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Iraq Report: July 17, 2003


17 July 2003, Volume 6, Number 31
INSIDE IRAQ
AL-DA'WAH OFFICIAL DISCUSSES PARTY, SPLIT. Khudir Ja'afar from the Islamic Al-Da'wah party discussed the status of his party following reports of an internal split between those members inside Iraq and those in the diaspora, in an interview with the London-based "Al-Hayat" daily, published on 15 July.

Ja'afar indicated in the interview that while differences exist between the two groups, it should not be interpreted as a split within the party, saying, "We called ourselves the internal organization because we aimed our activity toward inside Iraq. We are two branches of the same party and are in agreement on almost all matters." He added that the differences that exist "are not of a political nature but of an administrative dimension," and said efforts were under way to settle them.

Asked which religious leadership the group follows, al-Ja'afar stressed that Al-Da'wah's "understanding of political action doesn't call for a religious leadership." He said that the party is supported by Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri, but cautioned that it does not subscribe any one person to a single leadership role. "Some of us follow [Muqtada] al-Sadr, while others follow [Muhammad Baqir] al-Hakim or [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani," he added. Regarding the position of the Al-Najaf Hawzah (religious seminary) vis-�-vis other hawzahs he said, "The Hawzah is one; there is no Hawzah that is mute while another speaks. We believe that Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, the founder of Al-Da'wah Party deepened Islamic thought, while Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr expanded the horizon of the Islamic movement and turned it into a popular current. It is the Sadr school in its two branches."

Regarding the Vilayet Al-Faqih (rule of the jurists), Ja'afar told "Al-Hayat," "We call for upholding the Vilayet Al-Faqih," but, he added, "it is not necessary that the Faqih who rules in Iran should be the same to rule in Iraq or Lebanon. We support the multiplicity of the Vilayet Al-Fakih. Ja'afar said that the Al-Da'wah would participate in a coalition government in Iraq, as long as that government draws its legitimacy from the Iraqi people. He called on the U.S.-led coalition forces to remain in Iraq until order is established, saying, "If the Americans withdraw, the regime will immediately be restored to power." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

PUK HEAD SAYS PESHMERGA TO JOIN IRAQI ARMY, POLICE. Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), told reporters during a trip to France on 15 July that the Kurdish peshmerga fighters will be integrated into the New Iraqi Army and police force, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "The peshmerga will not remain a separate force," Talabani said. "They will be transformed as follows: Part will join the new Iraqi Army; part will join the border guard; part will turn into a local police force; and part will be [retired]."

Talabani, in Paris for talks with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, addressed reported complaints by some Iraqis over the composition of the Governing Council. "Of course, a 25-member council cannot satisfy everyone.... But we hope that all members would represent all the Iraqis," Talabani said. "This means that any representative does not represent only his sect or region, but Iraq and all the Iraqi people."

The Governing Council is expected to send a three-member delegation to the United Nations on 22 July, when UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is slated to brief the council on the UN role in postwar Iraq, AP reported on 16 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

PRETENDER TO THRONE MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF FALL OF MONARCHY. Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, cousin of King Faysal II, the Iraqi king assassinated in a coup led by Abd al- Karim Qasim on 14 July 1958, marked the day with a memorial at his party's headquarters in Baghdad, according to an announcement issued by the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) in "Al-Ra'y al-Amm" on 12 July. Sharif Ali's CMM has refused to join the fledgling Iraqi Governing Council on grounds that it was appointed by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer rather than elected, and because Bremer holds veto power over council decisions. Al-Husayn told Al-Jazeera on 13 July that the council will not achieve the Iraqi people's goal of an independent government. "Of course we will support this council," he said. "But based on weeks of continuous negotiations and dialogue with the occupation forces...there has not been any sign that they will give any additional powers to any council at this time." He told the BBC the same day that de-Ba'athification was a mistake in Iraq because he claims it "dissolved entirely the [Iraqi] national institutions." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RESISTANCE GROUPS CONTINUE TO ISSUE THREATS AGAINST COALITION... The 1920 Revolution Brigades, the military wing of the Iraqi National Islamic Resistance Group, has issued a statement threatening continued attacks on coalition forces, Al-Jazeera reported on 14 July. The group said it is coordinating its attacks with other resistance factions, and it claimed the brigades recently downed a large U.S. transport plane in Al-Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, according to Al-Jazeera.

The group sent its first communique to Al-Jazeera earlier this month, the news channel reported on 10 July. It has claimed that it is not linked in any way to the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein but seeks to liberate Iraqi land from the coalition "occupiers." Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah Television reported on 14 July that leaflets were distributed in Baghdad announcing the formation of the so-called Iraqi Liberation Army. The leaflet claims that Iraqis from all ethnic and religious groups are members, and it purports to have the support of the Al-Najaf Hawzah. The leaflet threatens attacks against newly opened embassies in Iraq and addresses UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, declaring that it refuses to recognize 9 April as a day of liberation. The group called on Arab states and the Arab League to support the resistance.

Meanwhile, a group identifying itself as the Armed Islamic Movement of the Al-Qaeda Organization-Al-Fallujah Branch, issued an audio statement dated 10 July to Al-Arabiyah Television claiming responsibility for attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, the satellite channel reported on 13 July.

The speaker in the tape claims that the deposed Hussein regime and defunct Ba'ath Party have not had a role in attacks on U.S. forces. "I urge the Muslims and the people of Iraq not to believe what the deposed ruler [Saddam Hussein] has said [in recently released audiotapes].... None of his followers carried out any jihad operation as he claims. They were [carried out] by the...patience of our mujahedin brothers," the speaker claims. "The end of the United States will be at the hand of Islam," he adds.

London's "The Sunday Times" reported on 13 July that sources close to a "nascent anti-American resistance movement in Baghdad" have warned participants in the Iraqi Governing Council against "collaborating" with coalition forces. "Otherwise they too will become targets of resistance attacks similar to those being conducted against the Americans," one source told the weekly. Groups deemed "illegitimate" will be given an unspecified period of time in which to "repent" or face elimination, the source added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS OTHER GROUP CLAIMS IT HAS HALTED ATTACKS. An Iraqi resistance group identifying itself as "Iraq's Revolutionaries -- Al-Anbar's Armed Brigades" issued a statement to "Al-Zaman" in which it claims it has halted all resistance activities against coalition forces, the daily reported on 16 July. The group stated that its truce was temporary, and was aimed at distancing itself from the deposed Hussein regime, which it claims is taking credit for the Al-Anbar brigades' attacks. "The one behind the mass graves and the executions wants to employ the struggle of our people who reject the occupation, hegemony, and guardianship to his own benefit and the benefit of his regime," the statement noted. The group claims it has not participated in any attacks on coalition forces since 2 July. "Al-Zaman" also reported on 16 July that a group calling itself the "Black Banners Organization" has issued a statement to the daily calling on all Iraqis, Arabs, and Muslims to bomb oil pipelines and oil wells in order to "deprive" Americans and Europeans of oil. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

COALITION FORCES ATTACKED ON HUSSEIN ANNIVERSARY. Coalition forces came under several attacks around the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on the 24th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's seizure of power on 16 July, leaving one U.S. soldier dead and six others wounded international press reported. Militants fired a surface-to-air missile at a C-130 cargo plane landing at Baghdad International Airport, nytimes.com reported on 16 July. The attack was the second of its kind in 10 days aimed at a transport plane as it approached the airport. In another incident, a U.S. Army convoy traveling west from Baghdad near the Abu Ghurayb prison was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades, killing one soldier.

A third incident left two U.S. soldiers seriously wounded after their vehicle drove over a land mine in Saidiya, south of Baghdad. Meanwhile, militants assassinated the U.S.-appointed mayor of Hadithah in that town, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. Eyewitnesses told the satellite channel that unidentified persons opened fire on Muhammad Nayil al-Jurayfi's car in Hadithah. His son, who was traveling with al-Jurayfi, was also killed. Al-Jazeera reported that local residents had accused al-Jurayfi of "collaborating" with coalition forces. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

COALITION LAUNCHES OPERATION IVY SERPENT. Members of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and Task Force Ironhorse launched Operation Ivy Serpent on 12 July, according to a 13 July press release issued on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). The operation is aimed at "neutralizing paramilitary, Ba'ath Party loyalists and other subversive elements within Iraq," the statement said. "Operation Ivy Serpent is a preemptive strike that aggressively focuses on noncompliant forces and former regime leaders who are planning attacks against coalition forces" it added. The operation is centered around Highway 1 between the cities of Bayji, Huwayiah, and Samarra, CENTCOM reported.

CENTCOM reported on 16 July that the operation, along with Operation Soda Mountain, has resulted in the detention of 448 individuals through 71 raids. Thirty-eight of the individuals detained have been identified as "key former regime loyalist leaders." In addition, the raids have led to the confiscation of 102 AK-47 assault rifles, 387 125-millimeter mortar rounds, and four 60-millimeter mortar tubes. U.S. forces, however, remain under daily attack by militants opposed to the U.S.-led administration in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH RELEASES REPORT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST IRAQI WOMEN AND GIRLS. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 17-page report titled "Climate of Fear: Sexual Violence and Abduction of Women and Girls in Baghdad" on its website on 16 July (http://www.hrw.org). The report concludes that the inability of Iraqi and U.S.-led occupation authorities to provide security in the capital has led to a widespread fear of rape and abduction among women and their families in Baghdad.

HRW interviewed rape and abduction victims and witnesses, health professionals, and Iraqi and U.S. authorities, and identified 25 "credible allegations of rape or abduction." "The report found that police officers gave low priority to allegations of sexual violence and abduction...and that victims of sexual violence [were] confronted [with] indifference and sexism from Iraqi law enforcement personnel."

The report also determined that U.S. military police were not filling the gap in investigating cases of sexual violence or abduction. "Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work," Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, stated. "If Iraqi women are to participate in postwar society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

INC NEWSPAPER CLAIMS CHALABI 'STRONGEST CANDIDATE.' The Iraqi National Congress newspaper "Al-Mu'tamar" reported on 8 July that INC head Ahmad Chalabi appears to be the best candidate for Iraqi prime minister based on a proposed list of some 25 Iraqis to sit on the upcoming governing council. The report appears to reflect Chalabi's desire to position himself politically despite repeated claims since his return to Iraq that he will not seek a political role in the future Iraqi government. Meanwhile, "Al-Nahdah" reported on 9 July that INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar has said the group of seven major political parties agreed at a 7 July meeting in Salah Al-Din that an Iraqi military force should be formed to replace coalition troops. Such a force, he claimed, would be more knowledgeable about local customs and thus more qualified to stop criminals. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

COALITION FORCES SEIZE ARTIFACTS. Soldiers from the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion seized 12 Iraqi artifacts during a house raid on 7 July, according to a 10 July press release on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). The artifacts include a skull, a clay bowl, and miniature statues. "A local archaeologist determined one of the artifacts to be pre-Sumerian, dated 3000-3200 B.C.," the press release stated. The archaeologist said that all of the pieces were taken from the Baghdad Museum, presumably looted during the last days of the war. "The artifacts were found wrapped in towels in a rice bag in the residence along with AK-47s, grenades, several million Iraqi dinar, and communications equipment," according to the press release. CENTCOM also said a suspected smuggler and what appears to be two prospective buyers were detained in the raid. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FORMER CENTCOM HEAD SAYS 10-25 VIOLENT INCIDENTS OCCUR IN IRAQ EACH DAY. The former head of U.S. CENTCOM General Tommy Franks told the House Armed Services Committee on 10 July that "on a given day, there will be somewhere between 10 and 25 violent incidents" in Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. U.S. troops in Iraq, which number 148,000, have come under increasing attack in recent weeks from militants opposed to the U.S.-led occupation. Franks said the militants include revenge-seeking Ba'athists, as well as "jihadists," a term he used but did not define except to say that they include "terrorists," Reuters reported. "We have our people ever day, not sitting in base camps, but rather out looking to find the Ba'athists, looking to find the jihadists, looking to find these people who cross the border from Syria and are hell-bent on creating difficulty," he said. Franks reportedly did not expound on his reference to Syria; but when asked whether foreign fighters are infiltrating Iraq to carry out attacks on coalition forces, he said, "It's very difficult to say right now," adding, "Our forces are on the lookout for them." Franks stepped down as head of CENTCOM on 7 July, ahead of his retirement later this summer, turning the reins over to Lieutenant General John Abizaid. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
JORDAN FREEZES IRAQI ASSETS, BUT WON'T TURN THEM OVER. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has taken steps to freeze Iraqi assets held in Jordanian banks but will not be handing those assets over to the new U.S.-administered Iraqi government, according to a 15 July report by dpa. Instead, Jordan intends to use the funds to repay an estimated government debt of $1.3 billion and pay claims by Jordanian businessmen for goods exported to Iraq, Jordanian Finance Minister Michel Marto said on 15 July. "The frozen Iraqi deposits will not be released or shifted to any other place before repaying the entire claims of Jordanian exporters for goods they had already exported to Iraq or which they had imported but were unable to export to Iraq" due to the war, he said. According to dpa, dozens of Jordanian industrialists were involved in contracts with the deposed Hussein regime to export goods to Iraq under the UN oil-for-food program, but were unpaid as a result of the war and subsequent fall of the Hussein regime. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TURKOMANS IN ANKARA FOR POLITICAL TRAINING. A group of 27 Iraqi Turkomans are currently attending a political training seminar in Ankara, Istanbul's "Hurriyet" reported on 9 July. According to the report, the Turkomans are attending political-science courses on topics including constitutional law, the European Union, history, management, communications, political geography, and U.S. policy. The Turkish Foreign Ministry is sponsoring the seminar. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has denied that a Turkish special forces team was training Iraqi Turkomans in the use of explosives, but added, "It is normal for the special [forces] team to have special weapons and special explosives." The team was arrested in the northern Iraqi town of Al-Sulaymaniyah on 4 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003) for reportedly planning an assassination attempt on the governor of Kirkuk. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQ, IRAN SIGN MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING. Iraq and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding on 15 July to facilitate commerce, IRNA reported on 16 July. According to the report the Iraqi delegation of 18 included members of the Sulaymaniyah Chamber of Commerce, headed by Shaykh Talib, as well as local businessmen and officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The head of the Sanandaj Chamber of Commerce, Kiumars Moradi, represented the Iranian delegation. The 10-point document signed by the two sides calls for increased trade and commercial exchanges, joint industrial-commercial exhibitions in Sulaymaniyah, and the promotion of investment opportunities in their respective industrial, mineral, and agricultural sectors. It also calls for the establishment of a "technical office" in Sulaymaniyah, which would help facilitate cross-border trade and assist businessmen with training and other services. The Iraqi delegation ends its four-day trip to Iran on 17 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

THE UN AND IRAQ
UN ENVOY HAILS GOVERNING COUNCIL. UN Special Envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, addressed the new Iraqi Governing Council on 13 July, pledging the United Nations' full support for the newly established governing body, the UN News Center reported on the same day (http://www.un.org/news). He told council members that the council "marks the first major development towards the restoration of Iraq's rightful status as a fully sovereign state," and brings the country "one step closer towards fulfilling the explicit wish of the Security Council which, in its Resolution 1483, resolved that the day when Iraqis govern themselves must come quickly."

Vieira de Mello acknowledged what he called the "daunting" work ahead for Iraqis, and said that the UN would assist in any way it can. "We are here, in whatever form you wish, for as long as you want us," he added. He called on council members to support human rights and called attention to the case of Iraqi refugees, saying, "Iraqis living in exile must not be forgotten: those who wish to return home -- and many have been denied that opportunity for too long -- need also to be accommodated in this great land." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IAEA REPORTS TO UN ON IRAQ INSPECTIONS. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report to the United Nations Security Council on 14 July saying that the quantity and type of uranium compounds dispersed during looting near the Al-Tuwaythah nuclear complex south of Baghdad pose no danger from the point of view of proliferation. The report, available on the IAEA website (http://www.iaea.or.at/), stated that two buildings in the Location C Nuclear Material Storage Facility that were sealed by UN inspectors in December 2002 appeared to have been looted. "In Building 1, many containers were missing, many others had been emptied, and a large floor area was covered by uranium compounds," the nuclear watchdog reported. Inspectors collected the materials and repackaged them into new containers. The report noted that various uranium compounds were reverified, and that inspectors took pains to repackage spilled materials according to material type, "in order to make it possible to compare the recovered material against the inventory." In Building 2, one drum of yellow cake [uranium] was determined missing, but according to inspectors, "its contents appeared to have been dumped onto the floor adjacent to where the drum was originally located." The yellow cake was recovered, as well as two containers of ammonium diuranate [ADU] waste.

According to the two-page report, at least 10 kilograms of uranium compounds may have been dispersed during the looting. For example, "a few grams of natural uranium compound could have remained in each of the approximately 200 emptied containers when upended by the looters, in the form of dust on the container walls or as material adhering to the bottom folds." However, the IAEA determined, "The quantity and type of uranium compounds dispersed are not sensitive from a proliferation point of view." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
JOINT U.S.-TURKISH STATEMENT ISSUED ON COMMANDO ARRESTS IN IRAQ. Reuters reports that the United States and Turkey issued a joint statement on 15 July expressing regret over the arrest of 11 Turkish commandos by U.S. forces in northern Iraq on 4 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). The Turkish General Staff had labeled the incident a "crisis of trust" between the two states, whose relations have soured over disagreements related to the U.S.-led war in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 28 February and 7 March 2003). "Both sides regretted the incident occurring between allies and the treatment which Turkish soldiers faced in detention," the statement noted. "Both sides agreed to share rapidly through appropriate channels every sort of information regarding security and stability in the region before taking any action." The statement follows a week-long investigation by military and diplomatic representatives on both sides. The Turkish troops were reportedly arrested on charges of planning an assassination attempt on the governor of Kirkuk. Turkish officials have denied the allegations. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CENTCOM CHIEF SAYS IRAQI RESISTANCE ORGANIZING. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander General John Abizaid told reporters at a Defense Department press briefing on 16 July (http://www.defenselink.mil/) that Iraqi resistance groups appear to be conducting a more organized, guerilla-style campaign than in previous weeks. Abizaid noted that U.S. forces continue to fight pro-Hussein resistance elements from the Iraqi intelligence services, Special Security Organization, Special Republican Guard, and mid-level Ba'athists that are working at regional levels in cell structures of six to eight people. He added that regional-level leaders are likely financing the militants. Asked about the level of resistance in Iraq, Abizaid said, "I'm not so sure that I would characterize it as escalating in terms of number of incidents. But it is getting more organized, and it is learning. It is adapting...to our tactics, techniques, and procedures." He added that militants are "less amateurish, and their ability to use improvised explosive devices and combine the use of these explosive devices with some sort of tactical activity...is more sophisticated." Abizaid contended, however, that there is no evidence of a central command structure guiding militant activities.

General Abizaid told reporters that the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam continues to be a problem for U.S. forces. Coalition forces hit an Ansar Al-Islam stronghold close to the Iranian border in northeastern Iraq on 21-22 March. The group had controlled about 18 villages close to the Kurdish village of Halabjah on the Iranian border (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 March 2003). "We don't know how they're infiltrating. There's some impression that they could be infiltrating from Iran," Abizaid said, adding, "There's also [a] possibility that there were people that instead of moving away from the center of Iraq after they were hit, moved down into Baghdad. So, it's clear that Ansar Al-Islam is reforming and is presenting a threat" to coalition forces.

As for the possibility of an Al-Qaeda presence in Iraq, Abizaid said, "Al-Qaeda look-alikes or Al-Qaeda people" also appear to be attacking coalition forces in Iraq. Asked if there was an organized Al-Qaeda group working in Iraq, Abizaid said, "I don't know that I would say that Osama bin Laden has made an order that has been conveyed to people that has caused them to move into Iraq to kill us, but I do know that there are those that would sympathize with him that have moved into Iraq and are trying to kill us." He added that foreign fighters continue to maintain a presence in Iraq. He maintained, however, that mid-level Ba'athists pose the primary threat to U.S. forces. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS RUSSIA MIGHT KNOW WHERE DEPOSED IRAQI PRESIDENT IS... Alexander Vershbow told Interfax on 11 July that Moscow could help the United States to combat attacks on coalition forces in Iraq by people loyal to deposed President Hussein. He urged Moscow to share with U.S. intelligence any information that it has about pro-Hussein groups or about the whereabouts of Hussein and his sons. Vershbow added that the United States "categorically condemns the recent terrorist acts in Moscow" and will provide Moscow any information that can prevent such acts in the future. Vershbow also said the United States does not consider the Russian Embassy in Baghdad a full-fledged diplomatic mission. He said that because there is no official local government in Iraq, there can be no foreign diplomatic missions in the country. (Victor Yasmann)

...AS RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DEPLORES AMBASSADOR'S STATEMENTS. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 13 July that Ambassador Vershbow's statement implying that Russia has information about the whereabouts of deposed Iraqi President Hussein or his sons is "incorrect," RIA-Novosti reported. He said that bilateral relations have reached such a level that there are constant, reliable channels for the exchange of such information, including confidential channels. Therefore, Yakovenko said, it is wrong to appeal for such information through the mass media. In a separate statement, the Foreign Ministry expressed concern about U.S. unwillingness to guarantee the diplomatic status of the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. The United States as an occupying power is obligated to do this under international law, the statement said. (Victor Yasmann)

END NOTE
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL IS INAUGURATED: A LOOK AT THE FIRST WEEK.

By Kathleen Ridolfo

The long-awaited U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council held its inaugural meeting in Baghdad on 13 July to much media fanfare and Iraqi anticipation of a democratic future.

The council, which will wield executive and legislative powers in the interim phase before a new government is formed, is seen as the first step toward democratic Iraqi self-rule in the wake of the U.S.-led operation to oust Saddam Hussein. "The establishment of this council is an expression of the national Iraqi will in the wake of the collapse of the former oppressive and dictatorial regime, thanks to the struggle and brave sacrifices of our people and the intervention of the international coalition forces," Al-Jazeera quoted a 13 July statement by council members as saying. "The building of Iraq shall remain among the first priorities of the good Iraqi people. It will require the participation of all Iraqis from all political and social trends who are willing to help accomplish this historic task," it noted.

The Governing Council issued its first resolution at the 13 July meeting, canceling all official holidays associated with the deposed leadership and the defunct Ba'ath Party, and named 9 April as an official holiday marking the fall of the Hussein regime. Council members include 13 Shi'ite Muslims, five Sunni Muslims, five Kurds, one Assyrian Christian, and one Turkoman representative. There are three women on the council. Sixteen of the 25 members are Iraqis from the diaspora and autonomous Kurdish areas. Of the major opposition groups based outside Iraq that returned following the downfall of the Hussein regime, only the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) refused to join the council (for details see this issue). A complete list of council members is available on RFE/RL's "Post-Saddam Iraq" webpage (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis/)

The council's members tried to dispel doubts as to the potency of the fledgling body as they met with reporters following their inaugural meeting on 13 July. Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) scoffed at a reporter's suggestion that the council's role will be limited, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "The council enjoys a relatively good number of powers," he said. "These include appointing ministers, supervising ministries, [approving] the budget, security, reestablishing the armed forces, and appointing heads of diplomatic missions abroad. Except for one or two things, the council almost enjoys all government powers." Regarding U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer's power to veto council decisions, former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi told the press, "We do not expect vetoes because the administration...stressed that it will fulfill all the demands of the Governing Council. If there is going to be any differences of opinion...such differences can be settled through discussion."

Moreover, council members openly criticized the Arab League, Arab states, and their satellite networks for their apparent support for the deposed Hussein regime. Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told reporters that Arab satellite channels "betrayed [Iraqis] and did not stand by us," adding, "These channels are awaiting Saddam's return." Nasir al-Chadirji, secretary-general of the Movement of National Democrats, added, "I have an appeal for Al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels. I tell them: Enough incitement for the Iraqi people to carry out acts of violence against the coalition troops." Al-Jazeera broadcast the criticisms of council members.

Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i went a step further in the press conference, lashing out at the Arab League for not supporting the Iraqi people, saying, "We wished that the Arab League had taken a stand towards the crimes of the Hussein regime," adding, "The Arab League's stand toward the Iraqi people should demonstrate more sympathy and understanding." He called on the Arab League to recognize the Governing Council. Regarding Arab states, Ahmad Chalabi from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) told reporters, "We ask them to understand that the Saddam regime is finished, and that they should deal with the Iraqi people...Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Shi'a, and Sunnis.... They should help us in all fields."

As the council assembled to conduct its first full day of meetings on 14 July, a blast destroyed a car parked outside the Baghdad compound that houses the new Iraqi Governing Council. The origin of the blast was not initially determined, although some international media reported a grenade as the cause. The car bore diplomatic license plates, according to Reuters. The council did not let the blast prevent them from carrying out their mission, however. Instead, it voted to send a delegation to the United Nations on 22 July, when UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is slated to brief the Security Council on the UN role in postwar Iraq. A three-member delegation is expected to lobby the Security Council "to assert and emphasize the role of the Governing Council as a legitimate Iraqi body during this transitional period," "The Washington Post" reported on 15 July. The delegation may also request a seat on the UN General Assembly during that meeting, international media reported. Vieira de Mello hailed the formation of the council and pledged full UN support when he addressed the council on 13 July.

One item on the first day's agenda was postponed indefinitely: the election of a council president. Iraqi National Accord (INA) head Iyad Allawi told Al-Jazeera a day later that the council was working on an internal by-law. "We have to discuss this before deciding on the form of presidency or who is going to be the president," he noted. He added that the council was working on more pressing issues, such as establishing a police force. The council is pushing for a police force with a ratio of one policeman for every 300-350 Iraqis, Allawi said. That ratio is half of the world ratio. Allawi also said that the selection of ministers would not be based on any kind of ethnic or religious formula.

In its second day of official business, the governing body announced that it would establish a judicial commission to try members of the ousted regime who are charged with war crimes against the Iraqi people, Reuters reported on 15 July. Defendants from among the U.S.-led coalition's 55 most-wanted Iraqis will apparently be among the first to be tried by that commission. "The Governing Council will take it upon itself to try [senior members of the deposed Hussein regime] and to punish them according to law," Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar told reporters. He did not say whether deposed President Saddam Hussein would be tried in absentia, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, international rights groups were cautious in their praise of the decision. Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the establishment of a judicial commission as "a positive step" in a press release dated 15 July, but the group called for international jurists to serve on the commission. "The Iraqi judiciary, weakened and compromised by decades of Ba'ath Party rule, lacks the capacity, experience, and independence to provide fair trials for the abuses of the past," the press release stated. "Few judges in Iraq, including those who fled into exile, have participated in trials of the complexity that they would face when prosecuting leadership figures for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes," HRW stated.

HRW said in its 15 July press release that "bringing about accountability for the crimes of the past two decades in Iraq will be a massive undertaking for the Iraqi people." According to HRW, the most heinous crimes to be investigated and prosecuted include: the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, in which some 100,000 civilians were reportedly killed and 4,000 villages destroyed; the "disappearance" and execution of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; the purported use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and Iranian troops; the decimation and repression of the Marsh Arabs; and the forced expulsion of ethnic minorities in northern Iraq during Hussein's Arabization campaign.

Amnesty International echoed Human Rights Watch, saying trials "must be fair and seen to be fair, conducted by an impartial and independent court fully in accordance with international human rights standards," in a statement issued on 15 July (http://www.amnesty.org/). The organization recommended that Iraqi judicial experts work alongside international experts to assess the Iraqi judicial system "including its capacity to ensure fair trials in the short term," and to "explore options for bringing perpetrators to justice," including the possible participation of non-Iraqi judges and courts.

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