Security Council resolutions.
Viktor Posuvalyuk, Yeltsin's special envoy for a settlement in the Middle East, added that it is important to close Iraq's nuclear, missile and chemical weapons files and "in appropriate conditions, complete the work verifying that no biological weapons are produced by Iraq." The following day, 8 December, Iraq Television reported that Tariq Aziz had said that Iraq would not accept both the sanctions and UNSCOM at the same time. And it said that Aziz had argued that UNSCOM is not only unfair and not objective but also that it implements the anti-Iraq policy of the United States. He claimed that the Americans do not want the sanctions lifted because its agenda includes changing the Iraqi political system.
While in Moscow, Aziz also met with Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Russian Communist Party, and from him, Aziz heard much more enthusiastic words of support. Zyuganov told him that the communists and their allies want the sanctions regime lifted now and relations between Moscow and Baghdad to expand. But Zyuganov has so far been unable to deliver on such promises: Last week the Duma failed by more than 70 votes to override a Federation Council veto of a bill that would have provided for expanded military and technical ties between the two regimes.
And at a meeting with teachers and students at the Moscow International Affairs Institute, Aziz was asked about Baghdad's stand on the Kurdish issue. He replied that "Iraqi Kurds are part of our people and we wish them well. The present Iraqi leadership headed by Saddam Husseyn is the only government in the region that recognizes Kurds as a nation within the Iraqi people. They also take part in the institutions of power in Iraq." Nonetheless, the Aziz trip to Moscow points to a brighter future for the relations between the two countries. The vice premier confirmed that Russian companies would be given priority in the "oil for food" program with regard to both oil sales and the sales of humanitarian goods. He received assurances that Moscow does not accept the notion that Iraq's return to the international oil market would depress prices and thus hurt the Russian Federation. And he received assurances that many Russians want to return to the level of ties they had with Baghdad in earlier times.
A NEW "FORM" OF ETHNIC CLEANSING. On 25 October, A.A. Taib, the governor of Duhok, in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as an official spokesman of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, sent a letter to UN officials pointing out that Baghdad is systematically arabicizing Kurdish, Assyrian and Turkoman territories which involves the deportation of non-Arabic inhabitants. The Kurdish leader noted that "this violates all sacred laws, human rights, international principles and international agreements" including UN Security Council Resolution No. 688, which calls for a end to the persecution of Kurds and other minorities in Iraq.
Taib provided details on the way in which Baghdad continues to violate this resolution. In some regions, he wrote, officials dispossess non-Arab populations of their land and houses and then hand them over to newly-arrived Arab families. In Khanaqin, for example, some 500 Kurds now face this threat, he said. They currently work for the government and are to be transferred along with their families to Arab areas. Once there, Iraqi officials hope that these Kurds will then "correct" their nationality on special "National Correction Forms," dropping what the Iraqis argue is their past "mistaken identity" as Kurds. In this way, they will be able to "voluntarily" change their national registration and "willingly" join one of the Arab tribes.
The Duhok government asked Prakash Shah, the UN Secretary General Koffi Annan's special envoy, to intervene with the Iraqi government to reverse this policy.
STRUGGLE TO UNITE IRAQI OPPOSITION CONTINUES. During November, the British and the Americans continued their efforts to weld the Iraqi opposition into a cohesive force capable of working together to topple the Saddam Husseyn regime. But neither was able to achieve as much as each had hoped.
The British were able to convene a meeting of some 15 Iraqi opposition groups. But both those who attended and those who did not made a statement that shows just how difficult uniting the Iraqi opposition is likely to be.
One Iraq who attended the meeting, Wafiq al-Samarra'i, former director of Baghdad's military intelligence who fled his post in 1994 and now represents the Iraqi National Movement, told the London Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 24 November that "the Iraqi regime cannot be toppled without military intervention or a move by the Armed Forces in Iraq." One who refused, Subhi Al-Jumayli, the representative of the Iraqi Communist Party in the UK, said his group had stayed away from the meetings because it believes that foreigners should not play a role in uniting the opposition lest it lose its autonomy, London's Al-Zaman newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, the United States government convened a second meeting of the Iraqi opposition. Martin Indyk, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs, told those who attended that the main objective was to evaluate the opposition groups "in order to identify those qualified to receive military assistance stipulated by U.S. law to liberate Iraq."
Given that there are at least 73 parties and factions involved, representing views extending from religious conservatism to various political ideologies, that is unlikely to be easy.
At the American session, those present advanced a variety of proposals. Most called for military training and the creation of a substantial armed force to oppose Saddam Husseyn. Others urged the development of staging areas for an invasion either outside Iraq -- in Jordan or Kuwait -- or northern Iraq. But various groups have already said that neither Jordan nor northern Iraq would be acceptable: northern Iraq because the Kurdish groups feared an Iraqi attack within their region, and Jordan because Amman does not want to damage the relations it has with Baghdad.
According to the London-based Al-Quds Al-'Arabi on 28 November, participants also divided on who should lead any united Iraqi opposition. Ahmed Al-Jalabi, who heads the Iraq National Congress (INC), suggested that his group should serve as the main framework for bringing the Iraqi opposition together. But Ghassan Al-'Atiyyah, an independent, argued that the INC has lost credibility and that a new framework should be established. He said the new group should be based on democracy, transparency, and accountability.
American efforts to involve Mohammad Baqr Al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), were rebuffed. In a statement issued to London's Al-Hayah newspaper on 29 November, Al-Hakim described the U.S. plan to allocate close to $100 million to help the Iraqi opposition change the regime in Baghdad as "a funny operation worthy of nothing but ridicule."
Al-Hakim distinguished between what he called "the true opposition which exists within Iraq" and what he said was "the opposition in name only, the opposition of the shops, that exists outside Iraq."
ORGANIZING THE OPPOSITION, DIVIDING THE OPPOSITION. Meanwhile, others were meeting to discuss U.S.-UK efforts to unite the Iraqi opposition. Iraqi opposition groups and representatives of the Syrian and Iranian regimes held a series of "consultative meetings" in Damascus on this subject aimed at "producing an action plan" to respond to any American efforts to topple Saddam Husseyn, according to London's Al-Hayah newspaper on 1 December.
Mish'an Al-Juburi, leader of the Damascus-based Iraq Homeland Party, told those assembled that the overthrow of Saddam's regime is "Iraq's business and not that of the United States." And he said that he would soon travel to Tehran at the invitation of Mohammad Baqr Al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, "to thank him and Tehran for rejecting the U.S. intervention in Iraq's affairs and for rejecting any military strike against it." Nonetheless, he stressed the need to continue the struggle "to rescue Iraq from Saddam's regime and from U.S. hostile actions."
Meanwhile, Mohammad Taqiyy-al-Madrasi, head of the pro-Iranian Islamic Action Organization (IAO), met with 18 other Iraqi opposition parties to try "to unite the opposition."
Following these meetings, three things are obvious: The opposition outside Iraqi remains very divided. The opposition inside the country remains submerged. And a trend has emerged that is dividing all groups according to whether they will look to the U.S. and the UK or to Tehran.
To attempt to reconcile these differences, a meeting apparently convened by the Coordination Committee of the Iraqi Forces in Britain at the Ahlual-Bayt center in London was held to focus on the common denominators between these two groups. Mohammad Bahral-'Ulum from the Ahl Al-Bayt Center stressed the need "to sign a national charter in order to silence those who say the opposition is fragmented and scattered."
But efforts to bridge this divide have generated just as much skepticism as the others. Quoted in London's Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on 26 November, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reflected the views of many: "Let us be realistic," he said. "These plans will end in nothing. Anyone who knows the Iraqis knows that no opposition can succeed unless it is carried out from within Iraq and by people who live in Iraq. Those who live abroad would not be able to do anything even if Saddam Husseyn was toppled."