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Iraq Report: July 27, 2005

27 July 2005, Volume 8, Number 24
TURKEY PROPOSES CROSS-BORDER ACTION TO REIN IN KURDISH FIGHTERS. Turkish officials have been increasingly vocal in recent days over their desire to launch cross-border operations to rein in Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK or Kongra-Gel) based in the mountainous areas straddling Iraq and Turkey. After months of what they deemed as stalling on the part of the U.S. and Iraqi governments to deal with the PKK, Turkish officials proposed two new plans. Officials first contended that Turkey would carry out cross-border operations with or without the consent of the Iraqi government. They then suggested at a 19 July meeting of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries that Iran, Syria, and Iraq join forces to help eliminate the Kurdish group, which is considered by its supporters a rebel group, and by the governments involved, including the United States, a terrorist organization.

Fighting has escalated between the PKK and the Turkish government since May, leaving at least 24 PKK fighters and 30 soldiers reported dead, and by some accounts, dozens more. The recent spate of terrorist attacks, claimed by the PKK and groups affiliated with it, have targeted civilians and soldiers.

Turkey's calls for the United States to drive the PKK from northern Iraq began in the months following the downfall of the Hussein regime in 2003. The United States was slow to take up the mantle, saying that it would not round up PKK fighters until an amnesty offered by the Turkish government had expired. Since then, the United States has been tied up fighting insurgents in other areas of Iraq and has stalled on Turkey's request.

One unidentified U.S. official responded to Turkey's cross-border plans by saying that Turkey has the right to defend itself -- within its borders -- against terrorism, but the United States would not support Turkish military action against the PKK should those operations take place inside Iraq or violate human rights, Andalou news agency reported on 15 July. That statement appeared to provoke a harsh response from the Turkish government and may have contributed to the U.S. "order" for the capture of PKK leaders in Iraq that was announced by Turkish General Staff General Ilker Basbug on 19 July, according to Anatolia news agency.

Regional Implications

The United States would certainly not welcome further turmoil in the region, which could destabilize the relative calm in northern Iraq. Washington would also oppose any action by Iraq's neighbors -- particularly Iran and Syria -- towards the PKK since those countries would likely attempt to send troops into Iraq under the pretense of hunting for terrorists.

Despite that, Iran has voiced its willingness to pursue the issue, NTV reported on 19 July. Iranian Interior Minister Abdulwahid Musavi Lari told the Turkish news channel: "We do not support the relationship between the Iraqi Kurdish [administration] and the PKK in northern Iraq," adding, "There is no PKK camp in Iran and we have fully prevented it." Turkey has claimed in the past that the Iranian regime gave shelter to PKK fighters inside its territory, providing the group with logistical support.

To complicate matters further, Iran is at odds with its own Kurdish opposition groups, which have called for greater national rights. The demands have led to a brutal crackdown by the regime in recent weeks. In one recent operation against Kurds living in northwestern Iran, Iranian security agents reportedly killed a Kurdish activist, bound his body, and dragged it through the streets, reported on 15 July. Numerous Kurds have been arrested in other security sweeps by Iranian intelligence, and reported on 14 July that intelligence agents have asked private call centers to provide the names of people making telephone calls abroad.

Syria appears less likely to support the plan, as it seems more susceptible to increased pressure -- whether perceived or real -- to appease Kurdish demands for national rights. That pressure prompted the most recent Ba'ath Party conference to pledge to address the issue of Kurdish rights in Syria.

Kurds in Syria have battled the Ba'athist regime for decades in an effort to be recognized as citizens under the law. "Since the advent of Law 93 of 1962, the Syrian government has classified some 160,000 Kurds as 'ajanib,' or foreigners. They cannot vote, own property, or work in government jobs. Another 75,000 or so are simply unregistered, and are known as 'maktumin,' or concealed, having almost no civil rights," Beirut's "Daily Star" reported on 11 July.

However, it remains unclear whether the Syrian government intends to do more than pay lip service to the issue. Syria would be more likely to support the Turkish plan if the political climate were different. However, given Iraqi and U.S. accusations against Syria for its apparent support of terrorism in Iraq and other international pressures on Syria that forced its recent withdrawal from Lebanon, it is unlikely that Syria would accept the Turkish plan at this time.

Iraqi Government Unlikely To Help

Iraqi officials in the interim and transitional governments have also stalled on the issue of the PKK, contending that while the government wants to assist Turkey (Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari vowed in May to do "all we can" on the Iraqi side of the border), the Iraqi military does not have the capabilities to launch operations in Iraq's vast mountainous regions.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told NTV on 18 July that Turkey should seek approval from the Iraqi National Assembly if it intends to launch cross-border operations. "We are ready for cooperation against the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] or any other terrorist organization. We need to help each other on the issue," said Jabr, adding: "However, there is a government and parliament elected in Iraq. The parliament can grant permission for Turkey's cross-border operation; it is bound to the parliament's decision."

Even if the National Assembly were to approve the plan, it is unclear if the Iraqi military would have the right to do so under the terms of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution, which gives Iraq's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) peshmerga forces control over areas of northern Iraq. It appears unlikely that the Kurds would ever support attempts by the Iraqi military to launch operations against the PKK in Kurdistan.

The Shi'ite-led transitional Iraqi government faces other internal obstacles that preclude its approval of the Turkish plan, namely an alliance it formed with the Kurdistan Coalition list following January elections to form the leadership of the transitional government. Support among Kurds for the Shi'ite-led government has waned in recent weeks, as Kurdish leaders, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have claimed that al-Ja'fari has sidelined the authority of Kurdish ministers as he takes steps to "monopolize" power.

Kurds are also disappointed at the transitional government's failure to address issues relating to the normalization of Kirkuk, a multiethnic oil rich city. The city was the site of a massive resettlement campaign undertaken by Saddam Hussein's regime that uprooted and displaced 1 million Kurds. The TAL calls on the transitional government to "expeditiously" remedy the injustice caused by the Hussein regime in altering the demographic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk. Turkey is likely to become wrapped up in the imbroglio because it supports Iraq's Turkomans (ethnic Turks), who, like the Kurds, claim a majority in the city.

Kurdish Woes

Kurdish activists close to the PKK say that the movement has tried to change its stance to nonviolence, but to no avail. They contend that the government seeks nothing short of their annihilation, despite Kurdish calls for their rights under a democratic Turkish state. "Today, we believe in the diplomatic and political struggle in order to obtain our legitimate rights," Murat Karayilan, the military leader of the PKK, told AP in an interview published on 12 July. He vowed, however, to fight Turkey if attacked. The group called a cease-fire in 1999 with Turkey after its leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured and imprisoned.

The PKK canceled the cease-fire last year, saying the government had not done enough to meet demands for Kurdish national rights. The Kurdish language was banned in Turkey until 1991, and broadcasting in the Kurdish language was only legalized last year. Other reforms have enabled Kurds for the first time to give their children Kurdish names on legal documents.

Karayilan's calls for greater equality come at a time when Turkey is under increasing pressure as it vies for membership in the European Union. The Turkish government has been widely criticized in Europe for its human rights record with the Kurds, who live primarily in southeast Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at European diplomats last week, telling CNN Turk that he doesn't appreciate their trips to Kurdish areas in the east and southeast of Turkey. "They go to Diyarbakir. Where do they go? They go to Hakkari. Fine, but if you want to hold talks with us, mister, you must do that in Ankara, the capital," Erdogan said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SUNNIS DRAFTING CONSTITUTION GUNNED DOWN IN IRAQ. Three Sunni men connected to the Iraqi National Assembly's constitutional drafting committee were gunned down outside a Baghdad restaurant on 19 July, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported.

Gunmen shot and killed Mijbal al-Sheikh Issa, Thamir Husayn al-Ubaydi, and Aziz Ibrahim Ilaywi as they left a restaurant in the Karrada district of the capital.

Issa appears to have joined the committee as part of the 15 Sunni Arabs added to the 71-member committee last month. He was the secretary-general of the Movement for Decision Making [Harakat al-Qarar] and a member of the National Dialogue Council. Al-Ubaydi was a member of a subcommittee of Sunnis advising the drafting committee. Ilaywi, who is reportedly the nephew of Issa, was an informal adviser to the drafting committee.

While no group has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, it is likely that terrorists affiliated with Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi will claim responsibility. Al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn has threatened to kill anyone who associates with the transitional Iraqi government.

Al-Zarqawi has threatened Sunni resistance leaders in Internet statements for entering into talks with the U.S. military on laying down arms and joining the Iraqi political process. He has also leveled threats at Sunni-populated Arab states for forging relations with the Iraqi government. His group has claimed responsibility in recent weeks for an attack on the Bahraini ambassador and the kidnapping and killing of the Egyptian ambassador-designate.

Commenting on the attack, National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani told reporters during a press conference with UN special representative Ashraf Qazi in Baghdad: "This act is unacceptable and we strongly denounce it. Whoever commits such acts, is indeed willing to divide the Iraqi people and to incite a sectarian strife in Iraq. We will neither allow nor accept such practices. That is why a call is addressed to the Iraqi people to unite and consolidate, to stand firmly and know that there are enemies of this people."

Al-Hasani said that terrorists are seeking to divide Iraq and sow divisions among the country's various ethnic groups. "When we speak about dividing this country, it is not meant dividing its territory but dividing the people of this country, dividing the people of this Iraq. This does not serve the interest of anybody but of the enemies of Iraq. That is why we strongly denounce and condemn such acts and we express our condolences to the Iraqi people for this immense tragedy," RFI quoted him as saying.

Issa spoke with Radio Free Iraq in Baghdad on 18 July, discussing his vision of a future Sunni constituency. Asked to comment on an informal debate within the National Assembly over the pros and cons of elections under a single voting district, as happened in January, he said: "Not only for the representatives of Sunnis but for the whole Iraqi people, the system of more voting districts is better because the practice of one district [as in the 30 January elections] has been new for Iraqis. I think that falsifications may affect one single list [of voters] more than it would affect a system of multiple voting districts, where more control can be imposed on the problem. We live in this country where many cases of falsifications [occur] and also changes happen in reality and in law. That is why I think the system of multiple voting districts represents all Iraqis. The system of one district is not appropriate for Iraqis. It has no equivalent anywhere across the Middle East."

Regarding governorates, he told Radio Free Iraq: "I wish the system of multiple voting districts to be widely introduced so that every governorate, not only Baghdad, becomes two constituencies. The reason is that some kind of demographic or social change has happened between various population groups. For instance, in Kirkuk, there are our Sunni Arabs, Turkomans, Kurds, and Christians. It is possible that all of them enter a different district, or it is possible that we give a certain amount of freedom to the citizen so that he or she knows whom to choose in the elections. It is true we are in the framework of a newly established system but the open system [of a single district] would lead to more problems for which we have no mechanisms [to solve]. In any case, I believe that the system of one district has failed and that religious and racist attitudes become apparent in the system of one district while they would not appear in the system of multiple districts." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

NEW U.K. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ MEETS WITH REPORTERS. The United Kingdom's new ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, appeared at a press briefing for reporters in Baghdad on 17 July. Patey formerly served as British ambassador to Sudan, which recently saw the conclusion of a peace treaty ending 29 years of civil war. Prior to Sudan, Patey served in Libya, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. What follows are excerpts from Patey's news conference as presented by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI).

Patey: Just let me say by way of introduction that this is an exciting time in the political process in Iraq. We are pleased that the constitutional commission, the expanding constitutional commission, is up and running and working on the constitution. The feedback I get from those involved in this process is that they're anxious and confident that they can complete this process on time so that the Iraqi people can vote on the constitution in October and leading to new elections in December. Progress is being made on building up the Iraqi security forces; both the army and the police and other services to create the conditions so that coalition forces can reduce, eventually withdraw, and hand over to the Iraqi security forces. I am very pleased with progress that's been made on that.

I think that I would like just now to open it to questions, and I'll answer any of your questions.

Question: The media has been saying that by the end of this year British forces intend to redeploy forces in Iraq. How true is this thesis?

Patey: There are no timetables on redeployment and withdrawal of British forces. I think the prime minister and defense secretary have made it clear that our redeployment and withdrawal will be on conditions-based timetable, when the conditions are right. That will be a function of discussions with the Iraqi government on the build-up of Iraqi security forces. But we have made our intentions clear, we will only be here as long as the Iraqi government wants us to be here, and we will withdraw and redeploy when the government feels the Iraqi security forces are in a position to replace us. Now, there is no timetable for that, any timetable is speculation. But I would add that we expect that the forthcoming elections, the agreement on the constitution and the build-up of Iraqi security forces will create conditions that will enable coalition forces to reduce and eventually withdraw.

Question: I have two questions, Mr. Ambassador. Where is the country's [contribution to the donor] conference in Amman? What will the U.K. role be in that conference, taking in consideration that [the United Kingdom is] leading the EU at the moment? My other question is about the death penalty and if the IST decided to practice this penalty against some of the congress, what will your point of view be on that issue?

Patey: On the Amman conference, we obviously play a leading role both bilaterally and as presidency of the EU. What we hope to achieve with the Iraqi government from the Amman conference, what we hope to see is agreement on the priorities to be set by the Iraqi government over the coming months and beyond. What the Iraqi government is capable of achieving: identifying its priorities, identifying the resources available to the Iraqi government to spend on those priorities and to give a clear indication to donor countries on the areas where the Iraqi government would need help and would need assistance.

So if we come out of Amman with a clearer picture of that and also with a clearer framework for donor coordination, I think it will be a success. I don't think we would necessarily expect to see big new pledges at Amman, because a number of the pledges that were made in Madrid haven't yet been spent. So I wouldn't be looking for a big headline figure of extra money. In fact the U.K. will not be pledging any more money, but what we want to do is to work with the government to see what its priorities are and to see that our assistance is targeted in a way that meets the government's overall plan. We have been working on that in the lead-up to Amman and we're working at Amman for that outcome.

Question: I have two questions Mr. Ambassador, relating to the same issue. The London bombings, do you think they will silence the voices that are rejecting the war in Iraq? And we noticed that there is a great concern for the victims of the London bombings. What about the victims of Iraq bombings?

Patey: I think on your second point first, I think we share a concern about the victims of bombings, of victims of terrorism everywhere, and we are very conscious those of us who work in Iraq of the victims of terrorism. You have seen in recent days the appalling attacks on young children, attacks on civilians, so I think we are particularly conscious, and I think our government are, of the victims of terrorism on a daily basis in Iraq.

The London bombings have brought home to us the terrorism that is a global phenomenon, it not something that is confined to a few areas. Those who seek to attack and kill and terrorize civilians do so without discrimination. When we had two minutes' silence here at the embassy on [14 July], I made a point of remembering not only victims of the London bombings but also the victims of Iraqi terrorism.

On your first point, there's nothing new about international terrorism. Britain isn't suddenly a target for terrorism as a result of our involvement in Iraq, as some people would have you believe. We have seen terrorism in London before. I think those people who oppose the war in Iraq in the U.K. will not change their minds. But I think there is a growing consensus whatever the rationale, whatever the reason for going to war, even among those who opposed it.

There is a general recognition that we want to ensure that Iraq's future is a democratic one, in which the people of Iraq decide their future, that they can enjoy peace and stability, that they can enjoy economic progress. I don't think there's any dispute in Britain on that. There may be differences over should we have gone to war, but I think now there is certainly broad consensus that supporting democracy, supporting stability and supporting economic progress in Iraq is something we should do and I don't think the bombings in London will change that.

Question: Could you tell us about British reconstruction projects in the south of Iraq?

Patey: The main reconstruction is to get the electricity and water networks up and running. On that particular infrastructure-regeneration project we've spent 30 million pounds since June 2003. We've also spent 18 million pounds on emergency infrastructure rehabilitation: repairing the transmission lines from the power station into Basrah, and we've also supplied a number of technical advisors to help coordinate reconstruction projects.... But our main activity, if you like, is to try to work with the Iraqi government, with the local administration to increase the capacity of the Iraqi government to deliver services because at the end of the day it's for Iraq to do this.

What we are trying to do is to build up the capacity in the Iraqi administration to deliver these services. So I think increasingly you will see Iraqis delivering these services, less the coalition doing it. We have done it on an emergency basis but with a sovereign Iraqi government, it's for the Iraqi government to be spending Iraq's money through the development fund through Iraq, its oil revenue. International aid assistance will help, but it �s not going to be the primary source of funds. You will see increasingly the focus is on Iraqi government taking the lead on these matters and we are helping to build up capacity in that sector.

Could I just add that the reconstruction needs are huge, and probably beyond the capabilities of any single government to achieve. So for the longer term future the private sector is going to have a huge role to play in building up the energy infrastructure, the electricity and water because once Iraq starts building up its industry the electricity needs of Iraq are going to quadruple or increase five times. That is going to involve investment in power stations, investment in infrastructure. That sort of investment in other countries has come from the private sector. So an important part of the development of Iraq will be creating the conditions in which the private sector can come and work with the Iraqi government to provide the capital investment required, to address the needs of Iraq, because even an oil rich country like Iraq, as it increases its oil production, will have many demands on the budget.

To make this sort of investment on the infrastructure they will need assistance and that sort of capital is really available from the private sector. So creating the conditions for the private sector to come and invest in Iraq is an important part of planning for the future.

Question: After the killing of the Egyptian ambassador there were calls....

Patey: Well I think the reason you don't hear calls for strengthening commonwealth presence in Iraq is because we are already here. There are already 13 European embassies in Baghdad, which is six more than there were in Sudan. So as presidency of the EU I have a much larger group of colleagues here already. Australia, Canada are already represented here.

There were calls for Arab and Islamic countries to be better represented in Baghdad before the terrible killing of my Egyptian colleague.... I think that was an attempt to intimidate countries from sending representatives here. It's important that Iraq's neighbors are represented here, its important that Arab and Islamic countries support the new government. It is reassuring that many of the Arab countries that already announced their intentions to send envoys here; Jordan and Morocco and others have reiterated their intention to upgrade their relations here, and that is important.

Question: We are witnessing an escalation in the terrorist acts and the bombings lately. Are you willing to send more troops?

Patey: I don't think what is required is more troops, more coalition troops. This is going to take a sustained effort; I think we have seen a short term increase in terrorist activity. We think the trend over the last few months has been relatively stable, we see a consistent level of attacks, with some days worse than others.

The key focus is on building up the Iraqi security forces, because ultimately it is the Iraqi government that will deal with the terrorists and former regime elements. And so, that work is going on. I think a lot of progress has been made, the current figure of police and armed forces that has been trained is over 170,000...and that figure is to rise over the course of next year to 230,000.

Question: The withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, depends on three factors: the constitution, elections, and capacity building of Iraqi security forces. If we manage to achieve these three things, would you withdraw immediately after that or would it depend upon a request from our government?

Patey: I think what would happen...those are preconditions. Those are the conditions in which I said I thought would be created that could lead to withdrawal. I think the key factor will be the readiness of security forces to take over, and that may be in different places in different times. I don't think we would see an immediate withdrawal. We would see a withdrawal on a graduated basis according to the ability of the Iraqi security forces to take full responsibility.

Question: Do you think Iraq needs another Marshall Plan, as did Germany and Japan, to be a stable country?

Patey: I think Iraq needs the assistance of its friends. One of the big successes of the Brussels conference was that the international community had put behind it the disagreements it had over the war. There was broad agreement that the international community needed to come to the assistance of Iraq and it's people.... There are elements of [what] you could call the Marshall Plan.... The Paris Club has agreed to forgive 80 percent of Iraq's debt. Hopefully, the non-Paris Club countries will do likewise. There is a program for Iraq to have access to international lending through the IMF, the [World Bank], there is donor engagement. So, whatever it's called, there's kind of a Marshall Plan already.

Things will take time to change...people are impatient. But it takes years to build a power station, it takes years to build infrastructure projects, it takes years to reinvest in the oil industry. But that investment needs to happen and Iraq's oil revenues will increase, the Iraqi government will hopefully spend those oil revenues on building up both the physical and human capital of Iraq, because Iraq's future lies in its people.