10 October 2005, Volume 8, Number 33
IRAQ'S SUNNI LEADERS CONTINUE CALL FOR 'NO' VOTE ON CONSTITUTION. Sunni Arab groups in Iraq this week continued to call on supporters to vote "no" in the referendum on the draft constitution slated for 15 October. As the groups rallied, Shi'ite Arab and Kurdish leaders remained adamant that the majority of Iraqi voters would support the draft. Media reports indicated that copies of the draft had begun circulating in Baghdad and other cities, but it appeared that the draft had not reached some areas of the country.
The fact that the draft has yet to reach all areas appears to be of little concern to Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders, who seemed confident that their constituencies would follow party lines and vote "yes" for the draft with or without reviewing the document.
Iraqi transitional President Jalal Talabani told RFE/RL in a 6 October interview that he was not concerned that copies of the draft were not scheduled to reach Al-Sulaymaniyah until 8 October and Dahuk until 11 October. Talabani contended that the Iraqi government is bound by the UN Security Council to hold the referendum on 15 October. "But I think the people can read [the draft] within three-four days." Asked if the government might seek an additional week to allow Iraqis time to review the draft, he responded, "I don't think so."
While Shi'ite and Kurdish voters are expected to support their parties' stance and vote "yes" on the draft, Sunni Arabs will likely follow the cue of popular groups such as the Muslim Scholars Association, the National Dialogue Council, and the Iraqi Islamic Party, and either vote "no" on the draft or boycott the vote altogether -- that is if the ballot boxes even reach the volatile, Sunni-populated cities and towns.
Sunni Arab Groups Poised for Boycott
The National Dialogue Council threatened on 5 October to boycott the referendum unless multinational forces halted military operations in the western Al-Anbar Governorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2005). Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc Secretary General Mish'an al-Juburi likened the military operations to those carried out in Al-Fallujah and Samarra ahead of the January election, saying the operations were a deliberate attempt to keep Sunni Arabs from going to the polls.
Parliamentary speaker Hajim al-Hasani also called for an end to military operations, telling Al-Jazeera television on 4 October: "I have said much earlier that military operations in these areas must stop...so that it may not be said later that these operations were carried out in these areas to prevent their residents from participating in the referendum" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2005).
Despite reports on 3 October indicating that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad had encouraged Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders to consider Sunni Arab demands for amendments to the draft, Humam Hammudi, chairman of the constitution-drafting committee, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) in a 6 October interview that no substantive changes would be made ahead of the referendum. "Any change in any article [of the constitution] would be a matter within the competences of the National Assembly, not of the [U.S.] ambassador or the UN," he said.
"Some of these [Sunni Arab] demands were [seeking] assurances on the national unity of Iraq, the Arab identity of Iraq, use of the Arabic language, and similar demands. We have seen these demands as a confirmation of what has already been in the constitution. If this confirmation clears some anxiety off their minds and souls, we support such a confirmation. But any change that would touch the text of the constitution would be refused by all communities and [political] blocs [participating in the constitution draft]," Shi'ite parliamentarian Hammudi told RFI.
Shi'ite and Kurdish parliamentarians on 2 October amended the text of the Transitional Administrative Law (Article 61, Clause C) further exasperating tensions between Sunni Arab groups and their Shi'ite and Kurdish counterparts. According to the law, "The general referendum will be successful and the draft constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it." The amendment essentially reinterpreted the article so that the draft could only be rejected if two-thirds of all registered voters -- instead of two-thirds of those casting ballots -- rejected it in at least three of the 18 governorates, meaning Iraqis who failed to vote in the referendum would thus be considered supporters of the draft. Following criticism by the United States, UN, and others, the parliament canceled the amendment on 6 October. But the incident only added to Sunni disenchantment with the political process.
With just one week to go, it appears that the referendum vote will play out much like the January election in Iraq. Insurgent threats, a possible Sunni Arab boycott of the vote, and the ability (or inability) of the Iraqi government to staff and operate polling stations in volatile Sunni-populated areas of the country will all factor into the Sunni Arab vote on the referendum. But in the end, it matters little whether or not the referendum succeeds: real political progress cannot be achieved in Iraq as long as sectarian divisions and distrust plague the political landscape. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TALABANI PREDICTS 'KURDS WILL REMAIN IN STRONG ALLIANCE WITH SHI'ITES'. On his first state visit to Europe since taking office in April, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani made his first stop in the Czech Republic, where he arrived on 3 October to meet with officials and discuss economic and military cooperation. On 5 October, President Talabani visited RFE/RL's broadcast headquarters in Prague. RFE/RL regional analyst Kathleen Ridolfo and correspondent Charles Recknagel asked Talabani about a range of issues -- from preparations for Iraq's 15 October referendum to the situation of minorities in the country.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, you and other Kurdish leaders have criticized Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government for not abiding by the terms of the alliance set between the Kurds and the Shi'a following the election in January. Can you tell us, given the political climate, whether the Kurds will remain aligned with the Shi'a following the next election?
Talabani: Surely the Kurds will remain aligned in a strong alliance with the Shi'ites. We had historical friendship and cooperation against the dictatorship [of Saddam Hussein]. Such differences that have appeared among the cabinet [members] will not affect the strategic alliance between the Kurds and Shi'ites.
RFE/RL: In the newspaper today, you will find the UN, the U.S., and the Iraqi [Independent Election Commission] criticizing the National Assembly's [decision] to change to some extent the definition of a voter.... The definition has been changed to two-thirds of registered voters must vote against the constitution [in order] to refuse the constitution, not two-thirds of actual voters. Can you comment, please?
Talabani: That is decided in the TAL [Transitional Administrative Law]. Because when we adopted this article [of the TAL], we said that two-thirds of the population must refuse, reject the constitution. Not two-thirds of those who are voting. You can say [that] it is in respect of the TAL.
RFE/RL: So you feel the National Assembly has taken the correct interpretation of the TAL?
Talabani: Yes, of course.
RFE/RL: Mahmud Uthman told RFI on 3 October that time is running short to distribute copies of the draft constitution to the public. [Kurdistan Regional Government representative to the UN] Dindar al-Zebari said last week that copies will reach Irbil by 5 October, Al-Sulaymaniyah by 8 October and Dahuk by 11 October. Do you feel that the government has taken sufficient steps to give the Iraqi people enough time to review the draft constitution?
Talabani: Well, it is not the government which decided [the referendum date], this is the resolution of the [UN] Security Council which decided that the referendum must be on the 15th of this month. If the Iraqi government, or the Iraqi parliament were free, perhaps they could do something else. But now we are obliged to respect the resolution passed by the Security Council. For that [reason], the time is short. But I think the people can read [the draft] within three to four days.
RFE/RL: So there is no intention on the part of the Iraqi government to ask for, perhaps, a one-week delay so that the Iraqi people have more of an opportunity to read it?
Talabani: I don't think so.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, the referendum is in 10 days. There are still reports that some influential Sunni leaders are trying to organize a "no" vote. Are you optimistic that the referendum will approve the draft constitution, and if the approval is given, that the Sunni community will finally come to back the constitution?
Talabani: First, I think that the majority of the Iraqi people will vote [in favor] of the draft constitution. Second, let me correct for you: This is Arab Sunnis -- not all Sunnis. We, the Kurds, are also Sunnis. We are a main part of the coalition working for a constitution. There are people among the Sunni Arabs who are against the constitution, but I think they will participate [by] voting "no." OK, it is a democracy, they can do it. Nevertheless, I think the constitution will get the majority of the ["yes"] votes of the Iraqi people.
RFE/RL: As a lawyer, do you believe that Saddam [Hussein] will get a fair trial in Iraq? And if he is found guilty and sentenced to death in the Al-Dujayl massacre, do you think the other trials will proceed and go forward, or will the [death] sentence be carried out directly?
Talabani: I think Saddam will have a very just and fair trial in Iraq. Now he is enjoying all kinds of freedom for a prison[er] -- he has television, radio with him, books, he can write, he can read, he can contact everyone. But Saddam Hussein is a war criminal. He committed crimes against the Iraqi people, against our neighbors, against Iranians, against Kuwaitis. For that I think he will deserve to be presented to the court as a war criminal; and when [he] is sentenced, the sentence must be respected.
RFE/RL: But if he is sentenced to death for Al-Dujayl, will the other trials go forward?
Talabani: Yes, of course. Saddam Hussein committed many, many, crimes -- in Al-Dujayl, in Halabjah, in Karbala, in Al-Najaf -- everywhere. Of course, a judge must arrange a trial for him for each grave crime he committed. But altogether [editor's note: unclear] sentenced 20 times to death because he committed many, many, crimes in different parts of Iraq.
RFE/RL: Some Turkoman groups in northern Iraq say that they face pressure from Kurdish authorities. For example, they say Kurdish authorities are encouraging Kurds to resettle Kirkuk to change the ethnic balance in the city. Are ethnic tensions increasing in northern Iraq?
Talabani: This is a false accusation. This is not true at all. What is going on is that those deportees are going back home, and it is according to the decisions of Iraqi opposition conferences [prior to the fall of Hussein's regime], according to Article 58 [of the TAL], that deportees from Kirkuk, Kurds and Turkomans, must go back home; and those who were brought [to Kirkuk] according to the ethnic-cleansing policy of Saddam Hussein must go back home.
What is going on is that such extremist Turkomans were exaggerating their numbers. They said that we are 3-4 million, while they are less than 1 million. And the election proved that they are not [numerous]. They could not get more than 90,000 votes from what they claimed is 4 million Turkomans.
Now when they saw that the [vast] majority of the Kirkuk area is voting for the Kurdistan list, they must go and [make] some kind of accusations. They must go and find some kind of pretext in their hands to tell their masters: "Why Kirkuk is not with us, [it is] because Kurds are sending people." We cannot send non-Kirkukis to Kirkuk. Believe me, [until now] the Kirkukis, the real people of Kirkuk, are not back to their own [homes in Kirkuk]. Because it is not so easy to bring a family who lived for tens of years [outside his city] and bring him back to [his place] of origin. It [requires] housing [and] money. But there is no pressure on the Turkomans. We [have] very good relations with the Turkomans. We are in an alliance with many Turkoman parties, and Turkomans are enjoying their full rights for the first time in the history of Iraq. At the time of Saddam Hussein, they were under pressure. Saddam denied the Turkoman nationality, and said, "There [are] no Turkomans in Iraq." Now they are enjoying all rights, including their own newspapers, using the Turkoman language, they even have a militia of their own.
RFE/RL: As our final question, we want to ask you about the psychological impact of Ba'athist rule on Iraq. Do you think the government is doing enough to address this issue? For example, if the government had enacted some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as South Africa did, do you think that the insurgency would be as far along as it is now?
Talabani: I think the government is not doing very well. Second, the terrorist activities are not only [by] Iraqis. The [vast] majority of them are coming from outside -- Al-Qaeda, Ansar Al-Islam, al-Zarqawi's group, they came from outside the country. They came to invade Iraq. For that, those people who are extremists, who declared the war of annihilation against Shi'ites and Kurds in Iraq, [they] will continue their terrorist activities. But I think that the Iraqi terrorists who are now engaging in the war gradually, they will come back to the political process in Iraq.
RFE/RL: And the government?
Talabani: Of course, the government must help them to come back to the democratic process.
TALABANI MIGHT NOT 'PROHIBIT' HUSSEIN DEATH PENALTY. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) on 5 October, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani spoke about relations among the four bodies of government, the upcoming referendum, and the trial of Saddam Hussein.
RFI: In the last few days, there have been media reports about a joint note that you and Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani have addressed to Iraq's prime minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari in protest against what you called "violations." The prime minister, for his part, has publicly confirmed that he has received the message. His reply, though, has not shed light on the situation has rather led to more speculations. The National Assembly has held a session to discuss the problem. Can you explain what those "violations" are and shed more light on the relations between the four bodies of government?
Jalal Talabani: The note that has been presented, signed by Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani and by me, includes some remarks that can be summarized in a single point: the implementation of law and of agreement. Regarding the implementation of a law, we mean the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period [of 8 March 2004]. Regarding the agreement, we mean the agreement made between the Kurdish Unity List and the United Iraqi Alliance concerning the composition of the cabinet.
The note consists of 15 points and has been published in the [London-based Arabic] "Al-Hayat" daily. The Kurdish Unity List regards [the acts listed in the note] as violations of the law and of the agreement. It demands that the policy be changed and that the cabinet returned to the agreement, to implement and respect the agreement. The crucial points can be summarized now: the cabinet has been ignoring the government. According to the Law of Administration for the State [of Iraq for the Transitional Period], Iraq has a special status, with the government not being identical with the cabinet. According to Article 24 of the Law of Administration for the State [of Iraq] for the Transitional Period, the government consists of the National Assembly speaker, the Presidency Council of the Republic, the Council of Ministers, and a judiciary supervisor. This quartet makes up the government and is granted the competences specified in Article 25 of the Law of Administration for the State [of Iraq] for the Transitional Period. The Council of Ministers, or the prime minister, takes all these competences within the cabinet, although the cabinet is only one of the government segments. Another issue is that the cabinet has issued decisions that are not within its competences. I do not mean all the ministers; I mean the prime minister who has sometimes taken decisions even without the knowledge of the ministers.
There are also some important issues in the [coalition] agreement. For instance, according to the agreement made between the two parties, the administration of the cabinet has to be based on consultations and consensus between the [Kurdish] Unity List and the [United Iraqi] Alliance. Yet the prime minister has been issuing decisions without taking any consultations and consensus into account.
There is a point concerning Kirkuk. According to the [coalition] agreement, the cabinet was obliged to launch the necessary measures for the naturalization of the situation in Kirkuk and the implementation of Article 58 [of the Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period] one month after its coming to the office. Five months have passed since the cabinet was formed and no such measures have been taken, despite repeated notices.
There are many other issues that have made the Kurdistan leadership come forward with this note, demanding that the situation be set right and hoping to bring things back to their initial state based on law and a coalition [agreement].
RFI: As you have explained, the arrangement [of the government] has led to the violations. But even the new constitution draft preserves the same arrangement for the next four years without giving the parliament a right to enact any changes on that. Why will this continue?
Talabani: This is necessary because the power in Iraq must not go to a single [political] party, or a single social, ethnic, or religious group. Iraq must be governed by representatives of Shi'ite Arabs and Sunni Arabs and representatives of Kurdistan, including representatives of Turkomans and Chaldo-Assyrians. This arrangement has been laid down for a specific period because it offers a large space for some consensus between the segments of the Iraqi people -- before a permanent constitution is established and before Iraq is transformed into a democratic and parliamentary system. At that time, the conclusions and proceedings coming out from the parliament will govern.
RFI: So it means that the [current arrangement of the government] is a kind of guarantee.
Talabani: For the next four years, this is a guarantee [in order] to reach the necessary national consensus between the three basic segments of the Iraqi people.
RFI: Let us turn now to the referendum and the constitution draft. After the final draft was handed over to the UN, you announced that amendments would be introduced to the text as a result of negotiations with Arab representatives. What are these amendments? Will they be introduced to satisfy opponents of the text, or have there been other guarantees [envisioned]?
Talabani: I do not know who has spoken about amendments. We will not accept any amendments. There are some additions but not amendments. What has been agreed on is the final draft. But if someone wanted to add some formulations in order to calm the opposing party down, there is nothing bad in doing that. What has been agreed on is not liable to change but can be added to.
RFI: Does that mean that a change is not regarded as an amendment?
Talabani: No, this is not possible. An addition cannot change the articles that have been agreed on. I will give you an example of an addition: Some have called for respect for the Arabic language [to be anchored in the constitution]. We already had an article [in the constitution draft] saying that the Arabic and Kurdish languages are the two official languages in all parts of Iraq. Those [opponents], seeking assurances, have said: The Arabic language shall be used as an official language also in Kurdistan. All right, you are welcome. Who objects to using Arabic as an official language in Kurdistan?
There are some opponents who, in fact, have been looking for pretexts and arguments. Here is, for instance, another issue: We said that Iraq should be a federal democratic pluralistic independent unitary republic and its national unity would be guaranteed by the constitution. Someone then comes along saying: I want another paragraph to state that Iraq shall be one single country and the constitution shall be the guarantee of its unity. All right, you are welcome. In fact, these issues are rather formal.
RFI: You may have been recently asked most often about Saddam Hussein's trial. You have previously declared that Saddam, for what he has done, deserves to be executed 20 times a day. Will Saddam Hussein indeed be tried on 19 November as announced before? Has there been any international pressure -- from the United States, the European Union, or elsewhere -- that Saddam not be tried or that his trial be postponed, especially when some have disputed the fairness of the trial? Will international observers be allowed at the court sessions?
Talabani: I have no information on a specific date set for the trial. The only thing I know is that an inquiry judge frequently goes to the prison to conduct the investigation with Saddam Hussein. Once, when the judge visited me, he informed me that Saddam Hussein has accepted his responsibility for a number of crimes committed against Iraqis.
Concerning the question of pressure, I can confirm there have been no pressures. No one, be it the European Union or the United States, has demanded that Saddam Hussein not be tried or that his trial be postponed or cancelled. These are only rumors, not based on truth.
RFI: Will you sign a death sentence if it is issued over Saddam Hussein?
Talabani: No. I am a man who feels obliged by his signature and his morals. I am one of the lawyers who has signed an international document against the death penalty throughout the world. I also have an agreement with the International [Committee of the] Red Cross on not applying the death penalty. That is why I cannot break my moral obligations after I became the president of the Republic of Iraq. This does not mean, however, that I will prohibit the death sentence from being carried out. It is possible that I will be absent [from the office] on a particular day and the remaining colleagues in the Presidency Council [referring to Vice Presidents Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar and Adil Abd al-Mahdi] will be able to decide. The decision [on the death penalty] is not in the hands of the president of the republic. It is in the hands of the Presidency Council, of its three members. But it happens sometimes that one of them is absent. (Translation by Petr Kubalek)