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News for 21 to 28 February, 2000

News for 21 to 28 February, 2000
Sources: Reuters, AP,, US State Dept.

Thanks to Colin and Rania for various tips and assistance.

Question: How do the list subscribers feel about sending news, unless it's
absolutely urgent, to me? I'll then put these news articles in the weekly
clipping and mention those that contributed?.

Lots of news this week.


*       A group of American nuns and priests has written a letter to Bill Clinton
requesting him to reconsider sanctions.

*       Annan indicates that sanctions must be made more intelligent. Iraq

*       Oil prices are skyrocketing. US demands that oil-producing countries
produce more. Iraq says it can't because it lacks spare parts that the UN
has put on hold. (a number of articles)

*       US/UK bomb Iraq. Apparently there have been 14 bombing incidents this year
and 7 this month.

*       The Pope has made a "virtual" visit to Iraq (?? - editor).

*       An interesting article on Iraq's brain drain and its lack of intellectual
resources due to to a failing education system. Incidentally, many 3rd world
countries suffer from brain drain problems. It is a much under-stressed
issue in the current global order.

*       Apparently, the US State Department is considering easing sanctions and
reducing the number of holds on "dual-use" equipment. (a number of articles)

*       Iraqi diplomats are working in Syria for the first time since 1980. Much
improved ties between these two countries.

*       Charles Duelfer resigns as acting head of UNSCOM. Speculation

*       Some remarks by Clinton on Iraq.

*       Turkey expects trade with Iraq to increase this year.

*       The 4th annual report of the Security Council Committee, which oversees
the sanctions on Iraq under Security Council resolution 661, was issued
on 24 February, dealing with the period from August 1, 1998 until November
20, 1999.

*       An interesting article on the suffering of an Iraqi family, including
comments by Aziz and Von Sponeck.

*       A hawkish article on Turkey's defense desires and their intent to purchase
more weapons because of a perceived "foreign threat".

>From the US State Department:
Monday, February 28, 2000


The Office of the Iraq Programme reported today that, during the reporting
period from February 19 through 25, no oil sales contracts were approved.
The number of oil sales contracts approved under the current phase stands at
96, for a total volume of 268.3 million barrels.

Last week, during the same reporting period, eight loadings were completed
of a total of 10.2 million barrels of oil, at an estimated value of $272

The revenue generated since the beginning of Phase Seven of the
"oil-for-food" programme is estimated, at current prices, to be about $3.283
billion. The next update on Iraqi oil sales will be available on Tuesday.

Asked about whether UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Hans von Sponeck
would address reporters, the Spokesman said he would look into the
possibility of a news conference and would help to arrange interviews with
him. Von Sponeck is meeting the Secretary-General today at 3:30 p.m., he
noted. However, Eckhard added, the Security Council has not made a formal
request to the Secretary-General for von Sponeck to address the Council.

Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and
Inspection Commission for Iraq, will attend a press briefing on Wednesday,
the Spokesman said.

Eckhard noted the Secretary-General's recent comments that he might put some
fresh ideas forward about sanctions, but the Spokesman declined to comment
on Iraq's recent statements about the sanctions regime.

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State.  Web site:

News about frustrating a coup d'etat in Iraq and executing 38 militants
El-Zaman Arab newspaper issued in London said that the Iraqi authorities
frustrated a coup d'etat during January and executed 38 Iraqi militants.
Iraq, Politics, 2/28/2000

Iraqi criticism of Annan's declarations concerning the sanctions
Iraq, Politics, 2/28/2000

Iraq criticized yesterday the statements made by UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan who referred to continuing the Security Council's consultations to
discuss intelligent sanctions against Baghdad.

Iraqi sources asserted the necessity of finding a radical solution to Iraq's

Annan said the current sanctions increased the Iraqi people's suffering,
demanding the necessity for searching for alternative sanctions, stating
that the intelligent sanctions could be in the form of closing bank accounts

Meanwhile, Iraq said it has decreased its petroleum production to 300,000
barrels per day.

Iraqi Oil Minister Amir Rashid Muhammad said his country may have to make an
additional decrease if the necessary spare parts for repairing its petroleum
establishments do not arrive.

Iraq Accuses US, Britain Over Aid

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Iraq accused the United States and Britain on Monday
of ``avenging themselves on an entire people'' by preventing the U.N.
humanitarian program from delivering infrastructure equipment to Baghdad.
U.S. and British claims that the machinery might be used for military uses
carry no weight because U.N. officials in New York and Baghdad make sure
contracts for the goods are for humanitarian purposes only, Iraqi Ambassador
Saeed Hasan said.

The American and British arguments ``are no more than a crude cover for the
placing of contracts on hold for political reasons,'' Hasan said in a letter
Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

This amounts to the countries' ``avenging themselves on an entire people,''
he said.

Hasan's letter was circulated on the same day the outgoing U.N. humanitarian
coordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, met with Secretary-General Kofi
Annan at U.N. headquarters to discuss the sanctions.


During the meeting, Annan said he would review von Sponeck's ideas on how to
make the program more effective, but made clear that the Security Council
alone determines the U.N. policy in the program, according to a summary of
the meeting from Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard.

There is no indication, however, that the Security Council is prepared to
alter the sanctions on Iraq, which under U.N. resolutions cannot be lifted
until weapons inspectors report Iraq is free of its banned weapons.


 While $6.3 billion in goods has arrived in Iraq since the program's
inception, $1.7 billion worth of contracts has been held up in the U.N.
sanctions committee -
 most of it equipment to improve Iraq's power grid and oil infrastructure.

The United States has placed the bulk of the disputed contracts on ``hold,''
saying it wants to review them to make sure the goods weren't ``dual-use''
items that
could help Iraqi President Saddam Hussein rebuild weapons of mass

Meanwhile, a group of American nuns and priests on Monday pleaded with
President Clinton to reconsider U.S. policy toward Iraq, saying sanctions
were hurting

The seven nuns and two priests released a letter sent to the president after
spending a week in Basra, 340 miles south of Baghdad along the Kuwait
border. The
nuns and priests were visiting other members of their Dominican order who
have been working in Iraqi hospitals for the last few years.

Monday February 28, 3:17 pm Eastern Time

Western planes strike north Iraq
BAGHDAD, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Western aircraft launched strikes in northern
Iraq again on Monday and an Iraqi military
spokesman accused them of bombing civilian targets.

The United States European Command said the targets -- the latest of many
during post-Gulf War U.S. and British air patrols
over Iraq -- were Iraqi air defences attacked after anti-aircraft guns
opened fire.

``Seven hostile formations... flew over the northern provinces of Duhok,
Arbil and Nineveh and the enemy attacked our service and civil
installations,'' the Iraqi
spokesman, quoted by the official Iraqi News Agency, said.

He said the planes returned to Turkish airspace after they were intercepted
by Iraqi anti-aircraft units. There were no reported casualties or damage.

According to the German-based United States European Command: "Iraqi forces
fired anti-aircraft artillery from a site west of Bashiqah. Coalition
responded to the Iraqi attacks by dropping ordnance on elements of the Iraqi
integrated air defence system.

It was the seventh exchange of fire this month and the 14th this year. The
site is northeast of the town of Mosul, about 400 km (250 miles) north of
Western military officials insist such attacks are aimed only at military


Sunday February 27 1:38 PM ET

Iraq: Ignore US Calls for More Oil

By LEON BARKHO Associated Press Writer

 BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The United States has no right to pressure
oil-producing countries to raise output in order to bring down the price of
crude on global markets, Iraq's oil minister said Sunday.

 ``We consider this unwarranted and unjustified, and it is an overreaction
by the American administration,'' Oil Minister Amer Mohammed Rashid said in
response to a U.S. bid to persuade Gulf oil producers to loosen reins on

 Rashid urged his partners in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries not to yield to American pressure.

 U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ended a tour Saturday of leading Gulf
oil producers, including oil giant Saudi Arabia, in a bid to persuade them
to support a production increase to force down oil prices that have been
surging near $30 a barrel - and that have American consumers complaining
about high costs of heating oil and gasoline.

 Richardson said on Saturday he had obtained an encouraging response from
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, to his plea to pump more oil,
but left the region with no firm commitments.

 OPEC oil ministers are scheduled to meet March 27 in Vienna to decide
whether the time has come to open the tap at least slightly on their
self-imposed cuts.

 The reductions, along with those by non-OPEC members, have denied markets
of more than 4 million barrels a day for nearly a year, sending prices to
levels unseen since the eve of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

 Though world oil supplies are at dangerously low levels, Iraq has slashed
exports by up to 400,000 barrels a day. Rashid warned of further cuts if the
United Nations continues to places holds on applications for equipment so
that Iraq can upgrade its flagging
 oil sector.


 Since May 1998, the [security] council has authorized Iraq to buy $1.2
billion worth of spare parts. But Iraq says only $186 million in equipment
has been sent.


Sunday February 27, 9:43 am Eastern Time

ANALYSIS-Sanctions leave Iraq short of brain power

By Peg Mackey

BAGHDAD, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Potentially oil-rich Iraq is straining from a
deficit of intellectual capital thanks to nearly a decade
of stringent United Nations trade sanctions, analysts said on Saturday.

Iraq's professional class, many of whom were trained abroad during the
1960s, is fast approaching retirement age. And there is a
shortage of bright young sparks to fill their shoes.

``We are looking for the next generation, but they're not here,'' a Western
diplomat in Baghdad said.

Its long history of education and skilled labour eroded by sanctions, Iraq
will be left in want of a highly-trained workforce when it comes to rebuild
and expand its
vast oil wealth, said Washington-based Iraq analyst Christine Helms.

``They will not be able to upgrade and reconstruct the country unless they
get outside help,'' a Western oil industry executive said.

But Iraq is faced with more than the greying of its skilled

"There has been a real exodus from Iraq since the embargo,
essentially for economic reasons," an official in Baghdad said. "Hundreds of
engineers have up and left in order to make money abroad and send it home to

Some analysts reckon up to four million Iraqis have fled to Jordan, Britain,
Yemen, Sudan, Libya and the United States.

An eventual easing of U.N. sanctions -- imposed on Iraq for its 1990
invasion of Kuwait -- might lure Iraqis on the outside back into their
country, which has a
population of 22 million, if the public and private sectors are encouraged.

``If the economy gets back on line, people will return,'' Helms said.

``There is a genuine feeling of nationalism among those who have left,''
said Raad Alkadiri of Petroleum Finance Corp.


But even if the diaspora returns when sanctions are eased, Iraq will still
need a foreign helping hand to get back on its feet, an Iraqi analyst said.

``There is a huge gap in skilled labour,'' said an official in Baghdad.
``People are not being trained and developed in the right way because
teachers themselves are
pitifully paid and lacking inspiration.''

Though Iraq's universities are still open, standards have slipped -- galling
for a country which once prided itself on raising literacy rates. Many
university professors
have left Iraq in search of better salaries.

Hans von Sponeck, the top U.N. humanitarian official in Baghdad who recently
announced his resignation, described Iraq's educational system as ``totally

Hardly surprising then that among the younger, educated generation there is
a feeling of bitterness.

``Even those with higher education feel they cannot really achieve
anything,'' an Iraqi engineer said. ``It's frustrating because they are
living in a country which has the
potential to be very rich.''

Sitting atop 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, Iraq is second only
to Saudi Arabia in terms of potential oil wealth.

Iraq's professionals have also become demoralised by sanctions. ``The
embargo has virtually destroyed the middle class,'' said a Western-educated
Iraqi analyst.

``We have become backward,'' he said, adding ``for us, it's a luxury to own
a computer.''


Saturday February 26 2:05 PM ET

 UN Sees No Change in US-Iraq Policy

 By NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press Writer

 UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Despite the Clinton administration's pledge to start
easing restrictions on sending some industrial equipment to Iraq, diplomats
 the goods Iraq most desperately needs will get there.

 U.N. officials, analysts and western diplomats say they have seen no
indication that Washington has changed its hard-line position in the U.N.
committee that
 reviews contracts for humanitarian supplies to Iraq.

 At the last committee meeting, in fact, the United States blocked 20 to 30
items, including fork lifts and car batteries, from being included on a list
of humanitarian
 goods that could automatically be sent to Iraq through the U.N.
humanitarian program.

 A State Department official said U.S. concerns that such items could be
used for military purposes hadn't changed.

 ``The dual-use standard is what it is,'' the official said Friday on
condition of anonymity.

 The United States, however, is reviewing its way of doing business in the
U.N. sanctions committee in light of a December resolution that called for
faster delivery
 of aid to Iraq, the official said.

 Iraq has been barred from selling its oil on the open market since a
sweeping U.N. trade embargo was imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The U.N.
 humanitarian program, created in 1996 to get food and medicine to needy
Iraqis, allows Iraq to export oil through U.N.-controlled sales provided the
proceeds be
 used for humanitarian supplies.

 The U.N. sanctions committee for Iraq, composed of the 15 members of the
Security Council, reviews contracts for the supplies, but any member can
place a
 contract on ``hold'' at any time for any reason.

 Of the $1.78 billion worth of contracts in limbo, the United States is
responsible for more than 75 percent, with Britain making up the rest, a
U.N. official said.

 Most of the disputed contracts are for equipment to improve Iraq's
dilapidated oil industry, power grid and water sanitation infrastructure.

 President Clinton said Friday that the United States was reviewing ways to
get more goods to Iraqis, provided they don't help Saddam Hussein rearm. A
 official in Washington said that included ``gray area'' exports such as

 The Washington Post, reporting the U.S. position in a story Friday, cited
an $80 million electricity contract that Washington recently allowed to go
through as
 evidence of its softening position.

 But with hundreds of millions of dollars still held up, U.N. officials and
western diplomats cautioned that such token measures would do little to have
any real
 impact on the lives of Iraqis.

 ``If they have lifted some electricity contracts, the backlog is so huge
that to have an effect on the humanitarian situation on the ground, there
has to be much more,''
 a sanctions committee member said on condition of anonymity.

 A U.N. official said she had no information that the United States had
released any other major holds recently.

 Raad Alkadiri, an analyst with the Washington-based Petroleum Finance
Group, said it appeared the administration was merely trying to deflect some
of the
 criticism of its hard line without making any significant changes in its

 ``The U.S. has decided to back down on an issue it probably was going to
come out looking the worst on,'' he said.

 Diplomats noted the leaked story to the Post came on the heels of demands
by 70 U.S. congressmen earlier this month to lift sanctions. In addition,
the United
 States is gearing up for criticism of its policies with the arrival in New
York of the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Hans von Sponeck.

 Von Sponeck resigned earlier this month to protest the sanctions and the
politics that had prevented the oil-for-food program from working. The
German diplomat
 arrives at U.N. headquarters Monday and plans to meet with
Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

 For his part, Annan, who has been outspoken about the need for the number
of ``holds'' to be released, ``of course would be pleased to see some of the
 of these contracts on hold thinned out,'' spokesman Fred Eckhard said.
Saturday February 26 9:33 AM ET

 Iraq Diplomats Back in Syria After 20 Years

 By lssam Hamza

 DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iraqi diplomats have started work at an interests
section opened in Syria for the first time since 1980 when the rival Arab
states severed diplomatic ties, officials said Saturday.

 They told Reuters that Syrian diplomats were also expected in Iraq soon to
run a similar section at the Algerian embassy in Baghdad.
 ``The Iraqi diplomats have already arrived here and started their work at a
separate bureau at the Algerian embassy in Damascus,'' an official said.

 ``A decision to open the Syrian and Iraqi sections at the Algerian
embassies in both Baghdad and Damascus was taken earlier
 and what is happening now is an implementation of that decision,'' the
official added.

 An Algerian embassy official said the Iraqi section was in a building
outside the embassy in Damascus but the Iraqis were working
 under the supervision of the Algerian embassy in accordance with rules
which govern interests sections.

 Syria and Iraq, ruled by rival factions of the Baath party, severed ties in
late 1980 after the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war of
 1980-1988 in which Syria sided with Iran.

 Syria said at that time that the war would harm Arab interests and waste
their resources. It blamed Baghdad for triggering the fighting. Syrian-Iraqi
ties deteriorated further in 1991 when Damascus joined a U.S.-led
multinational force which drove Iraq out
 of Kuwait after a six-month occupation of the Arab Gulf state.

 But both states agreed three years ago to reopen their borders and engage
in economic and commercial cooperation. Syria has backed calls for the
lifting of U.N. economic sanctions imposed on Iraq because of its occupation
of Kuwait. It has also opposed
 any further military operations against Baghdad.

 During the last three years, Syria struck deals to export food and medicine
to Iraq worth over $150 million and signed other contracts under terms of
the so-called oil-for-food deal between Iraq and the United Nations.

 Syria and Iraq also participated in trade exhibitions held in Baghdad and
Damascus during the last three years and several ministers exchanged visits.

 Iraq opened a permanent trade center in Damascus last year and small Iraqi
traders flock to Syrian cities to sell goods exempted from customs duties.
Friday February 25 8:56 PM ET

 Iraq Inspection Agency Head Resigns

 UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The acting executive-chairman of the U.N. agency that
was responsible for disarming Iraq since 1991 said Friday he has resigned
 rather than work for a successor agency that will continue inspections and
monitoring of Iraqi programs.

 Charles Duelfer, an American, submitted his letter of resignation as acting
head of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq to Secretary-General Kofi Annan

 He said he planned to leave his post by Wednesday - the day the new U.N.
Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, headed by Hans Blix
starts its

 ``I can help, more by my absence,'' said Duelfer, adding that he has no
definite future plans.

 Duelfer took over running the Special Commission in June, after its
executive chairman, Richard Butler of Australia, left to become a
diplomat-in-residence at the
 Council on Foreign Relations, the New York-based think tank.

 The commission was created in 1991 to oversee the destruction of Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction - a requirement under the U.N. resolutions that
ended the
 Gulf War.

 Inspections ground to a halt, however, in December after the United States
and Britain launched airstrikes to punish Baghdad for failing to cooperate
with arms

The commission, which was also tainted by allegations the United States used
it to spy on Baghdad, was replaced in December by a new inspection agency,
U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC.
A department for supervising the Iraqi interests opened at the Algerian
embassy in Damascus
Iraqi diplomats reported that a branch for supervising Iraqi interests will
be opened this week in Damascus for the first time since diplomatic
relations were severed between the two countries in 1980.

Iraqi-Turkish trade cooperation
Turkish Minister of State Edip Safter Gaydali said on Sunday in Baghdad that
the volume of trade and commercial cooperation between his country and Iraq
will shortly increase to US $2.5 billion, the same level of trade as in
Friday February 25 5:32 PM ET

Clinton: U.S. To Explore Iraq Aid

By TERENCE HUNT AP White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) - Under pressure to lift sanctions, President Clinton said
Friday the United States will explore ways to
relieve the suffering in Iraq if it can be done without helping Saddam
Hussein rebuild his weapons arsenal.

 Clinton said that shortages of food and medicine were the result of the
Iraqi president's policies, not the United Nations' embargo
 imposed after the Gulf War. ``It's clear to everybody who has looked at the
facts ... that they're exporting about as much oil now
 as they were before the embargo was imposed.''


 Presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart said, ``We believe that Saddam Hussein
knows what he needs to do to get out from under
 U.N. sanctions against his country. And there will be no shift until he
understands that and acts on it.''

 An administration official said the U.S. goal is to deny Saddam items that
would assist him in a weapons program without
 stopping exports that might help extract oil that Iraq is permitted to sell
for humanitarian purposes. Proceeds must be used for
 food and medicine.

 For example, the official said, chlorine, which could be used in water
purification, would now be cleared for export to Iraq.

 The sanctions, imposed in 1990, were subsequently eased to permit Iraq to
sell $5.2 billion worth of oil every six months
 provided the revenue is used to assist the Iraqi people. But even with oil
prices soaring, Saddam deliberately and cynically does
 not take advantage of the quota, the administration said.

 Western diplomats on the U.N. sanctions committee said they had seen no
easing of the hard-line U.S. position. The diplomats
 noted that recently as last Friday, the United States canceled between 20
and 30 items, such as fork lifts and car batteries, from a
 list of goods that could be approved automatically in the sanctions

 U.N. figures show that $1.77 billion worth of goods were frozen as of Feb.
21, nearly all of them frozen by put on hold by the United States.
Friday February 25, 6:08 pm Eastern Time

Commodities - Oil sets new 9-year high, cocoa falls

NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Crude oil prices rose to new nine-year highs on
Friday at the New York Mercantile Exchange
as world producers appeared reluctant to quickly crank up production to ease
global shortages.

Prices for cocoa tumbled to 27-year lows in New York as bigger-than-expected
crops in top producing African countries will
soon reach world markets. Prices for soybeans, which are processed into
livestock feed and edible soybean oil, fell in Chicago.

Crude oil peaked at $30.83 per barrel on Friday, the highest price for a
spot contract since January 1991, which was during the
Gulf War. Fueling the rise were hints from top producers that any decision
to increase production will not be made before the March 27 meeting of the
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), traders said.

``Supplies are very tight and without any fundamental change between now and
the end of March, prices will remain high,'' one NYMEX trader said.

On Friday, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi made the statement that OPEC
would not decide on production changes before March 27 as he awaited the
arrival of
U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Richardson flew to the Middle East on
Friday to persuade major producers to increase output.

Mexican Energy Minister Luis Tellez was also quoted by Mexican newspapers
Friday that he saw no short-term relief for lofty oil prices because any
increase will
not come until after the March 31 expiry of supply cutbacks.

Ten OPEC members, excluding Iraq, have drained world supply by more than
four million barrels per day under a supply curbing agreement designed to
shore up oil
prices that had slipped to $10.35 in December 1998. Non-OPEC producers
Mexico and Norway joined with OPEC in curtailing supplies.

Inventory data from the U.S. Department of Energy released Thursday showed
that U.S. crude stocks decreased 300,000 barrels last week to 285.5 million
barrels, the lowest in more than two decades.

NYMEX March crude oil closed at $30.35, up 38 cents, but it peaked at $30.83
during Friday's trading. March gasoline peaked at 88.50 cents a gallon but
to close at 86.26 cents a gallon, up 1.21 cents.

March heating oil closed at 82.88 cents per gallon, up 4.86 cents.

>From the State Department:
Thursday, February 24, 2000


The fourth annual report of the Security Council Committee, which oversees
the sanctions on Iraq under Security Council resolution 661, was issued
today, dealing with the period from August 1, 1998 until November 20, 1999.

The report said that during the reporting period the export of petroleum and
petroleum products from Iraq proceeded smoothly with excellent cooperation
among the oil overseers, the UN independent inspection agents, the State Oil
Marketing Organization of Iraq and national oil purchasers.

The revenue generated from oil sales during this period amounted to $13.58

The Committee continued to implement the simplified procedures to process
applications for foodstuffs and other humanitarian supplies.

Members of the Committee also continued to express concerns about the effect
of the holds placed on humanitarian contracts, including oil spare parts and
equipment, on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. The Committee will
continue to review those hold cases.

For the latest figures on various aspects of the oil for food programme,
please consult the Weekly Update, compiled by the Office of the Iraq

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State.  Web site:
Wednesday February 23 10:10 AM ET

 Outgoing U.N. Official Leaves Iraq

 By WAIEL FALEH Associated Press Writer

 BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The departing head of U.N. humanitarian operations in
Iraq left the country Wednesday, headed for
 New York to discuss concerns over U.N. sanctions that led him to resign.

 Hans von Sponeck quit as the chief U.N. coordinator in Iraq earlier this
month, saying sanctions were not working and the Iraqi
 people were suffering.

 Von Sponeck left early Wednesday for the 10-hour drive from Baghdad to
Amman, the capital of neighboring Jordan. Amman is
 the nearest point from which von Sponeck could board a plane. Air travel to
and from Iraq is banned under U.N. trade sanctions.

 Before boarding a plane in Amman, en route to New York via Vienna, Austria,
he told reporters at the airport he would report
 on the situation in Iraq to the U.N. Security Council.

 ``We have to think how to lift sanctions which are punishing the wrong
target,'' he said, adding that many of his colleagues who
 are witnessing the situation in Baghdad share his perception.

 U.N. sanctions have crippled the Iraqi economy, leaving ordinary Iraqis
struggling to feed and clothe themselves. Von Sponeck
 wanted the Security Council to separate Iraq's humanitarian needs from its

 On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Australia that he
will meet Von Sponeck in New York later this week.

 ``We will review the situation to see what steps can be taken to improve
the situation,'' Annan told journalists in the Australian
 capital Tuesday.

 Annan said so-called ``smart sanctions'' may be the solution ``rather than
making the population suffer.'' The sanctions target
 leaders and can do such things as freeze bank accounts.

 The Security Council also is planning to review the sanctions, which were
imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. They
 can only be lifted when Iraq proves to the council it has rid itself of
nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as its
 long-range missiles.
Wednesday February 23 8:28 AM ET

 Pope Makes 'Virtual' Iraq Trip

 VATICAN CITY (AP) - Denied a chance to visit the birthplace of Biblical
patriarch Abraham in present-day Iraq, Pope John Paul II prayed in a
ceremony at the
 Vatican Wednesday and watched a film of the desert site.

 The pope called the special ceremony a ``spiritual pilgrimage'' to honor
the memory of ``our father in faith.''

 The ceremony came a day before the pope departs for Egypt, with a stop at
the foot of Mount Sinai, the first of his millennium trips to Biblical sites
in the Middle

 John Paul had hoped to begin the tour in Ur, an ancient city believed to be
the birthplace of Abraham. But the Iraqi trip fell through in December when
 balked, telling the Vatican it was unable to organize the stop.

 Instead, John Paul presided over a ceremony including Biblical readings
that the pope followed intently from a red throne on a stage, against a
backdrop of ruins.

 ``This will be the first leg of that pilgrimage to sites linked to the
history of salvation that I will continue tomorrow leaving for Egypt and
Mount Sinai,'' John Paul

Wednesday February 23 2:33 AM ET

 UN May Refine Iraq Sanctions to Help People-Annan

 WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Sanctions against Iraq could be refined to limit the
suffering of the civilian population, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi
 said on Wednesday.

 ``I will admit that sanctions are a blunt instrument and sometimes can hurt
the civilian population who are not the intended targets,'' Annan told
reporters in New
 Zealand, where he is on an official visit.

 He said that the Security Council was concerned about the hardships of
ordinary Iraqis.

 ``That is why it established the oil-for-food program to be able to help
the civilian population.''

 Two U.N. officials resigned this month because of their concerns about the
impact of sanctions -- Hans Von Sponeck who was responsible for the
 program and Jutta Burghardt who headed the World Food Program in Iraq.

 Annan said there were ongoing discussions about how the Council, and the
U.N. as a whole, could use ``smart sanctions.''

 ``Smart sanctions can take the form of closing the foreign bank accounts of
the leaders concerned, refusing to give them visas to travel and other
restrictions that
 directly affect them.

 ``Until the Council changes it's policy, we'll have to apply it as it is,''
Annan said. ``I would not say there is strong support (for such a change) at
this time.''

Tuesday February 22 6:39 PM ET

 Iraqi Earnings Rise With Oil Price

 By LEON BARKHO Associated Press Writer

 BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A handful of protein biscuits seems like too little,
too late for Zakiya Abdulrahman's family.

 Nonetheless, the biscuits are a windfall for the pregnant woman with five
children whose family's income is less than $1 per day - and they are
possible only
 because of a rise in world oil prices. The costly oil means Iraq is earning
more money under the U.N. oil-for-food program designed to let it skirt
trade sanctions
 for the good of its people.

 Recently, that has meant a small improvement for Abdulrahman and nearly
5,000 other malnourished mothers and children in the low-income Baghdad
 neighborhood of Mashahda: six high protein biscuits a month per person.
That is in addition to free rations of rice, flour, legumes, sugar and tea
distributed under an
 earlier phase of the oil-for-food project.

 But Abdulrahman and her five children are still in dire need. Abdulrahman's
husband earns his tiny income selling groceries from a cart. Her
11-month-old boy
 weighed 13 pounds - the norm for that age is almost 20 pounds - when a
community care volunteer put him on an electronic scale.

 In the past three months, regular power cuts in Abdulrahman's neighborhood
have lasted as long as 16 hours a day. Broken pipes inundate some streets
 sewage. Children scour garbage heaps in search of used tin cans and bottles
they can sell to recyclers.

 Such misery exists despite Iraq's oil reserves, and despite the fact that
the price of the crude basket of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries has risen
 from below $10 a barrel in 1998 to around $25 today.

 While the increase has boosted Iraq's revenues, it isn't doing much to help
the country's poor because much of the money is either taken away or blocked
by the
 United Nations, Iraqi officials say.


 All told, Iraq has sold about $22 billion worth of oil under the program,
officials estimate. So far, though, the government has earmarked only $30
million of the
 proceeds to combat widespread malnutrition among children and pregnant and
nursing mothers.

 Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz charges that his country is the last to
benefit from the oil sales. He has said about $7.7 billion of total earnings
have been funneled
 to a U.N. fund to compensate the victims of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The
money also covers U.N. expenses incurred in administering the program and
 dismantling Iraq's war machine.

 Tariq also says the U.N. sanctions committee is blocking Iraq from buying
commodities for its people and its oil industry. He charges that commodities
 worth more than $8 billion are either blocked or have not reached Iraq yet.

 In addition, about 15 percent of the revenues are earmarked for Iraq's
Kurdish north, an area outside Baghdad's control. All of those subtractions
together, Iraq
 says, leave few funds to do what the oil-for-food program was intended to
do - help Iraqis.

 But U.S. and British diplomats say the Baghdad government hoards medicines
instead of distributing them to hospitals and is refusing to rid itself of
weapons of
 mass destruction and long-range missiles. They maintain that in the absence
of weapons monitors, Iraq will acquire equipment and spare parts to
reinstate its
 weapons programs.

Meanwhile, smuggled oil is pouring out of Iraq and onto the markets, the
U.S. Navy says.

 Although smugglers sell for less than the legitimate market rate, their
prices go up with world market prices. Smuggled oil revenues go straight to
the Iraqi regime's
 coffers and can be used in any way Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sees fit,
observers say.

 The wrangling between Iraq and the United Nations has taken its toll.

 Two senior U.N. relief officials in Baghdad resigned this week, frustrated
at the disputes. The two, U.N. humanitarian coordinator Hans von Sponeck and
 World Food Program chief Jutta Burghardt, said they feared the spats
between the sides will continue - and the suffering of innocent civilians
will worsen.

 They also said they don't believe Iraq is trying to misuse the oil-for-food

 ``We don't have the impression that there is a willful act'' on the part of
the government to divert equipment to military use or hoard supplies, von
Sponeck said.

 For Abdulrahman, like millions of other Iraqis, it is a political game for
which she and her children are paying a heavy price.
Tuesday February 22, 8:42 am Eastern Time

INTERVIEW-Turkey needs arms to stop foreign threat

By Jon Hemming

ANKARA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Turkey's defence minister said the country needs
to buy new weapons to face possible external
threats in an unstable region as well as to fight internal opposition.

Sabahattin Cakmakoglu told Reuters in an interview that two huge tenders,
for tanks and strike helicopters, would not be affected by an end to
fighting with Abdullah
Ocalan's Kurdish separatist rebels.

``I want to stress that it is wrong to think that we are only thinking of
fighting internal terrorism,'' said Cakmakoglu.

He said a defence executive committee would meet on March 6 to discuss the
tender to buy 145 attack helicopters in a $4.5 billion deal. The committee
Cakmakoglu, the prime minister and chief of general staff will set a date
for a final decision on the tender.

The bidding firms are Italy's Agusta , Bell Helicopter Textron (NYSE:TXT -
news) and Boeing (NYSE:BA - news) of the United States, the French-German
Eurocopter and Kamov-A from Russia.


Analysts say the assault helicopters are the most potent weapon against
Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels in the mountainous terrain of
the mainly
Kurdish southeast.

But the U.S. congress has vetoed previous Turkish bids to add to its stock
of about a dozen Super Cobra strike helicopters made by Bell, saying they
would be
used for internal oppression.

``If we examine the stance that our neighbours have taken for such a long
time from a geostrategic point of view, Turkey doesn't just need the
helicopters for fighting
terrorism but to repel possible attacks from abroad,'' Cakmakoglu said.

A combination of Ocalan's call on his guerrillas to stop fighting, and
increased military success in the 15-year-old conflict, have led to an
unprecedented fall in

``Seeing that PKK terrorism has now been reduced to zero, we want to be
prepared for the long term in view of Turkey's geographical position,'' the
minister said.

Turkey, on NATO's southeastern rim, is flanked by potentially unstable
neighbours in the Caucasus, Iraq, Iran and Syria to the southeast, its
traditional foe Greece
to the west and the divided island of Cyprus off its southern shores.


Controversy has also dogged Turkey's plans to buy up to 1,000 battle tanks.

Germany's junior coalition partners, the Greens, sparked a row in Berlin
last year by opposing the export of a single Leopard II tank because of
Turkey's poor
human rights record.

Germany's Krauss-Maffei Wegmann which makes the Leopard, along with General
Dynamics (NYSE:GD - news), France's Giat, Italy's Iveco Fiat and a Ukrainian
firm are bidding to clinch the deal, worth some $7.1 billion.

The first stage of the order, for some 250 tanks, will be decided in July,
Cakmakoglu said.

He dismissed arguments over human rights as irrelevant because the tanks
could not be used in the mountains against the PKK in any case. Turkey is
not engaged in
an arms build-up but simply updating its tank stock, he said.

``We now have around 3,500 tanks,'' he said. ``Many of these tanks need to
be modernised from a technological point of view, especially from the point
of view of
electronic warfare. Some of these cannot be modernised and they are being

He said the number of tanks Turkey eventually orders may change in line with
the potential threats within the region. ``If every year the conditions
change, the
numbers could change also.''

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