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Iraq Report: July 15, 2004


15 July 2004, Volume 7, Number 26
INSIDE IRAQ
NINAWAH GOVERNOR ASSASSINATED. The governor of Ninawah, Usama Yousif Kashmula, was assassinated on 14 July when militants attacked his vehicle with hand grenades and automatic weapons, Al-Jazeera reported. "He was on his way to Baghdad with a security escort of four cars when the attackers in another car pulled up beside his vehicle and threw a grenade, and then shot at his car," an unidentified source told Al-Jazeera. Two individuals accompanying Kashmula were also killed in the attack. Ninawah Governorate spokesman Hazim Jalawi said the attack took place in the region of T'lul Al-Baj, 110 kilometers south of Mosul. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ATTACKERS TARGET HEAD OF IRAQI OLYMPIC COMMITTEE. Iraqi Olympic Committee Chairman Ahmad al-Hijiya escaped injury when militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at his convoy in Baghdad on 13 July, AP reported. But one of his bodyguards sustained injuries in the incident. Al-Hijiya was on his way to a television interview when the attack occurred. "I am surprised at this attack, because the Olympic Committee has nothing to do with politics," al-Hijiya said, according to AP. "This committee belongs to all Iraqis, regardless of their political, religious, or ethnic origins." Iraq plans to send athletes to next month's Olympic Games in Athens to compete in weightlifting and soccer. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MILITANTS KIDNAP POLITICAL PARTY LEADER. Unidentified militants kidnapped the head of the Free Iraqi Society Party in Baghdad on 10 July, MENA reported. Abd al-Muhsin Shalash was kidnapped from the party headquarters after militants destroyed computers and other equipment. It is unclear why Shalash might be targeted; his political group was established in April 2003 and calls for the return of a constitutional monarchy to Iraq. Fadil al-Khafaji, a member of the party's political bureau, told alwatan.com.sa that 10 gunmen abducted Shalash after ransacking the party's offices, the website reported on 12 July. Shalash recently announced his candidacy for president in the January elections and distributed flyers that carried his biography and photo in several Iraqi cities. (For more on the Free Iraqi Society Party, see http://www.rferl.org/specials/IraqCrisis/specials-politicalgroups2.asp). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI POLICE LAUNCH MASSIVE RAIDS IN BAGHDAD. Iraqi police arrested some 525 suspected criminals in raids across Baghdad on 13 July, Al-Jazeera reported. "This is the largest operation for the Interior Ministry since the fall of Saddam Hussein," ministry spokesman Colonel Adnan Abd al-Rahman said. "About 500 criminals were arrested; [they are] suspected of crimes such as stealing, murder, kidnapping, and selling drugs." Some 500 Iraqi police officers carried out the raid, which was part of the ministry's attempt to crack down on gangs that have taken to the streets of Baghdad in recent months. Abd al-Rahman claimed that the majority of those arrested were professional criminals, many of whom were released from prison during a general amnesty issued by Hussein prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 October 2002). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CAR BOMB DETONATES OUTSIDE GREEN ZONE IN IRAQI CAPITAL. A car bomb detonated on 14 July outside the so-called Green Zone in central Baghdad, international media reported. Al-Arabiyah television cited Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as saying that at least 11 people were killed, including three Iraqi National Guardsmen. Forty individuals were wounded, including one U.S. soldier. The Green Zone, which houses the U.S. and U.K. embassies and the offices of the prime minister, remains under the control of multinational forces in Iraq. According to Al-Jazeera, the vehicle, a Land Cruiser, approached the Green Zone and detonated before reaching the first checkpoint. Eight vehicles caught fire nearby as a result of the explosion. All government offices were closed on 14 July because of a public holiday marking the anniversary of the 1958 revolution that deposed the Iraqi monarchy.

Prime Minister Allawi told reporters in Baghdad that he suspects the car bombing might have been an act of revenge by criminal elements for the significant number of arrests in the Iraqi capital on 13 July, Al-Arabiyah reported. "I think the attack is connected to the series of arrests that were carried out in the last two days," Allawi said, adding: "We arrested a number of criminals based on information gathered by investigations. Among the arrested are Iraqis and foreigners. I would like to assure the international community that we will move forward on the path of providing peace and security in Iraq. We call on the international community to maintain its support of our country. Together we will defeat the forces of evil and hand them over to justice." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT DISCUSSES EMERGENCY LAW. The interim Iraqi government introduced a National Safety Law on 7 July that would empower the government to declare an emergency situation in highly volatile cities in an effort to restore order. The law has raised concerns among Iraqis who fear that the law, like similar laws that have been in place in other Arab states for decades, might never be rescinded. Baghdad�s �Al-Shira� interviewed Vice President Rowsch Shaways in its 12 July edition.

Shaways told �Al-Shira� that the �emergency situation� that plagues Iraq today �calls for a solution.� He added that the interim government is aware that any law must also consider the rights of citizens. Shaways said that the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), introduced by the Coalition Provisional Authority in March, empowers the interim government with the ability to draft new laws provided that those laws do not conflict with the TAL itself. �This draft law must then be referred to the presidential council of the republic for consideration, and if it deems correct and useful it will approve it unanimously,� Shaways said.

�This decision would give the government, cabinet, and prime minister extraordinary powers to undertake the emergency duties that are dictated by the circumstances and thus eliminate the routine," Shaways said. "At the same time, if the government wants to enforce this law in a certain area, being an emergency area, the cabinet must obtain the unanimous approval of the presidential council once again, even if it is known that the area is subject to this law.� Shaways added that a state of emergency could only be in force for a period of 60 days before it is subject to renewal by the cabinet and presidential council.

Citizens rights will be guaranteed, according to Shaways, because they will be able to appeal any measures undertaken by the government through the Iraqi judicial system. �And it will be the right of the courts of appeal to cancel such measures,� he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MILITANTS TAKE OVER SAMARRA. Reports emanating from Samarra in recent days blame both Hussein loyalists and Islamic militants for the surge in violence there, with many Iraqi media outlets reporting that the militants have gained control over the city, located 125 kilometers north of Baghdad. A look at the attacks in recent days sheds light on the violence that is plaguing the town, violence that is reminiscent of that which occurred in Al-Fallujah in April and May.

Five 1st Infantry Division soldiers and two Iraqi National Guardsmen were killed in Samarra on 8 July, and 20 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and four Iraqi National Guardsmen were wounded when militants attacked the Iraqi National Guard headquarters in Samarra on July 8 at about 10:30 a.m., U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported. AP reported that militants detonated a car bomb at the National Guard headquarters before launching some 38 mortars at a U.S. military base.

A contributor to the Global Islamic Media website (http://www.ansarnet.ws/vb) posted "Communique Number 16" to the site on 11 July. The communique, issued by Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad -- a militant group associated with suspected Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi -- claimed the group was responsible for the 8 July attacks. Two Turkish truck drivers were also killed on 8 July while transporting supplies near Samarra, NTV reported on 9 July. On 11 July, two U.S. soldiers were killed and three wounded by a roadside bomb outside the city, CENTCOM reported. International media reported that the Iraqi National Guard headquarters was hit by four mortar strikes, which essentially leveled the building. By 12 July, U.S. troops surrounded the city. Families trying to flee the fighting were caught between U.S. forces and gunmen, LBC satellite television reported.

So who is behind the violence in Samarra? Some media reports contend that Hussein loyalists -- more precisely, former Iraqi army members -- have organized themselves into well armed groups and are launching coordinated attacks, such as the 8 July attacks mentioned above. Other evidence points to Islamic militants. The U.K.-based "The Daily Telegraph" reported on 11 July that Hussein loyalists had seized control of the town two weeks earlier. The report cited a "synchronized" attack organized by a former general of the Iraqi army, noting: "Professional soldiers who knew how to gauge and range an artillery piece were in charge." The former soldiers were reportedly easily identified in their Hussein-era army uniforms. One militant, manning a makeshift checkpoint, told "The Daily Telegraph," "The National Guard are traitors, they work with the Americans but are afraid to come in here. We control Samarra now." The same soldier said that his colleagues had begun to force the Kurdish population out of the city, saying that Kurds constituted a pro-American fifth column.

The Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 10 July that hundreds of Islamic militants had come to Samarra from other cities. The fighters were reportedly armed with "tens of antiaircraft guns and armor-piercing and antiaircraft shells." The report contends that militants loyal to Ansar Al-Islam have teamed up with the Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad. The report also claims that the two Sunni groups have joined forces with 200 of the city's local fighters, "who have full control of the city in the absence of any Iraqi authority." According to ebaa.net, the city has experienced chaos since the fall of the Hussein regime, when armed gangs and criminals arrived on the scene threatening locals. "Sources" told the website that militants in recent days have blown up the headquarters of the Iraqi National Movement Party led by Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, the City Council, the headquarters of the peshmerga forces, and the home of Municipal Council Chairman Adnan Thabit, among other sites.

Meanwhile, Baghdad's "Al-Manar" reported on 12 July that flyers had been posted on buildings and mosques throughout the city urging people working for the multinational forces in Iraq to repent. The flyers, issued by "The Legitimate Committee for the Islamic Resistance -- the Mujahidin Shura Council," said a decision was made on 25 June that a pardon would be granted to those "spies, translators, contractors, defense force members," and others loyal to coalition forces who repented.

The flyers advised such people to "declare their sincere repentance, perform the legal vow according to the Shari'a, and make [a] written pledge that they will not return to such acts in the Grand Mosque in the center of the city or in the Al-Razzaq Mosque in [the] east of Samarra city." The flyer marked 8 July as the last day for a pardon. The flyers also contended that the mujahedin in Samarra had obtained "files, documents, and confessions" that identify the names and positions of those working with multinational forces in the city. "Al-Manar" reported that the Islamic militants in the city accuse some 300 Iraqis of working with U.S. forces there. Mosque officials told the daily that "no one has seized the opportunity" to repent. It is difficult to imagine any Iraqis would, since they and their families would be labeled "collaborators" and likely be targeted by insurgents.

It is unclear how long it might take multinational forces to gain control over the city. Eyewitnesses told "Al-Mada" on 14 July that masked gunmen remained in control of the city and were continuing to target National Guard forces stationed there. Samarra is a city with large Shi'a and Kurdish populations; the city suffered under the Hussein regime. The volatile city of Al-Fallujah lies just across the river, and some media reports indicate that fighters from the city have regularly crossed into Samarra in recent months. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF INTERVIEWED ON DEVELOPMENTS. Iraqi Army Chief of Staff General Amir al-Hashimi told Amman's "Al-Ra'y" in an interview published on 9 July that the army has taken a number of steps to improve its administration, including the establishment of a chain-of-command and control system that "guarantees [a] quick response to sensitive situations that might emerge in the political arena in Iraq." Al-Hashimi said a special department has been set up at the Defense Ministry to oversee the management of border stations and crossing points. The department works in cooperation with the Iraqi Army and National Guard. He said that plans are under way to establish a similar force to support the Interior Ministry's efforts in the same field.

The army is also initiating a program to set up specific centers where military personnel can report to duty. "A list of these centers will be published soon in the media, with a call on these people to report," he said. In addition, the army has taken control of three recruitment centers in northern, central, and southern Iraq, and plans to establish three additional recruitment centers in the near future.

Al-Hashimi added that the Defense Ministry plans to return former Iraqi Army members that served under Saddam Hussein to service in "various departments" within the ministry. Some former military personnel will be assigned to work in other ministries, while some will be pensioned off. Control over Iraqi military bases and camps is being turned over by the multinational forces in Iraq, he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BULGARIAN HOSTAGE BEHEADED IN IRAQ. Militants loyal to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi beheaded one of two Bulgarian hostages held captive in Iraq on 13 July, international media reported on 14 July. The beheading was reportedly videotaped and sent to Al-Jazeera television. The satellite news channel has declined to air the footage. The fate of the second Bulgarian was unclear; the Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad group said in the same videotape that it intended to kill that hostage within 24 hours unless multinational forces in Iraq freed prisoners.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Bulgarian National Television on 12 July that part of the problem stemmed from not knowing the identity of the hostage takers. "They could be criminals. They have not indicated their location. They have no mechanism for negotiations. The Iraqi government is trying to get in touch with the kidnappers via mediators and via the local police forces and the security forces in the region," Zebari said.

Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, and parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov issued a joint statement on 14 July condemning the killing, according to the Bulgarian government's official website (http://www.government.bg). They also expressed their resolve to remain engaged in the reconstruction, stabilization, and democratization of Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo, Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

IRAQ BEGINS ISSUING NEW PASSPORTS. The Iraqi government has begun to issue new passports that carry the emblem of the interim Iraqi government, according to a 13 July report by Al-Jazeera. The passports will serve as temporary travel documents -- replacing those issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq. Fa'iz Subayh, the director of a local passport office in the Al-Azamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad, told Al-Jazeera that the passport will be issued to all citizens without exception. Some 300 Iraqis are applying for the new passport daily, Al-Jazeera reported. Reuters reported on 10 July that the passport fee is about $100. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FOREIGN MINISTER REQUESTS EU ASSISTANCE. Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari met with representatives from European Union member states in Brussels on 12 July to request that the EU provide "concrete aid" to Iraq, international media reported. "We want the European Union, and the countries taken individually, to provide concrete aid," AFP quoted Zebari as saying before the meeting. Specifically, he said aid is needed to help in the reconstruction of Iraq and to facilitate the political process there. Iraq will hold national elections in January.

"The summer vacation will allow us to evaluate what to do," ft.com quoted Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, who chaired the meeting, as saying on 12 July. EU officials reportedly viewed the meeting as an initial exchange of ideas, saying the next step will probably be a meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in September, ft.com reported. "We will be able to help in a civilian way to train the police force and to be helpful in building up administrative capacity," Bot said. "What is first necessary is that we have a further dialogue." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

HUMAN RIGHTS MINISTRY TO OVERSEE SUPERVISORY ROLE IN IRAQI PRISONS. The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry has reached an agreement with U.S. forces that will allow it to oversee the supervision of Iraqi prisons, Al-Arabiyah reported on 12 July. "The ministry will play a supervisory role in all Iraqi prisons. This was reached in an agreement with [Major General Geoffrey] Miller, chief of detentions and interrogations in Iraq," the satellite news channel quoted Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin as saying. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera quoted Amin on 12 July as saying that 99 Arab and foreign prisoners are currently being held by multinational forces in Iraq. The foreigners include one Afghan, 12 Egyptians, 14 Iranians, five Palestinians, 14 Saudis, nine Sudanese, 26 Syrians, five Tunisians, five Yemenis, five Jordanians, one Moroccan, one Turk, and one Lebanese national, Amin said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH KURDISH LEADERS TO DISCUSS SECURITY. Iyad Allawi held separate meetings on 12 July with Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Mas'ud Barzani in Irbil and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) chief Jalal Talabani in Qalajulan to address security issues in Iraq, Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported the same day. The talks focused on expanding cooperation between the Iraqi Army, police, and Kurdish peshmerga. The broadcaster reported that 25,000 peshmerga have arrived in the Iraqi capital and other main cities to help maintain security. Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan and Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib also took part in the meetings. Voice of the Mujahedin quoted al-Sha'lan as saying that 20 percent of the militias of the various Iraqi parties will be integrated into the Iraqi Army. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PRESIDENT DISCUSSES AMNESTY. Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told Al-Sharqiyah television on 12 July that the soon to be announced amnesty will "open a new page" for Iraqis. "Anyone who wants to benefit from this amnesty should head to the closest police center or post, hand over his weapon, register his name, and go back to practice his life once again as an Iraqi citizen, provided that he pledges not to [remain armed] in the future," al-Yawir said. "Such a person will be pardoned, but if he returns to his previous behavior, he will be held responsible for the old things he did in the past," he added. "We want to give a chance to those who were misled in the past." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

PHILIPPINE HOSTAGE IN IRAQ SPARED FOR 11 MORE DAYS. A Philippine hostage held by Islamic militants in Iraq has reportedly been spared death for 11 more days -- the deadline by which his captives demand that the Philippine government withdraw its troops from Iraq, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 11 July. A representative of the militant group, identified as the Islamic Army in Iraq, Khalid Ibn al-Walid Brigade, said in a videotape sent to Al-Arabiyah: "If we learn from media sources after this extended deadline [that there has been] a clear response from the Philippines government, then instead of treating him as a hostage to be killed he will be a prisoner treated according to Islamic teachings. He will be treated as such until the last Philippine soldier leaves Iraq within a period of 11 days, after which he will be turned over to his country unharmed." The Philippine cabinet on 10 July voted down a proposal to withdraw its troops from Iraq ahead of its scheduled August pullout but then apparently reversed its decision two days later. Philippine Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis read a statement by his government on Al-Jazeera television on 12 July that said the Philippines will withdraw its humanitarian forces from Iraq "as soon as preparations" are made. Philippine Foreign Secretary Delia Albert announced on 14 July that her country's humanitarian contingent has already been reduced from 51 to 43, the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" website (http://www.inq7.net) reported.

Meanwhile, a group identified as the National Islamic Resistance--Brigades of the 1920 Revolution was holding an Egyptian national hostage and had threatened to kill him within 72 hours unless his Saudi employer pulled out of Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 13 July. The Egyptian was last seen in videotape in which he appeals to his colleagues not to accept jobs in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 13 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CLERIC REPORTEDLY STABBED IN IRAQ. The Al-Najaf News Network reported on 10 July that Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was stabbed recently by members of his office during a dispute. The report claims that the dispute erupted when members criticized al-Sadr for contacting Prime Minister Allawi and some politicians in Baghdad without first obtaining their approval. Al-Sadr's injuries reportedly were not serious. A spokesman for al-Sadr, Sheikh Ra'id al-Kazimi, denied that the cleric was stabbed, alwatan.com.sa reported on 12 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BAGHDAD MUNICIPALITY TACKLING WATER-NETWORK PROBLEM. The Baghdad municipality has reportedly allocated $22 million to overhaul the old sewage network in the Al-Sadr City area of the city, Baghdad's "Al-Adalah" reported on 4 July. The daily quoted Sa'd Bahnam, the director general of the Baghdad Water Department, as saying that the repairs will cover 150 neighborhoods in the capital. It is unclear what Bahnam means when he uses the term "neighborhood."

One day earlier, "Al-Mada" reported on the long-standing sewage problem that is plaguing Al-Sadr City. The report notes that the dilapidated state of the sewage network has led to a case where residential pumps draw both sewage water and drinking water into families' homes. Sewage also pollutes the city streets and school grounds, the daily reported.

Meanwhile, Baghdad's "Al-Shira" reported on 5 July that U.K. forces have allocated $1.9 million in emergency funds to purchase 14 tank trucks that, along with 20 stationary trucks, will distribute drinking water in rural areas in the Maysan, Al-Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Al-Muthanna provinces. Some 45,000 people are expected to benefit from the project. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
IRAQI PRIME MINISTER POSTPONES ARAB TOUR. Iyad Allawi has reportedly postponed a tour of Arab states by one week in order to make additional preparations, "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on 11 July. Allawi was due to begin his tour in Jordan on that day. Cairo's MENA reported on 10 July that Allawi's talks with Jordanian officials, including King Abdullah II, will focus on a resumption of bilateral ties, including the export of oil from Iraq to Jordan. Iraq was the leading supplier of oil to Jordan before Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 10 July that Jordan has given the Iraqi military 150 armored vehicles in order to help boost security there. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

JORDANIAN BA'ATH PARTY DENIES NOMINATING RAGHAD HUSSEIN FOR IRAQI PRESIDENCY. The Jordanian Ba'ath Party has denied that it has nominated the daughter of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to run in the upcoming presidential elections in Iraq, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 11 June. Taysir al-Humsi, the secretary of the Supreme Command of the Ba'ath Party in Jordan, said: "We deny that Raghad is planning to nominate herself [for elections]. However, if the leadership in Iraq decides to nominate Raghad or any other [person], we will respect the opinion of the Ba'ath Party Command in Iraq in this connection." Al-Humsi reportedly has accused U.S. intelligence forces for these "leaks" in an attempt to confuse the Iraqi resistance, Amman's "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on 11 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

THE UN AND IRAQ
NEW UN ENVOY TO IRAQ NAMED. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named current Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Ashraf Jehangir Qazi as the UN's new special representative to Iraq on 12 July, UN News Center reported. Qazi replaces Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the 19 August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. Qazi previously served as Pakistan's high commissioner to India, and as ambassador to China, Russia, the former East Germany, and Syria. He has also held diplomatic postings in Tripoli, Cairo, and London. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
FRANCE, IRAQ RESUME DIPLOMATIC TIES. France and Iraq resumed diplomatic relations on 12 July after 13 years with the reopening of the French Embassy in Baghdad, international media reported. Diplomatic relations between the two states were severed on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War. Iraqi Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Muhammad al-Haj Humud read a joint statement issued by the two states at a press briefing broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television on 12 July, saying that Iraq and France have agreed to "exchange ambassadors as soon as possible." Humud said that there are now 40 foreign embassies open in Baghdad. Iraq has some 37 missions functioning abroad. He added that the names of appointed Iraqi ambassadors would be announced in the coming days.

Meanwhile, KUNA reported on 12 June that a spokesman for the Iraqi cabinet, Abd al-Rahim al-Difai, has denied that any disputes erupted between Prime Minister Allawi and the Foreign Ministry over the appointment of ambassadors. Al-Difai said each new Iraqi ministry will operate free from outside influence, but noted that Allawi will indeed have a role in the appointment of ambassadors. KUNA also reported that only one woman, Safiya al-Suhail, has been nominated to serve as an ambassador, however, another woman, Rend Rahim Franke will reportedly remain in her position as ambassador to the United States, Iraq Press reported on 10 July. Al-Suhail, a known Iraqi women's rights activist, will reportedly serve as ambassador to Egypt. Other appointees include Salah al-Shaykhali, who will reportedly serve as ambassador to the United Kingdom. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS CALL FOR HUSSEIN'S RELEASE. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) began a picket outside the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow on 12 July calling for an end to legal proceedings against deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Ekho Moskvy reported. About 15 protestors carried signs reading, among other things, "Hands Off Hussein." "Saddam Hussein ensured peace and calm in his republic," LDPR leader and State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii told demonstrators. "OK, there were no other parties there, just one ruling party. But elections were held and people cast their votes for Saddam Hussein. If someone thinks that elections were held under pressure, let's hold elections now. Saddam Hussein will win them, even from a prison cell." (Rob Coalson)

U.K. INQUIRY EXONERATES BLAIR OVER WMD CLAIMS. An inquiry into the U.K. government's claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that led to the country's subsequent involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom determined that prewar intelligence had "serious flaws" but suggested that Prime Minister Tony Blair was not directly responsible, Reuters reported on 14 July. "No single individual was to blame. This was a collective operation," Lord Butler told reporters in London following the report's release. The report determined that Saddam Hussein had no significant proscribed weapons ready for use in the run-up to the war. The report said that Iraq "did not have significant -- if any -- stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment nor developed plans for using them." The report also concluded that the U.K. Joint Intelligence Committee was under "strain" to put together an objective dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in 2002. The dossier contended that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of the order being issued. "Our view, having reviewed all of the material, is that judgments in the dossier went to [although not beyond] the outer limits of the intelligence available," the report said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

POLAND TO REDUCE SIZE OF ITS IRAQ CONTINGENT IN 2005. Former Polish Deputy Prime Minister Marek Belka said on 7 July that the Polish contingent in Iraq will be smaller next year, Warsaw's "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 9 July. "As of the beginning of 2005, there will be fewer Polish troops in Iraq," Belka said. "The third troop rotation in Iraq, which has already begun, will be the last of such size and in such numbers," he claimed. Belka declined to specify how significantly the contingent will be reduced. The chief of the Polish General Staff, General Czeslaw Piatas, said: "We are trying to transfer as many as possible of our objectives to the Iraqis. The extent of our commitment will hinge on the pace with which the Iraqi defense forces, police, and border troops gain ability for independent operation." Piatas added that the Polish forces would like to reduce their presence on the streets "while at the same time bolstering our readiness for intervention." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

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