Accessibility links

Breaking News

Corruption Watch: August 17, 2006

August 17, 2006, Volume 6, Number 5
By Bill Samii

Both Israel and Lebanon indicated their willingness to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, agreed on which has brought a halt to nearly five weeks of fighting. Hizballah accepted the cease-fire but refused to disarm.

As a main sponsor of Hizballah, Iran could use its leverage to encourage compliance with the UN-brokered resolution. Tehran is criticizing the resolution, however -- whether due to its heavy ideological and material investment in Hizballah or because of its desire to use the Lebanese conflict to boost its own credentials.

The cease-fire resolution includes references to two previous resolutions (1559 and 1680) that call for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. It also notes that the Lebanese government must exercise full sovereignty in the country.

'Winners' And 'Losers'

As the only remaining militia of any consequence in Lebanon, Hizballah is referred to -- directly or indirectly -- in all three resolutions. Earlier this year, the Lebanese cabinet identified Hizballah as "the resistance" -- wording that obviates the disarmament requirement.

Hizballah initially announced that it accepted the resolution. But a Lebanese cabinet session on August 13, the eve of the cease-fire, was adjourned for a day after Hizballah announced that it would not disarm in the area where international peacekeepers and Lebanese army forces should deploy, Al-Arabiyah television reported.

Iran's Foreign Ministry responded to Resolution 1701 by saying it was "not balanced," and suggested its delay in ratification undermined the Security Council's credibility. Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iran was "happy" that the resolution was passed but stressed its failure to condemn alleged Israeli "crimes," according to Iran News Network. Assefi also described "Lebanon's resistance movement, [its] people, and Hizballah" as the "absolute winners" in the conflict. Israel, he claimed, "was the total loser."

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad described the resolution as one-sided, state radio reported on August 14. In a reference to Israel, Ahmadinejad added that "the myth of the invincibility of this contrived and decayed regime crumbled thanks to the faith and self-confidence of Lebanon's Hizballah."

Iranian Involvement

Iran's role in the region is never mentioned explicitly in the UN resolution. But it is arguably alluded to in clauses on disarmament related to the conflict.

Specifically, the Security Council calls for an embargo on arms not destined for the Lebanese military, and says UN personnel will back efforts to prevent such smuggling. Iran is believed to have supplied Hizballah with a variety of missiles. Hizballah has used one such missile against an Israeli naval vessel and has fired many others at Israeli population centers.

Iran has historically denied supplying Hizballah with arms. But an Iranian official with extensive involvement in Hizballah affairs, Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, acknowledged in an extensive interview in the August 3 issue of "Sharq" that Hizballah "has used" Iranian-manufactured missiles (Zelzal-2), in addition to Katyushas. Mohtashami-Pur heads the Support for the Palestinian Intifada conference series and was a leader in the creation of Hizballah when he was Tehran's ambassador to Damascus in the 1980s. After noting Hizballah's use in the current conflict of Zelzal-2 missiles, Mohtashami-Pur warned that "there is no place in Palestine that is occupied by Israel which cannot be the target of the Hizballah missiles."

"Jane's Defense Weekly" claimed on August 7 that Iran intends to supply Hizballah with several types of handheld surface-to-air missiles. Quoting anonymous "Western diplomatic sources," the British-based weekly said those weapons include Russian-made missile systems -- specifically, the Strela-2/2 (SA-7 Grail), Strela-3 (SA-14 Gremlin), and the Igla-1E (SA-16 Gimlet). "Jane's" also suggested that Iran intends to provide Hizballah with a low- to very-low-altitude surface-to-air missile system (Mithaq-1) that is a model of the Chinese QW-1 system.

Iranian Training

Mohtashami-Pur also said that Hizballah personnel have been trained by Iranians in Lebanon, and have received training in Iran. He boasted that "many of the experienced Hizballah forces...were on [Iran's] fronts" in its eight-year war with Iraq, adding that "they carried out operations directly or under our cover."

"It is true that, at the beginning, the Hizballah forces were trained in Iran and Lebanon by the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps," Mohtashami-Pur said. He added that Guards Corps personnel fought in Lebanon in the early 1980s, but then Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said it would be wiser to train the Lebanese. "At that moment, a new phase began, which was the training of the Lebanese forces; and it resulted in the establishment of the Hizballah and the resistance; and we saw that after 18 years Israel was defeated in the face of such a force and left Lebanon."

Sheikh Naim Qasim, the deputy secretary-general of Hizballah, acknowledged the Iranian role in statements that appeared in "Le Monde" on August 11. He noted the establishment of Guards Corps training camps in the Bekaa Valley in the early 1980s, adding that the end of the Israeli occupation in 2000 benefited from "effective Iranian support."

It is possible that Hizballah personnel continue to receive training in Iran. A purported Hizballah fighter captured by Israeli forces acknowledged during interrogation that he received military training in Iran, Reuters reported on August 7, quoting Israeli military sources. The man, who identified himself as Mahmud Ali Suleiman, said he was accompanied by 40-50 other men when he went to Iran via Damascus airport to receive training on the use of antitank weapons.

Brothers In Arms?

There have been several reports in Israeli media suggesting that Iranian Guards Corps personnel have fought alongside Hizballah in the current conflict. This seems unlikely, because Tehran almost certainly recognizes the repercussions of an Iranian being captured and displayed on television. But this awareness does not rule out the presence of Guards Corps personnel who married into Lebanese families. Nor does it rule out the actions of deniable special-operations forces.

Hizballah's reluctance to disarm is to be expected. It has refused to do so since the Security Council issued Resolution 1559 in late 2004, although Israeli forces had withdrawn from Lebanon. Having drawn Israel into open warfare in the current situation, its retention of arms now appears justified. There is now little chance of Hizballah becoming merely another political organization representing one of the country's religious or ethnic communities.

Hizballah is not directed from Tehran. But as its main benefactor and ideological inspiration, Tehran is in a strong position to discourage Hizballah's cooperation with Resolution 1701.

There are several reasons why Iran might be tempted to pursue such a policy. Continuation of the current conflict could provide Iran with a moral high ground in regional affairs -- as it points accusingly at Western support for Israel and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

The Iranians could argue that armed resistance is the only language the enemy understands. Moreover, in a predominantly Sunni Muslim world, it is the Shi'ite "Party of God" -- Hizballah -- that is seen to be standing up to Israel. And it is Iran that inspired and still backs Hizballah, while most other countries do nothing. (Originally published on August 14.)

By Joyce Davis

Palestinian fighters like Munir al-Makdah, head of the Fatah militia in southern Lebanon, have been preparing for war between Hizballah and Israel for a long time. Whatever cease-fire finally is negotiated in the present crisis in the region, it will be hard to impose among people like him, people who have spent years in the teeming refugee camps of southern Lebanon preparing for just such a fight.

As far back as October 2001, when I visited the Ain Al-Hilwah refugee camp, about a half-hour ride through treacherous mountain roads from the capital of Beirut, al-Makdah was looking forward to the day when his forces would once again be unleashed on Israel. He strutted through what clearly was his kingdom, openly celebrating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, and boasting of his cooperation with Hizballah and Al-Qaeda. In November 2005, al-Makdah warned in an interview with an Italian newspaper that his cadres of suicide bombers were readying for battle.

"Suicide bombers are our nuclear weapon," he told "L'Espresso" in November 2005, echoing what he told me years earlier when he described his trainees as "human bombs."

"Jihad and the resistance begins with the word, then with the sword, then with the stone, then with the gun, then with planting bombs, and then with transforming bodies into human bombs," he told me. "The last weapon is a weapon the Israelis can never have: suicide bombers."

While much of the world bemoans the killing of Lebanese civilians and the destruction of one of the most developed countries in the Middle East, the fighting raging in southern Lebanon is a dream come true for al-Makdah and his colleagues.

Preparing For War

Al-Makdah was known as commander of Palestinian guerrillas in southern Lebanon, where an estimated 360,000 Palestinian refugees had fled from the previous wars with Israel. He was a wanted man, sentenced to death in Jordan, where authorities accused him of being part of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden's network and of involvement in the September 1, 2001, attack against the United States.

But inside the Ain Al-Hilwah refugee camp he was safe. Even Lebanese soldiers were afraid to enter al-Makdah's domain. That fact makes it difficult for many to contemplate Lebanese soldiers enforcing a cease-fire between Israel and Hizballah.

While al-Makdah did not confirm or deny his involvement in the September 11 attack when he spoke with me, he readily acknowledged his connection with Al-Qaeda, whose fighters were inside Ain Al-Hilwah as recently as November 2005, according to his interview with "L'Espresso."

'We Thank Whoever Contributes'

"Our goal is the resistance against the Israeli occupation," he told me in 2001. "And we thank whoever contributes to the struggle no matter where he is from or who he is."

Al-Makdah ran training camps for young men dedicated to jihad to liberate what they consider Palestinian land now under Israeli control. He even ran summer camps to train children as young as 5 years old in the techniques of suicide bombing.

"I held my first rifle when I was 10 years old," al-Makdah told me as we walked in the dusty camp, shooing chickens out of our path and shadowed by two security guards brandishing heavy machine guns. We stopped at what appeared to be a collection of hand-held rocket launchers guarded by a young man named Ali.

"He was 8 years old when he entered the movement," al-Makdah said with obvious pride, pointing to Ali, who smiled in confirmation.

Small Weapons

"When I was very young, my mother put me with what is known as the Ashvel.... It's a children's group," Ali explained. "We were trained with weapons, small weapons."

Today, Ali would be 22 years old. Then, at 17, he was still in training. "I'm always developing my skills and practicing," he said. "There is always something more to learn. The training goes on all the time."

Of course, both al-Makdah and Ali could now be dead, among those buried in the simmering ashes of southern Lebanon. But if they are still alive, they certainly are among the men sending rockets into Haifa and Tel Aviv or fighting Israelis soldiers on the ground in Lebanon.

And as Israeli or international forces once again contemplate occupation of southern Lebanon, they will surely face al-Makdah's "nuclear bombs," whether or not he is still directing them himself from Ain Al-Hilwah. (Origianlly published on August 9.)

By Jan Jun

Just over a year since the terrorist attacks on London's transport system on July 7, 2005, Britain is on alert again. Another threat, this time targeting trans-Atlantic passenger planes, has allegedly been averted, and those involved once again appear to be mainly young British-born Muslims.

Now, in the wake of last week's scare, Britons of all walks of life are debating what is behind the rise of such extremist groups.

Some British Muslim experts argue that the roots of the problem are economic. "Governments ought to be tackling the whole issue of social exclusion," says Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the Muslim Parliament and the director of the Muslim Institute. "If, obviously, nothing is done, then, of course, people, Muslim youth living in their own ghettos, will find some demagogues who will exploit the situation. This is precisely what has happened."

Utopian Ideals, Not Poverty

Other experts concur that the deprivation and the self-imposed seclusion of the Muslim ghettoes need to be tackled. But not all agree that these economic and social factors are the main ideological cause of terrorism.

"I think it's clear from the profiles that have been done of the July 7 [2005] bombers that socioeconomic deprivation was not a major factor or even indeed a significant factor in their motivation," says Paul Wilkinson, who chairs the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

"They appear to have been inculcated with Al-Qaeda ideology and were committing these actions because they believed they were waging part of a global holy war," he adds.

Wilkinson says that the young Muslim Britons behind last year's suicide attack in London came from better-off families. And some of the 24 alleged terrorists arrested last week had relatively prosperous professions.

According to Wilkinson, the ideology of the terrorists is in many ways similar to other terrorist groupings of the past century. "They have this illusion, which many terrorists have, of course, in all sorts of movements, that somehow terror will be the magic weapon for undermining their enemies, and ultimately defeating them, and [in this case] enabling them to set up some kind of international caliphate, a pan-Islamist state," he says.

Foreign Policy To Blame?

Some British Muslims and their organizations blame Britain's foreign policy for the growth of terrorism. They want it changed and presented their position in an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair on August 12.

They criticize Britain's involvement in Iraq and blame Blair for such steps as not calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Lebanon war that raged over the past four weeks.

Imam Ibrahim Mogra, one of the leaders of the Muslim Council of Britain, says that the signatories of the letter do not claim foreign policy is the only reason why young people embrace extremism. But he says there is no doubt many young Muslims are angered by the government's positions.

"But clearly, this seems to be one of the major issues that is brought up especially by younger people every time we have dialogue with them," Mogra says. "They are extremely angry about our foreign policy, about the double standards with which we treat different countries."

The government, opposition politicians, and some media have sharply criticized the open letter. They see it as seeking to appease extremists by suggesting the country's policy should change just because some people take up arms against Britain.

Lack Of Assimilation

Some experts say that the new extremism is rooted in the stricter interpretations of Islam that characterize many Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants. They say that makes assimilation of these groups into mainstream secular British life difficult.

Statistics show Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants have made up the majority of the British Muslim immigrants in recent decades and that they often opt for life in their own community-based areas.

"I think this is a cultural problem of a particular [kind of] Muslim, not all Muslims," says Alireza Nourizadeh, who chairs the Arab-Iranian Studies Center in London. "I don't believe there is any deprivation, there is any segregation. No, this is what we [Muslims] do ourselves. I mean nobody forced me to go and stay in [heavily Muslim-populated] Bradford."

As groups live in distinct community areas, there is also the possibility that some members continue to be influenced by events in their ancestral homelands.

Kashmiri Link?

Many Pakistani migrants to Britain originally came from Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region that is divided between Pakistan and India. In the Indian-controlled part, Muslim groups have for years waged a guerrilla war against New Delhi.

The British government is now exploring whether the group of Britons arrested last week in the airplane-bombing plot had links to an extremist Pakistan-based charity supporting Muslim fighters in Kashmir.

If so, it could indicate that the motives for some radicals may lie in foreign as much as domestic issues -- things extremist groups may deliberately confuse to recruit new members for their global "holy war."

Experts say the challenge for the future is to address the multiple problems facing the British Muslim community -- particularly that of Pakistani ancestry -- even if it is impossible to know precisely where they originate.

Wilkinson says the goal should be to actively integrate this group -- like other previous groups of immigrants -- into British society by emphasizing the values of democracy and the rule of law.

That, experts agree, will require a long-term effort and a sustained government commitment. But the cost of not doing so makes inaction an increasingly poor option. (Origianlly published on August 16.)

By Kathleen Ridolfo

Demonstrations have broken out across Iraq's Kurdish region in recent days as residents protested what they claimed is rampant corruption and a lack of services provided by the newly formed government of the Kurdistan autonomous region.

Until recently, Kurdish towns and cities were not affected by the endemic fuel and electricity shortages that have plagued much of the rest of Iraq since the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003. That changed several months ago, prompting Kurds to begin staging organized demonstrations demanding government action.

Many Kurds have been quick to blame what they see as the indifference of the ruling parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), saying those in power are unaffected by the shortages because of their wealth and connections.

Dividing Up Power

While demonstrators have attempted to hold the government accountable, some say there is little that can be done to effect change. As the two main ruling parties, the KDP and PUK solidified their hold on power during their 12 years of self-rule before the fall of the Hussein regime. In the post-Hussein era, officials tied to the parties have grown wealthier and in some cases, more flagrant in their abuse of power, critics charge.

Democracy in the Kurdish north, once touted as the model to be emulated, suffered a setback in January 2005 when the KDP and PUK divided up parliament seats ahead of the local parliamentary elections.

The continued widespread perception among the public that officials care less about their needs and more about lining their own pockets with lucrative business deals and other profitable endeavors has only exacerbated the divide between the people and their representatives.

Moreover, it has fueled a growing perception that only those with close ties to the ruling parties will reap the benefits of a decent education or career advancement based on credentials, rather than connections. Such frustration, observers argue, could lead to a massive brain drain from the region.

As reported on August 3, waves of young, educated Kurds have begun leaving the region for the West. The disillusionment of the youth, the website noted, has led them to believe that positive changes will not come their way.

Spreading Demonstrations

The latest demonstrations began on August 5 in Kifri, southwest of Al-Sulaymaniyah, and led to the arrest of 20 demonstrators. According to the Peyamner news agency, police began arresting the organizers of the demonstration after footage from the protest was broadcast on local television channels.

Demonstrators later staged a second demonstration outside the local administrative office to demand the release of their cohorts.

Other demonstrations then spread over the next two days to Chamchamal, Darbandikhan, and Shorish (Al-Sulaymaniyah). The Kurdish news agency Sot Kurdistan (Voice of Kurdistan) reported on August 7 that more demonstrations were being planned for Aqrah, Halabjah, Irbil, Kalar, Soran, and Al-Sulaymaniyah.

More than 2,000 protesters took part in the August 7 demonstration in Darbandikhan, Peyamner reported. According to the news agency, Kurdish police and security forces confiscated the camera of a journalist working for Zagros TV. "Only [PUK-owned] KurdSat TV and Aindah TV of [the] Garmiyan area were allowed to film," Peyamner reported.

The news agency also reported that independent journalist Amjad As'ad was arrested after he was caught filming the demonstration on his mobile phone. "Hawlati" reported that two of its journalists were also arrested.

Kurdistan Satellite Television, which is operated by the KDP, reported that journalists' cameras were confiscated.

According to "Awene," more than 50 demonstrators were arrested, and 11 injured, one critically.

Journalists Fight for Greater Freedoms

Kurdish journalists have accused the government of using a corrupt judicial system to "terrorize writers," as one journalist described it, after a series of arrests and trials earlier this year. "If we look at the court cases against writers and journalists in recent weeks and months, we see that none of the verdicts has been in favor of a journalist or writer. On the contrary, in all the cases, the officials have been the heroes.... This is a new trend in the officials' fights against writers and the continuation of the police...preventing people from holding pens," Sarwat Ali wrote in the May 30 edition of "Awene."

Kurdish intellectual Kamal Sayyid Qadir was jailed by the KDP last year for Internet articles he wrote criticizing Kurdish region President Mas'ud Barzani's administration. He was sentenced in December to 30 years in prison for "defamation of the Kurdish leadership." That sentence was thrown out and Qadir was sentenced at a new trial in March to 18 months in prison. One week later, regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani pardoned Qadir. Whether Qadir would have received a retrial, let alone a pardon, had there not been intense publicity surrounding his case is difficult to say.

At the local level, independent newspapers such as "Hawlati" have gone to great lengths to criticize the ruling parties in recent months, though not without repercussions. Two of the newspaper's editors were put on trial earlier this year on charges of defaming PUK leader Umar Fattah. The two men received suspended six-month prison terms. As in Qadir's case, the sentences would likely have been much harsher had there not been an intense international media campaign in their support.

Despite the crackdown on journalists in recent months, a number of independent newspapers and Kurdish websites have continued to highlight the restrictions placed on the media. Kurdish websites based abroad have proven invaluable to the campaign for greater press freedoms.

Growing Public Dissatisfaction

Recent examples of editorials marking the pages of Iraqi newspapers include a July 26 editorial published in "Hawlati," which pleaded with the region's ministers to "just once" try working as a traffic policeman, whose commands go ignored by officials in new cars who hurl trash at the officers; or teach in a sweltering classroom where there are no supplies or electricity. Try giving a lecture "on the sixth floor of a building without lifts or power. After that, make some notes about the resilient teachers and their salaries," the author wrote, referring to recent demands by academic and medical unions for salary increases.

Local media have also been quick to criticize the government for regularly claiming that demonstrations are carried out by "foreigners" or "saboteurs and rioters," rather than admit that public dissatisfaction is running deep these days. One example of this was the two parties' reactions to demonstrations that erupted in Halabjah this spring, which they blamed on foreigners. Dozens of protesters and members of the media were arrested (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," May 12, 2006).

In an editorial published in "Hawlati" on August 2, the newspaper claimed the Kurdish regional government, "from the day it began working, did not fulfill" its duty to provide for the people's basic needs. "There are lots of cars, but very bad roads. There are lots of electricity poles, towers, and cables, but no electricity. There is fertile land, but agriculture is destroyed."

Though public criticism has been met with stiff reaction from the government, Kurds continue to push for their rights and freedoms. The government's realization that it will be held accountable for its actions, or inactions, by a vibrant Kurdish press has led it to reconsider its response to public criticism.

For his part, Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Umar Fattah met with demonstrators from Shorish and Chamchamal on August 8 to discuss their grievances, the PUK's website announced the same day. Fattah vowed to look into their demands and said steps would be taken to improve basic services. At least for now, it appears that demonstrators' hopes for a more democratic Kurdistan may still be within reach. (Originally published on August 9.)