20 February 2004, Volume 7, Number 6
INSIDE IRAQIS IRAQ SLIPPING TOWARDS CIVIL WAR? A recent surge of attacks in Iraq such as the 14 February attack on an Iraqi police station in Al-Fallujah (see this issue) and two attacks on Iraqi police and military last week (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004) have sparked more debate on whether Iraq might be slipping towards civil war.
The precarious security situation in the country was probably summed up best by UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Baghdad last week, when he said: "I have appealed to members of the [Iraqi] Governing Council and to Iraqis in every part of Iraq to be conscious that civil wars do not happen because a person makes a decision, 'Today I'm going to start a civil war.'" Brahimi went on to say that civil wars erupt, "because people are reckless, people are selfish, because people think more of themselves than they do their own country." The fact that Brahimi was addressing the possibility of civil war in Iraq is in itself a startling revelation. But, ordinary Iraqis and aid workers also warn that sectarian strife may be just around the corner.
One foreign aid worker in Al-Nasiriyah, who asked not to be identified, told "RFE/RL Iraq Report" this week that the situation on the ground appears to be worsening every day. "Many bad scenarios could happen with the June deadline approaching. Terrorists are really targeting any indication of stability and normality," he said. "More dangerously, [they] are playing the game of inciting and creating hatred among already antagonized ethnic and religious groups." Another international aid worker stationed in Baghdad, who asked not to be identified, said that even Iraqis working for the coalition have begun making plans to leave, out of fear that a civil war may erupt as the 30 June handover date approaches.
The CIA also remains pessimistic that sovereignty can be returned to Iraqis without ethnic strife or even civil war, one senior U.S. official has said according to an 18 February Knight-Ridder report. The CIA is reportedly concerned about Iranian attempts to influence Iraq, as well as the possibility that Iraqi Sunni militants will turn their violence on Shi'ites if they gain power.
"The Miami Herald" reported on 17 February that Iraqis conveyed their fears of sectarian violence to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Kirkuk earlier this month. Sunni Arabs at the meeting complained that they were being abused and mistreated by the Kurds. The Shi'ites insisted that they would only be satisfied once free and open elections were held, while other Iraqis reportedly complained that local militias, who owe no loyalty to the central government, are intimidating and frightening people, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, even the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) leadership appears fractured. IGC members Shaykh Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and Nasir Kamil al- Chadirchi told London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that the Sunni voice inside the council is "weak" and that there are unpublicized alliances among the members of the council "that we should stay away from," the daily reported on 15 February. Both men are Sunnis. "What worries us most is the sectarian problem in Iraq," al-Yawir said. "The issue of nationality between Arabs and Kurds is simple and can be surmounted. Sectarian sedition, however, is extremely dangerous, particularly since some neighboring countries or some regional and international forces are encouraging such sedition."
IGC member Iyad Allawi downplayed the 14 February attacks in Al-Fallujah, telling reporters, "This is a war that is being waged against Iraqis, and we are going to wage a war against them," implying that the attacks may have come from foreign fighters rather than Iraqis, ft.com reported on 16 February. IGC Spokesman Hamid al-Kifa'i echoed Allawi's statements saying Iraqis "never fought each other." "We are one nation and we will stay united."
U.S. military officials continue to report on the arrest of foreign fighters in Iraq, and this week the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) reportedly dispatched some 800 troops to northern Iraq to prevent infiltrators from entering the country from Iran (see this issue). Nonetheless, reports from blast sites in recent days indicate that rumors circulated amongst residents that Iraqis from other sects might be behind the violence -- and it is not just Sunni militants who are being blamed. In a part of the world where conspiracy theories abound, such talk is not that uncommon. However, it can also lead to untold consequences if such violence continues. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL OPENS DEBATE ON TRANSITIONAL ADMINISTRATION LAW. Some Iraqi Governing Council members met on 17 February to discuss three drafts of the Transitional Administration Law, also known as the "fundamental law" due to be ratified by 28 February, London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 18 February.
Three drafts were presented: one by council member Adnan Pachachi, who heads the Independent Democrats Movement; a second by the Iraqi Communist Party; and a third drafted jointly by the two Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The leaders of the two Kurdish parties did not attend the meeting. Instead, high-level KDP and PUK officials met in Salah Al-Din with U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer and senior U.K. representative in Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock, reportedly to discuss "current issues." A representative of the Independent Democrats Movement, Faysal al-Istirbadi, told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that other drafts were submitted for consideration but the drafting committee "chose three plans that we are working to combine so as to come out with a law that is respected."
IGC member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that much progress was made during the 17 February meeting. "We discussed, for example, the Iraqi citizens' political, religious, ethnic, and cultural rights, and agreed on banning and proscribing the revocation of the citizenship of any Iraqi under any conditions, whether they [be] ethnic, religious, or political," al-Rubay'i said. "We considered it one of the Iraqis' rights to hold another citizenship."
Asked why the Shi'ites did not put forth their draft for consideration, al-Rubay'i said: "We decided that three drafts were quite enough." Meanwhile, Kurdish council member Mahmud Uthman told the daily that while progress was made, the meeting did not address more controversial issues such as a federal system, religion, the distribution of resources, elections, and the formation of a new leadership. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
COALITION FORCES REPEL ATTACK ON ABU GHURAYB PRISON. Militants launched 33 mortar rounds and five rockets at the Abu Ghurayb Prison in western Baghdad on 18 February before being repelled by coalition forces, international media reported the same day. The attack took place around 6:30 p.m., a U.S. military official said. U.S. forces killed one militant and arrested 55 others at the scene, Reuters reported. The Abu Ghurayb Prison, renamed the Baghdad Central Penitentiary by coalition forces, was refurbished following the U.S.-led war in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 August 2003). The prison was notorious under the Hussein regime because so many of its prisoners were tortured or executed. It now houses coalition detainees. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. FORCES ARREST SEVEN MILITANTS SUSPECTED OF TIES TO AL-QAEDA. U.S. forces on 18 February arrested 22 militants in Ba'qubah suspected of carrying out armed attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, BBC reported the same day. Seven of those captured are suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda, Reuters reported. Ba'qubah, located some 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, is located within the so-called Sunni Triangle, where the coalition has faced the greatest resistance from insurgents. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
WOMEN'S RIGHTS CENTER OPENS IN KARBALA. U.S. civil administrator L. Paul Bremer attended on 16 February the opening of the Zainab Al-Hawra'a Center for Women's Rights. Based in Karbala, the center provides assistance to widowed, impoverished, and vulnerable women, according to a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) press release (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
The center includes an Internet cafe, sewing room, library, day-care center, and a restaurant. The center will offer a variety of educational classes on subjects including literacy and computer skills, health care, democracy and advocacy, as well as English-language training. One unidentified Iraqi woman said the opening of the center has changed her life. "I used to be depressed," she said. "Now I am excited when I wake up in the morning."
Many of the women attending the opening lost husbands, fathers, and sons at the hands of the former Hussein regime. According to the CPA, so many men were killed by the regime in south-central Iraq, that women comprise 60 percent of the population. The center is named after Zainab al-Hawra'a, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad. The women's center is the third of its kind to open in the south-central region. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
DOUBLE SUICIDE CAR BOMBS HIT COALITION MILITARY BASE IN AL-HILLAH. Suicide car bombers using two automobiles struck a coalition military base in Al-Hillah on 18 February, international media reported. "At 7:15 [a.m.] local time near the logistics base there was a terrorist attack using two cars," Lieutenant Colonel Robert Strzelecki, a spokesman for Polish-led troops, told Reuters. "We found the bodies of the two drivers, and two Iraqis standing in the street were killed."
Meanwhile, Coalition Provisional Authority spokeswoman Hilary White told Reuters that "we can confirm that more than 11 Iraqis were killed" in the attack, including "men, women, and children." At least eight coalition soldiers were also injured in the attack: six Poles, a Hungarian, and a U.S. soldier. Al-Hillah is located some 100 kilometers south of Baghdad. Soldiers from the Philippines, Romania, and Thailand are also stationed at the coalition base. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-SISTANI'S REPRESENTATIVE SAYS BREMER SHOWS U.S. IS 'FEARFUL' OF ISLAM. A representative of Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani told Beirut's Al-Manar television on 18 February that comments made by U.S. civil administrator Bremer this week show that the United States is fearful of Iraq becoming an Islamic state. Bremer suggested to reporters during a visit to a women's center in Karbala on 16 February that he might veto a constitution that is based on shari'a law. "The Transition Administrative law will establish equal rights. The text of the current draft established Islam as the state religion, but says it will be a source of inspiration for law," AFP quoted Bremer as saying. "Our position is clear. It can't be law until I sign it," he added.
Al-Sistani representative Shaykh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i told Al-Manar that Bremer's statement "reflects the fear of the U.S. administration about the adoption of Islam as [an] important source [for] legislation in Iraq.... This administration knows that the Iraqis are Islamic-oriented and want the application of Islamic shari'a" law. He added that the United States fears "that this Islamic phenomenon among average Iraqi citizens might extend to Iraqi politics and Iraqi laws." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TALABANI CLAIMS BREAKTHROUGH WITH AL-SISTANI ON ELECTIONS. Iraqi Governing Council member and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Jalal Talabani reportedly told Germany's "Spiegel Online" in a 17 February interview that he and Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have reached an agreement on when elections should be held in Iraq.
"We came to an agreement," Talabani said. "We both favor electing this country's first democratic government in seven or eight months." Talabani said the agreement came during weekend meetings with the ayatollah, adding that al-Sistani pledged to support Kurdish claims in Iraq. Asked if that meant that al-Sistani would support Kurdish autonomy, Talabani implied that was the case. "Sistani is no Ayatollah Khomeini, he is moderate, he wants no Islamic regime, and he wants no clerics in ministerial posts," Talabani said. "[Al-Sistani] has not founded a party and he assured me that he does not even want to support a party."
Meanwhile, Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported on 19 February that al-Sistani's office in Beirut has denied that the two men discussed the issue of federation during their meeting. The office further denied that al-Sistani pledged support for a Kurdish entity, the radio reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MILITANTS LAUNCH BRAZEN ATTACK ON POLICE, ICDC IN AL-FALLUJAH. Militants attacked the main police station in the Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah on 14 February, killing as many as 25 police officers and wounding forty. International media reported that between 20 and 80 prisoners were released by the 30-50 militants, who launched their brazen attack at around 8:00 am.
A simultaneous attack occurred at the nearby Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) station in the city, in an apparent attempt to stave off ICDC units from aiding the police in fighting the insurgents.
U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad on 16 February that there were indications that the attackers may have had inside help in coordinating the attack. "We understand that there may have been some communications lines that had been cut intentionally to ensure that the [ICDC] personnel were not able to reinforce the Iraqi police," Kimmitt said. "We have taken some people in the city of Al-Fallujah into custody for interrogation as part of this investigation," he added.
Asked about reports that the mayor of Al-Fallujah was in coalition custody in relation to the attacks, Kimmitt said, "I know that he was brought in -- asked to come in for questioning. If those question[s] lead to the coalition forces to suspect that he may somehow have been involved in the loss of life of 25 Iraqi police service members inside the town.... I would suspect we're going to be holding him for quite some time."
Kimmitt denied media reports that some of the attackers might have been of foreign -- specifically Lebanese and Iranian -- origin. "I can tell you that the reports that we've gotten from the 82nd [Airborne Division] indicates that they were all Iraqi citizens. With regards to who conducted the attack at Al-Fallujah, it would appear to us that the size of the attack and the tactics that were used, that these were an organization, possibly paramilitary, possibly former regime elements in the former Iraqi army," he said. "Here you had a case with a large number of paramilitary forces that looked like they had prior military training and used some level of skill in military tactics. That would cause us to lean first towards former regime elements, former military." But, he conceded, "At the same time, some of the people that we captured, some of the people that were killed, gave indications that they may have belonged to some -- had some affiliation with terrorist groups. So I'm not sure in the case of the Fallujah incident we're really going to be able to pin this down."
Asked about a motive for the attack, Kimmitt said that the militants may have been trying to free four individuals being held on suspicion of attacking an ICDC bus the week before. Asked about the identity of the scores of prisoners released in the attack, Kimmage described them as "common criminals." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FORMER IRAQI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER RELEASED BY COALITION. Sa'dun Hammadi, the former speaker of the Iraqi National Assembly, was released on 14 February after nine months in coalition custody, international media reported. Hammadi's son Ghassan confirmed to Al-Jazeera television on 16 February that his father was released. He added that his father is in good health, but remains tired and was unavailable to speak to the press.
Regarding his father's time spent in coalition custody, Ghassan Hammadi said that "he was treated with great respect, but the conditions for all of them [prisoners] were extremely bad; bad services, bad food, bad medical treatment," Reuters reported on 16 February. Sa'dun Hammadi served under the Ba'athist regime in Iraq for nearly four decades, holding various posts, including foreign minister, oil minister, and prime minister. In his early 70s, he was not included on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, and reportedly faces no formal charges. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI POLICE CAPTURE ANOTHER 'MOST WANTED.' Iraqi police on 15 February captured No. 41 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced the same day (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
Muhammad Zimam Abd al-Razzaq al-Sa'dun served as a Ba'ath Party chairman and commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia in the Al-Ta'mim and Ninawa governorates. Al-Sa'dun was hiding from police in an upstairs room of a residence in Baghdad, according to the CPA. His arrest reportedly came as the result of an Iraqi police investigation and "a series of coordinated raids" by the National Iraqi Police Service Emergency Response Unit.
Iraqi Interior Ministry Under Secretary Ahmad Kazim spoke to reporters on 15 February about the arrest, Al-Jazeera reported. Kazim asserted that al-Sa'dun's arrest exemplifies how far the Iraqi police have come in their attitudes towards the "humanitarian" treatment of criminals since the Hussein regime was in power. "When we arrested him and brought him to the designated headquarters, with all respect, we offered him tea, coffee, and cigarettes. We asked him very simple questions. We released his son...because he was not wanted. This is the difference between the current regime and the criminal regime of [Hussein]. You all know that in the time of Saddam, when any person was arrested, all those with him would be arrested as well and would be considered accomplices," Kazim said. "This is also a sign to his family that the Iraqi police force -- the police of freedom -- is operating well and in a merciful manner." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI CIVIL DEFENSE CORPS DEPLOYS 800 MEN TO SECURE NORTHERN BORDERS. The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) deployed 800 soldiers to secure a 100-kilometer stretch of highway linking the northern Iraqi cities of Kirkuk and Al-Sulaymaniyah on 16 February to prevent foreign terrorist groups from infiltrating the rest of the country from northern Iraq, AFP reported on the same day.
"The ICDC's 4th Regiment in Kirkuk, which counts 892 troops, has deployed along the highway between Kirkuk and Al-Sulaymaniyah in order to prevent the entry of Al-Qaeda and Ansar Al-Islam members coming from northern Iraq," Kirkuk ICDC chief General Anwar Hamad Amin said. The foreign fighters reportedly entered Iraq from Iran in recent days. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FIVE SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN KILLING OF IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER. Five suspects have been arrested for the 20 September shooting of Iraqi Governing Council member Aqilah al-Hashimi, who died five days later from wounds sustained in the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 September 2003), agencies reported on 17 February. An Interior Ministry official said the suspects were "paid money from a Ba'athist" to carry out the assassination.
Meanwhile, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported on 14 February that Major Abd al-Karim Husayn Abbud, assistant to the public relations officer at the Maysan police department, said that a detainee from Al-Najaf in police custody confessed to having taken part in al-Hashimi's assassination along with the other four individuals, who are reportedly from Al-Amarah.
The killers were reportedly planning to assassinate Iraqi Governing Council member Abd al-Karim al-Mahmadawi at the time of their arrest. Al-Mahmadawi, also known as the "Prince of the Marshes," led a resistance movement against the Hussein regime from the southern Iraqi marshes and was imprisoned by the regime for six years for his activities. He is from the city of Amarah and leads a small Islamist political party. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
LABOR MINISTRY OPENS UNEMPLOYMENT CENTER. The Iraqi Labor and Social Affairs Ministry opened an unemployment center in Baghdad on 29 January, according to a 14 February CPA press release (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The office is the "first official establishment allowing Iraqis the opportunity to seek employment," according to the CPA. It also offers English-language, computer, and business classes. Two more employment offices will open in Baghdad by March, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Sami al-Majun said. The unemployment center currently services around 500 jobseekers per day, down from the 1,000 per day who sought help from the ministry last summer. The center reportedly still has more jobs available than it can fill daily. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
11,000 IRAQI TEACHERS GRADUATE FROM TRAINING PROGRAMS. Approximately 11,000 secondary-school teachers in Iraq graduated on 16 February from a weeklong teacher-training program that was designed to provide teachers with insight into the latest instructional methods, the Coalition Provisional Authority announced the same day (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
The nationwide training sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was a vast undertaking. Since September 2003, some 830 secondary-school "master trainers" throughout Iraq's 18 governorates have received training on methodologies, lesson planning, student assessment, student rights, and classroom management. The trainers then facilitate weeklong training programs such as the one that graduated 11,000 teachers this week. To date, some 33,000 secondary-school teachers and administrators in Iraq have been trained under the program. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BROTHER OF FORMER ANSAR AL-ISLAM LEADER KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ. The brother of the former leader of the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam was kidnapped in Iraqi Kurdistan on 11 February, Oslo's NRK reported on 16 February. Sayf al-Din Faraj Ahmad, brother to Ansar leader Mullah Krekar, who remains jailed in Oslo, was kidnapped in broad daylight in his hometown of Sulaymaniyah.
Ahmad's family members have accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) for playing a role in the abduction. "We have received clear indications that the PUK is behind the kidnapping. We have spoken to several people in the organization and they all say that we should just take it easy and wait -- then our brother will come back," Khalid Faraj Ahmad said.
The PUK has long-battled Ansar Al-Islam in northern Iraq. Coalition and PUK peshmerga forces struck an Ansar stronghold at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, destroying 18 villages (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 March 2003). According to NRK, the reason for the abduction is unknown. Sayf al-Din is reportedly not politically active in Al-Sulaymaniyah. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FORMER IRAQI INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SAYS HE WAS TARGET OF ROADSIDE BOMB. The former head of Iraqi intelligence told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television on 16 February that his vehicle was targeted by a remote-controlled roadside bomb placed on a road near his home in Samarra on the same day. Wafiq al-Samarra'i, who now leads the National Salvation Movement, blamed foreign fighters for the attack. "The explosion took place two or three meters away from my car," he said, adding that while he was not injured in the blast, three children and an adult on the street were injured.
Asked why he suspected foreign fighters, al-Samarra'i said, "I am familiar with methods followed both by the regime and other people." He added that "Two weeks ago I published two issues of a newspaper calling on citizens in central areas and...on my brothers Arab Sunnis to halt all forms of operations since they greatly harm" Iraq. Asked whether he thought the attack was related to media reports linking him to the new Iraqi intelligence apparatus, al-Samarra'i would neither confirm nor deny the reports. He said, "I am ready to assume any role the Iraqi people want. I only serve the Iraqi people, including Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans. I do not seek a post. I do not need a post...I did not move against or harm anyone. However, although I do not like to use the language of challenge, I can confidently say that I challenge those cowards."
Al-Samarra'i stressed to Al-Arabiyah that he only served as deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's intelligence chief for 38 days before rebelling against the regime and joining the resistance. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SPOKESMAN FOR DEMOCRATIC ISLAMIC TREND DISCUSSES HIS PARTY'S ASPIRATIONS. Muhammad Abd al-Jabbar al-Shabut told Baghdad's "Al-Qasim al-Mustarak" in an interview published on 15 February that his party seeks to establish a democratic government in Iraq based on Shari'a law, saying, "The mechanisms of democracy cannot be actualized if we do not take into consideration its sound and correct place in the civilized Islamic domain."
Al-Shabut said that his party sees national elections as the "only legitimate mechanism to restore authority to the people" of Iraq. Asked whether Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's calls for early national direct elections represents a view of only some Shi'ites in Iraq, al-Shabut said: "Democracy is not a Shi'ite demand but the real demand of all democrats irrespective of their political, ideological, or denominational affiliations." "It is regrettable that the essence of democracy is being dealt with from a sectarian perspective.... If some are looking at the principle of elections from a sectarian perspective they are pronouncing the death sentence on democracy in Iraq."
Al-Shabut also discussed his party's proposal for the establishment of a shadow government in Iraq. He said that the proposal is the embodiment of a political democratic process that would give Iraqis a political alternative to attain their interests. "This alternative is made up of two elements, namely, the political program and the shadow government." He did not specify however, on what that "political democratic process" might look like. Al-Shabut did say that his party's proposal was being discussed with its "allies" including "several prominent Iraqi political currents inside and outside the [Iraqi] Governing Council." He added that his party had signed "several written political agreements with some parties," namely with Dr. Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i's Al-Da'wah Party and the Hizb al-Fadilah or Virtue Party. Al-Shabut also claimed that his party has put forward an unofficial draft constitution for review --presumably by the Iraqi Governing Council -- and plans to submit an official draft constitution in the near future.
Asked how he would define his party, he said: "The Democratic Islamic Trend is not a Shi'ite political entity. It is a framework that is open to all the Iraqi people irrespective of their religion or race or sect." Asked what could be done to raise the democratic process in Iraq, al-Shabut called for a broad awareness campaign to educate Iraqis on democracy, the actual exercise of democracy, and the establishment of a social security system "in order to provide the citizen with his basic needs for housing medical care, schools, food and security." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS SCRAPPING CAUCUS IDEA. A number of Iraqi Governing Council members are reportedly moving away from a proposed U.S. plan to hold caucuses in Iraq to elect an interim Iraqi leadership, AP reported on 13 February. Several council members from different factions are now supporting a plan that would expand the Governing Council, which would assume power on the 30 June handover date. Nationwide direct elections would then be scheduled for later this year.
The plan has the strongest support among the council's 13 Shi'ite representatives, according to AP. However, Sunni council member Samir Shakir Mahmud told the news agency that the proposal has not been finalized or discussed at length with UN adviser Lakhdar Brahimi. The news agency later reported on 18 February that Sunni Kurd Governing Council member Mahmud Uthman also objects to the idea of caucuses. "I think that the caucus system doesn't suit the Iraq situation," AP quoted Uthman as saying. "This system is used in the United States, and Iraq is different from the United States. The Americans now think that the caucuses might be not the best solution in Iraq."
Meanwhile, Shi'ite Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told AP that the caucus idea is "gone with the wind" and the only viable solution that Iraqis would support would be a general election, AP reported on 18 February. Al-Rubay'i earlier said that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has pushed for early national direct elections, would support an expanded-council formula, AP reported on 13 February. Al-Sistani previously objected to the idea of an expanded council. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. COMMANDER'S CONVOY ATTACKED IN IRAQ. A convoy carrying U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid was attacked on 12 February as it approached the headquarters of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) in Al-Fallujah, the Coalition Provisional Authority's website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) announced the same day.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters during a weekly press briefing in Baghdad that militants fired three rocket-propelled grenades at Abizaid's convoy from nearby rooftops as the convoy approached the ICDC compound. "A local mosque was thought to be harboring the attackers, and [ICDC] soldiers conducted a search of the mosque without result," he said. Asked whether he believed the attackers had any prior knowledge that General Abizaid would be at the compound, Kimmitt said, "Whether we can directly link this attack to any foreknowledge...is a bit of a leap that we're not prepared to make at this time." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FORMER AL-MAJID BODYGUARD REPORTEDLY GUNNED DOWN IN BAGHDAD. Former Iraqi Brigadier General Marwan al-Samarra'i, who served as the bodyguard of Ali Hassan al-Majid, cousin of President Saddam Hussein and the apparent architect of the 1988 genocidal Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, was reportedly gunned down in Baghdad on 13 February, Baghdad's "Al-Furat" reported on 14 February.
Al-Samarra'i had reportedly been in hiding at a relative's house in the 9 Nisan district of Baghdad since fleeing his own home in Baghdad last spring. According to the report, unidentified gunmen arrived at the house in a new Land Cruiser bearing no license plates, and opened fire on al-Samarra'i with Kalashnikov assault rifles. The newspaper reports that al-Samarra'i played a major role in the 1988 gassing of the Kurds at Halabjah. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
COALITION ANNOUNCES NEW REWARD PROGRAM. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt at a 17 February press conference in Baghdad announced a new reward program for information leading to the "capture of terrorists and noncompliant members of the former regime" the Coalition Provisional Authority announced (http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
The new, three-tiered program offers a reward of $1 million for the capture of any of the 10 individuals remaining on the coalition's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime. The second tier offers $200,000 for information leading to the capture of any "members and personnel formerly associated with the [Hussein] regime who had regional responsibilities." The third tier offers a reward of $50,000 for information leading to the capture of individual operatives running local terrorist cells. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSIRAQ'S NEIGHBORS MEET IN KUWAIT. Iraq's neighbors and Egypt gathered in Kuwait on 14-15 February for their 5th annual meeting on Iraq, international media reported. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari led an Iraqi delegation to the meeting. UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also joined the foreign ministers from Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey at the meeting.
Zebari told AP prior to the start of the meeting that he would try to allay fears amongst Iraq's neighbors that Iraq might break up. "We understand their fears...we have come to reassure them that the Iraqi people are committed to national unity, to Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said. "No group or faction has any extra agenda to divide Iraq. We are all united to build a democratic Iraq." Saudi Prince Saud al-Faysal had told reporters before the meeting: "Everybody has concerns about the partition of Iraq," AFP reported.
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaykh Muhammad al-Sabah opened the conference saying: "There is no doubt that all our countries agree that the only way we have to follow is the way leading to new, free, unified, Iraq that guarantees security and stability for the regional states," KUNA reported.
In a speech delivered to the conference, Zebari said that Iraq is prepared to sign a non-aggression, security pact with its neighbors, KUNA reported on 14 February. "We confirm that the new Iraq is trying best to achieve harmony with neighboring states instead of the past experience of contradiction and opposition that prevailed during the [Hussein] regime's era," Zebari said. He later told Al-Jazeera on 15 February that he received a good response on his proposal to form bilateral security committees to monitor cross-border infiltrations into Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAN'S DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER PROPOSES OPEN BORDER BETWEEN IRAN, IRAQ. Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Ali Asghar Ahmadi has reportedly proposed that Iran and Iraq cancel the use of passports for travel between the two states, Al-Sulaymaniyah's "Hawal" reported on 14 February. Speaking of the proposal, Ahmadi said: "We want to create conditions in [the] future for Iranians and Iraqis to visit both countries without a passport." He added that since tens of thousands of Iranians are traveling to Iraq daily to visit the Shi'ite holy sites in Al-Najaf and Karbala, he hoped that citizens from both states could have the opportunity to travel between the two states using only an identification card. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQUN SAYS ELECTIONS CAN'T BE HELD BY 30 JUNE. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on 19 February that national direct elections cannot be held in Iraq before the 30 June deadline for the transfer of power, the UN website (http://www.un.org) reported on the same day.
Annan's comments came after he briefed 46 delegations comprising the so-called "group of friends on Iraq" on the UN elections assessment team's recent trip to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004). "We hope that as we move forward we will be able to work with the Iraqis and the coalition to find a mechanism for establishing a caretaker or an interim government until such time that elections are organized. But we shared with them our sense of the emerging consensus or understanding that elections cannot be held before the end of June, that the June 30th date for handover of sovereignty must be respected, and that we need to find a mechanism to create a caretaker government and then help prepare the elections later, some time later in the future," Annan said.
UN envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi told the same group of reporters at the UN on 19 February that Secretary-General Annan will be sending his recommendations to the Iraqi Governing Council and to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq "on the basis of the facts that we have assembled" in order to forge a plan on how to proceed towards elections. "The United Nations will be resuming its work to help the political process, first of all up to the 30th of June and then after the 30th of June when sovereignty will be restored to Iraq," Brahimi said. "When elections take place, all Iraqis from the south, the north, and in the middle, all Iraqis must participate," Brahimi added, in a possible move to dispel rumors that partial elections might take place in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UNHCR EXAMINING ISSUE OF REFUGEES DISPLACED BY IRAQ WAR. The United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kamel Morjane was in Jordan on 17 February to discuss the plight of refugees displaced by Operation Iraqi Freedom, the UN News Center reported on the same day.
Some 400 refugees are currently housed at the Ruwayshid refugee camp, and another 1,200 are living in a nearby makeshift site "in no man's land," UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond said. "UNHCR is working to find a solution for the refugees in the two camps, particularly more than 400 Palestinians, many of whom would like to go on to other countries in the region since fleeing Iraq last year," he added.
Morjane also met with Iraqi officials in Amman this week to develop a national strategy for the protection, care, and assistance of refugees, returnees, and other displaced persons, the UN News Center reported. "Intensive brainstorming sessions were conducted during the two-day meeting on issues such as assistance needs, capacity building, coordination, property rights, and housing requirements," Redmond said of Morjane's meetings. Some 6,800 Iraqi refugees -- mostly from the 1991 Gulf War -- were repatriated to Iraq from Saudi Arabia and Iran during the past six months with the help of UNHCR. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQINTERNATIONAL MONITORING BOARD FOR IRAQ SETS UP WEBSITE. The International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 October 2003) that was established to monitor the use of donor money held in the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) has set up a website (http://www.iamb.info). According to a 13 February press release posted on the site, auditors have yet to be appointed to oversee the spending of funds.
"The IAMB continues to attach the highest priority to finalizing the appointment of external auditors for the audit of the export sales of Iraqi oil, petroleum products and natural gas, and the operations of the Development Fund for Iraq, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 (22 May 2003). The IAMB agreed to the Statement of Work for such audits with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the CPA has invited proposals by February 18, 2004. The IAMB will work with the CPA to approve expeditiously the appointment of duly qualified external auditors," the press release stated.
Membership of the IAMB includes one representative each for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the director-general of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), and the president of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank). In addition, the IAMB in consultation with the CPA may appoint up to five observers, including Iraqi nationals nominated by the Iraqi Governing Council. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
CITIGROUP, OPIC PROPOSE FINANCING IRAQI IMPORTS. Citigroup Inc and the U.S.-run Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) have proposed a $200 million joint venture that would allow both entities to back letters of credit issued by some Iraqi banks, agencies reported on 17 February.
Under the plan, Citigroup would contribute $50 million and OPIC $150 million, OPIC spokesman Larry Spinelli said. The Trade Bank of Iraq is currently paying cash for Iraqi imports. The plan would allow Citicorp and OPIC to instead issue letters of credit against Iraq's oil revenues held in the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) on behalf of the Trade Bank of Iraq. If an Iraqi bank failed to honor the letter of credit, OPIC and Citigroup would guarantee its value, Spinelli said, and then recoup their funds from the U.S.-run DFI.
In order to be initiated, the plan needs to be submitted through the Congressional notification process. It is unknown however, whether the plan would remain in place once power is handed over to Iraqis on 30 June. The interim Iraqi government is slated to take over DFI on that date. "There is no future commitment of any kind, either of oil revenues or commitment that binds any future government to continue this facility," Spinelli said. "Our hope is that whoever comes in, the Iraqi provisional government that follows, will see this as a good, positive thing and continue it. That is our hope, but there is nothing that binds them to that," he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.K. TO GIVE $3.8 MILLION TO REBUILD IRAQI JUSTICE SYSTEM. The British government announced in a 17 February press released that it will provide more than 2 million pounds ($ 3.8 million) to rebuild Iraq's judicial system, according to the 10 Downing Street website (http://www.number-10.gov.uk). The funds will go toward training some 1,000 judges, prosecutors, and lawyers beginning this month. It will also fund "study tours" and partnerships between institutions. "Over the last 30 years Iraq's judicial system was deeply politicized," U.K. International Development Secretary Hilary Benn was quoted as saying. "Corruption, torture, and other abuses by law enforcement agencies were widespread. This assistance will provide much-needed help to the reform process which is so critical to the wider rebuilding of Iraqi society." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
HUNGARY VOWS TO CONTINUE IRAQ MISSION DESPITE CASUALTIES. Reacting to an 18 February incident in which 10 Hungarian soldiers were injured by truck bombs in Iraq, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said Hungary remains committed to carrying out its mission in that country, AP reported the same day. At least 13 people were killed and more than 60 injured when two explosive-laden trucks blew up outside a military camp in Al-Hillah, some 100 kilometers south of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). The incident marked the first Hungarian casualties since their deployment to Iraq in August 2003. "Instead of making us think about pulling out, [the attack] has given us a strong incentive to continue our job," Juhasz said. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy stressed that Hungarian troops are in Iraq "for the right reasons," according to reports in the Hungarian media. The opposition FIDESZ party demanded an urgent meeting of the parliamentary Defense Committee following news of the incident. (Michael Shafir)
SOUTH KOREA COMMITS TROOPS TO IRAQ. The South Korean parliament voted in favor of sending some 3,000 troops to Iraq on 13 February, Reuters reported. The deployment was approved by a wide margin -- 155 in favor and 50 against -- with seven members abstaining. Sixty-one members of parliament reportedly did not show up for the vote.
South Korean officials said that they would now go ahead with a plan to send some 1,600 engineering troops and medics and another 1,400 combat troops to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk by late April. Kirkuk has been racked with tension in recent months as Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans vie for dominance in the city. Tens of thousands of Arabs were relocated to Kirkuk in the 1980s under the Hussein regime's Arabization policy. They now accuse Kurds of attempting to change the demographic composition of the city by moving Kurds back to Kirkuk.
South Korea already has nearly 700 noncombat troops in Iraq. The new troop deployment will make South Korea the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq behind the U.S. and U.K., Reuters reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
END NOTEREFORMING THE IRAQI ARMY
"If the Americans want to leave, they have to first build up our security forces," says Nasir Chaderchi, a Sunni member of the Iraqi Governing Council. With the 30 June deadline for the transfer of authority to a transitional Iraqi government fast approaching, the reform of the Iraqi security forces has indeed become a vital concern. As a result, the training of local security forces has been accelerated, and the 2,000-strong Iraqi army is expected to number 40,000 members in less than a year.
With violent resistance on the ground, strict financial constraints, and strong ethnic cleavages, the ambitious reform process has been set back. The recent attacks against police and army recruitment posts in Al-Iskandariya, Baghdad, and Al-Fallujah, which claimed the lives of over 100 Iraqis, constitute the culmination of a series of events that have plagued the reform of the Iraqi security forces.
First came the backlash from laid-off former soldiers. Considering the new army will not be anywhere close in size to its 500,000-strong predecessor, only a small fraction of former Iraqi soldiers can hope to get readmitted into the military structure, leaving the rest to rebuild their lives in their capacity as civilians. In Iraq's currently unruly and insecure economic environment, this move has made thousands of Iraqi men financially and emotionally vulnerable targets for recruitment by the insurgents. As a result, many have taken part in raucous protests due to unpaid allowances, while others have been arrested for active involvement in the insurgency.
The provision of financial security to laid-off soldiers has thus been a challenge -- a challenge that has also plagued the army recruits currently on board. Initial salaries, ranging from $60-$180 a month based on rank, proved to be broadly insufficient and led more than a third of the first graduation class to quit the service after their nine-week basic training. Salaries have been supplemented by a $72 hazardous duty allowance, but attrition rates among the recruits are still at a high 20-25 percent. In light of the serious financial constraints, high attrition rates, and pressing deadlines, a number of future Iraqi police and army officers have been training in Jordan so as to ensure that the 40,000-strong Iraqi army is ready by October.
Apart from the financial hurdles and time constraints, the ethnic diversity of Iraq has been an additional impediment to creating a unified army. In order to reflect proportionately the multiethnic character of Iraq, the new army consists of 54 percent Shi'ites, 15 percent Sunnis, and 12 percent Kurds, with other groups -- including Turkomans and Christians -- accounting for the rest. Given these tribal and sectarian divisions, a unified army has to inspire a sense of cohesion that surpasses loyalty to family, faction, and tribe, and must render the new oath to "voluntarily serve in the cause of freedom from oppression for my country, Iraq" meaningful. This is particularly difficult considering past strained relations among the different groups, stemming from a history of unequal status and violent repression.
Despite these hardships, the coalition authorities appear aware of the fact that a multiethnic army -- with its hierarchical structure, discipline, and chain of command -- is considerably easier to attain than the self-enforcing power-sharing democratic institutions required for a free and democratic Iraq. This process poses a serious test for the coalition authorities: if they cannot create a functional army, they certainly cannot aspire to a democratic Iraq. Therefore, the authorities appear determined to accomplish a successful reform of the Iraqi army as an important step toward the establishment of a democratic Iraqi state.
However, there seems to be a fine line as to how powerful they would like the Iraqi army to be. Iraq, which has no history of a functioning democracy, has plenty of history of military interference in domestic political affairs. Judging by Iraq's history of coup d'etats and President Saddam Hussein's rise to power, the army has traditionally been Iraq's strongest institution. The interim administration appears aware of that risk and has worked hard to encourage the formation of a decentralized defense structure that nurtures rather than challenges the democratic structures and institutions that are slowly being put in place.
Apart from the police and the army, the security forces consist of a facilities' protection service, a border and customs police, and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. With the purported goal ultimately being the creation of a democratic Iraq, which will spread democracy in the Middle East, the lack of monopoly on the means of violence on the part of the army will hopefully lead to the establishment of a body able to protect Iraq, while providing enough internal checks and balances to constrain potential future abuses of power.
Fotini Christia is a Ph.D. candidate in public policy at Harvard University.