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News, 12-18/5/02 (2) NORTHERN IRAQ/SOUTHERN KURDISTAN * Inside Iraq [Guy Dinsmore on the difficulties of getting into the Kurdish autonomous zone. In the article he refers to the fighting that culminated in the KDP inviting Saddamıs tanks to attack the PUK in Arbil in 1996, again with no response from the westı. Actually, the West did respond - by a spate of bombing in Southern Iraq, as far away from the conflict as possible. The problem was that the West wanted Saddamıs intervention to succeed because they didnıt want the area, through the good offices of the PUK, to fall under the domination of Iran. Dinsmore quotes a PUK supporter as saying privatelyı that Ansar-el-Islam is more likely to be Iran-backed than al-Qaida-, or, by implication, Saddam-, backed. Another kick in the teeth for William Safireıs efforts to establish a Saddam-al-Qaida link?] * Iraqi Kurds treat Bush plans with suspicion [Guy Dinsmoreıs previous article was on the difficulties of getting into the Kurdish autonomous zone but this one, about KDP/PUK relations, is just a rehash of everything weıve been reading for the past couple of years and could have been written without leaving the office computer. The extract given here concerns relations with the rest of Iraq and leaves us wondering why, considering all weıve been reading about how much better life is in the Kurdish autonomous zone, Kurds should want to go to the rest of Iraq for medical treatment.] * Saddam deploys tanks to avert Kurdish uprising [Interesting to learn that the CIA wanted to establish bases in the Kurdish autonomous zone but have been tuned down, for obvious reasons. The article also confirms what anyone with any sense would already have figured out, that the main effect of all the Bush-Blair sabre-rattling has been to tighten the repression in possible centres of dissension within Iraq.] INSIDE IRAQ * Licking Their Wounds [Difficult to imagine the mentality of a journalist who, finding himself surrounded by the victims of his own countryıs policy of mass impoverishment and murder, would choose to write an amusing piece on the Iraqi taste for ice cream. Maybe Slackman isnıt responsible for the title but it is about as low in the taste stakes as you can get ...] * Little by Little, Iraq Shows Signs of Economic Life [Extracts. This has provoked some controversy on our list. Some contributors argue that the attempt to give the impression that life is improving in Iraq is a US propaganda ploy. Since, however, the US propaganda line is that Saddam is deliberately starving his people and has done nothing to improve their life, I tend to think it isnıt. And the article as a whole gives more scope to the anti-war argument than is usual for articles in the Washington Post.] * Mosque that thinks it's a missile site [on Saddamıs mosque building programme] NORTHERN IRAQ/SOUTHERN KURDISTAN http://news.ft.com/ft/gx.cgi/ftc?pagename=View&c=Article&cid=FT3IJ5J151D * INSIDE IRAQ by Guy Dinmore Financial Times, 12th May >From Sulaimani and Arbil, northern Iraq: There are several ways into Iraqi Kurdistan, but being surrounded by hostile or at best suspicious neighbours, none are particularly straightforward. Possible routes change according to the shifting fortunes of the various alliances forged by the two rival factions that have carved northern Iraq into two fiefdoms. You could try Medes Air. The airline flies roughly weekly from Düsseldorf in Germany to the northwest Iranian town of Urumiyeh, offering package tours across the border into the area controlled by Masoud Barzaniıs Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Kurds who were once refugees in Europe favour this route for summer visits to families back home. So did Timothy Grucza, a young Australian film-maker. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up with his travel permits, he couldnıt get back into Iran and was last seen drowning his sorrows amidst Kurdish hospitality on the lawn of Arbilıs Four Lamps Hotel. Perhaps the relationship between the secular KDP and the Islamic Republic of Iran had not improved as much as the KDP would like to think. Turkey might seem a good bet. Hundreds of trucks carrying cheap fuel sold by the Baghdad regime of Saddam Hussein to the KDP cross daily through the border post near Zakho. But Turkey, with its own repressed Kurdish minority, likes to give Barzani periodic reminders that it will not tolerate any aspirations to Kurdish nationhood on its doorstep and then chokes off the oil trade. Recently Turkey also told foreign journalists to find another route. A bit to the south is Syria, if you can get a Syrian visa. There is a flight from Damascus across the desert to the border. One recent traveller described how the baggage doors sprang open before landing, scattering suitcases everywhere. The passenger doors followed suit. That leaves the Iranian route from the east into territory controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Its leader is Jalal Talabani, who like his old adversary Barzani, has had to embrace Saddam at critical moments in recent Kurdish history. For the moment the PUK seems to be enjoying cordial ties with Iran. The "Kurdish card" has been played by both Iraq and Iran against each other, and Iran wants to keep up the pressure on Saddam to rein in the anti-Iranian opposition groups he fosters in Baghdad. If you happen to be a UN worker implementing the UN "oil for food" programme in Iraqi Kurdistan then thereıs only one way in and that is through Baghdad. Iraq "still one state" Although Iraqi Kurdistan with 3.5m people living in an area roughly the size of Switzerland has virtually all the trappings of two independent states, with some protection offered by the US and British patrolled no-fly zone, the international community insists that Iraq is still one state. This means that Baghdad issues visas to UN officials, effectively controlling who comes in and out. Once in, the three-hour journey from the Iranian border to the PUK stronghold of Sulaimani passes through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Middle East. Lush, broad valleys channeled between severe snow-splashed mountains, rivers, orchards and wheatfields, a blaze of red and white oleander. The former breadbasket of Iraq is said by the UN to be one of the most fertile regions in the world. But because of minefields, the degradation of war and the UNıs insistence on not sourcing its food supplies locally, most Kurds however eat bread made with US and other foreign flour. The mountain route also passes close to Halabja, the town that Saddam chose to punish with a poison gas attack in March 1988 in the last months of the eight-year war with Iran. The Kurds say about 5,000 people died. Halabja is now the focus of a different sort of struggle, between militants of the Ansar-e-Islam faction and the PUK regional government. Eager to come aboard the US anti-terror bandwagon, the PUK says the militants include al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan and possibly Baghdad elements. Privately some in the PUK suggest the small group of several hundred fighters, based in a mountain stronghold, gets support from elements of Iranıs own fractious regime. "Nobody trusts anybody here," admits Adnan Mufti, PUK finance minister, summing up a state of affairs that has existed for decades, often pitting Kurd against fellow Kurd. Sulaimani is a bustling town, proudly boasting the newly built seven-storey Palace Hotel. There is a MacDonaldıs lookalike called Maxbax and one to be named MacKurd. With a reputation of being more modern and liberal than the rival city of Arbil under the KDP, Sulaimaniıs streets feature many bars and clubs. Many women, especially the young, ignore the Islamic dresscode and wear their hair flowing to the waist. Of course the question on everyoneıs mind is if, when and how the US will bring about "regime change" in Baghdad. Memories are still strong of 1991 when, encouraged by then president George Bush, they rose in revolt against Saddam but were quickly crushed. Villages were levelled, thousands disappeared and 2m fled to Turkey and Iran. But Kurds have become accustomed to insecurity and are getting on with life. The "peshmerga" guerrillas of 20 years ago are returning from Europe, some with small fortunes ready to invest. "Property prices are ridiculously high," complained one soft-ware systems investor. Of more immediate concern is whether the two grandees of Kurdish politics, Barzani and Talabani, will respond to US and popular pressure and resolve their differences. That would mean uniting the two administrations and holding elections. "Itıs all about market-share, like the Coca Cola-Pepsi wars," commented one veteran aid worker. The two sides signed the "Washington agreement" in 1998 to end the fighting that culminated in the KDP inviting Saddamıs tanks to attack the PUK in Arbil in 1996, again with no response from the west. Since then there has been a slow thaw. "Both of us are convinced that such an experience should not be repeated. The fighting was a big mistake," said Jawher Namak, a senior KDP politburo member. "Now we have closed that page." Both factions now speak the language of democracy and their desire for a united, but federal Iraq that would recognise the rights of the Kurds who claim to make up some 28 per cent of the total population. Indeed there is a measure of social and political freedom that exceeds what is on offer in Syria, Iran and the rest of Iraq. But at the end of the day, no elections have been held since the first in 1992, an arrangement that has suited the old warlords well. Still now, PUK supporters in Arbil face problems in getting official jobs or moving on to higher education and the same goes for KDP diehards in Sulaimani. "We donıt feel really free," admitted one young man in Arbil, making sure our conversation was not overheard. "We donıt trust the Americans and we are getting fed up with our own leaders." Like many, he has a suitcase packed ready to flee. In the maze of alleys inside the citadel that rises above Arbil, sitting on thousands of years of continuous settlement, children play around open, stinking drains, criss-crossed by power lines. The mud-brick shacks smell of poverty but some also have satellite dishes. Some of the children go barefoot but they all look reasonably well fed, thanks to the UNıs distribution of rations to every family that wants them. They all go to school. Everyone speaks of the deepseated Kurdish desire for an independent state, one they feel they have earned through the suffering they have been through. But most are pragmatic enough to realise that the best they can hope for is autonomy within a federal Iraq. Alternatively, the way out of Iraqi Kurdistan is to pay $7,000 to the human smugglers who will supply a rickety ship from Turkey that may or may not manage the voyage to a better life in Greece, Italy or beyond. http://news.ft.com/ft/gx.cgi/ftc?pagename=View&c=Article&cid=FT38CJWO61D&liv e=true&tagid=ZZZINS5VA0C&subheading=middle%20east%20and%20africa * IRAQI KURDS TREAT BUSH PLANS WITH SUSPICION by Guy Dinmore Financial Times, 13th May [.....] A degree of co-existence has been established with the rest of Iraq under the control of Mr Saddam, who sells oil and electricity to the north while receiving water for free. Kurds with no political affiliation travel regularly to the rest of Iraq, for trade and medical treatment. This weekend Arbil's football team played in Baghdad as part of the national league. The KDP and PUK have developed civil administrations and fostered a moderate amount of political freedom, especially in the media. Islamic parties exist on the margins, but women can choose whether to observe Islamic dress code and alcohol is widely sold. Despite a general sense of insecurity - many people have suitcases packed, ready for instant flight - there is also substantial investment in the region in construction and telecommunications. For the Kurds, the most important territorial objective is to gain control of Kirkuk, historically a Kurdish city but one that Kurds allege is still being ethnically cleansed by the Baghdad regime. The Kirkuk area, Kurds say, also holds 60 per cent of Iraq's oil reserves. "What Kurd can dare say I give up on Kirkuk," declared Sami Abdul-Rahman, KDP deputy prime minister. "It would be like the Palestinians giving up on Jerusalem." http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=295198 * SADDAM DEPLOYS TANKS TO AVERT KURDISH UPRISING by Patrick Cockburn Independent, 15th May Iraqi soldiers and tanks are massing on the border of Kurdistan in a warning to Kurdish leaders not to ally themselves with America against President Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader also sent a high-level delegation to Kurdistan, the three provinces in northern Iraq that enjoy de facto independence, to express dismay at talks the Kurds held with the CIA in the United States. Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, the leaders of the two main Kurdish parties, had been flown to meet the CIA in Virginia because the agency wanted to establish two full-time missions with their headquarters in Kurdistan to co-ordinate action against Iraq. But the price the Kurds demanded was a guarantee that America would promise to defend them from retaliation by the Iraqi armed forces. The CIA was unable to give the guarantee, says The Washington Post. The Kurds refused to allow the bases, but their consideration of such a move appears to have made President Saddam nervous. The Kurds control the only territory in Iraq not under the authority of the Iraqi leader. They have tried to keep on good terms with the Iraqi government and with Washington, but if President George Bush is determined to overthrow the Iraqi leader they want to be on the winning side. The visit to Virginia by Mr Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party ruling western Kurdistan, and Mr Talabani, who controls the east, was confirmed yesterday by Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Kurdish leader, in an interview with Radio Free Iraq. Iraqi forces have moved forward on a broad front south of the unofficial border with Kurdistan, sources in the area say. The troops are unlikely to attack but their presence is a clear warning by Baghdad that it will not allow Kurdistan to become a haven for its enemies. The three main Kurdish cities, Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk, are within a couple of hours' tank-drive from the Iraqi front line and vulnerable to long-range artillery fire. They could not be defended for long by Kurdish light infantry. In the past few months, the Kurdish leaders have been toying with the idea of playing a role against President Saddam similar to that of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the Kurdish leaders know they are militarily inferior to the Iraqi army, and probably would not commit themselves to Washington unless there were American ground forces to protect them. The Iraqi government is convinced America will eventually try to overthrow it, and the Iraqi security forces will try to crush any rebellion before it gathers pace. Iraqi checkpoints and military posts have been set up on roads south from Baghdad to Basra, the area that was the heart of the abortive Shia rebellion of 1991. Saddam's security officers are everywhere in the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala on the Euphrates river, recent visitors say. In Baghdad last week, the dictator ordered government ministers, officials and senior advisers to report for training with the Kalashnikov automatic assault rifle. The Iraqi leader wants to make clear he will crush mercilessly any US-backed rebellion, but he is unlikely to invade Kurdistan, except as a last resort. Such an attack, he reasons, could give America and Britain the pretext for a new bombing offensive. For the same reason, Iraqi negotiators have shown greater flexibility in talks with the United Nations about the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. They were withdrawn in December 1998. INSIDE IRAQ http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/showcase/la 051302iraq.story?coll=chi%2Dnews%2Dhed * LICKING THEIR WOUNDS by Michael Slackman Chicago Tribune, 13th May BAGHDAD -- Mohammed Saleh is unhappy about his weight. He says he's even tried dieting because the sizable spare tire he hauls around makes him uncomfortable. "You can see, I am getting fat," the 50-year-old scientific researcher said, pointing to his belly. But Saleh also loves his tishreeb, a fatty mutton stew loaded up with meat and bread and rice, followed, of course, by a nap. Nor can he resist what almost always comes next: a visit to his favorite ice cream parlor. "You see, this is the only way of having fun," Saleh said as he ate a large cone of soft-serve from a shop on Hurriyah (Liberty) Square. There is something incongruous about an impoverished "rogue" nation eating ice cream as its most popular pastime--and as a symbol of its perseverance. Yet this simple pleasure has become a reminder of the life Iraqis led before the invasion of Kuwait, and before more than a decade of economic sanctions created a shortage of almost everything, including food and medicine. Ice cream inspires memories of the golden days of a generation ago, before the eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, back when there was a real middle class in Baghdad, back when foreigners actually wanted their children to come here to study. On any given night, Al Faqma ice cream parlor, off Hurriyah Square, is easily the city's busiest corner. The elite drive by in their fancy (and not so fancy) cars, tooting their horns and stopping at the shops and restaurants that line the road. Al Faqma is an upscale ice cream shop, staffed by a small army of men in white caps and white coats. It's easy to find: Just look for the long line. Families and young people, men and women, queue up at the shop window for a cone of soft-serve or a scoop of hard ice cream. The cost is just 250 Iraqi dinars, or about 12 cents, a bargain in this neighborhood. The corner is buzzing, like Pink's hot dog stand in Hollywood or any Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday afternoon. There is even a man with a camera ready to take your picture--for a small fee, of course. "It is a simple thing for people to enjoy," said Khalid Ibrahim, 37, who runs the shop with his brother Ismail. "It also helps strengthen social cohesion between the people." The infatuation with ice cream springs in part from an Iraqi enthusiasm for fat. Saleh's concerns about his waistline notwithstanding, the diet and fitness obsession prevalent in the cholesterol-conscious United States is irrelevant here. Maybe it's a matter of having more urgent things to worry about, like whether bombs are going to fall on your city again. Or maybe, as some of the snackers at the ice cream parlor said, no one is looking to America for guidance on body shapes. Maida Mahdi, for one, is fed up with America and doesn't want the United States, or anyone else for that matter, trying to tell her what to eat. She likes to be a bit, shall we say, full-figured, and she isn't going to try to slim down for anyone. Low-fat ice cream? The very concept amuses her. In Iraq, the parlors actually increase the fat content of the ice cream they make when the weather gets hot, which is most of the time. They say it tastes better, and Mahdi won't have it any other way. The flavors vary from shop to shop. This particular shop offers vanilla and chocolate soft serve, and a variety of harder ice creams. Others have only vanilla or chocolate. "The most important thing for an Iraqi is the belly," Mahdi, 40, said as she licked a vanilla twist on a sugar cone. "In fact, this is how we enjoy ourselves. . . . We don't care very much about our weight. We like to eat. We like food with fat." In much of the West, Iraq is viewed as an outlaw country, a member of President Bush's "axis of evil." President Saddam Hussein is, for the moment, the administration's most hated head of state. The Mideast nation's economy has been held captive by nearly 12 years of economic sanctions, imposed after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait. All of this matters to the Iraqi people, although not necessarily because they are concerned with what others think of their country. It just makes it difficult for them to get through their day. While Washington and Baghdad are busying trying to outmaneuver each other in the blame game (Who really is responsible for the malnutrition and impoverishment that plagues Iraq?), Rabaa Jasim just wants to buy his 7-year-old son, Mohammed, a new pair of shoes. While the United States and Iraq exchange insults and allegations, Sinan Abdulhamid, 20, worries because his family's savings have been spent so that its members can survive. Life in Baghdad is, indeed, difficult. Electricity cuts off for hours at a time--which can be torturous in a country where the summers are long and incredibly hot. Like a patient with a spinal cord injury who believes he will walk again, Iraqis are determined to resume a normal life, or at least make the most of the life they have. They remain defiant and insist that someday life will be decent again. And for now, at least, they can eat ice cream. "It is something symbolic for us to have ice cream," said Abdulhamid, a sophomore engineering student at Saddam University and a frequent patron of Al Faqma. There was a time, not too long ago, when even ice cream was denied Iraqis. When the country became a pariah in the world community in 1990 and was hit with comprehensive economic sanctions for invading its oil-rich neighbor, all of the nation's ice cream shops were shut down. The country was starving, and the authorities couldn't afford to allow what little milk and sugar was available to be used for ice cream or other sweets. After six years of shuttered parlors, the government relented and agreed to an oil-for-food program that allows the sale of crude oil so that food and medicine can be bought and distributed. The arrangement has been criticized from both sides, with Americans insisting that the sanctions have been too weak in blocking Hussein from rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction program and Iraq insisting that the program is so caught up in bureaucracy that the country is barely able to meet its basic needs. But oil-for-food meant the ice cream shops did reopen--and that is an important quality-of life issue, not only in nice Hurriyah Square, but especially in a place like the district of Saddam Hussein City. With row after row of two- and three-story concrete buildings lined up along dusty roads strewn with trash and debris, Saddam Hussein City is among the poorest neighborhoods. Fatima Yassin, 52, struggles to come up with the 60,000 dinars (about $30) a month she needs for rent and the 4,000 dinars (about $2) she needs for food each month. "It is difficult for us to have new clothes," she said, fingering the threadbare Islamic covering, called a chador, draped over her body. But Mohammed Tahir still does a good business at his corner ice cream shop in Saddam Hussein City. It is located right next to the food market, an open-air pit where animals are slaughtered next to piles of vegetables and where thick clouds of flies descend on anything that sits still. He sells his cones for just 50 dinars, or about 3 cents. "Every day I eat ice cream," said 13-year-old Mohammed Ashur, who stood barefoot in the street. "I get the money from my father every day. He sells fruit in the market every day." Mohammed said he wants to grow up to become a military officer because "they are smart and wear nice clothes." In the meantime, his passion is strawberry ice cream. "That is the best," he said. Of course, not all Iraqis are fat. Years of sanctions have created a serious nutrition problem, especially in the southern portion of the country, which in some respects makes Saddam Hussein City look upscale and well-tended. Malnutrition is still a huge problem, and UNICEF's Baghdad office has warned that any disruption of the distribution of food across Iraq could create chaos "and even famine on a large scale." For now, however, Al Faqma is pumping out ice cream in quantities that even Baskin Robbins might envy. Shop owner Ismail Ibrahim said that in the summer he runs through thousands of gallons of milk a day. But don't suggest for a minute that his high-fat ice cream is to blame for anyone's weight problem. "In fact," he said, smiling down at his own tremendous gut, "if you want to be objective, rice is the problem." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29980-2002May16.html * LITTLE BY LITTLE, IRAQ SHOWS SIGNS OF ECONOMIC LIFE by Howard Schneider Washington Post, 17th May BAGHDAD, Iraq -- It was a breezy Monday night, and the mood in Horreya Square was festive as a crowd that included college students, old men and shy young girls gathered outside the Faqma ice cream shop to indulge. In the Iraq of the mid-1990s, such a scene would have been impossible. People were penniless and the government strictly rationed milk and sugar to ensure that the country's embargoed food supplies covered necessities. But those days are past. Step by step, economic and social life is rebounding and the country is breaking out of limits imposed on it by the United States and other Western powers after the Persian Gulf War a decade ago. Iraq is now sufficiently flush to independently launch an oil embargo, as it did last month, suspending exports of crude as a protest against Israeli occupation of Palestinian cities in the West Bank. That won Iraq admiration in many Arab countries, as have its payments of $25,000 that U.S. officials said have been made to the families of each Palestinian suicide bomber. Many Iraqis and foreign diplomats here said the country's resurgence will make the U.S. goal of unseating President Saddam Hussein all the more difficult to achieve. And, in the meantime, the growing prosperity is allowing Hussein's political apparatus to proclaim that Iraq was the ultimate victor in the Persian Gulf conflict. "Many people predicted that Iraq would collapse in 1991, but we have reconstructed our country," Oil Minister Amir Mohammad Rasheed said recently at a news conference in Baghdad. "We know it is difficult for those without thousands of years of history to understand, but oil is not the only resource of the Iraqi people." Oil, however, is what's driving the rebound. Iraq is allowed to sell as much petroleum as it wants under U.N. sanctions to buy food, medicine and other necessities. But money is also entering the country illegally through oil smuggling and a complicated surcharge scheme that a Wall Street Journal analysis recently estimated provides around $2.5 billion annually outside the control of sanctions. While U.S. officials contend that much of the money is being spent to refit the Iraqi military, develop long-range missiles and possibly assemble nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, clearly some of it is improving the lives of Iraqi citizens. Per capita income now stands at around $2,500 annually -- double that of Egypt, according to the CIA World Factbook. Iraq's gross domestic product grew about 15 percent in the year 2000. [.....] As part of the upturn, Iraq has again become a major force in the regional economy. Much of its $13 billion in annual imports come from Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan, Iraqi officials said, helping bolster economies in the region. They added that Turkey's sales to Iraq doubled in the past year, to nearly $1 billion, while Egypt, starved for hard currency, now gets $2 billion a year from goods its sells to Iraq. Iraqis are traveling abroad more easily, too, on the expanding network of flights available since Saddam International Airport reopened a year ago. Royal Jordanian Airlines offers four flights a week between Amman and Baghdad, and service is also available to the Syrian capital, Damascus, and to Moscow. [.....] Some Iraqis who privately dislike the regime are also uneasy about the prospect of an attack. They would rather wait for the 65-year-old Hussein's natural demise than risk a war or revolution. "Borders are closed, brains are closed," said one businessman, who asked not to be identified. "But it has been 20 years. What is three or four more? This is what is in the heart of Iraqis." Advisers in the president's office, meanwhile, say the government's public bravado -- defiant, anti-American and ready for a fight -- isn't the whole story. "What are we going to say if [Bush] says we are the axis of evil? We fought Iran for eight years. How can you just throw us in one bottle?" one Iraqi official said. "We have learned lessons, and we will make use of those lessons. We will try to avoid our people suffering again." Despite the talk of war, the United States hasn't much changed the military pressure that it has exerted against Iraq since the end of the Gulf War. Every day a panoply of U.S. planes, including high-flying U-2 reconnaissance jets and RC-135 eavesdropping aircraft, course the skies of northern Saudi Arabia and southern Turkey, monitoring the Iraqi military. Warplanes stage periodic strikes against antiaircraft positions. But some diplomats in Baghdad and analysts in Washington say that Bush's war threats may already be paying off with the rise of what amounts, by Iraqi standards, to a group of pragmatists on the Baath Party's ruling Revolutionary Command Council. The diplomats said they believe Foreign Minister Naji Sabri has developed an influential voice in alliance with Hussein's younger son and possible successor, Qusay. Sabri is said to have pushed for recent efforts to mend fences with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. At a recent Arab League summit in Beirut, Iraq went further than ever, promising to respect Kuwait's sovereignty. Iraq has also reopened talks with the United Nations on the possible return of U.N. weapons inspection teams, who were withdrawn from the country in 1998 hours before the United States and Britain launched airstrikes on Baghdad. The talks now involve Iraqi scientists and generals. Before Sept. 11, Iraq maintained that inspectors would never return. Hussein remains the ultimate arbiter, however, holding on to power despite a record of domestic mismanagement, political executions and atrocities against his people. [.....] http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,716899,00.html * MOSQUE THAT THINKS IT'S A MISSILE SITE by Ewen MacAskill The Guardian, 17th May Looked at face-on, the minarets of the Umm al-Ma'arik mosque in Baghdad are much like any others in the Middle East. But seen side on, they resemble Scud missiles sitting on launch-pads. The Iraqi government, extremely sensitive about religious matters, denies that Saddam had the four minarets built as a tribute to the Scuds he launched against Israel during the 1991 Gulf war. But a close look round the mosque suggests the link is not as fanciful as it might seem. The huge blue-and-white mosque, completed in April last year in time for Saddam's birthday, is replete with references to the war and Saddam. Umm al-Ma'arik is translated by Iraqis as the Mother of All Battles mosque, Saddam's description of the 1991 Gulf war. Dahar Alani, a custodian of the Mother of All Battles mosque, said the Scud-style minarets were each 43 metres high to mark the "43 days of US aggression". Another minaret was 37 metres high, to represent the year of Saddam's birth, 1937. One of the most remarkable links with Saddam can be found inside the mosque, where 605 pages of the Koran are laid out in glass cases. The custodian said the entire text was written in Saddam's blood, which had been mixed with ink and preservatives, producing a red and brown colour with a tinge of blue. "He dedicated 24 litres of blood over three years," Mr Alani said. The calligraphy was the work of an Iraqi artist, Abas al-Baghadi. In the middle of the mosque is a pool shaped like the Arab world - "Water has no political boundaries," Mr Alani said - and in the middle of the pool is a 24ft- wide mosaic blob: Saddam's thumbprint. Inside the thumbprint is a magnified version of Saddam's signature. The mosque is one of three being built by Saddam in Baghdad. The Arahman mosque is due to be finished in two years and the Saddam mosque in 2015. The skeleton of the Saddam mosque is already up and it will be the third biggest in the world after Mecca and Medina. According to Mr Alani, the Saddam mosque will be a replica of the Mother of All Battles mosque but five times bigger. After years in which Saddam concentrated on building extravagant presidential palaces at a time when most of the population were suffering the deprivations caused by international sanctions, he has now switched to mosque-building. Initially, it looks like another manifestation of Saddam's megalomania, but there is a deeper motivation: a fear of the influence of Iranian fundamentalism that has led to an increased Islamisation of Iraq. Saddam, a Sunni Muslim, had a relaxed attitude towards religion, at least when he was younger. His Ba'ath party was - and may still be - secular. In 1980, the year after Saddam came to power, Gavin Young, in his book Iraq, wrote: "Iraq is, of course, a Muslim country, but the Iraqi view is that anyone should be free to choose the manner of his social life, and although the great majority of Iraqis do not touch liquor, those who like it are allowed to enjoy it in a variety of city restaurants and hotel bars." That remained the case until recently. Ihsan al-Hassan, a professor of sociology at Baghdad University, offered a simple explanation of Saddam's mosque-building: "As Saddam grows older, his attitude to religion changes. He goes back to religion." But he said there was a wider problem: Saddam was "trying to hold back the tide from Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran accuses Iraq of being godless. To show that he cares, Saddam builds mosques and takes other measures." Saddam has been forced to make a string of concessions to Islam. Alcohol is available in some shops but there are no bars in Iraq. The number of women with their heads covered by scarves, particularly in the countryside, has grown in the past two years. A government-sponsored "Back to the Faith" campaign began about a decade ago but it is being pursued with more vigour now. Talent competitions, with big cash prizes by Iraqi standards, are held for the best chanters of the Koran. A recent decree banned western names from shop fronts. Iraq has both Shia Muslims, the majority, and Sunnis, to whom Saddam belongs. Officials are touchy about the division, insisting that they are all Muslims, though Shias have been persecuted. There is another division in Iraqi society: while the devout welcome the mosque building, others privately complain that the money should be spent on schools and hospitals. At Friday prayers at the Mother of All Battles mosque, the voice of Sheikh Abdul Gaffer al Khasi booms out, praising a Palestinian woman suicide bomber. Later, at the Saddam University of Science and Religion, where he is assistant head, the sheikh offered two reasons for the building programme: "The construction of more mosques in Iraq is on the orders of his excellency, Saddam Hussein, because he believes that the power of human beings comes from religion," he said. The other reason was more mundane: an increase in population meant there was a need for more places of worship. Was it not incongruous that a place of worship should have as its themes war and the personality cult of Saddam? "It is a jihad situation," he said. "There is no political meaning. It is religious. Every believer has to go to war to stop the US." At Baghdad University, Mr Hassan predicted the rise in Islam would prove to be temporary. "As a sociologist, I do not think it will last. It is something that happens in time of trouble." Faced with an economic blockade and a threat of war, people turn to religion for moral and psychological support, he said. IRAQI/INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (Malaysia, Europe) http://www.washtimes.com/world/20020516-88137774.htm * Malaysia backs Saddam ouster by David R. Sands THE WASHINGTON TIMES, 16th May [The title - alarming since Malaysia has been a quite consistent opponent of the sanctions regime - is misleading. The main thrust of Mahathirıs remarks was against the policy of hurting the Iraqi people, whether through sanctions or through war. Whatever some of the Iraqi emigre contributors to this list might think it is technically impossible for the US to overthrow Saddam without being responsible for the deaths of a large number of Iraqis.] Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday he would not oppose a U.S. effort to oust Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein if Iraqi civilians were not harmed. "If you can overthrow Saddam, by all means do it. Just don't make the Iraqi people pay for it," said Mr. Mahathir in an interview at his country's new Washington embassy, wrapping up a four day working visit to Washington that included a warm Oval Office session with President Bush. Mr. Mahathir, 76, made clear that he harbors deep doubts about the current international pressure campaign against Iraq, saying U.S.-backed sanctions were harming the health of Iraqi children and seniors. He also said the Bush administration's war on global terrorism could never be won unless it addressed "root causes" of frustration in the Muslim world, in particular the grievances of the Palestinians. The prime minister said Malaysia is not advocating any action against Iraq but was simply warning Washington of the consequences of any potential move. "You may dislike Saddam Hussein and try to get rid of him. We just say it should not come at the expense of the people there," he said. [.....] U.S. relations with Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation, have been transformed in the eight months since the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Malaysia has been battling armed Islamic fundamentalist groups at home, and Mr. Mahathir was quick to link his government's fight with the U.S. anti-terror effort. Since September 11, Malaysian officials have arrested dozens of Islamic militants with suspected ties to domestic terror groups or to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden. The country has also tightened border controls and this week made formal an anti-terrorist coalition with Indonesia and the Philippines in a region U.S. analysts fear could become a haven for al Qaeda operatives. Malaysia also has shared key intelligence on al Qaeda operations with U.S. officials since September 11. During Mr. Mahathir's Washington visit, the two countries signed an anti terrorism accord calling for deeper sharing of financial information and beefing up border controls. Mr. Mahathir, who has clashed in the past with Washington over human rights and economic policy, said yesterday that the warm reception he received this week was vindication of the tough line he has taken on security and social stability. "Suddenly, the U.S. government seems to understand the problems we faced in Malaysia," the prime minister said. "It is not as easy as saying merely we should not abuse certain provisions of the law. We had to do things that were for the good of the country but may not sound right, that may be termed 'abuses of power.'" Leading human rights groups pushed the Bush administration to raise the cause of opposition figures in Malaysia now in jail under the government's Internal Security Act. Mr. Mahathir's domestic critics have charged that he has used the anti-terrorism drive to discredit his political opponents, notably the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia. U.S.-Malaysian relations may have reached a nadir during a public dispute between Mr. Mahathir and Vice President Al Gore in 1998 over the conviction of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, once seen as Mr. Mahathir's political heir, on charges of corruption and sodomy. But in the first Oval Office visit by Mr. Mahathir in eight years, the subject of human rights did not come up. Mr. Bush said before the meeting, "My most important job and I remind the American people of this is to secure our homeland. This is a very important visit from that respect." U.S. officials insist that they still view the jailing of Mr. Anwar as unfair but said there was no discussion of canceling the Mahathir visit because of human rights differences. As he has in the past, Mr. Mahathir denied in the interview yesterday that the legal action against Mr. Anwar was politically motivated. [.....] http://www.irna.com/newshtm/eng/26220002.htm * EP condemns Iraqi human rights violations, rejects military action [There is a hint here of a possible interesting policy proposal: lifting of sanctions in exchange for human rights inspections. This shows more concern for the plight of the Kurds and Marsh Arabsı still under Baghdad control than has been evident from Washington. But the whole thing is vitiated by a proposal that war criminalsı should be hauled before a tribunal - as if any war crimes tribunal can command any moral authority so long as the likes of Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Norman Schwarzkopf and their respective Presidents, are allowed to walk about freely ...] Brussels, May 16, IRNA -- The European Parliament in its plenary session in Strasbourg Thursday adopted a resolution by 354 votes in favour, 29 against with 31 abstentions deploring the situation in Iraq, eleven years after the Iraq-Kuwait war. The resolution strongly condemned ''the serious, repeated violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Iraqi government, the widespread use of the death penalty, summary and arbitrary executions, torture and rape, the disappearances and the forced relocations of the population. '' In addition, the resolution insists that the Iraqi government cease immediately its encouragement for the policy of suicide bombings by Palestinians in the Middle East. Also welcomed was the agreement signed at the Beirut Summit in March this year that Iraq recognises the international border of Kuwait. The EP also said it is urgent, on humanitarian grounds, to lift general economic and trade sanctions while keeping the arms embargo on Iraq in place. It also re-emphasises the importance of a multilateral political solution in the region under UN auspices, while at the same time rejecting any military action not covered by UN resolutions. The resolution also expected that Iraq will become part of the convention on chemical weapons. MEPs urge the need to allocate part of the funds of the 'oil for food' programme, which is felt to have had little impact, to provide humanitarian aid for the 3.5 million Iraqi refugees, displaced persons and victims of terrorist, biological and chemical attacks. In view of the appalling situation in Iraq, MEPs reaffirm the need to take swift action by deploying special human rights observers throughout the country and there is also a call for the creation of an international commission to investigate disappearances. The EP urges the EU Council and Commission to set up an 'office of inquiry' on human rights and put in place a strategy which would include increased monitoring and public condemnation of human rights violations, a refusal to allow leading members of the Iraqi regime into EU states and a freeze on their illegal financial assets. MEPs also insisted that Iraqi leaders responsible for crimes against humanity and for violations of international law be brought to trial at an ad hoc International Tribunal for Iraq. They also demanded support for the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq and for projects for the development of civil society. Concerned at the Iraqi authorities' failure to protect the environment, the House called for measures to rehabilitate the worst affected areas, including the badly damaged South Iraqi marshlands. Lastly MEPs called on the Council to adopt a common position on the situation in Iraq, as a first step towards the adoption of a joint strategy towards the whole region. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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