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Newsline - August 8, 2005

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov telephoned his British counterpart John Reid on 7 August to express Russia's "deepest gratitude" after an unmanned Royal Navy submersible freed the Russian mini-sub that had been trapped on the sea floor near Kamchatka with seven crewmen aboard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005), RTR and other Russian media reported. "The British arrived first and played a decisive role, and, in the name of the families of the seven seamen, I extend our gratitude to the Royal Navy," RIA-Novosti quoted Ivanov as saying. The Defense Ministry suggested that the response to the Russian mini-sub incident by the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan demonstrated the efficiency of coordinated international rescue efforts even when such military resources are thousands of kilometers apart, RTR reported on 8 August. "We've seen in deeds -- not just words -- what the sailors' brotherhood means," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Ivanov as saying on 8 August. Ivanov, who was sent by President Vladimir Putin to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii to coordinate the rescue effort, met with the British crew that eventually freed the Russian craft and presented them with watches, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov had earlier expressed thanks to the United States, Japan, and all the countries whose governments contributed to the effort, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian Pacific Fleet commander Viktor Fedorov described the cause of the incident as a fishing net laid by poachers in a restricted area that got entangled with the submersible. VY

Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin said on 7 August that his party will submit a parliamentary inquiry with the military prosecutors seeking an investigation into the failure of the Russian Navy to rescue the trapped submarine crew without international assistance, Interfax and the party's website ( reported. Rogozin wants to investigate senior defense officials' activities during the crisis and find out why, five years after the notorious "Kursk" tragedy, the navy still does not have its own unmanned rescue submersible. Andrei Vorobiev, who chairs Unified Russia's executive committee, countered Motherland statements by saying "it is up to military professionals, not political parties, to decide whether to call in foreign specialists," according to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that the "carelessness of top military officials has reached its height," reported. The deputy leader of the Union of Rightist Forces, Leonid Gozman, suggested that the presence of the defense minister and Navy commanders at the site of the incident did not help but rather hampered the efforts of those who "truly worked to save the [trapped] sailors," reported. VY

Altai Krai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov, his driver, and a bodyguard were killed when their car smashed into a tree while trying to overtake another vehicle, Russian media reported. Yevdokimov's wife was seriously injured in the incident. An investigation has been launched into the cause of the accident, but police sources suggested the governor's driver might have been at fault. Yevdokimov's first deputy, Mikhail Kozlov, became acting governor. Many compared the transition from show business to politics of Yevdokimov -- who was beloved by many Russians for his comic portrayal of a "real Russian man" in the 19980s and 1990s -- to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger. Yevdokimov defeated incumbent Mikhail Lapshin in 2004, but his relations with both the Kremlin and local legislators were increasingly strained, culminating in a no-confidence vote by the local legislature and subsequent hints from Moscow that he should step down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 28 April 2005). noted that Yevdokimov is the third regional governor to have died in an accident in recent years, following the April 2002 death in a helicopter crash of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and the death the following year, also in a helicopter crash, of Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov. VY

New acting Governor Kozlov suggested on 7 August that some of the circumstances surrounding Yevdokimov's death raise questions, and reported. One week before the fatal accident, Kozlov said, the Interior Ministry withdrew the police convoy that usually escorted Yevdokimov's car. He also questioned how Yevdokimov's specially designed Mercedes was so heavily damaged. Duma Security Committee member Mikhail Markelov (Motherland) claimed on 7 August that "Yevdokimov had too many enemies interested in his death," reported. He also noted Yevdokimov's recent confrontation with the local legislature and said that governors die "too often." Duma Deputy and long-time journalist Aleksandr Khinstein speculated that Yevdokimov's death might "make life in Altai Krai easier," reported. Duma Security Committee members and former security-service officers Gennadii Gudkov and Mikhail Grishankov (both Unified Russia) effectively dismissed suggestions that Yevdokimov's fatal crash was anything but an accident. "Yevdokimov was a politically weak governor and had no enemies interested in his physical liquidation," Gudkov said, according to "The governors simply drive too fast." VY

SPECULATION EMERGES THAT PUBLIC CHAMBER HEAD WILL SUCCEED PUTIN, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," and the "Russkii zhurnal" website ( published pieces on 5 August suggesting that the individual who is elected to chair the new Public Chamber might eventually be the Kremlin's choice to compete in the 2008 presidential election. All three publications conclude that pro-Kremlin director of the Political Research Institute, Sergei Markov, will become chairman of the Public Chamber, a consultative body being pushed by the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). Markov is generally regarded as combining a liberal outlook with loyalty to Putin, commented, while he is generally predictable and does a good job of assessing current politics. Markov is also the only Russian commentator who did not "fail professionally" during Ukraine's Orange Revolution, added. Markov suggested on 5 August that while he might be chosen to head the Public Chamber, he has "no aspirations to be [Putin's] successor," according to Markov predicted that Putin's replacement will come from among his "chekist team," reported. VY

Unified Russia on 5 August issued a statement by Andrei Isaev, a member of the party's general council, charging that Rogozin's Motherland party is allied with convicted former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Interfax and reported. The statement argued that Rogozin expressed solidarity with a recent editorial by Khodorkovskii predicting a "left turn" in Russian politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005) and drew parallels between Khodorkovskii's piece and a recent article by the leader of Motherland's youth wing. Isaev claimed that there is a "close link between Motherland and the oligarchs," positing that Rogozin's party is angling for more financial support. The Motherland website posted a message from Rogozin on 1 August agreeing with some of the predictions Khodorkovskii made in his editorial, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 August. However, REN-TV on 5 August quoted Rogozin as saying the statement from Unified Russia contained "such obvious ravings that it is impossible to comment on it. Apparently, [my] colleagues from Unified Russia have simply become overheated in the summer heat." LB

Motherland leader Rogozin on 5 August confirmed that his party will sign a cooperation agreement this month with Aleksandr Prokhanov, editor of the weekly "Zavtra," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2005). However, Rogozin denied rumors that Motherland will buy the weekly or turn it into a "party organ." He said that "Zavtra" is a well-known "patriotic brand" in Russia and is "ideologically close to us." Prokhanov also denied that the weekly is for sale, telling Interfax that "Zavtra" is a "sovereign publication." Prokhanov said the editorial collective decided to turn away from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), "with whom we very closely cooperated" over the course of a decade, toward Motherland. "The KPRF has newspapers that are close to it, but Motherland does not have its own publication, and we consider it good to ideologically feed this young movement, which is not yet standing on its own feet." LB

The chairwoman of the State Duma's committee on women, family, and youth, Yekaterina Lakhova (Unified Russia), called on 5 August for a temporary moratorium on the adoption of Russian orphans by citizens of countries in which "corporal punishment" is permitted, Russian Television (RTR) reported. She advocated maintaining the moratorium until bilateral treaties can be signed that would outline a system of measures to monitor adoptions and the treatment of children. Lakhova added that such principles are found in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, "which has been ratified by more than 130 countries, but not America." Lakhova's comments came following news reports of another child from Russia who was allegedly killed by adoptive parents in the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). LB

The journalist Sergei Dorenko is suing the Kommersant publishing house, demanding a retraction and 35 million rubles ($1.2 million) in damages, reported on 5 August. At issue is an article published in the weekly magazine "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 13, in April that asserted that Dorenko, as the host of a weekly program on Russian Public Television (ORT), "publicly swayed from one side to another in covering the events of the Chechen war." The article suggested that in his shifting attitude toward Chechnya during 1999 and 2000, Dorenko was following the lead of Boris Berezovskii, who was ORT's largest private shareholder at the time. Dorenko told that he "always called for maximally brutal operations" in Chechnya, even though Berezovskii began advocating peace talks with Chechen officials in December 1999. Speaking to on 5 August, Berezovskii, who is currently the main shareholder in Kommersant, said that he and Dorenko had often disagreed over Chechnya. Berezovskii also characterized the suggestion that Dorenko followed his lead on Chechnya as "really strange." Pavel Filenkov, commercial director of the Kommersant publishing house, predicted that Dorenko will either lose the case or come to a "peaceful agreement," Prime-TASS reported on 5 August. LB

Isa-hadji Khamkhoev has written to Aleksii II, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Council of Muftis of Russia Chairman Ravil Gainutdin, and Ismail-hadji Verdiev, chairman of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North Caucasus, to complain about a warning addressed to the imam of the village of Tarskoe in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, reported on 8 August. The Tarskoe village administrator sent a written complaint to the imam, reproduced on the Ingush website, that the recorded calls to morning and evening prayers from the mosque in Tarskoe "disturb the peace" and undermine efforts by the North Ossetian leadership to "normalize" relations between the village's Ingush and Ossetian residents. Khamkhoev appealed to Patriarch Aleksi and to his Muslim colleagues to advise the North Ossetian leadership against any further such "extremist" actions that could destabilize the situation in North Ossetia. LF

Andranik Markarian confirmed on 5 August that the Armenian leadership will not introduce direct mayoral elections in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said that "in this transitional period," the capital's mayor will be chosen by the municipal council, and he will in turn appoint the mayors of the city's 10 administrative districts. Several Armenian opposition parties have said they will support President Robert Kocharian's package of draft constitutional amendments only if that draft is amended to provide for the direct election of the Yerevan mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 27 July and 3 August 2005). LF

A Yerevan district court on 5 August found Gagik Grigorian guilty of abetting a plot by former Transport and Communications Minister Eduard Madatian to assassinate several members of the country's leadership -- including President Kocharian, Prime Minister Markarian, and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian -- and handed down a two-year probation period, Noyan Tapan reported. A second accomplice, Misha Khudaverdian, informed the police of the planned murder, and Grigorian was arrested while handing $40,000 to Khudaverdian to prepare the assassination by planting a land mine in a forestry reserve the officials were scheduled to visit. Khudaverdian told the court on 3 August he did not think Grigorian knew what the money was to be used for. An arrest warrant has been issued for Madatian, whose current whereabouts are unknown. Madatian reportedly intended to seize power following the killings, occupy the post of prime minister, and ensure the election as president of opposition National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, according to Noyan Tapan on 3 August. LF

Nelson Ledsky, who is regional director for Eurasia of the U.S. National Democratic Institute, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service by telephone on 5 August that there is no truth to the allegation by the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office that the NDI provided funds to the Azerbaijani youth organization Yeni Fikir. That youth group's leader, Ruslan Bashirli, has been charged with plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). Ledsky explained that the NDI conducts programs in 50-60 countries worldwide but does not provide funds to individual parties or groups and is banned by U.S. law from doing so. LF

In a 6 August interview with Lider television posted two days later on, Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov rejected opposition claims that the charges brought against Bashirli were part of an attempt to discredit the Azerbaijani opposition in the run-up to the 6 November parliamentary ballot. "I would like to assure the Azerbaijani public that the Prosecutor General's Office has always based its work on the principle of the supremacy of the law," Garalov was quoted as saying. Garalov repeated that some opposition figures, including Bashirli, have been co-opted by Armenian intelligence. Garalov also sought to implicate Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), in the alleged coup preparations: Noting that the office of Yeni Fikir is located in the AHCP headquarters, he alleged that Kerimli directed Bashirli's activities. On 5 August, the pro-government Modern Musavat party issued a statement demanding the closure of the AHCP and the expulsion from Azerbaijan of the NDI and of U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish, Turan reported. LF

Ruslan Bashirli's father Djalil, who is a member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told a news conference in Baku on 6 August that film footage incriminating his son was selectively edited, Turan reported. He denied that his son had a homosexual relationship with Kerimli, whom pro-government parliamentarians and newspapers have repeatedly insinuated is gay (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003 and 22 December 2004). Kerimli is the father of two children. Djalil Bashirli also said he and other family members have been harassed since Ruslan's arrest on 3 August, and that stones have been thrown at the family home in Zardob Raion. LF

Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court has responded to an appeal by a group of prisoners serving life sentences at the Gobustan jail, Turan and reported on 6 August, quoting human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov. The prisoners were originally sentenced to death, but those sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after Azerbaijan abolished the death penalty in 1998. The prisoners embarked on a hunger strike on 1 August to demand that their life sentences be reduced to the maximum 15-year term in force at the time that they were sentenced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). The Constitutional Court ruled that the Law on the Abolition of the Death Penalty has been superceded by the introduction in 2000 of a new Criminal Code, Criminal Procedural Code, and Code on Determining Punishment, and that the prisoners should appeal to the local court to have their life sentences reviewed. They have since abandoned their hunger strike. LF

A group of some 25 people wielding iron bars attacked the Nakhichevan headquarters of the AHCP on 5 August, injuring 10 party members and smashing equipment, Turan reported, quoting branch chairman Asaf Guliev. Unknown perpetrators daubed insults and obscenities on the walls of the office during the night of 5-6 August, Turan reported on 6 August. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 7 August that the Georgian authorities do not plan to use force to restore control over the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Russian media last week quoted South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity as claiming Tbilisi is preparing to launch a new offensive on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). Saakashvili added, however, that Georgia is strong enough to prevent any "provocation." On 6 August, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said Tbilisi has proposed that Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli travel to Tskhinvali on 15 September for talks with Kokoity, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Republican Party Chairman David Usupashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 5 August that the party will not participate in the parliamentary by-elections to be held in five constituencies on 1 October because the Central Election Commission (TsSK) has revoked the party's registration and it is impossible to re-register by the 8 August deadline, Georgian media reported. Usupashvili said the Republicans will now begin preparing for the local elections to be held in 2006. Also on 5 August, TsSK Chairman Gia Kavtaradze rejected the Republicans' claims that the TsSk deliberately created obstacles to their participation in the ballot, reported. Kavtaradze said the party could be reregistered "in 15 minutes" if it submitted the appropriate application. LF

Representatives of the Conservative and Labor parties, the New Conservatives (aka the New Rightists), and Tavispuleba (Freedom), which is headed by deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's son Konstantine, signed a memorandum in Tbilisi on 5 August under which they will hold primaries on 17 September to select joint candidates to contest each of the five 1 October by-elections, Georgian media reported. National Democratic Party of Georgia Chairman Bachuki Kardava expressed regret on 5 August that his party was not invited to join the four, saying that the maximum possible number of opposition parties should participate in the primaries, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Suspected cases of avian flu have been reported in Kazakhstan's Eastern Kazakhstan and Aqmola provinces, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 5 August. The reports follow an outbreak of bird flu in Pavlodar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 August 2005). Sources in the Emergency Situations Ministry told the news agency that a disease identified in preliminary diagnoses as bird flu has now killed 364 chickens in East Kazakhstan Province and 37 wild ducks in Aqmola Province. Addressing the situation in East Kazakhstan Province, the ministry announced: "All poultry farms in the region are now operating in closed mode. Preventive steps are being taken in keeping with a comprehensive plan." In the wake of the bird-flu reports, Kyrgyzstan on 5 August banned imports of poultry from Kazakhstan's Pavlodar Province, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Tajikistan has also banned poultry imports from Kazakhstan, Avesta reported on 5 August. The European Commission has asked member states to approve a ban on poultry imports from Kazakhstan by 12 August, Reuters reported on 6 August. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court issued a ruling on 5 August clearing Topchubek Turgunaliev, the head of the Erkindik Party, of all charges in connection with a 1999 criminal case, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Turgunaliev received a prison term in 2000 for an alleged attempt on the life of then President Askar Akaev, who later amnestied Turgunaliev without voiding the conviction. The court's action follows similar rulings on 4 August nullifying convictions in 1995 and 1997. Turgunaliev has maintained that the criminal cases were politically motivated and intended to punish him for his opposition to Akaev. "During the years of Akaev's government, I was put on trial three times on criminal charges alone," Turgunaliev told Kyrgyz Television 1 on 5 August. "I spent 1,184 days in prison cells." Adylbek Kasymov, who heads the Erkindik Party's headquarters, told on 6 August, "This rehabilitation was not political, but rather legally justified." DK

Tajikistan's Supreme Court will begin proceedings in the criminal case against Ghaffor Mirzoev, the former head of the Drug Control Agency and former commander of the National Guard, in late August, Avesta reported on 5 August. Akram Azizov, one of Mirzoev's defense lawyers, told the news agency that the prosecution and defense will finish studying 90 volumes of case materials on 20 August. Mirzoev, who was arrested on 6 August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004), faces murder, weapons-possession, and corruption charges. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov has signed decrees granting Turkmen citizenship to 13,245 people, mainly former Tajik citizens who fled Tajikistan during that country's 1992-97 civil war, reported on 5 August. The report noted that most are ethnic Turkmen. Others covered by the decrees include residents of territory recently returned to Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan. Niyazov also signed resolutions granting residence permits to 3,053 displaced persons, most of them former citizens of Tajikistan. DK

A senior Belarusian official suggested after the latest in a series of mutual diplomatic expulsions between Minsk and Warsaw on 5 August that the two sides sit down to negotiate an end to the row, PAP and international media reported the same day. The move came after a third round of tit-for-tat ejections that began after Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused Poland of interfering in Belarus's affairs two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 July 2005 and "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 27 May and 22 June 2005). Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Mikhnevich said his country is ready for talks to resolve the dispute and suggested that "the initiative is on the Polish side" now that equal numbers of diplomats have been expelled, according to PAP. "The number of diplomats expelled by each side now stands at four, and there is no need to continue these exchanges," Mikhnevich was quoted by dpa as saying. "We call on our Polish colleagues to enter into talks to normalize relations." AH

Ukrainian police have arrested an unnamed Russian man in the eastern Zaporizhya Oblast on suspicion of killing as many as 20 young girls over the past two decades, Deputy Interior Minister Hennadiy Moskal told journalists on 6 August, according to Reuters on 8 August. The suspect, who settled in Dnipropetrovsk from Siberia in 1982, was arrested in connection with the murder last week of a 10-year-old girl, and has reportedly confessed to an unspecified number of killings. LF

A court in Pozarevac, which is the home town of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, dropped charges on 6 August against his son Marko, who had been accused of threatening political activist Zoran Milovanovic with a chainsaw in March 2000, regional and international media reported. The charges were dropped after Milovanovic said that he "cannot remember details" of the incident. Serbian opposition politician and former Justice Minister Vladan Batic told RFE/RL that Milovanovic's family had been pressured by Milosevic backers, which accounts for Milovanovic's change in testimony. Serbian media reports noted that the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, which needs the votes of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) to survive in the parliament, may have told the court to drop the charges as part of a political deal with the SPS. Marko Milosevic is now free to return to Serbia from Russia. In what was widely seen as another deal between Kostunica and the SPS, the government recently withdrew its international arrest warrant against Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June and 5 August 2005). PM

Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije said on 7 August that he has no intention of listening to those politicians who recently criticized the Serbian Orthodox Church for building a small church on Mt. Rumija without the permission of the authorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica (see, "Serbia and Montenegro: The Politics of Churches and Helicopters"). Amfilohije stressed that for him to consult people who are former communist functionaries would be as foolish as "asking a blind man where to go." PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in Skopje on 7 August that the case of the jailed Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan is "an internal affair of Macedonia" and he declined to comment on recent calls by Serbian leaders for Jovan's release, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 5 August 2005). Crvenkovski stressed that Jovan had been trying to "set up a sort of church organization...not to minister to the spiritual needs of Serbs in Macedonia but...[to challenge the authority of] the Macedonian Orthodox Church." PM

Representatives acting on behalf of the small Montenegrin Orthodox Church (CPC) and officials of the local government of the district of Mali Idjos in Vojvodina have signed an agreement providing for the construction of a CPC church in the village of Lovcenac, the private Beta news agency reported on 8 August, quoting the Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski list." Nenad Stevovic, who signed the agreement on behalf of the Krstas Society of Montenegrins in Serbia and the CPC, said that "this is not a response to the Mt. Rumija affair but rather something we began some time ago. Now the time has come to put the plan into action." One commentator told the Novi Sad daily, however, that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is likely to regard the action by the Krstas Society as an attempt by the CPC to move into SPC territory. PM

Kurdish leaders in Iraq have called for all of their demands to be met in the draft constitution, threatening that otherwise they will encourage voters in the three Kurdish provinces to vote down the document in October.

Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani has led the call and has become increasingly vocal in recent weeks, even saying on 1 August that Kurds have the right to establish their own state. Therefore, he concluded, the other parties to the draft should be grateful that Kurds have not demanded more.

"What we are demanding is the least of rights, as our rights are more than this. There are [important] issues that cannot be negotiated, including the Kirkuk issue, natural resources, federalism, the peshmergas, and the right of the Kurdistan parliament to legislate," Baghdad's "Al-Dustur" on 3 August quoted Barzani as saying.

Barzani has kept a close watch on all Iraqi parliamentary proceedings and recalled Kurdish delegates on 1 August after the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance attempted to push through legislation on 30 July without allowing members time to review and discuss it. Shi'ite parliamentarian Sa'd Qandil reportedly submitted the legislation, which proposed dividing Iraq into electoral constituencies rather than regarding the entire country as one constituency as it was in the January election.

Barzani has also alleged that the Iraqi Independent Election Commission intends to somehow harm the Kurds, who, along with large numbers of Chaldo-Assyrians and Turkomans, were denied the opportunity to vote in some areas west of Mosul in January because ballots were never delivered.

Among the initiatives recently undertaken by Kurds is the inclusion of a clause in the constitution that would allow Kurds to vote on independence in eight years. Sunni drafters in particular have objected to the clause. The issue is compounded for the Sunnis by the insistence of Shi'ite drafters on a clause that would allow for several governorates to unite as regions. Under the Transitional Administrative Law -- the interim constitution for Iraq drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority -- no more than three governorates may form a region.

The Kurdistan region currently comprises three governorates, but Kurds are seeking to redraw the boundaries of the region to include the oil-rich Kirkuk Governorate, a move opposed by Sunni Arabs and Turkomans who also live in Kirkuk. Shi'ite parliamentarian Husayn Shahristani told "Al-Hayat" on 31 July that Arabs would also oppose including Kirkuk in the Kurdistan region, saying they have only agreed on normalizing the security situation in Kirkuk.

Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) submitted a redrawn map to the Iraqi National Assembly for consideration in the new constitution in late July. The map includes Kirkuk and the towns of Badra and Jassan, located east of Al-Suwayrah (which is south of Baghdad) close to the Iranian border. KDP member Mullah Bakhtiyar told reporters that the map "is based on historical and geographical facts," adding, "We are determined to stick to this map," AP reported on 22 July.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and its head, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, back the KDP's demands. PUK member and Iraqi Planning Minister Barham Salih said last week that he supports a boycott of the draft constitution should it fail to respect Kurdish basic rights.

The Kurds had objected to a Shi'ite proposal that would make Shari'a law the basic source of legislation in the new Iraq. That issue appears to have been resolved in recent days, with Shari'a being identified merely as "a" source of legislation.

But Talabani has taken a more diplomatic approach to resolving the issues. He told Al-Arabiyah television in a 25 July interview that Kurds might be willing to give up control of Kirkuk's oil to the federal government in exchange for normalization in the city. The Iraqi president has also said that other issues, including the insistence of the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance that Iraq be officially renamed the Islamic Federal Iraqi Republic, would not be a sticking point in negotiations for the draft constitution.

Talabani has taken a stronger approach, however, to what he sees as an attempt by the Shi'ite-led administration to monopolize power. Talabani has been equally vocal in criticizing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government for not moving forward on certain issues, most notably implementing change in Kirkuk.

Kurds also oppose attempts by the Shi'a to dissolve the peshmerga. Husayn Shahristani, deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, told "Al-Hayat" on 31 July that the peshmerga forces "cannot stay just like that" and must be dissolved or integrated into the Iraqi Army. Peshmerga forces are currently active outside the Kurdistan region in cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk, and Khanaqin.

But Kurds are not the only ones criticizing the al-Ja'fari's government. Iraqi Shi'ite leaders observing the developments from abroad have been equally critical.

A group of Shi'ite leaders in London told the "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 30 July that they hold al-Ja'fari's government responsible for the deterioration of security, services, and financial corruption. The leaders contended that al-Ja'fari's administration does not have the experience and has no connection to the streets of Iraq.

One leader, Abd al-Husayn al-Mu'mini, said that Baghdad has no control over the majority of state affairs. "The majority of cities in southern and central Iraq, apart from Baghdad, are under the control of the political parties and ruled by the militia of these parties," al-Mu'mini said. In northern Iraq, Kurdistan is under the control of the Kurds who are enjoying an almost independent rule, and their peshmerga militias are in control of the security situation there. The remainder of the area purportedly under al-Ja'fari's control is actually mostly controlled by U.S. forces.

Shi'ite political activist and Islamic scholar Iyad Jamal al-Din criticized what he viewed as the Shi'ite religious authorities' interference in politics in an interview with the daily published on 28 July, calling it dangerous to exploit religious legitimacy in politics. He said he hoped that the constitution would support a secular state. "A secular regime is a guarantee of the freedom of the religious establishment and other institutions. It is a guarantee of the freedom of political parties and individuals," al-Din said.

Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi said on 7 August that Balkh and Samangan provinces have fared poorly in their efforts to combat narcotics over the past year, Afghan Voice Agency (AVA) reported. Qaderi said that while most of Afghanistan's provinces have witnessed a reduction in the cultivation of opium poppy, there has been a significant increase in its production in Balkh and Samangan provinces. Meanwhile, the Afghan Special Narcotics Force (ASNF) on 6 August conducted its first operation in Balkh Province, according to a 7 August press release issued by the Interior Ministry. The ASNF destroyed in "excess" of 3,800 kilograms of opiates as well as an unspecified number of weapons, according to the statement. It added that since its inception in January, the ASNF has destroyed 130 tons of opium, 35 tons of precursor chemicals, and more than 120 drug-processing laboratories. AT

The Afghanistan Counternarcotics Police recently seized 390 kilograms of "fully processed heroin" in Nangarhar Province, according to a 6 August Interior Ministry press release. The seizure is the largest since the formation of the Counternarcotics Police in 2003. The heroin was believed to be "destined for Europe," according to the press release. Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Daud said on 6 August that the police force received logistical assistance from the United States and the United Kingdom. The Interior Ministry oversees two separate antidrug forces, the Counternarcotics Police and the ASNF. AT

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi on 7 August said that a skirmish between the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police recently took place on the main road connecting Kabul with northern parts of the country, AVA reported. A special team consisting of both Interior and Defense ministry personnel has been formed to investigate the incident, Azimi added, without providing additional comments or details. AT

National Understanding Front Chairman Mohammad Yunos Qanuni on 7 August complained about the excessive number of ballot papers that have been printed for Afghanistan's parliamentary and provincial-council elections scheduled for 18 September, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported. Qanuni asserted during a meeting with an EU election-monitoring delegation that 40 million ballots have been published for 10.5 million voters. Sultan Ahmad Bahin, spokesman for the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), argued that 12 million voters are expected to vote separately for parliamentary and provincial-council candidates, which would account for 24 million ballots. The JEMB previously announced that the total number of registered voters is 12 million; it is not clear what Qanuni is basing his 10.5 million figure on (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2005). Qanuni, who finished second to President Hamid Karzai in the October presidential election, has criticized that election and has warned of impending improprieties in the upcoming vote (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2005). AT

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 6 August that the European Union's latest nuclear proposal is unacceptable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2005), IRNA and state television reported. He said the proposal ignores what he perceives as Iran's right to enrich uranium. He accused the Europeans of wasting time. The next day, Assefi said Iran is not worried about the possibility of being referred to the UN Security Council, RFE/RL reported. "I suggest that the Europeans avoid the language of threat," he said. "The Europeans have called an emergency meeting for the IAEA on [8 August] about Iran's nuclear case. We think the referral of Iran's case to the Security Council would be unlawful and politically motivated. If one day they refer Iran's case [to the UN Security Council], we won't be worried in the least. The Europeans should choose their way." BS

Iran's new president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, took his oath of office at the legislature in Tehran on 6 August, the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported. His term will last four years. BS

President Ahmadinejad has 15 days to submit his list of cabinet ministers to the legislature for a vote of confidence. The Khedmat website ( cited on 6 August an anonymous "informed source" who said the names will be submitted on 8 August. Most of the people on the list are relative unknowns, although some legislators are identified. The website predicted that Ali Larijani would be tapped as Supreme National Security Council secretary, a position that does not require parliamentary approval. Maryam Behruzi, political secretary of the Followers of the Imam and Leadership Front, said Ahmadinejad will not have any women in his cabinet, "Mardom Salari" reported on 6 August. Behruzi, who also serves as secretary of the conservative women's party called the Zeynab Society, added that Ahmadinejad has yet to respond to the request of 10 women's parties and groups for a meeting. BS

Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian said on 7 August that 59 people in Iran have been identified as cholera patients and four have died of the disease, Iranian state radio reported. An anonymous Health Ministry official warned that consumption of unwashed vegetables and human contact are the main causes of the outbreak. Another Health Ministry official identified only as "Dr. Akbari" said on 5 August that illegal immigrants are responsible for the cholera outbreak, state radio reported. "One hundred Pakistanis who were living around Indus River in Punjab region until recently have traveled to Qom and settled in various parts of that province," he said. "Cholera has been transmitted by these illegal immigrants." Akbari said unwashed vegetables carry the illness in the Tehran and Karaj areas and stressed the importance of hygiene. "The Daily Times," a newspaper from Lahore, reported on 6 August that Iran has restricted its visa policy for Pakistanis, and officials at the Iranian Consulate in Lahore attributed this to health concerns. "We are refusing visas to hepatitis (B and C) and tuberculosis patients only," said consulate official Ishaq Bangash. An unidentified consulate source said this policy applies to the poor, but not to clerics or Shi'a leaders. BS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Tehran on 7 August for a two-day visit, SANA and IRNA reported. Minister of Housing and Urban Development Ali Abdulalizadeh met the visitor at the airport, and al-Assad then met with his counterpart, Mahmud Ahmadinejad. "Common threats to Iran and Syria require joint cooperation from the two countries more than ever," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying at a joint press conference. He added that there are no limits to Tehran-Damascus cooperation. Al-Assad said the two would discuss bilateral relations, the war on terror, the Middle East peace process, international developments, and Iraqi affairs. Syria and Iran are the main foreign supporters of Lebanese Hizballah, and just days before al-Assad's visit, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah visited Iran to meet with Ahmadinejad. BS

U.S. military and intelligence officials have said that there is mounting evidence that a new sophisticated type of roadside bomb that began appearing in Iraq some two months ago was manufactured in Iran, reported on 6 August. The bombs are designed to destroy armored vehicles. Iraqi security forces have seized some of the devices, including one large shipment that was being transported across the northern border area between Iraq and Iran last week. One unidentified senior military official said "tens" of the bombs have made it into Iraq. "These are among the most sophisticated and most lethal devices we've seen," the senior officer told the website. Another military official told the website that the bombs appear to have been machine-made, indicating a level of sophistication. The officials said there is no evidence that the Iranian government is involved in the transport of bombs to Iraq. KR

Iraqi leaders gathered at the home of President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad on 7 August to discuss outstanding issues related to the constitution, international media reported. Little information was given to the press following the talks, which were attended by senior Iraqi officials, including Sunni Arabs Hajim al-Hasani, speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly; Adnan al-Janabi, a member of the Iraqis List; and constitutional committee member Salih al-Mutlak. There were conflicting reports as to whether Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari attended. Shi'ite leaders in attendance included Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim; Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi; and representatives of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, reported. Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani did not attend due to a sandstorm that made it impossible to travel. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to reporters about the meeting, saying it provided "the opportunity to lay the foundation for a new Iraq," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 7 August. Khalilzad called for the constitution to respect the rights of women and minorities. The meetings were expected to continue on 8 August, but were cancelled due to a sandstorm in Baghdad. KR

President Talabani told reporters on 7 August that the talks on the constitution will be expanded to include "a number of major parties that will take part in this mission," Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Meanwhile, Isam al-Rawi, spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association's Shura Council, told "Al-Hayat" that the association is not taking part in the talks because it opposes the majority of the draft constitution. He said the association opposes Kurdish calls for federalism, defining Kurdish as an official state language, and Kurdish attempts to annex Kirkuk. The association is also opposed to Shi'ite attempts to form regions in southern Iraq. Al-Rawi said that the association also opposes issues related to religion, and Kurdish and Shi'ite proposals for the official name of Iraq. He also rejected the position of the Sunni groups National Dialogue Council, the Sunni Waqf, and the General Sunni Conference, which support the special status of Kurdistan and, according to al-Rawi, will subjugate Iraq's Arabs to the Kurds. He claimed these groups do not truly represent the Sunni Arabs and predicted they will fail in the next election. KR

Hundreds of Iraqi Kurds demonstrated outside the governor's office in the northern Iraqi town of Zakho on 5 August, the Kurdistan Democratic Party newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 6 August. The demonstrators demanded the normalization of Kirkuk according to Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law, and called for Kurdish demands to be met in the constitution. Meanwhile, President Talabani's spokesman Kamran al-Karadaghi denied a statement made by constitutional committee member Hasib Arif al-Ubaydi, who claimed to Al-Sharqiyah television on 6 August that Talabani approved delaying the issue of Kirkuk until the next National Assembly convenes. Al-Karadaghi said the issue of Kirkuk never came up at the meeting. KR