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[casi] News, 12-18/5/02 (2)

News, 12-18/5/02 (2)


*  Inside Iraq [Guy Dinsmore on the difficulties of getting into the Kurdish
autonomous zone. In the article he refers to Œthe 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
Œprivatelyı 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.]


*  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


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

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

"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.

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

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

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.


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."

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

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

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.


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

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

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.


*  Malaysia backs Saddam ouster
by David R. Sands
[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

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

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

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

"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.


*  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 ŒMarsh Arabsı still under Baghdad control
than has been evident from Washington. But the whole thing is vitiated by a
proposal that Œwar 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

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.

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