6 February 2006, Volume 9, Number 5
IRAQI OFFICIALS SCRAMBLE TO PREPARE FOR BIRD FLU. The confirmation late last month of the arrival of bird flu to Iraq has raised concerns about the government's ability to handle an outbreak of the disease. The virus, thus far confined to the Kurdistan region, has already taken the life of one person. World Health Organization (WHO) officials are awaiting test results on two other deaths, one of which was the uncle of the teenaged girl who died of the illness (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2006).
The Kurdistan Regional Government last week issued an appeal to residents in surrounding districts to cooperate with local teams of the Health, Agriculture, and Interior ministries to cull all birds in the area. The regional government said it would send special teams to collect the birds, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported.
Kurdish health officials were also reportedly coordinating with Iraqi Health Minister Abd al-Muttalib Muhammad Ali Salih to address the situation. "We have been provided [by the WHO] 50 doses of medicine, all of them remaining now in Kurdistan Region," Ali told reporters at a 1 February press briefing in Irbil, RFI reported.
Meanwhile, London-based "Al-Hayat" on 2 February cited Health Ministry sources as saying that claims by officials that there are enough medicines and laboratories to deal with bird flu are "media calming" and, in reality, the country will not be able to deal with a widespread outbreak.
In areas south of Kurdistan, the Health Ministry has disseminated informational posters and pamphlets to the governorates so that awareness campaigns can be undertaken at a local level. However, it does not appear that the ministry has made much use of national television, radio, or newspapers to get the word out. This raises questions about the spread of information across governorates -- particularly in outlying areas and areas affected by the insurgency, where information may be harder to come by.
Rumors about the disease have already begun to spread, and in some cases, it appears that inaccurate information is making its way to the airwaves. A television station in Karbala claimed that people in the south-central governorate had contracted bird flu, RFI reported on 3 February. Bashir Jiyad Husayn al-Mukarram, Emergency Center head at Karbala Governorate's Health Care Directorate, denied the rumor in a 2 February interview with RFI. Al-Mukarram then advised people to cook poultry to 56 degrees Celsius, which would kill off any potential bird-flu virus; the WHO recommends cooking birds to 70 degrees Celsius.
Another "expert" told the Al-Iraqiyah state television channel that citizens raising poultry in cities such as Baghdad should immediately slaughter their birds "in a safe and isolated place." The advice contradicts advice given in Kurdistan, where officials have advised citizens not to slaughter their birds, but rather to make birds available to special teams, which would collect and slaughter the birds safely. Kurds watching Al-Iraqiyah television face potential health hazards by following such advice.
There are also unconfirmed reports that another avian virus, identified as Newcastle disease, is rapidly spreading through Kurdistan. Al-Sulaymaniyah daily "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 1 February that thousands of birds have died in Kurdistan in recent days from Newcastle disease, a bird virus unrelated to the H5N1 strain of bird flu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2006).
The newspaper said 7,000 chickens died at a farm outside Irbil on 31 January. The farm owner said he was informed by "relevant authorities" that the cause of death was Newcastle disease, while a veterinary expert told the daily that the actual cause of death could not be determined without further testing.
The newspaper also reported that 18 chickens were found dead in the village of Dushiwan near Irbil, while villagers living close to Qandil Mountain reported finding many dead partridges. Some 40 chickens were found dead in the village of Wali near Kifri on 31 January -- all suspected cases of Newcastle disease, the newspaper reported.
Some Successful Moves
Efforts are being made at the local level, however. In Diyala Governorate, which borders the Kurdistan region, Ba'qubah Veterinary Clinic Director Hashim Ibrahim Kazim al-Zubaydi told RFI on 1 February that the local administration has closed down all poultry and pet-bird markets in the governorate and has organized veterinary teams to inspect all poultry farms. The governorate has also undertaken an educational campaign to warn local residents of the danger of bird flu and has banned the entry of poultry and pet birds into the governorate.
Officials in Al-Basrah organized an open workshop on bird flu on 2 February where contagious-disease experts said the disease has reached the fourth stage of concern, which they labeled "dangerous," RFI reported. "Already two months ago we launched a media campaign on bird flu. Our area neighbors the marshes, with high numbers of migratory birds, and those may transfer the disease," said Qusay Abd al-Latif al-Idani, head of the Health Care Directorate's Education Department in the governorate.
Al-Basrah Governorate Council member Wasib al-Amud said the import of all birds into the governorate has been banned since December. In an apparent effort to elicit greater cooperation from citizens, the Council of Ministers and the Agriculture Ministry have pledged to compensate poultry farms should they be required to cull their stocks, said Karim al-Imara, head of the Operations Center for Combating Bird Flu in Al-Basrah.
Already it appears that the insurgency could hamper efforts to curb the spread of the virus. The WHO said in a 2 February press release that although it has dispatched a team of epidemiologists and experts on animal disease to Iraqi Kurdistan, the team is not expected to arrive until next week due to the security situation. As the world has already seen from the Asian cases of bird flu, time is of the essence when combating the spread of the virus. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Published on 6 February.)
KURDISH LEGAL EXPERT COMMENTS ON DEFAMATION CASE. Radio Free Iraq correspondent Shamal Ramadan reported on 27 January from Irbil that Kurdish intellectual and Austrian citizen Kamal Sayyid Qadir would be retried because of procedural issues in his first trial. Qadir was convicted last month of defaming the Kurdish cause and the intelligence service of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in articles that he wrote while in Austria. According to Qadir, his initial trial lasted only 15 minutes. In his report, Ramadan interviewed Muhammad Umar, member of the Irbil Court of Cassation.
RFI: Please describe the state of Kamal Qadir's case.
Muhammad Umar: Doctor Kamal Qadir has been sentenced by the Criminal Court in Irbil to two 15-year terms on two separate indictments. But as the case was passed to the Court of Cassation, the Penal Board at the Court of Cassation reviewed the case and stated that the act of the defendant does not fall under Article 156 of the Penal Code as amended by Article 1 of Law No. 21 of 2003. The amended Article 156 of the Penal Code covers acts of external attack against the independence of the country, which has not been the case of the defendant. The Court of Cassation has stated that the act of the defendant falls under Article 433 of the Penal Code. Based on this, the [Court of Cassation] has abolished the sentences issued by the Criminal Court in Irbil and returned the case to the Court of Investigations, which should pass the case on to another court, with the defendant [facing charges] under Article 433.
RFI: You have mentioned that the man has been sentenced to two 15-year terms. Why were there two indictments? What outcome do you expect from his retrial at the Court of Cassation?
Umar: He was sentenced twice because there were two separate allegations, filed by two different parties. There were two complaints against him and the sentences were issued against him independently of one another. Concerning my expectations of his upcoming trial, the investigations judge will pass the case to a court of misdemeanors, not a criminal court. [Qadir] will be tried by the Court of Misdemeanors in Irbil on charges based on Article 433 of the Penal Code, and the sentence can be either imprisonment or fine.
RFI: What are the minimum and maximum sentences possible in this case?
Umar: As for imprisonment, in misdemeanor cases it varies from three months to five years. This depends on the decision of the court, which we cannot interfere in. It is fully within the rights and competence of the court.
RFI: It has been reported that the prime minister of the [Kurdistan regional] government has demanded that many of the plaintiffs withdraw their suits. Is this true?
Umar: I have no information on that. But I guess that the case is on its way to its final resolution, and it will come to an end within a few days.
RFI: Has the defendant been given special treatment -- I mean the overturning of the sentences and the expected retrial?
Umar: I can confirm that this case has not enjoyed any exceptional attention, being like any other of the many ordinary cases. The Kurdistan regional government respects the independence of the judiciary, and [the case] has remained within the authority of the courts in charge. No interference has violated this freedom, and no there has been no interference in favor of issuing particular sentences. The competence of the courts has not been violated by any outside interference.
Statement From Lawyer Jamal Qasim
Below is a statement by lawyer Jamal Qasim, a member of the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, that was recorded by RFI on 27 January.
Jamal Qasim: As far as I can see as a lawyer, no one will object to the Court of Cassation decision -- neither those who called for the punishment of Dr. Kamal [Qadir], nor those who have been mentioned in the [allegedly defamatory] texts and publications by him. There is no need to issue an amnesty because there is absolutely no intention to call Dr. Kamal [Qadir] to responsibility. In my opinion, he will be released within a week or, at most, a few days [more than that]. I think there is no justification for keeping him imprisoned, as he has been in jail now for some three months.
(Translated by Petr Kubalek)