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Iraq Report: May 30, 2003


30 May 2003, Volume 6, Number 24
INSIDE IRAQ
IRAQIS REVOLT IN NORTHERN IRAQI TOWN AFTER WEAPONS SEARCH. Iraqis in the northern town of Hit rioted on 28 May after local police and U.S. troops conducted house-to-house searches in an effort to collect banned weapons, Reuters reported on 29 May. Angry residents took to the streets, attacking local police and setting police stations on fire, according to ITAR-TASS on 29 May. The town's population of some 150,000 are mostly Sunni Muslims. Local residents objected to the weapons searches and complained about the behavior of U.S. forces during the searches. "The Iraqi police were very rough with our women," Amr Aziz told Reuters, adding, "They forced their way into houses without knocking, sometimes when women were sleeping. This is a very conservative town." Another resident, Adnan Mizdar, said that U.S. soldiers fired at civilians during clashes between residents and troops, injuring a 10-year-old boy and two other people. A man by the name of Abd al-Qasim told the news agency: "We are not Saddam's men.... Saddam is gone, but we want the occupation to end. The Americans must know [that] they can never come back to town." There was no immediate comment from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on the incidents. KR

SELF-RULE GIVEN IN KIRKUK... Some 300 prominent Kurdish, Arab, Turkoman, and Assyrian figures assembled in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 24 May to begin the process of electing a civil administration, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on the same day. When all was said and done, a 30-member council was elected. The council also elected an Assyrian, a Turkoman, and a Kurd as assistant mayors to govern the city, Reuters reported on 26 May.

The 24 May election was overshadowed by Arab and Turkoman protesters, who opposed the composition of an independent block of six participants because it was dominated by five Kurdish figures. Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, and Turkomans each received six seats on the council, but the fifth block of "independents" tipped the scale in the Kurds' favor -- with 11 Kurds taking seats. In addition, seven Arab delegates to the 24 May council election were detained due to their affiliation with the banned Ba'ath Party, Reuters reported. Major General Raymond Odierno, commander of coalition forces in northeast Iraq, is presiding over the election process. "They really want this process to work and I am extremely encouraged," Reuters quoted Odierno as saying.

The council met again on 28 May and elected Kurdish lawyer Abd al-Rahman Mustafa as mayor of the city. He received 20 votes, beating out rivals Nayef al-Jaburi (an Arab) and Mustafa Echechli (a Turkoman), AFP reported on 28 May. Mustafa ran as an independent, but received wide support from the council's Kurdish members. Local Arab leader and oil expert Ismail al-Hadidi beat out Turkoman Tahsin Kahia, winning the seat of deputy mayor. According to AFP, Major General Odierno asked council members to subsequently appoint Kahia "director" of the council, in an apparent effort to appease the Turkomans. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AND TAKEN AWAY IN AL-BASRAH. British forces in southern Iraq have disbanded the Al-Basrah city council, BBC news reported on 26 May. The council will be replaced by an interim committee, which will address the technical issues related to reconstruction, and a civic forum, which will focus on establishing democratic local governance. According to the BBC, the interim committee will be composed of the heads of Al-Basrah's utilities, as well as British military and Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) officials. The city council was disbanded because it was headed by Shaykh Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al-Tamimi, a tribal leader and Ba'ath Party member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. FORCES ATTACKED IN AL-FALLUJAH... U.S. forces came under heavy fire in the central city of Al-Fallujah on 27 May, international media reported. One U.S. soldier was killed and seven others were injured in the incident, in which "a hostile force of unknown size" lobbed rocket-propelled grenades and fired small arms at U.S. troops. Two of the attackers were killed and six others captured, according to a statement on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil/). CENTCOM also reported that a U.S. Army Medevac helicopter was damaged during the incident when a Bradley fighting vehicle accidentally struck it while maneuvering into a firing position. Initial reports indicate that the attackers fired on U.S. forces from inside a local mosque, CENTCOM added.

Meanwhile, on 27 May the London-based "The Independent" cited testimony by U.S. General Peter Pace, deputy chairman to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as saying that the U.S. is sending an additional 18,000 troops from the 1st Armored Division to Iraq in the coming weeks to assist in the campaign to establish law and order. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS ARAB 'FEDAYEEN' REPORTEDLY THREATEN MORE ATTACKS. Dubai-based Al-Arabiyah Television broadcast an interview with purported Arab fedayeen hiding out in Iraq on 27 May. In the video, one masked volunteer reads from the Koran while a picture of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hangs in the background. He tells Al-Arabiyah, "We pledge to God and to all Muslims all over the world to continue resistance until the land of Iraq is purged of U.S. occupation." In an apparent reference to reports of attacks on U.S. forces on 27 May, he added, "The resistance, which was waged in Al-Fallujah and Al-Anbar...will continue until all Iraqi land is purged from U.S. occupation." A second volunteer, reportedly a Palestinian refugee from Syria identified as Abd al-Rahman, tells the news channel: "All the Arabs have burned our hearts. They sold Palestine, and they are selling Iraq now.... We will not remain silent." He then added, "Oh Americans, wait for us." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GRAND AYATOLLAH ISSUES FATWA BANNING BA'ATH PARTY MURDERS. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has issued a fatwa in Al-Najaf that states that the murder of former senior Ba'ath Party members and regime collaborators is forbidden until Shari'a (religious) courts can be established in Iraq, "Al-Zaman" reported on 26 May. The fatwa says that Iraqis should not take matters into their own hands and adds that inflicting punishment is the right of the relatives of the murdered once a crime has been proven in Shari'a courts. It also states that it is not permissible to smear the names of those who were forced to collaborate with the Hussein regime through pressure or threats. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI OFFICERS REBELLING AGAINST U.S. DECISION. Senior Iraqi officers reportedly threatened to carry out suicide operations against coalition forces in retaliation of the U.S. decision to dissolve the military forces, MENA reported on 26 May. The report cites an unidentified officer as saying that he and his colleagues will give U.S. forces one week to overturn their decision before seeking retribution.

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported that a number of former officers demonstrated in front of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on 26 May, stating that the army belongs to Iraq, not deposed President Saddam Hussein. They called for the rights of the 400,000-strong Iraqi Army to be honored. "We are demanding our rights only. If they do not give us our rights, all of us are ready to commit suicide and fight. They know our rights. I spent 34 years as a fighter. I know how to fight both in the cities and in the desert," one unidentified officer told Al-Jazeera.

AFP reported that approximately 100 officers protested on 26 May. Former General Sahib al-Musawi told the protesters in central Baghdad, "We demand the formation of a government as soon as possible, the restoration of security, rehabilitation of public institutions, and the disbursement of the salaries of all military personnel," Voice of the Mujahedin reported. AFP quoted Musawi as also saying, "If our demands are not respected, next Monday will mark the date of the break between the Iraqi Army and people on the one hand, and the occupiers on the other." He called on all soldiers and their families to protest in Baghdad on 2 June. According to AFP, protesters carried banners reading, "Better to have the throat slit than revenues confiscated. The Iraqi Army demands its rights!" One former colonel, Ahmed Abdullah, told AFP, "If our position is not settled, we threaten to take up arms." Another former colonel, Ziad Khalaf, told AFP, "We are soldiers used to combat and we have volunteers for martyrdom." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. ADMINISTRATOR ANNOUNCES ESTABLISHMENT OF TRADE-CREDIT FACILITY. U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer announced the establishment of a trade-credit facility for Iraq, dpa reported on 26 May. The facility is being set up with assistance from private banks, as well as the Iraqi Central Bank, to encourage investment in the country. Bremer said it will also facilitate the transformation of Iraq into a "liberal," "free" market economy.

The decision will allow for the establishment of credit lines to finance the sale of goods to Iraqi government institutions and private firms. "A free economy and a free people go hand in hand," "The Washington Post" quoted Bremer as saying on 26 May. "History tells us that substantial and broadly held resources, protected by private property, private rights, are the best protection of political freedom. Building such prosperity in Iraq will be a key measure of our success here." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FORMER REGIME MEMBERS CAPTURED. CENTCOM announced the capture of three members of the former Hussein regime in recent days. Mulhana Hamud Abd al-Jabar, a brother-in-law of Saddam Hussein, was arrested by coalition forces in the early morning hours of 25 May, Reuters reported on 26 May. Major Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman for the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, announced the arrest, telling reporters that Abd al-Jabar was arrested when he was identified by a doctor at a hospital in central Tikrit. Abd al-Jabar was reportedly transporting two unidentified Iraqis suffering from gunshot wounds to the hospital. Division commander Major General Raymond Odierno told reporters that Abd al-Jabar was in possession of $300,000, 8 million dinars (approximately $6,000), three AK-47 assault rifles, and a rocket-propelled grenade, Reuters reported. He was not listed on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime.

Meanwhile, a 27 May press release on the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil/) announced the arrests of two men on the most-wanted list. Sayf al-Din al-Mashhadani served as a Ba'ath Party chairman and was commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia in the Al-Muthanna Governorate in southern Iraq. He was 46th on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the Hussein regime. Sa'ad Abd al-Majid al-Faysal served as a Ba'ath Party chairman and was commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia in the northern governorate of Salah Al-Din. He was last on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed regime. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BAGHDAD DAILY CONDUCTS PUBLIC OPINION POLL. The Iraqi National Congress newspaper "Al-Mu'tamar" conducted an informal poll on the streets of Baghdad regarding the current situation in Iraq, the paper reported on 22 May. The daily claimed that some 620 citizens representing diverse backgrounds and age groups were asked their opinions regarding the deposed President Hussein and his regime, and the role of U.S. forces and opposition groups in the rebuilding of Iraq. According to "Al-Mu'tamar," 62 percent of respondents said they opposed the war prior to its outbreak but 77 percent said they favored it after liberation. Asked if coalition forces carried out hostile acts against Iraqis, 77 percent responded "no," while 23 percent said "yes."

Eighty-five percent of respondents said that they believed coalition forces "procrastinated and were indifferent to their concerns and problems and failed to maintain order, punish thieves, and protect public property," while 15 percent disagreed. Asked whether coalition forces should leave Iraq, 65 percent said "no."

Asked about the cruelty of the Hussein regime, 90 percent of respondents said that the regime was cruel and condemned its actions against the Iraqi people, while 10 percent "held a different opinion," according to the daily. Asked about Saddam Hussein, 53 percent said he should be tried in a court of law, 27 percent called for his execution, 13 percent called for his rehabilitation "on condition of dismissing him from power, and 7 percent declined to give an answer.

Regarding the role of opposition forces, parties, and organizations, 53 percent of respondents said that they do not trust the opposition, while 43 percent said they did trust them, and 4 percent declined to answer. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TRIBAL CHIEFS MEET WITH COALITION REPRESENTATIVES. Iraqi tribal chiefs from northern and central Iraq, including the al-Jubur and Shammar tribes, met with British Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Segar, and the commander of U.S. forces in the Al-Najaf Governorate, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 May. The tribes represent some 5 million Iraqis. Shaykh Ali Hatim Bani Hasan from the Bani-Hasan tribes said that the tribes were "mainly interested in Iraq's security, unity, and independence," adding: "We are also interested in spelling out our demands forcefully.... The coalition countries...must listen to our viewpoint." It appears that the tribal demands were consistent with the coalition viewpoint. U.K. Ambassador Segar told the congregation in Arabic, "The important thing is the unity, security, stability, and economic and financial development of the country. God willing, we will work with our colleagues in Baghdad to achieve these objectives." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
IRAN REPATRIATING IRAQI REFUGEES. Iran has begun repatriating some 200,000 Iraqi refugees under an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a senior Iranian Interior Ministry official told IRNA on 27 May. Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs head Ahmad Hosseini told IRNA that repatriation is voluntary, and that refugees returning to Iraq will be transferred by UN-provided buses across the Shalamcheh border crossing to the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. "According to negotiations held through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with the British government, guarantees have been made so that the Geneva Convention's requirements to safeguard the security of refugees and their access to basic needs are respected," Hosseini said.

On 22 May, UNHCR announced the repatriation of 180 Iranian refugees from Iraq, UN News Center reported on 23 May (http://www.un.org/News/). The repatriation was the first in nearly one year. "The returnees had fled their settlements in eastern Iraq in early April because of insecurity and tensions with the local host community. They had camped at a makeshift site at Al-Charani border crossing, hoping they would be allowed home," the UN reported. The crossing was opened by Iranian authorities on 22 May, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said. Some refugees wanting to cross with livestock and farming equipment were not allowed to cross the border, UN News Center reported. There are over 23,000 Iranian refugees in Iraq, the report noted. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ARCHEOLOGISTS GATHER IN AMMAN TO ADDRESS 'CULTURAL CATASTROPHE' IN IRAQ. A group of Arab archeologists met in the Jordanian capital of Amman on 26 May for a three-day conference to address the "cultural catastrophe" in Iraq following the looting of museums and archeological sites, "The Jordan Times" reported on 27 May. The conference, sponsored by the Islamic Education, Science, and Culture Organization (ISESCO) and the Jordanian General Archaeology Department, was attended by experts from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. General Archaeology Department Director Fawaz Khreishah said that the meeting aimed to discuss the repatriation of stolen goods. He said his department was in possession of 163 Iraqi antiquities and other items seized at the Jordanian border by customs officials. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AMBASSADOR TO JORDAN RETURNS TO IRAQ. Iraqi Ambassador to Jordan Sabah Yasin left the Jordanian capital of Amman for Baghdad on 25 May, reportedly at the direction of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's interim management, London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 26 May. According to the report, Ambassador Muhammad Amin Ahmad, who serves as chairman of the interim management committee, directed Yasin in early May to return to Baghdad, "as part of the consultations and coordination it is conducting with all members of Iraqi diplomatic missions abroad." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

THE UN AND IRAQ
BRAZILIAN APPOINTED UN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TO IRAQ. Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello has been appointed special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. De Mello was appointed to the post on 23 May. He has been serving as UN high commissioner for human rights at UN headquarters in Geneva since July. He began his career in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969. In 1996, he was appointed UN assistant high commissioner for refugees, according to a 2002 UN press release. De Mello has worked on humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, and Lebanon. He holds two doctorates from the University of Paris (Pantheon-Sorbonne) and reportedly speaks five languages.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the four-month appointment in a letter to the UN General Assembly released on 27 May, the UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/News/). In the letter, Annan said he chose de Mello "in view of his unique experience in serving the United Nations in post-conflict situations in the past."

Annan said that the UN's mandate in Iraq would be related to assisting coalition authorities "in a wide range of areas, including humanitarian relief, reconstruction, infrastructure rehabilitation, legal and judicial reforms, human rights and return of refugees, and also to assist with civilian police." De Mello told reporters he felt that respect for human rights and women's rights would build "a solid foundation for durable peace" and development. He said that he expected to arrive in Iraq on 2 June. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IAEA SAYS INSPECTORS TO RETURN 'THIS WEEK.' The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) anticipates that its nuclear inspectors will return to Iraq by 31 May, AFP quoted an agency spokesman as saying in an article published on 27 May. "We'll send, probably Friday or Saturday [31 May-1 June], a mission of seven international experts to Iraq," Mark Gwozdecky said. He added that the mission was expected to last two weeks.

The nuclear watchdog agency has expressed concern over reports of looting at Iraqi nuclear sites. IAEA inspectors will travel to the Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Center, located outside Baghdad, to check "how much low-enriched uranium and 'yellowcake' [natural uranium] is still stocked [at the site] or missing," Gwozdecky said. He estimated that "maybe tens of tons [of] natural uranium and at least 2 tons of low-enriched uranium" might have disappeared from the site. "We don't consider it necessarily a problem of nuclear proliferation but it could be a problem of health and safety and environmental contamination," AFP quoted Gwozdecky as saying at an earlier date. The United States approved an IAEA request for the return of inspectors last week (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 May 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER ARRIVES IN IRAQ. Tony Blair became the first Western leader to enter Iraq since the downfall of the Hussein regime, international press agencies reported on 29 May. Blair visited the southern Iraqi town of Al-Basrah, which is currently under the control of British forces. He told reporters en route to Iraq that he wanted to thank British troops for their good performance. "People risked their lives, in some cases lost their lives, and so it's right that I go there and I see the troops there and thank them personally -- and thank them personally out in the theater," the BBC quoted Blair as saying. Blair was also expected to meet on 29 May with the United Kingdom's new representative in Iraq, John Sawers, the BBC reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CIA REPORT LISTS IRAQI MOBILE PRODUCTION PLANTS. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released a report on Iraqi mobile plants for the production of biological-warfare agents on 28 May that is available on the CIA website (http://www.cia.gov). "Coalition forces have uncovered the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program," the report states. The report cites the seizure of a "specialized tractor-trailer" by Kurdish forces outside Mosul in April and the discovery of a second mobile unit "equipped to produce biological-warfare (BW) agent" in May at the Al-Kindi Research facility in Mosul, as well as the discovery of a "mobile laboratory truck" in Baghdad by U.S. forces in April, which the agency describes as "a toxicology laboratory from the 1980s that could be used to support BW or legitimate research."

The joint CIA-DIA report released on 28 May cites firsthand reports by Iraqi defectors who worked on the development of mobile production plants and laboratories, stating, "The majority of our information on Iraq's mobile program was obtained from a chemical engineer that managed one of the plants. Three other sources, however, corroborated information related to the mobile BW project." In addition, "employees of the facility that produced the mobile production plants' fermentor revealed that seven fermentors were produced in 1997, one in 2002 and one in 2003." The seven fermentors, the report states, corroborate the source's report that Iraq planned in the mid-1990s to produce seven mobile production plants. In addition, the report states that the trailer found in April "could be used for bioproduction" and theorized about -- but dismissed -- other possible uses for the trailer. "We are...confident that this trailer is a mobile BW production plant because of the source's description, equipment and design," the report concludes. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. OFFICIAL DISCUSSES ROLE OF COALITION IN IRAQ. U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith told a press briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center on 28 May that the coalition is working "to protect the efforts of Iraqis to reconstruct their country from Ba'athists" who are reportedly working to undermine their efforts, according to his comments posted on the U.S. State Department's website (http://usinfo.state.gov) the same day. Feith told the press that many Iraqis said they would not be willing to work with the coalition "if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba'ath Party elements." He added that it is vital to the stability of Iraq to remove those elements from leadership positions. Feith said that nearly half of the 45,000 coalition troops in Baghdad are working on establishing security in the country. "We hope by July to have two, perhaps three additional divisions come to help contribute to the security of the country," he said. Feith added that the State Department is recruiting 1,000 police advisers and trainers. "We have U.S. military police personnel growing from around 1,800 to 4,000, and we have been soliciting nearly 50 countries for police advisers," he noted. Feith also discussed the water, electricity, and food situation in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

POLAND TO DEPLOY PEACEKEEPERS IN JULY. Poland has announced that it will lead a 7,000-member peacekeeping force in Iraq in July, Reuters reported on 28 May. "The deployment will take place in July...and it will be fully operational in August," the news agency quoted Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski as telling public radio. He said that the deployment would include some 2,000 Polish troops and possibly as many Ukrainians.

Szmajdzinski would not reveal the other countries slated to join the Polish contingent, but he did acknowledge that approximately 20 countries participated in the 23 May Warsaw-sponsored "force generation" conference. But the Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 23 May that "sources close to NATO Headquarters" in Brussels have said that Poland will lead troops from the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, Bulgaria, Fiji, and Ukraine.

The Polish news agency PAP reported on 22-23 May that the Polish command will be in south-central Iraq, between Baghdad and Al-Basrah. Earlier reports indicated that Polish troops would be deployed in Kurdistan (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 May 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI 'ADVISERS' STUCK IN KUWAIT. Some 150 Iraqi exiles who served as 'advisers' to the U.S. government in the weeks and months leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom remain stuck in the U.S., while other sit in Kuwait, awaiting U.S. approval to cross the border into Iraq, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 27 May.

Pentagon officials have confirmed the holdup, with one official telling the daily, "Currently, 17 [advisers] are in Iraq." But the official acknowledged that 31 were held up in Kuwait City, delayed by canceled flights, sandstorms, and engine trouble. According to the "Los Angeles Times," those waiting to cross the border include two electric-power experts, who have waited two weeks for a military flight into Baghdad. Another two experts are in Washington. Imad Dhia, the director of the team of exiles, told the newspaper from Baghdad that the delay was related to a lack of space on aircraft flying into Baghdad International Airport. "Obviously, we are not a priority," Dhia told the "Los Angeles Times." A Pentagon official familiar with the U.S.-assembled team said of the group, "We wanted the best people we could find -- people who were capable of walking into the [Iraqi] ministries and gaining the respect of the people who worked there," but as the "Los Angeles Times" noted, most have not been able to do so. The official said that all of the 150 exiles were expected to be on the ground in Iraq by 1 June, but conceded that it was unlikely to happen, the daily reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER APPOINTS HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY. British Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed British Member of Parliament Ann Clwyd as a special envoy to Iraq on human rights, BBC reported on 26 May. Clwyd was scheduled to depart for Iraq on 27 May to visit a number of mass gravesites. "My role is to look at the situation and report directly back to the prime minister," Clwyd told BBC Radio 4's "Today" program. "Obviously I have been raising some of these issues over the last few weeks since the war ended, particularly the protection of the mass graves which are now being found outside Baghdad and almost outside every town and city in Iraq," she added. Clwyd has campaigned for human rights in Iraq for 25 years, the BBC noted. "I want to make sure that the sites are being properly protected so that we can collect the evidence against the people responsible," she said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

END NOTE
CENTCOM'S NEW IRAQ WEAPONS POLICY ACCUSED OF FAVORITISM

By Kathleen Ridolfo

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced a new policy on 24 May regarding the possession of weapons in Iraq. The "Iraq Weapons Policy," detailed in a press release on the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil/), calls on all armed groups and citizens to relinquish "unauthorized weapons" to coalition forces. Specifically, beginning on 1 June, Iraqis will have 14 days to surrender unauthorized weapons to coalition forces at "control points" throughout the country. "Unauthorized weapons are defined as: automatic firearms firing ammunition larger than 7.62mm; machine guns or crew-served weapons; anti-tank weapons; anti-aircraft weapons; indirect fire weapons; all armored vehicles or self-propelled weapons; and high explosives and explosive devices," the press release states.

The new policy also bans the sale, trade, barter, or distribution of automatic or heavy weapons to individuals not authorized to collect them by coalition forces. The Iraqi public will still be permitted to possess small firearms, "including automatic rifles firing ammunition up to 7.62 millimeters, semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and pistols." These weapons, however, must be kept in homes and businesses and may not be carried in public. "Only authorized persons may possess small arms in public places and those authorized persons will be issued a temporary weapons card (TWC) by coalition commanders," the statement reads.

Any Iraqis caught with banned weapons after 14 May will be detained and face criminal charges, according to CENTCOM. Those authorized to possess automatic or heavy weapons include police, security and "other forces in uniform under the supervision and authority of the coalition." Confiscated weapons will either be destroyed or turned over to the new Iraqi army or police forces.

However, not all Iraqis will be disarmed. MENA news agency reported on 28 May that a meeting held earlier this week between Kurdish leaders and U.S. officials determined that Kurdish peshmerga fighters would be exempt from the decision to disarm all Iraqi factions. U.S. Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of allied forces in Iraq, told a press conference on 23 May that there "will be no militias inside of Iraq" but added that the peshmerga were "a different story," "The New York Times" reported on 24 May. "The peshmergas fought with coalition forces and we look to leave them with some of their forces north of the green line," the daily quoted McKiernan as saying. The "green line" refers to the line that once divided Hussein-controlled areas of Iraq from the self-rule Kurdish enclave established after the 1991 Gulf War.

It appears that U.S. administrators are fearful that armed militias might degenerate into armed gangs, vying for power on the streets of Iraq. And they have reason to be concerned. Numerous reports of armed gangs committing acts of violence -- from looting and armed robbery to kidnapping and murder -- have circulated in the international press. Even "sanctioned" groups have been accused of unlawful behavior. Reuters reported on 26 May that Iraqi National Congress-led (INC), 700-strong "Free Iraqi Forces" were reportedly caught up in a gunfight with what they said were unidentified Iraqis during a search for Ba'ath Party members in a Baghdad neighborhood on 22 May. "The New York Times" reported on 24 May that U.S. forces subsequently raided the INC's Baghdad headquarters, arresting 35 militiamen and seizing their weapons, and Reuters reported that U.S. forces disarmed the entire Free Iraqi Forces on 25 May. This was not the first incident in which the Free Iraqi Forces have elicited complaints of improper conduct.

The United States is also eager to reduce the armed power of Iranian-influenced Shi'ite groups -- specifically, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI head Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim has publicly expressed concern at the U.S. decision to disarm Iraqis, Al-Jazeera Television reported on 27 May. Al-Hakim suggested that citizens should be able to defend themselves against the pervasive lawlessness that exists in Iraq. "Certainly, this is a wrong decision because no coordination has been made with the Iraqi political forces that should participate in realizing security and stability in Iraq. The question of disarmament is a correct idea in principle.... However, if there is no state, regime, or anybody capable of keeping law and order, one must be given the right to defend himself," al-Hakim told Al-Jazeera.

But other statements by the ayatollah indicate that his group might resist the U.S. demand to disarm. Al-Hakim recently told the Voice of the Mujahedin Radio, an Iran-based station linked to SCIRI, that SCIRI's 10,000-strong Badr Corps military wing has no weapons, the BBC reported on 28 May.

Another SCIRI member, Adil Abd al-Mahdi, has criticized the U.S. decision on slightly different grounds. "Maybe we didn't fight with the coalition, but we didn't fight against them," "The New York Times" quoted al-Mahdi as saying on 24 May. "We want conditions where all militias are dissolved and we will not accept that other militias will be allowed to stay there with their weapons while we will not be there with ours," he said. Tehran-supported SCIRI had led an active resistance against the Hussein regime for over 20 years. SCIRI head al-Hakim was arrested several times by Hussein's henchmen, and he claims that at least 18 members of his family were executed by the regime. Al-Hakim fled Iraq in 1980 and founded SCIRI in Iran in 1982.

The U.S. policy on disarming groups and individuals with heavy weapons is a logical step in preventing armed -- even sanctioned -- groups from gaining an excessive amount of real or perceived power. But a policy of allowing some groups to remain armed might be interpreted as favoritism, something U.S. administrators have been careful to avoid up to this point. A quick solution might be to integrate Iraq's armed groups into an "interim" militia that works alongside and under the direction of U.S. forces. Such a group would not only fill in the gaps of the security vacuum, it would also foster stronger relations among Iraqis belonging to different factions, as they work towards a common goal. It might also serve as a model for the future Iraqi armed forces.

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