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Iraq Report: December 5, 2005

5 December 2005, Volume 8, Number 41

RFE/RL has launched an updated "Iraq Votes 2005" webpage. Visitors can find news, background, and analysis on the election, as well as English-language translations of Radio Free Iraq interviews and reports, and commentaries from the Iraqi press. See

IRAQ'S KURDS CLAIM THEIR RIGHT TO OIL. Sunni and Shi'ite Arab leaders in Baghdad this week questioned the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government after it began drilling for oil in the Dahuk Governorate. Several Arab leaders in Baghdad claimed that Kurdistan did not have the authority constitutionally to undertake a venture, particularly without the approval of the central government. Kurdish authorities however, maintained that it is their right to develop and control oil resources in their region.

The Kurdistan Regional Government and the Norwegian oil company DNO broke ground on an oil-prospecting venture in the village of Tawuke, located in the Dahuk Governorate on 29 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Dahuk Governor Tamir Ramadan told RFI in a interview at the ground-breaking ceremony in Tawuke that the Iraqi Oil Ministry in Baghdad was well aware of the project. "As [Kurdistan's] Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has noted, the Oil Ministry has helped and expended great effort [on the project] so it was a party in this project," he told RFI.

Constitutional Questions

The new Iraqi Constitution ratified on 15 November is unclear on the issue, and arguably does not ban regional governments from drilling for oil in their territories. The issue, if pursued by Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs, could prove to be the Iraqi government's first constitutional dilemma.

Article 108 states, "Oil and gas are the ownership of all the people of Iraq in all the regions and governorates."

Article 109 notes: " First: The federal government with the producing governorates and regional governments shall undertake the management of oil and gas extracted from current fields [emphasis added] provided that it distributes oil and gas revenues in a fair manner in proportion to the population distribution in all parts of the country with a set allotment for a set time for the damaged regions that were unjustly deprived by the former regime and the regions that were damaged later on, and in a way that assures balanced development in different areas of the country, and this will be regulated by law.

"Second: The federal government with the producing regional and governorate governments shall together formulate the necessary strategic policies to develop the oil and gas wealth in a way that achieves the highest benefit to the Iraqi people using the most advanced techniques of the market principles and encourages investment."

Former Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadban told RFI in a 30 November interview in Baghdad: "Any future [oil] research or development project on oil fields in Iraq that would be undertaken in cooperation with foreign companies must be approved by the future [Iraqi parliament's] Council of Representatives.... Another thing is that, according to the current law, oil research and development projects [are the sole responsibility of] the Oil Ministry and any change in [the oil] sector that is performed in cooperation with oil companies -- be they Arab or foreign, international or regional -- must also be a subject of legal regulation."

Meanwhile, Laith Kubba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, told reporters in Baghdad that the central government was never formally informed of the deal and would refer the matter to its legal adviser, reported on 2 December.

The issue could be further complicated after Kurdistan President Mas'ud Barzani announced in a 1 December speech in Salah Al-Din that the highly contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk would join the Kurdistan region in 2007, Kurdish and Turkish media reported on 2 December. The Kirkuk Governorate has some 10 billion barrels of proven reserves remaining. Any oil revenues from those reserves, according to the constitution, would fall under the control of the central government.

Turkoman and Arab residents of Kirkuk claim the two main Kurdish parties -- Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani -- have pursued a campaign to make Kurds a majority in Kirkuk by building settlements for Kurds displaced from the city under the Hussein regime.

Arabs and Turkomans claim the parties have relocated some 350,000 Kurds to Kirkuk since the fall of the Hussein regime, "The Washington Post" reported on 30 October. In 2007, Kirkuk residents will vote on the status of the city, and whether it should be incorporated into the Kurdistan region, reported on 2 December.

Neighbors' Reactions

The issue of Kirkuk has already provoked an outspoken response from Turkey, a fervent supporter of Iraq's Turkoman population, mostly located in and around Kirkuk.

Observers had also speculated that the Kurdistan-DNO agreement might spark negative reactions from Turkey, Iran, and Syria, which all have large Kurdish populations, arguing that Kurdish government's control over the oil fields might bolster local calls to secede and establish an independent Kurdish state, which could in turn spark unrest among Kurdish populations in neighboring states. However, there has thus far been little reaction on the Dahuk project from neighboring states.

RFI asked Dahuk Governor Ramadan if he anticipated any future regional fallout from the Dahuk drilling. "The opposite is true. I think that it will have a positive impact...I do not think there will be any negative impact on the neighboring countries," he said. "Some companies from neighboring countries may benefit from these important projects that will be accompanied by tourism [development] projects and other investment projects."

Turkish investors have a 15 percent stake in an oil venture in another Iraqi town near Koi Sinjak (Taq Taq wells 1 and 2) between the Kurdistan-based Eagle Group and a subsidiary of the Canadian-based Heritage Oil Corporation (each own a 42.5 percent stake in their new company, Heritage Erbil Oil). Heritage Oil is also involved in talks with the central government in Baghdad to develop other fields. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on 3 December)

NEW SURGE OF KIDNAPPINGS TARGET WESTERNERS. Eleven foreigners and two Iraqi guides were kidnapped in Iraq in recent days in three separate incidents that draw attention to a new string of attacks targeting Westerners in Iraq: five of the victims were Westerners, while another six were Iranian pilgrims. The attention given to the latest incidents is deceiving, however; Iraqis are kidnapped daily across the country -- many are taken for political reasons, while others are held for ransom.

Iraqis were the first targets of kidnappings in the post-Hussein era. In the first months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were regular media reports of women and children being abducted by what appeared to be common criminals who demanded exorbitant ransoms for their victims' safe return.

Targeting Countries Through Their Citizens

The new attacks against Western aid workers come one year after British aid worker Margaret Hassan was kidnapped and killed by unknown assailants who had demanded in October 2004 that British troops withdraw from Iraq or they would hand her over to the Al-Qaeda-linked group led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Iraqi politicians, international media, and clergy condemned the killing of Hassan, who had spent years doing aid work in Iraq.

Soon after the Hassan incident, insurgents set their sights on Iraqi and Western journalists in a series of kidnappings and killings early this year (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 March 2005). The kidnappings were largely seen as an attempt by insurgents to intimidate, as well as influence the media's coverage of the situation in Iraq, with many of the abductions coming in the weeks surrounding the January elections.

In most cases, the hostage takers demanded that troops from the hostage's home country be withdrawn from Iraq. One exception to this was the abduction of French journalist Florence Aubenas, who was kidnapped in January and held for five months. Her abductors made no demands for her release.

Since April, one Egyptian, two Algerian, a Pakistani, and two Moroccan diplomats have been kidnapped and all purportedly killed (in most cases, the bodies were never found) in Iraq � with the exception of the Pakistani, all at the hands of al-Zarqawi's group. The targeting of Middle Eastern diplomats was seen as an attempt by insurgents to prevent Iraq from establishing diplomatic relations with its neighbors.

Taking Officials' Relatives

Political leaders and their relatives have also been targeted in a string of abductions and killings this year. Al-Anbar Governor Raja Nawwaf, his son, and four guards were kidnapped on 9 May; he later died in a U.S. assault on the house where he was being held. The son of his replacement, Ma'mun al-Alwani, was kidnapped on 6 September. Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hasani's brother was kidnapped in Kirkuk on 8 November. Political party leader Tawfiq al-Yasiri was kidnapped on 17 November and released two days later.

Numerous ministry officials have also been targeted in abductions, including Health Ministry official Iman Naji Abd al-Razzaq, who was kidnapped in front of her Baghdad home on 30 July.

Lawyer Sa'dun al-Janabi, who was defending members of Saddam Hussein's regime in the high-profile Al-Dujayl trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2005), was kidnapped from his Baghdad office on 20 October and subsequently found dead. Both Sunni and Shi'ite clerics have also been targeted by insurgents.

Fate Of Current Hostages Unknown

German archeologist Susanne Osthoff and her Iraqi driver disappeared on 25 November and it is not known where she was abducted. Their captors demanded that Germany cut all relations with Iraq in a videotaped message sent to Germany's ARD television that included footage of Osthoff and her driver blindfolded. The German government has said it will not meet the demand. Osthoff has worked in Iraq since the 1970s. A convert to Islam, she had begun volunteering at hospitals to help Iraqis suffering during and after the war, Reuters quoted family members as saying on 29 November.

According to media reports, Osthoff was threatened by al-Zarqawi's group in October. Following the threat, U.S. troops reportedly flew her from northern Iraq to Baghdad's Green Zone for safety. Her abductors have not identified themselves; al-Zarqawi's group typically identifies itself in video and written statements when it abducts individuals.

Four Westerners associated with the U.S.-based Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken hostage on 26 November by a group identifying itself as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2005). The group sent a videotape of the hostages to Al-Jazeera television, calling the aid workers "spies working under the cover of Christian peace activists." A Quaker aid group, the Christian Peacemaker Teams have worked in Iraq since October 2002.

Meanwhile, six Iranian pilgrims and their Iraqi guide were kidnapped on 28 November near Balad and released 24 hours later. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on 30 November)

HAMAD TRIES TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF SECTARIAN POLITICS. Democratic Society Movement head Hamid al-Kifa'i held a press briefing in Baghdad on 24 November to discuss his party's goals for the 15 December National Assembly elections, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 25 November. The Democratic Society Movement (Harakat al-Mujtama al-Dimuqrati, or Hamad) has entered the elections under candidate list No. 729. Al-Kifa'i is the former spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council. Prior to that, he was a well-known journalist in exile. Below are excerpts from the press conference.

Al-Kifa'i about his movement's basic message to voters: We announce our electoral program sincerely and without tricks. We want to represent a new example in Iraqi politics. We will not say [something] that we are not going to do or that we do not believe in. We believe in democracy, stability, a free economy, and international cooperation. We believe that the Iraqi people are able to lead this country into the community of advanced countries. We already declared this in the previous elections, sincerely and strongly, and we will continue to present the same ideas also in this election with the same strength.

We do not cheat, pander, or exaggerate. We express our opinions sincerely. We want to prove that in the new Iraq, free liberal parties can exist that sincerely come to the people with their programs, with a program that will benefit the people and not just with slogans and words.

Al-Kifa'i on religious and sectarian polarization in Iraqi politics: We do not look at one's religious or ethnic background. We naturally put all communities of the Iraqi people together. We have not chosen people on the grounds of their being Sunnis or Shi'ites. I can say frankly that I do not know whether our candidates are Sunnis or Shi'ites. As far as the Democratic Society Movement is concerned, yes: there are Sunnis, even among its founders. But we absolutely never pay attention to these matters. We are a national party that looks beyond sectarianism and ethnic chauvinism. We do our best to serve the Iraqi people irrespective of their ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Al-Kifa'i on his movement's electoral program: We have written a broad electoral program. It summarizes the problems of Iraqi society that can be solved within the four coming years: the problem of security, the problem of corruption, the problem of unemployment, the problem of services, and the problem of social security -- because there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who are widows, orphans, handicapped, or poor. They need the care of the government. We have a broad and complex program in this regard that is available in print. It is a realistic program. We do not speak [about] theories. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)