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Iraq Report: January 17, 2005

17 January 2005, Volume 8, Number 2
KURDS MAINTAIN STANCE ON KIRKUK ELECTIONS. The local elections slated to be held in the northern Iraqi governorate of Kirkuk on 30 January may prove to be the most contentious in the country. Kurdish leaders have widely opposed the holding of an election there on the grounds that Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) has not been implemented.

The article calls on the Iraqi Property Claims Commission and other relevant bodies to "act expeditiously to take measures to remedy the injustice caused by the previous regime's practices in altering the demographic composition of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their places of residence, forcing migration in and out of the region, settling individuals alien to the region, depriving the inhabitants of work, and correcting nationality."

The Property Claims Commission was instructed under the TAL to restore residents to their homes and property, or to provide just compensation to the displaced. It was also instructed to compensate Iraqi Arabs resettled in Kirkuk by the regime. The article also states that the permanent resolution of disputed territories, including Kirkuk, be deferred until after the above-mentioned measures are taken, a census completed, and a permanent constitution ratified.

Kirkuk is currently inhabited by Kurds, Turkomans, and Arabs. The Arabization policies of the Hussein regime sought to change the demographic composition of the oil-rich city by forcibly resettling Iraqis from central and southern Iraq, and forcing out Kurds and Turkomans native to the area. The issue of Kirkuk remains one of the most sensitive issues for Kurds, who seek to incorporate Kirkuk into a Kurdistan within a federalized Iraq. Kurdish leaders Mas'ud Barzani and Jalal Talabani said in December that they would advocate a postponement of local elections in Kirkuk until the outstanding issues of resettlement and a taking of the census are addressed. A national census had been planned for October 2004, but the ongoing violence and organizational issues prevented it from being carried out. Moreover, the Property Claims Commission has yet to begin its work.

Kurdish officials began encouraging Kurds to move back to Kirkuk, which lies just south of the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq, soon after the U.S.-led war. Media reports indicate that as many as 7,000 Kurds are living in and around the city in tents, with little to no access to electricity and water. Moreover, "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 7 December that thousands of Kurds originally from the city but living elsewhere have switched their voter-registration cards from their current places of residence back to Kirkuk ahead of the vote. Some 200,000 Arab residents that were resettled to the city some 20 years ago remain fearful that the situation could escalate into ethnic violence, heretofore seen only sporadically, according to media reports.

The move has compounded relations with Turkoman residents of the city, who have claimed to be under threat from Kurdish returnees. The issue has prompted Turkey to take a stand in support of Turkomans -- ethnic Turks -- and has strained relations between Turkey and Kurdish leaders on more than one occasion in the past 20 months. Turkoman leaders have reportedly said they favor holding the election in Kirkuk, where they will offer up Turkoman candidates on one slate, reported on 7 January. "The majority of the Turkoman parties have formed electoral alliances," said Ryad Sari Kahya, head of the Turkoman Eali party. "In Kirkuk province, for example, all the Turkoman parties will form one list, while in the National Assembly elections, they will join the Shi'ite list." The two main Kurdish parties, on the other hand, have refused to field candidates for the governorate council election, Reuters reported on 4 January.

Iraqi election officials and the Allawi government have refused to delay voting in the city. "They can do as they please, but the elections will go ahead on 30 January," Independent Election Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said in early December.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage discussed the issue with Kurdish leaders Barzani and Talabani during his recent visit to Iraq. Speaking with reporters in Iraq, Armitage reiterated U.S. support for the implementation of Article 58, but stopped short of commenting directly on Kirkuk. Barzani told reporters that the issue of Kirkuk was addressed in the meeting, saying, "We, together, will make tireless efforts to arrive at a good end, both to bring the Iraqi general elections to a successful end and to resolve the Kirkuk issue in a way that serves the interests of both the people of Kurdistan and Iraq," Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 2 January. Armitage told reporters at a subsequent press conference in Ankara the same day that the United States remains sensitive to the claims of both Turkomans and Kurds over Kirkuk.

The meeting did little to alter the Kurdish position, however. Barzani told interim Iraqi National Assembly speaker Fu'ad Ma'sum, deputy speaker Hamid Majid Musa, and assembly member Muhammad Baqir al-Ulum that "holding municipal elections [in Kirkuk] would set in place the reality of Arabization policies and other [policies] of the Ba'athist regime," Irbil's "Khabat" reported on 5 January. "If elections are to be held there then the people of Kurdistan would make their stance clear," he added.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i reportedly took a stand in support of Kurdish aspirations on the city, purportedly telling KurdSat television that he believes Kirkuk is part of the Kurdistan region, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) website reported on 3 January. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

OIL, ELECTRICITY MINISTERS CRITICIZED FOR IRAQ FUEL CRISIS. Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban has come under fire in the Iraqi media in recent weeks for the burgeoning fuel crisis that is plaguing the country. Commentaries in the media have widely criticized the minister, as well as Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarra'i for the crisis, despite claims by both men that militant attacks on oil pipelines and installations are to blame for the crisis. According to media reports, Iraqis are queuing for several hours for petrol in some areas. The cost of bottled cooking gas has risen tenfold, and the cost of paraffin for heating has more than quadrupled.

The result has only aided black-market traders, who now get $5.22 a gallon for petrol compared to $0.53 a gallon a few months ago, cited U.S. military officials as saying in a 10 January report. Propane, which retails for $0.40 a container is being bought for $8.28 on the black market. The shortages at retail outlets are such that Iraqis who can afford to pay black-market prices are willing to pay the inflated prices rather than face meager supplies and long lines.

Oil Minister al-Ghadban told Al-Arabiyah television in an 8 January interview that the crisis -- which has affected the flow of oil to ports in southern Iraq and to the north, crippled the electricity sector, and left long lines at the pumps -- will not end any time soon. The crisis has affected large portions of the country, particularly the areas south of Kurdistan. "The aim is to deprive the city of Baghdad of oil derivatives through blowing up the pipelines that carry various kinds of such derivatives," he said. The attacks have halted the flow of crude oil to the Al-Dawrah Refinery and stopped the flow of dry gas that feeds power stations. "This war [on the oil industry] is also aimed at disrupting the activities of the tanker trucks that carry oil products from various areas, particularly in Bayji where the biggest Iraqi refineries are located," he added.

Electricity Minister al-Samarra'i told Al-Sharqiyah television in a same-day interview that some 16 attacks on the Bayji-Kirkuk pipeline has meant that no gas is flowing to power plants. "The electric power-generation stations are working just fine. They can supply citizens with electricity for a period of 15-16 hours each day, which is very good. However, we need fuel and gas. If we do not have that, how will we give them electricity," he asked. Al-Samarra'i told Al-Diyar television the following day that he expected a marked improvement in electricity production after "there was a good supply of fuel to some important plants" earlier that day. An attack later in the day on the Bayji-Kirkuk pipeline and subsequent attacks the following day on two gas and oil pipelines near Kirkuk appears to have caused a further setback.

Continuous attacks have forced the interim government to cut its Al-Basrah light-crude supply contracts by 10 percent beginning on 1 February through June, oil officials said on 11 January. The cut amounts to 160,000 barrels per day. Exports through northern Iraq to export terminals in Turkey have reportedly been halted altogether. Al-Jazeera reported on 12 December that the attacks have forced Iraq to import some $200 million a month in oil products trucked in from Turkey, Iran, Jordan, and Syria, and through the Khor al-Zubeir terminal in the Persian Gulf. But tanker trucks are also vulnerable to attacks, and the transportation costs exorbitant.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have been aware of the crisis for months, but Iraqis say there is not much they can do to avert attacks on the vast network of pipelines strewn throughout the country. In early December an unnamed diplomat penned a memo circulated among coalition partners that said, "If the current situation does not improve quickly, public confidence in the government may deteriorate significantly," reported on 11 December. A U.S. State Department spokesman told the website that multinational and Iraqi forces were working to address the crisis, which he acknowledged was related to security issues.

Meanwhile, the crisis has prompted at least one militia to take matters into its own hands. The Imam Al-Mahdi Army led by rogue cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has been maintaining order at distribution centers in eastern Baghdad for weeks, reported on 5 January. Local residents said that the militia drove out black-market dealers and sent armed gunmen to gas stations to maintain order. The militia is also reportedly distributing gas tanks and kerosene in neighborhoods throughout Al-Sadr City -- all at official state prices. Abu Hazim al-Khazali, a member of the cleric's so-called economic committee, said the militia wanted to prove it would help anyone who needed it -- even the government. He claimed that the militia would readily cease its activities once the National Guard was ready to take over. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

PKK TOPS THE AGENDA AT TRIPARTITE MEETING IN ANKARA. Iraqi, Turkish, and U.S. officials met in Ankara on 11 January to discuss Turkish demands that the U.S. and Iraqi militaries address the issue of Turkish-Kurdish rebels based in northern Iraq. Turkey has called on the United States for several months to crush PKK/Kongra-Gel bases in Iraq, but Washington appears hesitant to do so.

U.S. Central Command commander General John Abizaid told Turkish Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul at the meeting that while the United States considers the PKK a terrorist organization, "We also understand...that our troops have a lot of work to do there along with the Iraqi security forces, and we agree that, over time, we must deal with the PKK," reported on 12 January.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati represented his government at the meeting, telling journalists at a subsequent news briefing that the Iraqi government is not opposed to taking military action against the PKK but it is currently not in a position to do so. He said any military operation "will take place in coordination with the multinational forces in Iraq," Anatolia news agency reported on 11 January. Al-Bayati added that Iraqi, Turkish, and U.S. officials would hold "technical discussions" on the issue but did not say when those discussions would begin.

The Iraqis did agree at the meeting, however, to increase security along the Turkish-Iraqi border and to prevent illegal crossings, Istanbul's "Milliyet" reported on 13 January. The Iraqi delegation also agreed to address the issue of participation by the Democratic Solution Party (a PKK political group) in the Iraqi elections with the Iraqi Independent Election Commission. That commission has stipulated that armed militias cannot participate in the election, yet the party is listed on the ballots for national and Kurdistan parliamentary elections. Both sides also committed themselves to a previous agreement that any PKK members arrested in Iraq would be subject to Iraqi law rather than being handed over to Turkish authorities. It was also agreed that pressure would be applied to Turkish Kurds living in Iraq's Makhmur Camp to induce their return to Turkey, "Milliyet" reported.

Turkey has pressured the United States to address the issue of PKK militants since before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. At that time, as the United States lobbied to gain access to Turkish military air bases ahead of the invasion, the Turkish military contended that a power vacuum would be created in northern Iraq during the war that would allow the PKK to launch attacks against Turkey, despite assurances by the two main Iraqi Kurdish parties that no such attacks would take place (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 March 2003).

Washington later sought Turkish military support in Iraq, but Turkish officials used the PKK issue as a bargaining chip, saying they would not commit troops to Iraq until the United States cracked down on the PKK. U.S. officials said they would not move against militants at the time due to a five-month amnesty issued by Turkey a month earlier (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 September 2003). Just days later, the United States and Turkey agreed on a plan of action to eliminate the PKK's presence in Iraq, but that plan apparently never came to fruition. Iraqi Kurdish leader Mas'ud Barzani later criticized Turkey, saying, "The Americans do not think the Turkish [amnesty] offer is sufficient or else they would have clamped down on the PKK with an iron fist." He added, "If a new law was passed and a real amnesty was issued, many of the militants would come down from the mountains leaving their leaders behind." Indeed, few PKK militants accepted the amnesty offer.

Turkey continued to press the issue with U.S. officials throughout 2004, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling reporters on 11 June that the PKK presence in northern Iraq would be "high on the agenda" of his meeting with President George W. Bush in Washington that month, adding, "We expect the United States to take some concrete steps to this end." Interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir vowed to Turkish officials in Ankara on 16-17 August that his government would work to eradicate the presence of the PKK but warned Turkey not to interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 18 August 2004). Turkey upped its pressure on Iraq in November as media reports indicated that the government had formulated a plan that would send as many as 40,000 Turkish soldiers across the border to root out the militants (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 11 November 2004).

Media reports suggest that the United States might attempt to take concrete steps in the coming months toward rooting out the militants, but as indicated above, the issue of the PKK arguably cannot be addressed as long as U.S. forces are tied up with battling insurgents in Iraq. The United States might also be wary of launching an operation against the PKK in northern Iraq, as such action could potentially destabilize the relative calm there. The PKK is estimated to have some 5,000 members in the region, according to a PKK member interviewed in Berlin's "Die Welt" on 8 January. The issue however, could be complicated by a new U.S. request for access to Turkey's Incirlik air base. Anatolia news agency has reported that Abizaid has sought access to that base for U.S. logistical operations. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RADIO FREE IRAQ SPEAKS WITH AL-SADR AIDE. Radio Free Iraq (RFI) posed questions on 9 January to Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji, an aide to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Darraji spoke about al-Sadr's opposition to participating in national elections on 30 January.

RFI correspondent Imad Jasim: In an interview with several journalists, Sheikh Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji, the official spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, has confirmed the determination of Al-Sadr's movement not to participate in the upcoming elections. He has denied what had occasionally appeared in the media that a number of personalities who represent Al-Sadr's position would take part in the elections. He has elaborated in a statement he has read out for the media that the information appearing in some newspapers is a rumor without any piece of truth in it, saying as well that the participation of al-Sadr's movement would only come true under certain conditions. Among them is a broad participation of Sunni parties and laying down a deadline for the U.S. troops to leave, according to what Sheikh Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji has said.

AL-DARRAJI: Recently, some unjustified claims have been getting about, both in writing and speech, as well as statements and rumors, falsely suggesting that al-Sadr's movement has joined one of the electoral lists of candidates, or that it supports one particular candidates list. The Supreme Political Committee of the Honorable Office wants to confirm that such allegations are completely bare of truth. They are nothing but slander and libel. We want to declare that the blessed al-Sadr's line does not participate in any candidates list and has not supported any candidates list. The stance of al-Sadr's line has been announced officially, through the offices and committees of the [al-Sadr] line that are widespread throughout Iraq. The media has been notified about that stance.

Dear brothers, I would like to focus on a very important topic that has been mentioned in the "Israqat [al-Sadr" the cleric's weekly] newspaper that there is a candidates list under the name of al-Sadr's movement. This is definitely not true. These are futile rumors that are not based on truth. Al-Sadr's movement has so far not supported any specific candidates list because the [foreign military] occupation has been continuing and because our Sunni brothers, who have shared with us both the daily bread winning and the pains and injuries of this honorable country, do not participate [in the elections]. For this, we would ask everyone to pay attention that al-Sadr's movement has not issued any statement that it would indeed take part in the elections and has not presented any candidates list in this regard.

RFI: Are there any conditions for your participation in the elections? Have you specified any conditions under which you would participate in the elections?

AL-DARRAJI: Yes, Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr has laid down the principal condition when he said that if the occupiers left our country, we would look positively at the participation in the electoral process, because we are Iraqis, our identity is Iraqi, and all Iraqis have to give their votes in the elections. This is first. Second, it is a schedule, a deadline for the occupation. We already had given this condition before: if there was a deadline for the occupation, then our participation in the elections may be possible.

RFI: Do not you think that these [conditions] are unrealistic?

AL-DARRAJI: There are things that seem unrealistic but should be considered realistic. When it is said that America is strong, we say, "It is the blessed and sublime God who is strong." There will come a day when these [U.S.] troops leave, as they are right now caught in the dead end that is called the Iraqi issue. So, how should they leave? On this, I say that there must come a day when these American forces leave in a prompt, despicable, and hated manner, if the blessed and sublime God allows, by the will of Iraqis and not by the will of those who had been installed by the occupation forces. Consequently, the will of the people is stronger than the tyrants, stronger than those few henchmen, stronger than those panderers who speak about the rise of new Iraq.

I say that the task that lays upon is to speak out that these elections, taking place with the presence of the occupiers, have to be refused. Also the deprivation [of elections] for such a huge number of Iraqis has to be refused as well. The Islamic orientation makes us say that the occupiers have intervened in the affairs of elections, and our religious duty forces us to make this most important matter clear. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)

NASIR CHADIRCHI TALKS TO RFI. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed former Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Chadirchi on 8 January in Baghdad. Chadirchi has demanded that the 30 January parliamentary elections be postponed, but has registered 48 candidates from his Democratic Patriotic Party on the ballot.

RFI: Chadirchi explained that postponing the elections would be justified by several reasons.

CHADIRCHI: We are among the first parties, or the first party ever, to have raised this demand. We have been, until now, very strongly demanding that the elections be postponed, and we will continue demanding so until the last day before the elections. It is a legitimate demand. We believe that these elections, if they take place, will not fulfill the ambitions of the Iraqi people. They will only raise the antipathy and will not strengthen the Iraqi unity, [the unity] between all individuals of the Iraqi nation on which we insist. There are numerous security concerns, with the officials admitting that they are not able to manage the security situation, or the lack of security.

I say that any observer who comes to Iraq will see that the lists of candidates have not been announced by their [proper] names, that the [election-campaign] posters in Baghdad are very few, that there are very vast areas of Iraq where we cannot see any poster. Moreover, the polling stations have still not been selected, and it is being said that they will be announced some two or three days before the elections. I have called these elections, if they take place, semi-secret or secret [elections]. How could elections be done in this manner?

RFI: Chadirchi also asked Arab countries not to intervene in the affairs of Iraq.

CHADIRCHI: This [elections] is, I believe, an Iraqi affair. They [Arab states] have to not intervene in the [question of deciding the] term of the elections. There was clear American and British pressure on a number of states that had taken the stance, and had spoken about it, that the elections in Iraq would be impossible. After that, they changed their stance surprisingly and without any previous notification, demanding that the elections be conducted in the term that had been chosen for them. Moreover, even the United Nations was saying that the elections were impossible and that it would study this aspect -- but outside pressures influenced it [so that it changed its position].

RFI: Nasir Chadirchi also spoke about the political goals of the Democratic Patriotic Party.

CHADIRCHI: Our program is a democratic program. It focuses on the issues that are related to human rights in all their aspects, on the freedom of thought, on pluralism and federalism. These principles are the most important to us. There are also economic issues: that Iraqis have to be given the management of Iraqi natural resources, and that these have to be used completely for the benefits of Iraq, for building a new Iraq, and for building the infrastructure that was destroyed both during the [U.S.-led] war and before the war and damaged by the former regime that did not take care of it. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)