News

Beth Jones, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Senate Foreign Relations Middle East and South Asia
Subcommittee
March 9, 1999

Mr. Chairman:

I appreciate this opportunity to update you on events inside Iraq and
the steps the Administration is taking to try to influence them.

We believe Operation "Desert Fox" accomplished its goal of degrading
Saddam's capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction
and his ability to threaten his neighbors.

It also appears that the regime has been weakened.

Saddam's January Army Day speech calling for the overthrow of Arab
governments, the walk-out by his Foreign Minister from the January
Arab League meeting, repeated Iraqi threats to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia
and Turkey and repeated allusions by Iraqi officials to the
illegitimacy of the Kuwait border underscore Saddam's weakness and
isolation.

Anecdotally, we have heard that over half the civilian government
offices in Baghdad were dispersed to residential areas during the
December air strikes and have not yet returned to their original
locations. Moreover, long-term dispersal of Republican Guard units to
the field is reported to be taking a toll on morale among the RG
officer corps, which no longer enjoys a privileged lifestyle in
Baghdad.

Perhaps just as important, Saddam has been unable to achieve what he
announced as his chief goal for 1998: the lifting of sanctions and
restoration of his control over Iraq's billions of dollars in oil
revenue. Instead, his defiance of the international community has
prolonged sanctions even further and compelled the coalition to
respond militarily in December. Sanctions remain in place. The UN
controls his oil revenue and provides for the Iraqi people and it is
clear that there can be no short cut to lifting sanctions.

Since the end of Desert Fox, Saddam has chosen to challenge the No-Fly
zones in both the north and south on an almost daily basis. The
coalition response has been to strike at his integrated air defense
system. The net effect of his challenges has been to degrade his
weapons capability further and frustrate his efforts to achieve even a
pyrrhic victory.

One recent strike appears to have affected communication for the oil
pipeline to Turkey. Fortunately, repairs were made within 48 hours
with no serious effect on oil flow essential to maintaining the
humanitarian program. We will continue to make every effort to avoid
hitting such dual-use targets.

Internally, there have been signs of strain and unrest since Desert
Fox. On February 19, Ayatollah Muhammed al-Sadr, the senior Shi'a
cleric appointed by Saddam, was assassinated. Al-Sadr is the third
senior cleric killed in less than a year. Over the past several
months, he reportedly had been warned against leading Friday prayers
and was interrogated and threatened by security forces. He was shot,
along with his two sons, after attending Friday prayers at the shrine
of the Imam Ali in Najaf. The Government refused to allow a funeral
ceremony.

Al-Sadr's assassination came at a time when Saddam appears to be
having increasing difficulty maintaining control over security in
southern Iraq. In an effort to repress unrest in the south, Saddam
last fall named Ali Hasan al-Majid as Commander for the Southern
Region; an appointment that probably was meant to intimidate the local
population. Ali Hasan is known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of
chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians when he was in charge of
security in northern Iraq.

Demonstrations erupted in several of Baghdad's predominantly Shi'a
neighborhoods shortly after news of the killing got out. The regime
moved quickly to quell the unrest. All roads leading into Baghdad were
reportedly cut off and, according to opposition sources, 25
demonstrators were killed, 50 injured, and 250 arrested, including 15
religious scholars. Others reported even higher numbers.

Similar, short-lived protests reportedly occurred in many other
cities. The regime allegedly responded to demonstrators who occupied
the town hall in Nassiriyah by shelling the town and killing 18
people. There were light arms clashes in Karbala. The opposition also
reported that disturbances took place in areas with a large Sunni
population. For example, in predominantly Sunni Ramadi province, nine
people, including a former governor, were said to have been executed
following unrest.

The situation appears to have calmed for now. However, the traditional
40 days of mourning for the assassinated cleric will end in late
March, near the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice which marks the end of
the Pilgrimage. We will be paying particular attention to popular
demonstrations that might mark the end of the mourning period and to
regime tactics either to forestall or quell them.

In an incident that may have been unrelated to the popular unrest, the
second in command in the southern Iraq security district and two staff
officers reportedly were executed sometime in late January or
February. Staff Lt. General Kamil Sachet al-Janabi, a former Corps
commander, Gulf War hero and the senior deputy in the south to Ali
Hassan al-Majid was accused of plotting to overthrow the regime.
Whatever the real reason for his execution, the regime evidently
intends it as a warning to others while at the same time alerting
Iraqis to high-level fear of coups and overthrow.

What is the U.S. doing to influence events?

First, we continue to contain Saddam, working with the UN to
reestablish disarmament and monitoring activities while at the same
time ensuring that the basic needs of the Iraqi people are met.
Second, we are helping to isolate Saddam diplomatically, where the
Arab world, in particular, is incensed by his behavior and threats.
Third, we are working with Iraqis who want to see Iraq restored to its
rightful place in the region, with Iraqis who, like us, believe such a
future is possible only under a new regime.

Frank Ricciardone, the new Special Coordinator for Transition in Iraq,
took up his activities full-time on March 1. He was in London last
week for another round of meetings with a wide range of Iraqis there.
Among other influential Iraqis, he met with Ahmed Chalabi, chairman of
the Executive Committee of the Iraqi National Congress. Dr. Chalabi,
as you know, has called for a meeting of the INC this spring. We are
working with him and other INC leaders to lay the groundwork for a
successful meeting, through close consultation with constituent groups
and careful planning. Ricciardone is encouraging the INC Executive
Committee members to hold an informal meeting next week and to follow
it with a formal meeting of the INC Executive Committee that could
pave the way for a productive General Assembly meeting.

This week, Assistant Secretary Martin Indyk will travel to Turkey,
Jordan and Syria to continue our consultations with regional
governments regarding our policy. After joining Martin in Ankara,
Ricciardone, will stop again in London to continue his important
consultations with key Iraqi exiles. As soon as he is back in
Washington, he will resume his close consultations with members and
staff regarding our shared goals and ways to work more closely
together to achieve them.

We are also very sensitive to the need to get information to and from
Iraqis inside Iraq. We are pleased that Radio Free Iraq, which is an
independent station, has been heard inside Iraq since October. We are
also stepping up coordination with USIA, looking at ways to make other
media outreach more effective.

In early February, the President formally designated seven opposition
groups under the Iraq Liberation Act as eligible to receive assistance
under the Act. We are intensifying our contacts with Iraqi groups and
will consider how we can help them more effectively oppose Saddam's
rule and help Iraqis to achieve the kind of government they deserve
and desire. We will evaluate carefully the capabilities of these
groups, their strengths and their weaknesses, giving due consideration
to any proposals they may wish to present regarding possible receipt
of assistance under the Act. We will also try to resolve other
practical issues, such as securing still more support from neighboring
countries, as would be needed in such scenarios.

We have also taken concrete steps to ensure that funding reaches
groups and initiatives that meet our common goals. For example, we
have worked over the past several months with the chairman and board
of the INDICT organization to ensure that INDICT can become a major
focal point of Iraqi war crimes accountability activity. The board has
agreed to an initial grant of $500,000, and has welcomed our
suggestion that funding be made available also for developing
effective management and accounting expertise and for program
development. We expect to receive a program plan and follow-on grant
requests in the near future.

We are also working with Dr. Christine Gosden to provide a grant for a
field study of the effects of Saddam's 1988 attacks on the people of
Halabja.

As you know, I am personally involved in our efforts to help reconcile
the Kurdish parties in northern Iraq. I traveled to the region in
January to encourage them in their efforts to unify the regional
government apparatus and to care more equitably for the needs of the
people in the region. As part of this process, we are exploring ways
for NGOs to provide election process training and assistance prior to
elections in northern Iraq that could be held late this year.

We are also looking at ways to provide assistance to:

-- leadership confidence building seminars and organizational
meetings;

-- Iraqis who will make their case before international organizations
such as UN agencies;

-- and seminars that explore "the day after" and such topics as
constitutional modeling, debt restructuring and rebuilding a health
care network.

A more detailed report on this activity is in clearance. We look
forward to working with Congress as we pursue these efforts at
strengthening the ability of Iraqis to work for a better future.