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Iraq Report: April 2, 2004


2 April 2004, Volume 7, Number 12
INSIDE IRAQ
BARZANI, TALABANI CALL FOR NATIONAL PARTICIPATION AT RECONCILIATION CONFERENCE. Iraqi Kurdish leaders Mas'ud Barzani and Jalal Talabani called on all Iraqis to take part in national reconciliation at a 26-27 March conference in Irbil organized by Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under the slogan "National reconciliation: Our Path Towards Social Peace and the Building of Iraq," Kurdistan Satellite TV reported on 26 March.

Barzani told some 600 conference participants that the aim of the conference was to discuss issues in a calm and reflective manner out of a concern for Iraq's national interests. "We want to discuss the roots of these problems and attempt to reach any possible realistic solutions in order to ease the intense social or political tension in our country," he said. "I believe that by initiating a responsible and frank dialogue, we would be able to resolve some or most of the problems, if not all of them," he added. Barzani said that progress could only be achieved in Iraq once the country confronts its history, dealing with all its problems, and its ills. "The grave problems created by the entombed [Hussein] regime are now an obstacle to the progress of the people after liberation. The problems have also afflicted those responsible for them and their supporters in that regime; in other words, most of the supporters of that regime are now afflicted by the harmful political, social, and ideological effects of their regime. Furthermore, all the people who did not benefit from that regime are suffering, and attempts are made to prevent them from benefiting from the new era."

Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told conference participants that Iraq's unity should be based on democracy, human rights, federalism, and a consideration for the interests of all Iraqis. He called for a "realization of accord" until a permanent constitution has been drafted. "Before the permanent constitution is drawn up, it is not possible for a view by a side or a constituent of the Iraqi people to be imposed on the remaining constituents," Talabani said, adding, "Let us be candid in discussing this issue...so that we could reach a clear result.

The two parties announced the establishment of the National Reconciliation Council at the two-day conference and called on Shi'ites, former Ba'athists, and other former foes to join, AFP reported on 26 March. The conference reportedly named Barzani as president of the council and decided to establish reconciliation committees in each of Iraq's 18 governorates. The final communique of the conference also called on Iraqi civil society organizations and citizens to take part in the council committees.

Iraqi Shi'ite Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said at the conference that reconciliation should be conditional upon ensuring that "the past is not forgotten." "We must face the past squarely and draw the appropriate lessons. Those who perpetrated crimes, made mistakes must publicly ask for forgiveness. We must uncover the whole truth. Those who were deprived of their rights must get them back," AFP quoted him as saying. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

COALITION SOLDIERS KILLED WEST OF BAGHDAD; CAR BOMB DETONATED IN BA'QUBAH. Five U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on 31 March when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb west of the Iraqi capital, Reuters reported. In a separate incident in Al-Fallujah, militants attacked two four-wheel-drive vehicles on 31 March, setting them on fire and burning several passengers to death, Reuters reported.

The news agency reported that charred body parts were hung from a pole near the burning cars, and at least two bodies could be seen lying in the street and another inside the burning vehicle. Reuters could not confirm the number of dead, but coalition officials later said that it appeared that four persons were killed. The dead are thought to be coalition contractors, international media reported. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a 31 March press briefing in Baghdad that Al-Fallujah remains a problem area, RFE/RL reported. "Al-Fallujah remains one of those cities in Iraq that just [doesn't] get it. It is a former Ba'athist stronghold. This was a city that profited immeasurably and immensely under the former regime. They have a view that, somehow, the harder they fight, the better chance they have of achieving some sort of restorationist movement within the country," he said. "Most of the people in Fallujah want to move on with their lives, want to move forward, want to be part of the new Iraq. There is a small core element that doesn't seem to get it. They are desperate to try to hold out, desperate to try to turn back the hands of time, and that just isn't going to happen," Kimmitt added.

Meanwhile, a car bomb was detonated in Ba'qubah, located some 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, on 31 March, Reuters reported. Police said seven civilians and five bodyguards of the local governor were wounded in the blast. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

INC SPOKESMAN SAYS UN WILL NOT PLAY ROLE IN IRAQI ELECTIONS. Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar has reportedly said that the Iraqi Governing Council has informed a United Nations team of experts sent to Iraq to help organize national direct elections that the UN will play no role in overseeing the upcoming elections, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported on 30 March. Qanbar also reportedly said the role of the UN would be limited to offering help and counseling.

According to the London-based "Al-Hayat" on 23 March, Qanbar said a consensus has materialized inside the Iraqi Governing Council to reject any role for the UN in the political process. "The organization can give the Iraqis technical assistance in organizing the elections process because it has qualified experts and employees in this field," Qanbar told "Al-Hayat." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DAILY REPORTS 'CITIZEN SECURITY FORCE' TERRORIZING AL-NASIRIYAH. The Iraqi National Congress newspaper "Al-Mu'tamar" reported on 28 March that the citizens of Al-Nasiriyah are being terrorized by armed groups in the city that threaten, detain, blackmail, and instill a general sense of panic over the population. Conflicts among the many political and religious factions and organizations are the main cause of the violence, the daily reported. The report said religious groups are looting and pillaging in order to finance their offices. One resident interviewed said a little-known group calling itself the "Citizen Security Force" has been formed and is imposing its own order. The resident said the group has detained and tortured citizens, who are then expected to pay for their release. A police official told the daily that the group appears to have the upper hand in the city, adding that police do not know who finances the group. The police official said that one attempt to rescue a comrade taken hostage by the group left three Iraqi police officers dead and three others wounded. The group also reportedly prevented ambulances from evacuating the dead and injured. Coalition forces helped storm the offices of the Citizen Security Force but it appears that the group is still operating. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BRITISH SOLDIERS CLASH WITH IRAQI ISLAMISTS IN AL-BASRAH. British soldiers on 29 March reportedly wounded five members of the Islamist group Tha'r Allah (Revenge of God) while attempting to evict the group from offices it illegally occupied in the southern city of Al-Basrah, middle-east-online.com reported.

Tha'r Allah reportedly operates as a militia in Al-Basrah. "Ten days ago, we received an injunction from the governorate of Al-Basrah instructing us to vacate the premises," an unidentified member of the group told the website. "As we refused, British forces intervened this morning." AP reported on 29 March that dozens of anti-coalition Iraqis were involved in the scuffle with British troops. The incident was termed a "small public order incident" in a 29 March coalition press statement posted on the website of the Combined Joint Task Force-7 (http://www.cjtf7.com). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

APPARENT SUICIDE ATTACK ON POLICE CHIEF IN IRAQ FAILS TO REACH TARGET. A suicide bomber on 30 March detonated his vehicle outside the home of a police chief in Al-Hillah, killing himself and wounding seven others, AP reported. Police Major Ali Jawad said the home of police chief Brigadier General Qais Hamza was the intended target of the attack. Guards at the scene reportedly opened fire on the vehicle before it detonated. Three neighbors were injured in the blast, as were four guards. Hamza and his family were home at the time of the attack, but escaped injury.

On 23 March, at least five Iraqi police recruits were killed in Al-Hillah when militants opened fire on the bus in which the recruits were traveling to work. One day later, militants killed Al-Hillah police chief Colonel Yassin Khudayr in the nearby town of Al-Musayyib (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report, 26 March 2004). Meanwhile, an Iraqi police colonel was shot dead in Kirkuk on 27 March by unidentified persons as he was leaving his home, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

COALITION SHUTS DOWN IRAQI SHI'ITE NEWSPAPER FOR INCITING VIOLENCE... The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on 28 March issued an order to close the newspaper of anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, international media reported the same day. The "Al-Hawzah" newspaper will be closed for two months for inciting violence, Al-Jazeera television reported. Al-Sadr supporters denounced the decision and staged a peaceful sit-in outside the newspaper's offices following the announcement. Shi'ite leaders said the decision would likely provoke al-Sadr's followers, latimes.com reported on 29 March. The decision "will emphasize the suspicions of the Iraqi people that America says it wants democracy but is suppressing any view that is not convenient for them," Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) spokesman Hamid al-Bayati said. An unidentified coalition official told latimes.com that "Al-Hawzah" was warned on several occasions "to retract and clean [itself] up," but failed to do so, prompting the temporary closure. The coalition has not hesitated to sanction Arab media in recent months when it believes those media outlets are inciting violence among Iraqis. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS AL-SISTANI ASSOCIATE SAYS NEW NEWSPAPER, TELEVISION TO BE LAUNCHED. Shaykh Sahib al-Ta'i, an instructor at Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's hawzah (Shi'ite religious seminary) in Karbala, has said the hawzah will soon launch its own newspaper and television station, Voice of the Mujahedin reported on 28 March. Al-Ta'i said the newspaper "Karbala" and the unnamed local television channel will show the various activities of al-Sistani's hawzah, which is responsible for overseeing the resting places of Imam al-Husayn and his brother al-Abbas in the Shi'ite holy city. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-NAJAF DEMONSTRATORS CALL FOR DISSOLUTION OF GOVERNING COUNCIL. Hundreds of Iraqis assembled in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf on 29 March to demand that the Iraqi Governing Council be dissolved, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported the same day. An unidentified cleric who claimed to be one of the organizers of the demonstration said the protesters were also demanding the annulment of the Transitional Administration Law, Iraq's interim constitution. "As Muslims we took to the streets because Muslims do not tolerate injustice. The constitution is unfair," the cleric said, without elaborating. Meanwhile, a representative of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr claimed in Baghdad that by closing the cleric's "Al-Hawzah" newspaper (see this report) the coalition is attempting to prevent the Iraqi people from exercising real liberty. "Journalists would be left with two options only," "Al-Hawzah" Editor Sa'dun Muhsin told Al-Manar television, "turning a blind eye to injustice and concealing facts, or accepting prison, torture, and displacement." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-SISTANI MAY ISSUE FATWA AGAINST TRANSFER OF POWER. Ali al-Sistani is reportedly prepared to issue a fatwa delegitimizing the scheduled 30 June transfer of power to Iraqis unless an article in the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq's interim constitution is amended, Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported on 28 March. Al-Sistani's Kuwaiti representative Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Muhri told the radio station that al-Sistani wants Article 61 of the document amended to remove a clause he believes may limit the authority of the Shi'a in Iraq, al-Muhri said. Clause C states that the permanent constitution will be ratified "if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it."

According to nytimes.com, al-Muhri told worshippers during his Friday prayer sermon in Kuwait: "Imam al-Sistani may issue a fatwa declaring illegitimate all those to whom power is transferred in June [and] may also order the Iraqi people to protest or carry out major popular demonstrations and sit-ins in all Iraqi cities."

Al-Sistani's Baghdad representative Shaykh Nur al-Din al-Safi told Manama's "Al-Ayyam" that the United Nations must reject the Transitional Administrative Law in its entirety. "If the United Nations does not issue a clear and frank stand, [al-Sistani] will not be a party to the meetings that the UN delegation will hold in Baghdad," he said, alluding to the negative repercussions that such a stand by al-Sistani might elicit from the Iraqi people.

Baghdad's "Al-Mashriq" on 27 March quoted Shaykh Yusuf al-Kinani, a representative of the Al-Fudala Group, which is an offshoot of the office of Ayatollah Muhammad al-Ya'qubi, as saying: "The transitional period means that its laws are transitional. But making laws committing future governments to these transitional laws is completely rejected." He contended that Clause C "aims to nullify the opinion of the majority and impose the will of the minority."

Meanwhile, washingtonpost.com reported on 29 March that a vast network of Shi'ite mosques, religious centers, and community organizations are eliciting grassroots support to reject the interim constitution. Posters have reportedly gone up at universities across Baghdad and elsewhere, the newspaper reports, and leaflets have circulated calling for a rejection of the document. Al-Sistani supporters claim to have collected tens of thousands of signatures on their petitions. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MINISTER ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Iraqi Municipalities and Public Works Minister Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari escaped an assassination attempt on 28 March in Mosul, AP reported on 29 March. Gunmen opened fire on a convoy in which Barwari was traveling, killing two and injuring two others. Barwari, who was returning to Mosul from a meeting in the northern Iraqi city of Dahuk, was not injured. Iraqi police told AP that the two men who were killed in the attack were both bodyguards and were not in Barwari's vehicle. Gunmen also killed a Canadian and a Briton in Mosul on 29 March, AP reported. The men were working as security guards for foreign electrical engineers at a power station in the city, according to the news agency. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KURDISH OFFICIAL SAYS PESHMERGA MILITIAS WILL BE DISBANDED BY 30 JUNE. Umar Aziz, deputy director of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) external-relations office, told London's "Al-Hayat" that the Kurdish peshmerga forces affiliated with the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) will either withdraw from Baghdad or be merged with forces from the Interior or Defense ministries at the end of June when the U.S. transfers power back to the Iraqi people. "The Washington Post" reported on 22 March that Kurdish and Shi'ite officials have reached a tentative agreement with the United States to disband their militias. Militia members will be offered the opportunity to join any of the new Iraqi security organizations or claim substantial retirement benefits as incentives to lay down their arms and disband (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). Aziz told "Al-Hayat" that the peshmerga forces trust the U.S. troops and said the merger of a group of PUK peshmerga means that the peshmerga "no longer takes its orders from the PUK leadership, and instead is under the army's command." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TURKOMAN LEADERS WITHDRAW FROM KIRKUK CITY COUNCIL. Six Turkomans holding seats on the Kirkuk city council resigned on 28 March saying that the city is being overtaken by Kurds, AFP reported on the same day. A week earlier, nine Arab council members withdrew their membership, claiming that Kurds were taking over the city and depriving them of their political rights. Turkoman council member Mustafa Yaishi called on coalition forces to dismiss Kirkuk governor Abd al-Rahman Mustafa and to intercede to "drive away armed Kurdish militias." "We are denied our legitimate rights and we are kept away from administrative positions," Yaishi said. Kirkuk has been the site of continuing unrest in recent months as Kurds, Turkomans, and Arabs vie for control of the oil-rich city. In December, the coalition expanded the council granting additional seats to Turkomans, Christians, and Arabs in an effort to diffuse ethnic tensions there. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ANSAR AL-SUNNAH ARMY THREATENS MORE ATTACKS. The Sunni terrorist group Ansar Al-Sunnah Army's "Shari'a Committee" reportedly released a statement on its website on 29 March claiming its intention to launch armed attacks that would include targeting the Iraqi police and army, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 30 March. "We will fight you more fiercely than we fight the Americans," the statement threatened. The statement said that the personal status law in the new interim constitution was meant to "silence the voices raised against the Crusaders while the Shari'a was excluded as the source of legislation." The Shari'a Committee contended that anyone who approves of the interim "infidel" constitution is a polytheist.

The group has previously called Iraqi Governing Council members, "members in a government where the U.S. governor and not Allah the Exalted makes the final decisions," (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 March 2004) and has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks against Iraqi civilians and security services personnel, as well as responsibility for the 1 February attacks in Irbil on the two leading Kurdish political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004). The group is an offshoot of the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BODYGUARD REPORTEDLY REVEALED HUSSEIN'S HIDING PLACE. A bodyguard of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein reportedly led coalition troops to the hiding spot where he was captured on 13 December, BBC television's "Panorama" reported on 28 March. Muhammad Ibrahim Umar al-Musslit reportedly told coalition officials of Hussein's whereabouts during an interrogation. According to "Panorama," al-Musslit was interrogated in Tikrit following his arrest in Baghdad and led U.S. troops to Hussein's hiding spot within a matter of hours. U.S. Major General Ray Odierno denied that al-Musslit was tortured by coalition interrogators, but told "Panorama" that al-Musslit was a "shady character." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CPA ADMINISTRATOR TO APPOINT IRAQI NATIONAL-SECURITY ADVISER. An unidentified senior coalition official told a Baghdad press briefing on 25 March that Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer will appoint an Iraqi national security adviser to a five-year term before the 30 June transfer of power, Reuters reported on 25 March. The official said the adviser would serve in a capacity similar to that of U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice or Brent Scowcroft, who served as national-security adviser in the administrations of George Bush and Gerald Ford. The official added that the government would be expected to retain the appointee even after an elected Iraqi government takes power next year. However, the official conceded that a future Iraqi government would also have the power to remove the person from the position. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BREMER ASSIGNS INSPECTORS GENERAL; TEAM TO PROBE UN CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer announced on 30 March that he has appointed inspectors general to each Iraqi ministry in an effort to combat corruption. Inspectors will also look into allegations of corruption in the former and current Iraqi government, including allegations stemming from the defunct UN oil-for-food program, according to the text of Bremer's announcement, posted on the Coalition Provisional Authority website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).

The inspectors will reportedly work with the Commission on Public Integrity and a revitalized Board of Supreme Audit, which he said would provide "an integrated approach intended to combat corruption at every level of the government across the country." Some 21 inspectors have been appointed to the office and more appointments are expected in the coming days, Bremer added. "Fighting government corruption is important in any country, but doubly important today in Iraq," Bremer said. "If public officials steal or abuse their position here, they are not just stealing, they are undermining confidence in the new Iraq's democratic government."

To view details on the role of the inspectors general in Iraq, see CPA Order No. 57, which established the position in each ministry (http://www.cpa-iraq.org/regulations/20040212_CPAORD57.pdf) or the Office of Inspector General's website (http://www.cpa-ig.org). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CPA LAUNCHES 'BAGHDAD BEAUTIFUL' PROJECT... The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq announced that it would launch a $10 million beautification project in the Iraqi capital on 24 March, according to a press release posted on the CPA website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The money will be spent evenly across the city's nine baladiyahs, or local councils, over the next three months.

According to the press release, the money can be used for projects including the creation and rehabilitation of parks, public squares, playgrounds and recreation areas; the installation and repair of lighting for public places; the landscaping of public areas; repair of sidewalks and footpaths; and for the erection of sculptures and painting of murals at approved locations. The press release encourages Baghdad residents to contact their neighborhood, district, and city advisory council representatives to recommend improvements. The 1st Armored Division will implement the program. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AND SAYS TENS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS TO BE CREATED. Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer told a 29 March press conference that 2,300 construction projects to be implemented in Iraq in the coming months should create tens of thousands of jobs, according to the text of his statement released by the U.S. State Department (http://usinfo.state.gov).

"By the time Iraq is sovereign on June 30th, 50,000 Iraqis will be working on jobs funded by the partnership for prosperity. But this is just the beginning. Tens of thousands of additional jobs will be created for Iraqis as the 2,300 projects of the partnership get under way," Bremer said. He added that the economic transformation of Iraq complements its political transformation. Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafiz told the same press conference that his ministry would play a coordinating role in the partnership with the U.S.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rear Admiral David Nash (retired) of the CPA's Program Management Office told the press conference that the U.S. would continue to carry out reconstruction projects in Iraq after the 30 June transfer of power under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. "We will continue our functions as a part of the extended U.S. Embassy here. With our contracts in place, our prime contractors will be looking to fill thousands of subcontracting positions to get the work done on time and up to standard," Nash said. "This is a great opportunity for the construction industry here in Iraq to flourish. We have built serious incentives for our prime contractors to train and hire Iraqi workers and to engage Iraqi businesses in subcontracts," he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY IN DEATHS OF AL-ARABIYAH JOURNALISTS. The U.S. military issued a statement following an investigation into the 18 March shooting (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 March 2004) of two Al-Arabiyah journalists by U.S. soldiers that left both men dead, nytimes.com reported on 30 March. "We concluded that this was an accident and that the soldiers were acting in self-defense and within the rules of engagement," a senior U.S. military official told reporters.

The official said that the journalists were traveling in a sport utility vehicle some 100 yards behind a car that was speeding toward an army roadblock in central Baghdad. The soldiers reportedly fired at the speeding car and hit the journalists by accident. The soldiers had just minutes before been denied permission to pass through the checkpoint and were heading back in the opposite direction when the attack occurred. "It's unfortunate, but their vehicle happened to be in what we call the beaten zone," the U.S. official said. The official said that the soldiers were not at fault in the incident. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
TEHRAN 'STRIVES' TO CONTROL BORDER WITH IRAQ. Colonel Manuchehr Cheraghi, the deputy chief of police in Ilam Province, on 25 March described the arrest in the last week of 5,000 people who have tried to cross the border with Iraq illegally, IRNA reported. Cheraghi said pilgrimages to the holy sites in Iraq may only take place through officially sanctioned convoys, while the people who were arrested were trying to make the trip "by going through hard terrain and mountain passes with the help of local guides."

Cheraghi warned that the area around the Mehran border crossing is very dangerous because of land mines and unexploded ordnance from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and also because of the long distances and harsh terrain. Traveling with the convoys is not always safe, either. A 21-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy who were with the Wayfarers of Light convoy to former battlefields were killed by a land-mine explosion on 22 March and were buried on 25 March, Fars News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, Tehran's "Baztab" reported on 28 March that clashes occurred last week in the Islamiyah Estate in Mehran between local sailors and Iranian border guards. The sailors were reportedly illegally transporting Iranian pilgrims to Iraq when they encountered border guards. The sailors ignored the warnings of border guards, who eventually opened fire on the sailors. Two hours of clashes ensued and two sailors were reportedly killed.

An unidentified source at the Iranian Interior Ministry told "Baztab" that "Iranian convoys are crossing the Mehran border as in normal times. The new regulations governing visits to the holy shrines via the Mehran border has infuriated sailors because they had made handsome profits by smuggling visitors" in the past. (Bill Samii, Kathleen Ridolfo)

ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT MEETING SCRAPPED. Arab foreign ministers set to attend a two-day Arab Summit in Tunis this week learned just hours before it was set to open on 29 March that Tunisia had indefinitely canceled the meeting, international media reported on the same day. Tunisian officials said the meeting was cancelled because of differences of opinion on the main issues to be discussed at the summit, namely, the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Arab political reform, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and implementing changes in the structure of the Arab League itself.

While many Arab leaders expressed surprise at the postponement, state-owned Tunisian television reported that a Foreign Ministry source had expressed surprise that some participants had ignored the "real reasons" behind the postponement, which the source labeled as "essential questions and crucial choices." The source said that the choices are closely linked to Arab aspirations, the future of the Arab nation, and attempts to restructure the Arab League. The report said that Tunisia called for continued consultations among league members in an effort to converge their views on the "essential questions."

Meanwhile, foreign ministers said that the summit would likely be rescheduled in April, nytimes.com reported on 28 March. The website reported that on the issue of political reform, foreign ministers were divided into two groups. One group was composed of those who wanted to resist U.S. pressure for sweeping changes, while the other group contended that the demands for greater democracy did not come from Washington, but rather from the region, and needed to be addressed. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, reportedly representing the former group, had proposed a joint call for political reform that emphasized that each country would develop according to its own cultural norms, and not be pressured by outsiders. Meanwhile, the latter group, including Tunisia, reportedly resented being dictated to by the more powerful group led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the website reported. The Tunisian group also proposed making the general principles outlined in the Egyptian-Saudi draft more specific. The pre-summit atmosphere was also reportedly very tense due to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa's calls for institutional changes that would enhance his role.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari commented on the postponed summit, telling nytimes.com: "To fail to even hold a meeting is a disaster, taking into consideration all the challenges of the region. This encourages extremism, when people see that even the formal Arab system is not functioning, not operating. The sense of frustration will only deepen." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KUWAIT IDENTIFIES REMAINS OF 10 MORE POWS. The Kuwaiti government has identified the remains of 10 Kuwaiti prisoners of war (POWs) found in mass graves in Iraq, KUNA reported on 29 March. A number of high-level Iraqi officials turned out to attend the burial of the 10 men. The remains of some 92 Kuwaiti POWs from the 1991 Gulf War have been identified from mass graves in Iraq in the past year, KUNA reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SYRIAN SOURCES DENY HUSSEIN REGIME MEMBER IN SYRIA. Informed Syrian sources told the Ilaf website (http://www.elaph.com) on 29 March that reports published in the 29 March edition of Kuwaiti newspaper "Al-Siyasah" claiming that former vice chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, has taken refuge in Syria are false.

"Al-Siyasah" had cited a Kurdish source claiming to have seen al-Duri in the Syrian governorate of Dayr al-Zawr as he traveled by car with the local governor of the province. The Syrian sources told Ilaf that the "Al-Siyasah" report aimed at attacking Syria, and said that the newspaper's report lacked credibility. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

THE UN AND IRAQ
UN TEAM ARRIVES IN BAGHDAD. A team of UN experts sent to Iraq to help the country prepare for the 30 June transfer of power and national direct elections has arrived in Iraq, Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 27 March. Iraqi Governing Council member Mahmud Uthman told the satellite television channel that talks between the council and the UN team would begin on 29 March. Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said that the talks would address the formation of an election committee and the draft of an electoral law and political parties law, Al-Arabiyah reported.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party's website (http://www.kdp.info) reported on 29 March that talks between the Governing Council and the UN team were indeed underway, with seven or eight council members participating. The report cites council member Muhsin Abd al-Hamid as saying that the council members raised the question of how to ensure that elections are free and fair rather than fixed.

Meanwhile, the United Nations News Center reported on 30 March that UN Special Adviser Lakhdar Brahimi would travel to Iraq "soon," but did not specify when. Brahimi was expected to arrive in Iraq this week, international media reported. The U.S. administration also reportedly sent National Security Council troubleshooter Robert Blackwill to Iraq on 29 March to help prepare for Brahimi's mission and to pressure the Governing Council to cooperate, washingtonpost.com reported on 30 March. Some council members have appeared unsupportive of the UN mission (see this report) and many members evidently do not want to cede power to a new interim Iraqi administration.

According to the website, Brahimi will float two ideas: either holding a "roundtable" of Iraqi leaders or a wider national convention. Both would reportedly be similar to the Loya Jirga that chose Afghanistan's interim government. Coalition officials reportedly said that there is not enough time to implement either proposal, and both coalition and UN officials reportedly said that they would prefer at this late date to limit the number of Iraqis involved in assembling the interim government. Iraqi officials say they would prefer either to transform the current council into an interim government, or to enlarge it slightly. Such a move, however, would probably not receive much support from the population, which has widely opposed the unelected council. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL FIRES SECURITY CHIEF. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan fired security coordinator Tun Myat after a report on the investigation into the 19 August bombing of the UN's Baghdad headquarters revealed major security failures, the UN News Center reported on 29 March (http://www.un.org/news). The report said that Myat and his team were blinded by the belief that neither the UN nor its personnel would be targeted in attacks in Iraq, despite warnings to the contrary. Ramiro Lopes da Silva of Portugal, who at one time was responsible for security and personnel in Iraq, was demoted from his current post of assistant secretary-general and transferred to the UN World Food Program to work in a non-security-related capacity. Da Silva was appointed the acting head of the mission in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 September 2003) following the 19 August bombing, which killed UN Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and some 20 others. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette tendered her resignation after the report was released, but Annan refused to accept it. Frechette chaired a steering committee that decided to return UN staff to Iraq after the U.S.-led war. The full report on the investigation can be viewed on the UN website. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
U.S. OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY HAVE LEGAL JUSTIFICATION FOR KEEPING FORCES IN IRAQ. U.S. officials have reportedly found a legal basis to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the 30 June transfer of power, nytimes.com reported on 26 March. Officials say that UN Security Council Resolution 1511 (http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions03.html), passed on 16 October and approving the multinational force in Iraq, provides U.S. military commanders with the authority to maintain control until a new Iraqi government is elected, which is expected to be around 31 December 2005.

The newspaper reported that Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer showed his confidence in this approach by issuing an executive order this week calling for the Iraqi armed forces to be placed under the operational control of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commanding general of the U.S. Army's V Corps, who has already been named to lead allied forces in Iraq after the 30 June transfer of power. The plan would require that the UN Security Council renew Resolution 1511 before it expires in October. Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi said on 25 March that he supports the placement of the Iraqi army under U.S. control, the newspaper reported. Iraqi Interior Minister Nuri Badran said this week that his ministry is not ready to handle internal security in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DUELFER SAYS WEAPONS HUNT TO CONTINUE WITH NEW FOCUS. U.S. chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer told reporters in Washington on 30 March that the Iraq Survey Group would continue searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Reuters reported on the same day. Duelfer replaced previous weapons chief David Kay in January.

"The hunt will go on until we're able to draw a firm and confident picture of what the programs [used by Iraq] were and where the [Hussein] regime was headed with respect to them," Duelfer told reporters after briefing the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. "We're looking at it from soup to nuts -- from the weapons end to the planning end and to the intentions end," he added.

International media speculated this week that the administration appears to be focusing on the "intent" of the deposed Hussein regime to produce or obtain weapons of mass destruction, since no actual weapons have been uncovered. "We are looking for weapons, we're looking for production equipment, we're looking for the decisions by the regime to sustain a capability...but we have not found existing stocks of weapons as some had expected," Duelfer said. He cautioned reporters that it is still too early to draw any conclusions or make final judgments on Iraqi WMD, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, U.K. Special Representative to Iraq, Sir Jeremy Greenstock told London's BBC in an interview that coalition forces "misanalyzed" the situation in Iraq both before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the BBC website (http://news.bbc.co.uk) reported on 26 March. Greenstock was due to step down from his post on 27 March. "We misanalyzed at the beginning, both before and during the conflict," he said. Asked about Iraq's future, he said that there remained a "distinct possibility" that democracy would take hold in Iraq. Greenstock served six months in Iraq, taking the position following his retirement from the U.K. Foreign Office. He had previously served as British Ambassador to the United Nations. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EU FOREIGN MINISTERS CALL FOR NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ. The European Union on 25 March called on the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution that would boost the role of the world body in Iraq before the 30 June transfer of power from the coalition to an interim Iraqi leadership, according to a 26 March report posted on eupolitix.com.

The website also reported that French President Jacques Chirac said he was not optimistic that the Security Council would pass a resolution. "I think that a new resolution would be useful, but to say to you that I am optimistic would be excessive," Chirac told reporters. Unidentified EU officials also said that a new resolution might work to keep Spanish troops in Iraq. Spain's Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has said that he would withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq when he takes office unless the United Nations takes over responsibility for security.

Meanwhile, Madrid's RNE Radio 1 reported on 30 March that Zapatero and current Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar clashed over Aznar's sending of a contingent of 160 Spanish replacement troops to Iraq. Aznar said that he sought approval for the troop rotation from the future prime minister, but was forced to wait five days for a response. He added that Zapatero's letter condoning the troop rotation contained phrases that were discourteous due to a lack of maturity, the radio reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NATO BELONGS IN IRAQ. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said experience in Afghanistan demonstrates the stabilizing effect of NATO and the Atlantic alliance should assume a presence in Iraq, CTK reported on 30 March, citing an interview with Germany's dpa news agency. Svoboda added that Iraq needs "an organization capable of action, and NATO demonstrated in Afghanistan that it knows how to act." He added that the Czech Republic "does not currently have any signals from Washington [suggesting] that [the United States] is interested in relocating its [military] units to the Czech Republic," according to dpa as cited by CTK. (Andy Heil)

RUSSIAN ENVOY CALLS FOR GREATER UN PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ. Russia's special envoy to Iraq, Sergei Kirpichenko, said in Baghdad on 30 March that "the UN role is very important in the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis," ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Kirpichenko will meet with members of the Iraqi Governing Council to discuss the handover of power scheduled for this summer.

Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 30 March that the problem of Iraq's foreign debt can only be resolved if Russian companies are allowed to participate in major reconstruction projects in the country, the news agency reported. "The protection of the interests of Russian business should play a decisive role in shaping our policy in Iraq," Margelov said. Margelov also said that Russia should boost its humanitarian assistance to Iraq, because "this is important for Russia's presence in Iraq both on the political and economic levels."

Oil giant Yukos earlier this month signed an agreement to provide material and technical assistance to the Iraqi oil industry, including the training of Iraqi specialists at a Russian university and internships for them at LUKoil enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). (Rob Coalson)

JAPAN TO DONATE TENTS TO AID IRAQI FLOOD VICTIMS. Japan will provide 240 tents to the southern Iraqi governorate of Al-Muthanna in emergency aid for victims of the Euphrates River flooding, Jiji Press reported on 30 March, quoting Japanese officials. The tents will be flown from London to Kuwait this week and are expected to be delivered to flood victims by Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces in the coming days. Japan has 550 troops stationed in the governorate. Baghdad's "Al-Adala" reported on 28 March that a source at the Ministry of Water Resources said the ministry has formed a Flood Prevention Committee that will take preventive measures against possible floods in Baghdad and other Iraqi governorates.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Environment Minister Abd al-Rahman Siddiq Karim called for Japanese environmental assistance during a meeting in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart Yuriko Koike, Jiji Press reported on 26 March. Karim said Iraq needs assistance in monitoring air and water quality. He also asked for Japan's help in environmental testing and experimentation, as well as in designing public environmental-education programs. Karim also stressed the need for assistance in regenerating the Iraqi marshlands. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

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