12 February 2004, Volume
SUICIDE CAR BOMBS TARGET IRAQI POLICE, MILITARY.
Two apparent suicide car bombings launched within 24 hours of each other targeted the Iraqi police and military in Iraq this week, while a bomber detonated explosives attached to his body outside the home of a tribal leader with ties to the coalition authority in Iraq.
At least 55 people were killed and 150 wounded when a car bomb detonated on 10 February outside a police station in the town of Al-Iskandariyah, located some 40 kilometers south of Baghdad, international media reported. "It was a car [bomb] that was parked outside the station," Iraqi policeman Sadiq Khudayr told Reuters. "It brought down part of the building and the [adjoining] courthouse." The tense situation in the city following the bombing was compounded by rumors circulating among local residents that the explosion was not caused by a car bomb, but rather by a U.S. missile, both CNN and Al-Jazeera reported.
Also on 10 February, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the home of an Iraqi tribal leader, international media reported. According to Al-Arabiyah, the bomber targeted the home of Shaykh Amr Sulayman, chief of the Al-Dulaym tribe in the city of Al-Ramadi, located approximately 110 kilometers west of Baghdad. Four bodyguards were reportedly wounded in the incident. Reuters reported that the bomber initially approached the shaykh's house but was told by bodyguards to leave. He returned a second time and detonated explosives strapped to his body.
AP reported that the bombing was in apparent response to the shaykh's cooperation with coalition forces. Pamphlets purportedly written by a coalition of 12 insurgent groups have recently been circulated inside the city, threatening attacks against those who cooperate with coalition forces. Meanwhile, gunmen opened fire on two police vehicles carrying two officers each in separate incidents in Iraq on 10 February, killing all four officers, CNN reported.
A second suicide car bomb detonated on 11 February outside an Iraqi Army recruitment center located on the grounds of Baghdad's Muthanna Airport, international media reported. The bombing left at least 46 dead and 54 wounded, many of whom were Iraqi men lining up to apply for positions in the Iraqi Army. "It was a suicide attack by a single male," U.S. Colonel Ralph Baker told Reuters. "It was aimed strictly at Iraqis." Baker added that the car was packed with between 140-230 kilograms of plastic explosives mixed with artillery shells, which he said maximized the "kill effect."
On 1 February, suicide bombers struck the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in separate attacks in Irbil, killing at least 101 people and wounding some 133, international media reported. The twin attacks at the two parties' offices were reportedly timed five minutes apart, as both hosted receptions for the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha. An unidentified PUK member told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI): "Today we were celebrating the Eid feast and people came to congratulate us on this occasion -- among them, Turkomans and Kurds, and friends from the KDP," the PUK member said. "We always have been against terror and terrorism. We believe in humanity between Arabs, Kurds, and for all. And these terrorists are monsters."
RFI reported that a number of senior Kurdish leaders were killed in the 1 February attacks in Irbil, including Akram Mintik, governor of Irbil Province; Sami Abd al-Rahman, deputy prime minister for the KDP's Kurdistan Regional Government; Shawkat Shaykh Yazdin, minister for the Council of Ministerial Affairs; and Agriculture Minister Sa'd Abdullah. The KDP's deputy finance minister, the deputy governor of Irbil, and the director of the Irbil police department were also killed in the two blasts, Kurdistan Satellite (KurdSat) Television reported, citing a 1 February statement released by KDP head Mas'ud Barzani. Barzani said the KDP "will not retreat an inch from its [goal of Iraq's] liberation [through a] democratic and peaceful policy, and...for the voluntary union of Iraq, the unity of Iraq, and democratic construction."
U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad that a number of groups could be responsible for the bombing. "We have no group at this point who has claimed responsibility," Kimmitt said. "It could be Ansar Al-Islam, it could be Al-Qaeda, it could be any of a number of foreign terrorist groups operating or attempting to operate inside Iraq." U.S. officials on 11 February doubled the reward for information leading to the arrest or death of suspected Al-Qaeda leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (see End Note below).
According to Reuters, some 300 police officers have lost their lives as the result of the insurgency in Iraq since the fall of the regime of former President Saddam Hussein, and AP reported that at least 261 Iraqi civilians have been killed in major suicide attacks or car bombings since 1 January. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL APPROVES PENSION FOR FORMER PRESIDENT.
The Iraqi Governing Council said on 10 February that it will pay a monthly pension to former Iraqi President Abd al-Rahman Arif, who was overthrown more than 35 years ago in a Ba'ath Party coup. Arif will receive a stipend of $1,000 month, AP reported. The council has also allocated $5,000 for unspecified medical treatment in Jordan.
Arif served as Iraq's third president from 1966-68, taking the helm after his brother, former Iraqi President Abd al-Salam Arif, was killed in a helicopter crash. Arif was deposed during the 17 July 1968 coup, which brought Ba'ath Party leaders Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein to power. (Kathleen Ridolfo)FORMER BA'ATH PARTY OFFICIAL IN COALITION CUSTODY.
U.S. forces have reportedly detained Muhsin Khadir al-Khafaji, a former Ba'ath Party chairman and commander of the party's militia in the Al-Qadisiyah Governorate, international media reported on 9 February. Al-Khafaji was 48th on the coalition's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. Al-Khafaji was reportedly arrested in Baghdad on 7 February, according to U.S. Central Command's website (http://www.centcom.mil).
U.S. and Iraqi forces reportedly captured more than 100 anticoalition militants in Iraq during raids on 4 and 5 February, AP cited U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt as saying on 5 February. Among those captured in the raids were former Iraqi Brigadier General Abu Aymad al-Tikriti, who headed military intelligence in northern Iraq for the Hussein regime, and Majid Ali Abbas al-Dazi, who is suspected of coordinating a suicide truck bombing in Samarra on 24 January that killed four Iraqi civilians and wounded some 40 others. Kimmitt noted last week that the number of daily attacks against coalition forces had risen to 24 per day, compared with 18 per day during the previous week. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. PAYS $1 MILLION TO IRAQI INFORMANT.
The U.S. government paid an Iraqi informant $1 million for information he gave that led to the 11 January capture of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, a former Karbala Ba'ath Party regional commander and 54th on the coalition's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) senior adviser Dan Senor told reporters during a 3 February Baghdad press briefing, according to the briefing's text posted on the CPA website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
According to Senor, the information led to the capture of al-Muhammad the following day. "Al-Muhammad was organizing, facilitating, and financing attacks against the coalition and the efforts of the Iraqi people," Senor said. "His capture is a significant step forward." U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told the same press briefing that an informant using the Baghdad tips hot line in January provided information on local weapons dealers, terrorist cells, and air-defense missiles for sale to anti-coalition organizations in Baghdad. The information led to the arrest of two individuals, and an array of weapons was confiscated. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. REDUCING PRESENCE IN BAGHDAD, WITHDRAWING TO OUTSKIRTS OF CITY.
The U.S. Army is closing down most of its bases in central Baghdad and redeploying its troops to the outskirts of the city, international media reported on 9 February. Brigadier General Mark Hertling said that new soldiers arriving from the 1st Cavalry Division will move into eight bases around Baghdad, and maintain one base in the city, Reuters reported. The division will assume command over Baghdad on 15 April. Troops patrolling the capital will also be using armored humvees rather than tanks, in an attempt to appear less obtrusive, military officials said. There are currently 26 U.S. bases in the Iraqi capital, down from 60 last summer.
The change not only coincides with the U.S. troop rotation, but also will allow Iraqi police and Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) personnel to assume a greater role in policing the capital ahead of a U.S. withdrawal. Asked for a possible date for the U.S. withdrawal, Hertling said: "If you're asking me for a set date, there is none." "Some of the regions within Baghdad will go faster than others." Iraqi Governing Council President for January Muhsin Abd al-Hamid told Al-Jazeera on 9 February that the U.S. redeployment is in accordance with the agreement signed between the council's Security Committee and the occupation authority. (Kathleen Ridolfo)JAPANESE GROUND TROOPS ARRIVE IN AL-SAMAWAH.
The first group of Japan's main Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) arrived in Al-Samawah on 8 February, Kyodo World Service reported. The 60-member group is part of a 90-member deployment, the rest of which was expected to travel to Iraq from Kuwait on 9 February. The Japanese troops traveled overland in a 25-vehicle convoy to meet an advance team of some 30 soldiers.
According to Kyodo, the troops will focus on setting up their camp and facilities before the arrival of additional Japanese troops expected in late February and in March. The main GSDF dispatch will reportedly begin its humanitarian work with local residents in early April.
Meanwhile, Tokyo's "Asahi Shimbun" reported on 7 February that the governor of the Muthanna Province, Muhammad Ali Hassan Abbas al-Hasani, and the province's 10-member security committee have agreed to add 300 plainclothes policemen to enhance security in and around Al-Samawah, which is located within the province. (Kathleen Ridolfo)LEADERS, GROUPS DENY ANY ATTACK ON AL-SISTANI.
A number of individuals as well as the most powerful Shi'ite political party in Iraq have dismissed reports of an assassination attempt on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, according to media reports on 5 February after a security aide to al-Sistani reportedly told Reuters earlier that day that "at 10 o'clock this morning, gunmen opened fire on Ayatollah al-Sistani as he greeted people in Al-Najaf, but he was not hurt."
In a 5 February statement, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) claimed, "We have contacted the office of [al-Sistani] in Al-Najaf and it transpired that the report is a lie and the whole issue is fabricated and baseless," AP reported. Meanwhile, al-Sistani's representative in Karbala, Shaykh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i, called the reports unfounded, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported on 6 February. "I personally called al-Sistani's office in Al-Najaf, which categorically denied such reports," he said. Asked about a report that an individual was arrested on 5 February at al-Sistani's office after attempting to carry out an undisclosed act, al-Karbala'i said he could not confirm the report. However, he added, "arresting someone does not mean that there was an assassination attempt."
Al-Sistani's office finally posted a statement to its website (http://www.najaf.org) on 7 February confirming that reports of an assassination attempt were unfounded. The statement also called on Iraqis "to exercise maximum vigilance and caution in all matters concerning the political and security situations during these sensitive times when all eyes are on the arrival of the international [UN] delegation." (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQ ESTABLISHES COMMISSION ON PUBLIC INTEGRITY.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq on 28 January established the Commission on Public Integrity, which will enforce anticorruption laws and set public-service standards, according to a 3 February press release posted on the CPA website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The Iraqi Governing Council will nominate a commissioner to head the body, who will then be appointed by CPA head L. Paul Bremer to a five-year term. A chief executive of Iraq would appoint subsequent commissioners from nominees submitted by the Council of Judges, the press release stated.
The commission is authorized to receive anonymous complaints from individual citizens, to investigate allegations of corruption, and to refer violations of corruption laws to the Iraqi criminal courts. The body can also propose legislation "to strengthen standards of ethical conduct for public officials and employees." According to the press release, all government workers will be required to sign a written pledge that they will adhere to the public-employee Code of Conduct. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQ'S LARGEST BANK PREPARING FOR PRIVATIZATION.
Iraq's largest bank, Al-Rafidayn, is set to lay off one-third of its staff as part of a restructuring plan that could lead to the bank's eventual privatization, possibly as soon as next year, Reuters reported on 9 February. Al-Rafidayn Chairman Daya al-Khayoun told the news agency that the bank, which accounts for 75 percent of Iraq's deposit base, is also strapped with some $20 billion of the country's $120 billion in foreign debt, established by letters of credit opened by the deposed Hussein regime.
The bank reportedly had a virtual monopoly over government banking under the Hussein regime. "We have started to move toward becoming a for-profit bank after providing free services to the state for years. We have enormous expenses," al-Khayoun said. He added that the bank will seek government approval for an early retirement scheme that could allow one-third of the bank's employees to retire, thus significantly reducing its 7,300-person workforce. The bank is currently focusing on upgrading its dilapidated system by adding computers to link its 170 nationwide branches. According to Reuters, the bank holds deposits of 1.2 trillion dinars ($800 million) and around $700 million in foreign currency. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQ APPROVED AS WTO OBSERVER.
Iraq was formally granted observer status with the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 11 February, AP reported. Observer status is the first step towards gaining full membership in the organization, which determines the rules for international trade.
Ahmad al-Mukhtar, director-general of foreign economic relations at the Iraqi Trade Ministry, told the WTO, "After decades of isolation, Iraq is beginning to rejoin the international community and your decision today sends a positive signal to the people of Iraq that they are welcomed back and that the world really cares about their welfare."
He added that the decision will help facilitate Iraq's reentry to world markets. "It will assist us in adopting WTO-consistent laws and regulations and Iraqis who have been forced into isolation by the previous regime will get the chance to benefit from the vast resources available at the WTO." Iraq's request for observer status was supported by the European Union (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 January 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)PLANNING MINISTER SAYS CONFERENCE TO BE HELD ON DONOR AID.
Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafiz said on 28 January that a conference will be held in February in Abu Dhabi to activate the pledges of donor states made at the October aid conference in Madrid (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 October 2003), Baghdad's "Al-Nahdah" reported on 28 January.
Al-Hafiz told reporters at a 27 January press conference that the Strategic Review Board (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 January 2004) has already reviewed some 5,000 proposed reconstruction projects in Iraq. The board is responsible for determining priorities among reconstruction projects in Iraq. The prioritized projects will be discussed with donor countries at the Abu Dhabi conference.
Al-Hafiz also told reporters that the ministry will soon look at reconstruction needs in the cultural, heritage, civil society, and environmental sectors, which were not addressed as part of Iraq's reconstruction needs during the Madrid conference. (Kathleen Ridolfo)KURDISH LEADER DISCUSSES KIRKUK, FEDERALISM.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Prime Minister Barham Salih discussed developments in Kurdistan with regard to the issues of federalism in a future Iraqi government, as well as the contested city of Kirkuk, in an interview with London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" published on 8 February.
Salih told the daily that the Kurdish administrations continue to discuss the issue of federalism with members of the Iraqi Governing Council. He reminded the daily that federalism had been adopted as a principle by the Iraqi opposition before the overthrow of the Hussein regime, and said that while differences of opinion exist over the details of a federal system, it remains the planned way forward. "The federal system of government in Iraq is an idea that was adopted by the various Iraqi forces as a framework for solving Iraq's problems, including the Kurdish problem," he said. He denied claims by detractors that federalism for the Kurds would be a step towards full separation, saying, "federalism means unity."
Asked about the contested city of Kirkuk (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 and 16 January 2004), Salih contended that all "historical, geographic, and demographic facts" show Kirkuk is a Kurdish city. But, he added: "The issue of Kirkuk embodies our suffering. The city was a theater of the ugliest ethnic-cleansing operation against the Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkomans in the name of Arab nationalism, although the Arabs are innocent of Saddam Hussein's regime, which perpetrated this cleansing."
Asked about reports of large-scale Kurdish immigration to the city, Salih said: "I do not deny the occurrence of encroachments but these are very limited when compared with the huge size of the problem we are dealing with. More than 1 million Kurds have been dislodged from Kirkuk and its suburbs and adjacent areas as a result of the Arabization process during the past 20 years. As for the Kurds who [recently] returned to their homes in Kirkuk, they are in the thousands." (Kathleen Ridolfo)GOVERNING COUNCIL BEGINS CONSTITUTION-DRAFTING PROCESS.
Iraqi Governing Council members on 31 January began debating a proposed interim constitution that would create a three-member presidency, washingtonpost.com reported on 1 February. The interim document will reportedly serve as the basic document until October 2005, when a nationwide referendum would be held on a permanent constitution.
"It's very much of an early working draft," Governing Council legal adviser Salem Chalabi said of the document. "To me, there's still some way to go and there are political deals that have to be struck still." Under the plan, an assembly of 250-275 representatives would elect a three-person presidency, and the presidents would choose a prime minister by unanimous decision. The document calls for women to comprise at least 40 percent of the assembly and the constitutional convention. Chalabi said that figure would likely be reduced to 20 percent. The document also calls for Islam to be the "principal source amongst other sources of legislation." (Kathleen Ridolfo)ANIMAL WELFARE SOCIETY OPENS IN BAGHDAD.
Iraqi veterinarians, with help from the U.S. 1st Armored Division and 5th Corps and funding from the 22nd Signal Brigade, opened the Iraqi Society for Animal Welfare in Baghdad on 21 January, according to a 3 February press release posted on the Coalition Joint Task Force 7 website (http://www.cjtf7.army.mil). Military and civilian veterinarians and ministry officials reportedly formed the society to combat Baghdad's growing need for an animal control mechanism. "It's the first of its kind in the country," Captain William Sumner said. "The society will provide services similar to our Humane Society in the U.S."
The society will work to combat disease in animals through proper immunizations, and provide adoption and spay and neuter programs. Sumner said that he hopes the program, once established in the capital, spreads to other areas of the country. Dr. Farah Murrani, assistant director of the Baghdad Zoo, heads the society. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER RETURNS FROM GULF TOUR.
Iraqi Governing Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told London's "Al-Hayat" that his two-week trip to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain helped elevate the status of relations between Iraq and its neighbors, particularly with regard to security cooperation, the daily reported on 10 February.
Bahr al-Ulum said, "The agreement reached with these countries constitutes the cornerstone for bilateral relations and the firm foundation in the relationship with them." Regarding his meetings in Kuwait, he said that his delegation tried to obtain the country's support for Iraq's participation in the upcoming Arab summit scheduled for March, as well as next week's regional security conference to be held in Kuwait.
Bahr al-Ulum met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz and Foreign Minister Sa'ud al-Faysal to discuss challenges facing Iraq in the security sphere, particularly with regard to the Iraqi-Saudi border. As to his meetings in Bahrain, he said, "There was a consensus [among Bahraini leaders] on backing Iraq and consolidating its constitutional institutions." (Kathleen Ridolfo)SALIH DISCUSSES TURKISH KURD REBELS WITH TURKEY.
PUK Prime Minister Barham Salih tried to assure Turkish officials this week that Kurds in northern Iraq will no longer tolerate the presence of Turkish Kurd fighters on Iraqi soil, kurdistanobserver.com reported on 11 February. The Turkish government has stepped up its demands that the Kurds and coalition forces remove anti-Turkish forces from their bases in northern Iraq. "We are ready to work to remove all kinds of elements which pose a threat to our neighbors," Salih told Istanbul's NTV during his visit to Ankara.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul reportedly told reporters during his two-day trip to Poland this week that any attempts by Iraqi Kurds to separate from the central government could lead to a bloody conflict. "The Middle East cannot afford and tolerate another separation. A divided Iraq would be a source of strain, pain, and blood," Gul said. Ankara is very concerned that any attempts by Iraqi Kurds for greater autonomy might provoke Turkish Kurds to restart their own secessionist movement. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI AGRICULTURE MINISTER APPEALS TO JEDDAH ECONOMIC FORUM.
Iraqi Agriculture Minister Abd al-Amir Ruhaymah al-Abbud appealed to the 17-19 January Jeddah Economic Forum for regional investment in Iraq's agriculture sector, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 28 January. Al-Abbud stressed that Iraq's agricultural sector provides enormous opportunities for investment. "Out of Iraq's total arable area of 12 million hectares, only 3.5 million hectares are actually cultivated."
He added that he made a personal appeal to the Saudi agricultural minister for agricultural supplies, including urea fertilizers. Al-Abbud said that a number of Saudi businessmen expressed a willingness to invest in the agricultural sector, but did not elaborate. He did tell "Al-Hayat" that in his address to the forum, he outlined a plan by the ministry to establish model farms in all the Iraqi governorates to create jobs for unemployed Iraqis. Agricultural and animal products from the farms would be sold at local markets. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN TEAM ARRIVES IN IRAQ.
A United Nations team of experts arrived in Iraq on 7 February to begin its assessment of the feasibility of holding national direct elections there, international media reported.
The team, led by UN senior adviser on Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi, met with the Iraqi Governing Council on 8 February. Brahimi told reporters that "the United Nations only confirms its firm desire to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people...to get beyond the long ordeal they have suffered and to restore their independence and sovereignty and rebuild Iraq," AP reported.
Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, the Iraqi Governing Council's president for the month of February, said, "Brahimi's wisdom in resolving conflicts in the Arab and Islamic world proves that he will give us advice that allows us to take the right decision in the interest of the Iraqi people." Brahimi also met on 8 February with Governing Council member and head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, Reuters reported. Al-Hakim gave Brahimi a report prepared by Iraqi experts on the prospects for organizing early elections.
Three leading Iraqi figures stressed on 7 February that any assessment by the United Nations with regard to the possibility of holding early national direct elections in Iraq would not be binding, Arab media reported the same day. SCIRI spokesman Hamid al-Bayati said the UN's assessment is important for Iraqis because they want to implement the decisions of the religious authorities, who have said they would temper their calls for early elections should the UN deem that not possible, Voice of the Mujahedin reported.
Iraqi Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said the UN assessment will be considered a significant opinion by the Governing Council, adding that it will "undoubtedly influence the Iraqi political decision," Al-Jazeera television reported. Meanwhile, Iraqi Governing Council President for February al-Hamid told Al-Arabiyah television that "we are not obliged to accept the conclusions that will be reached by the [UN]. We judge matters, taking into consideration national consensus and the interests of the Iraqi people. I hope that the conclusions that will be reached by the delegation will be in harmony with what we will agree upon." (Kathleen Ridolfo)UN WANTS IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL, CPA TO PROVIDE EVIDENCE ON OIL-SCANDAL ALLEGATIONS.
The United Nations has said that it will ask the Iraqi Governing Council and the CPA in Iraq to investigate allegations that the world body or its officials might have been involved in the Hussein regime's alleged payment of oil for support while the country was under UN sanctions, ft.com reported on 11 February.
The scandal includes allegations that Benon Sevan, former UN head of the UN's oil-for-food program, received oil or kickbacks from the former regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004). "I should like to state that there is absolutely no substance to the allegations made in a local Iraqi newspaper...that I had received oil or oil monies from the former Iraqi regime," Sevan said.
According to ft.com, the UN has also received two letters from a Governing Council adviser alleging "serious transgressions" within the oil-for-food program, including allegations that Sevan was bribed by the former regime. (Kathleen Ridolfo)RUSSIA'S UN AMBASSADOR SAYS 'I TOLD YOU SO' ON IRAQI WMD.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov said on 10 February that Russia was never sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, despite assertions by former chief U.S. arms inspector in Iraq David Kay that "we were almost all wrong," Reuters reported.
Lavrov told reporters at the UN that Russian officials said repeatedly they did not have enough information to prove either that WMD programs remained in Iraq or that the programs had been "fully stopped." Lavrov said that prior to the military operation against Iraq, his government had hoped that UN inspectors could "finish their job," and thus Moscow supported the November 2002 Security Council Resolution, No. 1441, that gave "an unprecedented, intrusive mandate to UN inspectors." Lavrov told ITAR-TASS on 10 February that Russia is "fully in accord" with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's bid to help Iraq reach a consensus on how to form its transitional governing structures. A UN mission headed by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is currently in Iraq looking into these issues. (Jonas Bernstein)
U.S. PRESIDENT, CIA CHIEF DEFEND IRAQ WAR DECISION.
U.S. President George W. Bush in an interview broadcast on 8 February on NBC television defended his administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. Regarding his administration's prewar claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Bush said: "I expected to find the weapons." "I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons...there's theories as to where the weapons went," he said. "They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out."
Bush said that prior to the war "there was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America," because of Iraq's presumed capacity to produce WMD. "The man was a threat, and we dealt with him," Bush said. Speaking of the previous U.S. policy of containing Iraq, he added, "Containment doesn't work with a man who is a madman." Asked about the commission he established on 6 February to examine the intelligence failures regarding Iraq, Bush said: "The commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was a kind of lessons learned. But it's really set up to make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product as possible for future presidents, as well." The transcript of the president's interview can be found on the MSNBC website (http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4179618).
Bush's interview came three days after U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet defended his agency's prewar assessment of Iraq's proscribed weapons capabilities in a 5 February statement at Washington's Georgetown University. Tenet's statement was posted on the CIA website (http://www.cia.gov).
Tenet said his analysts "never said there was an 'imminent' threat" from Iraq's suspected WMD programs. "Rather, they painted an objective assessment for our policymakers of a brutal dictator who was continuing his efforts to deceive and build programs that might constantly surprise us and threaten our interests," he said. "No one told us what to say or how to say it," he added, dispelling media reports that the agency was under pressure to conclude that Iraq constituted a threat in its prewar assessment.
Tenet added that his analysts reached their conclusions on Iraq through three "streams of information": Iraq's history of building and procuring WMD programs; the UN's inability -- and the Hussein regime's refusal -- to account for all of Iraq's weapons; and post-1998 intelligence gathered through human agents, satellite photos, and communications intercepts. He said that the Iraq Survey Group is "nowhere near the end of our work in Iraq," adding, "we need more time." (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.K. ESTABLISHES COMMITTEE TO REVIEW WMD INTELLIGENCE.
Just two days after the Bush administration announced it would launch an investigation into possible intelligence failures in Iraq, the U.K. government announced its own inquiry into the issue, the 10 Downing Street website (http://www.number-10.gov.uk) announced on 3 February. The committee, to be chaired by Lord Butler of Brockwell, will work closely with the U.S. inquiry and the Iraq Survey Group, the website reported.
The committee will specifically investigate the intelligence coverage available on WMD programs of "countries of concern," and on the global trade of WMD. It will also investigate the accuracy of intelligence on Iraq's WMD programs leading up to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, and "examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated, and used by the [U.K.] government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what has been discovered by the Iraqi Survey Group since the end of the conflict." (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.K. LAUNCHES INQUIRY INTO ALLEGED MISTREATMENT OF IRAQI PRISONERS OF WAR.
The U.K. Defense Ministry said on 11 February that it is investigating a number of alleged incidents of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war (POW) by British soldiers, international media reported. According to the BBC, one of the cases involves a British soldier accused of beating an Iraqi POW to death. "If British soldiers are found to have acted unlawfully, appropriate action will be taken," the BBC quoted a Defense Ministry spokeswoman as saying. (Kathleen Ridolfo)RUSSIA SEEKS LARGER PRESENCE FOR ITS OIL COMPANIES IN IRAQ.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 4 February that his country "plans to expand the presence of Russian oil companies in Iraq," ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said the government is currently involved in "intensive" discussions with the Iraqi Governing Council on expanding the activities of Russian oil companies there. He dismissed recent media reports that Russian oil companies received bribes from the regime of deposed President Hussein as "absurd and aimed at preventing our companies from building their businesses in the region."
Meanwhile, a high-level source in Iraq's Oil Ministry confirmed that the 270 entities and individuals from nearly 50 countries that were named last week by a Baghdad newspaper did indeed have dealings with Hussein's regime, newsru.com reported on 4 February, citing Reuters. However, the source said the contracts were not given as bribes in return for political support, but rather were legal contracts distributed on the basis of the UN-sanctioned oil-for-food program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January and 3 February 2004). (Jonas Bernstein)RUSSIAN DUMA DEPUTY CLAIMS U.S. USED SMALL NUKES IN IRAQ.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov claimed on 4 February that the United States used low-yield nuclear weapons during last year's war in Iraq, citing "information received from my sources, among them Iraqi sources," Interfax reported on 4 February.
According to Mitrofanov, small nuclear weapons were used at Baghdad's international airport, as a result of which "people were evaporated, turned into shadows, and the airport's buildings destroyed." Afterward, the airport was sealed off, Mitrofanov alleged. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, he said, should be invited to the Duma to be asked whether the United States used such weapons in Iraq and what Russia is doing "to create appropriate combat effectiveness."
State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia), however, said Ivanov should not be asked to appear before the Duma, given that Mitrofanov's Iraqi sources "look insufficiently convincing." LDPR leader and Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii backed Mitrofanov's assertions, claiming that the United States has been using low-yield nuclear weapons for 10 years. Only 114 deputies voted to invite Ivanov, well short of the 226 needed. (Jonas Bernstein)
U.S. SAYS LETTER PROVIDES EVIDENCE OF AL-QAEDA/IRAQ LINK
By Kathleen Ridolfo
The U.S. government doubled the reward for information leading to the location of alleged Al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to $10 million on 11 February, according to the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" website (http://www.rewardsforjustice.net). Al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian national who is suspected of leading terrorist attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces in recent months, including the August bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. He is also believed to have been linked to the October 2002 killing of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 August 2003). Al-Zarqawi has reputed ties to the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam, and on 11 February U.S. officials released a letter purportedly written by al-Zarqawi requesting support from Al-Qaeda to fund terrorist operations in Iraq. Excerpts from that letter have been reprinted widely in the international media.
In the letter, al-Zarqawi purportedly identifies four targets in Iraq: the Americans, the Kurds, Iraqi police and troops, and Shi'a Muslims. He also claims that his group has completed some 25 "martyrdom" operations in Iraq. Without support, al-Zarqawi contends, his fighters would not be able to continue their operations in Iraq. He says he believes that once power is transferred to Iraqis, terrorist attacks will be much more difficult to carry out. "The enemy is forming the police and army, which have begun to take over its duties. That enemy is made up of rejectionists [Shi'a] and augmented by Sunni collaborators and is the real danger we face. They are our cousins and they know our ins and outs, and they are more cunning than their crusader masters," AP quoted al-Zarqawi as having written.
The letter continues, according to AP: "Our hope is for our work tempo to accelerate, to form brigades and battalions that have experience and perseverance, and to wait for zero hour when we begin to appear in public and control the land at night and, God willing, also during the day. This zero hour we hope to extend for about four months before the proposed government is formed. As you can see, we are in a race against time. If we can, as we hope, turn the tables against them and spoil their plans, that would be good. But if it goes the other way, God forbid, and the government controls the country, then there will be no choice but to pack our bags and move to another land where we can once again carry our banner, or become martyrs."
According to CNN, al-Zarqawi's appeal to the Al-Qaeda leadership pledges continued "suicide operations" and car bombings, saying that his goal is to provoke a civil war by bringing the Shi'a "into the battle...[as it] is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us." "We are racing against time in order to create squads of mujahedin who seek refuge in secure places, spy on neighborhoods and work on hunting down the enemy," he contends, according to CNN.
So who is Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi? He is a known member of Al-Qaeda who reportedly fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001 and took refuge in northern Iraq with the militant group Ansar Al-Islam. Iraqi officials said in February 2003 that they had no record of al-Zarqawi entering Iraq, despite claims by Jordanian officials, but the same officials contended that he was in fact living in northern Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 9 February 2003).
Coalition forces hit an Ansar Al-Islam stronghold close to the Iranian border in the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The group had controlled about 18 villages close to the Kurdish village of Halabjah on the Iranian border (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 March 2003). That strike reportedly scattered Ansar militants, and many were believed to have fled over the border to Iran. Iran, however, denied reports of any relationship to the terrorist group (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 28 March and 2 April 2003).
In July, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid told reporters, "There's some impression that [Ansar Al-Islam members] could be infiltrating from Iran," but he added: "There's also [a] possibility that there were people that instead of moving away from the center of Iraq after they were hit [earlier in the year], moved down into Baghdad. So, it's clear that Ansar Al-Islam is re-forming and is presenting a threat to coalition forces" (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 July 2003). Asked about the presence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, he told reporters, "I don't know that I would say that Osama bin Laden has made an order that has been conveyed to people that has caused them to move into Iraq to kill us, but I do know that there are those that would sympathize with him that have moved into Iraq and are trying to kill us."
The question remains however, to what extent Ansar Al-Islam is linked to Al-Qaeda, and whether the letter obtained by U.S. officials was ever delivered to the Al-Qaeda leadership. Ansar terrorist Qais Ibrahim -- serving time in an Al-Sulaymaniyah jail cell for the attempted assassination on Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Prime Minister Barham Salih in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 February 2003) -- told the Italian daily "Corriere della Sera" in an interview published on 2 February that he personally received $10,000 from bin Laden two years ago to continue his armed struggle. "He gave me the money in three installments through one of our couriers whom we had sent to train among the ranks of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," Ibrahim was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 3 February that Ansar Al-Islam has merged with other radical elements in Iraq into the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, which was formed last fall in Iraq. Ansar Al-Sunnah described itself in a statement to London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" published on 4 November as: "A group of mujahedin, people with knowledge, political shrewdness, and military expertise as well as those who have long experience and history in administering the Islamic ideological conflict against the infidels, brought several groups and various jihadist factions together." It claimed to have fighters throughout Iraq "implementing a practical non-imported program, based on a clear view of the arena and the instructions of the true sharia [Islamic law]."
Ansar Al-Sunnah has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on the coalition and Iraqis in the past year, including last week's bombing of PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party offices in Irbil, which left over 100 Iraqis dead, as well as the 14 October bombing of the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad and the 20 November bombing of the PUK office in Kirkuk (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 October and 27 November 2003 and 13 February 2004).