27 August 2004, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL Iraq Report" will appear on 9 September.
WEEKLY LISTS GOALS OF AL-SADR MILITIA.
A weekly newspaper affiliated with radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr issued a report on 18 August that claimed the ongoing standoff in Al-Najaf is actually a rehearsal for a larger battle with U.S. forces, scheduled to take place in the days leading up to the November presidential election in the United States.
The report begins by claiming that the aim of multinational forces during the eight-week standoff in April was to gain time and establish calm before the U.S. elections. The newspaper claimed that the United States did so through reconstruction efforts in poor and damaged towns, which it referred to as "buying people's silence." "These methods abjectly failed in Al-Fallujah and Samarra and the slogan 'Cement for Silence' fell down with a resounding clatter," the report said. It also contended that the United States won the support of Iraqi officials, party leaders, and tribal chiefs by inflating those individuals' status within the community, or through bribery and financial deals.
It further claimed that the United States recruited Iraqi journalists to "polish its image" and vilify the militiamen. The report posited that the U.S. goal was to finish off the antioccupation forces through planned massacres that would take place following elections. The report claimed, "The election rules in the United States stipulate that millions of votes will go to the candidate that kills the largest number of Arabs and Muslims, and Orientals in general."
According to the report, Imam Al-Mahdi Army militiamen wanted to buy time "to come closer to the U.S. presidential election and then burn the ground under the feet of the invaders and their collaborators and force them to seriously think of leaving" Iraq. "What happened over the past few days [in Al-Najaf] has been just a small rehearsal for the upcoming battle, which will take place within the next three months," the newspaper said.
The report also addressed the achievements of al-Sadr militiamen in "liberating" (it conceded sometimes temporarily) Al-Fallujah, Samarra, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Amarah. "In the south, control over the cities...is passing from the hands of the occupiers to the hands of resistance." The report also praised the ability of the al-Sadr movement in "paralyzing and containing the constitutional project" by disrupting last week's Iraqi National Conference (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 August 2004). It also claimed to have created a schism between the occupation and its allies, noting the 16 August demand by the Shi'ite Political Council that multinational forces withdraw from Al-Najaf. "Will it be possible for this schism to widen?" it asks.
The report notes the achievements of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government in providing jobs and aid to civilians, but claimed citizens are aware that they are hostages to the government.
The report concluded that the success of al-Sadr's movement in the coming phase will depend on the movement's ability to draw up a political framework for national liberation based on three points: ending the occupation, building a comprehensive Iraqi national political entity "by forming the independent national constituent council through national consensus," and "establishing a genuinely independent and unified democratic state." The movement hopes to achieve this by establishing alliances and blocs "among the nationalist forces that resist and oppose the occupation." (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-SISTANI RETURNS TO IRAQ IN APPARENT BID TO END STANDOFF.
Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani returned to Al-Najaf on 26 August in an apparent bid to bring an end to the standoff between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and militiamen loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sistani had been in London for three weeks receiving medical treatment. On 25 August, he called on Shi'ites to head to Al-Najaf to help bring an end to the fighting there.
Thousands of Shi'ites were expected to meet al-Sistani's appeal on 26 August, international media reported. The Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) political party issued directives to its offices and branches across the country on 25 August advising members to immediately head to Al-Najaf, SCIRI spokesman Rida Jawad Taqiy told Al-Jazeera the same day.
Taqiy said that al-Sistani's goal was to engage the Iraqi people and "involve them in the political and security crises and not to leave the government, the multinational troops, or Al-Mahdi Army militias to be the only part to deal with the Al-Najaf crisis." SCIRI posted a statement on its website (http://www.sciri.ws) on 25 August that announced an "unequivocal favorable response" to al-Sistani's appeal. Iraqi officials including State Ministers Qasim Dawud and Wa'il Abd al-Latif and Iraqi National Conference negotiator Husayn al-Sadr arrived in Al-Najaf on 25 August, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR
Al-Sistani spokesman Hamid al-Khaffaf told Al-Jazeera on 25 August that the ayatollah would announce a five-point initiative to bring an end to the standoff. The initiative would call for Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah to be declared cities clear of weapons and militias, and put Iraqi police in charge of security for the cities. Foreign troops would withdraw. The initiative also calls for the Iraqi interim government to compensate individuals and businesses harmed by the three-week standoff. The ayatollah also plans to call on all intellectual, social, and political forces to contribute to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to the conducting of a national census and elections, al-Khaffaf said. Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi reportedly met with Ayatollah al-Sistani in Al-Basrah on 25 August to discuss the situation in Al-Najaf, Arab media reported. The details of the discussion were not disclosed.
Muhammad al-Musawi, an aide to al-Sistani, said that U.S. forces should not be involved in the standoff with al-Sadr, Reuters reported on 25 August. In an interview with the BBC, al-Musawi reiterated a demand that al-Sadr vacate the Imam Ali shrine. He also called for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, adding: "Americans interfering in this will not help the situation at all. We always say that the Americans should be very far from the holy places. They should not involve themselves in this problem."
Al-Sistani arrived in Al-Najaf in the late afternoon hours of 26 August and was reportedly resting in his home. It is unclear whether the ayatollah will publicly address the standoff in Al-Najaf or wait until 27 August. The interim government declared a 24-hour cease-fire on 26 August to allow for negotiations between al-Sistani and the militiamen. It will be crucial for al-Sistani to negotiate an end to the conflict before 30 August, which is the birthday of Imam Ali, a day that would have ordinarily prompted thousands of pilgrims to visit the shrine in Al-Najaf. However, it is likely that Al-Mahdi militiamen would take advantage of the date to launch new attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces in the city.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported in a 24 August press release that the Al-Mahdi Army has set up a "complete mortar system" on the eastern sidewalk of the Imam Ali shrine. A multinational-force reconnaissance plane took video footage of the mortar system. Stills of the video can be viewed on the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil/galleries/galleries.asp). (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-KUFAH MOSQUE SHELLED.
Two mortar shells landed inside the Al-Kufah Mosque on 26 August, killing at least 25 people and wounding 60, Interior Ministry officials said, according to international media reports. A third mortar shell landed outside the mosque, where about a thousand Iraqis had gathered in response to a call by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani for demonstrators to gather in preparation for a peaceful march to Al-Najaf, located some 10 kilometers from Al-Kufah.
The march is part of a planned attempt by al-Sistani to bring an end to the crisis in Al-Najaf. The ayatollah has instructed Iraqis to wait for his arrival before entering the holy city, his spokesman Hamid al-Khaffaf told Al-Jazeera on 25 August. The satellite news channel reported on 26 August that supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr blamed U.S. forces for the Al-Kufah mortar attack. The U.S. military said in a statement that its forces were not involved in the incident. (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-SADR STILL IN AL-NAJAF?
MENA quoted Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zurufi on 23 August as saying that al-Sadr and his "commanders" had fled the holy city for the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah. Al-Jazeera also reported that al-Sadr had fled, citing Al-Najaf Brigadier General Ghalib al-Jaza'iri as saying that documents found by police indicated the cleric was in Al-Sulaymaniyah. Al-Sadr spokesman Aws al-Khafaji denied the claim from his base in Al-Nasiriyah, telling Al-Jazeera the same day that the Iraqi police and multinational forces constantly lie about the situation in the holy city. (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-SADR SPOKESMAN SAYS U.S. USED 'BIOLOGICAL BOMBS' IN AL-NAJAF.
Al-Sadr spokesman Aws al-Khafaji claimed in a 23 August interview with Al-Jazeera that the U.S. military used "internationally banned biological weapons" against Al-Mahdi militiamen on 23 August. "I have appealed to the humanitarian organizations to come to examine the bodies of those who died as a result of these biological bombs," he said.
Al-Sadr aide Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji made similar claims in an interview from Baghdad with Al-Arabiyah on 23 August, saying: "Some brothers [from Al-Najaf] contacted me and told me that the occupation forces are using poisonous-gas bombs to kill innocent people and annihilate the...brother fighters and resistance men there." "Some witnesses have called us from holy Al-Najaf by phone. They told us that holy Al-Najaf is now being bombed by gas bombs; there are eyewitnesses who confirmed this story," he further claimed. The U.S. military has not responded to the allegations. (Kathleen Ridolfo)FIGHTING ESCALATES IN AL-AMARAH.
Iraqi and multinational forces continued to battle militiamen loyal to al-Sadr in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Amarah on 24-25 August, international media reported. The Health Ministry said on 25 August that at least 12 people were killed and 50 wounded in the previous 24 hours of fighting, Reuters reported.
A commander for the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, Sheikh Majid al-Shami, told Al-Jazeera in a 24 August interview that his forces shelled a British camp in the city with Katyusha rockets, adding, "This created a state of chaos and panic in the camp." Al-Shami also issued a warning to U.S. forces regarding Al-Najaf. "We tell the Americans and the government of [interim Prime Minister] Allawi that if they destroyed the resistance in Al-Najaf or attempted to enter the holy shrine of the commander of the faithful [Imam Ali], Iraq will be set on fire from north to south.... I am sure that we will tighten the noose around them until death by cutting off all entrances [to the south] and announcing a state of disobedience," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-SADR AIDE ARRESTED, ACCUSED OF HAVING ARTIFACTS TAKEN FROM IMAM ALI SHRINE.
Iraqi police reportedly arrested Sheikh Ali al-Sumaysim, a senior aide to Muqtada al-Sadr, on 25 August, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Family members told a Denmark-based website (http://www.iraq4all.dk) that al-Sumaysim was tricked, and was arrested after he was asked to meet with officials in Al-Najaf in his capacity as al-Sadr's representative. Media reports indicated that the aide was allegedly in possession of stolen artifacts taken from the Imam Ali shrine. Iraqi Brigadier General Amir al-Da'mi told Al-Arabiyah television on 25 August that a group of people affiliated with the al-Sadr office were arrested on charges of possession of artifacts stolen from the shrine. Al-Da'mi said an Iraqi judge reviewed information provided by sources and issued search warrants for a number of undisclosed "hideouts." "We managed to arrest an influential group belonging to Muqtada al-Sadr's office. The group was in possessions of this artifact, which is the oldest artifact belonging to the treasure of the shrine of Imam Ali," al-Da'mi said, while displaying the artifact. He added that the group was also in possession of dollars, identity cards, and forged official documents, including Iranian documents. (Kathleen Ridolfo)LEBANESE HOSTAGE RELEASED.
A Lebanese hostage held captive in Iraq for more than a week was released from captivity on 24 August, Al-Arabiyah reported. Muhammad Ra'd was released following an intervention by the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association. A group identifying itself as the Islamic Movement for the Mujahedin of Iraq -- Sword of Islam Brigades, had held him captive. The group had accused Ra'd of working for occupation forces in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Iraq Martyrs' Brigade has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Jordanian and a Kenyan national. In a statement posted to the islamic-minbar.com website, the group said that the men were kidnapped "in an ambush set for them while they were headed for a U.S. base to deliver food to the U.S. invasion troops." The group did not release the names of the hostages. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI OLYMPIC SOCCER TEAM LOSES TO PARAGUAY.
The Iraqi soccer team lost its bid for a gold medal in Athens on 24 August when it fell to Paraguay 3-1, international media reported. Few observers predicted that the team would make it to the semifinals. "We want to make the people back home happy, and please them, because the Americans have destroyed them," midfielder Qusay Munir told "The Boston Globe" before the match, the newspaper's website (http://www.boston.com) reported on 25 August. Players refuted statements by U.S. President George W. Bush this week, who said the team "wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted," the website reported. "I have a message for George Bush: Calm down a little bit," Munir said. "We want to live. Stop killing civilians. Help rebuild Iraq instead of destroying it." The team is still in the running for a bronze medal in Athens, where it will face Italy on 27 August. Coach Adnan Hamad told reporters: "As Iraqis we love all the people in the world. They are all human beings, even in America. We have nothing against American people, even though our country now is almost destroyed." (Kathleen Ridolfo)TWO IRAQI MINISTERS TARGETED IN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS.
The Iraqi education and environment ministers were targeted in separate assassination attempts in Baghdad on 24 August, international media reported. An explosive charge was set off near a car transporting Education Minister Sami al-Muzaffar, killing two people and wounding three others, Al-Jazeera reported. The minister escaped unhurt. Environment Minister Mishkat al-Mu'min was reportedly targeted when a car detonated near her convoy. Four of her bodyguards were killed in the explosion, but al-Mu'min, according to Al-Jazeera, was not hurt in the incident. Al-Arabiyah reported on 23 August that gunmen assassinated Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) official Shirzad Husayn al-Jabadi in Kirkuk the same day. The PUK official, according to Al-Sharqiyah, was Caesar Husayn al-Jabari. The news channel cited Kirkuk police Colonel Sarhad Qadir as saying that the official was killed while driving home after visiting his parents in the city. (Kathleen Ridolfo)MILITANTS KIDNAP IRAQI OFFICIALS.
Militants representing a group called the Divine Wrath Brigades have reportedly claimed responsibility for the abduction of Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan al-Khuza'i's son-in-law, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 August. Major General Salah Hasan Zaydan al-Lami was abducted along with the director of military personnel at the Defense Ministry. A relative of the second official was also taken hostage. Al-Jazeera did not report the details of the abductions, but said that the kidnappers demanded a halt to military operations in Al-Najaf and the release of al-Sadr aide al-Sumaysim. (Kathleen Ridolfo)DIYALA PROVINCE DEPUTY GOVERNOR ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT.
Two Iraqis were killed and four injured in an assassination attempt targeting the deputy governor of Diyala Province, Ghassan al-Khadran, on 22 August, Al-Jazeera reported. Militants have targeted a number of officials from the province in recent months. KurdSat reported on 22 August that al-Khadran was injured in the attack, while two police officers working as his bodyguards were killed and seven injured in the attack.
Meanwhile, unidentified militants have reportedly abducted the son of Ayatollah Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 22 August. Mahdi al-Hakim was taken hostage on 21 August during a visit to the home of Mahdi al-Kharasani, who was reportedly beaten during the incident. Al-Sharqiyah also reported on 22 August that four gunmen kidnapped Isma'il Sami, the director of the Al-Musayyib power station, after chasing him in his vehicle. The news channel did not say where the abduction took place. KUNA reported on 22 August that Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib survived an assassination attempt in Baghdad the same day. Ministry officials, however, denied that such an incident took place. (Kathleen Ridolfo)EIGHT OIL PIPELINES ATTACKED IN SOUTHERN IRAQ.
Eight oil pipelines connecting the Al-Rumaylah oil field to a pumping station in Al-Basrah have been attacked by militants, according to an unidentified oil official that spoke with Al-Arabiyah television on 26 August. The official said that there is a back-up support system in place, but he could not say whether the export supply was affected by the attacks. Meanwhile, AP reported on 26 August that some 20 pipelines were attacked. KUNA cited National Guard Captain Firas al-Tamimi as saying on 26 August that fires north of Al-Basrah were raging out of control on a pipeline that supplies gas to several Iraqi governorates. A spokesman from the Al-Hillah Oil Company told Al-Sharqiyah television on 25 August that the pipeline transports gas for local consumption and is unrelated to export operations.
The attacks came just three days after South Oil Company officials said on 23 August that crude oil production operations had resumed in Iraq after last week's closure (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 August 2004) under threat from al-Sadr militiamen, KUNA reported on 23 August. The export rate was halved last week and at one point completely halted after militiamen set fire to the company's offices and threatened to bomb a major pipeline.
Before the closure, production hit a high of 2 million barrels per day. The losses incurred amounted to some $30 million per day in revenues. An unnamed South Oil official said that 2 million barrels per day were again flowing into Persian Gulf terminals since the resumption of production, Reuters reported on 23 August. The news agency also cited a shipping agent at the Al-Basrah terminal as saying that loadings at the port city's terminals rose to 1.44 million barrels per day compared with 960,000 on 22 August. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PUK HEAD ANNOUNCES 'PURGING CAMPAIGN.'
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani told a 23 August press briefing in Qalachwalan that the Kurdistan Regional Government will conduct a campaign to purge and reform its government departments, KurdSat reported. "Purging is the elimination of corruption, bribery, and illegal practices in the government and the party," Talabani said. "Hence, we set up a higher committee to that effect, under the auspices of the acting head of the government [Umar Fattah]."
Talabani said that those government employees charged with corruption will be prosecuted. He stressed that his goal is to place "suitable" persons in government positions, whether or not they are party members. "This is not a PUK government, this is a government administered by the PUK," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BAGHDAD REJECTS IRAN'S CALL FOR OIC INVOLVEMENT IN AL-NAJAF.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari rejected on 24 August the idea of neighboring countries meeting to discuss the crisis in the holy city of Al-Najaf, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 August. He described the conflict there as an internal issue between the government and illegal groups that challenge the state and threaten security. "Therefore, we will not support any attempt to internationalize the issue by participating in a meeting for the countries neighboring Iraq or tolerating the interference of regional organizations, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC], or the international organizations."
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in a phone call to OIC Secretary-General Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the OIC should hold a special meeting on Iraq, Radio Farda reported on 20 August, citing IRNA. Khatami repeated this sentiment on 23 August, state television reported. "I believe that, apart from the Shi'a aspect, apart from the Islamic aspect, in terms of the humanitarian aspect and in view of the destiny of Iraq itself, there must be greater activity. Islamic countries and other countries have not been as active as appropriate." (Bill Samii)ROYAL JORDANIAN AIRLINES SUSPENDS FLIGHTS TO BAGHDAD.
Royal Jordanian Airlines suspended flights to Baghdad on 18 August due to the ongoing instability in Baghdad, Petra news agency reported on 22 August. Petra cited the airlines' Executive President Samir Majali as saying that it was unknown when flights would resume. The airline offers two flights daily from Amman to Baghdad. Jordanian State Minister and government spokesperson Asma Khader told reporters that the suspension in flights came as a result of special procedures at Baghdad International Airport, Petra reported on 23 August. She did not specify what those procedures were in her statement. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
QAZI MEETS WITH IRAQI OFFICIALS.
UN Special Representative to Iraq Ashraf Qazi met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad this week to discuss the world body's role in reconstruction and development efforts, the UN News Center (http://www.un.org/news) reported on 24 August.
The envoy met with Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafiz and State Minister Qasim Dawud to discuss reconstruction efforts. The discussion reportedly focused on efforts in the poor Al-Sadr City area of Baghdad and the holy city of Al-Najaf.
Qazi also met with Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati, as well as political party leaders, including the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. The discussions reportedly focused on the UN's role in the preparations for national elections, slated to be held in January. Prime Minister Allawi has requested that Qazi assist in the preparations for a national conference that will address the economic and social issues facing poverty-stricken areas of the country, the website reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SEVERAL NATIONS CONSIDER EXTENDING TROOP DEPLOYMENTS.
A number of states this week are reportedly considering whether or not to extend their missions to Iraq under the UN-mandated multinational force. Bangkok's "Post Today" reported on 21 August that the United Nations and the United States have requested that Thailand retain its army engineering company in Iraq. The Thai Defense Council had decided to withdraw Thai troops beginning on 27 August, but the prime minister was reportedly considering the U.S. request, the newspaper said. Thailand currently has some 451 soldiers in Iraq; the UN and United States have asked that about 200 engineers remain in Iraq. AFP reported on 27 August that Thai troops had indeed begun departing Iraq, so it appears that Thailand will not meet the U.S.-UN request.
Latvia said on 24 August that it would extend its mission through June 2005, Latvia's Radio 1 reported. The decision must be approved by parliament, but is not expected to face any opposition. Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 24 August that Poland plans to reduce its contingent in Iraq following January elections. He added that Iraqi officials had assured him that new recruits were being trained and would be ready to replace Polish forces within "several months."
Slovak Defense Minister Juraj Liska told TA3 television on 25 August that he would like his troops to return home -- but not until their mission has been completed. "I cannot give you a concrete date by which this should happen but it will be immediately as soon as it becomes possible. I cannot tell you at this moment whether it will be in six months,' a year's, 18 months,' or two years' time," he said.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 24 August that he is prepared to offer aid to Iraq in the form of training civilian personnel, including teachers, medics, and rescuers, Interfax reported the same day. "I am prepared to talk to the Iraqi prime minister if the government's support or additional funds are required. I believe we can afford this," Putin said. He referred to the situation in Iraq as "a most acute international problem." (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. MILITARY COURTS BEGIN HEARINGS ON PRISONER ABUSE.
A U.S. military court in Mannheim, Germany, began pretrial hearings on 23 August for four U.S. soldiers suspected of abusing detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison, international media reported. Specialists Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, and Sergeant Javal Davis were scheduled to appear during two days of hearings. Their court appearances were moved to Germany in order to provide easier access to their attorneys, Reuters reported.
Graner faces charges that include sexually humiliating and beating detainees. According to Reuters, he is accused of photographing a detainee being dragged on a leash and posing for a picture next to a pile of naked detainees. He is also charged with forcing prisoners to strip naked and masturbate in front of each other, and with forcing one detainee to simulate oral sex on another detainee. Graner also faces charges of adultery.
Graner and his colleagues have claimed that they committed the offenses at the instruction of their superiors. Graner's lawyer has said that U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should testify at the trials, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, an Army investigation into the role of military intelligence soldiers in the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal has found that military police used guard dogs to frighten and intimidate detained teenagers as young as 15 year old at the prison, washingtonpost.com reported on 24 August. "There were two [military police] dog handlers who did use dogs to threaten kids detained at Abu Ghurayb," an unidentified Army officer familiar with the report told the website. "It has nothing to do with interrogation. It was just them on their own being weird," he said. The website reported that the military policemen used their animals as part of a competition to scare the teenagers so badly that they urinated on themselves.
The investigation's report, written by Major General George R. Fay, also reportedly found that military-intelligence officers at the prison intentionally kept multiple detainees off the record books and hid them from international humanitarian organizations, said sources familiar with the report. The report also addresses substantiated claims that at least one male detainee was sodomized by a member of the U.S. military at the prison, the website reported. A Defense Department official reportedly contended to the website that the report "will show that they were the actions of a few." The Fay report can be viewed on the washingtonpost.com website.
A second report commissioned by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was released in Washington on 24 August. The report criticizes the policies and guidance set by the Pentagon and military officials for intelligence collection. Former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger chaired the commission that wrote the report. While the report does not conclude that Rumsfeld or military leaders directly ordered the kinds of abuse found at Abu Ghurayb, it concludes that Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not exercise proper oversight over detention policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Reuters reported on 24 August. The report is also reportedly critical of top military commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez for not properly addressing the problems at Abu Ghurayb. The report says that guards at the prison were overwhelmed by the high number of detainees held there at the time the abuse took place.
Meanwhile, Marine reservist Sergeant Gary Pittman faced a military court at Camp Pendleton, California, on 24 August. Pittman is on trial for allegedly beating a detainee that later died of his injuries, AP reported on the same day. The prosecution in the case contends that Pittman kneed, kicked, and punched Nagam Hatab. The victim was reportedly targeted because he was said to have been involved in the ambush of a U.S. convoy in 2003 that left 11 soldiers dead and led to the capture of six soldiers, including Private First Class Jessica Lynch.
Major Leon Frances at Camp Pendleton said that an interpreter at the now-closed Camp Whitehorse, located near Al-Nasiriyah, will testify that he saw Pittman and Lance Corporal William Roy kick and hit prisoners. Roy, who has been granted immunity, reportedly said that Pittman karate-kicked Hatab in the chest. Hatab, who was handcuffed at the time, was thrown 1 meter in the incident.
AP reported that Hatab was interrogated following the attack, and then appeared to sleep. The next day he declined food and drink and suffered from diarrhea. Pittman's commanding officers reportedly ordered Hatab stripped and he was dragged outside by the head. He was later found dead where he had been left. A medical exam determined that Hatab had six broken ribs and slowly suffocated from a crushed windpipe. Two other officers, including the base commander at Camp Whitehorse, face charges relating to prisoner abuse. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
JOURNALISTS FACE TOUGH OBSTACLES IN IRAQ
By Kathleen Ridolfo
Iraq is proving to be a difficult place to work for even the most seasoned journalist. Several journalists have disappeared or been taken hostage in recent days; A French-American journalist and his interpreter were kidnapped on 13 August by Shi'ite militiamen in Al-Nasiriyah. The men were released from captivity on 22 August after an aide to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr intervened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004).
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television reported on 26 August that Italian journalist Endo Baldoni has been executed by militants holding him captive in Iraq. Baldoni was taken hostage on 19 August; his interpreter, who was traveling with him when he was abducted, was earlier found dead. The Islamic Army in Iraq had issued a statement on 22 August demanding that the Italian government withdraw its forces from Iraq; Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to meet the demand. The militant group sent a videotaped statement to Al-Jazeera that purportedly depicts the execution. The group said that it executed Baldoni following a verdict by what it termed its religious court. Al-Jazeera did not broadcast the videotape out of consideration for Baldoni's family.
Reporters Without Borders reported on 23 August that two other journalists are missing in Iraq: Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, and Georges Malbrunot of the French dailies "Le Figaro" and "Ouest France." According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), neither man has been heard from since 19 August. British journalist James Brandon was taken hostage by al-Sadr militiamen in Al-Basrah on 12 August, when some 30 gunmen stormed his hotel room while he was sleeping. He was released after 15 hours in captivity after al-Sadr representatives intervened, Sky News reported on 13 August.
"The numbers of foreign journalists missing are rising, and we fear that journalists are now becoming the No. 1 target of armed militants," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said in a statement posted on the federation's website (http://www.ifj.org).
As if the recent targeting of journalists was not enough to contend with, the interim government has also placed a number of obstacles in front of journalists that threaten to prevent the flow of free information.
As the standoff with the Al-Mahdi militia intensified in Al-Najaf last week, police there instructed journalists to leave the city, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Journalists remained in the city, however, and were confronted by police officers at a hotel where many of them have been staying, Reuters reported on 15 August. "I have an order that all journalists must leave Al-Najaf now. Anyone who does not leave will be arrested," a police lieutenant announced at the hotel. The news agency reported that several officers on the scene brandished their rifles in an apparent show of force.
Police chief Ghalib al-Jaza'iri told reporters at a 15 August press conference that the order came from the Interior Ministry, Al-Jazeera reported on 17 August. "The order is still technically valid, but I have contacted the Interior Ministry this morning and told them it sounds unreasonable to have a city with no media. This will turn [the media] against us," he said. Journalists said they fear the order was an attempt by officials to impose a news blackout on the city, although officials contend that the order was issued to ensure the safety of journalists. The incident occurred just days before U.S. forces launched a major incursion against Shi'ite militiamen in the city.
Police later arrested several journalists in Al-Najaf, including an Al-Arabiyah television correspondent on 16 August. Al-Jazeera television reported on 17 August that police officers again visited a hotel where journalists were staying, and one police lieutenant announced: "We will kill you if you leave the hotel. I will put four snipers on the roof to shoot anyone who leaves." Police also fired into the air and pointed their guns at the hotel, witnesses told Al-Jazeera.
Police again detained dozens of Iraqi and foreign journalists in Al-Najaf on 25 August, Reuters reported on the following day. The detention followed an evening raid on a hotel housing journalists. Police reportedly fired weapons in the air -- and in one instance at a cameraman -- during the raid. "Journalists were just eating dinner and suddenly the police appeared in the lobby and started firing in the air," an unidentified journalist told Reuters. Another witness said that 50 journalists were taken into custody during the raid; they were later released.
Several Iranian journalists have been prevented from covering stories and some were even arrested in recent weeks. Iraqi police arrested the head of IRNA's Baghdad bureau and three of his journalists on 9 August. The men are reportedly being held at the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. Iraqi officials have not said why the men were arrested. Iran's special parliamentary journalist's committee sent an appeal signed by 234 journalists to Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi on 23 August appealing for the release of the men. The group made a similar appeal asking UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to intervene in the affair on 20 August.