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Iraq Report: June 20, 2005


20 June 2005, Volume 8, Number 20
SUNNIS AGREE TO JOIN IRAQ'S CONSTITUTIONAL DRAFTING COMMITTEE

By Kathleen Ridolfo

Sunnis agreed to an offer by Shi'ite and Kurdish parliamentarians to add 15 names to the constitutional drafting committee on 16 June, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The offer, made on 13 June, also calls for 10 Sunnis to sit on a separate, consultative committee that will advise drafters. The agreement leaves the committee with just over two months to draft a constitution.

Prior to the new deal, only two Sunni parliamentarians served on the drafting committee that includes 28 parliamentarians from the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance list and 15 parliamentarians from the Kurdistan Coalition list. Eight members on the committee represent the Iraqis list of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Turkomans, Christians, and communists were each reportedly allotted one seat on the committee. It appears that the new Sunni members will likely come from outside the National Assembly, which has only 17 Sunni members, not all of whom are legal experts.

The delay in reaching an agreement was plagued by weeks of political wrangling. An early proposal floated by parliamentarian negotiators called for Sunni Arabs to play a strictly consultative role. Sunni leaders, including Adnan Pachachi, whose Independent Iraqi Democrats failed to win any seats in the National Assembly election, criticized the proposal, saying they wanted "not an advisory role, but to contribute effectively" to the drafting process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005).

When Sunnis demanded a minimum of 25 seats on the drafting committee, Shi'ite parliamentarians balked at the request. "This committee is intended to be a small body to represent all the National Assembly," said committee chairman Humum Hamudi in an apparent jab at Sunni Arabs, whose low representation in parliament is seen as a direct result of their poor participation in January elections.

As talks progressed, negotiators came up with two proposals for Sunni participation. The first proposal called for choosing a number of Sunni Arabs to join the 55-member committee originally established by the parliament. The second proposal is quite similar to the agreement concluded this week. It called for Sunni participation through subcommittees that would include members representing other groups as well. Other Sunni Arabs would sit on the expanded 55-member committee (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 June 2005).

Under the 16 June agreement, Sunni members to the drafting committee will have to meet the certain requirements. They must not be "from among the dignitaries" of the Hussein regime, and they must not have served as a high-ranking member of the former Ba'ath Party. They must also have "real support" as representatives of the Sunni community, parliamentarian Baha al-A'raji told RFI on 13 June. In addition, the Sunni nominees to the committee should be inclusive of all Sunni political trends and geographical regions, he said. Parliamentarians laid down the requirements after an initial list of possible Sunni participants reportedly was rejected by Sunni groups for not being sufficiently representative of all Sunnis, and by Shi'ite parliamentarians, who claimed the list included former Ba'athists.

For their part, Sunni negotiators called for conferences to be held throughout Iraq on the constitution, Iraqi Islamic Party spokesman Iyad al-Sammara'i said this week. The proposal is likely to have the support of Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders since Article 60 of the Transitional Administrative Law calls on the National Assembly to encourage "debate on the constitution through regular general public meetings in all parts of Iraq and through the media, and receiving proposals from the citizens of Iraq as it writes the constitution."

In talks earlier this week, all parties agreed that the drafting committee's work would be based on consensus, and voting will not take place, Shi'ite parliamentarian Ali al-Adib told RFI on 14 June.

Sunnis are expected to submit their nominees to sit on the drafting committee when the committee reconvenes on 19 June. National Dialogue Council spokesman Salih Mutlak told RFI in a 13 June interview that Sunnis would be able to present their list of nominees "within one day of agreeing on the size and type of such participation."

Sunni Arabs also agreed to form a five-member committee that will propose the 25 Sunni nominees to the parliament, United Iraqi Alliance parliamentarian Jalal al-Din al-Saghir told RFI on 16 June.

Despite the Sunnis apparent success in having their demands for participation met, their lack of cohesiveness as a side to the negotiations and their tendency to boycott or reject proposals outright rather than countering with their own suggestions, may slow down the constitutional drafting process. In order to avoid further delays in the drafting process, the committee will need to choose Sunni figures who are not only competent legal experts, but also seasoned negotiators that represent the broad spectrum of Sunni views. A tall order perhaps, but one that would go far to assist the process.

BAGHDAD WORKING WITH U.S. TO BRING INSURGENTS TO THE TABLE

By Kathleen Ridolfo

The United States and Iraqi officials have reportedly begun discussions over the drafting of an amnesty policy for insurgents wishing to lay down their arms and participate in Iraq's political process. The policy remains in its early stages, and officials from both countries have remained rather tight-lipped about any future policy.

Prague, 16 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Political and military analysts in the United States said this week that the Iraqi government has no choice but to initiate a dialogue to convince as many insurgents as possible to lay down their arms and join the political process. But the process may not be so easy. Giving an insurgent a political stake in the process may not be enough to win him over. Large portions of the insurgency are driven by an Islamist agenda that views the transitional government -- and any likely successor government -- as an apostate government conflicting with their radical Sunni doctrine that calls for the establishment of a Wahhabi-style Islamic state.

Other portions of the insurgency may be easier to sway: these are the so-called former Ba'athists and Sunni disenfranchised who work with "secular" insurgent groups and even Islamist groups -- not because of ideology, but rather for profit. Alleged terrorists in Iraqi custody have said they were paid between $100 and $1,500 by insurgent groups to carry out attacks. Many said that although they believed the attacks were immoral or against Islamic doctrine, they carried them out anyway, citing pressure from the groups they worked for and because of the money.

As Iraq develops stronger law enforcement, it will be better able to rein in the criminal elements of the insurgency. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein released thousands of prisoners in an October 2002 general amnesty; these elements are assumed to be responsible for a large percentage of criminal attacks, kidnappings, and violence in Iraq today. Several alleged terrorists said in confessions aired on Al-Iraqiyah television in May that they carried out car-jackings, kidnappings, theft, and murder on behalf of insurgent groups, including Islamist groups.

The most difficult task in persuading insurgents to lay down their arms may be the "public opinion" factor. A recent survey in Iraq sponsored by the U.S.-led coalition found that nearly 45 percent of those polled said they supported insurgent attacks. While it is likely that the number of true supporters is much lower, the survey demonstrates that Iraqis, for whatever reason, may feel it is socially unacceptable to say otherwise. This could indicate that the "man on the street" cannot be won over until the Sunni leadership says, and demonstrates, that it is acceptable to do so. Other analysts have argued that the tide may only turn when Sunni Iraqis turn against the insurgency. The true answer may be somewhere in the middle.

The Sunni leadership, however, remains quite fractured with no cohesive stance on the issue of participation. While several Sunni groups agree that they want to play a role in the government and constitutional drafting, the conditions or "red lines" of each group are different. In addition, a number of Sunni political groups are internally fractured, a factor that will limit progress, at least in the short-term.

Sunni leaders with suspected ties to the insurgency, however, will remain outside the political process and not negotiate, leaving the government in need of an alternative Sunni representation. In some cases, tribal leaders could play a key role in bringing Sunnis into the government and reining in the insurgency. Local governance may just make the difference in the center.

Two armed groups announced last week their willingness to disarm and begin negotiations with the government for their participation in the political process, the daily "Baghdad" reported on 9 June. Citing former Electricity Minister and Sunni leader Ayham al-Samarra'i, the report said that political leaders from the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Al-Mujahedin Army expressed in meetings with him their readiness to disarm. Sunni sheikhs and tribal leaders in Al-Fallujah vowed to assist the government in enhancing security in a meeting with Interior Ministry officials in the city, "Al-Mada" reported on 13 June. Tribal leaders in Mosul have also agreed to hand over wanted suspects to security officials, the Defense Ministry announced on 13 June.

Transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari has shied away from the amnesty issue in his statements to reporters this week, saying that no dialogue is under way between the government and armed groups in Iraq. Instead, al-Ja'fari said multinational forces have undertaken a dialogue, through which the insurgents' have conveyed messages to the transitional government. "No official dialogue with any side that carries guns and fights has taken place," he said, adding: "The remaining issue is that of the mediator as it is not always true that you are the one who chooses the mediator. The other [side] might be sending you messages through the coalition or multinational forces, which means that it was not you who chose the mediator."

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not acknowledge U.S. involvement in the proposed amnesty, telling reporters at a 14 June press briefing: "To the extent you can get a tribe that has a portion of its people opposing the government and a portion of the people supporting the government pulled in [to the political process], why, that's a good thing." Rumsfeld said any amnesty decision would be solely for the sovereign Iraqi government to take, "not an American decision."

U.S. SAYS KURDISH SECURITY FORCES ILLEGALLY DETAINING IRAQI ARABS, TURKOMANS

By Kathleen Ridolfo

Kurdish police and security forces have reportedly "abducted" hundreds of Arabs and Turkomans from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk and illegally detained them in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, washingtonpost.com reported on 15 June. The report cites a confidential 5 June State Department cable addressed to the White House, Pentagon, and U.S. Embassy in Baghdad saying that the "extra-judicial detentions" are part of a "concerted and widespread initiative" by Kurdish political parties "to exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner."

The abductions have increased tensions in the multiethnic city and impacted U.S. credibility, the cable said. Turkomans "perceive a U.S. tolerance for the practices while Arabs in Kirkuk believe Coalition Forces are directly responsible." U.S. Brigadier General Alan Gayhart told the website that "coalition forces absolutely do not condone" the abductions, which have reportedly been going on for more than a year, but surged following Iraq's January elections. The U.S. military only became aware of the practice one month ago, Major Darren Blagbrun told the website. Judges in Kirkuk have told U.S. military officials that the transfers are illegal under Iraqi law, washingtonpost.com reported.

Kirkuk's Kurdish governor, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa, reportedly denied the abductions, calling the U.S. allegations "not true," washingtonpost.com reported on 15 June. He contended that prisoners are often transferred to other provinces to relieve prison overcrowding and this is a "normal procedure," the website reported.

The State Department cable reported, however, that the transfers were made "without authority of local courts or the knowledge of Ministries of Interior or Defense in Baghdad." U.S. and Iraqi officials said the campaign is being carried out by the Kurdish intelligence service Asayesh and the Kurdish-led Emergency Services Unit, a 500-member antiterrorism squad within the Kirkuk police force.

General Turhan Yusuf Abd al-Rahman, identified by washingtonpost.com as the police chief of Kirkuk and an ethnic Turkoman, called the abductions "political kidnappings" orchestrated by the Kurdish parties Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He said that his police officers take part in the majority of the abductions, despite his attempts to intercede, adding that 40 percent of the city's police force is loyal to one of the two Kurdish parties. PUK head Jalal Talabani currently serves as Iraq's transitional president; KDP chief Mas'ud Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Brigadier Sherko Khaker Hassan told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in an exclusive interview on 16 June that he considered Abd al-Rahman, who he says is his deputy, an accomplice in the rash of abductions because he failed to take action for one year. "As to the statements made by Brigadier Turhan, my deputy, and since he has had this information since one year or one year and a half...he didn't take any action nor did he inform the higher authorities. Also, there are no cases recorded by the police on this issue," Hassan said. "In these press statements, I consider Brigadier Turhan an accomplice in this operation because he didn't inform his higher commander and he didn't take any action."

Hassan also accused Abd al-Rahman of falsely identifying himself as police chief. However, it is unclear whether Abd al-Rahman misrepresented himself or if he was erroneously identified in the newspaper report. "Why did he say he was head of the police and give these statements?" Hassan told RFI, adding that Abd al-Rahman should have "taken some action and inform[ed] the higher authorities.... As head of police, I could take action."

AUSTRALIAN HOSTAGE RELEASED IN IRAQ

By Kathleen Ridolfo

Baghdad, 15 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Australian hostage Douglas Wood was freed after six weeks in captivity in Iraq, the head of the Australian Emergency Response Team confirmed to reporters in Baghdad today, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported.

"Let me confirm with great delight that Douglas Wood who was abducted on 30 April in Baghdad was rescued earlier today from a house in the Ghazaliyah area. He's now resting comfortably and at a safe location in Baghdad. He's as well as you could expect him to be, after enduring what has been 47 days in captivity," Nick Warner of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said. Warner has been heading up the ERT's effort in securing Wood's release.

Warner recounted events that took place over the course of Wood's captivity, saying that the Emergency Response Team was on the ground in Baghdad working on Wood's case by 3 May. The team was followed by Australian Mufti Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali on 10 May.

"On 29 May the Emergency Response Team received a proof-of-life video of Mr. Wood. This was the third video that we had received of Mr. Wood. The other two being delivered first I think to Reuters and I think to Al-Jazeera. With the delivery of the video, the kidnappers opened a channel of communication with us, [through] an intermediary, an intermediary we've been working with for quite some time," Warner said. "And in the meantime, Sheikh Hilali opened his own channel for communication."

"I just want to confirm that at no time was any ransom paid by the Australian government nor were there any political or other concessions made by the Australian government to those holding Mr. Wood," Warner added.

"This morning, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. the 2nd Battalion First Iraqi Armored Brigade supported by coalition soldiers conducted a raid in the Ghazaliyah area of Baghdad. They were operating on intelligence and tips gathered by Colonel Muhammad [not further identified], 2nd Battalion commander. During the raid, Iraqi soldiers subdued two insurgents and rescued Mr. Wood and one Iraqi hostage. Colonel Muhammad quickly turned Mr. Wood over to U.S. and Australian authorities," Warner recounted.

Asked if there were signs that any other prisoners, such as freed French journalist Florence Abuneas or the previously released Romanian hostages had been held there, Warner said: "I don't have those details at the moment but there's really nothing more I can say."

Iraqi General Nasir al-Abadi told Radio Free Iraq that Wood was captured as part of a nighttime operation. Neighbors had reportedly alerted security forces to abnormal activity taking place in the house. When security forces approached the house, the insurgents fired at them and a gunfight ensued. Upon entering the house, security forces found Wood lying on the floor face down and covered. They initially thought he was a dead insurgent, but when they uncovered him, they discovered it was Wood, al-Abadi said.

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