9 December 2005, Volume 8, Number 42
NOTE TO READERS:
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, reports, and Iraqi press commentaries. See http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqelections
ELECTION CAMPAIGNING DEGENERATES INTO DOG-EAT-DOG ATMOSPHERE. The campaign season in Iraq has grown malicious in recent weeks as political parties attempt to place themselves in the spotlight at the expense of their competitors ahead of the 15 December parliamentary elections. Candidates, campaign workers, and party offices have been attacked, while party leaders have made verbal assaults and allegations against their rivals. A number of parties have accused their rivals of defacing or plastering over campaign posters, and one Sunni Arab party has alleged that government forces attacked its campaign workers.
There certainly is much at stake -- the winning list will rule the government for the next four years. But it remains to be seen how well these dirty tactics will work amid growing public apathy over the state of affairs in Iraq.
This Time Around
Iraqi voters have had much time to familiarize themselves with the leading candidates contesting the election. The past two and a half years have witnessed a Governing Council -- dominated by the major opposition figures that returned to Iraq following the fall of the Hussein regime; followed by an interim government led by secular Shi'ite leader Iyad Allawi; and the current transitional government dominated by the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).
The abundance of domestic and Iraqi satellite channels, radio stations, and print newspapers leave no lack of information on political leaders or their platforms in a country where the security situation prevents traditional campaigning among the people.
Compared to January's election, which was largely carried out in an atmosphere of optimism and free voter choice, the current campaign environment is more ruthless, and parties appear to be stopping at nothing to place themselves at the head of the pack.
The atmosphere has been intensified by the brevity of the campaign season, which did not get off to a running start. Political parties had until 28 October to register with the electoral commission to compete in the elections, and campaigning could have started immediately after. Instead, the attention of the competing parties was focused elsewhere.
Several political party leaders were outside Iraq in October and November, leading delegations to meetings in Europe, the United States, and Asia. Politicians were also distracted by discussions building up to the 19 November Arab League-sponsored meeting on Iraqi national reconciliation in Cairo (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 November 2005).
The conference, which sought to bring Sunni Arab Iraqis into the political process, came on the heels of the discovery that the Shi'ite-dominated Interior Ministry was operating secret detention centers that held scores of undocumented Sunni Arab prisoners, some of whom were allegedly tortured.
The scandal provoked a backlash from Sunni Arab leaders, who quickly inserted references to it in their campaigning, as did former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who spent much of the past year working to engage Sunni Arabs in the political process. Allawi's Iraqi National List, which has promoted national unity, is one of the lists purporting to represent a true mosaic of secular Iraqis. As such, the list is widely seen as the major contender to the larger Shi'ite and Kurdish lists.
Following the scandal, the campaign grew nasty. Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who backed the United Iraqi Alliance in January elections, announced that he would not support any particular party or list in the December elections, and urged voters to vote for the party of their choice. The announcement came as a blow for the UIA, which had previously billed itself as the most legitimate party because of the ayatollah's backing.
Shi'ite parties that defected (see http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/11/45dd3b31-ade2-4567-a0b3-07c62735eb75.html) from the UIA ahead of the elections hailed the statement, saying it helped level the playing field for those parties outside the alliance.
As the weeks went on however, media reports indicated that the UIA was claiming al-Sistani's support for the list in their campaigning. For example, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leaders made a number of references to the Shi'ite religious authority's support for the list in campaign speeches, as well as in statements posted to its website. The media has also cited clerics as lending their support to the UIA list during prayer sermons. Similar incidents were reported in Kurdistan, where imams urged their congregations to vote for the Kurdistan Coalition List (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2005).
The promotion of ethnic, religious, sectarian, tribal or regional sentiments during election campaigning is officially banned by the IECI.
The Targeting Of Allawi
Administrative corruption has been a major issue in the campaign. In October, the transitional government issued arrest warrants for 27 members of Allawi's interim government on charges of corruption. Since that time, the media has seized on the issue, as have rival political parties.
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shi'ite leader who heads the National Congress Coalition -- a rival to Allawi's secular list -- sought to draw attention to the scandal when campaigning against Allawi. Meanwhile, a Sunni Arab list, the Iraqi Accord Front, campaigned on a "Clean Hands" motto in reference to the corruption scandal.
But the issue extends far beyond Baghdad. The scandal prompted some parties and figures in northern Iraq to lodge similar complaints against the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Allawi counterattacked by saying the Shi'ite parties were attempting to smear his name, and contended that several ministers in the current transitional government have also abused their positions and mismanaged funds (see http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/10/39855e72-042b-4c8d-ac5f-cbabfff63037.html).
Allawi admitted that corruption was a problem in his administration; a problem he implied was institutionalized under the Coalition Provisional Authority. He said he took steps to investigate the allegations under his administration, but the subsequent transitional government failed to sufficiently follow up on the matter. He further contended that corruption had risen to unprecedented levels under the transitional government and implied he had evidence to substantiate his claims.
Soon after he was attacked by an angry mob outside the Imam Ali Shrine in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf in what he termed an assassination attempt.
As he arrived at the Imam Ali Shrine on 4 December, Allawi's attackers reportedly threw stones and shoes (an insult to Muslims) at him and his entourage, allegedly firing shots into the group at one point. In October, Allawi claimed to have information from reliable intelligence sources that a rival party was planning to assassinate him by luring him to a southern city and ambushing him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2005).
More intimidation followed. Gunmen sprayed bullets in the air and set fire to Allawi's Karbala office overnight on 7-8 December.
The Sunni Position
While the Cairo conference did much to build dialogue between Iraq's fragmented sects, the positions of Sunni Arab groups on the election continue to be influenced by events on the ground.
Several Sunni leaders have been gunned down in recent weeks -- including about a dozen members of the influential Iraqi Islamic Party -- leading many to question the identity of the perpetrators. Some claim that the attacks were perpetrated by rival Shi'ite groups associated with the al-Ja'fari administration, while others have said that those behind the attacks are insurgents opposed to Sunni Arab participation in the election.
"The New York Times" reported on 5 December that one Islamic Party member was grabbed on a street in Al-Ramadi last month as he tried to pull down antielection posters hung by Al-Qaeda at a mosque in the city. Witnesses said insurgents dragged the man away; he was later found dead.
This week, the influential Muslim Scholars Association announced that it would boycott participation in the election after U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a series of military operations aimed at insurgents in the Sunni-dominated governorates. Sunni Arabs claim that the operations will do more to obstruct the Sunni Arab vote than rein in insurgents. The association did, however, stop short of banning its followers from voting in the election -- a step forward from its position in the January election.
Other Sunni Arab groups have also criticized the military operations, saying they threaten to break the tenuous truce reached between Iraqi leaders in Cairo. By adopting such a position, the groups threaten to further tarnish the image of the UIA, the leading alliance in the al-Ja'fari's administration.
Sunni Arab parties have even accused government forces of interfering in the election. The Iraqi Front for National Dialogue alleged on 21 November that people in military uniforms were seen tearing down the front's campaign posters in the Diyala Governorate. The front also alleged that the government was trying to disrupt the democratic process by fomenting sedition.
The UIA has strongly opposed entering into national reconciliation talks, claiming what Sunni Arabs call the "honorable resistance" is nothing more than a misleading idiom for "terrorist group." Supporters of the conference argue that talks with "honorable resistance" groups could be the quickest route to ending the insurgency, a view that appears to have growing street support. A reconciliation conference is planned for early next year and the UIA's position, while supported by many, may in fact hurt the alliance in the election.
Moreover, some Sunni Arab groups have already said they would not work with the current government, a position that could also influence the electorate's decision at the ballot box.
The UIA's poor performance in the transitional government has already hurt the alliance. Several members defected from the alliance last month, citing corruption and the failure of leading parties SCIRI and Al-Da'wah to share power with smaller parties in the government.
Tense Atmosphere In The North
In Kurdistan, the campaign season took a turn for the worse this week when what was described as a "mob of youths" attacked the Kurdistan Islamic Union office in Dahuk. Similar incidents against the union reportedly occurred in six other Kurdish towns on the same day.
The union pulled out of the Kurdistan Coalition last month, choosing to run on its own list in the 15 December elections. At the time, the union criticized the dominance of the two leading Kurdish parties over political life in Kurdistan and corruption in the Kurdistan Regional Government as the reason for its withdrawal (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 November 2005).
Kurdistan's government-controlled media portrayed the attacks as a spontaneous outburst by the public, implying that people viewed the union as traitorous after the union said it would not support the Kurdistan region's draft constitution, which is a document separate from the Iraqi Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2005).
Kurdistan Regional Government President Mas'ud Barzani criticized the attacks against the Kurdistan Islamic Union and stressed his support for the freedom of political parties in Kurdistan. He also launched an investigation into the attacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2005).
Union member Abu Bakr Karwani accused some rogue members of the Kurdistan Coalition list of being behind the attacks in a 7 December interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI). Meanwhile, kurdishmedia.com alleged that Kurdish police and security forces were directly involved in the attacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2005). (By Kathleen Ridolfo)
HUSSEIN'S AL-DUJAYL TRIAL DESCENDS INTO CHAOS. The fourth and fifth sessions of the Al-Dujayl trial of Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants from the former regime on 5-6 December resembled earlier sessions where Hussein, his co-defendants, and their lawyers sought to delay and disrupt the court proceedings by all possible means. Chief Judge Rizgar Muhammad Amin appeared unable to control the outbursts, giving Hussein and other defendants room to launch into rants on subjects unrelated to the case.
The courtroom antics left many observers questioning whether the tribunal could uphold standards of due process for the witnesses, prosecution, and the defense in such an atmosphere.
The Special Tribunal operates under a mixture of international law (the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute) and Iraqi law. According to Human Rights Watch, while international criminal tribunals require that the accused be found guilty only if the charge is proven beyond reasonable doubt, the Iraqi Special Tribunal's rules of procedure state that an accused can be found guilty once the judges are "satisfied" of the validity of the charges against the defendant.
In order to prove crimes against humanity, it will be essential to establish that the crimes were part of the widespread and systematic policies of the Hussein regime. The testimony of some of the witnesses in sessions four and five appear to corroborate their claims. The testimonies have given personal accounts of torture, abuse, and killings at the hands of Hussein's intelligence services.
One female witness implied in her testimony that she had been raped by intelligence agents, and claimed she knew of other girls (she was a teenager when detained) who were raped while in custody. Other witnesses told of the collective punishment inflicted on the village -- orchards destroyed and homes razed.
While there appears to be no shortage of victims to testify at the Al-Dujayl trial, documentary evidence may be harder to come by. Iraqis ransacked the offices of intelligence agencies after the fall of the regime in 2003, many hoping to find information on relatives who had disappeared under Hussein's rule. As one witness has already testified, he and others "found the files" related to Al-Dujayl in an intelligence office in Baghdad's Mansur district in 2003.
Some documentary evidence -- though yet to be presented at trial -- has reportedly made its way to the tribunal, including a 1985 execution certificate issued by Hussein's Revolutionary Court that ordered 143 residents from Al-Dujayl executed.
Courtroom Antics Hussein and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti continuously interrupted the witnesses' at times emotional testimony with outbursts that included denying witness claims, insulting the witnesses, or addressing the court as Hussein did, to ask for paper.
In all, five witnesses testified: Ahmad Hasan Muhammad and Jawad Abd al-Aziz on 5 December; and four witnesses only identified by the letters A, B, C, and D on 6 December. The testimonies were at times confusing, and in some instances appeared to jump from story to story, with witnesses mixing their own experiences, with stories recounted to them by others.
The testimonies were complicated by the court's decision to allow the defendants to question the witnesses, sometimes directly. Under Rule 68 of the tribunal's Rules of Procedure, "A chamber shall control the manner of questioning a witness to avoid any harassment or intimidation." Rule 77 states, "The accused may not directly question any witness except through the trial chamber."
On 5 December, Hussein and Barzan al-Tikriti used the rule to "question" -- in this case badger, witnesses Muhammad and Abd al-Aziz. Al-Tikriti slandered the witnesses on several occasions, calling one a liar.
The defendants also used their question time to launch into diatribes about the war, the U.S.-led occupation, and their claims that the court is illegitimate. Saddam Against The World In one such instance, Hussein stood to question Witness C, but instead began lecturing Judge Amin, calling Amin his colleague, and saying, "I don't want to embarrass you." Referring to the trial as a "theatrical play" directed by the United States, Hussein scolded Amin and spouted Arab nationalist rhetoric, telling the judge that he had not properly questioned the witnesses. "You earned your position as a judge," Hussein said. "Nobody appointed you. This is your duty."
Hussein continued, referring to himself in the third person: "The Americans want to execute Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein gave himself to the people when he was a high-school student [referring to when he joined the Ba'ath Party]. Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death three times. This is not the first time."
Hussein and al-Tikriti also challenged the testimonies of some of the defendants, claiming the defendants were too young to remember the details they gave in their testimonies. The defendants further claimed that witness testimonies were based on hearsay, and repeatedly asked witnesses to provide evidence of their claims, and to identify by name the persons who abused them.
A number of witnesses said they were blindfolded and did not see their abusers, while others could only identify their abusers by first names or by a nom-de-guerre, such as Abu so-and-so. But some witnesses did name the intelligence agents that allegedly abused them. (By Kathleen Ridolfo. Originally published on 6 December)
KURDISTAN ISLAMIC UNION RESPONDS TO ATTACKS. Four people were killed on 6 December during an attack on the offices of the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KLU). Among those killed was a senior KLU official. In an interview conducted on 7 December and aired on the same day, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) asked a member of the KLU�s leadership, Abu Bakr Karwani, for the bloc�s response to the attacks in Dahuk, capital of one of three Kurd-controlled governorates, and in five other towns in the region. With Iraqis preparing to go to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections on 15 December, RFI also asked about the possible impact on Kurdish political dialogue after the vote. Karwani: Our position was clearly outlined in the statement that the Kurdistan Islamic Union issued. We strongly condemn the attacks against our offices in the Bahdinan region [which falls within the Dahuk governorate], which we labeled brazen and unjustifiable.
RFI: Can these acts be seen as a violation of the law on electoral campaigning? What will your reaction be?
Karwani: I think the definition of a violation is clear, and this has been an outright violation. This is a clear and scandalous violation. Violence was used, people killed, and some 30 injured, with others arrested.
At this very moment, members of the Kurdistan Islamic Union are being raided and harassed. We are therefore pursuing all peaceful measures available. We have contacted the [Kurdistan] region�s president [Mas�ud Barzani], the president of the Republic of Iraq [Jalal Talabani], and the UNHCR [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees]. The leadership of the Kurdistan Islamic Union will gather to decide what steps and measures to take next following the incidents that have affected our brothers in the region.
RFI: You hinted in your statement that the perpetrators of these acts are supporters of the Kurdistan Coalition List. Did you do anything that could have upset the List and provoked it to attack your offices?
Karwani: We do not think so. In Kurdistan, however, there is no strong history of a culture of democracy and of respect to others� opinions. That is why the mere fact that we entered the [political] scene as a list [separate from the Kurdistan Coalition List] was [perceived by some as] a crime. That proved unsettling and provocative.
RFI: Kurdish media have recently paid major attention to the Kurdistan Islamic Union�s withdrawal from the Kurdistan Coalition List [in late October] and to the fact that you took part in the previous elections [in January 2005] with the List. Do you think your withdrawal may have further ramifications for Kurdish dialogue about the future of Kurdistan?
Karwani: We do not think so. We feel ourselves to be part of the people of Kurdistan and one of Kurdistan�s political groupings. If we win a seat in the Iraqi parliament, we will strongly defend the justified causes of the people of Kurdistan.
Our program is clear on this: we identify ourselves with all the key causes of the [political] scene in Kurdistan. It can only be that a few people on the rival list have on occasion [chosen] to launch a psychological war or to distort the image of the Kurdistan Islamic Union [�]. Our separate position in the [election] has not affected our pro-Kurdish discourse. We are one of the parties in Kurdistan. We are a civic party with a religious orientation. We have no militia or other tools of violence. (Translated by Petr Kubalek)