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Iraq Report: March 14, 2005


14 March 2005, Volume 8, Number 9
SHI'ITE, KURDISH ALLIANCES ACKNOWLEDGE AGREEMENT REACHED. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) acknowledged in a 10 March statement posted to its website (http://www.sciri.ws) that a preliminary agreement has been reached between the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition on the leadership of the transitional government. The groups will support the nomination of Shi'ite leader Ibrahim al-Ja'fari to the post of prime minister and Shi'ite leader Jalal Talabani to the presidential post. The alliance and coalition together constitute a two-thirds majority in the transitional National Assembly. It is expected that the assembly will formally elect a presidency council consisting of Talabani as president and two deputy presidents when it convenes on 16 March.

While no official announcement has been made, Al-Arabiyah television this week quoted unnamed sources as saying that interim Shi'ite Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Sunni interim Industry and Minerals Minister Hajim al-Hasani will be nominated for the deputy presidential posts. Al-Hasani is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party; he refused the party's demand in November that he resign in protest of the Al-Fallujah incursion. Party head Muhsin Abd al-Hamid resigned from the interim National Assembly in protest of the incursion.

Presidency Council To Name Prime Minister

According to the Transitional Administrative Law, the presidency council election must take place on the basis of single list and receive a two-thirds majority approval. Once the presidency council is named, the council "shall name a prime minister unanimously, as well as the members of the Council of Ministers upon the recommendation of the prime minister. The prime minister and Council of Ministers shall then seek to obtain a vote of confidence by simple majority from the National Assembly prior to commencing their work as a government."

Media reports indicate that the United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdistan Coalition would continue to meet in the coming days to hammer out the distribution of other posts. Alliance member Husayn al-Shahristani told Al-Jazeera television on 11 March that the discussions between the two winning lists did not mean "that a bilateral agreement between these two parties will take place in the absence of others. Rather, the two parties call for forming a national unity government and engaging all segments of the Iraqi people in the government." He added that the top ministerial portfolios would be distributed in an inclusive manner, including Sunni Arabs, Turkomans, Christians, "and others" in the transitional cabinet.

Sunnis Consider Offers to Join Government

Sunni groups outside the transitional assembly held a conference on 9 March to formulate a "Sunni-Sunni understanding" over the nominations for posts in the new cabinet. Iyad al-Samarra'i of the Iraqi Islamic Party told "Al-Hayat" that the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition continue to encourage Sunni leaders to participate in the government. He said the goal of the conference was to choose a Sunni list of candidates who would join the government. The Islamic Party, which boycotted the January elections, would not participate, he said. Other Sunni groups attending the conference included the Iraqiyun Party headed by President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, the Independent Iraqi Democrats Movement, and "representatives of the active forces in the Sunni governorates," al-Samarra'i said.

Amman's "Al-Ghadd" reported on 10 March that interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is in Jordan for meetings with Iraqi figures on the commencement of the transitional National Assembly. Some representatives of the winning lists contended this week that there would be room for Allawi in the transitional government, but it is unclear in what capacity, since Allawi's relations with leaders of the winning United Iraqi Alliance list appear to be shaky.

Meanwhile, Shi'ite politician and Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi was criticized in the Shi'ite press for calling for dialogue with insurgents. Chalabi told Al-Jazeera television on 6 March: "I believe that security in Iraq will not prevail unless all sectors of the Iraqi people decide to work for it. Security cannot be maintained by force. We cannot consider hundreds of thousands and even millions of people outlaws and use force against them without seeking negotiations with them.... There are patriots who believe that they are duty bound to resist occupation. We invite them to talks."

Chalabi said that he would continue talks with the Muslim Scholars Association -- a group that has contacts in the insurgency -- in the name of maintaining security, adding: "We are committed to cooperation with the Iraqi people. We reject equating the Sunni Arabs with the Ba'athists. This is not right. Sunni Arabs also suffered from the Ba'athists." He said he would continue to support the de-Ba'athification policy, which he spearheaded under the Iraqi Governing Council. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MILITANT HOLD HARD TO BREAK SOUTH OF BAGHDAD. Iraqi and multinational forces appear to be gaining ground in battling the insurgency north of Baghdad, but in the areas south of the capital -- the so-called triangle of death -- the battle appears more complex. There, militants are using increasingly deranged techniques in their effort to effect mayhem, and some worrying trends have surfaced. The areas north and south of Baghdad both contain Sunni strongholds and similar topography. So, why is the insurgency south of Baghdad so hard to break?

For one, the situation south of Baghdad appears more complex because towns like Al-Latifiyah, Al-Iskandariyah, and Al-Yusufiyah have an intricate road system in comparison to the towns north of Baghdad, which aids terrorists' ability to strike and flee, particularly from roads that lead to outlying fields. Moreover, reports from sources familiar with the area indicate that the main highways from both Syria and Jordan that converge just west of Al-Ramadi (northwest of the triangle of death) do not have checkpoints permanently manned by multinational forces.

At least one apprehended terrorist who confessed to his jihadist activities in broadcasts on an Iraqi satellite television channel said that terrorists regularly set up checkpoints on these roads. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondents have corroborated the claim. Terrorists traveling from either neighboring state also have access to a road west of Al-Ramadi that takes them directly to Al-Latifiyah. Some Sunni farmers have also aided terrorism south of Baghdad by renting outbuildings on their properties to insurgent groups for short periods of time. There are also indications that local residents are more apprehensive about providing information on insurgents to police or multinational forces, because they fear retribution by insurgents.

Militants are also becoming more creative in their attacks on Iraqi security forces. In a fake funeral procession in Al-Iskandariyah, south of Al-Latifiyah, on 7 March militants detonated a booby-trapped coffin at a checkpoint, killing five Iraqi soldiers. The same day, police reported the arrest of two women strapped with suicide belts outside the city's courthouse; two other women were caught wearing explosive belts at a checkpoint in the area. All four women reportedly confessed to working for the militant group Islamic Army in Iraq.

The involvement of women in such attacks is a troubling sign. Iraq witnessed a few female suicide-bomber attacks in the months immediately following the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, but attacks by women bombers appeared to cease thereafter. In at least one of those early attacks, the bomber appeared to be forced into the act.

In another incident this week, Iraqi National Guardsmen responded to a call from local residents to remove a dead body found on the street in Al-Latifiyah, only to have the body, apparently packed with explosives, detonate when they attempted to remove it, Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported 8 March. The blast killed one officer and two soldiers and five National Guardsmen were injured. A local farmer also discovered two decapitated bodies belonging to a police officer and translator on his property in the town.

Four beheaded corpses were found on a Al-Latifiyah farm in late February. The dead were identified as members of the Shi'ite group Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)'s Badr Corps, who had disappeared a day earlier while en route to Al-Najaf. Further south, in Al-Musayyib, National Guardsmen arrested 15 insurgents (12 Iraqis and three Syrians) who all claimed to be members of the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army. The men were armed and carrying CDs depicting beheadings at the time of their arrest.

Fifteen other decapitated bodies were found at a former military base outside Al-Latifiyah, on 8 March, RFI reported. Defense Ministry Captain Sabah Yassin told AFP that the bodies included 10 men, three women, and two children. None carried identification, AP reported on 9 March. Some of the dead men may have belonged to a group of Iraqi soldiers who were kidnapped by militants in the area two weeks ago, Yassin said. Captain Muhammad Abd al-Husayn al-Sa'idi said that insurgents are thought to be using the base. Some of the bodies may be Shi'ite pilgrims who recently disappeared near Al-Latifiyah, the news agency reported.

Meanwhile, media reports indicate that insurgents are furiously working to train young jihadists to join their fight against multinational forces. At the Al-Mazra'a Mosque in Al-Latifiyah, boys as young as 12 are being educated on plastic explosives, missiles, and bombs, scotsman.com reported on 6 March. At least one adult member of the mosque said he takes his 11-year-old son along on attacks as often as possible, saying, "It is the best way for him to learn about how to fight against the Americans."

The website cited the surge in arrests of teenage fighters in cities across Iraq. Police Lieutenant Asif Khamel told the website that a 12-year-old boy was recently arrested during a mortar attack in Ba'qubah, adding, "The ringleaders are paying kids to do a lot of their attacks now because they have lost a lot of the senior people." Baghdad policeman Hisham Husayn, who works in the Sunni-insurgent area of the city encompassing Haifa Street, said: "I would say we have about 50 children aged 15 to 16 fighting here, and some as young as nine or 10 who are used as spies. Recently we arrested four 13-year-olds during an attack on our forces."

U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said that about 90 Iraqis under 18 are currently incarcerated at the Abu Ghurayb and Camp Bucca prisons for their alleged roles in attacks. With no functioning juvenile court system in Iraq, the young detainees sometimes end up in judicial limbo, scotsman.com reported. "We try and let some of them stay with relatives, who act as guarantors for them, but for others who are clearly a security risk we have to keep them in jail," Johnson said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN MULLS CONTINUANCE OF MONITORING REGIME. The United Nations Security Council is coming under increasing pressure from the Iraqi interim government to close the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) established in 1999 to verify Iraq's compliance under its obligation to rid the country of its weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi government argues that the commission costs Iraq $12 million annually. Iraq is also set to fund the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with $12.3 million over the next two years for its monitoring of Iraq. Both agencies pulled out of Iraq on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. The IAEA briefly returned to Iraq in 2004 to carry out a limited inspection.

Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Samir al-Sumaydi'i told the Security Council in a letter ahead of the council's 8 March meeting to review the latest UNMOVIC quarterly report that the two bodies have become "irrelevant," aljazeera.net reported. The ambassador also called on the Security Council to transfer some $400 million in oil revenues still held in a UN account to the Development Fund for Iraq.

The UN has also allocated $30 million of revenues from the oil-for-food program to investigate fraud and corruption allegations related to the world body's administration of the program (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 October 2004). Al-Sumaydi'i also told the council in his letter that the "new Iraq" has no intention of embarking on any new weapons programs and hence "cannot possibly represent a source of threat," aljazeera.net reported.

AP reported on 27 February that the United States supports the call to end inspections in Iraq and has begun "low-key talks" with other Security Council members. "This is a very important issue and one that we have been discussing for quite some time with the Iraqis and now with key members of the Security Council," Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said on 25 February. "Those discussions continue."

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov, who sits on UNMOVIC's board of commissioners, said a day earlier that the board had discussed how the possible closing of UNMOVIC "could have an impact on the process of what we call the final clarification of disarmament in Iraq," AP reported. "There is a broad feeling" that the Security Council should address the issue with the participation of UNMOVIC and the IAEA, he said. "The mandate to UNMOVIC and IAEA was given by the Security Council and the Security Council can make another decision, take an action, in order to modify or to bring an end to this mandate," he added.

Security Council President Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg of Brazil told reporters on 8 March: "What seems clear now is that the idea that the mandate should be revisited is becoming a reality. This is now the next step for the council," KUNA reported the same day. Sardenberg would not say when the Security Council might address the issue, adding, "The idea would be to wait for the full constitution of the new Iraqi government so that there would be a partner for consultations." Consultations could start before national elections are held in December, he said.

UNMOVIC acting Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos told the Security Council in his 8 March briefing on the 28 February quarterly UNMOVIC report that a number of issues would need to be addressed before the council closes the books on monitoring by the commission in Iraq, AP reported. Perricos reportedly asked whether the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group's October report (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 October 2004) on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was the final word or if there was room for an independent assessment of Iraq's disarmament, and if so, who should carry out that assessment. Iraq Survey Group head Charles Duelfer told two Congressional committees in Washington, D.C., on 6 October that the group had not uncovered evidence that the Saddam Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction at the time of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Perricos also told the Security Council that key questions remained unanswered, including the fate of hundreds of damaged chemical artillery rockets and toxic chemicals under UN seal at the Al-Muthanna complex northwest of Baghdad. "What happened to the 25 Al-Sumud 2 missiles and the 326 SA2 engines that UN inspectors didn't have time to destroy before they left?" Perricos asked. He also raised the issue of monitoring for unspecified dual-use items, aljazeera.net reported.

The 28 February quarterly report noted the looting and razing of sites that contained dual-use equipment and materials subject to monitoring. "The continuing examination of site imagery has revealed that approximately 90 of the total 353 sites analyzed [since the last quarterly report] containing equipment and materials of relevance have been stripped and/or razed. Commission experts have also noted that repairs and new construction have begun at 10 sites," the report noted.

The report further reiterated the need -- outlined in the previous quarterly report -- to adjust monitoring procedures "with respect to small quantities of weapons of mass destruction. While they may not be of military significance, they may be of potential interest to nonstate actors," the report said. "Small quantities of such materials could be acquired through clandestine procurement networks," the report contended.

Another issue of concern detailed in the report is the possible existence of "seed stocks" that might be used in the future for the production of biological weapons agents. There is a "residue of uncertainty" as to whether those stocks continue to exist, the report noted. "Given its unresolvable nature, the issue could best be dealt with through monitoring to detect inter alia any possible future activity associated with biological weapon agent production or significant related laboratory research work," the report contended. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-RUBAY'I TELLS RFI NOOSE TIGHTENING ON AL-ZARQAWI. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i in Baghdad on 9 March. He contended that Iraqi and multinational forces are "weeks" away from apprehending fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The interview was broadcast on 10 March.

RFI [Ahmad al-Zubaydi]: Dr Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, Iraqi national security adviser, refused to divulge the way through which the Iraqi cabinet has obtained new photos of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who has been sought by Iraqi and multinational forces. He confirmed in a telephone conversation with our radio that Iraqi forces "have come to tighten the noose around Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's neck," as he described it.

Al-Rubay'i: Due to security reasons, I cannot go into details on this matter but I can conclude from this that we have come close to al-Zarqawi and to al-Zarqawi's inner circle. It is possible that, God willing, the coming few weeks will bring some joyful news to our people, God willing. There has been a big change in the readiness of our people, especially in some critical areas and especially after the elections, to provide information on terrorists loyal either to al-Zarqawi or to Saddam [Hussein]. We have seen very big interest among the people of our nation to provide such information on the places where the terrorists reside and move, on the cars they use, on the contacts they keep, and also on their leaders. This has been, in fact, a very important factor in changing the nature of the battle now. As you know, the battle is in its nature between the Iraqi people and the terrorists. And in this battle, the Iraqi security forces have now got the edge after they had been in defensive. We believe that within a short period, [al-Zarqawi] will either be arrested or [killed and then he will] find his evil destiny in hell.

RFI: You mentioned in an earlier statement that the multinational forces would leave Iraq within two years. How did you arrive at this deadline?

Al-Rubay'i: In fact, I did not specify any time, or I said that this problem was related to several issues. The first issue is reaching a high stage in the training, qualification, and armament of Iraqi security forces -- the police, the army, and the [Iraqi] National Guard. These forces must be completely ready, qualified, and trained so that all of them are able to face terrorism themselves. For now, the fast growth and the big development that has currently been going on in these forces, really gives us determination and increases our confidence for asserting that we will not need multinational forces, or foreign military presence, in Iraq within a very close period. There is, however, another issue that is in fact more important than the former. It may be laid on the shoulders of the interim cabinet that will be formed the coming few days. It is closing an agreement with the multinational forces on regulating the presence of these forces. As you know, these forces are currently conducting operations all over Iraq. They conduct intelligence and security operations. They use Iraqi facilities in all Iraq. It is necessary that we close an agreement regulating the presence of these forces so that we are able to move these forces out of some big cities and replace them with Iraqi forces -- the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Police, or the [Iraqi] National Guard. [We should move the multinational forces] also out of some small towns that are calm and thus we do not need the presence of these forces there. It is possible that we will launch negotiations and a serious dialogue on relocating these forces and on trying to transfer them from calm cities, especially from cities south of Baghdad, in Kurdistan, and in other areas where [the multinational forces] could leave the cities and move outside them. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)

RADIO FREE IRAQ INTERVIEWS UNITED IRAQI ALLIANCE MEMBER. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed Rida Jawad Taqi, a member of the winning Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance list in Baghdad on 9 March to learn about the party's platform when it assumes power next week. The interview was broadcast on 10 March.

RFI [Dhamiya Husayn]: In preparations for assuming the tasks of the new cabinet, the United Iraqi Alliance has prepared a three-point plan for clearing the [Iraqi] security apparatus of the persons cooperating with terrorists who have been damaging the lives and properties of the Iraqi people for the last two years. Rida Jawad Taqi, member of the United Iraqi Alliance that had won the majority of seats in the National Assembly, spoke to us on this topic.

Taqi: The [United Iraqi] Alliance has three proposals on security issues. They are: first, clearing the [Iraqi] security apparatus -- the army, the police, and the intelligence -- of the officers who had been [affiliated] with the previous regime and whose hands are soiled with the blood of Iraqis. Those officers have cooperated with terrorists! Mosul was disrupted and problems appeared in Samarra [due to them]. So the first thing we want to do is clearing, only clearing and not dissolution. I do mean what I am saying: clearing the [Iraqi] security apparatus of those of the previous regime's officers who have infiltrated there and whose intentions are evil. Those have to leave so that the security apparatus starts working smoothly. The second thing is that modernization and creation of new security forces is necessary because what is presently available is not sufficient. About 10,000 terrorists have infiltrated into Iraq. That requires the existence of numerous security forces unlike now, of more than they are now. We want to keep these [currently existent security] forces after they are cleared and consequently to set up new security forces because Iraq needs them. Third, [we demand] to deal seriously with neighboring countries, some of which have contributed to the destabilization of security in Iraq.

RFI: The National Assembly member has criticized the [current] cabinet of Dr. Iyad Allawi for not being able to prevent terrorists from coming from neighboring countries.

Taqi: Unfortunately, Dr. Iyad Allawi's cabinet has not put forth sufficient efforts to prevent neighboring countries from intervening in Iraqi matters and from destabilizing security in Iraq. There is one country [a reference to Syria] neighboring Iraq about which we believe that it has contributed to destabilizing the security in Iraq as it embraced leading figures of the previous regime and of the previous regime's [ruling] family. It has provided terrorists with financial and logistical support. This government that I have in mind has been close to Dr. Iyad Allawi's government. So Dr. Allawi has not been able to prevent that government, or that country, from supporting terrorism and destabilizing security. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)

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