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Iraq Report: January 23, 2004


23 January 2004, Volume 7, Number 3
INSIDE IRAQ
CAR BOMB DETONATES OUTSIDE U.S. HEADQUARTERS IN BAGHDAD. A pick-up truck laden with explosives detonated outside U.S. occupation headquarters in Baghdad on 18 January, killing at least 20 people, and injuring more than 60, international media reported. The car detonated during the morning rush-hour, setting nearby cars on fire. A number of coalition employees --mostly Iraqis -- were killed in the explosion just outside the U.S. compound. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Hertling told AP that the blast occurred "literally at the last point a vehicle could get to without being stopped."

The bombing, considered the deadliest since deposed President Saddam Hussein's capture on 13 December 2003, came one day ahead of a meeting between UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) representatives to discuss a IGC request that the UN send a team to assess the possibility for national direct elections in Iraq in the next few months. Annan has also been asked to return UN workers to the country. All international UN staff were pulled from Baghdad in October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 November 2003). U.S. officials had been reporting a decrease in attacks on coalition targets by militants in recent days, washingtonpost.com reported on 18 January. Attacks stand at around 17 a day, compared to twice that number in November. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TENS OF THOUSANDS DEMONSTRATE IN BAGHDAD FOR DIRECT ELECTIONS... As many as 100,000 Iraqis took part in a peaceful demonstration in Baghdad on 19 January to demand immediate direct elections in Iraq, international media reported. A representative of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani conveyed a message from the ayatollah, who has demanded direct elections, rejecting an agreed upon plan by the Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition for elections based on a caucus system. "The sons of the Iraqi people demand a political system based on direct elections and a constitution that realizes justice and equality for everyone," AP quoted al-Sistani's representative Hashim al-Awad as saying.

Tahir al-Asadi, a spokesman for Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Al-Jazeera television that the 19 January demonstration was organized by the leading Shi'ite groups the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed wing, the Badr Corps, and the Islamic Al-Da'wah party. Sunni Muslims also reportedly took part in the demonstration. Sunni and Shi'ite prayer leaders across Iraq threatened during 16 January Friday prayers to continue to stage popular demonstrations that might lead to clashes with coalition troops in the coming months if direct elections are not held, Al-Jazeera reported the same day.

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad for a second consecutive day on 20 January to demonstrate in favor of direct national elections and to demand that Hussein not be granted "prisoner of war" status, international media reported the same day. Many of the demonstrators were supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has voiced support for Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the latter's call for direct elections. Some 30,000 Iraqis demonstrated for direct elections in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on 15 January. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

�AS AL-JAZEERA CLAIMS CAMERA CREW ATTACKED IN BAGHDAD. Al-Jazeera television reported on 19 January that irate Iraqis attacked its crew while covering the 19 January demonstration in Baghdad. The demonstrators, reportedly affiliated with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, crashed the news channel's vehicle that was carrying live relay to its base in Doha, and tried to set it on fire. Iraqi police had to intervene and transport the crew to safety. According to the Al-Jazeera report, the demonstrators were angry about the views expressed regarding Iraq on Al-Jazeera talk shows and "the use of the word 'thousands' to describe the crowds taking part in the demonstration, which they regarded as an attempt to underestimate the size of the demonstration." The satellite news channel's reporters and guests frequently took an antiwar stance before Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the channel continues to promote anti-coalition views in its programming and live reporting from Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BREMER AUTHORIZES ESTABLISHMENT OF PROPERTY CLAIMS COMMISSION. U.S. Civil Administrator L. Paul Bremer issued a regulation on 14 January authorizing the Iraqi Governing Council to establish the Iraq Property Claims Commission (IPCC), according to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The IPCC will collect and resolve real property claims and promulgate procedures for a quick resolution of claims "in a fair and judicious manner," the regulation notes. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI REPRESENTATIVES SPEAK AT TOWN HALL MEETING IN MOSUL. Some 220 people turned out for a 2 and 1/2 hour town hall meeting in Mosul on 12 January. Iraqi Governing Council Member Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, Ninawa Governor Ghanim Sultan Abdullah al-Basso, Ninawa Deputy Governor Khasro Goran, and Ninawa Provincial Council member Shifa Hadi Husayn Ali al-Hamandi took questions from the audience on the 15 November 2003 agreement and the transitional political process, according to a press release posted on the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).

The attendees reportedly represented a cross-section of Ninawa political, civic, and social leaders. According to the press release, the attendees were "particularly concerned" with the issue of federalism and the complexities that it would bring to the future power relations between Baghdad and the governorates.

Mosul is the second of three nationally televised town hall meetings on the 15 November agreement and transitional political process. The first meeting was held in Al-Basrah on 29 December 2003. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Baghdad on 28 January. The U.S.-led coalition is also sponsoring a number of smaller events aimed at promoting democratic values. Tribal shaykhs, clerics, and members of the community gathered in Al-Hillah on 21 January to hear Stanford University political science professor Larry Diamond speak about democratic development and elections, AP reported on the same day. The coalition has also established four "Tribal Democracy Centers" in Al-Hillah, Diwaniyah, Al-Najaf, and Karbala, according to a 7 January press release posted on the CPA website. The centers "will provide a place for shaykhs, tribal leaders, and others to discuss relevant issues and to learn about democracy." More centers are to be established in Al-Kut, Al-Ramadi, and Al-Hillah. For more information on U.S.-sponsored democracy initiatives in Iraq, visit the CPA website or the U.S. Agency for International Development website (http://www.usaid.gov). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BA'ATH PARTY RENUNCIATIONS SAID TO BE CONTINUING. Former high-ranking Ba'ath Party members in two towns renounced affiliation with the Ba'ath Party formerly headed by Saddam Hussein in meetings on 20 January, U.S. CENTCOM announced on its website. The renunciation is part of an ongoing program by coalition forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). According to CENTCOM, 120 Ba'athists took an oath renouncing the party in front of an unspecified local mayor and Lieutenant Colonel Buddy Carman in Rabiah, located on the Syrian border. "The pledge is voluntary, there will be no payment, no promise of jobs," Carmen told the men, according to CENTCOM. An unspecified number of Ba'athists also were reported to have renounced allegiance to that party in the town of Tal Abtah, located south of Mosul. According to CENTCOM, four northern Iraqi cities have now held mass denunciations of the Ba'ath Party in cooperation with coalition forces.

Meanwhile, coalition forces have captured two former Ba'ath Party members in recent days, AP reported on 20 January, citing a U.S. military statement. General Matlub Muslat Sayyir, a member of the Saddam Fedayeen militia, reportedly surrendered on 19 January to coalition forces in the west-central Iraqi Al-Anbar Governorate. Former Iraqi intelligence-service officer Colonel Abd al-Hadi was reportedly captured on 16 January in the town of Ramadi, also located in the Al-Anbar Governorate. The military did not release further details on the arrests. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI CLERIC SAYS HE MIGHT QUIT POLITICS. Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has said that he might forgo his political aspirations, according to a 16 January report on Beirut's Al-Manar television. "Let everybody know that I will not succumb to any party dissociated from the Iraqi people," al-Sadr said. "If I quit [politics] for religious reasons, my heart remains with you, and my soul and body are ready to be sacrificed for you," he said to the people of Iraq.

Al-Sadr, a vocal opponent to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, did not give clear reasons for his possible withdrawal from the political scene, except to say: "Afterward, I will devote myself to other important matters. Although this might subject me to death or detention, this is what I actually aspire for." He added that he would continue to lead a Friday prayer service. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

JAPAN'S SELF-DEFENSE FORCE ARRIVES IN SAMAWAH. An advance team from Japan's Self-Defense Force arrived in Samawah, Iraq, on 19 January to set up a base camp within the Dutch base in that city, Kyodo World Service reported on 20 January. The advance team, which arrived from Kuwait, will prepare for some 550 ground troops expected to arrive in the coming weeks. "The advance unit's duty is to gather information related to [local] security and humanitarian reconstruction aid necessary for activities of the main units," said Colonel Masahisa Sato, who heads the team. "We want to [also] hold discussions with the [Iraqis]...about what they expect in assistance." Japan's deployment of troops will make it the 39th country to join the coalition on the ground in Iraq, Kyodo reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
'REBUILD IRAQ 2004' EXPO OPENS IN KUWAIT. Kuwaiti Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah al-Taweel opened the "Rebuild Iraq 2004" exposition in Kuwait on 19 January, KUNA reported. More than 1,100 companies from 45 countries are participating in the exposition, offering a wide range of products and services to the Iraqi reconstruction effort. The Arab Gulf states, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia are taking part in the five-day exposition, which will close on 23 January. For more information, visit the expo website (http://www.rebuild-iraq-expo.com). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KUWAIT DENIES IT IS PREVENTING IRAQI PILGRIMS FROM CROSSING BORDER. Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah denied 18 January news reports alleging that Kuwaiti authorities had prevented Iraqi pilgrims from passing through Kuwait to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj, KUNA reported. The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims who are able should make the ritual journey once in their lifetimes. KUNA, the official Kuwaiti state news agency, also issued a report on the same day that said that the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society delivered some 5,000 boxes of food supplies to the Iraqi border town of Safwan to aid Iraqi pilgrims on their journey. Approximately 170 pilgrims reportedly crossed the border on 18 January and traveled to the Kuwait International Airport to board flights to Mecca, KUNA reported.

Meanwhile, soldiers from the U.S. Task Force All American have quietly been assisting Iraqi security forces in facilitating the safe travel of Iraqis participating in the Hajj, according to a 20 January press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). CENTCOM reported that over 2,400 pilgrims crossed the Ar'ar border crossing into Saudi Arabia this week. Iraqi border guards and customs agents are running the border crossing, including traffic control into Saudi Arabia, while Iraqi Civil Defense Corps troops and Red Crescent volunteers have worked to secure the travel routes and rest areas. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UAE, QATAR, KUWAIT TO FORGIVE MOST IRAQI DEBT. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have both agreed to forgive most of the some $7 billion in Iraq debt owed to them by the former Hussein regime following meetings with U.S. envoy James Baker, international media reported this week. Iraq is believed to owe the UAE about $3 billion and Qatar around $4 billion.

According to bbc.co.uk, Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nahayan, the crown prince of the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, said that his country was ready to begin "urgent negotiations" over cutting Iraq's debt. An unnamed Qatari official said that the debt waiver would allow the Iraqi people "a chance to build a free and prosperous country," the website reported. U.S. officials are reportedly hoping that the agreements will prompt Saudi Arabia to make similar concessions. The Gulf nation claims Iraq owes it some $30 billion.

Meanwhile, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah said on 21 January that Kuwait is willing to "significantly" reduce Iraq's debt to it, AFP reported on the same day. "The state of Kuwait will strive with other countries to achieve a significant reduction of Iraq's debts in the course of this year, provided this is approved by the country's constitutional institutions," al-Sabah said. Kuwait estimates Iraq's debt at about $16 billion. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UAE TO TRAIN IRAQI POLICE PERSONNEL. The UAE has struck an agreement with Germany to train Iraqi police personnel in Abu Dhabi, Voice of the Mujahidin reported on 20 January. German experts will assist in the training, which reportedly will be funded by the Germans as part of its contribution to rebuilding Iraq. The policemen will be trained with Japanese equipment, the radio reported. The size of the police force has not been announced, nor has a training date. Reports of a possible agreement between the two states to train Iraqi police first surfaced in October 2003. According to Voice of the Mujahidin, the agreement was concluded during a 19 January meeting between Shaykh Hamdan bin Zayid al-Nahyan, UAE's deputy prime minister and minister of state for foreign affairs, and German Interior Minister Otto Schily. The "Financial Times" reported on 16 December 2003 that France might also participate in the training. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EGYPTIANS PINNING HOPES ON IRAQI DINAR. Widespread currency speculation has Egyptians buying up new Iraqi dinars for a pittance, hoping to strike it rich once the currency rises in value, international media reports. Labeled the "Bremer dinar" by Egyptian newspapers, the new currency if traded, could fetch around 232 dinars for one Egyptian pound, middle-east-online.com reported on 16 January.

According to the website, Egypt's central bank has ordered banks and foreign exchange bureaus in the country not to deal with the Iraqi currency, and state security services have been ordered to crack down on the black market. Muhammad al-Abyad, head of the Egyptian Foreign Exchange Association told NBC news that some Egyptians see currency speculation as an easy way to get rich, and are tempted to speculate for a lack of better investment options. Egyptian authorities report that they are seeing more and more cases of travelers attempting to smuggle dinars into the country.

Police confiscated $50,000 in Iraqi dinars at the Alexandria airport and another $38,000 at the Luxor airport last week. According to MENA, four Egyptians and one Kuwaiti were carrying the currency at Alexandria, while an Egyptian traveling from Kuwait was caught at Luxor. Egyptian media reported last week that one in 10 passengers inspected upon entry from Jordan, Kuwait, and the Gulf States were found to be carrying Iraqi dinars. Egyptian law does not ban the possession of foreign currency, but it requires that foreign currency be declared to customs' officials upon entry. Currency speculation is illegal.

Meanwhile, Kuwaiti Charge d'affaires Faysal al-Adwani urged Kuwaitis visiting Egypt to leave their Iraqi dinars at home, KUNA reported on 8 January. Al-Adwani said that a number of Kuwaiti nationals are now under arrest in Egypt for suspected currency speculation. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DRUGS FLOW INTO IRAQ FROM IRAN. Instability and insecurity in Iraq has created an opening for drug traffickers, and according to Arabic news sources, much of the drugs come from Iran. Iranian smugglers reportedly are using religious tourism in the shrine cities of Karbala and Al-Najaf as a cover for their activities.

Shaykh Mithal al-Hasnawi, who heads the office of Muhammad al-Sadr in Karbala, said that his organization has created committees for the "Prohibition of Vice and Promotion of Virtue," "Al-Hayah" reported on 28 November 2003. They have arrested male and female Iranians who possessed cocaine, heroin, hashish, and "'al-tiriyak,' [opium] this is a specialty used by the Iranians." Major Nabil Hamid Mansur of the police department said that sellers of religious books sell the drugs brought in from Iran, and he added, "most of the drug dealers disguise themselves as Islamic clerics in order to foil [the] police." A public relations official with the Karbala police added that these drug traffickers also smuggle antiquities.

Colonel Karim Hajim Sultan, the Karbala Governorate police director, said that a number of Iranians and Iraqis were arrested for drug trafficking in the previous week, Baghdad's "Al-Nahdah" reported on 1 October 2003. He added that some Iranians entered the country illegally and are involved in the promotion of drugs and alcohol and other illicit activities. He said other Iranian visitors complained that they were swindled and stolen from, but the police arrested the boys and women who committed these crimes.

A lengthy 17 September 2003 report in Baghdad's "Al-Sa'ah" carried several interviews with Karbala residents and police officials. A local policeman said that the porous border and the influx of visitors from neighboring states has encouraged drug traffickers, and they even sell their wares to Iraqi gangs for distribution.

A four-member United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime team that visited Iraq in August 2003 noted that drugs could become an issue. The team concluded, "Although drug trafficking is not yet viewed as a serious problem, given Iraq's porous borders, geographical location -- situated near one of the major drug routes from the smuggling of opiates from Afghanistan -- and an established tradition of smuggling, a strong possibility of an increase in drug trafficking exists," the UN Information Service reported on 27 August. (Bill Samii)

THE UN AND IRAQ
CPA, IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS MEET WITH UN SECRETARY-GENERAL. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) officials L. Paul Bremer and Sir Jeremy Greenstock and a delegation of Iraqi Governing Council members met at UN headquarters in New York on 19 January with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss the UN's future role in Iraq, RFE/RL reported.

"Both the [Iraqi] Governing Council and the CPA representatives have expressed a strong wish that the UN should quickly send a technical mission to Iraq to advise on the feasibility of elections within the next few months and, if not, what alternatives might be possible," Annan told reporters after the meeting, according to his comments posted on the UN website (http://www.un.org). He added that he would consider the request. "I believe that there is widespread agreement among us that the UN will have an important role to play in working with the Iraqi provisional government from July onwards on key constitutional and electoral issues. We agreed that partnership would be necessary and we are also going to be active in recovery, reconstruction and in the humanitarian and human rights fields."

Annan also told reporters that security would still be a major consideration for the UN in Iraq. "Obviously, the scope for operational UN activities inside Iraq will continue to be constrained by the security situation for some time to come," he said. He called the 18 January bombing of CPA headquarters in Baghdad "not reassuring." Bremer meanwhile told reporters that should Annan send a team to assess the possibility of holding direct elections before June, the Iraqi Governing Council will work closely with the UN team, providing them with security and technical assistance. Iraqi Governing Council members also addressed a closed-door session of the UN Security Council on 19 January.

Asked about a timetable for a possible UN return to Iraq, Annan told reporters, "If I were to send in a team following the discussions that we are going to have, depending on the nature of the work or assignments we decide to take on, it may require some UN presence before 30 June." "And even if we are going to become operationally much more active after the establishment of the provisional government, we need to start planning now.... It would be a gradual build-up; I don't see a massive return of the UN until the security situation improves a bit." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
U.S. PRESIDENT LAUDS IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL HEAD. U.S. President George W. Bush recognized Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi in his annual State of the Union address before the U.S. Congress and other dignitaries on 20 January. Bush called Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, "one of Iraq's most respected leaders," according to a copy of the speech posted on the U.S. presidential website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). "Sir, America stands with you and the Iraqi people as you build a free and peaceful nation," he added.

Bush also defended the war in Iraq in his address, saying, "Already, the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons-of-mass-destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations.... Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world." Bush added, "For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place." Bush called for a broader international effort in the rebuilding of Iraq and thanked the 34 coalition member states already involved in the effort. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

POWELL, PACHACHI BRIEF REPORTERS ON 15 NOVEMBER AGREEMENT. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of January Adnan Pachachi briefed reporters in Washington on 20 January about talks between U.S. officials and Iraqi Governing Council members on how to proceed toward elections in Iraq, the U.S. State Department reported on the same day (http://usinfo.state.gov).

Powell told reporters that he had spoken with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan who said that he was pleased with the 19 January meetings he had with Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) members in New York. Annan told Powell that he would soon take a decision regarding the IGC's request for a UN assessment on whether it is feasible for national direct elections to be held in Iraq in the next few months.

Pachachi told the press that the IGC remains committed to the 15 November 2003 agreement and to maintaining the 30 June deadline for the transfer of sovereignty "to a directed or a chosen Iraqi government that reflects the desires of the Iraqi people and has a very broad representative base." Pachachi also said that the media may have misinterpreted earlier statements he made at the White House in which he said that there would be no compromise made to change the 30 June deadline. "I think the word 'no' has been dropped [by the press] for some reason, and people thought we are ready to compromise," he said. "That's not the case at all."

Regarding the elections, the IGC president said: "Because of the shortness of the period available to us, and because of the necessity of preparing for elections, there have been some doubts that elections can be held." "Regarding the caucus, we hope to refine this process.... I think if it's well refined, if it's done properly, I think it will really enable the Iraqis to have a legislature that really represents their views and is widely representative." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY DISCUSSES IRAQ ISSUE AT DAVOS. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw discussed the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq in his address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 21 January, RFE/RL reported. Straw told the forum that the Iraqi Governing Council "is the most representative Iraqi administration which Iraq has ever seen." He added that the council "embodies the diversity and complexity of Iraqi society and there is a political pluralism within the Governing Council which is wider than exists in many countries in the region as a whole." Straw praised UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for agreeing to consider sending a team to Iraq to assess the possibility of national direct elections.

The foreign secretary also praised Iraqis for beginning a political debate on their future. "Iraqis are coming to terms with a real political debate, choosing between a host of rival sources of information -- satellite dishes, which were illegal under Saddam, more than 200 newspapers, unrestricted access to the Internet," he said. "A dynamic Iraqi press corps is emerging, with journalists gaining experience and confidence in their reporting, and Iraq already has a more vibrant and a freer press than many of its neighbors." Straw said that Britain and the "whole international community" remains committed to assisting Iraq in its move toward a democratic government. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAQ POLICY 'SOLID.' French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told Al-Jazeera television in an interview broadcast on 16 January that his country is committed to helping in the rebuilding of Iraq. "France has a viewpoint that is grounded on solid bases. This stand draws its strength from international law, respect for nations, and tolerance. We want to offer assistance [to Iraq] within the framework...of the international community." Villepin said that his country has been "recruited" to assist Iraq. Villepin reiterated earlier calls for an international conference to be held on Iraq, saying: "We believe that a conference will allow a series of major projects like economic development, security aspects, and humanitarian exchanges. " (Kathleen Ridolfo)

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