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Newsline - July 13, 2006

Russian and Chinese diplomats proposed to the UN Security Council on July 12 a joint resolution on North Korean missile tests, which condemns Pyongyang's actions but does not call for mandatory sanctions or raise the possibility of military action, news agencies reported. The text calls on UN member states not to buy from North Korea or to assist the North Korean missile program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7 and 10, 2006). The draft appeals to Pyongyang to observe its earlier moratorium on missile launching; to refrain from any move that would generate further tensions; to return to the six-party talks; and to drop its nuclear weapons program. The text differs from a Japanese proposal backed by the United States, United Kingdom, and France that calls for mandatory sanctions and invokes Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which can authorize sanctions or even military action. Furthermore, the Sino-Russian draft does not call Pyongyang's missile tests a "threat to international peace and security," which is a phrase that can be used to invoke Chapter Seven. PM

In Moscow on July 12, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected the Japanese UN text on North Korean missile tests, Russian news agencies reported. Lavrov added that "Japan has declared through its official representatives that all countries [in the council] should vote as Japan wants them to vote, and warns that if they don't, those countries will face some kind of negative consequences. I think such statements are absolutely unacceptable." He said that a UN resolution must be "tough, but not brimming over with emotions," nor should it contain threats. Radio Japan commented on the Sino-Russian proposal on July 13 that "Japan and the United States have described the new proposal as a step forward, but claim that a huge gap remains between the two drafts. Kenzo Oshima, who is Japanese ambassador to the UN, said that 'some [council] members want a compromise, and we cannot ignore them. But Japan cannot make concessions on the most important issues.'" Oshima added that Tokyo will continue to seek a compromise between the two drafts (see PM

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement on July 13 that there is no justification for the recent Israeli destruction of Palestinian and Lebanese civilian infrastructure, Interfax and RIA Novosti reported. He added that "the disproportionate use of force by Israel, which causes suffering to the civilian population, can be neither understood nor justified. Equally unacceptable are any manifestations of terrorism and the taking of hostages, who must be released immediately and unconditionally." This is an apparent reference to the capture of two Israeli soldiers by the radical Hizbollah on July 12. Kamynin also said that "the [July 13 Israeli] attack on Lebanon's airport is a dangerous step toward military escalation," adding that Russia firmly supports Lebanon's territorial integrity and sovereignty. He said that it is "most important" to prevent the conflict from spreading. PM

President Vladimir Putin told German ZDF television in Moscow on July 13 that he is "surprised" that some Germans do not see the benefits of the planned North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) running from Vyborg to Greifswald, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, 2005, and June 19 and 26, 2006). Putin stressed that the pipeline will involve "a mutual dependency that will create normal relations on global energy markets and in the political sphere in the historical perspective," adding that diversification of energy transportation routes directly benefits German and other European consumers. He wondered "why would you want to always depend on our transit agreements with Ukraine, or Belarus, or Poland? I was shocked, simply shocked by the fact that [politicians] in Germany, or other European countries, could not see their own interests." It is not clear which politicians Putin was referring to. The NEGP enjoys broad support within the German political class, and German business is generally very eager to expand contacts with Russia. PM

Jose Manuel Barroso was quoted by the London daily "The Independent" on July 13 as saying that "for me it is not yet clear...if Russia will be a full democracy in the way we see it in the EU.... A lot depends on the leadership" for better or for worse. He criticized as "not really intelligent" threats by some Russian energy officials to sell more gas and oil to Asian customers instead of European ones if the EU does not open its markets to Russian businesses on Russian terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 16, 19, and 20, 2006). Barroso nonetheless praised Putin as an intelligent leader and good communicator, adding that "I think that Putin would like Russia to be a modern state with an established functioning democracy." Barroso said that the EU wants "a strong, predictable, stable Russia." PM

President Putin signed legislation on July 13 that strips legislators of their seats in parliament if they switch parties, and also prohibits parties from supporting candidates from other parties at elections. Critics say the legislation is an attempt by the Kremlin to weaken the opposition. The State Duma recently voted to remove the option of voting "against all" on ballots, which has allowed Russian voters to express their dissatisfaction with the political process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, June 30, and July 3, 2006). In related news, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, who heads the Central Election Commission, said on July 12 that the new legislation on backing candidates from other parties, as well as measures on "against all" and on barring "extremist" candidates, will not take effect for the October 8 elections in nine regions, "The Moscow Times" reported on July 13. PM

The Arkhangelsk Oblast Court ruled in a closed-door session on July 12 that Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksei Barinov must remain in custody until 26 October pending the outcome of an investigation into corruption charges, reported. Barinov was arrested in Arkhangelsk on May 23 in connection with a criminal case allegedly involving large-scale embezzlement, but many suspect that the authorities' real motivation was political (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26 and June 2, 2006). Until 2003, he headed the LUKoil subsidiary ArkhangelskGeologDobycha and then became the last regional governor to be directly elected. On June 2, President Putin suspended Barinov from office and named Valery Potapenko, who is the chief federal inspector for the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, acting governor. The British daily "The Times" reported on July 8 that the Nenets Autonomous Okrug is "the frontline of the Kremlin's campaign to curb local democracy and seize control of Russia's energy resources. [The area has] an estimated 3.6 billion tons of untapped oil and gas reserves -- enough to supply Britain for almost 20 years. The Kremlin, or the dominant faction within it, wants to wrest control of this hydrocarbon pool, worth trillions of dollars, away from an autonomous-minded local administration. Its tactics, however, raise grave concerns about President Putin's commitment to democracy and free markets." PM

Taymuraz Mamsurov visited several villages in Prigorodny Raion on July 11, reported the following day. Mamsurov met with local residents, including some Ingush, to discuss their problems and grievances. Prigorodny Raion was part of the then Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) until that territorial unit was abolished in 1944 following the deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush peoples to Central Asia on orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The Ingush have been lobbying since the early 1990s for the district to be returned from North Ossetian to Ingush control. Eleven Ingush men began a hunger strike on July 3 in the Ingushetian settlement of Maysky to protest the authorities' half-implemented plans to close that settlement and transfer its estimated 1,230 residents to a new settlement with only minimal amenities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28 and 31 and May 25, 2006). The hunger strikers insist on being allowed to return to Prigorodny district, but North Ossetian Interior Minister Soslan Sikoyev, who visited them on July 11 together with other republican officials, was quoted by as telling them that only those Ingush who can produce documentary evidence that they owned property in Prigorodny district will be permitted to resettle there. LF

Police surrounded and stormed an apartment building in the town of Buynaksk, southwest of Makhachkala on July 12, killing two militants hiding out there, Russian media reported. The two dead men were identified as natives of Daghestan and as belonging to separate militant groups. LF

Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin met in Yerevan on July 12 with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian to discuss the economic impact on Armenia of the closure as of July 8 of the Verkhny Lars border crossing between Russia and Georgia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That border crossing is used by Armenian exporters to transport produce to Russia; Levitin told a press conference after the talks that the Russian government will consider ways to compensate Armenia for losses incurred as a result of the border closure. LF

An Armenian Appeals Court turned down on July 12 a petition signed by fellow journalists and several parliamentarians against the ruling by a lower court remanding Arman Babadjanian, editor of the independent bi-weekly "Zhamanak Yerevan," in pre-trial detention for two months, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Babadjanian was arrested last month on charges of evading military service four years ago, charges he rejects as politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27 and 28 and July 3 and 7, 2006). LF

Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes passed judgment on July 12 on three members of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Idea) accused of conspiring with Armenian special services to destabilize the political situation in the run-up to the parliamentary elections last November, and reported on July 12 and 13 respectively. Yeni Fikir Chairman Ruslan Bashirli was sentenced to seven years and his deputy Ramin Tagiyev to four years in a strict regime camp. A second deputy chairman, Said Nuriyev, received a suspended five-year prison term on the grounds that he suffers from thalassaemia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006). Lawyers for the three men told journalists that Bashirli and Tagiyev plan to appeal their sentences. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement on July 12 taking issue with the explanation cited by its Russian counterpart for the closure on July 8 of the Verkhny Lars border crossing, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian statement condemned as cynicism the Russian argument that criminal groups used Verkhny Lars for smuggling weapons and that the alternative border crossing between the Russian Federation and the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia -- over which the central Georgian government has no control -- could be used instead. The Georgian statement further recalled the bilateral agreement under which Russia is required to give three months advance notice of the closure of a border crossing, which it failed to do before closing Verkhny Lars, purportedly for "repairs." LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry dismissed on July 13 as "absurd" a statement released the previous day by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) warning that Georgia plans to stage a major "provocation" in the South Ossetian conflict zone on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg and attempted to lay the blame for the deaths of up to 20 Georgian residents of the conflict zone on Russia, Caucasus Press reported. Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone, similarly said on July 12 that his men are on combat alert in anticipation of "provocations" by the Georgian side, Interfax reported. Meanwhile in Brussels, Belgian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Karel De Gucht released a statement on July 12 expressing concern at the temporary detention on July 11 by "a group of heavily armed South Ossetian personnel" of two military officers on secondment to the OSCE Mission in Georgia. LF

Levan Bukhaidze, a key witness in the trial of four former Interior Ministry personnel found guilty last week of the murder in late January of Georgian banker Sandro Girgvliani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2006) was summoned for questioning by Tbilisi prosecutors on July 12, Georgian media reported. At the final court hearing, Bukhaidze changed his original testimony, saying he is now certain that one of the four accused was not among the four men who abducted and beat up himself and Girgvliani following an altercation in a Tbilisi bar. Bukhaidze identified another former Interior Ministry official, Oleg Melnikov, as one of the abductors. LF

Ergaly Sagalbaev, the head of Kazakhstan's penal system, told a news conference in Almaty on July 12 that an amnesty decree signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev on January 9 has affected 34,253 people, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Sagalbaev said that 3,626 inmates were released from prison as a result of the amnesty. He said another 14,370 people who were sentenced conditionally or paroled have also been amnestied, while courts have freed 14,304 people from serving the remainder of their sentences. Sagalbaev said the current prison population in Kazakhstan is 41,505 inmates, 80 percent of whom are serving time for serious crimes. DK

Kazakhstan's oil production in the first half of 2006 recorded a 5 percent year-on-year gain to reach 28 million tons, Interfax reported on July 12. Natural gas production fell 12.5 percent to 6.836 billion cubic meters, and associated gas production dropped 2.2 percent to 5.09 billion cubic meters, while gas condensate production rose 27.3 percent to 2.654 million tons, Interfax reported. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry issued an official statement on July 12 declaring two U.S. diplomats "persona non grata," reported. The ministry stated that "this decision was made on the basis of accurate facts provided by the security services of the Kyrgyz Republic about [the two diplomats'] repeated interference in the country's internal affairs [which is] incompatible with diplomatic status and accepted norms of international law." The statement did not identify the diplomats by name. A ministry source told Reuters that the two diplomats "have to leave Kyrgyzstan as soon as possible." The source added, "It could be 24 hours, it could be 48 hours, or it could be a month." In a statement on July 11, the U.S. embassy in Bishkek said the diplomats have been accused of improper contacts with local NGOs; it denied the charge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2006). DK

The second round of Kyrgyz-U.S. talks on a new agreement for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan began in strict secrecy in Bishkek on July 12, news agency and Interfax reported. No official information on the talks was available from either side. DK

Kyrgyz police arrested 14 people in Jalalabad on July 11 in connection with the shooting death of a police officer on the night of July 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006), reported. Those detained are also suspected of involvement in a shooting incident on July 10 in which two police offers and a bystander were wounded. DK

Jamshed Samadov, former police chief in the Bobojon Ghafurov District and former commander of a rapid-reaction squad in Soghd Province, has been sentenced by Tajikistan's Supreme Court to a 19-year prison term for drug trafficking and abuse of office, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on July 12. Samadov was arrested in 2005 after one of his former bodyguards, who had been arrested on a drug offense, revealed Samadov's involvement in the drug trade. DK

Islam Karimov issued a decree on July 12 appointing Vladimir Norov as Uzbekistan's minister of foreign affairs, UzA reported. A separate decree removed Elyor Ghaniev from the post of foreign minister and appointed him minister of external economic ties, investment, and trade. Previously, Norov had served as deputy foreign minister. DK

A Tashkent civil court ruled on July 12 to close the Uzbekistan office of the U.S.-based NGO the Urban Institute, reported. The court ruled in favor of Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry, which had argued that the NGO conducted inquiries into social and political conditions in Uzbekistan in violation of the organization's charter. The court gave the NGO 20 days to appeal the ruling. DK

A new youth group called Nashi: Russia-Uzbekistan (Ours: Russia-Uzbekistan) held its first meeting in Tashkent on July 8, and Rosbalt reported on July 11-12. Rosbalt reported that the new Uzbek youth movement, which intends to promote "interethnic cooperation and democratic changes in Uzbekistan," will take the eponymous Russian pro-Putin youth movement Nashi as its main partner. At the first meeting, Nashi members in Uzbekistan selected five "commissars" (a position that exists in the Russian movement as well). According to Rosbalt, the Uzbek movement at present has about 200 members. DK

The Minsk District Court expelled on July 12 former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin from the courtroom thus reportedly depriving him of the chance to make a final statement, Belapan reported. The expulsion took place during the examination of journalist Lyubou Luneva, a witness for Kazulin's defense team. Kazulin is charged with disorderly conduct and malicious hooliganism. The accused attempted to ask the journalist several questions, but the presiding judge Alyaksey Rybakou did not allow it. Prosecutor Syarhey Bortnik requested that Rybakou expel the defendant and the judge upheld it. According to Kazulin's lawyer Ihar Rynkevich, his client will be allowed back into the courtroom only to hear the verdict. Rynkevich described the decision as "unprecedently harsh." AM

Jan Marinus Wiersma, vice president of the European Parliament's Socialist bloc, has expressed concern over the Belarusian opposition's strategy in an open letter to former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Belapan reported on July 12. The letter reads that members of the Belarusian opposition traveled to the European Union on many occasions after the March 19 election, but, Wiersma adds, "I am not completely convinced that this has been the most effective way to gather support in Belarus." He said that contact between the Belarusian opposition and EU politicians is important, but "the most important role you can play is within your own country." Wiersma also stressed the importance of unity among opposition forces after March 19 and pledged his political support for democratic change in Belarus. AM

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) in the Verkhovna Rada has issued an appeal to the Ukrainian nation calling for support for the bloc's struggle for democracy and national interests, Interfax reported on July 12. The appeal describes the "anti-crisis" coalition made up of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party as "a criminal-communist majority" and "revenge-seekers" who are striving to revive "the most fearful and disgraceful features of 'Kuchmaism.'" The BYuT urged the Our Ukraine party not to sit with "the Yanukovych clan" at the negotiating table. AM

Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc supporters have rallied in Kyiv to demand the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and the holding of early parliamentary elections, Interfax reported on July 12. According to BYuT member Mykola Tomenko, several thousand people attended the rally. They erected over 50 tents on Kyiv's Independence Square. Ihor Kozik, the chairman of the Pora organization, which played a key part in the Orange Revolution, said on July 12 that the tents will remain until President Yushchenko dissolves the parliament. BYuT supporters clashed early on July 13 with supporters of the Party of Regions at the tent camp, Ukrainian TV reported. AM

The monthly household income of 9 percent of the population of Serbia is less than 6,500 dinars ($97), according to a report posted on the website of the Belgrade-based Radio B92 on July 12. Aleksandra Jovic of the Serbian government's team for the preparation of a strategy for reducing poverty was quoted as saying that the council did not want to make these poverty statistics public because of the different methods used to measuring these statistics. Jovic also said that one positive aspect is that poverty levels are not increasing. RK

The winner of the Macedonian elections, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, has agreed on the distribution of six ministerial posts in the cabinet with the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Makfax agency reported on July 12. The names of the new ministers, however, were not released yet. Ermira Mehmeti, the BDI spokesperson taking part in the negotiations, said that both parties shared the position that the battle against corruption and organized crime should top the new cabinet's agenda. RK

Senior Iraqi leaders warned this week -- nearly one month into Operation Together Forward -- that their country is on the brink of civil war. Meanwhile, Sunni and Shi'ite leaders linked to rogue groups faced off on television airwaves, each blaming the other for the most recent surge in violence in the capital.

The government's inability to stabilize the security situation has led to an upsurge of violence in recent days, especially in Baghdad, which has seen tit-for-tat sectarian-motivated attacks. Officials concede that Iraqis are increasingly becoming the victims of violence at the hands of sectarian militias, some of which have ties to parties in government.

The majority of the Shi'a killed in recent days have died as a result of bomb attacks. For their part, Sunnis claim they are subject to attack by Shi'ite militiamen who identify their religion through their identification cards.

To the outside observer, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's security plan for Baghdad appears to be faltering. The 50,000 security forces that entered the city on June 14 have proven incapable of stemming the violence. Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Abd al-Aziz Muhammad told reporters at a July 11 press briefing that the Interior Ministry's response time to the previous day's incidents in the Al-Jihad district of the capital "was not expeditious or appropriate."

"Security can never be established in Baghdad with the presence of gunmen and armed groups," he asserted.

"As this institutional foundation is strengthened, the Iraqi government will be in a position to reestablish the state's monopoly on force," said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. "The need to demobilize unauthorized armed groups, including militias, is a critical part of this."

Al-Maliki continues to talk tough on security. He told parliamentarians on July 12 that security forces had thwarted an attempt by an unnamed insurgent group to occupy areas of Baghdad west of the Tigris River.

The prime minister also admonished political parties, telling parliamentarians that he would no longer tolerate accusations and counteraccusations by political parties over their rivals' militias. Every party has militias, al-Maliki contended, adding it is time for each party to take responsibility for members' actions and to help restore order.

The divisions surfacing from within al-Maliki's administration reflect the divisions on the street. Deputy Prime Minister for National Security Affairs Salam al-Zawba'i, a Sunni Arab, on July 9 laid blame on the Shi'ite community, saying the Shi'ite-dominated police force is incapable of establishing order in Baghdad because of its ties to Shi'ite militias.

Al-Zawba'i's comments elicited a sharp response from the prime minister's office, which said in a same-day statement that the deputy prime minister's comments did not reflect the official government position.

Two days earlier, al-Zawba'i told Al-Jazeera that several major generals and high-ranking officers were colluding with terrorists. "The Iraqi people are paying a big price because of this chaos," he said.

Parliament Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, told Al-Sharqiyah television in a July 9 interview from Bahrain that Iraqis who carry out sectarian attacks are fulfilling a "Zionist sectarian agenda." He said the perpetrators of such acts "whether they know it or not, are linked to the most malicious agenda the world has ever known, that being the Israeli [intelligence agency] Mossad's agenda that entered Iraq through the occupation."

Al-Mashhadani also claimed that those behind the sectarian violence received "their orders from Tel Aviv and the leaders of the death squads."

"The Jews hiding behind Iraqi faces are known to us, and the day will come when we purge our country of them," he warned ominously.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party accused the U.S. and Iraqi armies of laying siege to Al-Miqdadiyah, in Diyala Governorate. The party said on July 8 that the town had been under siege for five days, and civilians had no access to health care, electricity, or water, while "not a single weapon has been found."

Interior Ministry Commander Major General Adnan Thabit told reporters the "conflicting duties" of the security services, militias, and armed groups "confuse the plans that have been drawn up to restore security in Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported.

Several members of al-Maliki's government have criticized the premier for backtracking on two key points of his national-reconciliation initiative: no negotiations with those who attacked U.S. soldiers, and the proposed integration of militias into the army and security services.

Iyad al-Samarra'i, parliamentarian and deputy secretary-general of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party, told Al-Arabiyah television on July 7 that the campaign by Shi'ites to pool terrorists and national resistance fighters into the same category will ultimately undermine al-Maliki's initiative and have "momentous consequences."

"When we speak of reconciliation, this reconciliation should not be conditional," he said.

Minister of State for National Dialogue Akram al-Hakim, a Shi'a, told the same program that al-Maliki's initiative "does not exclude anyone" from taking part in the talks.

"The issue is not what this or that person used to be called five years ago, whether he was a Ba'athist or not, whether he now calls himself part of the resistance against the occupation or not," al-Hakim said. "The question is do they actually support the constants that the new regime upholds?"

Some Iraqi politicians are apparently dissatisfied with al-Maliki's plan and are working on initiatives of their own. Salih al-Mutlaq, head of the Sunni Arab party Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that he plans to present a new reconciliation plan to parliament this week, the daily reported on July 9. The parliamentarian said al-Maliki's national-reconciliation plan contained some good ideas, but he criticized al-Maliki for backtracking on amnesty for insurgents who had targeted U.S. soldiers.

Al-Mutlaq said the plan calls for canceling the decisions of former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer, dissolving the militias, revoking the de-Ba'athification law, and abolishing the sectarian quota system on which the current government is based. He added that he would also present the plan to the Iraqi people, as he has little faith in the Council of Representatives. Al-Mutlaq said the council "votes for the party before it votes for the homeland."

The growing schism between followers of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association exploded across the airwaves on July 9 when al-Sadr's spokesman, Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji, faced off against association spokesman Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi on Al-Jazeera television.

Both men claimed the tension between the one-time allied groups - bound by their commitment to drive foreign forces from Iraq -- has grown because the other party had chosen a path that contradicted its original goals.

Al-Faydi claimed for example that although the association was not critical of the al-Sadr movement's decision to join the political process, it cannot ignore the actions of al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, which he claimed began systematically targeting Sunni Arabs following the February 22 bombing of two Shi'ite shrines in Samarra.

Al-Darraji countered that the Muslim Scholars Association has adopted a hard line, saying the association rejected all national-reconciliation proposals rather than pursuing a path of brotherhood and unity.

Al-Darraji denied reports of several incidents in which the Al-Mahdi Army allegedly attacked Sunni Arabs, and suggested the perpetrators were actually Sunnis working for jihadist groups or Ba'athists carrying out the work of the United States.

Al-Faydi countered by claiming to have sworn statements by Sunni Arabs who said they were arrested and tortured by the Al-Mahdi Army. He said Badr Forces, a militia tied to the Shi'ite party Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), were responsible for some of the attacks on Sunni civilians.

Association spokesman Muthanna Harith al-Dari went a step further, telling Al-Arabiyah television on July 9 that the Imam Al-Mahdi Army was responsible for the killings of some 50 Sunni Arabs that day in the Jihad district of Baghdad.

Al-Sadr's movement has also reportedly been linked to the kidnapping of parliamentarian Taysir al-Mashhadani. Representatives from the Iraqi Islamic Party, the parliamentarian's party, have declined to comment on the purported link.

Association head Harith al-Dari, Muthanna's father, directly blamed Iran for the killing of some 100,000 Sunni Arabs in Iraq since 2003.

"There is a simple solution, if Iran wants it," al-Dari said. "It can ask [Abd al-]Aziz al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr to stop the activities of their followers and to leave their Sunni brothers to live in this country like others."

Al-Dari alleged that Iran had supplied weapons and funding to the two Shi'ite leaders' militias.

In the near term, it appears al-Maliki's best chance of regaining control of the security situation in Baghdad rests upon his ability to persuade political parties active in government to rein in their militias.

The premier's plan to dissolve militias will prove a far greater challenge, and is likely months off, as U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad hinted during a speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on July 11.

First of all, Iraqi leaders must build a consensus to address several issues that arise out of the new constitution, including federalism, national resources, and de-Ba'athification. Second, they must enhance unity through national reconciliation. Third, they need to build up the capability of security forces while purging sectarian forces in the Interior Ministry and police, thereby gaining the trust of all communities.

"As this institutional foundation is strengthened, the Iraqi government will be in a position to reestablish the state's monopoly on force," said Khalilzad. "The need to demobilize unauthorized armed groups, including militias, is a critical part of this."

The Iraqi government and the coalition will then take advantage of reconciliation efforts to weaken and destroy the terrorists and other irreconcilable elements, and carry out focused stabilization operations to develop enduring security in major cities, particularly Baghdad. After that, U.S. forces can begin withdrawing from Iraq, the ambassador concluded.

A suicide attacker rammed his vehicle into a coalition military convoy in Khost Province's Yaqubi district on July 12, killing a nearby Afghan boy and injuring four other children, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Two coalition soldiers sustained minor injures and the bomber died in the attack. Khost security chief Mohammad Zaman told Bakhtar that the attacker was driving from the direction of the Pakistani border but stopped short of placing any blame on Pakistani authorities. But the head of Yaqubi district, Merza Jan Nimgaray, blamed Taliban who "came from Pakistan," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. A Taliban website on July 12 posted an image of a masked man identified as the Khost suicide bomber reading a written statement in front of a white banner reading "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" -- the name that the Taliban regime used for Afghanistan. The website claims that the bomber, Talib Asadullah Khosti, succeeded in killing "11 American occupiers and [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai's militiamen" and destroying one Afghan and three U.S. vehicles. Purported Taliban spokesmen have exaggerated casualty claims in the past, but the posting of such a testimonial within hours of an operation appears to be a new tactic. AT

A Pakistani and an Afghan national leading a donkey cart were killed at a large market in Wish in Kandahar Province, near the Afghan-Pakistani border, on July 12 when a bomber appeared to set off his explosives prematurely, AFP reported. Ten bystanders were injured in the attack. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanizai told AFP that the attacker "mistakenly" detonated explosives that he was carrying. Afghan authorities reportedly found an identification card in the man's pocket that "showed he was a Pakistani national from Chaman," which lies across the border from Wish, Stanizai added. In a different version of the incident, AIP quoted Spin Boldak security commander Abdul Wasay as saying one person was killed. In AIP's report, Abdul Wasay did not mention the involvement of any suspected Pakistani accomplice. AT

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said ahead of his recent visits to Tajikistan and Afghanistan that the thriving opium trade in Afghanistan may be helping the resurgent Taliban, the "Chicago Tribune" reported on July 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11 and 12, 2006). "I do worry that the funds that come from the sale of product could conceivably end up adversely affecting the democratic process" in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld was quoted as saying. AT

The international community has decided to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, Radio Farda reported on July 12, after foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the UN (China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.), Germany, and the European Union met in Paris. The decision was based on EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's report on his recent meetings with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, according to the foreign ministers' joint declaration of July 12. "The Iranians have given no indication at all that they are ready to engage seriously on the substance of our proposals," the declaration continued, and it mentioned failure to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) demand for "suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities." "We have agreed to seek a United Nations Security Council resolution, which would make the IAEA-required suspension mandatory," the declaration added. "Should Iran refuse to comply, then we will work for the adoption of measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the UN charter." Article 41 allows the Security Council to employ measures other than war -- such as economic sanctions, severing diplomatic relations, or interrupting communications -- in order to back its decisions. Iranian compliance with IAEA and Security Council demands and commencement of negotiations would preclude any further Security Council action. BS

Israeli forces entered Lebanese territory on July 12 in response to a cross-border raid by Lebanese Hizballah earlier in the day, in which rockets struck Israeli positions and two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the Hizballah raid as an "act of war," and because Hizballah is part of the Lebanese government, said Beirut will "bear the consequences for its actions," Kyodo World Service reported. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni referred to Iran's role in the affair, saying, "There is an axis of terror and hate, created by Iran, Syria, Hizballah, and Hamas that wants to end any hope for peace," according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website. Major General Udi Adam, chief of the Israeli Defense Forces' Northern Command, said, "Hizballah, which is a terror organization, operates from inside Lebanese soil with Iran's assistance and financial aid," Jerusalem's Channel 2 television reported. "Iran signed a defense treaty with Syria not too long ago, which is why they are all one single package," he continued. Adam said the Lebanese state must bear responsibility, before adding, "We know for a fact, and you know it too, that Iran supports these organizations." BS

Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Larijani arrived in Damascus on July 12, Radio Farda reported. Larijani explained: "And my visit to Syria is because of Iran and Syria's very close friendship and fellowship," state television reported. Larijani continued, "We constantly consult with each other on regional issues. I thought that at this juncture, because of various regional issues, there could be some consultations now." Larijani denied Iranian involvement in Middle East violence, saying Israel is behind it, Zurich's "Tages-Anzeiger" reported on July 11. BS

Deputy Minister of Housing and Urban Development Manuchehr Khajeh Dalui said on July 12 that Iranian contractors are building 10,000 residential units in Venezuela and could build another 30,000, the Mehr News Agency reported. The two countries are discussing a joint 150,000 unit construction project, he added. Khajeh Dalui said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has welcomed Iranian involvement in his country's construction sector. BS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said on July 12 that a special counterintelligence headquarters is being created to handle insecurity in the provinces along Iran's borders, Fars News Agency reported. Hashemi-Shahrudi said there is a distinction between antiregime efforts to stir up ethnic conflict and other factors that cause public disturbances. The Islamic Republic faces continuing unrest in the Kurdish regions that border Iraq, the predominantly ethnic Azeri provinces in the northwest, and the Baluchi-inhabited regions bordering Pakistan in the southeast. BS

The Mujahedin Army in Iraq claimed in a July 12 Internet posting that it was responsible for the shelling of the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad on July 5. The attack is one in a series of recent attacks on Iranians in Iraq. On July 6, a suicide car bomber targeted Iranian Shi'ite pilgrims in the city of Al-Kufah, killing 12 and wounding 39. In June, an Iraqi mob attacked the Iranian consulate in Al-Basrah, reportedly in protest at an Iranian television program that depicted local Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Mahmud al-Hasani as an agent of Israel, police said at the time. KR

The governor of the Al-Muthanna Governorate in southern Iraq assumed responsibility for security in the region on July 13, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned in a speech at a ceremony to mark the handover of responsibility from international forces that terrorists "will not spare any effort to sabotage this step," adding that unity and patience will help locals succeed in self-governance. The commander of British troops in the region, Colonel Giles Vosper-Brown, said British forces will be ready to provide security backup for local forces. Al-Muthanna Governorate has been relatively stable since 2003. Some 600 Japanese troops are currently in the process of pulling out of the provincial capital of Samawah, having completed their humanitarian and reconstruction mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2006). KR

The Iraqi Council of Ministers voted down a proposal by the Iraqi Turkoman Front and the republican assembly blocs in the Kirkuk Governorate Council calling for the establishment of an independent region in Kirkuk, KurdSat television reported on July 12. The council said in its response to the proposal that it is premature to discuss the establishment of an independent region, as other articles of the constitution applying to Kirkuk have yet to be implemented. Ethnic tensions in Kirkuk are on the rise, according to a July 12 report on the Kurdish website Peyamner. Local police told the website that a group identifying itself as "Monotheism and Jihad" has distributed leaflets in the Taza district of Kirkuk calling on political parties to close their offices. Monotheism and Jihad is the original name of an Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who was killed on June 7. KR

Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani on July 12 announced plans to build the country's largest oil refinery, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Speaking to reporters at the Kurdistan Parliament in Irbil, al-Shahristani said that the refinery, to be built in the northern city of Kou Senjaq, will provide oil products to the Kurdish region, which has suffered chronic shortages in recent months after the Turkish government closed its border to oil imports. "This refinery will be among the first new refineries to be built in Iraq, with a capacity of 70,000 barrels a day. Construction will take three years at a cost of about $1 billion," said the minister. KR

Saddam Hussein and three of his codefendants in the Al-Dujayl trial have been on a hunger strike since July 7, the U.S. military announced on July 12. "Despite their refusal to eat their meals, they are in good health and receiving appropriate medical care," said Lieutenant Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry. Curry said Hussein is drinking coffee with sugar and water with nutrients, and all four continue to take prescribed medication. He did not identify the three codefendants by name. Meanwhile, an attorney for Hussein, Khalil al-Dulaymi, told Reuters that defense attorneys are concerned about the health of the 69-year-old former Iraqi leader, which he claimed was deteriorating. The hunger strike comes in apparent protest of the killing of one of Hussein's defense attorneys in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 11, 2006). KR