30 July 2004, Volume
NATIONAL CONFERENCE DELAYED -- PARTIES CRITICIZE NOMINATION PROCESS.
The start of the Iraqi National Conference, which will elect members to an interim national assembly that will oversee the activities of the interim cabinet until national elections are held in January was delayed twice this week. Originally slated to begin on 29 July, it was delayed by two days reportedly because of security concerns, conference head Fu'ad Ma'sum announced on 27 July. The conference was again postponed on 29 July -- this time for at least two weeks. Event organizers said that the delay was related to the 28 July car bombing in Ba'qubah, AP reported on 29 July. But it is unclear whether security is the only cause for the delay; Iraqi media has reported that less than half of Iraq's 18 governorates had nominated delegates to the conference by this week.
A member of the conference's higher preparatory committee, Aziz al-Yasiri, said on 25 July that the conference might be postponed due to what he called "violations" committed in governorate conferences held to elect delegates, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Two political parties this week also criticized the process of delegate selection. The Assyrian Democratic Movement issued a statement objecting to the method and procedure of the nomination by governorates to act as Kurdistan's representatives to the conference, the weekly "Yekgirtu" reported on 27 July. The group claimed that it had been sidelined in the nomination of representatives and called on the conference's preparatory committee to look into the matter. The group further claimed that the methods undertaken to nominate representatives challenged the legality of the conference.
The Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) went a step further in its objection to the nomination process by completely refusing to participate after its branches in various cities reported "violations" in the nomination process, Al-Jazeera reported on 28 July. The satellite news channel broadcast comments by IIP President and former Governing Council member Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, saying: "Some parties, currents, and popular forces, which have not exercised elections for more than 40 years, resorted to monopoly, threats, violence, and fabrication to ensure their success" in the nomination process. "As an Islamic Party, we cannot accept such a situation," he added. The party's political bureau outlined the complaints of its branches in a number of governorates in a 27 July broadcast on the party's Dar Al-Salam Radio. The complaints included: large-scale forgeries; threats to polling stations and vandalism by unspecified perpetrators; and the failure to adhere to the final date for submission of nomination forms as required by the Central Election Committee. Modeled after Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, some 1,000 delegates are slated to elect 80 out of 100 members to the interim National Assembly. The other slots are to be filled by former Iraqi Governing Council members that were not afforded positions in the interim cabinet.
The Iraqi Turkoman Front also threatened to withdraw from the conference, turkishdailynews.com reported on 28 July. The group has claimed that local authorities have blocked Turkoman participation in nominating delegates in the northern, Kurdish-dominated governorates. The group specifically charged that Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Mas'ud Barzani personally selected the Irbil delegates, and that the Turkoman nominations were not processed, the website reported. The group has demanded that at least seven of the Irbil delegates be Turkomans. Turkoman sources told the website that Turkomans faced similar problems in the Mosul and Diyala governorates. Meanwhile, ft.com reported on 28 July that Turkomans got five of the seven available seats in that city's (Kirkuk has a special status and is not included in the governorate system) caucus. The caucus broke down after Arabs and Turkomans objected, leaving Kirkuk governor Abd al-Rahman al-Mustafa frustrated and prompted Baghdad to declare it would choose the Kirkuk delegates itself, ft.com reported. A number of community leaders have also declined to participate in the conference.
Meanwhile in the Iraqi capital, participants to the meeting that nominated delegates to the conference expressed apparent shock at the procedure. Many told ft.com that they had little notice about their invitation to attend the meeting, and some said they weren't provided with any information about the process. A number of participants complained that others had taken three or four ballot papers instead of one and some said that ballot papers were handed to attendees without even so much as an identification check, the website reported on 26 July.
Even Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari appears unenthusiastic about the conference. Al-Jazeera reported on the foreign minister's comments regarding the conference during his visit to Moscow on 25 July. He said that the Iraqi interim government believes that there is no point to hold a national conference at this stage, since the government will only remain in power until January. "Had [the conference] been convened immediately after liberation, it could have been better. However, we have gone a long way since 9 April 2003. Had it been like what happened in the case of Afghanistan when the Bonn conference was held immediately [after the war], it could have been of more value," al-Zebari said. He noted however, that the interim government "is not totally against the idea" of a national conference, saying "but as an abstract idea that is proposed for any reason, we are actually not enthusiastic about it." (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-ZEBARI CALLS FOR ARAB PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ.
Foreign Minister al-Zebari told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 25 July that the Iraqi government would like to see "real, serious, and tangible support" from Arab states in the rebuilding of Iraq. He contended that a number of Arab states have taken a wait-and-see position with Iraq since the interim government came to power, and said that many Arab states have not even taken steps to reestablish diplomatic relations with Iraq.
Asked how the Arab states could contribute to Iraq, al-Zebari said: "We need peacekeeping forces in Iraq. In the past the Arabs' refusal to have Arab forces participate was based on the pretext that they would not participate under occupation. Today, sovereignty in Iraq has been transferred from coalition forces. Then, why are the Arabs unwilling to participate?" Al-Zebari said that Iraq has requested the help of all Arab states "with the exception of neighboring states" which are Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria (non-Arab neighboring states are Turkey and Iran).
Asked what kind of response the Iraqi government has received vis-a-vis this request, al-Zebari said: "There has been no Arab response for the request to dispatch peacekeeping forces to Iraq... We welcome forces from Egypt, Yemen, North Africa, and the Gulf... Being indifferent and ignoring what is happening [security-wise in Iraq] will have a negative impact on us." Al-Zebari told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that he stressed the need for Arab troops to participate in peacekeeping in Iraq during the Arab summit in Cairo last week (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 July 2004). It was widely reported in the international media that Egypt has agreed to train Iraqi security forces on Egyptian soil. Militants holding an Egyptian national hostage have demanded that Egypt renege on that pledge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)LONDON NEWSPAPER REPORTS ON REEMERGENCE OF MUKHABARAT.
London's "The Sunday Times" reported on 25 July that the Iraqi Mukhabarat is being resurrected through the rehiring of former intelligence agents. Citing "sources" in Baghdad, the weekly reports that the word has been put out that former intelligence agents and officials are welcome to return to their jobs as long as they are not wanted criminals or "well-known torturers and mass killers," one intelligence official said.
According to the report, hundreds of junior to mid-level officers from the deposed Hussein regime have already returned to their jobs at the General Security Directorate. The weekly also reports that the intelligence agents are returning to many of their old practices. One source at the directorate said, "There is a network of informants stretching all over the country. Taxi drivers, shop sellers and businessmen -- they are all sending us information. Some of it we pass to the Americans. Some of it we keep for ourselves." While it is quite necessary to rely upon a system of informants in a country like Iraq, it is the treatment of individuals detained as a result of information culled that provokes concern. One source told "The Sunday Times" that intelligence agents "eliminated" a network of 23 Iranian "spies" that were "working against the government and the Iraqi people." The source claimed that Iraqi intelligence agents killed the men, who entered the country disguised as businessmen. The paper reported that it was unable to independently verify those claims. If true, however, it presents a poor outlook for a future democratic Iraq.
There have been reports in the international media that Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has himself practiced strong-arm tactics since assuming his post (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 July 2004). "The Sunday Times" reported that Allawi, a former Ba'ath Party member, may have served as a Mukhabarat agent in London until a falling out with the Hussein regime, which purportedly attempted to kill him in London in 1978. The weekly cites claims by former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro who alleges that Allawi was "a paid Mukhabarat agent." Allawi's representatives have denied the allegations, as have many of his colleagues in the former Iraqi opposition. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI PRIME MINISTER DESCRIBES MEETING WITH MILITANTS.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television in a 26 July interview that those who call themselves the Iraqi resistance have no political program. Allawi told the satellite news channel that he met with members of the so-called resistance "face to face" and asked them to explain their political project to him as a citizen and not as a prime minister. He claimed to have told them, "I want to understand your project. Is it a project that calls for the return of Saddam [Hussein]? Or is it a project that calls for bringing [Osama] bin Laden or the likes to rule Iraq?" Allawi said he warned the resistance that if they subscribe to either program, then the Iraqi government would fight them. He also reported telling them, "If you have a problem with the United States, then its location and borders are known and you can confront it or open a dialogue with it." He then invited the resistance to join the political process in Iraq and told Al-Arabiyah that the men with whom he met have since responded in a positive manner. (Kathleen Ridolfo)EGYPTIAN DIPLOMAT FREED FROM CAPTIVITY, JORDANIANS KIDNAPPED.
Militants freed Egyptian diplomat Muhammad Mamduh Qutb on 26 July after holding him captive for four days, international media reported the same day. Qutb told MENA that his kidnappers treated him well but that they had misconceptions about a number of issues, the news agency reported on 26 July. The kidnappers said in a statement that Qutb was released because he was a polite and religious man, Radio Free Iraq reported on 27 July. Qutb was kidnapped outside a mosque in Baghdad on 23 July. He is the third-most senior official within the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad. He returned to work at the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad on 27 July, thanking all those who helped secure his release, AP reported.
Meanwhile, a group identifying itself as the Mujahedin Corps claimed to be holding two Jordanian nationals hostage in Iraq and threatened to kill them within 72 hours unless their Jordanian employer withdraws its business from Iraq, AP reported on 27 July. AP Television News obtained a copy of the group's videotaped message that issued the threat. Jordan News Agency reported on 26 July that the men were abducted near Al-Qa'im along the Iraqi border with Syria, where their employer does business.
Their Jordanian employer, Dawud and Partners, has suspended its activities in Iraq in an effort to gain the release of the two men, Al-Jazeera reported on 27 July citing comments from the company's executive director, Rami al-Uways.
A group calling itself Jama'at al-Mawt, or "Death Group," threatened to block the Baghdad-Amman Highway within 72 hours to prevent traffic carrying supplies to U.S. troops in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 27 July. The group said that it considers Jordanian businesses and businessmen military targets, but says it will not target trucks carrying medicine and food. (Kathleen Ridolfo)MILITANT GROUP THREATENS TO BEHEAD SOMALI HOSTAGE.
The Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad group said on 29 July that it has kidnapped a Somali truck driver working in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. The Somali reportedly works for a Kuwaiti company. The group says it will behead the driver if the company does not pull out of Iraq. The same militant group has also posted an announcement on an Al-Qaeda-affiliated website (http://www.hostinganime.com/iraqnews1.index.html) that includes a photograph purportedly depicting a militant holding the head of one of the decapitated Bulgarian truck drivers reportedly killed by the group (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 July 2004). The message and picture were posted to the site on 28 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)HOSTAGE TAKERS EXTEND DEADLINE TO ALLOW FOR NEGOTIATIONS.
A group calling itself the Black Banners Brigade of the Islamic Secret Army has reportedly extended a deadline to allow for negotiations concerning the possible release of seven foreigners it is said to be holding captive in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004), Reuters reported on 26 July. It is unclear how long the deadline has been extended.
The group reportedly said in a videotaped statement released to the media on 26 July that it offered an extension based on an appeal from Iraqi Sheikh Hisham al-Dulaymi, who heads the National Society of Iraqi Chieftains. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 25 July that the Black Banners authorized al-Dulaymi to negotiate on behalf of the concerned countries of the hostages and their employers. The Black Banners has demanded that compensation be paid to the "martyrs" of Al-Fallujah, as well as to women it claims were raped in the U.S.-run Abu Ghurayb prison and to the families of detainees held in Iraq. It has also demanded the release of all Iraqis held in Kuwait, Al-Arabiyah reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PAKISTANI HOSTAGES REPORTEDLY KILLED IN IRAQ.
Two Pakistani hostages kidnapped in Iraq have reportedly been killed, international media reported on 29 July. Al-Jazeera reported on 26 July that the militant group "Islamic Army" claimed in a videotaped message that one of the Pakistanis worked as a technician for U.S. troops in Iraq, while the other worked as a driver for the U.S. military. The group said it issued death sentences against the men based on what it called categorical evidence of their affiliations with the U.S. military and because Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said he would consider sending troops to Iraq.
Pakistan's Charge D'affaires Muhammad Iftikhar Anjum confirmed the killings on 29 July, according to AFP. Al-Jazeera reported on 28 July that the hostage takers had distributed a videotape that purportedly showed the bodies of the men after they were killed; the news channel did not air the footage. The militant group said in the videotape that it had released an Iraqi driver that it held captive, because the man repented. The news channel aired a statement by the Iraqi, who said his colleagues were killed after it was determined that they were spies. "After interrogating me, they found that I am not guilty and that I am just a driver and released me," Umar Khalid Salman said.
The news channel also reported on 28 July that the parents of two Jordanian drivers working in Iraq have learned that four new Jordanians are being held captive by militants. The parents reportedly had contact with the captors through the mobile telephones of the drivers. That report remains unconfirmed. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. THREATENS TO WITHDRAW ECONOMIC AID FROM AL-FALLUJAH.
The U.S. military dropped leaflets on the volatile Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah on 27 July warning residents that they will lose $102 million in reconstruction funds unless they halt attacks on U.S. forces and allow those forces to enter the city freely, Reuters reported. "We ask the citizens of Al-Fallujah...to make way for multinational forces to start the rebuilding of Al-Fallujah, and to make way for American forces to move freely in the city and make real estimates for construction," the leaflet said.
The leaflets also threatened to withdraw $35 million in funding for a water-treatment upgrade, adding, "Our fight is not with the honest citizens of Al-Fallujah, but with those who want to destroy the future of Al-Fallujah and those who are doing this for their own benefits." (Kathleen Ridolfo)CAR BOMBINGS CONTINUE THIS WEEK IN IRAQ.
At least 68 Iraqis were killed and at least 30 were wounded on 28 July when a car bomb detonated in the city of Ba'qubah, Reuters reported. The Health Ministry said that the death toll resulting from the suicide attack is expected to rise, according to the report. The explosion took place outside the Al-Najda police station, which is also used as a recruiting center. The police station is located in the city center, close to a marketplace and other government buildings, AP reported. CNN reported that a minibus packed with explosives was used in the attack, in which the bus drove into a crowd of people before detonating. Local hospital official Husayn Ali told AP that at least 55 people were injured in the blast. Ba'qubah is located about 65 kilometers north of Baghdad. The attack -- the fourth car bomb this week -- is the largest to take place in Iraq since the interim government assumed power on 28 June.
A car bomb detonated near a bridge in Baghdad on 26 July, while militants shelled the former Higher Education Ministry building, leaving three people injured, international media reported. Meanwhile, two apparent suicide car bombs also detonated outside a U.S. military base at Mosul Airport in that northern Iraqi city, killing two Iraqi guards and one U.S. soldier and wounding several others, Al-Jazeera reported. Reuters reported that a civilian woman and her child were killed in the Mosul blast along with an Iraqi security officer, and cited a U.S. military spokeswoman as saying three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi security staff were wounded. In the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah, gunmen attacked five women who work as cleaners for U.S. contractor Bechtel as they waited at a bus stop, killing two and wounding two others on 26 July, Reuters reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI, U.S. FORCES KILL 15 MILITANTS.
Iraqi security forces with support from U.S. troops killed 15 militants in the farming town of Buhriz, located about 56 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, on 25 July, AP reported the next day. The fighting broke out as Iraqi and U.S. forces launched a sweep in palm groves in the town. Militants reportedly attacked Iraqi and U.S. forces with small arms and mortars during the five-hour battle.
AP reported that militants roam the streets dressed in black clothing and ski masks and armed with rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. Previously, the U.S. military battled militants in this predominantly Sunni town on 16-17 June, killing 13 Iraqis and injuring 53, iwpr.net reported. The website reported that fighting has transformed the impoverished farming community into an anticoalition stronghold.
Meanwhile, units from the Major Crime Combating Directorate raided a residential house in the Iraqi capital on 27 July, seizing stockpiles of explosives and weapons, Al-Sharqiyah reported. An Interior Ministry source said that a car was found in the garage of the house. Inside the car -- which had no license plates -- police found a rocket launcher with four Katyusha rockets. The launcher was wired and ready to be fired, according to the news channel. Adhesive explosives, remote-controlled devices with electric circuits, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, Kalashnikov rifles, and hand grenades were among the weapons found in the house. U.S. military uniforms, Iraqi police insignias, and a black face mask with a red ribbon reading Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad) were also found in the house. (Kathleen Ridolfo)FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL SAYS DEFENSE MINISTER'S REMARKS HIS OWN.
Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Hamid al-Bayati has said that remarks made by Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan regarding Iranian interference in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 July 2004) do not necessarily reflect the views of the Iraqi government, Al-Arabiyah reported on 27 July. Al-Bayati said that Prime Minister Allawi or his staff "did not make such sharp statements" adding that Allawi said that al-Sha'lan's comments reflected a personal, not official view. "Today, I was with Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih who stressed that this is not the policy of the new Iraqi government whose viewpoint is solving pending problems between Iraq and other states in the region through calmness, diplomacy, dialogue, and positive dealing," al-Bayati said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF DISMISSED FROM POST.
General Amir Bakr al-Hashimi, the chief of staff of the Iraqi Army, and five of his aides have been dismissed from their posts over allegations that they leaked sensitive intelligence information to militant groups in Iraq, Arab media reported on 24 July. Unidentified "sources" told KUNA that the dismissals came after "intelligence information [was] leaked from the headquarters of the Iraqi Defense Ministry through ranking officers to active armed groups in Iraq." The sources added, "The ministry took strict measures after discovering what it described as a serious security failure, something which led to reconsidering many security measures." KUNA further reported that Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan said last week that an employee at the ministry -- Muhammad Majid -- was arrested for leaking information. That arrest came after Majid's son Humam was arrested in a raid on militants by national-guard forces. Humam reportedly admitted under interrogation that his father had leaked information about the ministry and its employees to militants. Both Majid and al-Hashimi are also members of Baghdad's city council. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SUNNI CLERIC SAYS ISLAM FORBIDS KILLING OF SOME POLICEMEN.
A Sunni cleric and spokesman for the Muslim Ulama Council told a 25 July news conference in Baghdad that the Islamic faith forbids the killing of policemen who "do not collaborate with multinational forces," Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Sheikh Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi said: "We believe that jihad is a duty. We also believe that providing security to people is a duty, that hospital work is a duty, and that ensuring market activity to make people earn a living is a duty. Everybody knows that this can only be achieved through the police agencies, which, by tradition, are the party responsible for this kind of work. Therefore, when policemen abide by these duties and do not go beyond that to work as agents and spies for the occupation troops, then it is forbidden to kill them." Al-Faydi did not say which standards dictate whether policemen are collaborators or not. (Kathleen Ridolfo)KURDISTAN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT APPOINTS FIVE NEW MINISTERS.
The Irbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) appointed five new ministers and one deputy minister on 24 July, "Khabat" reported on 25 July. Sarkis Aghajan Mamandu was appointed deputy head of government and finance and economy minister. The other appointments are: Barzan Muhsin Dizayee, municipalities and tourism minister; Nazanin Muhammad Waso, reconstruction and housing minister; Falah Mustafa Bakr, regional minister; Azad Izz al-Din Mulla, agriculture and irrigation minister; and Sami Fattah Abd al-Latif Shoresh, culture minister. Shoresh is a former broadcaster for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq. The KRG appointed Abdallah Ahmad Abd al-Rahim as the undersecretary for trade affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and Abd al-Aziz Shams al-Din was appointed undersecretary for electricity at the Ministry of Industry and Energy on 27 July, Kurdistan Satellite television reported on the same day. (Kathleen Ridolfo)LEBANESE FIRM BEGINS CONSTRUCTING 1,500 RESIDENTIAL UNITS IN CENTRAL IRAQ.
The Lebanese construction firm Ramco has begun construction of a housing complex consisting of 1,500 residential units in central Iraq's Babil Governorate, Baghdad's "Al-Adalah" reported on 26 July. An unidentified Housing and Construction Ministry source said the contract, awarded under the former UN oil-for-food program, was one of six contracts signed with Egyptian, Emirati, and Syrian construction firms, which will provide 3,200 residential units in several governorates. The Babil complex will include a number of educational, health, and entertainment facilities, the daily reported. Construction is also under way for a similarly sized residential complex in the Al-Najaf Governorate, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, "Al-Dustur" reported on 24 July that the ministry is warning citizens of an apparent scam being carried out in which unknown parties take money from citizens in return for land and home-ownership documents. The ministry warned that the ministry would not be held financially responsible for money lost through fraudulent transactions. The ministry encouraged citizens to report parties who participate in such fraudulent activities. (Kathleen Ridolfo)FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PATIENCE THINNING WITH ARAB SATELLITE BROADCASTERS.
Iraqi interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told Al-Jazeera television in a 25 July interview that Iraqi authorities in Baghdad are considering closing Al-Jazeera's offices because the channel incites violence. Al-Zebari also put other satellite television channels on notice.
"In the coming stage we will not be tolerant with this one-sided and biased coverage of the situation in Iraq. We will not allow some people to hide behind the slogan of freedom of the press and media," the foreign minister said in the interview. "We observe incitement not only on Al-Jazeera, to be accurate, but on Al-Arabiyah, Al-Manar, and Al-Alam television channels as well. All these have become channels of incitement against the interest, security, safety, and stability of the Iraqi people," he added.
The Iraqi Governing Council banned Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah from covering official activities for two weeks in September (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 September 2003) on grounds that the channels sowed sectarian and racial sedition in Iraq.
Al-Jazeera said in a statement posted to its website (http://www.aljazeera.net) on 26 July that it was "outraged" with al-Zebari's remarks and said his comments were "tantamount to incitement against the channel and its staff working in Iraq." "Al-Jazeera would have hoped that the Iraqi government would embark on its new term with initiatives to lift media restrictions, not add new ones that would certainly not be conducive to freedom of the press and expression," the statement reads. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SAUDI CROWN PRINCE PUTS FORTH PLAN FOR ISLAMIC FORCE IN IRAQ.
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah presented U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell with a proposal for an Islamic military force that would help provide security and stability in Iraq, international media reported on 29 July. The proposal, which is still in the preliminary stage, may call for the Islamic forces to either serve under a UN-endorsed multinational force, or under a separate UN umbrella, washingtonpost.com reported.
The second option may ultimately have the troops assigned to guard UN personnel in Iraq. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the UN cannot return to previous staff levels (about 650 personnel) in Iraq until a dedicated security force is assigned to it. No states have yet to step forward in that regard (see this report).
A senior Saudi official told washingtonpost.com that Algeria, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Morocco, and Pakistan might be willing to commit troops to Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi formally requested that Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, and Tunisia send troops to Iraq in June. Both Powell and Allawi -- who is also meeting with U.S. and Saudi officials in Jeddah -- have reportedly expressed enthusiasm over the Saudi proposal. KRALLAWI VISITS SYRIA, CONCLUDES A NUMBER OF AGREEMENTS.
Prime Minister Allawi ended a three-day visit to Syria on 24 July having reportedly reached a number of agreements with Syria on behalf of the Iraqi government, Syrian press reported. The Transport ministries for the two neighboring states signed a memorandum of understanding on 24 July calling for joint cooperation in land, sea, air, and railway transportation, SANA reported. The memorandum cites the need to provide facilities to aid in the transportation of goods to Iraq via Syrian ports, and procedures to be undertaken to establish the Syrian-Iraqi Company for Marine Shipping and Sea Transport. The two sides also agreed to establish a committee to oversee land transportation routes and improve the transportation infrastructure at border crossings.
Iraqi Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban signed an agreement with his Syrian counterpart Ibrahim Haddad that calls for cooperation between the Iraqi State Organization for Marketing Oil (SOMO) and the Syrian bureau for oil marketing, according to another 24 July report by SANA. The agreement calls for the Syrian bureau to provide SOMO with benzene, kerosene, and liquid gas in return for which Iraq will provide Syria with crude oil. Allawi acknowledged the agreements in a 24 July press conference he gave alongside Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Itri, telling the press that he also met with Syrian businessmen to encourage investment in a number of sectors to aid in the rebuilding of Iraq.
On the security front, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib told "Al-Hayat" in an interview published on 25 July that he has submitted a working paper to the Syrian government that includes a set of proposals for cooperation on border security. The plan also calls for the establishment of a joint committee comprising representatives of the border departments from both states as well as the Syrian and Iraqi interior ministers. Prime Minister Allawi also traveled to Lebanon and Saudi Arabia (see above item) this week as part of his tour of Arab states. (Kathleen Ridolfo)KUWAIT SENTENCES NATIONAL TO DEATH FOR COLLABORATING WITH HUSSEIN REGIME.
A Kuwaiti court has sentenced a national to death after finding him guilty of collaborating with the now-defunct Hussein regime, KUNA reported on 25 July. The man, identified only as Muhammad H., was charged with holding contacts with a hostile state, supplying the Hussein regime with military and political information that jeopardized Kuwait's security, and supplying Kuwaiti military uniforms to Iraqi agents. He was reportedly detained by Kuwaiti authorities in January 2003, two months before the U.S.-led war in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAN SAID TO BE CONSIDERING OPENING CONSULAR OFFICES IN THREE IRAQI CITIES.
Iran is reportedly considering opening consular offices in Al-Basrah, Karbala, and Al-Sulaymaniyah, IRNA reported on 26 July. The offices would work to facilitate the travel of Iranians to Iraq and vice versa, according to an "informed source" quoted by the state news agency. The offices would also help promote trade opportunities between the two states. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRANIAN GOVERNMENT TO INSURE INVESTMENTS IN IRAQ.
The Export Guarantee Fund of Iran (EGFI) has been authorized to cover the risk of Iranian investments and exports to Iraq and Afghanistan, IRNA reported on 26 July. The high commission for Iran's non-oil exports reportedly issued a directive to the EGFI clearing the way for the fund's general assembly to implement the decision. The directive also mandates the Transportation Ministry to establish export terminals at border crossings in cooperation with private-sector companies. The EGFI provides coverage for Iranian exports against political and trade risks in some 145 countries. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN ANNOUNCES $11 MILLION PROJECT TO RESTORE MARSHES.
The United Nations announced on 23 July that it would implement an $11 million project to restore the marshlands of southern Iraq, UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/news). The marshes were decimated by dam projects initiated by the Hussein regime on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and by a massive drainage operation undertaken by the regime to root out opposition forces that took shelter there (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 January 2004).
The UN project, to be funded by Japan, will support sustainable development through environmentally sound technologies, and provide safe drinking water and sanitation and work to restore the wetlands for the Marsh Arab community that long flourished in the region, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) said (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 4 May 2002). UNEP reported in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 August 2001) that satellite imagery indicated that 90 percent of the wetlands had been destroyed. Experts said that an additional 3 percent had been lost by 2003. Without intervention, experts fear the wetlands, home to the ancient civilizations of Babylon and Sumeria, could disappear completely.
The UN reported that local residents took the initiative in 2003 following the downfall of the Hussein regime and opened floodgates and breached embankments to return water to the marshes. Satellite imagery taken in April showed that about a fifth of the marshes -- some 3,000 square kilometers -- had been reflooded. "The challenge now is to restore the environment and provide clean water and sanitation services for up to 85,000 people living there," the UN News Center reported.
A press release posted on the UNEP website (http://www.unep.org) said that a number of other governmental and nongovernmental organizations are working to provide assistance to the region. The UNEP project will work to coordinate the efforts of all involved to "ensure the maximum benefit for the people and wildlife there," the press release stated. UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said: "The marshlands of Mesopotamia constitute the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East and Western Eurasia... Half of the world's wetlands have been lost in the past 100 years. I am sure that the lessons learnt during this project will provide important clues on how to resuscitate other lost and degraded wetlands elsewhere on the globe." Monique Harbut, director of UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics that will implement the project, said that no one really knows how much of the wetlands can be saved. "The future of the Iraqi marshlands will be tied to the eventual development of a master plan covering regional cooperation with those countries upstream and downstream of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin," she said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)UN TO RETURN SOME STAFF TO IRAQ IN AUGUST.
UN Special Representative Asraf Jehangir Qazi will head a small team that will reestablish a permanent UN mission in Iraq, nearly 11 months after the UN withdrew all staff from the country due to security concerns, Reuters reported on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 October 2003).
Qazi said that he believes the Iraqi people would welcome the return of UN staff to the country. "I believe there is every reason for the Iraqi people to see the UN mission in Iraq as a mission in their service -- for them -- and it will be my job to strengthen that impression," he said. The UN at one time had some 650 international staff in Iraq before the 22 August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people, including Qazi's predecessor Sergio Vieira de Mello (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 September 2003). The UN sent a small contingent this year to help facilitate the political transition; a larger UN team works on Iraq from a base in Jordan. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that the world body cannot establish a larger presence in the country until a dedicated security force is provided to the world body. No nation has thus far stepped forward to fulfill that request. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ABU HAFS AL-MASRI BRIGADES THREATEN EUROPEAN GOVERNMENTS.
The militant group calling itself the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades posted a message to the Minbar Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jama'ah website (http://www.Islamic-minbar.com/forum) on 28 July declaring a bloody war against European governments for their "support" of America. The group threatened terrorist attacks in Rome and other cities in a statement addressed to the Italian government on 26 July (see next item) if Italian troops weren't pulled from Iraq within "a few days."
The 28 July statement addressed to European governments claims: "After the end of Shaykh Osama bin Ladin's ultimatum [to leave Iraq] and if you do not regain your senses, we will declare a vehement war against you and against your nations, who kept silent and passive."
To Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, the statement said: "Falls of blood will flow under your feet and will drag you deep into its bottom. You dragged your nation into this [situation] and so did the infidel Europe, who stood behind America. We will flatten the cities of Europe, starting with you, Berlusconi." The statement again warns the European states to withdraw "your murderous delegations" from Iraq "before you taste the bitterness of blood." (Kathleen Ridolfo)ITALIAN SENATE EXTENDS IRAQ MISSION.
The Italian Senate voted on 27 July to extend its troops' mission to Iraq through 31 December, "Corriere della Sera" reported on 28 July. The decision came just two days after militants in Iraq threatened Italy if it did not withdraw its troops from Iraq.
The threat, posted to the Minbar Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah website (http://www.freewebs.com/soutjihad/it.jpg), came in a 25 July statement attributed to the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades that told the Italian government: "Follow the example of those before you and depart from the land of Iraq; otherwise, we will give up this [kind of] talk and start using the language of blood and shake the earth everywhere in the heart of your country." Addressing Prime Minister Berlusconi, the statement added: "If you don't hear this warning, we shall make you hear it in Rome and everywhere under the feet of your people." The statement said it would "give Berlusconi a few days" to decide whether to pull out of Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Italian government has formed a partnership with the Iraqi government and will supply the latter with an intranet network for Baghdad's public administration, "Il Giornale" reported on 24 July. The agreement was signed in Rome by Technology Ministers Lucio Stanca and Rashad Umar Mandan. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. ARMY INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORTS ON MISTREATMENT OF PRISONERS.
The U.S. Army inspector general, Lieutenant General Paul T. Mikolashek, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 22 July that 94 incidents of confirmed or possible detainee abuse took place at U.S.-controlled prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, washingtonpost.com reported on 23 July. Mikolashek denied, however, that the incidents were due to systemic problems. He said cases such as those reported at the Abu Ghurayb Prison in Baghdad were "aberrations" that did not result from flawed Army doctrine, the website reported. The report said that 20 detainee deaths and 74 other reported incidents of abuse such as beatings, thefts, and sexual assaults, were the result of the "failure of individuals to follow known standards of discipline and Army values and, in some cases, the failure of a few leaders to enforce those standards of discipline." "These abuses should be viewed as what they are -- unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals," the report also said.
Some senators and human rights activists criticized the 300-page report, wasingtonpost.com reported. Some said that the report failed to address crucial questions, including the use of unmuzzled dogs during interrogations and the hiding of "ghost detainees." They also said that the report's findings are contradicted by reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NO TROOPS TO IRAQ WITHOUT PARLIAMENTARY SUPPORT.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri told the National Assembly on 27 July that the government would not send troops to Iraq without first obtaining parliamentary approval, Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) reported on the same day.
"Until now there is no change in the government policy to send troops to Iraq. The government believes that the foreign policy must be bipartisan and all decisions [must] be made after taking the parliament into confidence," Kasuri said. Regarding the United Nations request that nations contribute troops to a UN protection force, he said: "We have not yet made any decision." The minister denied allegations that the Pakistani cabinet is taking orders from the United States, and said that the government is pursuing an independent policy on Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RFE/RL'S RADIO FREE IRAQ INTERVIEWS SADDAM HUSSEIN'S FORMER PHYSICIAN.
On 27 July, Radio Free Iraq interviewed the former physician of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Dr. Ala Bashir discussed his relationship with the former president and some observations on his personality.
RFE/RL: Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Ala Bashir, physician of the former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, tells the story of his service to the man who should be considered, in his opinion, a patient [treated for] psychopathy. Having written the book to which he gave title "The Victims of Power," and which has [since] borne many [other] titles, the Iraqi artist Dr. Ala Bashir is going to talk to us about its topic. Welcome, Dr. Ala... We would like to know what type of relations you had with ex-president Saddam Hussein. Were you a friend to him, or just a physician? Would he discuss political issues with you? Would he take your opinions into account? Would he trust you?
Dr. Ala Bashir: First, Saddam Hussein had a commission, a medical commission. Its members were physicians of various medical differentiations -- surgical and internal. I was one of those doctors. The commission had 25, or more than 25, doctors of various differentiations. Regarding me, the man held me with great respect, but not because of me being a physician. I think that this respect was, to a great extent, possibly due to me being an artist. That may have been the reason. Because he got to know me at the beginning of the 1980s by a coincidence - - the Iran-Iraq War began, and there was a film on doctors who made remarkable achievements within their fields. I was one of those.
RFE/RL: Yes, it was in plastic surgery?
Bashir: Plastic [surgery], yes. I have proposed a lot of...improvements and published them in international journals in Britain [and] in America, and those are known under my name in textbooks everywhere.
RFE/RL: OK, did you do any modifying or cosmetic surgery on Saddam?
Bashir: No, no plastic surgery, no. But other operations, normal and simple, as in any other person. I have done a little bit [to Hussein as well], yes. But no plastic surgery, never.
RFE/RL: It is common to hear among Iraqis that there have been Saddam doubles. Even Western newspapers have written on this topic [saying] that there are one or two doubles. As you were close to Saddam for 25 years, do you have any opinion on this matter?
Bashir: As far as I was concerned, it was never asked from me, absolutely never, to do an operation of this kind -- to make a person Saddam's double. Absolutely never. And, in fact, I do not know any person to be similar to him -- neither distantly nor closely [similar]. Someone like this definitely does not exist, in fact. Moreover...in terms of his temperament and his [way of] thinking, there is no one who would be similar to him...in Baghdad or in Iraq.
RFE/RL: So it is as you wrote in your book that there was no one like him. But [regarding another of your claims] that he was living a modest life -- all Iraqis and all the world know that he had plenty of palaces in Baghdad and other provinces [of Iraq], while you still say, though, that he kept living in small houses.
Bashir: Well, any time I could see him, it was because he invited me to come to see him. As an artist or as a doctor, I was coming to see him. The fact is that in nearly all cases when he sent someone to bring me to him, I would meet with him in normal houses. These were normal houses, which any Iraqi who was doing well in financial matters could afford. This is a fact. These were normal houses, like those of any other Iraqi.
RFE/RL: You also say in your book that Saddam is mentally ill. How did it appear to you, or how did the disease show itself?
Bashir: I believe that it was his leading Iraq by the mentality of tribal leaders -- as I believe -- or [acting] as leader of a clan, or of a group, or as a party chairman. But he did not rule Iraq as president of a republic. This is what happened -- he would behave as any other sheikh. And that was a mistake.
RFE/RL: Is it also true that he was raping women and young girls and killing them afterwards as a consequence of his mental illness?
Bashir: There were many women close to him and whom I knew, but these claims have been, I think, exaggerated.
RFE/RL: Some British newspapers wrote a few days ago that Saddam is currently kept in solitary confinement where he spends his time by reading the Koran, writing poetry, and gardening. Did he have these hobbies when he was president?
Bashir: Yes, that is correct. And you forgot to mention the last [hobby], which was writing his novels. And he would recite poetry a lot, at several occasions.... He would be reading poetry, reciting it, and he was very interested in it, and he was trying to repeat it himself.
RFE/RL: So he knew a lot of it by heart?
Bashir: Yes, yes. He was very interested in poetry and literature.
RFE/RL: As for reading the Koran, is the motivation his faith, or [just] his current feeling? Because in prison, he has probably been forbidden to watch anything like TV or radio broadcasting.
Bashir: No, no, he would be reading [the Koran]. He was reading [the Koran] and praying. That means he would observe the obligation of daily prayers. He would read [the Koran] often, and pray at prescribed times. Faith in one God, however, is a private matter and no one can know what is in the heart of another man, if he was a good believer or not. That is difficult.
RFE/RL: Yes. What are the most remarkable diseases from which Saddam suffered, as far as you know through your personal relationship with him?
Bashir: It was simply [high blood] pressure, but not very serious. Also, he suffered from pain in his back, sometimes he just kept sitting while suffering. But he was [otherwise] in good health; he had a strong body.
Translation by Petr Kubalek.