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Iraq Report: January 20, 2006

20 January 2006, Volume 9, Number 3

IRAQI ELECTION COMMISSION RELEASES FINAL VOTE RESULTS. The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission (IECI) released final results for December's parliamentary elections on 20 January. The Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) won 128 seats in the 275-member parliament. The Kurdistan Coalition won 53 seats, and the Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front won 44 seats. Another Sunni Arab bloc, the National Dialogue Council, won 11 seats. The National Accord Front, led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi garnered 25 seats (see complete results below).

The announcement follows an earlier decision by the IECI to cancel the vote in 227 out of some 31,500 ballot boxes after it determined that the boxes contained both stuffed ballots and unofficial ballots (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2006). According to the Iraqi election law, groups will have two days to contest the results, after which they will be certified as official.

The results leave the UIA and the Kurdistan Coalition just one seat short of the two-thirds majority needed in parliament to push through a new government on their own. Kurdish leaders have pushed for the formation of a national unity government that would be inclusive of all Iraqis. Shi'ite leaders have expressed varying opinions on the proposal for such a government.

Iraqi and multinational forces expected intense Sunni Arab reaction to the announcement, and took steps in recent days to seal the borders of the three Sunni Arab-populated governorates (Salah Al-Din, Al-Anbar, and Diyala) ahead of the announcement. The closure is expected to remain in place through 22 January.

However, it is unclear to what extent Sunni Arabs will protest the announcement. They faired reasonably well -- four of the Sunni Arab-dominated lists that took part in the election garnered a total of 59 seats in parliament, five seats more than the Kurds.

With the results in, attention now turns to efforts to form a national unity government. The talks will depend largely on the position adopted by Shi'ite Arab leaders, some of whom appear to be backtracking on key assurances given to Sunni Arabs over the past three months.

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who heads the UIA list, said this week that Shi'a would not support a government formed according to a quota system, something that may raise concerns among Sunni Arabs, who will vie for key cabinet positions.

Al-Hakim has also backtracked on other recent commitments made by the outgoing al-Ja'fari administration to Sunni Arabs. He told followers during his Eid Al-Adha sermon at Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) headquarters in Baghdad on 11 January that any political group intent on participating in a national unity government must show commitment to certain "constants" -- accepting the constitution, de-Ba'athification, and rejecting terrorism (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 January 2006).

Al-Ja'fari's transitional government secured support from Iraq's leading Sunni Arab political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, for the draft constitution ratified in October based on a commitment by the Shi'ite leadership that the document could be amended during the first four months of the incoming government. Efforts by Shi'ite leaders to move away from that commitment will surely strain relations between the two groups in the coming months.

International Investigation Into Election Fraud

The final results of the election was expected last week, but delayed to allow for an independent investigation by the International Mission for Iraqi Elections (IMIE) into allegations of election fraud.

The IMIE released its report on 19 January, saying that fraud had indeed taken place. "Some 2,000 complaints were submitted alleging a wide range of electoral violations and irregularities that include ballot-box stuffing and theft; tally-sheet tampering; intimidation; violence; voter-list deficiencies; shortages of ballots; multiple voting; improper conduct of the police and Iraqi National Guard; voting by security forces [twice]...campaigning within polling centers; and nonobservance of the silent day," the report noted.

The IMIE stopped short, however, of calling for a rerun of the parliamentary elections in affected areas of the country. The report did express concern over the IECI's decision to cancel the 227 ballot boxes, saying the decision also led to the annulment of legitimate ballots. "Canceling ballot boxes without a new election being called in the affected area is particularly regrettable in an electoral system of list proportional representation where the number of votes required to win or lose a seat may vary from governorate to governorate as well as from a given seat to another seat."

The report called for future legislation to explicitly authorize and specify "the conditions under which revoting should be used...for particular polling centers in which fraud, irregularities or other circumstances have been determined to have significantly distorted the election results."

The final report praised voter turnout on election day, and commended the IECI for its "cooperation, transparency, and responsiveness." (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Published on 20 January.)

Election Results

United Iraqi Alliance (Shi'ite)_________________________128
Kurdistan Coalition_________________________________53
Iraqi Accordance Front (Sunni)________________________44
Iraqi National List (Allawi -- secular)___________________25
National Dialogue Front (Sunni)_____________________11
Kurdistan Islamic Union_____________________________5
National Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc (Sunni)________3
Risaliyun (Shi'ite, Sadr movement)_____________________2
Al-Rafidayn (Mesopotamia) Party (Christian)______________1
Iraqi Turkoman Front________________________________1
Iraqi Nation List (Mithal al-Alusi -- Sunni)_________________1
Yazidi movement___________________________________1


HUSSEIN TRIAL CHIEF JUDGE ANSWERS CRITICISM. Rizgar Muhammad Amin, the chief judge on the Iraqi Special Tribunal, which is hearing the case of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven of his codefendants on charges of crimes against humanity, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in two interviews on 13 January that it is necessary to allow the defendants in the Al-Dujayl trial the opportunity to speak, even though their comments often disrupt the proceedings.

Speaking with an RFI correspondent in Al-Sulaymaniyah, Amin rejected assertions that the trial has been turned into a platform for Hussein and his codefendants to voice their opinions.

"The court has not been turned into a political tribune," Amin said. "Nevertheless, it is not possible to deny that the defendants have � to a larger or smaller extent � some relation to politics. I am convinced that justice is democratic in its nature. I am convinced in the freedom of the defendant to speak out or to keep silent, within the limits of law. Swearing is not acceptable. Such occurrence inside courts is, however, something natural. [Swearing] can be witnessed almost daily in courtrooms due to the emotions and conflicts between the parties of the case. But in those cases, they are not seen and heard on television by masses of people."

Looking To Step Down

Amin is reportedly seeking to tender his resignation as chief judge for the tribunal, citing government pressure for a speedy trial, his associates told Western press agencies on 15 January. RFI asked Amin on 12 January about rumors of his resignation, to which he responded, "No comment."

Amin has been widely criticized in the press for appearing too conciliatory in the courtroom, after allowing Hussein and others considerable time to speak out about issues unrelated to the trial. Iraqis have also criticized Amin for purportedly placing too few restrictions on the behavior of defense attorneys.

Asked by RFI why the tribunal allows defense attorney Khalil al-Dulaymi to refer to Hussein as "his excellency, the president," Amin said: "I believe that the way an attorney addresses his defendant is a private issue. It is not a legal issue related to the subject of the case. It does not, either, deny that Iraq now has an elected president, [Jalal] Talabani."

Walking A Tightrope

Amin's comments to RFI reveal the tightrope judges must walk between upholding the rules of the court and dealing with public � and perhaps political � pressure to the contrary. Speaking about public protests over the court's decision to permit defense attorney and former Qatari Justice Minister Najib al-Nu'aymi to challenge the legality of the court "in the name of the [Iraqi] people," Amin told RFI: "The [defense's] protest falls within the objections allowed to any defendant's attorney. The court must not prohibit the defendant or his attorney from presenting their objections to the case. The court must respond to them in accordance with the law and at the appropriate time."

Sources close to Amin say that government pressure for a quick trial is behind the judge's decision to resign. Amin "had complaints from the government that he was being too soft in dealing with Saddam. They want things to go faster," one source told Reuters, the news agency reported on 15 January. According to Western media reports, the court has not accepted Amin's resignation and has sent at least one tribunal judge to Al-Sulaymaniyah, Amin's hometown, to convince the chief judge to reconsider his resignation.

Government Pressure?

Trial observers fear the public airing of the government's pressure on the trial might undermine the legitimacy of the court. Indeed, Amin's resignation suggests the court is susceptible to outside pressure, be it political or public. At the same time, few Iraqis -- with the exception of Hussein supporters -- have any interest in letting the proceedings turn into a show trial. The revelation also reflects poorly on the outgoing al-Ja'fari administration, which has been widely criticized for its attempt to control other areas of the government, including the presidency.

While the revelation of political pressure can be seen as a blow to the reputation of the tribunal, it remains unclear what impact the resignation will have on the actual mechanics of the trial. Ja'far al-Musawi, prosecutor-general of the Iraqi tribunal, told RFI on 16 January that there are 66 judges and prosecutors working for the Special Tribunal. "Any judge can replace Mr. Rizgar [Mohammed Amin]" al-Musawi said. "The court has 19 prosecutors and the rest are judges. All of them have been trained to deal with cases as those before the high tribunal. They have received training inside Iraq and abroad taking into consideration there are international criminal courts or similar bodies."

More Delays Likely

According to some media reports, Amin, while stepping down from the position of chief judge, intends to remain on the panel of five judges overseeing the trial. Other reports indicate that he wants to remain on the tribunal, but not necessarily to continue hearing the trial of Hussein and his codefendants. Should the need arise to appoint a new judge to the trial, proceedings could be further delayed.

Al-Musawi contends however, that the appointment of a new judge would not affect the trial. Asked by RFI who might replace Amin, al-Musawi said: "It is normal procedure for the president of the court to be the one. There are three panels and Mr. Rizgar [Mohammed Amin] is the chief judge of one. We have 15 criminal court judges as well as stand-by judges. It is quite normal for the president of the High Criminal Court, who is administratively and financially in charge of the court, to be the one who chooses Judge X for the first panel that is hearing the Al-Dujayl case."

Regardless of whether Amin leaves the tribunal, it is clear the Iraqi government has been put on notice that attempts to interfere with the court will have consequences. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Published on 16 January.)

RFE/RL TALKS TO SPECIAL TRIBUNAL JUDGE ABOUT HUSSEIN TRIAL. Iraqi Special Tribunal Chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin denied in a 13 January interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) that he or the tribunal have faced any political pressure from inside or outside Iraq. Amin reportedly asked to resign as head of the tribunal last week, a topic he declined to discuss with RFI. The interview was broadcast on 16 January as part of RFI broadcaster Diar Bamrni's weekly "Human Rights" program; excerpts from the interview follow.

RFI: Have you thought about resigning from your position in the [High Criminal] Court?

Amin: I do not want to reply to this question now.

RFI: What were the criteria for choosing the judges in the [High Criminal] Court? Who proposed their candidacy for their posts? And, how many are they?

Amin: There are five members of the sentencing council [that I preside on], nine members of the council of cassation, several investigative judges, and several members of the public prosecution, in addition to other employees. The conditions for naming this [High Criminal] Court have been specified by law. Competence, integrity, and a high standard [of knowledge and experience] in the legal field were required of the candidates.

RFI: Will all of the current judges also take part in the other cases [where Saddam Hussein is expected to face charges]?

Amin: There are three councils for penal charges, and each of them is waiting until the case is passed to them by an investigative judge.

RFI: Do you think more trials will follow against those who committed crimes against Iraqis, similar to the trial with Saddam Hussein?

Amin: I do not know.

RFI: There have been many reactions on the proceedings of the trial among the Iraqi public. But through the reactions, it is apparent that people are rather uninformed on the laws and regulations that have been adopted specifically for this [High Criminal] Court.

Amin: In fact, the High Criminal Court has to a large extent used laws that are applied in international tribunals. It also refers to the Iraqi Law on Criminal Proceedings [of 1971]. There are rules for conducting the procedure and collecting evidence in the Iraqi Supreme Criminal Court, in addition to Law No. 10 of 2005 on the Iraqi Supreme Criminal Court. The court has frequently referred to explicit enactments of the [Rome] Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The laws have been published and people can easily go through them in the Iraqi Affairs ["Al-Waqa'i' al-Iraqiya" � Iraqi official circular].

RFI: Why have the defendants been given complete freedom even in attacking [both prosecutors and witnesses] and in speaking about issues unrelated to the Al-Dujayl case? Does this not demean the work of the court?

Amin: My dear, had people only known what the proceedings of ordinary trials in Iraq look like! Had they only seen and heard what happens inside courts! Swearing and insults are exchanged between litigants, or sometimes addressed to the court. That is a result of escalated emotions and conflicts that are hanging between the litigants. From my point of view, this is something against the law. Swearing is, of course, undesirable in people's ordinary lives, let alone before a court. It is natural, though, that they occur. As an experienced judge who has worked for a long time in the judiciary, I have been sworn at in court. I am really surprised that these issues have become so blown up and exaggerated [in commentary on the Hussein trial].

RFI: How many other cases are expected [against Hussein]? Will you be a presiding judge in all of them?

Amin: This question should rather be addressed to the investigative judges.

RFI: Is there a need to transfer the trial outside Iraq in order to guarantee security and take advantage of international expertise?

Amin: For the time being, the trial is as you can see. It has been going on in a fair and neutral way. So why transfer it?

RFI: Will foreign countries or international bodies be taking part in collecting evidence and bringing charges against Saddam Hussein?

Amin: No.

RFI: If the charges raised against Saddam Hussein in Al-Dujayl case are confirmed, will he appear before court in other cases such as the case of Halabjah?

Amin: There is no mutual relation between the cases. Each of the cases is separate and not related to the other ones.

RFI: Will Saddam Hussein, then, be passed to face charges in the remaining cases?

Amin: This is something I do not know. This will become clear in the coming days. I cannot anticipate what will happen.

RFI: Has there been any interference or pressure, be it from inside or outside [Iraq], to influence the proceedings of the court?

Amin: I personally reject any interference from anywhere. I have not noticed any direct interference. I am convinced that I have been conducting my work in neutrality and independence. This is what I can say for now.

RFI: Would the proceedings of the court be conducted as they are now if the defendant were someone other than Saddam Hussein?

Amin: A defendant is just a defendant. We, as the members of court are supposed not to know the defendant. The court works on a file. When the defendant appears before the court, we start dealing with the charges and related testimonies. It is true, though, that conditions may differ from case to case.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek)