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Newsline - November 10, 2006

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on November 9 in Yunost, Moscow Oblast, that he expects no change in relations with the United States following the recent resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Interfax reported. Ivanov said that he hopes "relations between the Defense ministries of Russia and the United States will develop in the same constructive manner as they have so far, in the sense that the two ministries will proceed from their national interests, but also take into account the threats and challenges that equally concern the United States and Russia." PM

President Vladimir Putin on November 9 named Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov to head the new United Aircraft Company (OAK), reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). Ivanov said that the company will be fully set up by April 2007 and have assets of about $3.6 billion. He added that the military branch will be closed to foreign investment and "developed" separately from the civilian one, in which foreign participation will be encouraged. In February 2006, Putin signed a decree setting up the OAK, in which the state will own at least 75 percent of the equity. It will merge all Russian civilian and military aircraft producers in keeping with the trend under Putin for key branches of the economy to be concentrated in large state-run corporations, which Andrei Illarionov, who is a former Putin economics adviser, and the "Financial Times" on June 19 described as a "corporate state." The OAK is currently seeking a strong foreign partnership to modernize Russia's moribund aerospace industry. Ivanov has publicly questioned whether the arms industry in general is competitive in the long term. Following a major airline crash in late August, Ivanov was placed in charge of air safety (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 31 and August 31, 2006). PM

The Russian Supreme Court on November 9 overturned the recent acquittal of three suspects in the July 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes," "The Washington Post" reported on November 10. Two of the three Chechens were found not guilty of carrying out a contract killing on behalf of another Chechen, whom Klebnikov had criticized in a book. A third indicted Chechen was found not guilty of belonging to a gang that included the other two men. Michael Klebnikov, who is the slain journalist's brother, hailed the Supreme Court ruling, but added that "after two years, we are still waiting for justice." Paul Klebnikov wrote extensively about corruption in Russia. Anna Balishina, who is the Klebnikov family member dealing with the media, told RFE/RL's Russian Service by telephone on November 10 that the family is not only encouraged by the Supreme Court ruling but also hopes that it will help lead to the solving of the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and 11 other journalists slain in Russia since 1998. PM

Ten deputies belonging to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party walked out of the regional legislature of the Republic of Tuva on November 9, leaving the outgoing parliament without a quorum, the daily "Kommersant" reported on November 10. The new legislative body, which was elected on October 8 amid charges of irregularities, cannot be constituted until legal challenges raised by the Party of Life (RPZh) are investigated. Deputies from the RPZh charged that Unified Russia staged a "provocation" by effectively hamstringing the current parliament. Those deputies added, however, that they will not seek a compromise with Unified Russia, even if that means that no budget can be approved. Tuva is located at the geographic center of Asia and is generally known as an isolated region. About 77 percent of its roughly 300,000 people are ethnic Tuvans, who speak a largely Turkic language but have strong cultural affinities with Mongolia. PM

Primorsky Krai administration head Sergei Darkin pledged in Vladivostok on November 9 that "the murder [of Dalnegorsk's former Mayor and prominent mayoral candidate Dmitry Fotyanov] will be solved," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 20, 23, and 31, 2006). Fotyanov was one of at least two first-round candidates from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and was headed for a run-off when he was killed on October 19. A new mayoral vote has been tentatively slated for March 2007. On November 10, regional prosecutor Yury Melnikov said that three suspects have been charged in the slaying, two of whom are in custody, RIA Novosti reported. PM

The Russian and Chechen Prosecutor-General's Offices have provided the Swedish authorities with documentation that reportedly substantiates their demand for the extradition of Magomed Uspayev, a relative of slain Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, according to as reposted on November 9 by Uspayev, who has lived in Sweden since 2002, is wanted in Russia on charges of abduction stemming from his alleged participation in the July 1999 kidnapping in Ingushetia of ITAR-TASS correspondent Vladimir Yatsin, who was killed in Chechnya six months later. LF

Eleven Ingushetian parliament deputies have addressed two separate open letters to President Putin in connection with a television documentary on the 1992 conflict in Prigorodny Raion screened on Russian television two months ago. Both open letters were posted on the website on November 9, and both registered concern at what the signatories dubbed hostile and inappropriate comments by presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak. Six of the 11 signatories also signed an earlier open letter to Kozak protesting comments he made in the documentary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2006). LF

Nor zhamanakner (New Times) leader Aram Karapetian alleged on November 9 that on explicit orders from President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, he has been systematically deprived for a period of 19 months of the opportunity to speak on television, Noyan Tapan reported. Karapetian recalled that his party has some 20,000 members and that he polled fourth in the 2003 presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 2003). Defense Minister Sarkisian rejected on November 6 as "laughable" earlier allegations by Karapetian and other Armenian oppositionists that they are being pressured by the so-called "power" agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 7, 2006). LF

Former Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov, who was sentenced in early August to 18 months' imprisonment on charges of illegal possession of a weapon, has been released from jail after serving two-thirds of his sentence, and reported on November 10. Yusifov was arrested in October 2005 on suspicion of involvement in an alleged coup plot masterminded by former Health Minister Ali Insanov and Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 31, 2005). The investigation into that alleged conspiracy continues. LF

Five opposition deputies walked out of the parliament chamber on November 9 to protest a proposal by speaker Oktay Asadov to curtail the time allocated for individual deputies to comment on the 2007 draft budget, and reported on November 10. Panah Guseyn subsequently told journalists the draft budget is "corrupt" and "nontransparent." He and his fellow oppositionists plan to boycott parliamentary proceedings for the duration of the budget debate. The draft budget envisages a massive increase in defense spending, and pay rises of up to 50 percent for public sector employees. Asim Mollazade of the Party of Democratic Reforms called for stricter controls that would permit deputies to ensure that funds earmarked for the armed forces are not embezzled to finance the construction of generals' private villas, reported on November 10. LF

The Prosecutor-General's Office of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia has instigated criminal charges against four candidates in the alternative presidential ballot on November 12, and also against the chairman of the alternative structure established to oversee that vote, reported on November 10. They have been accused of forming an extremist organization, high treason, and organizing a coup d'etat (see "End Note"). LF

President Kurmanbek Bakiev on November 10 signed Kyrgyzstan's new constitution, which had been approved by parliament the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 9, 2006), reported. "This is a new step in the development of democracy, where there's a strong president, parliament, prime minister, and a mature civil society," Bakiev said. "There are no losers here, since everyone was striving for a compromise." Bakiev's final comment referred to the compromise between pro-presidential forces and the opposition that made possible a new constitution. The country's new basic law curtails the president's powers and strengthens the authority of parliament. Under Article 96 of the new constitution, however, the current president retains the powers vested in him under the old constitution until his term expires in 2010. DK

As Bakiev signed the new constitution, opposition demonstrators numbering in the thousands on Bishkek's Alatoo Square and a smaller group of pro-presidential demonstrators in front of the parliamentary building ended their respective rallies, agencies reported. Opposition protesters transformed their rally, which began on November 2 and initially demanded both Bakiev's resignation and a new constitution, into a celebration of the new constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. The celebration featured performances by pop stars and was attended by members of the opposition For Reforms movement, reported. DK

Police in Tajikistan's northern Soghd Province have arrested five suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Asia Plus-Blitz reported on November 9. A law-enforcement source told the news agency that a search of the home of one of the suspects turned up bomb-making materials. Another law-enforcement source told Trend that police have arrested 10 suspected IMU militants in the last two weeks and believe that the total number of IMU members in Tajikistan could number in the dozens. The source said that IMU members are suspected of involvement in a May border incursion into Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006), an attack on a prison in Qayraqqum, and the murder of several policemen and border guards. DK

Two bills submitted to parliament by Uzbek President Islam Karimov on November 8 are intended to give political parties a greater role in parliament and parliament a greater say in the election of the prime minister, AP reported on November 9. Karimov addressed a letter to the lower chamber of parliament that was published in government-controlled newspapers, saying, "Drastically strengthening the role and importance of political parties in construction of state and society will play a decisive role in efforts to overhaul and modernize the country and build up its civil society," Interfax reported. AP quoted an analysis by independent Uzbek journalist Sergei Yezhkov noting that the EU is considering an end to sanctions imposed on Uzbekistan after the violent suppression of unrest in Andijon in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 9, 2006). DK

The Belarusian government on November 9 denied visas to two German lawmakers and two German reporters planning to attend a three-day German-Belarusian conference that began in Minsk later the same day, Belapan and dpa reported. Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou said in Minsk on November 9 that the visa denials were in retaliation for the EU travel ban imposed earlier this year on more than 30 Belarusian officials. "The Belarusian side has to take symmetrical measures in response to restrictions regarding our country on the part of the EU, the U.S., and a number of other states," Papou noted. JM

Belarusian opposition parties have started an information campaign ahead of the local elections on January 14 to tell voters about the country's economic and political situation, Belapan reported on November 9. The campaign, named Rasplyushchy Vochy (Open Your Eyes), will involve volunteers distributing stickers among voters with texts reading, "Belarus ranks 67th in economic and social development, according to the UN. Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Russia are ahead of our country" and "the Ministry of Justice has not registered any political parties since 1999." JM

Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on November 10 accused the cabinets of Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Yekhanurov, which were formed by victors in the 2004 Orange Revolution, of weakening the country's economy, Ukrainian media reported. Yanukovych was speaking at an "extended meeting" of the ruling coalition and the government in Kyiv. "The ideology of social populism has extremely exhausted the economy and led to a number of problems," Yanukovych said. According to Yanukovych, the social spending promised by the two former cabinets cannot be sufficiently covered by budget revenues. "The largest state monopolies Naftohaz [gas pipelines operator] and Ukrzaliznytsya [state railways] have been pushed to the verge of bankruptcy. Privatization revenues have been simply eaten up. I ask -- 'Where is the 25 billion hryvnyas [$4.95 billion] from the privatization of Kryvorizhstal [steel mill]?' -- and find no answer," Yanukovych said. JM

Two Ukrainian radio channels on November 9 broadcast a dictation in Ukrainian intended to check the knowledge of the state language among schoolchildren, students, and anyone else willing to undergo such a test, Ukrainian media reported. The measure, called a "dictation of national unity," was taken within a wider framework of observations of the Ukrainian Language Day. Those who send their transcriptions to Ukrainian Radio will have a chance to get awards funded by two organizations promoting education and culture among Ukrainians -- the League of Ukrainian Patrons and the Prosvita Association. "There is no need for contests or any other measures [to improve the situation of Ukrainian in public life]," League of Ukrainian Patrons head Mykhaylo Slaboshpytskyy told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "It is just necessary for the 5,000 families of the power vertical to simply start speaking Ukrainian. It would be an avalanche that would make all servants and would-be lords immediately start speaking Ukrainian." JM

Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on November 9 that the province might unilaterally declare independence if a United Nations-sponsored settlement does not grant statehood, Reuters reported the same day. "I'm not threatening the UN Security Council," Ceku told a news conference in Prishtina. "We see this as a possibility. How we declare independence will not be a rash decision, but one taken in accordance with our friends and strategic partners," he added. Unconfirmed reports in the Kosovar media have said that UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan envisions granting the breakaway province a form of "conditional independence" -- without a seat in the United Nations, a foreign minister, or a military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 31, 2006). BW

Also on November 9, Kosova's leaders said they plan to ask representatives of the international Contact Group to make it clear whether they plan to delay a decision on the province's final status into next year, Reuters reported the same day. The Contact Group -- comprising Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States -- is scheduled to meet with UN envoy Ahtisaari in Vienna on November 10. "We expect the Contact Group to clarify its position on the dates and the status decision," Skender Hyseni, the spokesman for the Kosova Albanian negotiating team, told Reuters. The group has long said it intends to reach a final-status agreement for Kosova by the end of 2006. But some international officials, most recently UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have suggested the decision be delayed until after Serbia holds elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2006). BW

Serbian President Boris Tadic announced on November 10 that parliamentary elections will be held on January 21, B92 reported the same day. The Serbian parliament passed the constitutional-implementation law late on November 9, which stipulates that elections must be held between 60 and 120 days from its passage. It is still unclear when a presidential election will be held. "The parties that discussed the elections before the passing of the constitutional law today were afraid that announcing a presidential election can only be done once there are valid candidates who can be expected to receive a set number of votes," Dragan Sutanovic, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said. "The problem is that only one real candidate exists in Serbia, and that is Boris Tadic. No other party has the desire or power to run with any other candidate," he added. BW

Serbia has signed an "Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement" with the United States military, B92 reported on November 9. The agreement regulates military cooperation as well as the exchange of products and services. It was signed in Belgrade by U.S. Army General William Ward, deputy commander of the U.S. Armed Forces' European Command (EUCOM), and Serbian Defense Minister Zoran Stankovic. "I look forward to Serbia's role as a partner state to take part in peacekeeping and stability efforts around the world," Ward said. Stankovic said the agreement is a sign of how much relations between Belgrade and Washington have improved. "From the bilateral military-cooperation point of view, this agreement increases our ability of joint deployment, and the exchange of logistical support in joint exercises or peacekeeping operations," he said. BW

Montenegro's pro-Belgrade opposition on November 9 delayed the formal confirmation of the government for the second consecutive day, AP reported. Montenegro's new government is slated to be led by Zeljko Sturanovic, the current justice minister and a close ally of outgoing Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. Sturanovic has pledged to steer Podgorica toward EU and NATO membership. With just 23 seats in the 81-member parliament, the pro-Serbia parties cannot block the new government's ratification. Instead, lawmakers lined up to deliver lengthy speeches on November 8 and 9, delaying the confirmation proceedings. "This is no European or modern government, but a cabinet of weaklings from the shadows," Emilo Labudovic of the Serbian List bloc said. BW

Also on November 9, U.S. Army General William Ward, deputy commander of EUCOM, visited Montenegro to bolster ties between Washington and Podgorica, AP reported the same day. Ward met with Prime Minister Djukanovic and other officials, and described the visit as an effort to "reinforce the relationship between the U.S. and Montenegro" as the newly independent country seeks to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 1, 2006). "The U.S. strongly supports the work that Montenegro will do and that it has already been doing as it pursues Partnership for Peace," Ward said. He added that the United States can "help the armed forces of Montenegro example for stability in this region and a partner in global peace operations." BW

On November 12, presidential elections will take place in Georgia's breakaway Republic of South Ossetia. Concurrently, voters in the unrecognized republic will be asked to vote in a referendum on whether they want South Ossetia "to maintain its status as an independent state and be recognized [as such] by the international community."

Aside from choosing a president on November 12, voters in Georgia's breakaway republic will be asked to vote in a referendum on whether they want South Ossetia "to maintain its status as an independent state and be recognized [as such] by the international community."

Even though the international community does not recognize either the election or the referendum as legally valid, both processes are evolving into a proxy standoff between Russia, which for the past decade has consistently sought to use South Ossetia as leverage against the Georgian leadership, and the central Georgian government in Tbilisi, which hopes to mobilize and capitalize on mounting domestic opposition to the incumbent South Ossetian leadership.

In a bid to neutralize that challenge, the South Ossetian Prosecutor-General's Office has brought criminal charges against candidates running in the "alternative" presidential election scheduled to take place the same day.

Eduard Kokoity, a 42-year-old former Komsomol activist turned businessman who was elected South Ossetian president in a runoff ballot in 2001, is seeking a second term, apparently with Moscow's backing.

The Georgian daily "Rezonansi" suggested on September 2 that Russia might prefer South Ossetian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiyev, but he is not among Kokoity's three registered challengers. They are government officials Inal Pukhaev and Leonid Tibilov, and a relative unknown, Oleg Gabodze, according to on November 7.

In a November 8 interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Kokoity said that he is confident of re-election, and for that reason has not campaigned publicly. He is, moreover, likely to garner the votes of thousands of former residents of South Ossetia who fled to neighboring North Ossetia during the fighting of 1990-92. Six polling stations have been established on the territory of Russia's Republic of North Ossetia-Alania to enable those refugees to cast their ballots, reported on November 7.

But a further challenge has emerged in the form of the so-called National Liberation Union of Ossetians comprising domestic opposition to Kokoity, who is widely perceived as presiding over a corrupt and incompetent administration that takes its orders from Moscow and is either unable or unwilling to resolve the grave economic and social problems the enclave faces.

The National Liberation Union, which apparently enjoys the tacit approval, if not the open support, of the central Georgian government in Tbilisi, plans to hold an alternative presidential ballot on November 12. Voting will take place at 25 polling stations, primarily in Georgian-populated villages of South Ossetia that do not recognize Kokoity's authority and in villages with a mixed Georgian-Ossetian population.

Five candidates have registered for the "alternative" poll, one of whom, Maia Chigoyeva-Tsaboshvili, initially sought to run against Kokoity but was refused registration in early October on the grounds that she does not reside in South Ossetia. The other four are Gogi Chigoyev, Teimuraz Djeragoyev, Tamar Charayeva, and Dmitry Sanakoyev, who served as defense minister and then as prime minister for several months in 2001 under Kokoity's predecessor, Lyudvig Chibirov, but left South Ossetia for Moscow after Kokoity came to power, reported on November 7.

Sanakoyev's brother Vladimir is chairman of the National Liberation Union. Earlier this week, the South Ossetian media launched a vicious campaign to discredit and compromise Dmitry Sanakoyev, accusing him of corruption, duplicity, and collaborating with Georgian intelligence, charges he denied in a November 9 interview with the Georgian television station Rustavi-2.

Some Georgian observers regard Dmitry Sanakoyev as Tbilisi's preferred candidate. His election manifesto envisages the restoration of the region's status as a republic within Georgia and a program of measures to spur economic growth, according to the Georgian television station Rustavi-2 on November 5. Georgian analyst Mamuka Areshidze has suggested that in the event of a Sanakoyev victory, the central Georgian government might seek to strengthen his position by granting him the post of vice president or deputy prime minister, according to Georgia Today on November 7.

Insofar as the combined Ossetian population (including refugees in North Ossetia) considerably outnumbers the Georgian community of South Ossetia, a victory for any one of the candidates in the "alternative" ballot would necessarily be contingent on many Ossetian voters rejecting the status quo that Kokoity represents -- continued economic hardship in the hope of eventual recognition of South Ossetian independence by the international community -- in favor of accommodation with Georgia.

The South Ossetian leadership has estimated the total number of Georgian voters as not exceeding 14,000 (of a total population of some 82,000). Moscow, however, is unlikely to countenance any weakening of its hold over South Ossetia, and could seek to engineer the outcome of the ballot to manufacture the appearance of a convincing victory for Kokoity, rather than risk a repeat of the crisis that erupted two years ago when its favored candidate for president of the similarly unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia was defeated in the first round of voting.

Kokoity has, predictably branded the alternative presidential ballot as a farce, and will doubtless reject the outcome. In his interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, he explained that the decision to hold a second referendum on independence was made in order to give the younger generation of voters, who did not participate in the previous referendum in 1992, a chance to register their views.

He went on to describe the planned referendum as "the highest form of democracy," and as a response to what he termed the "aggressive policies of the Georgian leadership" and the "double standards" that the international community is seeking to impose. "We are Europeans, and we want to live in Europe," Kokoity argued.

At the same time, he admitted that securing international recognition for his unrecognized republic would be a long and arduous undertaking. And he acknowledged that independence for South Ossetia is viewed as an intermediate stage toward the unification of the two Ossetian republics.

North Ossetian President Taymuraz Mamsurov has lobbied energetically for reunification since his appointment last year. But international recognition of South Ossetia currently looks utopian in light of recent statements by Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, affirming their support for Georgia's territorial integrity.

On October 25, Putin denied that Russia seeks to enlarge its territory at Georgia's expense by incorporating South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and he suggested that those two unrecognized republics should seek to mend their differences with the Georgian government.

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema on November 9 called for a new international conference on Afghanistan that includes "the countries of the region," AFP reported, citing news agency ASNA. He said his country "watches with concern the evolving situation and rise of insecurity" in Afghanistan. D'Alema, who is due to visit Kabul on November 11, suggested the international coalition in Afghanistan is under heavy strain. "There is a need for a strong new international push for action, perhaps to rethink the political, economic and humanitarian lines we are working along, given that it is difficult to find a solely military solution to the current crisis," D'Alema said. Italy has some 1,800 troops deployed with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. AH

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged a UN Security Council team to use its upcoming visit to Afghanistan to address that country's "deteriorating rights situation," AFP reported on November 10. "The deteriorating human rights situation throughout Afghanistan warrants immediate attention and action by the United Nations," the group said in an open letter. The nine-member UN team is expected to arrive on November 11. HRW called on the visitors to press for compensation for noncombatant casualties, and sought action to fight corruption, warlords, and violence against women, according to AFP. The group noted that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed by insurgent violence this year. AH

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers backed by NATO-led forces reportedly killed 18 Taliban militants in a series of clashes in Paktika Province on November 10, AFP reported. NATO reported that three Afghan soldiers, three NATO troops, and an interpreter were wounded in the fighting, which was near the Pakistani border. The NATO and Afghan troops were reportedly attacked by a group of 25-30 insurgents in the Bermal district of Paktika. "After the initial clash, the ANA succeeded in counterattacking with small arms and close air support" from warplanes, a NATO statement said. PB

An Argentinian judge has announced issued international arrest warrants for former Iranian President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and eight former Iranian officials over their alleged roles in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, RFE/RL reported. Iranian charge d'affaires Mohsen Baharvand responded by saying that his government is "not going to recognize this arrest warrant or this judicial process" and will urge Interpol to ignore the request. Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral called the bombing, which killed 85 people and injured hundreds more, a "crime against humanity." Argentinian prosecutors have alleged that Iranian officials directed the Lebanese militia group Hizballah to carry out the attack, which leveled the seven-story Jewish-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) community center. Prosecutors have suggested the bombing was retribution for Argentina's refusal to conduct nuclear business with Tehran. AH

The head of Iran's Olympic weightlifting organization will travel to Budapest in the coming days to meet with International Weightlifting Federation President Tamas Ajan, IRNA reported on November 9. Nine out of 11 Iranian athletes tested positive for using banned substances prior to September's World Weightlifting Championships in the Dominican Republic. The athletes were banned from the meet, Iran was fined $400,000, and Iran's trainer, Bulgarian national Georgi Ivanov, received a lifetime ban. Iran's future in the sport will be discussed in Budapest, as will payment of the fine. BS

Iraqi Health Minister Ali al-Shammari announced during a news conference in Vienna on November 9 that 150,000 Iraqis have been killed by insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, international media reported the same day. Al-Shammari, who is a member of the bloc loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, did not explain how he arrived at that number or whether it includes Iraqi soldiers and police, as well as civilians. It was also unclear whether the figure includes victims of sectarian violence, but he indicated the figure refers to "innocent" victims. In October, the British medical journal "The Lancet" published a study that concluded that 655,000 Iraqis have been killed since 2003, much higher than previous estimates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 11, 2006). Al-Shammari disputed that figure, saying it was exaggerated. SS

Iraq's parliament voted on November 8 to extend the national state of emergency for a further 30 days, international media reported on November 9. Lawmakers met during a closed-door session with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and voted unanimously to extend the emergency laws. The law allows for nighttime curfews and gives the government broad powers to make arrests without warrants. The state of emergency has been renewed every month since it was first authorized in November 2004. SS

U.S. Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen told the BBC in an interview on November 9 that corruption in the Iraqi government is costing Iraq billions of dollars. Bowen said Iraq is facing a second insurgency of corruption and mismanagement that costs it nearly $4 billion a year, more than 10 percent of the national income. He noted that some of the money ends up funding militia and insurgent activities. "That means lost lives of U.S. troops," he said. Furthermore, he said many government workers lack the skills to manage funds, which in turn hampers reconstruction efforts. He estimated that $8 billion-$10 billion of Iraq's budget will go unspent because of the officials' inability to manage and spend the money. SS

A high-level Iraqi security source said on November 9 that 650 foreign Arab fighters have been arrested in the past four months and are currently being held in prisons run by the Interior and Defense ministries, as well as facilities run by the U.S.-led multinational forces, the London-based "Al-Hayat" reported the same day. The source said the majority of the detainees are Arab nationals and the rest foreign nationals of Arab origin. "The detainees holding Egyptian nationality top the list of the fighters with more than 150, they are followed by Syrians who number 140 and Libyans who number 80. In addition, there are fighters from various other Arab countries, most notably Yemenis and Bahrainis," the source said. He also indicated that there are two U.S. citizens of Arab origin, two with Irish nationality, and two Israeli Arabs. The source said that preliminary investigations revealed that many of these fighters were recruited outside Iraq by Al-Qaeda-linked organizations and Ba'athists living abroad. SS

A leading Iraqi insurgent figure said on November 9 that a collective of four insurgent groups has accepted the death sentence handed down by the Iraqi Special Tribunal to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 6, 2006), dpa reported the same day. Abd al-Rahman al-Ansari said four groups -- including the Islamic Army in Iraq and Muhammad's -- do not object to the execution of Hussein. However, he said, "those who have committed and are still committing crimes against the people of Iraq must be punished." Al-Ansari also demanded that all cases of murder, torture, and forced transfers of Iraqis by multinational forces be investigated, and he called on Iraqis to reject sectarian violence in order to expedite the withdrawal of occupation forces. SS