12 September 2005, Volume 8, Number 31OPERATION IN TAL AFAR A SUCCESS, BUT FOR HOW LONG? After months of preparation, some 5,000 Iraqi security forces backed by 3,500 U.S. troops launched a major push into the northwestern Iraqi town of Tal Afar on 10 September in an effort to drive out terrorists based there once and for all.
Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi said the operation is the first to be led by Iraqis, and told reporters on 10 September that other cities have requested help from the government. Addressing the citizens of Al-Ramadi, Al-Rawah, Al-Qa'im, and Samarra during a Baghdad press briefing, he said, "We are coming," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported.
Al-Dulaymi told reporters that the offensive was planned some three months ago, but not carried out until now because Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari had requested that the government first attempt to find a "peaceful solution" to the situation in Tal Afar.
In preparation for the operation, the U.S. military began constructing a wall around Tal Afar in July in an effort to keep insurgents and weapons from streaming into the town, similar to the 64-kilometer dirt berm earlier constructed around Mosul by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the same purpose (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2005). It is unclear whether or not the wall aided this week's operation -- and now that the insurgents are gone, whether it will be able to keep them out in the future.
While both Iraqi and the U.S. military are calling the operation a success, the dust will have to settle before a final verdict is issued on Tal Afar. Much of the insurgency's strength remains its ability to travel relatively unobstructed and undetected -- when multinational forces converge on one city, the insurgents pick up and relocate to another one.
Defense Minister al-Dulaymi said that Iraqi and U.S. forces had killed 141 insurgents and arrested some 200 more between 9 and 10 September. Media reports from embedded journalists indicated that the streets of Tal Afar were more or less empty when troops entered the town on 10 September, suggesting that the insurgents had fled the city in previous days along with local residents. A similar tactic was used in Al-Fallujah in November 2004, where insurgents left ahead of the major offensive and established new bases in areas south and north of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 November 2004).
Moreover, the number of insurgents in Tal Afar was not known. Major General Rick Lynch, deputy chief of staff for Multinational Force Iraq, was asked by reporters at an 8 September Baghdad press briefing about the estimated number of insurgents in the city. "We believe that the insurgency inside of Tal Afar is comprised of terrorists and foreign fighters and local insurgents. And the magnitude of the insurgency is something that we are working through now, and I'm not at liberty to discuss [it]," Lynch said. He later estimated that about 20 percent of the insurgents were foreign fighters. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Army announced that 75 percent of the 200 insurgents arrested earlier in the week were foreign fighters, RFI reported on 8 September.
Glimpses of what the terrorists left behind are just beginning to come to light. State-owned Al-Iraqiyah television broadcast grim video on 9 September of residents slaughtered by terrorists in Tal Afar -- mutilated bodies, eyes gouged out, limbs missing. Also left behind were military handbooks with diagrams on how to conduct ambushes and guides on making explosives, washingtonpost.com reported on 11 September.
Will this operation produce a better outcome? If media reports are correct and the insurgents have already fled the city, then the success will be relative. However, in an effort to stave off an insurgent reentry into Tal Afar, Iraqi forces from the 3rd Iraqi Army Division will remain there after the majority of troops pull out. Iraqi security forces have also closed down the border crossing with Syria indefinitely, allowing only vehicles authorized by the Interior Ministry to enter and leave Iraq. That decision appears to be an indefinite one at best, however.
Sunnis Criticize Operation
The Muslim Scholars Association criticized the operation in a 10 September statement posted to their website (http://www.iraq-amsi.org). The group accused the al-Ja'fari government of accepting the shedding of Iraqi blood and of asking "the occupiers and invaders to shed it." The association claimed that al-Ja'fari is doing what former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi did in Al-Fallujah, in its words "slaughtering and destroying" the town. "What is happening in Tal Afar is an attempt to give vent to a deep-seated sectarian grudge, from which a ruler should disassociate himself," the association stated, referring to the Shi'ite prime minister. In an apparent attempt to incite further violence, the association called on "anyone who can [to] stop" the operation.
Muhammad Rashid, the Sunni mayor of Tal Afar, reportedly resigned on 10 September in protest of the operation's targeting of Sunni neighborhoods, AP reported. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi forces have said Sunni and Turkoman tribal leaders worked with the Iraqi and U.S. forces to evacuate residents from the city in the days leading up to the operation.
Haydar al-Abadi, the prime minister's special coordinator for Tal Afar, responded to the Muslim Scholars Association's allegations, telling Al-Arabiyah television on 10 September: "The talk about a massacre in Tal Afar is far from true and accurate.... It unfortunately aims again and again to fan the flames of a fire that do not exist in Iraq. There are terrorist criminals who try to sow sedition among the sons of the one country, the one homeland, and the one city." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDS SPONSOR TALKS WITH SUNNI ARABS ON DRAFT CONSTITUTION. The Iraqi Independent Election Commission confirmed on 8 September that a referendum on the draft constitution will take place on 15 October, Al-Sharqiyah television reported, citing an unidentified commission spokesman as saying that copies of the draft were being printed for distribution.
The announcement raises questions over the status of the draft. The National Assembly sent the document to referendum on 29 August, as some government officials, including President Jalal Talabani, claimed that negotiations were continuing with Sunni Arabs opposed to the draft.
Talabani told the media on 7 September that some final changes could be made to the draft, saying that Kurdish and Shi'ite negotiators were willing to meet Sunni demands but only on the condition that no new demands would be made. Sunni negotiator Salih al-Mutlaq and an unidentified United Nations official close to the negotiators both told "The New York Times" that they expected the final changes to be made to the draft during meetings in Kurdistan on 8 September.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said on 7 September that he considered the draft ready, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. "I consider the constitution as good as completed, assuming there is good will on all sides," he said. "With the preparedness displayed by one group or another to make concessions, I am quite hopeful that we will work together with our [Sunni] brothers notwithstanding minor differences of views, which we can surmount. That is why I consider the constitution already completed. Within days, God willing, Iraq and the whole world will witness the birth of the constitution draft."
Kurdistan President Sponsors Talks
Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani held talks this week with Sunni Arab leaders in an attempt to persuade them to accept the document, President Talabani told reporters on 7 September. Barzani "tried to explain to [Sunnis] that the constitution has its positive and promising sides, which even they acknowledge. Even if there were shortcomings, this does not justify boycotting the constitution or the process," RFI quoted Talabani as saying.
Regarding the Sunni demands, Talabani said: "The brothers in the United Iraqi Alliance showed much flexibility on many issues that [Sunnis] asked to be included [in the draft]. We [Kurds] were also receptive on other issues on the condition that they [Sunnis] are ready to support [the draft] and end their demands, because as soon as we positively respond to particular demands, they come up with more. Therefore, demands do not end, which indicates that some parties do not want understanding to prevail among Iraqis."
Meanwhile, Barzani told the Kurdistan National Assembly on 7 September that it would be a historic mistake to ignore the demands of Sunni Arabs in the draft, RFI reported. "When the Ba'ath Party came [to power], they drove Shi'ites along with Kurds away [from politics] and the situation deteriorated. If the previous experience is repeated now in another form, by removing [Arab] Sunnis, neglecting them, and violating their rights, that would mean that security and stability would not be established in Iraq," Barzani said.
The Sunni Position
RFI reported on 8 September that the Sunni Arab delegation to the talks in Kurdistan included Adnan al-Dulaymi, former head of the Sunni Al-Waqf (religious endowments) Office and spokesman for the Conference of Sunnis in Iraq; Tariq al-Hashimi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party; Sa'd al-Janabi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Republican Bloc; Khalaf al-Ulayyan, secretary-general of the National Dialogue Council; and dialogue council members Mahmud al-Mashhadani, Abd al-Nasir al-Janabi, and Hasan Ubaykan.
"We have arrived from Baghdad with our hearts filled with optimism that there is sufficient time, that there is flexibility, and that there is good understanding for what we are concerned with," al-Hashimi told reporters. "We hope that we will leave this hospitable city that has embraced us today carrying good news for all Iraqis." Al-Hashimi said, however, that Sunni delegates would not consider the constitution "official" until it is presented to the United Nations. "The draft will not be considered final and not even official until the National Assembly presents it to the United Nations. This draft has not been yet presented to the United Nations. The United Nations is legally responsible for printing the draft and distributing it among the Iraqi people. This has not happened up to now."
In describing the Sunni Arab position, Adnan al-Dulaymi listed among the critical issues "the unity of Iraq, and the preservation of this unity," "the refusal of federalism (forming regional governments) for southern and central areas [of Iraq]," and "confirming the right of our Kurdish brothers to establish their own [federal] region, with this region being a part of Iraq.
"We reject sectarianism. We reject the partition of Iraq. We reject inciting any strife in Iraq," al-Dulaymi added in comments to reporters in Irbil. "We call for the liberation of Iraq, for the sovereignty of Iraq, and for the preservation of the [natural] resources of Iraq. We believe that these resources are the property of all Iraqis. These are the principles that we believe in. We will do our best so that they are incorporated in the constitution. An issue very important for us is the Arab-Islamic identity of Iraq. We will insist on incorporating an explicit clause on that in the constitution."
Although on the surface al-Dulaymi's statements imply a number of outstanding issues, if the published version of the draft (http://www.nahrain.com) is correct, the only outstanding issue appears to be federalism. The unity of Iraq is stressed in the preamble of the draft ("We are the people of Iraq, who in all our forms and groupings undertake to establish our union freely and by choice"), and there is no mention in the draft of self-determination for any group.
As for the issue of acknowledging the Arab-Islamic identity of Iraq, President Talabani said on 7 September that an agreement was reached with the Arab League. Kurds had opposed the Arab reference on the grounds that they, as the second largest plurality in the country, are not Arabs.
According to Talabani, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa proposed -- and drafters accepted -- new text referring to Iraq's connection to the Arab world. Musa was quite vocal in his criticism to the draft last week, which provoked a sharp rebuttal from Iraqi government officials, who said that Iraq had no reason to elicit the support of the Arab League when Arab nations had done little to support Iraq over the past 2 1/2 years.
The draft also includes a number of articles addressing the distribution of Iraq's resources, which should satisfy Sunni demands. Article 104 calls for the establishment of a public commission made up of representatives from the regions, governorates, and federal government to monitor and allocate federal revenues, including the "fair distribution" of international grants, aid, and loans according to the needs of the governorates and regions.
Article 110 calls on the federal government to administer oil and gas extracted from current fields "in cooperation with the governments of the producing regions and governorates on condition that the revenues will be distributed fairly in a manner compatible with the demographical distribution all over the country."
Shi'ite leaders will not bend on the issue of establishing regional governments. However, there is room for amendment of the draft constitution -- particularly the article that currently, and vaguely, states that one or more governorates can form a region. Sunni Arabs might be persuaded to support the draft if there were a limit on the number of governorates that could join a region, thereby preventing a feared Shi'ite federation that could be composed of up to nine governorates -- essentially all of central and southern Iraq.
As it stands, the draft leaves it to the next National Assembly to enact a law on the formation of regions (Article 115 states: "The Council of Representatives shall pass with a simple majority vote and in less than six months from its first session a law defining the executive procedures for the establishment of regions.) The article arguably works in favor of Sunni Arabs, who are expected to have greater representation in the next assembly.
Whatever the outcome of this week's negotiations, the process is moving forward, with only five weeks left until the referendum. To date, the public has yet to see an official draft of the constitution, which leaves little time for distribution and debate, as called for under the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq's interim constitution. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SUNNI DRAFTING-COMMITTEE MEMBER TALKS ABOUT CONSTITUTION. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) conducted an exclusive interview with Sunni Arab drafting-committee member Salih al-Mutlaq in Baghdad on 4 September. Al-Mutlaq discussed the draft constitution, and contended that if certain articles were changed, he and other Sunni Arabs would support the draft when it goes to referendum on 15 October.
Al-Mutlaq, on the Sunni Arab stance on the constitution: We will tell our people what the good elements are in this constitution, and it will be up to the people to decide whether they accept or refuse this constitution. As far as we -- the 25-member committee [the 15 Sunni delegates and 10 advisers to the constitution-drafting committee] -- are concerned, and regarding the articles of this constitution that we have read, we find this constitution inconvenient for Iraq. That is why we have rejected it. We will continue instructing [people] on this issue unless these paragraphs [that we have refused] are changed. There are now some steps for reopening the discussion again. If the dialogue is reopened and our opinions are taken into account, we will be positive in our views on this constitution. We will instruct the Iraqi people to accept it if the paragraphs that we objected to are changed.
Al-Mutlaq, on the paragraphs objected to by Sunni Arabs: The basic issues that we have objected to are those related to the unity of Iraq, the destiny of Iraq, and the independence of Iraq. If [our demands on] these issues are met, concessions can be offered on all other issues. The issue of [a law on] de-Ba'athification has been here for two years and it does not deserve uproar if it remains. What deserves uproar is if this constitution is passed in its current form, which will divide Iraq. We want to focus on the paragraph that should state Iraq as being one, single, undivided unit. The [respective] paragraph must be rewritten. Iraq must be [declared] a part of the Arab and Muslim world. The federal system in Iraq must be changed into a decentralized system.
RFI: The Muslim Scholars Association has accused the 15 Sunni Arab [constitution-drafting committee] members of accepting a marginal role. How do you respond?
Al-Mutlaq: This is political ignorance. Had we withdrawn, we would have given opportunities to those wanting to pass a constitution that they want, without being approved by consensus. We also do not want to fight amongst ourselves. In the current situation, everybody must work on a united stance for this constitution. There is no space for quarrels here and there.
RFI: The accusation also targets Sunni Arab ministers in the cabinet, according to the newspaper "Al-Basa'ir," issued by the Muslim Scholars Association.
Al-Mutlaq: If we talk about the ministers participating in the cabinet, I completely agree with [the newspaper report] that those ministers have been marginalized and have played no role. The [ministers] have become a part of the process of doing harm to the Iraqi people. They should have resigned [by now]. It is two different things if cabinet ministers resign and if 15 members of the [constitution-drafting] committee resign. If they [in the newspaper write] about a resignation and mean a resignation of ministers, I agree with them. Basically, I would mean the Defense Ministry because it has not done anything, so the minister of defense must resign. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)