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Iraq Report: April 8, 2004

8 April 2004, Volume 7, Number 13
SUNNI INSURGENTS BATTLE U.S. TROOPS IN IRAQ. U.S. forces cordoned off the Sunni dominated city of Al-Fallujah on 5 April, launching a hunt for the killers of four coalition contractors who were brutally murdered there on 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004), AP reported. Some 1,200 U.S. Marines and two battalions of Iraqi security forces are participating in the operation, codenamed Vigilant Resolve, Lieutenant James Vanzant from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said, adding, "It's an extended operation. We want to make a very precise approach to this. We are looking for the bad guys in town." U.S. Marines also faced resistance in the nearby city of Al-Ramadi. Both cities are located west of Baghdad.

Twelve U.S. Marines and 66 Iraqis were killed in fighting west of the Iraqi capital on 6 April, AP reported the following day. In some of the heaviest fighting since U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat over on 1 May 2003, dozens of Iraqis reportedly attacked a Marine position near the governor's palace in Al-Ramadi, killing the 12 servicemen, a senior defense official in Washington said.

On 7 April, Reuters cited witnesses in Al-Fallujah as saying that U.S. Marines attacked a mosque compound in the city, killing at least 25 people. The U.S. military said two 500 pound (227 kilogram) bombs were dropped and rockets were fired at insurgents hiding behind the mosque's outer wall. The officials could not confirm any casualties, however.

"When you start using a religious location for military purposes, it loses its protected status. The Marines called in additional support, dropped two...precision-guided bombs and took out the outer wall of the mosque without seeming to harm...the actual mosque structure itself," U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt later told CNN, Reuters reported. The three-day total of those killed in battles across the country is as many as 35 coalition troops and 200 Iraqis, the news agency reported.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration said in a 6 April report to the U.S. Congress that it is diverting funds from the Iraqi armed forces to train Iraqi police, Reuters reported on the same day. The administration has reallocated $65 million from the Iraqi Armed Forces, $20 million from border enforcement and $8 million from a facility protection program to provide an extra $93 million for police training. The training includes some $600 million that will be used by the U.S. State Department to complete construction of a police training facility in Jordan, and for the deployment of up to 700 American police advisers and trainers. Other countries would contribute another 500 police advisers, the report said. An additional $41 million was diverted from the Iraqi Armed Forces to increase the number of battalions in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps from 36 to 45, according to the report. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI CLERIC RALLIES SHI'A SUPPORTERS, CHALLENGES COALITION. With some 85 days to go before the U.S. transfers authority to a still undetermined Iraqi governing body, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the press in Washington on 7 April that the coalition remains committed to establishing a free and democratic Iraq. "The United States will stay the course, we will stay until the task is complete. As President Bush has said, we did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties to liberate 25 million people, only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," Radio Free Iraq quoted Rumsfeld as saying.

Coalition forces endured a rough week, battling militants in at least nine Iraqi cities in recent days. Much of the fighting in the south related to a display of force by radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Imam Al-Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr's supporters demonstrated for days last week in Baghdad and in the south following the coalition's 28 March closure of the cleric's "Al-Hawzah" newspaper on charges of incitement to violence (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 April 2004). Tensions escalated with the coalition's arrest of al-Sadr aide Mustafa al-Ya'qubi on 3 April at his home in Al-Najaf. An Iraqi court has charged al-Ya'qubi with complicity in the murder of Iraqi Shi'ite Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was viciously murdered at the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf on 10 April 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline 11 April 2003). International media at the time linked al-Sadr and his followers to the ayatollah's murder. Al-Ya'qubi is not the first al-Sadr aide to be arrested by coalition forces. Amar Yassiri was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a 12 October attack on U.S. forces in Baghdad that killed two soldiers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 December 2003), and al-Sadr's men have been linked to a 24 August attack on the Al-Najaf office of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq that killed three SCIRI bodyguards.

Al-Sadr supporters subsequently clashed with coalition troops in Al-Amarah, Baghdad, Al-Basrah, Kirkuk, Al-Kufah, Al-Najaf, and Al-Nasiriyah on 4 April. In some cases, the militants took over police and government buildings, Al-Jazeera reported. Clashes on the following day left some 50 Iraqis, eight U.S. troops, and a Salvadoran soldier dead, AP reported on 5 April. In Al-Najaf, some 28 Iraqis were killed in the fighting with coalition troops and more than 200 were wounded.

Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer responded quickly on 5 April, saying that al-Sadr's attempts to foment violence in Iraq would not be tolerated, RFE/RL reported. Al-Sadr "is effectively attempting to establish his authority in the place of the legitimate authority of the Iraqi government and the coalition and, as I said yesterday, we will not tolerate it," Bremer said. CPA spokesman Dan Senor later announced to a 5 April press briefing in Baghdad ( that an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr as well. The warrant was reportedly issued several months ago on charges relating to the cleric's involvement in the 10 April 2003 assassination al-Khoi, but never executed. Senor said that an Iraqi judge investigating the assassination had linked some 25 individuals to the killing, 13 of whom are now in Iraqi custody. The judge was scheduled to brief the media on his investigation on 7 April, but it is unclear whether the briefing was held or not.

Clashes continued on 6 April as Shi'ite militiamen fought Italian soldiers in Al-Nasiriyah. The Italian news agency Ansa quoted an Italian official as saying that about 15 Iraqi civilians and Iraqi soldiers were killed in the clashes. CNN reported on 6 April that some 36 Iraqis were killed overnight in Baghdad during the ongoing fighting between coalition forces and al-Sadr supporters in the area of the city named after the cleric's deceased father, Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (see next item).

Meanwhile, al-Sadr vowed in a 6 April statement to continue his resistance to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. "The uprising will continue and we will not negotiate unless they fulfill our demands, which are a withdrawal from populated areas and the release of prisoners," al-Sadr aide Qais al-Ghazali said. The aide read a statement written by al-Sadr, who said: "This insurrection shows that the Iraqi people are not satisfied with the occupation and they will not accept oppression." Addressing U.S. President Bush, al-Sadr added: "I ask who is against democracy? Is it the one who is advocating peaceful resistance or the one who is bombing the nation and shedding blood?" Al-Ghazali also told KUNA on 7 April that al-Sadr stands ready to sacrifice his life in his confrontation with U.S. troops, the news agency reported. Al-Ghazali added that al-Sadr, who was reported to have left the Al-Kufa Mosque where he was holed up this week, has now taken refuge at the office of his deceased father near Al-Rawda Al-Haidariyah in Al-Najaf.

Meanwhile, the Shi'ite leadership in Al-Najaf has been slow to respond to al-Sadr's actions. Beirut-based LBC Satellite TV reported on 5 April that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on al-Sadr to remain calm and practice self-restraint. International media further reported this week that al-Sistani would issue a more detailed statement on the unrest but it is unclear when that statement would come. Of particular concern is whether al-Sistani will issue a statement ahead of the weekend observance of Arbain, in which thousands of worshippers are expected to gather in Al-Najaf. One thing is clear though: al-Sadr has already rejected the calls, however meager, by the Al-Hawzah Shi'ite seminary, which al-Sistani heads, to stop the acts of violence and seizure of government buildings committed by his supporters.

Since al-Khoi's assassination in April 2003, reports have sporadically circulated about a so-called power struggle between al-Sadr and Ayatollah al-Sistani. Fighting broke out at least twice in Karbala in October when individuals loyal to al-Sadr attacked supporters of the moderate al-Sistani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2003). It's unlikely however, that al-Sistani, the most-powerful and most-respected cleric in Iraq, would view al-Sadr as a serious threat. Rather, al-Sistani appears to be waiting for the situation to evolve between al-Sadr and the United States before he takes a position. Once he does so, as demonstrated by earlier incidents, his word will be final, and Iraq's Shi'a population will uphold his decision -- whatever it may be.

There is no doubt that al-Sadr's actions have placed al-Sistani in a difficult position. Al-Sadr's father was a respected cleric in Iraq, and while Muqtada has not followed in his father's footsteps and is, by all accounts, a low-level cleric with little theocratic training, al-Sistani might take pause over al-Sadr's family lineage in any decision he makes. However, al-Sistani is also considered a wise, and perhaps shrewd, man who likely has little patience for the instability that al-Sadr offers. Moreover, it should be noted that al-Sistani was a student of Grand Ayatollah Abu Gharib al-Qassim al-Khoi, the father of Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, whose killing al-Sadr is now linked to.

Both al-Sistani and al-Sadr have links to the Iranian regime, and conversely, the Iranian regime likely has a role in supporting al-Sadr's movement (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 July 2003), as the Iranians would likely view any destabilization in Iraq in a positive light. In an interview published in September (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 September 2003), al-Sadr was asked whether he represented an extension of Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution. He responded: "I am the extension of my own reference, that of my father. If the two lines are similar, which is a fact, then our goals are also similar. There is no harm in my being an extension of the Khomeini revolution." For his part, al-Sistani has said that he has no desire for Iraq to emulate the Iranian theocratic experiment. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-SADR A LONGSTANDING THREAT TO COALITION, IRAQI STABILITY. Power-hungry cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's actions over the past year have been nothing short of schizophrenic, for lack of a better term. After being linked to the assassination of Ayatollah al-Khoi, which some media characterized as a "power struggle" and alternatively, as the "settling of an old score" between the two men, al-Sadr established his Imam Al-Mahdi Army in July to "maintain peace and security in Iraq and protect the leaders and religious authorities [at the Hawzah Al-Ilmiyah Shi'ite seminary] in Al-Najaf and elsewhere."

Al-Sadr frequently referred to himself as an "enemy" of the U.S. but maintained for several months that his army would not resist the U.S. presence in Iraq, contending, "It is only to maintain security." He claimed that the army would not be armed, and would not be funded, but later statements by him and his followers contended that Iraqis would donate money to the army, and will bring their own guns. As recently as one month ago, Shaykh Hasan al-Zarkani, the chief of al-Sadr's Information Office and an aide to the cleric claimed in a statement to London's "Al-Hayat" that the Al-Mahdi Army was not an armed militia, the daily reported on 11 March. "We are an ideological army, not armed militias," he said. "All we have are no more than small guns that do not constitute an army. We have no financial resources, manpower, training camps, or any facilities to build an army."

Last October, al-Sadr declared that he had established an Islamic state in Iraq. He claimed to have established ministries of Awqaf (religious endowments), culture, finance, foreign affairs, information, interior, justice, and the "ministry for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice," Al-Jazeera reported on 11 October. His followers subsequently took over two buildings in Al-Najaf for al-Sadr's Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry. Three days later, he told reporters that his government had found "credibility and support" abroad.

A self-described enemy of the United States, the cleric appeared to appeal for better relations between his group and the U.S. in November, when he called on the coalition to "allow me to attend your meetings, seminars, camps, and churches. I am looking forward to this, and I have amicable feelings toward you. The Iraqis only want good for the Americans. Iraq's only enemy is destructive Saddam and his followers," (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 November 2003).

More recently, al-Sadr has rejected any role for the United Nations in Iraq. He contended during a Friday-prayer sermon on 23 January that the United Nations is no more qualified than Iraqi religious authorities when it comes to running elections in Iraq, Al-Manar television reported the same day, and called on the religious establishment to oversee national elections there. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SHI'ITE LEADERS DIVIDED OVER RECENT VIOLENCE. Iraqi Shi'ite leaders have taken a variety of positions in recent days over the evolving confrontation between al-Sadr supporters and coalition forces. Sadr al-Din al-Qabbanji, an official of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said on 5 April that the religious authorities, the Al-Hawzah Shi'ite seminary, and the Iraqi Governing Council reject a confrontation with the occupation forces. "SCIRI's official stand is that it does not approve of the escalation against the occupation troops. At the same time, SCIRI condemns the occupation troops' provocative actions," al-Qabbanji said.

Iraqi Governing Council member and Iraqi National Accord head Iyad Allawi said on 6 April that al-Sadr's actions were harming the country. "There is a radical force trying to harm the country, and this force has become known to all, it includes Muqtada al-Sadr and the group around him," KUNA quoted Allawi as saying. "We call on Muqtada to remain calm to avoid bloodshed, given that he belongs to an honorable family which offered martyrs," Allawi said, in a reference to al-Sadr's father Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr and Muqtada's two brothers who were allegedly murdered in 1999 at the hands of the Hussein regime. Allawi told Al-Arabiyah television one day earlier that the Governing Council had discussed Iraq unrest at length and reached decisions that would "greatly mitigate" the current tension in Iraq. He did not say what those decisions were however.

Meanwhile, Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi issued a statement on his website ( on 4 April blaming the coalition for the surge in violence. "We have repeatedly warned the occupation troops against delaying the elections and against the attempts to impose ready-made laws on Iraq," he said. Muhammad al-Musawi of the Islamic Action Organization in Al-Najaf told Al-Jazeera on 4 April that his group demanded that al-Sadr not be harmed and that all coalition forces withdraw from Al-Najaf. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TERRORIST LINKED TO AL-QAEDA PURPORTEDLY THREATENS COALITION FORCES. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist linked to Al-Qaeda who is suspected of carrying out attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, on 5 April vowed more attacks on coalition targets, AFP reported on 6 April.

An unnamed expert reportedly told AFP that the voice on the audiotape is identical to the voice on three previous recordings attributed to al-Zarqawi. The recording appeared on an Islamist website ( and al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the 17 March bombing of the Mount Lebanon hotel in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 March 2004).

Al-Zarqawi criticized Iraqi Shi'a Muslims in the audiotape, calling them the "Trojan horse used by the enemies of the nation" to take over the country, AFP reported. He also criticized Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's recent call for calm in Iraq, saying al-Sistani is the "imam of atheism." "The Shi'ite are the allies of the Jews and Americans. They are helping kill Muslims," he said. The United States has not confirmed whether the voice on the audiotape is al-Zarqawi's. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CPA HEAD NAMES DEFENSE MINISTER, INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR. CPA head Bremer on 4 April announced the appointment of a new Iraqi defense minister and director of intelligence in a press conference broadcast live from Baghdad on Arab and international television stations. Iraqi Trade Minister Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi will now serve as defense minister, while Major General Muhammad al-Shahwani will serve as director of intelligence. Bremer also announced the establishment of the Defense Ministry, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, and the Ministerial Committee for National Security.

Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of April Mas'ud Barzani also addressed the media, saying that the new Defense Ministry differs from the Saddam Hussein-era one in that its only task is to defend the country. Meanwhile, reported on 3 April that U.S. Major General David Petraeus who led the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq until the division returned to the United States last month, will now oversee the organization and training of all Iraqi military and security forces as head of the Office of Military Cooperation.

New Iraqi Defense Minister Allawi told the same press conference on 4 April that the civil administration of the military establishment will help build democratic institutions in Iraq. He vowed to uphold the rule of law and the constitution in Iraq. "The Iraqi Army will not be a means to threaten or blackmail neighboring countries," he added. Meanwhile, Director of Intelligence al-Shahwani said that his service, unlike the Hussein regime's security apparatus, will not have the power to arrest citizens. Al-Shahwani said he personally suffered at the hands of Hussein's intelligence service, which he said chased him for 19 years and tried to kill him 12 times. He also said that the Hussein regime was responsible for executing his three sons. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQIS CONTINUE PREPARATIONS FOR WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL. Salem Chalabi, the coordinator of the Iraqi war crimes tribunal established in December to try former members of the Hussein regime, told about the March trip by 10 Iraqi judges and prosecutors to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 26 March 2004), the website reported on 7 April. Chalabi said that the Iraqi delegation discussed issues including security for staff and witnesses, modern court equipment, the handling of evidence, and an effective defense for those on trial, the website reported.

Court officials interviewed by said that the Iraqi delegation was cautioned on the experiences of Hague tribunals, such as the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is defending himself in the proceedings. The website reports that Milosevic regularly holds the floor for long periods of time during his cross-examination of witnesses, and frequently makes statements encouraging nationalist Serbs while speaking. Chalabi said that Iraqi law, however, prohibits any non-lawyer from defending themselves in court. Hussein is not a lawyer.

Chalabi said that U.S. advisers have suggested that the Iraqi tribunal follow the model of the Sierra Leone court rather than The Hague, which the U.S. does not support. In Sierra Leone, only 15 to 20 defendants were marked for trial. "The U.S. government was suggesting trying the top 20 cases, and Iraqis are talking of hundreds, even thousands, Chalabi said. "I rather think it will be closer to 200 people, a good portion of which can be dealt with through plea-bargaining," he added. He characterized the visit as useful, telling that the visit to the Yugoslav tribunal showed Iraqi judges that much work remains to be done in their preparations to try former regime members. "Seeing the software and the monitors recording testimony in the courtrooms was an extremely powerful message for our judges," he said.

Iraqi judges have already received some support from the U.S. in recent weeks however. A team from the U.S. Justice Department is already in Iraq, and Reuters reported on 6 April that the Bush administration said in a report to Congress on the same day that it would dispatch a special "war crimes" adviser to Iraqi soon. The report added that the administration has begun planning for the tribunal by establishing an evidence storage facility at a former Iraqi army base. Five deputy U.S. marshals have also been sent to Baghdad to help launch investigations into the crimes of former regime members. The administration also plans to develop a computerized system to store and track documents, and will train Iraqi judges and investigators, Reuters reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DIRECTOR OF DE-BA'ATHIFICATION COMMISSION DISCUSSES ITS WORK. Mithal al-Alusi, the director of the Iraqi De-Ba'athification Commission, told the website Ilaf ( in an interview posted on 25 March that the commission is examining the requests of a number of former Ba'ath Party members to be reinstated in their former government positions. Al-Alusi said that some 60,000 Ba'athists were affected by the coalition's de-Ba'athification project.

The director said that the commission, headed by Iraqi National Congress chief and Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, is made up of 10 Iraqi political parties. The commission is divided into six departments: the legal department, the information department, the educational and cultural department, the secretariat, the financial control department, and the follow-up department. The information department has control of around 1 million files related to Ba'ath Party membership. The documents are used to determine the identity of individuals that occupied the four highest echelons in the party. The Coalition Provisional Authority banned anyone in those positions from holding a job in the new Iraqi government, unless that person received a special dispensation.

Meanwhile, the financial control department is tracking Iraqi funds seized by the former regime and Ba'ath Party members, he said. The educational and cultural department is addressing the "cultural and educational heritage and the harmful deformation of the educational process" in Iraqi curricula. The department is also reportedly researching and studying the heritage of the Ba'ath Party, al-Alusi said.

The legal department's Appeals Section examines appeals submitted by former Ba'athists at or below the "Group Leadership" level who were dismissed from their jobs with pension. "This examination will take into consideration the special humanitarian case [of the appellant], as well as the needs of ministries for some qualified people," he said. Iraqis submitting appeals that held positions in the "Section Leadership" of the Ba'ath Party or higher [i.e. "Branch Leadership" and "Country Leadership"] would not be considered, he added.

Asked about the dismissed individuals, al-Alusi said: "the members on the level of Group Leadership and above...number around 60,000 individuals. Before the commission began its administrative and executive work, around 30,000 people had been dismissed. The commission is now in the process of examining the remaining number...80 percent of this number of people have the right to appeal. This means that we are eventually talking about a small number of those people who are being dismissed completely from sensitive posts in the administrative body of the state." "The new state is in dire need of new is also in dire need of patriotic professional lead the administrative body," al-Alusi said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS IRAQ COULD ERUPT INTO CIVIL WAR. Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said on 7 April that Iraq could be heading toward a civil war, dpa reported. "The situation is very dangerous and the political process there appears to be sliding towards a civil war," Muasher said in Amman. "The dismantling of the [former] Iraqi army and the civil administration has given rise to a security vacuum and we are now witnessing the results," he added. Muasher said that Jordan has tried to caution the United States on the subtleties of Iraqi public opinion. "We have always told the Americans that the Shi'ites' silence does not mean that they are satisfied. It is because they are awaiting the elections to seize power," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TEHRAN DISCOURAGES TRAVEL TO IRAQ. The Iranian Interior Ministry issued a statement on 6 April urging Iranians not to visit Iraq in light of the current unrest there, IRNA reported. An Iranian pilgrim from Bushehr was shot in Al-Kufah on 4 April, and two other Iranians were wounded. On 6 April in Karbala, meanwhile, Hussein Akbari, the head of the local Iranian Hajj and Pilgrimage Office, announced that office's reopening, IRNA reported. The office was closed after bombings in early March. Explaining his office's function, Akbari said, "All Iranian pilgrimage agencies wishing to sign contracts with Iraqi hotels and transportation companies must organize their activities under the supervision of this office." He said his office will help Iranian pilgrims with any problems they might have in Iraq. "We control the fares that the pilgrims are charged, the quality of services rendered to them and their room and boarding, their food quality, and the other affairs they encounter during their pilgrimage," Akbari added. The office is located at the Baqer Hotel in Karbala. (Bill Samii)

PURPORTED FORMER IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE AGENT SAYS IRAN ENTRENCHED IN IRAQ. A purported former Iranian intelligence officer told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 3 April that Iran has established a strong security presence in Iraq in all areas from the north to south.

The officer, identified as "Hajj Sayidi," said that Iranian agents entered Iraq through the northern protected Kurdish areas in their hundreds. Iran later took advantage of Iraq's postwar porous borders by sending its best agents disguised as students and clerics, while others apparently traveled with Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen. He further claimed that the Quds [Jerusalem] Corps of the Iranian regime was responsible for the August assassination of Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Sayidi added that Iranian agents planned on assassinating Iraqi religious leaders Ali al-Sistani and Muhammad Ishaq Fayadh.

Moreover, Sayidi claimed that Iranian intelligence agents have established 18 offices purporting to be charitable foundations in Baghdad, Al-Basrah, Karbala, Al-Kufah, Al-Najaf, and Al-Nasiriyah. The offices recruit spies as they distribute money and aid. He added that the Iranian intelligence apparatus has an extensive plan to turn Iraq into a second Iran. Part of the plan entails recruiting thousands of Shi'ite youths who would mobilize their relatives and acquaintances to vote for the candidates selected by Iranian intelligence. Sayidi claimed that the monthly allocation for Iranian public and secret security offices in Iraq totals more than $70 million. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN ADVISER ARRIVES IN IRAQ. United Nations special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Iraq on 4 April at the invitation of the Iraqi Governing Council to help plan for the 30 June transfer of power and national elections, expected by the end of the year, the UN News Center ( reported on 4 April. Brahimi met with a number of Iraqi Governing Council members and NGO leaders in his first three days of meetings.

Brahimi hopes to gauge the opinions of all sectors of society on the question of the transition, the form of a transitional administration, how to proceed, and what kind of body should be formed to receive power on 1 July," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said according to the UN News Center on 7 April. Fawzi added that there is consensus on the 30 June date for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis. "What we don't know yet is what body would be acceptable to Iraqis and how it should be selected," he noted.

Shaykh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i, a representative of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on 4 April that the religious authority in Al-Najaf would not take part in any meetings or consultations with the UN team "unless there is a UN Security Council resolution that would not give legitimacy to [the interim constitution] and would leave the matter for the Iraqi people, through their representatives in the [future] national assembly, to choose the mechanism to endorse the permanent constitution and valid laws in the country." According to "The Washington Post" on 4 April, the United States is relying on Brahimi to help design and, perhaps more importantly, legitimize a plan that would facilitate a smooth transfer of power in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SPAIN THREATENED BY AL-QAEDA. The Spanish newspaper ABC reported on 5 April that purported Al-Qaeda terrorists in Europe sent a communique to the newspaper on that day threatening to "declare war" on Spain if it does not withdraw its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, AFP reported on 5 April. The letter warned that Spain would face "hellish consequences if its troops were not withdrawn. "We are announcing the canceling of the truce with effect from midday Sunday 4 April," the communique said. It cautioned that Spain should stop helping "enemies of the Muslim community -- the United States and its allies," adding, "this is our last warning." The letter was reportedly signed by Abu Dujana al-Afghani, a self-described member of Al-Qaeda in Europe.

A man identifying himself as al-Afghani and speaking in Arabic with a Moroccan accent was seen on a videotape found outside a Madrid mosque two days after the 11 March Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people, international media reported on 6 April. Al-Afghani said in that videotape that the 11 March bombings were revenge for Spain's military cooperation with the United States, reported. The Spanish government reportedly gave "a certain credibility" to the authenticity of the communique, quoted Ricardo Ibanez, an Interior Ministry spokesman as saying.

The communique was faxed to ABC hours before five terror suspects blew themselves up in an apartment south of Madrid, in an effort to avoid police capture, reported on 5 April. Spanish authorities said that the suicide blast killed two of the alleged ringleaders of last month's Madrid train bombings, including one known as "the Tunisian," and three other terror suspects. Two or three suspects may have escaped before the blast, according to Spanish police are holding more than 15 suspects in connection to the train bombing, according to international media reports.

The website also reported on 5 April that an unnamed French private investigator has said that Spanish police believe that Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist with links to Al-Qaeda, coordinated the Madrid attacks. Al-Zarqawi is wanted by the United States for the assassination of USAID employee Lawrence Foley in Amman last year, as well as for coordinating a number of terrorist attacks in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

COALITION REMAINS WILLING -- FOR THE TIME BEING. Coalition forces have remained committed to keeping troops in Iraq this week despite the surge in violence, according to international media reports.

This week's violence has left coalition allies in a number of southern Iraqi cities in a difficult position, as a number of states committed troops under the condition that they serve only in a peacekeeping or humanitarian capacity. However, many of these countries' troops were thrust into combat roles when coalition bases in central and southern Iraq were targeted in attacks this week by Iraqi insurgents. The insurgents also battled coalition and Iraqi forces while attempting to take over government buildings and police stations in various cities.

Coalition forces in south-central Iraq sustained few casualties in comparison to those sustained by U.S. forces in the Iraqi capital and surrounding areas, but it is likely that those deaths will affect public opinion in their home countries. On 4 April, one Salvadoran soldier was killed when militants attacked a coalition camp in Al-Najaf. Twelve of his compatriots were wounded in the same incident.

A Bulgarian patrol was attacked in Karbala on 6 April just minutes before militants struck the Bulgarian base Camp Kilo in Karbala. Three Bulgarian soldiers were lightly wounded in the first incident, while no casualties were reported in the second incident. In a third incident, a Bulgarian driver was shot dead near Al-Nasiriyah. Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 7 April that Bulgarian soldiers who wish to return home may do so. He also demanded that U.S. and U.K. forces be sent to Karbala to assist in stabilizing the situation. International media reported on 8 April that Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army now controls the city.

One Ukrainian soldier was also killed this week and five others were wounded as the Ukrainian contingent lost control of Al-Kut to Iraqi insurgents. But Ukraine is not considering pulling its peacekeeping contingent out of Iraq, Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy told ITAR-TASS on 7 April. Meanwhile, Hungarian Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said on 7 April that Hungarian troops will not be withdrawn from Iraq because the current threats have not impeded their ability to carry out their mission there, Hungarian media reported. However, Juhasz called for a UN resolution that would pave the way for additional troops to be sent to Iraq, saying that an additional 100,000 troops are needed to restore order.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on 6 April that Italian troops will remain in Iraq. "It is quite unthinkable that we should run away from a mission that we started and that needs to be carried through to the end," Berlusconi said. "We would be leaving the country in chaos," RAI Television quoted him as saying. Eleven Italians troops were reportedly wounded in fighting in Al-Nasiriyah on 7 April.

South Korea apparently remains committed to sending some 3,500 troops to Iraq in the coming weeks, despite the fact that militants loyal to al-Sadr held two South Korean aid workers captive on 5-6 April. "There is no change at all in the principle of our troop dispatch," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said on 7 April.

Meanwhile, Japanese Self-Defense Forces holed themselves up at their camp in Samawah this week in an effort to avoid being caught up in the violence. Japan committed troops to Iraq to carry out humanitarian operations and has gone to great lengths -- even placing television ads on Arab satellite channels � to inform Iraqis that the Japanese contingency is not in Iraq to police the country.

Norway appears for the time being to be one of the few coalition partners adamant about withdrawing its contingent from Iraq. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said on 6 April that he expects Norway to withdraw its forces from Iraq within a few months. Petersen made his comments after meeting with UN officials in New York, Oslo's NRK reported. Petersen reportedly told UN officials that his country's forces would be better placed among NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosova. Norway has about 150 soldiers in Iraq. Kazakhstan's Defense Minister said on 7 April that the country will not keep its peacekeepers in Iraq after their mandate expires at the end of May. Meanwhile, incoming Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the UN takes over there. Spain currently has some 1,300 troops stationed in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)