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Iraq Report: December 8, 2003


8 December 2003, Volume 6, Number 50
INSIDE IRAQ
GOVERNING COUNCIL ANNULS RACIST CITIZENSHIP LAW... The Iraqi Governing Council has annulled Revolutionary Command Decree 666 that was issued by the deposed Hussein regime banning citizenship in Iraq for Iraqis of "Persian" origin, KurdSat reported on 3 December.

The decree was enacted in May 1980 and targeted Iraqi Kurds. It stripped them of their citizenship and property, eventually deporting them to Iran. Many Kurds were held in detention camps en route to Iran. The Governing Council also decided to establish a subcommittee to lay down a new nationality law protecting citizens' rights, KurdSat reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...ESTABLISHES ELECTIONS COMMITTEE. The Iraqi Governing Council has decided to establish an elections committee to work with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq to establish a framework for elections, "Al-Ittihad" reported on 1 December. Nine Governing Council members will sit on the committee. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FORMER IRAQI OFFICIAL SAYS HUSSEIN STASHED TENS OF BILLIONS ABROAD... A former Iraqi minister has said that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1972 began depositing 5 percent of Iraq's oil revenues in overseas accounts, and has likely accumulated tens of billions of dollars outside Iraq, AP reported on 3 December.

Jawad Hashim, former planning minister in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Hussein began depositing money overseas when Iraq nationalized its oil industry the same year. Hussein reportedly told Hashim and other ministers, "The Ba'ath Party has come to rule for 300 years and to continue ruling or to come back to rule if toppled by a coup, [and therefore] the party must have a huge amount of money outside Iraq," AP quoted Hashim from his autobiography excerpted in London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 3 December. The former minister said he believes that 5 percent of revenues from 1972 to 1990, the year in which UN sanctions prevented Iraq from transferring funds abroad, amounts to some $31 billion. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS FINANCE MINISTER SAYS IRAQ WILL DEMAND ASSETS FROM SYRIA. Iraqi Finance Minister Kamil al-Kaylani has said that Iraq will soon demand that Syria turn over an estimated $3 billion in Iraqi cash assets held in its banks on behalf of the former Hussein regime, Reuters reported on 3 December.

The $3 billion equals between 20 percent and 30 percent of Syria's gross domestic product, according to Reuters. "All of the money belongs to Iraq. An Iraqi delegation will travel in the next few weeks to Damascus," Kaylani told a Baghdad press conference this week. He said the funds held in Syria came from Syria's illegal sale of oil on behalf of the Hussein regime in contravention of UN sanctions, and from selling nonmilitary goods to the Iraqi Military Industrialization Organization.

Officials in Syria deny that the country is holding $3 billion in Iraqi funds, and have said the figure is much lower. "The amount [of Iraqi assets] is in hundreds of millions of dollars. This has been made clear to an Iraqi delegation who visited [Damascus] for talks on the assets," one Syrian official told Reuters. Syrian Economic Minister Ghassan al-Rifai told reporters in October that Iraqi funds held in Syrian banks amount to far less than $1 billion (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 October 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI PARTIES WILL CONTRIBUTE TO NEW PARAMILITARY FORCE. U.S. officials in Iraq have agreed to establish a paramilitary unit comprising fighters from the five major Iraqi political parties, washingtonpost.com reported on 3 December. The force will work to identify and apprehend anticoalition militants.

The five political parties jointly will contribute some 1,000 militiamen, who will serve in the new counterterrorism battalion under the joint leadership of the U.S. military and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, AP reported on 4 December. Iraqi political parties have long sought to play a greater role in security in Iraq. Each party -- former opposition groups -- had armed militias operating in Iraq, but U.S. forces disbanded nearly all of them in the early months following the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime, maintaining that fighters should operate under a unified Iraqi army, not as separate militias.

"We are willing to take people into these forces as long as when they come in they are not operating as members of these other [militia] forces," U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith told reporters in Washington on 3 December, AP reported. Meanwhile, Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of December Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim welcomed the plan, saying, "At this stage, we should try to make use of any force, any tribal clan, and any individual that can help."

The political parties are: the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraqi National Accord (INA), The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. FORCES CAPTURE FORMER IRAQI OFFICIAL IN RAID. U.S. troops captured a senior former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard in a 2 December raid in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija, located some 50 kilometers west of Kirkuk, AP reported on 3 December. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald told reporters that the raids in Hawija targeted senior former regime members suspected of financing terrorist attacks in the area. He denied reports, however, that the second-most-wanted man in Iraq Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, had been caught in the raid. Meanwhile, Kirkuk Police Major General Turhan Abd al-Rahman told Al-Jazeera on 2 December that more than 100 people were detained in the raid, but the U.S. military said that 34 individuals were detained, AP reported on 3 December. Al-Jazeera identified the former senior regime member as the director of al-Duri's office, identified only as Major General Sa'd.

On 26 November, U.S. forces detained al-Duri's wife and daughter in a raid in Samarra. The son of al-Duri's physician was also detained, according to a press release posted on the U.S. Central Command website (http://www.centcom.mil). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI WOMEN CALL FOR GREATER ROLE. The only two female members of the Iraqi Governing Council called for a greater role for women in the new Iraqi government in a 3 December editorial on the nytimes.com website. Raja Habib Khaza'i and Songul Chabuk contend there are many capable women willing to participate in the rebuilding of their country, yet they remain "severely underrepresented" in the U.S.-installed offices. Only three women were appointed to the Iraqi Governing Council. One, Aqilah al-Hashimi, was assassinated in September; her seat has not been filled. Moreover, only one woman, Nasreen Barwari, has been appointed to the Iraqi cabinet. She serves as minister of municipalities and public works.

Khaza'i and Chabuk called on the United States to set aside slots for women in all levels of government, and in the constitutional drafting process "in proportion to their percentage in the population," to "make good on its previous pledge to appoint at least five women as deputy ministers of governmental agencies," and to increase the number of women on the Governing Council and on any successive governing body. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

POLL FINDS IRAQIS WANT DEMOCRACY. A poll conducted by Britain's Oxford Research International in Iraq has found that 90 percent of Iraqis interviewed said they want a democracy in Iraq, the BBC reported on 1 December. More than 3,000 Iraqis participated in the survey, which was carried out in October and November.

More than 40 percent of respondents said the best thing to happen to them in the past year was the fall of the Hussein regime. The poll also found that only one in 10 Iraqis think most people can be trusted, while nine out of 10 said one should be very careful in dealing with people. Almost half of respondents said they would never discuss politics with others.

According to AP, the poll also found that some 57 percent of respondents said they have no confidence in U.S. and British forces in Iraq, and 22 percent said they do not have very much confidence. Asked about U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, 43.5 percent said they have no confidence in him. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-HAKIM SETS ELECTIONS AT TOP OF GOVERNING COUNCIL'S SCHEDULE. Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of December Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim opened the first council meeting for December with the issue of elections in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 1 December.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, al-Hakim said: "It is necessary to choose members of the transitional national council through elections. Elections, however, have various forms. We are still discussing the proper form of elections that can be held." In another interview published on 2 December in Baghdad's "Al-Mada," al-Hakim said that some members of the council have expressed reservations about the agreement struck between the governing council and U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer regarding national elections.

Asked to detail those reservations, al-Hakim answered: "We objected to the method of the governorates' conferences because they might lead to dissension and perhaps a civil war. The proposal would tear the governorates apart into tribal and political blocs. It would be a source of conflict more than a source of consensus because choosing 200 figures from 1,000 would leave out 800 persons in a hostile position. We made proposals such as special elections or a more objective method of appointment free of the subjective or personal approach." He added that council members also feel it would not be logical to dissolve the governing council once an interim elected government is established. Al-Hakim's specific concern is that any appointed party might not implement Governing Council initiatives, which in turn might create what he called a "legal gap" -- where "there is no authority present to guarantee what the [Governing Council] signs."

As an alternative, al-Hakim said that Governing Council members have voiced support for the establishment of a 50-member representative council "similar to a senate" that would include leading political parties and figures. "This council would play the role of guarantor during the pre-election stage and would create a mechanism in the event a house of representatives or a national council does not carry out its duty." Al-Hakim said that Governing Council members agreed that a "presidency committee" would hold negotiations with the Coalition Provisional Authority to rework the 15 November agreement between the council and CPA (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 November 2003). "The talks are not aimed at canceling [that agreement] but at including articles that eliminate these gaps," al-Hakim said. The talks are reportedly ongoing. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-DA'WAH PARTY REPORTEDLY UNHAPPY WITH TRANSFER PLAN. The Al-Da'wah Party in Iraqi is reportedly not pleased with the agreement made between U.S. officials and the Iraqi Governing Council over the transfer of power in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 November 2003). In a statement printed in Baghdad's "Al-Bayan" newspaper on 2 December, the party claims that the agreement is "contrary to [Iraqi] aspirations to see Iraq free, independent and united."

"In view of the fact that the document deals with laying down the relevant strategies and mechanisms, some of its clauses contravene this principle and prevent the people from having the decisive say, whether with regard to the proposed security agreements, or their right to amend the clauses of the law on administering the state during the provisional period, or the mechanism of electing a legislative council," the statement argues. The party calls for the agreement to be amended and ratified through national elections.

Moreover, Al-Da'wah demands that Iraqis living abroad be given a say in the country's future, adding, "We must not rely on the local councils, which have been formed in a manner that is not compatible with the wishes of the masses." The statement adds that Al-Da'wah supports the role of the Iraqi Governing Council, and suggests that the council act as overseer for national elections. It also calls on the United Nations to ensure free and fair elections, and the transfer of power "without any manipulation." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GOVERNING COUNCIL TO ESTABLISH ANTICORRUPTION AUTHORITY. The Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led CPA in Iraq have decided to establish an anticorruption authority to monitor governmental agencies, international media reported on 3 December. According to dpa, U.S. administrator Bremer said that an anticorruption law would be established by year-end and the new department would investigate any reported incidents of administrative corruption. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST DEPOSED PRESIDENT. Iraqi Governing Council member Iyad Allawi has reportedly filed a lawsuit against deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for an alleged 1978 assassination attempt, dpa reported on 3 December. Allawi said that he has "presented the court with documents including confessions of several hit men who testified that Saddam [Hussein] hired them to kill me." Allawi survived an assassination attempt in London, where he had sought asylum from the Hussein regime. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

MILITANTS ATTACK IRAQI POLICE STATION IN AL-RAMADI. Militants attacked an Iraqi police station in Al-Ramadi on 4 December, international media reported. According to AP, the Al-Ramadi Police Directorate was struck by two rockets as officers gathered inside to collect their monthly paychecks. Two policemen and four civilians were wounded in the incident. Al-Ramadi is located approximately 160 kilometers west of Baghdad, within the so-called Sunni Triangle, where the coalition has faced the toughest resistance. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-SADR AIDE ARRESTED IN BAGHDAD. An aide to Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was arrested in Baghdad, international media reported on 3 December. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters that Amar Yassiri was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a 12 October attack on U.S. forces in Baghdad that killed two soldiers. He was detained during a joint raid in Baghdad's Al-Sadr city. Muqtada al-Sadr is vehemently opposed to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FORMER REPUBLICAN GUARD SOLDIERS APPREHENDED IN MOSUL. Iraqi police working alongside U.S. forces apprehended two former Iraqi Republican Guard officers at a cafe in Mosul, LBC satellite television reported on 2 December. An Iraqi police officer who participated in the arrest said one of the former officers apprehended was carrying $40,000 at the time of the arrest. The two men apprehended are suspected of working with Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, sixth on the U.S. list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. The United States recently offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the killing or capture of al-Duri (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 November 2003).

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on 3 December that U.S. forces captured former Iraqi Brigadier General Daham al-Mahemdi during an early-morning raid on his house in Al-Fallujah. Al-Mahemdi served as a Republican Guard colonel in the Al-Habbaniyah Lakes region west of Baghdad, and was promoted to the rank of general prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is suspected of having indirect contact with deposed President Hussein and of directing anticoalition activities in Al-Fallujah, CENTCOM noted. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. FORCES CLAIM TO KILL 46 MILITANTS IN SAMARRA. The U.S. military said it killed 46 anticoalition militants after troops from Taskforce Ironhorse came under two simultaneous attacks on 30 November in the town of Samarra, located about 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, international media reported on 1 December. U.S. Colonel Frederick Rudesheim told reporters at a press conference broadcast on CNN on 1 December that two currency-exchange convoys shadowed by some 100 U.S. troops were attacked as they attempted to deliver new Iraqi currency to two banks inside the city. Earlier, Reuters reported that 18 Iraqis were wounded in the fighting and eight captured. Five U.S. soldiers and an unidentified civilian traveling with the U.S. troops were also wounded. Meanwhile, Iraqi police reported that eight people were killed in the incident, including two elderly Iranian pilgrims, according to CNN.

Colonel Rudesheim said that there were an estimated 30-40 militants at each bank location, operating in small groups. He said militants had set up ambush points into and out of the city, and had placed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the main road. Pre-positioned militants fired on the convoys from rooftops and alleyways. The militants were reportedly wearing dark clothing and concealed their faces with headwraps, which U.S. military officials identified to be in the style of Fedayeen Saddam fighters. Rudesheim also confirmed that four men in a BMW later attacked another U.S. convoy in Samarra. U.S. soldiers responded to the gunfire, wounding all four of the vehicle's occupants.

Iraqi officials disputed the U.S. claim that reiterated their belief that 46 Iraqis were killed in the 30 November raid, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 2 December. "The Samarra Public Hospital received 54 wounded, whose names have been recorded," local police official Sa'dun Issawi said. He added that eight individuals were killed in the incident, including two civilians. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SEVEN SPANISH INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS KILLED IN AMBUSH. Seven Spanish intelligence officers were killed when militants using rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked their convoy on 29 November, international media reported. One Spanish officer survived the incident, which occurred in the town of Al-Latifiyah, some 32 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Gunmen reportedly attacked the convoy from moving vehicles and from behind a concrete wall. The Spanish officers were forced off the road, and a 30-minute firefight ensued. Soon after the attack, approximately 100 Iraqis reportedly surrounded the vehicle, kicking the bodies of the dead soldiers and chanting pro-Hussein slogans. According to washingtonpost.com, Iraqis at the scene said they believed the dead intelligence officers to be Central Intelligence Agency or Israeli intelligence agents.

Knight-Ridder reported on 30 November that when Iraqi police Lieutenant Khazim Razzak Aziz arrived at the scene of the incident, the Iraqis appeared to be preparing to burn alive the eighth and only surviving Spanish officer. Aziz and five of his police officers rescued the Spanish officer and delivered him to a U.S. military hospital. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told his nation on 30 November that militants in Iraq would not deter Spain, saying, "We will fulfill our commitments with loyalty and serenity." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SCIRI REPORTEDLY THREATENING CPA'S IRAQI MEDIA NETWORK. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has reportedly threatened to mobilize Iraqis against the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi Media Network television (IMN) on grounds that the station is airing programs that the Shi'ite group views as indecent and immoral, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 November.

"If you do not change your programs and submit to our will, we will mobilize the Iraqi street against you. We will resort to another method. We will mobilize the Iraqi street to defend Islam," the satellite news channel quoted SCIRI representative Sadr al-Din al-Qabanji as saying. Al-Jazeera also reported that SCIRI representatives have said they will issue fatwas against IMN if the station's programming is not changed. The report did not provide details on the purportedly offensive programs. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

REGIONAL NEWS
SAUDI ARABIA WITHHOLDS IRAQ PLEDGES, BUT REITERATES COMMITMENT. Saudi Arabia has reportedly decided to withhold some $1 billion in loans and credits it pledged for Iraqi reconstruction, arabnews.com reported on 4 December. Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan denied that Saudi Arabia's commitment to Iraq had changed in a statement posted on the embassy's website (http://www.saudiembassy.net).

"We stand with the world community in efforts to bring stability and peace to Iraq and relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. To that end, we have already provided more than $60 million in aid to the Iraqi people, including food, water, medicine, and supplies. We also continue to maintain a field hospital in Baghdad with over 150 medical staff that has conducted thousands of medical operations and has evacuated more intensive cases to Saudi Arabia for special treatment," the statement read.

According to arabnews.com, U.S. and Saudi officials said the Saudi government's decision to withhold the loans and credits will last until the security situation in Iraq stabilizes and a sovereign Iraqi government is established. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQ TO SUPPLY JORDAN WITH SUBSIDIZED OIL. Iraqi Governing Council member Iyad Allawi told dpa that his country has agreed to supply Jordan with subsidized oil, the news agency reported on 3 December. "It is not a possibility, but it is rather a commitment to supply Jordan with oil for its pivotal role in supporting a free Iraq," Allawi said. According to dpa, the deal will be finalized later this month.

Jordan had received oil from Iraq at subsidized prices since 1990 in a deal struck between Saddam Hussein and the late Jordanian King Hussein. The Hashemite Kingdom agreed last month to purchase oil from fields in Al-Basrah at market prices, but the new deal will reportedly override that agreement.

Allawi discussed other fields of joint cooperation between Jordan and Iraq with Jordanian Prime Minister Faysal Fayez in the sectors of electricity, infrastructure, and trade. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

JORDAN BEGINS TRAINING IRAQI POLICE RECRUITS. Jordan began training some 500 Iraqi police recruits on 1 December. Jordanian news agency Petra reported on 30 November that the training would be part of a two-year program to train some 32,000 Iraqi recruits through eight-week courses. Jordan agreed on to train the police recruits in October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 October 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

TURKEY TELLS U.S. TO CRACK DOWN ON PKK/KADEK. Officials in Ankara have reportedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the United States for not following through with an agreement (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 October 2003) to crack down on the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK) -- formerly known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), CNN Turk reported on 3 December.

Turkish officials reportedly told the U.S. ambassador in Ankara that they have yet to see any results from the plan to eliminate a KADEK/PKK presence from northern Iraq. According to CNN Turk, U.S. officials report progress is being made on the issue. KADEK changed its name last month to the Kurdistan People's Congress, or KHK (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 November 2003).

The group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, but the U.S. military has not taken action to force it from northern Iraq. U.S. officials have said that the U.S. would prefer to wait for an amnesty period granted to KADEK by Turkey to end in January before taking action. The Kurdish group seeks autonomy from Turkey. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

THE UN AND IRAQ
OVERSIGHT BOARD BEGINS WORK. The International Advisory and Monitoring Board established under UN Security Council Resolution 1483 in May is set to begin auditing Iraqi funds held by the U.S. occupation authority in the Development Fund for Iraq, Reuters reported on 3 December. The board is also responsible for auditing Iraqi oil and gas exports, and the Iraqi Central Bank account where oil revenues are deposited. International Monetary Fund senior adviser Bert Keuppens, UN Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, and World Bank Controller Fayezul Choudhury will hold three of four seats on the board. A representative of the Arab fund for Economic and Social Development will hold the fourth seat. The board's first meeting is scheduled for 5 December. (Kathleen Ridolfo).

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL MEETS WITH IRAQ ADVISORY GROUP. Kofi Annan held his first meeting with his advisory group on Iraq on 1 December, UN News Service reported. The group addressed mechanisms for improving Iraq's economic development, political outlook, and military and police security. "The secretary-general has placed very strong emphasis on the need to get the neighboring countries and the countries in the region on board, all supporting the same line of approach to Iraq," Annan's spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters.

The members of the advisory group include Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey, as well as the five permanent Security Council states China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States; and five of the 10 elected Security Council member states: Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan, and Spain.

"Their role is just to provide a sounding board, an informal advisory panel for [Annan's] own thinking, ways he can be helpful and ways they can all work together to move the process in Iraq in the best possible directions," Eckhard told reporters. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UNHCR CALLS ON REGIONAL COUNTRIES TO HELP PALESTINIAN REFUGEES STRANDED ON IRAQI-JORDANIAN BORDER. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on Iraq's neighbors to assist in finding solutions for some 1,800 refugees, mostly of Palestinian origin, stranded on the Iraqi-Jordanian border since April.

According to the UNHCR, Jordan has taken in 386 Palestinians who have Jordanian spouses. Some 427 Palestinians remain in border camps, most of whom hold Iraqi resident documents. Fourteen hold Egyptian papers, and three have Lebanese travel documents. The border camps also house Iranian Kurds.

"Jordan has set a positive example by accepting almost half of the original group.... Now a solution must be found for the rest," Kris Janowski told reporters at a 28 November press conference in Geneva. Janowski said that the camps are not able to provide adequate shelter for the refugees during the winter months. The Palestinian refugees are unwilling to return to Iraq, and have asked to go to the Palestinian territories or Israel. Janowski said that UNHCR is prepared to discuss the issue with the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Jordanian Interior Minister Samir al-Habashinah told Al-Jazeera on 30 November that the Palestinians on the border "must go back to Iraq," adding, "This is the only solution." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY TELLS NATO ITS TROOPS WOULD BE WELCOMED IN IRAQ. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told NATO members on 1 December that the United States would welcome military assistance in Iraq, international media reported. Eighteen of 26 NATO member states already have troops in Iraq. U.S. officials told AP that some European defense ministers have suggested NATO might assume command of a multinational division headed by Poland.

NATO currently provides support for Poland's command over south-central Iraq. Speaking to reporters about the issue at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 4 December, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "Maybe, at some point, we can consider that NATO would take over the responsibility for the sector that the Polish division is currently managing, but that is at some point in the future. There may be broader things that NATO can do," RFE/RL reported. Powell expressed optimism about a future role for NATO in Iraq, saying, "Not one single NATO member here today, or including the new countries that are about to become members of the alliance, spoke against the possibility of an expanded role for NATO in Iraq."

Also on the agenda of the NATO ministerial meetings held this week in Brussels is the possibility of an increased NATO role in Afghanistan, the establishment of a multinational battalion to be based in the Czech Republic, and the phasing out of NATO's eight-year peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

JAPAN NOT DETERRED DESPITE KILLING OF DIPLOMATS. Two Japanese diplomats were killed near the Iraqi town of Tikrit, located approximately 150 kilometers north of Baghdad on 29 November, international media reported. The men were killed when they stopped to buy food and drinks at a roadside stand, AP cited U.S. Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald as saying. The diplomats were traveling without a military escort and were en route to a reconstruction conference. Their Iraqi driver was also reportedly killed.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told reporters on 30 November, "There will be no change in Japan's policy on Iraq reconstruction." A Japanese fact-finding mission returned from Iraq on 27 November, having determined that security conditions are good in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, where Japanese Self-Defense Forces are likely to be stationed early next year.

The deployment of Japanese troops has reportedly been approved by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and is expected to be approved by his cabinet sometime next week, according to Japanese media. According to a 4 December report by AP, Japan will send an advance team of air force personnel to Iraq later this month, and have aircraft and troops in the country by January. Ground forces would be sent to Samawah by February. Moreover, Japan is reportedly considering sending special envoys to the United Nations or to countries neighboring Iraq as part of its commitment to reconstruction efforts there, Kyodo World Service reported on 4 December, citing statements by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Meanwhile, Japan has reportedly postponed a deployment of teams of dozens of engineers and medical personnel to Iraq, AP cited an "Asahi" newspaper article as saying on 2 December. The teams were scheduled to depart by the end of the year to Baghdad, Al-Basrah, and Mosul. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

USAID FUNDS TWO CONSORTIA TO PROMOTE HIGHER EDUCATION IN IRAQ. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced two grants to different U.S.-based university consortia to work with Iraqi universities towards strengthening their capacities, according to an announcement posted on the USAID website (http://www.usaid.gov).

The first consortium led by Jackson State University is called the Mississippi Consortium for International Development. It will work with Mosul University to strengthen its role in the public health and sanitation sectors. "The University of Mosul will develop new avenues to strengthen civil society organizations which will be important partners working in these sectors," the announcement added.

The second grant has been awarded to the University of Oklahoma's College of Continuing Education, which will partner with Al-Anbar University, Al-Basrah University, and Salah Al-Din University. Under the Oklahoma Higher Education Partnership, the consortium will provide technical expertise to the Iraqi universities, including providing the universities with access to academic and research databases previously unavailable under the Hussein regime, the announcement notes. "Some of the initiatives include the establishment and maintenance of the academic exchange program, promoting collaborative research and providing opportunities for faculty and students to interact," it adds. USAID has already initiated a number of projects promoting primary and secondary education in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

PRESIDENT BUSH MAKES SURPRISE VISIT TO IRAQ. U.S. President George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on 27 November to show America's support for U.S. troops on the Thanksgiving holiday. U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told reporters on 29 November that the impromptu visit did much to boost the morale of U.S. soldiers, saying, "Without saying a word, every soldier in there at that moment understood that America was behind them and that all levels of leadership in America supported them, that the president was committed to the mission and more importantly that there will be no wavering in this mission," RFE/RL reported.

Bush met with Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) members during his brief visit to Iraq. IGC member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Al-Jazeera on 28 November that the hour-long talks were "fruitful and serious." "The talks dealt with many problems related to the Iraqi situation, including the security file and the recent agreement reached between the IGC and the coalition troops. The talks also tackled the transfer of power, authorities, and sovereignty from the occupation troops to the IGC...[and] economic and material support," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

END NOTE
AL-SISTANI'S COMMENTS ON ELECTION SPARK GOVERNING COUNCIL DEBATE

By Kathleen Ridolfo

The revelation last week that Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is displeased with an agreement between the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq over the transfer of power has sparked debate within the Governing Council and U.S. government over how to proceed.

U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer and the Governing Council had agreed that caucuses would be held in Iraq's 18 provinces in order to choose representatives to serve on a transitional assembly and act as a provisional government. According to washingtonpost.com, participants in the caucuses would have to be approved by 11 of 15 people that sit on an organizing committee to be established by the Iraqi Governing Council and the U.S.-appointed city and provincial councils. Al-Sistani believes that the transitional phase would not provide enough of a role for the Iraqi people (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 November 2003) and has called instead for national elections.

An aide to al-Sistani clarified the ayatollah's position in an interview with London's "Al-Hayat" published on 2 December. Murtada al-Kashmiri, a London-based representative of al-Sistani, said that al-Sistani believes national elections in Iraq would serve two purposes: First, an elected body would fairly represent the Iraqi people, and second, an elected body's legitimacy could not be contested. "If the assembly members are chosen, uncontested, by the representatives of the Governing Council and the provincial and municipal councils -- who were appointed in one way or another by the occupation forces -- then its legitimacy will be questioned," al-Kashmiri said.

He added that al-Sistani has said experts and specialists must decide how elections are to be carried out. Al-Sistani reportedly suggested that eligible voters be identified through the Iraqi ration-card system or other "associated documents," al-Kashmiri added. Al-Sistani's comments carry significant weight in Iraq. At a conference in Al-Nasiriyah this week, the heads of more than 80 Iraqi tribes backed al-Sistani's position on elections, Al-Jazeera reported.

Moreover, Iraqi Governing Council members, who on 30 November were, according to Governing Council President for the month of December Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, unanimous in their decision to "adopt the principle of referring to the Iraqi people," now appear divided over elections. Many council members, who lobbied hard to get U.S. consent for a rapid transfer of power -- even before a constitution is drafted -- now say that the Iraqi sovereignty they sought will be delayed even longer if a census is required before national elections. "We don't want anything to sway us from full sovereignty at the end of June," Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar told reporters in Baghdad, Reuters reported on 2 December. Governing Council member Raja Habib al-Khaza'i said: "We haven't decided whether there would be local or national elections. If they're national, we need a census, and if we have a census it'll take time, more than a year. We don't have time."

Likewise, Governing Council member Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told washingtonpost.com, "It will be impossible to have elections under the current circumstances," adding, "We all respect the point of view of Ayatollah al-Sistani, but there is a difference between what you wish for and what you can have," the daily reported on 2 December. Unidentified members of the Governing Council contended that al-Sistani's statements "are more than about elections." "It's about whether we will allow one man to dictate the terms of our sovereignty," washingtonpost.com reported.

But Governing Council member Mahmud Uthman told csmonitor.com that national elections would threaten the Arab Sunni population that long dominated Iraqi politics, but is significantly smaller in numbers than the Shi'ite population it oppressed for so many decades. "In principle, no one objects to elections, but we can't have them now," the website quoted Uthman as saying on 3 December. "The [mainly Sunni] Kurds do not have much concern. But the Arab Sunnis are really worried about an enlarged role of the Shi'ites. That needs to be taken into consideration," he said. "We should reach a formula that doesn't threaten anybody," Uthman added.

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told csmonitor.com, "Any elections are better than none at all," while Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said, "You can shoot holes in the idea, but it's better to have an election, even if its quick and dirty, than to have no election at all."

While U.S. officials in Baghdad have said that the Governing Council should decide the issue of elections, officials in the State Department and White House have stressed that the 15 November plan between the CPA and the Governing Council remains in place. "The coalition and the Governing Council agreed upon a framework on 15 November. It included principles and a timetable for achieving a sovereign and democratic Iraq. The coalition is now working with the Governing Council on implementation of that agreement...and that process calls for an early restoration of Iraq's sovereignty, for free and fair elections for the drafters of Iraq's permanent constitution, and for a government elected under that constitution as soon as it has been ratified. So that's the plan that was agreed to, and that's the approach that the Governing Council is moving forward on," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters on 3 December.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher earlier made similar statements, telling reporters on 1 December that elections would be held only after a constitution is drafted. "The permanent constitution will be prepared by constitutional convention directly elected by the Iraqi people, and those direct elections for the constitutional convention will take place down the road as we head towards having a permanent constitution and another election to constitute all the parts of government," he said.

Meanwhile, al-Hakim told Dubai's Abu Dhabi television in a 2 December interview that the council will continue to work towards an acceptable solution. "The dialogue is continuing...there are various forms for elections. Talks and meetings with experts should be held and then the final results that we reach will be presented" to al-Sistani, he said.

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