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Iraq Report: October 29, 2004

29 October 2004, Volume 7, Number 40
MILITANTS LIKELY TIPPED OFF IN ATTACK ON IRAQI NATIONAL GUARDSMEN. Informants from within the Iraqi military likely provided information to militants about the route taken by a convoy transporting Iraqi national guardsmen on leave from their base on 23 October, Iraqi and U.S. officials said this week. Militants attacked the convoy, killing 49 guardsmen and three drivers. An adviser to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told "The New York Times" that as many as 5 percent of Iraqi security forces are comprised of insurgents or sympathizers with the former regime, reported on 26 October.

"RFE/RL Iraq Report" noted last week that Allawi has appointed several former senior Ba'athists to top security-force positions despite the objections of Iraq's de-Ba'athification Commission (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 October 2003). Hundreds of lower-level Ba'athists are also working within the security apparatus.

The early-evening attack on the guardsmen appears to have been well coordinated. Militants reportedly disguised as Iraqi policemen set up a makeshift checkpoint and stopped three buses transporting the unarmed guardsmen, who were dressed in civilian clothes, forcing them off the bus. They were lined up in four rows and forced to lie down before being shot execution-style in the back of the head. "All of them were from the southern provinces," Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Adana Abd al-Rahman said of the victims, reported. "Most of them had their hands tied behind their back."

Iraqi Customs and Border Police Captain Ibrahim Aqid Siddiq told "RFE/RL Iraq Report" in a 25 October interview from Jordan that Iraqi trainees have been asking U.S. and Jordanian military trainers at their base in Jordan for one month to arrange their safe transfer back to Iraq once their training ends this week. The military's plan is to fly the trainees from Amman to Baghdad, but Siddiq said that this is not sufficient, as the 240 recruits are largely composed of Kurds and southern Arabs, who would have to pass through volatile areas on their way home.

Military trainers at the base, located some 15 kilometers outside Amman, have said that it is too costly to fly the Kurdish recruits to Irbil. "Because of the money they want to fly the plane full and return back full," he said. Siddiq added that the same response was given to recruits returning to Al-Basrah. "They don't agree with us; they want to send them to Baghdad, and between Baghdad and the south, there is a place called Al-Latifiyah; it's not safe, and most of our people have been killed there."

He added that military commanders also objected to a proposal that recruits travel in private taxis alone or in pairs back to Iraq. "They won't let us to return back like that. They [will] take all of us, about a hundred, and put us in a plane and return us to Baghdad. They won't let us go as we like."

Siddiq contended that Iraqi soldiers believe that their military trainers "don't care" about their safety. "When we came here in the beginning they sent us [to Jordan] without any patrol, without any guards. I don't know how we arrived here. It was very, very bad roads."

Asked about the mood of the recruits, Siddiq said: "All of our people here are very afraid. Believe me, if you are here now, the speech between them -- all of them -- is about the airplane and how they will return back and if they will arrive to their homes or not." He added that the recruits were too fearful of losing their jobs to complain. "Today I told [the military trainers] that if you didn't return us back to our area, tomorrow we are not getting out from our rooms, we are not graduating, so I don't know what the answer will be."

Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan vowed this week to capture and punish the perpetrators of the 24 October attack. "Once we identify and arrest the perpetrators, we will take tough measures against them.... When we arrest them, they will receive capital punishment. It will be the first in Iraq's modern history," Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 October.

Officials also announced the opening of an investigation into the attack, but Defense Minister al-Sha'lan said in a 26 October interview with Al-Arabiyah television that no party would be held responsible for the attack. "They [Iraqi soldiers] themselves are to blame. They graduated at 1200 hours and could have waited until the next day to enjoy a vacation after the graduation. They, however, were anxious to see their families soon," he said, adding that the soldiers had traveled on a road not normally used by the Iraqi military. "Probably some people tipped off the hostile or criminal sides about these soldiers," al-Sha'lan said. "Neither the Ministry of Defense, the camp, nor any other side, including the multinational troops will be held responsible for this incident."

The militant group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for the attack in a 24 October statement posted on an Islamic website ( The group is led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who last week pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

DOMESTIC MEDIA TAKES AN ACTIVE ROLE IN ELECTION DISCOURSE. News of Iraq's upcoming January elections has dominated the pages of Iraq's major dailies in recent weeks, to some extent crowding out the more detailed coverage of the growing insurgency, the presence of multinational forces, and even the workings of the interim administration.

Newspapers in Iraq have been offering up a barrage of daily reports and opinion pieces over the past month on a variety of election-related subjects. Politicians and religious leaders "in the know" have commented on election developments, as the official Electoral Commission has detailed information on the mechanisms established to become a candidate and on voting. Articles have appeared on voter-education seminars that are being offered by political parties and organizations; the likelihood of whether or not expatriates will be allowed to vote from abroad, whether Sunnis will participate in the elections, as well as the political maneuverings as the parties work to forge alliances and place their candidates on election lists that will meet the stringent requirements established by the commission.

But perhaps the most salient barometer of the "mood" in Iraq can be found on the editorial pages of Iraq's dailies. Commentaries overwhelmingly support the elections and offer intelligent and well-constructed viewpoints on a variety of election-related topics. Writers regularly demand that the Electoral Commission provide more information on the election process, and call on the Iraqi people to cast their ballots on election day.

Writers publishing in a variety of newspapers supporting divergent political positions appear to agree on one fact: elections should not be derailed by terrorism and instability. Most contributors have stressed the necessity of holding nationwide polling. But some writers support the idea that partial elections in stable areas would be better than no elections. "Attaining half or three-quarters of legitimacy, so to speak, is better than no legitimacy at all in order to respond to the doubters and silence the loud voices that keep accusing the government of treason and illegitimacy. They act as if the whole Arab world enjoys legitimacy and as if Iraq is the only exception in the region that has no legitimacy in the middle of [an] ocean of Arab legitimacy," Latif al-Subayhawi wrote in the 18 October edition of "Al-Dustur."

Abd-al-Husayn Salman commented on the issue of terrorism and elections in a 13 October commentary in "Al-Adalah," published by the Shi'a group the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). "The question that begs an answer is the following: Will the enemies of new Iraq succeed in their scheme? The biggest blow that can be dealt to these is when the Iraqis are able to go to the ballot boxes with peace of mind to cast their votes for the first time in their lives freely, voluntarily, and without fear to choose their representatives in the future National Assembly."

Commentaries have also noted the lack of independent candidates, with many writers fearing that the parties now in power will remain in power after the elections. The independent "moderate" trend inside the country remains unrepresented, they argue.

Ali al-Basri writes in the 18 October edition of "Al-Mashriq" that, "In my humble opinion, I feel that the next elections will not solve the problem of security and stability. Although, theoretically, the elections are held in Iraq, the results will practically be 'American,' so to speak. That is to say, the United States, under any circumstances, will not allow any party or trend opposing its policies in Iraq to win. The United States will adopt offense as the best way for defense. So it will overwhelm the scene with lists of picked names seemingly clean and decent, and not considered U.S. agents. Surely these names and parties have already penetrated the Iraqi scene."

Commentaries also debate the formation of political alliances in preparation for the elections. "It is the right of every party to strike an alliance with any other party regardless of the beliefs, ideologies, and political course that each follows. Politics do not necessitate identity of visions and similarity of political discourse. What is important is agreement in their view of the situation in terms of what has existed and what must exist," Hamid Abdullah writes in the 19 October edition of "Al-Mashriq." "We have said 'goodbye' to ideological rigidity."

The dark reality of Iraq's political landscape is also addressed. Critics argue that although the leadership has changed, politics remain dominated by corruption and cronyism. "This corruption that has beset society as a result of what the Iraqi people have experienced makes us worry about the elections, that is, if we assume for the sake of the argument that they would be democratic elections. Our concern is that the Iraqis will not make the right choices. The first thing that the Iraqis would be asking themselves during the elections is 'to whom do I owe allegiance now?'" writes Ibrahim Mahmud in the 23 September edition of "Al-Jaridah." "These elections will install persons who are not qualified to lead Iraq, that is, if these elections are held in a democratic fashion. The government that will be installed by these elections will be like the transitional Governing Council. And like the interim government, it will be filled with the henchmen and cronies of the former regime who still have all the means and the financial resources that will play an important role in the elections," Mahmud argues.

Iraqis can consider themselves fortunate in that a diverse media representing nearly every political trend developed very quickly in the months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. To be sure, the media in Iraq has its own set of problems and is far from meeting Western journalistic standards. But, the diversity of opinions to be found on the pages of political dailies is encouraging and demonstrates a strong desire by Iraqis to make the nation's first democratic elections as democratic as possible. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQ'S MISSING EXPLOSIVES. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on 25 October that hundreds of tons of explosives are missing from Iraqi government installations, AP reported.

"On 10 October, the IAEA received a declaration from the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology informing us that approximately 350 [metric] tons of high-explosive material had gone missing," IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming told AP: "The most immediate concern here is that these explosives could have fallen into the wrong hands." Iraqi officials told the IAEA that unknown parties were able to gain access to the explosive caches due to a lack of security at government installations, Fleming said, "We do not know what happened to the explosives or when they were looted."

Iraqi Science and Technology Minister Rashad Umar Mandan confirmed the missing explosives, saying: "We don't know what happened," reported on 25 October. Mandan contended that the sites were under the control of coalition forces in the months after the war, and suggested they might know where to find them.

The explosives, reportedly missing from the Al-Qa'qa military-industrial site, included HMX and RDX, which can be used to demolish buildings or to produce warheads for missiles and detonate nuclear weapons. HMX and RDX are also the key ingredients used in plastic explosives such as C-4 and Semtex. The IAEA classified both types of explosives as "dual use" because of their possible use in detonating a nuclear weapon.

The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the IAEA carefully examined the Hussein regime's possession and use of both HMX and RDX after 1991, reported; and UN inspectors used some of the explosives to destroy a biological weapons facility in 1996. But, the stockpiles went uninspected between 1998 and 2002 when UN inspectors left the country. Inspectors revisited the issue when inspections resumed in late 2002 under the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA.

According to daily inspection reports issued by the IAEA and UNMOVIC, the Al-Qa'qa facility was visited on a number of occasions. Inspectors sampled, weighed, inspected, and sealed warehouses containing HMX on 14 January 2003, one week after questioning officials at the Al-Bakr (aka Balad Southeast) Air Base located some 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, about quantities of HMX transferred to the base from Al-Qa'qa. Iraqi officials claimed at the time that the HMX was used to destroy partially standing buildings that had been bombed by coalition forces.

UN inspectors also inspected and sealed stores of HMX and RDX at the Hittin State Company, located 80 kilometers southeast of Baghdad on 15 January 2003, and at the Al-Amiriyah Stores (aka Al-Kindi Research and Development Company) in Mosul on 27 January 2003. At least four separate cement factories were also inspected in January 2003, where the Iraqi regime claimed HMX was used in mining projects. Inspectors checked for stored quantities of HMX at each site. IAEA inspectors met with representatives of Al-Qa'qa and the Hittin State Companies at the National Monitoring Directorate (the body that oversaw Hussein's vast military-industrial complex) on two occasions -- 19 January and 1 February 2003 -- to inquire about the inventories of HMX and RDX held at the sites, and Iraqi declarations regarding the materials. [For details, see the RFE/RL "Tracking Inspections" page for a daily review of 2002-2003 UNMOVIC/IAEA inspections in Iraq (].

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei told the UN Security Council in a 27 January 2003 briefing that the whereabouts of some "dual use" materials, including HMX remained undetermined (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 February 2003). In a briefing two weeks later on 14 February 2003, el-Baradei told the Security Council: "Iraq has declared that 32 tons of the HMX previously under IAEA seal had been transferred for use in the production of industrial explosives, primarily to cement plants as a booster for explosives used in quarrying." He added that inspections at those plants were inconclusive. "While we have no indication that this material was used for any application other than that declared by Iraq, we have no technical method of verifying, quantitatively, the declared use of the material in explosions."

This week's revelation regarding the missing explosives should come as little surprise to Iraq-watchers. U.S. officials said late last year that many munitions sites -- including sites that house explosives -- were left unguarded in the months following Operation Iraqi Freedom. An unnamed U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) official told on 6 September 2003 that many sites were left unguarded or left under the protection of Iraqi guards (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 September 2003). Pentagon officials at the time denied the allegations. More recently, el-Baradei expressed concern to the UN Security Council about the whereabouts of equipment and materials from sites dismantled after the war (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 October 2004).

However, the report this week cites one senior U.S. official as saying that the Al-Qa'qa site was listed as "medium priority" on a CIA list of 500 sites that needed to be secured following the collapse of the Hussein regime. Many of those sites, including some classified as a "higher priority" were never secured, reported.

European diplomats told the website that the IAEA warned the United States after the invasion about the need to secure those sites. An internal IAEA memorandum issued in May said that terrorists might be helping "themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history." So what happened to the explosives? Some were likely destroyed in the bombing campaign. Diplomats told that commercial satellite photos of Al-Qa'qa in late 2003 indicated that two out of some 10 bunkers that contained HMX seemed to have been leveled in the bombing. The diplomats presumed, but could not say for certain, that some of the HMX was destroyed during the bombing. The remaining bunkers, however, remained intact, sustaining little to no damage. IAEA officials hypothesized that the Hussein regime likely followed its standard practice of moving crucial explosives outside buildings into nearby fields where they would have less chance of being destroyed during a bombing campaign. They would however, have been left for the taking by looters. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER CONTINUES PUSH FOR IRAQI 'OPPOSITION' CONFERENCE. French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier recently issued a call in Paris for a conference to be held next month that would include members of the Iraqi "opposition." He said on 25 October that he wants another conference to be held alongside or following a 22-23 November international conference on Iraq in Sharm Al-Shaykh, Egypt, to take into account what he identified as "Iraqi political forces."

"If one is speaking about the democratic and political process in Iraq...this particular signal must be useful, and be used so that forces and groups that have used violence reject that violence -- so that all the groups, communities, and Iraqi political forces feel involved in some way or another," Radio France International quoted Barnier as saying. He also called for the conference to address the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

French officials first demanded in early October that Iraqi "resistance" forces be allowed to participate in the Sharm Al-Shaykh conference. Some Iraqi officials and media have contended that the French demand was made to help secure the release of two kidnapped French journalists who have been missing since late August.

Muhammad Bashir al-Faydi, a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association, welcomed the French proposal, calling it a step in the right direction, "Al-Ahali" reported on 20 October. Al-Faydi also said his Sunni group would await the outcome of the Sharm Al-Shaykh conference before it decides whether to participate in January elections. Association members have said on several occasions that they would boycott participation in January elections -- their motto is: "under occupation, elections cannot be held."

Al-Jazeera television interviewed three Sunni leaders on 24 October about their views on the resistance and its participation in next month's conference. Muslim Scholars Association leader Harith al-Dari said: "If we want to solve the Iraqi crisis then all sides must participate. The effective side that is now shuffling the cards day after day is the resistance." He contended that if the conference is organized to support a U.S.-interim government formula, rather than the French formula, "it will not be a genuine conference whose aim would be to rearrange the security conditions in Iraq." Iyad al-Samarra'i of the Iraqi Islamic Party voiced agreement with al-Dari, saying that the conference signifies a recognition by the United States that "it needs others to deal with the Iraqi impasse." "The Iraqi representation should not be confined to the [interim] government," al-Samarra'i said. "Other sectors and sides should be represented to a reasonable extent."

Al-Jazeera asked both men who would represent the "resistance" at the conference, since its leadership is clandestine. Both said that the resistance would appoint political figures who "sympathize" with their cause to represent the resistance groups at the conference. The third participant, independent politician Salah Umar al-Ali, referred to the resistance as "the primary side concerned with Iraqi events," adding that "one of the strangest developments" was that the resistance was not asked to participate in the conference. "How can we be reassured that such a conference will be fair, accurate, and constructive to Iraq when the Iraqi nationalist voice is absent from the conference?" he asked.

Prime Minister Allawi made no mention of the possibility of resistance forces attending the Sharm Al-Shaykh conference in his 26 October weekly address to the National Assembly. And, while he highlighted the issues that will top the conference's agenda (security, reconstruction, and the biased coverage of foreign media outlets that glorify the terrorist acts of the "resistance"), he made no mention of the French proposal to address the withdrawal of multinational forces.

A number of Iraqi figures have, however, commented in recent weeks on the French proposal regarding the participation of the "resistance" at Sharm Al-Shaykh, expressing outrage at the possibility that terrorist groups be allowed to sit at the table with world leaders, or be considered as representatives of Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CAR BOMB IN NINAWAH KILLS TRIBAL LEADER. A car bomb was reportedly planted in the car of an Iraqi tribal leader and detonated as it reached the Ninawah Governorate headquarters in Mosul on 25 October, Reuters reported on the same day. Sahir Khudhir, who led the National Assembly of Iraqi Tribes, was killed along with two of his aides. Al-Jazeera reported that Khudhir was the target of the bombing. A second booby-trapped car detonated near the former presidential complex in Mosul on 25 October. That blast reportedly targeted a convoy transporting an Iraqi security forces liaison officer, according to Al-Jazeera. Three of the officer's guards were wounded in the attack. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SEVENTEEN IRAQI OFFICERS KILLED IN CAR-BOMB ATTACKS. At least 17 Iraqi security officers were killed on 23 October in two separate car bombings, reported on 24 October. The first attack occurred in the town of Baghdadi, located some 225 kilometers west of the Iraqi capital, when a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle outside a U.S. base guarded by Iraqi police. Sixteen officers were killed in that attack. Forty people were injured, according to a U.S. military spokesman. The spokesman said none of the injured were U.S. citizens. The second attack took place at a checkpoint in the town of Ishaqi, located some 19 kilometers south of Samarra. Reuters cited police as saying that four guardsmen were killed in the attack, while said one officer was killed. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

HOUSE-TO-HOUSE SEARCHES BEGIN IN AL-SADR CITY. The Iraqi Army announced on 24 October that house-to-house searches have begun in the Al-Sadr City neighborhood in Baghdad, Al-Arabiyah reported the same day. Some 20 U.S. military vehicles, four National Guard vehicles, and 20 police cars reportedly entered the area to begin the operation. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih praised the government-initiated weapons buy-back program, telling a press conference broadcast on Al-Arabiyah on 23 October that some $5 million was paid out through the program. Salih said that more than 9,000 antitank mines, 2,000 antipersonnel mines, 200 heavy weapons, 2,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 1,000 rocket-propelled grenades, 2,000 rockets, 950 155-millimeter shells, 6,000 105-millimeter shells, and 575,000 bullets have been turned in. Salih said that a $365 million grant has been allocated to reconstruction projects in Al-Sadr City including electricity, telecommunications, water, sewage, and road-maintenance projects. Moreover, $50 million has been allocated to Al-Najaf for reconstruction and $25 million to Samarra following large-scale destruction after militants battled U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in those towns in recent months. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SCIRI ACCUSES IRAQI INTELLIGENCE OF TORTURE. Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told Al-Jazeera television in a 23 October interview that he was surprised by accusations made by Iraqi intelligence that SCIRI is involved in the assassination of members of the intelligence community. "We know many of them. They are the remnants of the former regime who still employ the same old mentality and thus commit acts in violation of the endorsed State Administration Law," he said. Al-Hakim accused intelligence officers of "conducting raids and arresting, torturing, and imprisoning individuals." "If they maintain such conduct, then we will expose to Iraqis and to the entire world the true nature of the criminal acts being committed by these bodies," he said. SCIRI also posted a statement to its website ( on 23 October that cited a recent survey by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute ( that found that the majority of Iraqis polled would support an Islamic state. "The conflicting paths of these two arguments clearly demonstrate how distant those biased intelligence parties, which are trying to derail democracy in our new Iraq, are from the pulse of the Iraqi street," the statement said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MUSLIM SCHOLARS ASSOCIATION THREATENS TO BOYCOTT ELECTIONS. Sunni Muslim clerics from the Muslim Scholars Association threatened to boycott participation in January 2005 elections if U.S. forces launch a large-scale incursion into the volatile city of Al-Fallujah, Reuters reported on 24 October. A spokesman for the association told Reuters that should the city be "invaded" or the bombardment continues, the clerics will call on Sunni Iraqis to boycott the elections. UN officials in Iraq have said that they would be willing to provide negotiators in an effort to prevent an elections boycott. "We are ready to take [on] this role if asked," UN envoy Ashraf Qazi said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

Al-ZARQAWI GROUP ABDUCTS JAPANESE NATIONAL IN IRAQ. The militant group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, associated with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, posted a videotaped message on the Internet on 26 October claiming to have captured a Japanese national, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. The group claimed that the man, Shosei Koda, works for Japanese forces in Al-Samawah, and demanded that Japan withdraw its humanitarian forces from Iraq within 48 hours or Koda would be beheaded. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected the demand on 27 October, saying he would not succumb to terrorist threats, the Kyodo World Service reported. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in Tokyo that Koda is a "civilian who has no ties" to the Self-Defense Forces. The Japanese Embassy has asked the Iraqi government for help in gathering information about Koda, an embassy official told Kyodo. A hotel manager in Amman, Jordan said that Koda spent one night there last week, but ignored the manager's warnings not to travel to Iraq. He departed Jordan for Iraq on 20 October, saying he wanted to know what was going on inside Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BRITISH TROOPS IN IRAQ BEGIN REDEPLOYMENT. British soldiers stationed in southern Iraq began deploying closer to Baghdad on 27 October, international media reported. A Defense Ministry spokesman in London told Reuters: "The deployment has begun. For operational reasons I can give no further details. But they will be back for Christmas." Captain Stuart Macaulay, spokesman for the 1st Mechanized Brigade, told the news agency that troops would first move to Al-Nasiriyah, some 375 kilometers south of Baghdad. Some 850 British troops will be deployed south of the Iraqi capital in order to free up U.S. forces fighting the insurgency in the Sunni triangle area north and west of Baghdad. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES AL-FALLUJAH, GUARDSMEN. Iyad Allawi told the National Assembly in his 26 October weekly address broadcast on Al-Arabiyah television that terrorists remain holed up in the volatile city of Al-Fallujah. "There is absolutely no problem between the government and the people of Al-Fallujah, but the problem is with those forces who are entrenched there." Intelligence information indicates that Takfiri Salafists -- those who declare others as apostates -- are present in the city, he said. Allawi also lashed out at U.S. forces over the 23 October killing of 49 national guardsmen, saying: "We believe there was a great degree of negligence on the part of multinational forces with regard to this issue." He announced that he has launched an investigation. Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib also addressed the parliament, saying that much progress has been made in developing police and security services, with 135,000 policemen working in Iraq. He noted, however, that many are derelict and simply collecting a paycheck. He said the government wants to address the issue but fears that if it dismisses the policemen they could easily join up with terrorists. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SOUTHERN IRAQI TRIBES VOW TO AVENGE KILLING OF NATIONAL GUARDSMEN. Iraq's southern tribes have vowed to avenge the 23 October killing of some 49 national guardsmen who were taken from buses and killed execution-style by militants, the Shi'ite news agency ( reported on 26 October. Sources told the website that members of the Al-Nasiriyah, Al-Amarah, and Al-Basrah tribes have launched a search to hunt down the perpetrators. Sources also said that the killing of the guardsmen has led to increased cooperation between citizens and Iraqi security forces towards eliminating terrorism. Diyala Province Deputy Governor Aqil al-Adili said that he suspects that persons working at the National Guard Training Center fed information to militants about the route that the guardsmen were to take. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER DEEMS TALKS WITH AL-FALLUJAH DELEGATION 'UNSUCCESSFUL.' Hazim al-Sha'lan told Al-Arabiyah television on 26 October that talks with negotiators from the city of Al-Fallujah have been "unsuccessful." "I talked to Sheikh Khalid [al-Jumayli], who will come to Baghdad tomorrow [27 October] so that we will continue our discussions regarding the means to contain the crisis." Al-Sha'lan added that Prime Minister Allawi intended to also hold talks with leaders from Al-Fallujah. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ARAB LEAGUE SAYS IT WILL MONITOR ELECTIONS IF SECURITY SITUATION PERMITS. Hisham Yusuf, the director of Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa's office, told Baghdad's "Al-Dustur" in a 24 October interview that the regional organization is willing to send a delegation to monitor national elections in Iraq in January if the security situation improves. Yusuf pointed out that the league has experience in such matters, having monitored elections in other member states. He added that the Arab League is also willing to send Arab experts to Iraq to help draft a constitution. "There are Arab and international experts on the drafting of constitutions regardless of the adopted system, be it the American system, British system, or French system. It is up to the Iraqi group in charge of drafting the constitution to choose the system it sees as fitting after holding constructive and direct deliberations with its fellow Arabs," he contended. "The issue will then be a matter of Iraqi choice." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQ CAN HOLD CREDIBLE ELECTIONS ON TIME. United Nations elections adviser Carlos Valenzuela in Baghdad told Reuters on 25 October that national elections in Iraq, slated for January, "can be credible," the news agency reported on the same day. Valenzuela reiterated claims by UN officials last week that the Iraqi Electoral Commission is on track in its preparations for the elections. "It is a very tight time frame...but the commission has already done enormous work," he said. Valenzuela has worked on elections in the Palestinian territories and in East Timor.

He disputed criticism that the UN has not done enough to help lay the groundwork for elections. "From the very beginning, in February when we first came, the UN said this should be an Iraqi-led process. Now people say you are letting the Iraqis do this all by themselves, but it was always meant to be like that." Valenzuela contended that the elections would only be slightly affected by the absence of international observers. "If there were international observers here that would be all the better. If there aren't, it is not a dramatic setback," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)