Accessibility links

Iraq Report: May 28, 2004

28 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 19
IRAQI CLERIC AGREES TO WITHDRAW MILITIA FROM AL-NAJAF. Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr has reportedly agreed to remove his Imam Al-Mahdi Army from the holy city of Al-Najaf, ending a weeks-long standoff with coalition forces, international media reported on 27 May. Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television that al-Sadr has agreed to a four-point plan as part of the agreement. The deal calls for the cleric's militia to withdraw from the city and all government buildings, allowing Iraqi police to return to their jobs. For their part, occupation forces are to withdraw to their bases, except in cases where they are providing security to government buildings. Al-Sadr's militia is to halt all policing activities and "refrain from competing" with the police, al-Rubay'i said. The militia has been accused of pursuing, detaining, and trying individuals on its own in recent months.

Al-Rubay'i read the English translation of a statement by al-Sadr at a 27 May press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL reported. "I [Muqtada al-Sadr] announce my agreement to the following plan: eliminating all armed manifestations, putting government buildings to use by the government offices and institutions, withdrawing all Mahdi Army fighters who are not citizens of Najaf from this city," the statement said.

U.S. forces arrested key aides to al-Sadr on 26 May. A senior aide and brother-in-law to al-Sadr, Riyadh al-Nuri, was arrested along with three brothers to Sheikh Fu'ad al-Tarfi, who works at al-Sadr's Al-Najaf office, Al-Jazeera reported. Adnan al-Ghallabi, a member of the Iraqi National Accord movement, was also arrested. Al-Sadr aide Hazim al-A'araji, who directed the cleric's office n Al-Kadhimiyah, reportedly left Iraq for Canada after being released from coalition custody, Baghdad's "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 23 May. He has reportedly been granted political asylum in Canada.

Earlier this week, Al-Arabiyah television obtained a statement from Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's office in Al-Najaf denying recent statements made by the ayatollah's representative in Kuwait, Muhammad Baqir al-Mahri, in which he blamed al-Sadr supporters for targeting the Imam Ali Shrine. The shrine, one of the holiest sites for Shi'a Muslims, was hit by what appeared to be mortar shells on 25 May. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a 25 May Baghdad press briefing that "coalition forces had no involvement in the damage to the Imam Ali Mosque" (see

Al-Sadr aide Qais al-Khaz'ali contended on 26 May that he had evidence that one of the shells found on the mosque's compound was a U.S. shell, Al-Jazeera reported. "We found evidence that proves and confirms that the weapons used in the attack on the shrine...are U.S. weapons and that the perpetrators are American," he said. "Therefore, we invite all experts who are knowledgeable in this field to come to holy Al-Najaf and examine the evidence, so it would be known to the entire world," he added.

National security adviser al-Rubay'i told Al-Arabiyah on 27 May that discussions would take place with representatives of the Shi'ite leadership in Al-Najaf on the future of the Al-Mahdi Army, and on how to handle arrest warrants issued for al-Sadr and some of his aides. An Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant months ago for al-Sadr for his alleged role in the 10 April 2003 assassination of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). It appears that U.S. and Iraqi forces will not arrest the cleric at this time. Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah reported that hundreds of al-Sadr's followers held a demonstration in the Al-Kazimiyah neighborhood of Baghdad on 27 May, and accused U.S. forces of shelling the Imam Ali Shrine. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-SADR MILITIAMEN DISPERSE IN KARBALA. U.S. forces reported that militiamen loyal to al-Sadr dispersed from their positions in Karbala this week, international media reported on 22-23 May. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters at a 22 May Baghdad press briefing that U.S. forces were repositioning themselves in the city. Iraqi police were also patrolling the streets of Karbala for the first time in weeks. "We would expect to see that there will be more Iraqi security present inside the city over the next few days," Kimmitt added. Iraqi police and U.S. forces blew up what remained of the so-called Camp Mosque, used as the al-Sadr office in Karbala on 25 May, Al-Arabiyah television reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SHI'ITE CLERIC SAYS AL-SADR MILITIAMEN ARE FORMER REGIME MEMBERS, CRIMINALS. Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Hujjat al-Islam Ali al-Shirazi told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that hundreds of members of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army are members of Saddam Fedayeen and common criminals, the daily reported on 21 May.

Al-Shirazi gave the interview from Qom, Iran, after returning from several months in Iraq. He said that Saddam Fedayeen and the criminals belonging to the Al-Mahdi Army fired rocket-propelled grenades at the dome of the Imam Ali Shrine in Al-Najaf, and also fired on the home of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, as well as on the headquarters of Ayatollahs Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad and Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim. Al-Shirazi also contended that al-Sadr associate Mustafa al-Ya'qubi admitted following his arrest by coalition forces that he played a role in the killing of Shi'ite Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, saying he acted on the orders of al-Sadr. Al-Shirazi added that an atmosphere of panic and fear has taken over Al-Najaf and Karbala due to the presence of al-Sadr's militia, which he said threatens, arrests, and extorts money from citizens, clerics, and students. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RUSSIA WITHDRAWS WORKERS AFTER TWO KILLED. Two employees of a Russian energy firm were killed and five wounded in an attack by militants on 26 May, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the men, who were working as contractors for Interenergoservis, were killed when their bus came under attack by unidentified gunmen near a power plant being rebuilt by the firm in southern Baghdad.

Interenergoservis employees have come under repeated attack in Iraq. Eight employees were kidnapped on 12 April and released the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004), and one employee was killed and two were kidnapped in early May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004).

As a result of the continuing security situation in Iraq, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry began evacuating some 239 employees of Interenergoservis from Iraq on 27 May, Russian and international media reported. Yakovenko said the Russian Embassy would continue working as usual and about 10 Russian journalists will remain in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko told NTV that a small number of Russian specialists in Al-Basrah would likely also return to Russia soon.

Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told RIA-Novosti that the evacuation does not mean a curtailing of Russia's role in the country. "The main goal today is Russia's active participation in discussing the fate of Iraq, in stabilizing the situation there, primarily through the United Nations and other international organizations," Margelov said.

Asked by NTV about the situation in Iraq, Yakovenko said: "Unfortunately, the security situation in Iraq is constantly worsening and the coalition forces cannot enforce security in that country. The coalition troops, as occupying forces, bear full responsibility for security and everything happening in that country." (Kathleen Ridolfo/Rob Coalson)

FORMER NUCLEAR SCIENTIST RUMORED TO BE NAMED PRIME MINISTER. Husayn al-Shahristani, an Iraqi Shi'ite who worked as a nuclear scientist for Saddam Hussein's regime before spending several years in jail for opposing the Iraqi president, will reportedly be named Iraq's first prime minister, and Reuters reported on 26 May.

Al-Shahristani fled Iraq after his imprisonment and dedicated himself to working with refugees in a humanitarian capacity. He is reportedly seen as a good "compromise" candidate among Shi'ites, Kurds, and Sunnis who are competing for the position, reported.

Al-Shahristani hinted in an e-mail to Reuters that he would hesitatingly accept the appointment, the news agency reported on 26 May. "I personally prefer to serve the people of Iraq in humanitarian fields as I have done since my escape from Abu Ghurayb in 1991," he said. "However, putting the country on [the] route to democracy and protecting the population from terrorists and violence is the responsibility of Iraqis, and we have to burden that responsibility."

But, in a press conference held on 27 May in Baghdad, al-Shahristani, said, "I have decided to excuse myself from accepting any position in the interim government and to continue to serve Iraqis in the humanitarian field and at the national academy of science," Radio Free Iraq reported.

Coalition officials in Baghdad told that former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi is favored to serve as Iraqi president, a largely ceremonial position. "We're down to a handful of names for each of the positions, and in some cases, a smaller number than that," one official said.

Meanwhile, London-based "Al-Hayat" reported on 25 May that sources at the Iraqi Governing Council have said that it is unlikely that Pachachi would accept the position of president for a variety of reasons, including his age (he is in his 80s). Others said that Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders objected based on Pachachi's past service in the Iraqi government. The daily also reported that an agreement on the distribution of posts has been held up by a Kurdish demand for the seat of the presidency. The agreement, yet to be finalized, reportedly calls for a Sunni president, and a Shi'ite prime minister. A Kurd and a Shi'ite would serve as vice presidents. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI SUPREME COURT REJECTS APPEAL BY UKRAINIAN SAILORS. The Iraqi Supreme Court has reportedly rejected an appeal by the lawyers of two Ukrainians sentenced to seven years in prison for smuggling oil, Kiev's "Era" reported on 26 May. The men, the captain and first mate of the tanker "Navstar-1," were arrested in August and charged with the illegal acquisition of 3,500 tons of fuel (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 October 2003). "We do not believe that the rejection of this appeal is the end of the matter. We hope that a just ruling will be delivered and our sailors will return to Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. ARMY REPORT DETAILS WIDESPREAD PRISONER ABUSE IN IRAQ. A report obtained by that was prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command for the U.S. Army and dated 5 May reportedly details widespread abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq dating back to 15 April 2003, the newspaper reported on 26 May.

The newspaper claims that the report paints a "broad picture of misconduct" in Iraq, and notes that the U.S. Army did not conduct autopsies on many of the 37 prisoners who died in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, and can no longer determine the causes of death. The report notes that at least 12 prisoners died of natural or undetermined causes, and nine of them were housed at Abu Ghurayb prison outside Baghdad. The army did not perform autopsies on nine of the dead.

The report also details a sexual-assault case at Abu Ghurayb in which three soldiers took a female detainee to a vacant cell. "While one [soldier] allegedly stood as look-out and one held the detainee's hand, the third soldier allegedly kissed the detainee," the report noted. The soldiers then reportedly threatened to leave her with a naked male detainee. An investigation "failed to either prove or disprove the indecent-assault allegations," according to the report.

Former Iraqi detainees held in northern Iraqi prisons have claimed that they suffered far more abuse than detainees in Abu Ghurayb, Cairo's MENA reported on 24 May. The news agency spoke with Iraqis detained in Kirkuk, Mosul, Tel Afar, Tikrit, and Bayji. Most of the former detainees worked for the Hussein regime -- some 6,000 Arabs and 1,800 Turkomans in Kirkuk and Mosul alone. Sixteen Arab and Turkoman families reported receiving the remains of their relatives who died in coalition custody. They were reportedly not told the cause of death and reported bruised and injured corpses. Some former detainees claimed to have been forced to stand in dark half-meter rooms and allowed only one meal a day. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DETAINEES REVEAL DETAILS OF PRISON ABUSE. Thirteen former Iraqi detainees recounted their experiences in custody at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad in sworn, handwritten statements to U.S. military investigators obtained by "The Washington Post," the daily reported on 21 May. In explicitly detailed statements, reportedly written between 16 and 21 January, the detainees in separate interviews recalled the same event or patterns of events that occurred in the same cellblock at the prison.

Most of the detainees claimed they were stripped upon arrival at the prison and forced to wear women's underwear. They also claimed to have been beaten regularly, threatened with sexual assault and death, and photographed in humiliating positions. One prisoner claimed to have witnessed a U.S. Army translator having sex with a teenage male detainee, and two prisoners said they witnessed U.S. soldiers sodomizing a detainee with a phosphoric light.

Another detainee claimed that Specialist Charles Graner Jr. on more than one occasion threw detainees meals into the toilets, telling them, "Eat it." At least one detainee claimed that a U.S. soldier taunted him for being Muslim. Four hundred and seventy-two prisoners were released from Abu Ghurayb on 21 May, and another 500-600 detainees were released on 28 May, Reuters reported the same day. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS FOREIGN TROOPS WILL NOT STAY LONG. Iraqi Defense Minister Ali Allawi told reporters in London on 25 May that a multinational force will not remain in Iraq forever, saying, "I think it will be a question of months rather than years," RFE/RL reported.

"It [would] be very unusual, I believe, that we will not be able to install security in the country within the next year. Beyond that period, I think, the level of adequate security is going to be dependent at the rate at which we develop our own capabilities inside Iraq, and this is what we are working on," he added.

Allawi said that the goal is to replace multinational forces with Iraqi forces within one year. "We are not really starting from scratch. We are starting with a large number of officers and soldiers available from the previous Iraqi army. So we have quite a large recruitment pool. The question now is training them and ensuring that they are properly equipped and they are properly commanded." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TURKOMAN LEADER ASSASSINATED IN KIRKUK. Turkoman Union Party leader Ahmad Najm al-Din was shot and killed as he left his Kirkuk office on 24 May, Reuters reported the next day. Al-Din is one of many politicians to be targeted by militants in recent months. "A group of armed men armed with AK-47s shot him as he was leaving work. It was a terrorist operation, not a criminal attack," Kirkuk police Colonel Ahmad Slamerz said. Kirkuk has seen ongoing tension since the fall of the Hussein regime, as Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans fight for dominance in the oil-rich city.

Turkoman parties gathered in Baghdad on 26 May to discuss the need for Turkoman participation in the interim Iraqi government, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 May. The General Congress of Turkoman Parties called on the United Nations and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to recognize the rights of Turkomans and to not marginalize them. A number of Turkoman leaders claimed they were marginalized within the Iraqi Governing Council, because they were allotted only one seat. Many also objected to the appointment of Sungul Chabuk to that seat, saying she was not a political leader and was not qualified to represent Iraqi Turkomans. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Iraqi Interior Ministry Undersecretary Abd al-Jabbar Yusuf Shaykhli narrowly escaped assassination on 22 May when a car bomb detonated outside his Baghdad home, international media reported. Three bodyguards and one woman were killed in the blast and 22 vehicles were heavily damaged, U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a 22 May Baghdad press briefing.

The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad (the group of Monotheism and Jihad), posted a statement to the jihadist website "Al-Qal'ah" ( on 22 May claiming responsibility for the attack. "This operation was one in a series of operations that began -- and will not stop -- against the Crusader enemy and its allies from the time its troops invaded [Iraq]," the statement claimed. "Apart from the economic, military, and security significance, the operation conveyed a strong political message to Washington's allies in its war and aggression against the Islamic nation. The message is that they will not be out of reach against the Islamic nation," the statement added.

Meanwhile, gunmen killed a Finance Ministry official this week. Haitham Kadim, the director-general of the ministry's Real Estate and General Planning Department, was shot and killed outside his home in Baghdad, "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 23 May. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UTHMAN CALLS FOR FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS TO BE REINSTATED. Iraqi Governing Council member Mahmud Uthman has said that the U.S. intelligence-gathering apparatus has not been successful and has called for the reinstatement of former intelligence agents to help restore security to Iraq, Baghdad's "Al-Dustur" reported on 20 May.

"I do not know what they have been doing, but by assessing the results, their work was not successful," the daily quoted Uthman as telling Reuters. Uthman cited the assassination of many Iraqi officials in recent months, including the 17 May assassination of council member Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 May 2004).

"We can make use of the former regime elements whether they served in the former Iraqi army or in the intelligence agency," Uthman said, adding that only those who were not involved in crimes against the Iraqi people would be reinstated. "The Iraqis are better [at collecting intelligence] because this is their country," he said. "They know how to deal with and trace people and how to collect information." Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i has reportedly also endorsed the return of untainted security agents, "Al-Dustur" reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT OPTIMISTIC ABOUT HANDOVER. Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of May Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told a weekly Baghdad press briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera on 26 May that he is excited about the upcoming transfer of power to Iraqis. "Such an event; namely, the voluntary handover of power from the Governing Council to the interim government, rarely happens in our region. We are proud that this event will unfold in Iraq," he said. "We hope that the democratic process and respect for the law will continue," he added.

Al-Yawir expressed concerns, however, over the proposed UN Security Council resolution that will outline the powers of the government until national elections are held. "To be fair, the draft resolution has many positive aspects. Nonetheless, it has not lived up to our expectations," he said, adding that the Iraqi people want the interim government to have full sovereignty. Al-Yawir cited a clause in the resolution that would give an international committee supervisory power over the Development Fund for Iraq. Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi also objects to that clause (see below). Al-Yawir also said it is important for Iraqis to have command power over the armed forces.

Regarding the future of Iraqi Governing Council members, al-Yawir said: "The majority of the...members are political figures and have political ambitions. The real challenge and the real honor is who can reach his position through the ballot box. Some brothers [after the 30 June handover] will prefer to prepare themselves for the elections phase. There are some brothers who, in view of circumstances and their efforts, will be needed to serve as members of the interim government." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GOVERNING COUNCIL MIGHT MOVE OUT OF GREEN ZONE. The Iraqi Governing Council is considering moving out of the U.S.-protected "green zone" following the car bombing this week that killed rotating council President Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004), Baghdad's "Al-Sabah" reported on 20 May.

Council member Sami al-Askari told the daily that the Governing Council is considering the move, which was recommended by a number of council members. Meanwhile, council member Ahmad al-Barak said the Governing Council has asked the coalition to implement stricter security measures to ensure the safety of the council members. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS LEADER DENIES FEEDING INTELLIGENCE TO IRAN... Iraqi National Congress (INC) head and Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi denied in a 23 May interview with CNN that he or his organization passed sensitive intelligence to Iran, CNN reported on 24 May.

Chalabi blamed CIA Director George Tenet for the allegations, saying Tenet and the INC have a long-standing dispute dating to 1994 that centers around differences over how to overthrow Saddam Hussein. "I say let [Tenet] bring all his charges, all his documents. We also will bring all our charges and all our documents to the U.S. Congress, and let Congress have hearings and resolve this issue," Chalabi said.

The website reported on 21 May that an Iraqi judge has issued an arrest warrant for INC intelligence chief Aras Karim Habib, who headed the program that passed intelligence between the INC and U.S. agencies. The warrant charges Habib with hijacking and stealing vehicles belonging to the Finance Ministry. "Time" magazine reported in its 31 May issue that Habib is also charged with passing intelligence to Iran. Chalabi defended Habib in the CNN interview, calling him a "patriot." "To call him a traitor and that he passed information [on to Iran] is egregious and false," he asserted. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AND CRITICIZES DRAFT UN RESOLUTION -- AND BRAHIMI. Chalabi criticized the draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq put forth by the United States and United Kingdom in a 25 May press conference broadcast on Al-Jazeera.

Chalabi, who has long opposed the role of UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi in determining Iraq's political future, claimed to Al-Jazeera that the UN resolution would give Brahimi unrestricted power in Iraq. "This resolution will enable...Brahimi to acquire extensive powers on key and major Iraqi political and economic resources," Chalabi contended. "It is not useful for this organization, which opposed the liberation of Iraq and dealt with Saddam to be made responsible for building [a] new Iraq." He added that the proposed resolution allows Brahimi to convene a national conference to elect a consultative council "without defining the size of this council and without giving it any specific [duties] with any time frame." "This idea is dangerous and will be a source of instability," he claimed.

The INC head also lashed out at Brahimi by saying: "Iraq is not Afghanistan. We do not need a Loya Jirga." The resolution "will interfere in the public-services sector and the management of development," he said, without elaborating. Moreover, Chalabi insisted, the resolution would replace coalition forces with a UN mandate without giving Iraqis any share of power in their country. He also demanded that Iraqis be given "full control" of the armed forces, from recruitment to training and equipping its soldiers. He also objected to a reported clause in the proposed resolution that calls for international monitoring of Iraqi funds, saying, "this contravenes the Iraqi sovereignty." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KIMMITT PLEDGES INVESTIGATION INTO BOMBING. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters at a 20 May Baghdad press briefing that the U.S. military will conduct an investigation into the 18 May bombing of a suspected foreign-fighter safe house in Al-Qa'im that killed some 40 people, many of them reportedly women and children, RFE/RL reported on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004).

"Some of the allegations that have been made will cause us to go back and look at this," Kimmitt said. "The intelligence that we had suggested that this was a foreign-fighter 'rat line,' as we call them, one of the way stations. We conducted military operations down there last night," Kimmitt said. "The ground force that swept through the objective found a significant amount of material and intelligence which validated that attack."

Kimmitt told reporters that U.S. troops had observed a group of people gathered at the site who were not Bedouins. "They would appear to have been town-dwellers. We saw four-by-fours [vehicles], jewelry. This is one of the routes we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country," he added.

He later told reporters at a 22 May press briefing that soldiers found at the site "bedding for over 300 people, a medical treatment room, a number of terrorist training manuals, suspected forged Iraqi IDs, and to the allegation that there was a wedding going on, there was no evidence of a wedding." "There were no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration, no gifts. All the men were almost all military-age; no family elders that one would expect to see at an event of this type. Contrary to media reports, there was no wedding tent, no nuptial tent present within a kilometer of the objective," he contended. Kimmitt added that none of the persons killed in the bombing were carrying wallets or identification cards, although an ID-making machine was found at the site.

The Associated Press on 23 May claimed to have obtained video footage taken at the site just hours before it was bombed. The video depicted a wedding in progress, and a number of people seen in the video reportedly were identified as having died in the bombing. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

PROPERTY CLAIMS COMMISSION OPENS AL-BASRAH OFFICE... The Iraqi Property Claims Commission has opened an office in the southern city of Al-Basrah according to a 25 May press release issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The commission helps Iraqis reclaim houses and land seized by the Hussein regime.

According to the press release, the office will receive claims in person by people or their heirs who believe they have a legal interest in property seized due to religion, sect, or ethnic background, or opposition to the Ba'athist regime between 17 July 1968 -- the date that regime came to power -- and 9 April 2003.

"People can also make a claim if their property was confiscated for reasons other than land reform, if it was acquired for less than the correct value, or if the price agreed upon was not paid. In addition, land belonging to the state that was give to people, such as farmers, because of the greater benefits to the economy, can also be claimed back," the press release said. CPA head L. Paul Bremer established the commission on 14 January (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 January 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS CPA ANNOUNCES SPECIAL TASK FORCE FOR VICTIM COMPENSATION. CPA head Bremer announced on 26 May that a special task force has been created to compensate victims of the former regime, according to a CPA press release. Iraqi Bar Association President Malik Duhan al-Hassan will head the task force.

"No government or any other institution can erase these past abuses or remove the scars they have left behind. However, compensation can provide an element of justice to those who suffered under Saddam [Hussein's] brutally oppressive regime," the press release quoted Bremer as saying. Malik and his staff will work with victims and Iraqi ministries to determine the types of injustice eligible for compensation and determine guidelines for individuals to demonstrate their compensation. The team will also make recommendations about the level of compensation that can be received, the press release stated. Malik's recommendations are due on 1 August. The CPA has reserved $25 million for operating costs and initial compensation payments. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DAILY CITES AL-ZARQAWI MESSAGE CONFIRMING HIS PRESENCE IN IRAQ. London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 26 May that fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has purportedly issued a statement on a number of websites confirming that he is in Iraq.

The statement first appeared on the "Al-Liwa" website, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported. "I left the land of memories and emigrated to the land of wishes where the religion of the Lord of the Earth was established, to the land of Afghanistan, in obedience to the most Gracious Allah. I am now in Iraq fighting with my brothers to establish a homeland for Islam and a state for the Koran," the statement read.

The website has reportedly posted numerous statements by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his aide Ayman al-Zawahiri in the past. The daily quoted Hani al-Siba'i, director of the London-based Al-Maqrizi research institute, as saying that the statement is in line with previous statements made by al-Zarqawi. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DONORS GATHER IN DOHA FOR IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION CONFERENCE. Some 200 representatives from more than 35 donor countries gathered in Doha, Qatar, this week for the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq's (IRFFI) two-day conference aimed at drumming up additional reconstruction funds for Iraq, Doha's "Gulf Times" reported on 26 May.

Representatives from the World Bank, the United Nations, and six regional agencies also attended the meeting. Ten countries joined the IRFFI this week: Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

Japan's Shigeru Nakamura, who chairs the IRFFI's donor committee, said that the primary objective of this meeting is to get member states to act quickly on their pledges in light of the upcoming 30 June transfer of power. Some $1 billion has been contributed to the fund thus far by 19 member states. UN special adviser Ross Mountain said that some $232 million would be spent on 17 ongoing projects in Iraq, while the World Bank has said that $500 million will be committed to specific projects within two months, "Gulf Times" reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KUWAIT DONATES $5 MILLION TO IRAQI TRUST FUND. The Kuwaiti government signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank on 24 May in which it pledged to donate $5 million to the Iraqi Trust Fund, KUNA reported on 25 May. Kuwait also recently donated $5 million to the UN Development Program fund that is overseeing reconstruction projects in Iraq. KUNA reported that having donated $10 million, Kuwait is now eligible to sit on the committee of donor countries for Iraqi reconstruction. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EGYPT SAYS MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SENT FIGHTERS TO IRAQ. The Egyptian government clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting some 54 members in early-morning raids on homes and businesses across seven governorates last week, Cairo's "Al-Ahram" reported on 20 May. The raids came after a report issued by state security bodies accused the Islamist group of plotting to overthrow the government, the weekly said.

The government report claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had sent its members to Iraq and other countries in turmoil to obtain martial arts and militia warfare training -- skills that would later be used against the Egyptian regime. Meanwhile, Cairo's "Al-Arabi" reported on 23 May that the prosecution is building its case around the testimony of a person identified as "Al-Qadhafi Badr," who says the Muslim Brotherhood sent recruits to his travel agency to obtain tickets abroad, including to Iraq. The Muslim Brotherhood denied the charges and instead claimed that Al-Qadhafi Badr is a creation of the state security services. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

JORDAN TO REQUEST EXTRADITION OF CHALABI? High level Jordanian sources told London's "Al-Hayat" that Amman may soon renew a request issued to Interpol last year for the extradition of Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi to face charges of embezzlement stemming from the 1990 collapse of the Petra Bank, the newspaper reported on 23 May.

Chalabi, who served as chairman of the Amman-based bank, was tried in absentia in 1989 for allegedly smuggling some $288 million, which he reportedly transferred to Swiss bank accounts. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The sources also said that Chalabi was "trying to spoil Jordan's relationship" with the Iraqi Governing Council but added that the decision to pursue Chalabi is not related to his faltering relations with the United States. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ANTIOCCUPATION DEMONSTRATORS CLASH WITH POLICE IN BAHRAIN. Bahrainis demonstrating against the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq clashed with police on 21 May, Al-Jazeera reported. Antiriot police had to be called in to disperse the demonstrators. The Bahraini Islamic National Reconciliation Society claimed that three demonstrators were wounded while 10 suffered gas inhalation after police fired rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters at the demonstrators. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa dismissed Interior Minister Muhammad bin Khalifa al-Khalifa following the demonstrations. He has appointed Rashid bin Abdallah bin Ahmad al-Khalifa as the new interior minister. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRANIAN GENERAL CLAIMS U.S. DEFEATED MILITARILY IN IRAQ. The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, said on 23 May that the United States has "faced a military defeat" in Iraq, IRNA reported the same day. Referring to the ongoing clashes between U.S. forces and Iraqi militiamen in the southern Iraqi holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, Rahim-Safavi said that the United States has "no way other than withdrawing from Najaf and the entire Iraq, otherwise another Vietnam will be created for them."

Rahim-Safavi also accused the United States of not allowing other countries to participate in the reconstruction process in Iraq. He added that the United States adopted a unilateral policy on the occupation of Iraq, which he claimed led to other countries not supporting this policy. Rahim-Safavi also accused Washington of trying to award all Iraqi reconstruction contracts and oil resources to U.S. companies. Thousands of Iranians reportedly demonstrated against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq on 19-20 May in Tehran and Qom, Iranian media reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S., U.K. PRESENT DRAFT RESOLUTION TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL. The United States and United Kingdom presented a new draft resolution on Iraq to the UN Security Council on 24 May, reported the same day.

The resolution, presented during a closed-door meeting, calls for a multinational force to remain in Iraq for at least one year. The resolution also makes the Iraqi interim government responsible for the country's oil revenues but allows for an international board to audit oil expenditures. The resolution also notes that the CPA will "cease to exist" on 30 June, adding that a "sovereign interim government" will take power and "assume the responsibility and authority for governing a sovereign Iraq."

The draft resolution received mixed reviews, according to the website. German UN Ambassador Guenter Plueger called it a "good basis for discussion," while Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said that he and others will introduce possible amendments to "improve" the draft. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said on 25 May, "It is a draft -- a draft which should be discussed and improved," Reuters reported. The Security Council continues to review the draft resolution this week. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS UN ENVOY CONTINUES CONSULTATIONS IN BAGHDAD. UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi is continuing consultations with Iraqi figures in Baghdad as he works to build an interim government, the UN News Center reported on 26 May (

Brahimi's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said that the envoy is making progress in terms of consensus building. Brahimi "remains of the view that [the process] needs to be -- and can be -- brought to closure very soon, so that the new government will have sufficient time to prepare to assume power and engage in meaningful consultations on the forthcoming [UN] Security Council resolution," Fawzi said.

He added that Brahimi will not comment on any proposed leaders for the time being, as such commentary might undermine the entire process or place individuals in compromising positions. Fawzi did acknowledge on behalf of Brahimi that the envoy has met with Husayn al-Shahristani on several occasions, saying Brahimi "has no doubt that Mr. Shahristani could serve his country well in a number of positions in government." Al-Shahristani was rumored to have been named the interim prime minister this week. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UKRAINE TO SEND MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said on 25 May that it intends to send more troops to Iraq, UNIAN reported the same day. Ukrainian ground troops commander Petro Shulyak said at a press briefing that the 7th Mechanized Brigade would be brought in to replace the 6th Brigade. The difference in the number of troops is 146, bringing the Ukrainian contingent to 1,722 soldiers.

The military has also decided to replace civilian vehicles with armored personnel carriers. Troops will also be assigned regular Kalashnikov rifles. They are currently carrying short-barreled rifles, Shulyak said. The troops will also be given upgraded grenade launchers, according to UNIAN. Meanwhile, Spanish and Honduran troops completed their pullout from Iraq between 22 and 24 May, international media reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. PRESIDENT'S SPEECH DOESN'T PLAY WELL IN IRAQ. U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the nation on 24 May (see outlining future goals for Iraq 38 days before the transfer of sovereignty. Bush said that Iraq is now the "central front in the war on terror," and vowed to keep U.S. forces on the ground until stability is restored. "The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the region," he claimed.

The president added that the U.S. plan to help Iraq "achieve democracy and freedom" would address rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, encouraging international support, and helping to establish national elections. Bush said that U.S. troop levels will remain at 138,000 for "as long as necessary," adding that a U.S. team is overseeing the training of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and other security personnel.

Regarding Abu Ghurayb prison, Bush said: "America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum-security prison. When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghurayb will be relocated. Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghurayb prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning."

The speech received poor reviews in Baghdad and the wider Arab world. Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy Movement head Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn told Al-Jazeera on 25 May: "All indications show that the process of power transfer is fake. This process [outlined by Bush] is a continuation of the occupation but in a different form."

Iraqi National Movement official Adil Tahir said: "Bush's speech contained many positive points. However, it contained some negative aspects, especially since sovereignty will not be transferred in full." Meanwhile, Abd al-Muhsin Shalash of the Iraqi Free Society Party told Al-Jazeera: "Mr. Bush's speech is a continuation of previous remarks. The Iraqi people have not seen anything on the ground."

Unidentified Iraqi citizens interviewed by the satellite news channels expressed similar sentiments, asking when the occupation forces would leave Iraq, and claiming that U.S. promises made before the fall of the Hussein regime have not been fulfilled. An Al-Jazeera correspondent in Al-Basrah, meanwhile, said that many Iraqis did not pay much attention to Bush's speech, saying, "They are busy with their daily concerns and living problems." "The Iraqis considered the speech to be addressed to the American voter, and not the Iraqi people," he contended.

Iraqi officials criticized Bush's proposal to tear down the Abu Ghurayb Prison, AP reported on 26 May. "As the Governing Council, we do not agree with demolishing it and the matter will be left for the transitional government," council President for the month of May Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir said. Iraqi Interior Minister Samir Shakir Mahmud al-Sumaydi'i told AP it would be better to change the management of the prison than to build a new one. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.K. GOVERNMENT OFFERING SOLDIERS SABBATICALS TO WORK IN IRAQ. The U.K. government is reportedly offering soldiers the opportunity to take one-year sabbaticals to take up lucrative private security contracts in Iraq, London's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 23 May.

The decision comes as an attempt to thwart the departure of soldiers -- some 500 monthly -- many of whom are ending their military service early to take private jobs in Iraq, which earn them up to 500 pounds ($917) a day. Elite units such as the SAS, the Parachute Regiment, and the Royal Marines have been particularly affected by the retirements. Some 195 soldiers from the Parachute Regiment -- some 11 percent of the total strength of the regiment -- have left in the past year, many to work in Iraq, the newspaper reported.

It is estimated that about 2,500 of the private security workers in Iraq are former British soldiers who left their positions in the armed forces over the past year. The newspaper cites the U.S. Defense Department as saying that the number of private security forces in Iraq is expected to grow to 125,000 by year-end. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.K. FOREIGN OFFICE MEMO DETAILS WAY FORWARD. A confidential memo on Iraq written by the British Foreign Office criticizes the United States for heavy-handedness in Iraq and suggests that other coalition countries have not been able to carry their weight, according to the text of the memo, published in London's "Sunday Times" on 23 May.

"Heavy-handed U.S. military tactics in Al-Fallujah and Najaf some weeks ago have fuelled both Sunni And Shi'ite opposition to the coalition, and lost us much public support inside Iraq," the memo says, adding that the United States has "learnt lessons from this and are generally proceeding more cautiously." The memo also cites the Ukrainian contingent's loss of control over Al-Kut (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 April 2004), which was only restored with the help of U.S. forces. "The Italian military seem similarly to have lost control of Nasiriyah temporarily over the weekend, and civilian staff were evacuated from the CPA compound pending reinforcement," the memo stated. It also referred to the scandal concerning prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad, saying it "has sapped the moral authority of the coalition, inside Iraq and internationally."

Regarding the way forward, the memo claims that the coalition has begun implementing a strategy to overcome the "problems" it faces before the 30 June handover of power to an Iraqi interim government. The strategy includes implementing a security architecture that would include an Iraqi-led National Security Council "involving senior MNF [multinational force] representation as the forum for strategic decision making" and Iraqi forces under an Iraqi command structure. The memo also calls for a "more flexible approach towards cooperation with existing militias," citing the agreement laid out in Al-Fallujah (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 and 13 May 2004) and a similar plan being considered for Karbala. "We need to double our efforts to ensure a sensible and sensitive U.S. approach to military operations," the memo notes. "The message seems to be accepted at the highest levels but not always implemented lower down the command chain."

The memo also discusses options for the U.K. Defense Ministry for reinforcing its troops in southern Iraq. "If we go down either route we should ensure that we use it to maximize our influence over American military decisions, and that we can prevent U.S. action, either at the strategic or operational levels, which would jeopardize our objectives," it adds.

Regarding the political process in Iraq, the memo addresses the role of UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi in forming an interim government, and cites potential problems with some unnamed members of the Iraqi Governing Council. "We can help with them," the memo offers. The memo further states that prospects for a multinational force in Iraq "look reasonable" if the French, German, and Russian governments are given an opportunity to "offer views on the draft" UN resolution that would detail the structure of the force. The memo also calls for a "constructive international conference in July or the autumn" that would allow the French, Germans, and Russians to possibly contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. The memo also addresses challenges to economic reform and reconstruction. It predicts a difficult summer on all fronts and notes: "By October we need to be well under way, with election preparations, with Iraqis exercising control over their own government, and over much of security, with supplemental money being turned into jobs and early results on the ground, particularly in Sunni areas, and the insurgents undercut by progress on all of those fronts." (Kathleen Ridolfo)