Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq Report: January 24, 2005

24 January 2005, Volume 8, Number 3
RFE/RL LAUNCHES SPECIAL IRAQ ELECTION WEB PAGE. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has launched a web page on Iraq's 30 January elections ( The page contains valuable information on Iraqi parliamentary, Kurdish parliamentary, and provincial elections, including featured reports and archived election coverage, as well as English-language transcripts of Radio Free Iraq interviews and reports on the elections; commentaries from the Iraqi press; a list of the major contenders on the ballot; a comprehensive list of the political parties competing in the election; and a summary of the stances of some parties. It also features an interactive map that provides detailed information on the situation in each governorate, or province.

BAGHDAD EVENTS PROMOTE GREATER TRIBAL PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS. Two events were held in Baghdad on 16 January that addressed the importance of the Iraqi tribes and encouraged tribal leaders to support the election process, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day.

Sheikhs Muna'im al-Dulaymi and Talib al-Dulaymi of the Al-Dulaymi tribe, and Sheikh Khalil al-Jurba of the Al-Shammar tribe spoke at the first event, a conference focusing on the role of tribal leaders titled "Iraq Is A House For All." The event was sponsored by the Iraqi Peace Institute and attended by interim National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i.

Tribal leader Muna'im al-Dulaymi told RFI that the most important issue for the Iraqi tribes across Iraq is the scheduling of a withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq and the establishment of an Iraqi military that would protect the borders and ensure internal security. Al-Dulaymi said the tribes also demanded that the election mechanism be changed from one constituency to multiple constituencies, saying that governorates should elect their own representatives to the transitional National Assembly. He added that a call by the tribes to postpone the 30 January elections is just one of several demands being made, and suggested that the interim government has focused only on this demand, thereby dragging the Arab Iraqi tribes into political games.

Al-Jurba said the tribes want to unite Iraq. "We want to be brothers participating in one country," RFI quoted him as telling conference participants. "Iraq has a lot of resources but we are now in a difficult situation and you, the Iraqi tribes, and the officials, and the sons of Iraq -- you are the shield of Iraq."

National Security Adviser al-Rubay'i said it will be necessary for tribal leaders to encourage their members -- particularly rural farmers -- to go to the polls. He added that the tribes should be encouraged to cast their ballots for whomever they want and for whichever list represents their aspirations and interests. Al-Rubay'i also discussed the marginalization of the tribes under the Hussein regime, and said that their status has not improved after the war to liberate Iraq because they were not provided with material or moral support by the government. He said that discussions are under way to develop a mechanism whereby tribal leaders could be in contact with the government to discuss issues of importance to them and "restore respect for the tribal leaders."

The second event held in Baghdad on 16 January was a seminar sponsored by the Baghdad Tribal Council and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party to address the importance of the elections and the role of tribal leaders in informing their members about the electoral process, RFI reported.

Al-Da'wah member and organizer Isma'il Hasan highlighted the historical importance of tribal leaders in their communities and stressed the beneficial role they can play by encouraging Iraqis to vote. He added that seminars of this type help provide crucial information about the elections not available to the community due to the current situation in Iraq. He said that most Iraqis do not have any knowledge of the election process in comparison to citizens from established democracies.

Hasan told RFI that a number of tribal leaders have vowed to protect polling centers in their communities from terrorist attacks. Sheikh Kathim Ghat'a al-Kabi, too, told RFI that his tribe would protect the polls. "We have committees to protect the [polling centers]," he said. "We have asked our uncles, our neighbors, our brothers to protect the ballot boxes. These committees are ready and armed by us" and others interested in securing safe elections. Al-Kabi added that he believes that Iraqis will rise to the occasion and vote as part of their duty to rebuild the country. Asked if he is optimistic about the success of the elections, al-Kabi said: "God willing, by our solidarity...we are very optimistic to succeed in these elections 100 percent." Asked if he believes the elections will be a success in areas outside the capital, he said: "Yes, in all of Baghdad and all the villages. We are participating everywhere because our tribe is not only in Baghdad but in all the other governorates." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IN IRAQ, LOCAL OFFICIALS, CANDIDATES MOST VULNERABLE. Local government officials and candidates appear to be far and away the most vulnerable of Iraqi public officials, leading insurgents increasingly to focus their attacks on them in an effort to destabilize the security situation at a fundamental level and intimidate the local population. Local councilors have been targeted in governorates across the country, not just in the volatile governorates of Al-Anbar (Al-Fallujah), Ninawah (Mosul), Diyala (Ba'qubah), and Baghdad. The consequences of such targeting threaten to stifle participation in local politics by concerned Iraqi citizens who might otherwise welcome the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of their communities.

The situation appears worse in Ninawah and Diyala, where three governorate-council members have been killed in each governorate in the past month. Diyala has lost a total of seven councilmen since April; Salah Al-Din, Babil, Baghdad, and Al-Basrah have lost at least two councilmen each. In the past three months, Baghdad has lost both its governor and deputy governor to assassination. The deputy governor of Diyala was killed on 29 October after surviving a previous attempt in August. Diyala's governor has survived some 14 attempts on his life, Knight-Ridder reported on 19 January. Ninawah's governor was killed on 14 July. The Kirkuk governor escaped an assassination attempt in November. Two candidates for Al-Basrah's local governorate elections were gunned down this week. Salah Al-Din's deputy governor, governorate council chairman, and a college dean were taken hostage by militants who stopped their convoy south of Baghdad on 8 January as the men were returning from meetings with Shi'ite leaders in Al-Najaf and Karbala on the Iraqi elections. They were released on 20 January.

These figures do not include the dozens of unsuccessful attacks on local leaders, as well as kidnappings and other assorted threats lodged against these men and women, and their families. Election workers -- numbering in the thousands by one count -- have walked off the job due to death threats by insurgents living in their communities.

Brigadier General Carter Ham told reporters at a 15 January press briefing in Mosul ( that Ninawah Governorate recently lost all of its election staffers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 January 2005) adding, "At one point, there were essentially none left." He said that there is a coordinator working to rebuild the Mosul staff and election staff from other parts of Iraq may be brought in on 30 January to work in polling stations. Ham stressed that the polls in that governorate would be open on election day. Twelve thousand multinational forces will also be on hand in the governorate, more than 4,000 more than the usual number. He added that he expects that after 30 January, insurgents will target both the winners and losers of the governorate's elections.

In Al-Fallujah, Lieutenant General John Sattler said voting will be held in Al-Anbar Governorate, the BBC reported on 19 January. He said that about 140,000 residents have returned to Al-Fallujah since the November offensive; there are an estimated 500,000 eligible voters in the governorate, the majority of whom are Sunni.

As with the National Assembly election, many local candidate lists have not been made public, and few candidates have dared to campaign openly. In Diyala, Governor Abdullah Rashid al-Juburi debated an opponent on local television in what the American Forces Press Service called "democracy in action -- Iraqi style." The debate looked like something Americans would see on public access television, the 18 January reported continued. The debate was held in a small studio outside Ba'qubah, while Iraqi and U.S. forces guarded the compound.

U.S. Embassy officials told the press service that some person-to-person campaigning has taken place in the governorate, which is estimated to be 45 percent Shi'a and 55 percent Sunni, but that campaigning usually takes place in small private venues, such as citizens' homes. The candidates said campaigning is difficult in the governorate, where they have taken out radio and television ads, passed out fliers, and hung posters in an effort to make their candidate lists known. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI MEDIA TRY TO FILL CAMPAIGN VACUUM. The Iraqi media has served as the single most important venue for election coalition lists in a campaign that is virtually absent of campaigning. The security situation is so dire in some areas of the country during the lead-up to the 30 January election that the names of candidates on most lists have not been released to the public. Some Iraqi citizens complain that they know virtually nothing of the 112 lists on the ballot, according to newspaper reports. However, the political parties and coalitions are making use of print and broadcast media to present their platforms, and media outlets in turn are promoting messages encouraging voter participation in the election.

The coalition lists are comprised of the major political parties -- the majority of which belonged to the former Iraqi opposition that returned with U.S. financial support after the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime. The parties on the lists all have their own newspapers; many have radio and local-access television programs, which they use to promote their platforms. Some independent newspapers have made efforts to devote space to covering smaller party lists, but it is unknown how much effect that will have on the election.

The United Iraqi Alliance has the candidate list expected to win a majority of votes in the election, and rival parties and coalitions have accused it of attempting to sway voters by placing pictures of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on their list posters and campaign material. That way, detractors claim, the alliance sends the message to Shi'ites that al-Sistani has endorsed the list. The ayatollah has stopped short of giving official endorsement to any list, although he is given credit for assembling the United Iraqi Alliance list. In reality, it was his representatives that played a role in negotiating the composition of the list among the Shi'a parties.

Sunni groups opposed to participating in the election regularly espouse their views in supporting newspapers and are often quoted in what would be considered the popular press, owned by independent or pro-election party newspapers. Sunni groups that will participate in the elections despite some hesitancy over the issue have also made their platforms known.

Reports and commentaries in print media have devoted much attention to debating topics such as the efficacy of postponing elections, the role that Islam will play in a future Iraqi state presumably led by a Shi'ite majority, the possible withdrawal of multinational forces, the Kurdish issue and the Kirkuk election, the coming constitution that will be drafted by the elected parliament, and the need to support democracy and transparent elections. Newspapers have also covered official statements from the Iraqi Independent Election Commission concerning the elections. At least three dailies claim to have their own research institutes that regularly carry out public-opinion polls on the election, which they routinely publish. Coverage of the local governorate elections has been sparse outside the areas of Kirkuk and Baghdad.

As for television, Prime Minister Allawi has received the bulk of airtime, giving interviews and participating in discussions about the election on Iraqi terrestrial and satellite broadcasting channels. Other candidates have also participated in roundtable discussions broadcast on various channels, but Allawi -- whether by virtue of being prime minister or by intention -- has dominated the airwaves. Kurdish television channels have devoted much airtime to discussions and debates on both national and local elections.

As far as advertising, Allawi's Iraqi List with its sleek ads that appear as if they were produced by a Manhattan advertising firm, again dominate television -- some media outlets have reported the ads were made in London. The United Iraqi Alliance is also advertising on television. But again, the majority of the candidate lists do not have the means to produce such ads, let alone pay for television advertising space. Some reports indicate that at least one television channel, Al-Iraqiyah, has offered free airtime for lists wishing to advertise, but that claim has not been confirmed.

Iraqi television channels have done a thorough job of promoting voter participation, and have frequently carried public-information advertisements urging Iraqis to vote. However, the ads give little information about where and how to vote. Iraqi radio has also devoted much time to election coverage, particularly stations that support a radio call-in format.

Generally speaking, the media overwhelmingly supports elections at this time, and takes great pains to stress that it is the duty of Iraqis to take part in the election. Some stress a historical duty, while others stress a religious duty; still others claim that nonparticipation will only strengthen terrorist elements trying to destabilize the country. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER CONTINUES ACCUSATIONS AGAINST IRAN, SYRIA. There has been no abatement of Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan's accusations of Iranian and Syrian interference in Iraqi affairs. The minister's allegations surfaced several months ago, but his rhetoric has increased in recent days, eliciting a sharp response from Iranian officials. Syrian and Iraqi officials have also expressed concern over al-Sha'lan's remarks.

The minister's latest accusation came in a 17 January interview with Al-Arabiyah television in which he said he has evidence that Iran is providing financial support to some electoral blocs competing in the 30 January elections. He showed the news channel a notebook that he said contained the names and wages allocated to some Islamic militias that receive support from outside Iraq, specifically from Iran. The notebook appeared empty of any writing. His contention, moreover, is confusing in that it is unclear what he means by "militias."

The Independent Election Commission has banned any armed groups from participating in the elections, and al-Sha'lan did not specifically identify any of the "militias" against which he claimed to have evidence. In a same-day report, quoted the minister accusing Iran of having spent $1 billion on activities that aim to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs.

On 8 January, al-Sha'lan gave reporters in Baghdad access to a videotaped interrogation with the leader of the militant group Jaysh Muhammad (Muhammad's Army) in which the leader detailed his group's relations with the Hussein regime, and its financial backing from leaders in both Iran and Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). Based on this evidence, al-Sha'lan told the media: "We have the means like those that are being used against us. I mean that we have the means to move the battle from the streets of Baghdad to those of Tehran and Damascus."

The comment prompted counteraccusations from Iran, which claimed it had arrested an Iraqi spy employed by the Defense Ministry who was assigned to gather intelligence about border areas. "During his stay in Iran, the spy made extensive efforts to make up documents complying with accusations of Iraq's defense minister leveled against Iran," Fars News Agency reported on 8 January. An unnamed source told the news agency that the Defense Ministry lodged accusations against the Iranian government in an effort to cover up the disclosure of the spy's arrest. Syrian officials called the statements "irresponsible, inaccurate, and incredible statements that don't comply with the simplest rules of political and diplomatic relations."

Al-Sha'lan's statements about Iran and Syria have elicited varying reactions from Iraqi politicians. Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafiz called his remarks "quite disturbing," telling Al-Arabiyah television on 8 January that the Iraqi prime minister and foreign minister should be responsible for expressing the official viewpoints of the Iraqi government. Veteran leader Adnan Pachachi told "Al-Riyad" in an interview published on 17 January, "I think he has evidence proving their involvement in supporting certain quarters in Iraq." In an interview with London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 18 January, Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari said in reference to al-Sha'lan's comments: "We discussed the matter at the recent cabinet meetings and warned that statements about Iraq's relations with neighboring and other countries are the prerogatives of the Foreign Ministry.... We do not deny that there are interferences by some countries but the way of raising and dealing with them should not be through the media and satellite channels. There are diplomatic, political, and security channels though which these issues can be dealt with."

Meanwhile, Iranian media reported last week that al-Sha'lan worked for an Iraqi organization that was involved in spying activities and transferring arms and ammunition to Iraq. Later, on 16 January, Iran's Mehr News Agency issued a report claiming that al-Sha'lan had ties to the Hussein regime's intelligence service from 1986 until he left Iraq in 1990, reported on 17 January. Mehr also accused him of playing a role in the arrest and torture of thousands of opposition members, the website added. labeled the accusations false, saying that al-Sha'lan left Iraq in 1976 and from that period worked with the Iraqi opposition in London.

The report also quoted al-Sha'lan as saying that Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi was behind the accusations, adding that Chalabi wanted to damage his reputation ahead of the election. Al-Sha'lan is a candidate on the "Iraqis" list headed by interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir. He also accused the Shi'ite list (United Iraqi Alliance) to which Chalabi is a member of forging documents linking al-Sha'lan to the Hussein regime, saying that the list "represents the ugliest form of sectarianism and embodies [a] violation of law because it receives support from Iran" including financial funding. Chalabi denied the defense minister's remarks about his list, reported on 11 January, saying his remarks intended to "incite the United States against us." Al-Sha'lan again lashed out at Chalabi on 17 January, reminding Al-Arabiyah viewers of the scandal surrounding Chalabi's ties to alleged mismanagement of Petra Bank in Jordan and accusing the politician of "lacking integrity."

Al-Sha'lan also offered London's "Al-Hayat" new details about the woman who purportedly tried to assassinate him in early January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005), saying the woman was one of 50 women who were trained in Syria to carry out attacks and assassinate government officials, the daily reported on 15 January. The women are all related to men killed or detained by Iraqi and coalition forces, he said. "[They] come from various areas in Iraq and were given orientation courses in Syria under the supervision of Iraqi terrorist elements living there. Iranian clerics were in charge of these courses," he contended. He expressed optimism that Iraq can make headway with Syrian officials on the matter, saying that the "dialogue with Syria is easy and we might reach agreement on many points with it. But the situation with Iran is different." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FAYLI KURDS' ELECTION LEADER TALKS TO RFI ABOUT PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) spoke with a leader from the Islamic Union of Fayli Kurds, Tha'ir Ibrahim al-Fayli, on 15 January about his political party and its platform in the January elections.

RFI: The Islamic Union of Iraqi Fayli Kurds withdrew at the last moment from a large political coalition where it had been a member. Now, it will participate in the elections with a separate list, all its candidates being Fayli Kurds, along with some Arab personalities supportive of the Fayli Kurds' cause. All this was said by Tha'ir Ibrahim al-Fayli, the head of the list of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Fayli Kurds.

AL-FAYLI: Our list has 21 members. All of them are Fayli Kurds. Besides that, there are some Arab brothers supportive to the cause of Fayli Kurds. All members of the list are people with very high scientific and practical abilities.

We had previously belonged to a large coalition but we realized that we were not given the chance to get our rights. All the reality changed as well as all the agreements that we had made. At the last moment, exactly on 7 December, we were forced to set up a separate list. Another reason was that we had a program that differed from the programs of other lists. There are four points of ultimate importance for the Fayli Kurds that we try to address.

RFI: Fayli Kurds highlight in their election program several issues. The most important of them is the issue of Iraqi citizenship.

AL-FAYLI: In 1924, Law No. 42 was established. It was the first law on Iraqi citizenship. This law regarded Fayli Kurds as Iraqis by naturalization, although Fayli Kurds had lived in Iraq for thousands of years, while it regarded the rest of Iraqis as Iraqis by birth. Based on this and on the constitution from that time, an "Iraqi by naturalization" was not entitled to enjoy full participation in the political, professional, and government-career life. This started the way of marginalizing, deprivation, and oppression. It then reached its peak with forced resettlement, confiscation of property, imprisonment, and mass graves. On these grounds, we as Fayli Kurds saw that our task was to highlight this suffering in the new constitution. We will demand that the new constitution include four highly important guarantees that will be fair to all Iraqis and in result also to the Fayli Kurds.

First, it is adopting a new law on Iraqi citizenship that would treat all Iraqis fairly and would not discriminate between one and another Iraqi. Second, it is an effort to enable those who were expelled from Iraq to return, if they wish to do so, providing them with means for living and returning their property that the previous government had confiscated. Third, adopting a law that would condemn the encouragement of ethnic and religious strife in Iraq as a crime punishable by law. Fourth, it is a highly important effort to achieve the adoption of a law on social benefits for Iraqis.

RFI: Tha'ir Ibrahim al-Fayli, head of the list of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Fayli Kurds, also introduced other points of the election program of the list.

AL-FAYLI: Our program includes a number of paragraphs, as for example treating the issue of [insufficient] housing, participation in writing the constitution, active participation in a prompt solution of essential services such as electricity and water [supplies], ensuring the passage of laws to encourage the tourism industry, efforts for the effective implementation of the rule of law, expanding the atmosphere of public freedoms and democratic practices, and also equal media representation for the Fayli Kurds. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)

History Of Fayli Kurds

Faylis constitute a special group among Iraqi Kurds. According to Munir Morad in "The Situation of Kurds in Iraq and Turkey: Current Trends and Prospects," they constitute as much as 10 percent of all the Kurds in Iraq, or about 450,000. Their ethnic name, as Mehrdad Izady suggests in "The Kurds. A Concise Handbook," may be derived from the ancient Middle Eastern nation of Parthians. While most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, Faylis belong to the Shi'a branch of Islam.

Most Kurds speak either the Kurmanji or the Sorani dialect of the Kurdish language, while the idiom of Faylis is related to another Iranic language known as Gorani. A number of Faylis, however, speak Arabic as their main language. The reason is geographic: only a few Faylis live in the towns of Iraqi Kurdistan proper (Mandali, Khaniqin, Badra) while most of them are dispersed among the predominantly Arab population of central and southern Iraq. Their largest concentration is probably in the city Al-Kut, but they live also in Ba'qubah, Baghdad, Al-Hillah, Al-Amarah, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Basrah. This pattern of settlement can be accounted for, however, by quite recent changes in the lifestyle of Faylis.

Traditionally, Faylis have been divided into 24 tribes. When Iraq was established in 1921, most Faylis had been living a semi-nomadic life along the border with Iran. They preferred to demand the citizenship of neighboring Iran -- partly due to family and faith bonds, partly in an attempt to avoid military service in Iraq.

The new Iraqi law on the registration of agricultural land in 1932 resulted in the Faylis' loss of effective control over their previous common pastures. They started to move to cities where they performed hard unskilled labor, often as porters or couriers. When they tried to plead for Iraqi citizenship in 1940s, they were no longer eligible: in the sense of legal norms adopted in Iraq by that time, Iraqi citizenship could be granted either to an Arab living on the territory of Iraq, or to a non-Arab whose ancestors could be proved as former subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Both principles already excluded the Faylis.

The problem of the legal status of the Fayli population in Iraq has not been solved. It was used against the Faylis during the rule of the Ba'ath Party over Iraq: between 1969 and 1988, some 130,000 Faylis were forcibly deported to Iran, with all their property confiscated. The regime may have been encouraged in this step by a remarkable material turn that had come for many Faylis in 1948: when the state of Israel was established, some emigrating Iraqi Jews transferred their enterprises to their former loyal Fayli employees.

In terms of politics, the Iraqi Communist Party enjoyed a good deal of popularity among the Faylis. In 1968, Aziz Ali Haydar al-Hajj, who was a Fayli Kurd from Baghdad, became the secretary-general of the Iraqi Communist Party's "Armed Struggle" faction. At the same time, up to 1975, his compatriot Habib Muhammad Karim al-Fayli held the post of secretary in the Kurdistan Democratic Party. During Saddam Hussein's rule, there was a clandestine opposition group called the Islamic Movement of Fayli Kurds led by Sheikh As'ad al-Fayli, whom Radio Free Iraq interviewed on 14 September 2002. (Petr Kubalek)