26 March 2004, Volume 7, Number 11
INSIDE IRAQIRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS COUNTRY CANNOT TAKE OVER SECURITY IN JUNE. Nuri Badran said on 23 March that the Interior Ministry would not be ready to handle internal security in Iraq when the U.S.-led coalition transfers authority to Iraq on 30 June, Reuters reported on the same day. "We are not ready to be in charge of security in two or three months' time," Badran said. "There are many requirements that must be fulfilled before then -- like equipment, security plans, the security apparatus to execute those plans, border controls. Some of those requirements are partially fulfilled, others are not at all."
The Interior Minister said that it was critical to ensure that Iraq's militias are disbanded before the transfer of power, Reuters reported. There are dozens of militias in the country varying in size from small armed groups to the 50,000-strong Kurdish peshmerga forces and the 10,000-strong Badr Brigades (see next item). Badran said that militias should not be permitted to operate freely, saying: "If we distribute the authority to use force, it will be very difficult to control the situation and it will lead to chaos." He also suggested that the continued existence of militias would threaten the authority of his ministry. "For some people it's not in their interest to see a strong Interior Ministry. They want their militias to grow and they see a strong Interior Ministry as a threat to that."
Badran also told the news agency that U.S. forces often seize Iraqi prisoners in police custody, and suggested that intelligence sharing is becoming a problem. "Most of the people we arrest are taken away by the coalition forces. We know nothing of them after that, this is one of our major problems," Badran said. "Even with our limited capabilities we are providing officers to monitor suspects who, once they are arrested, are taken away by the Americans. We don't get any feedback from [the U.S. forces]. That is really frustrating," Badran added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI MILITIAS PROVISIONALLY AGREE TO DISBAND. Iraq's two largest militias have reached a tentative agreement with the United States to dissolve their forces, washingtonpost.com reported on 22 March. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr Brigades and the Kurdish peshmerga forces will be offered the opportunity to join any of the new Iraqi security organizations or claim substantial retirement benefits as incentives to lay down their arms and disband, the newspaper reported.
Negotiations are still under way, and U.S. officials said they expect an agreement within weeks. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani confirmed that Kurdish officials have "an agreement with the coalition to find an honorable solution for the peshmerga." The estimated 50,000-member peshmerga force was the only militia group permitted to remain armed under the U.S.-led occupation. SCIRI's 10,000-strong Badr Brigades were reportedly disbanded late last year, but apparently never actually were. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer has repeatedly said there is no place for militias in the new Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
DEMONSTRATIONS TURN VIOLENT IN AL-RAMADI. An estimated 2,000 demonstrators in the city of Al-Ramadi clashed with Iraqi police on 23 March while protesting Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Shaykh Ahmad Yassin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004), Beirut's Al-Manar television reported. A general strike was called in the city following Yassin's assassination early on 22 March. Three protesters were killed during clashes with police. Meanwhile, Cairo's MENA reported that "many" Iraqis were killed or injured in the clashes. The news agency reported that U.S. forces opened fire on hundreds of demonstrators after they clashed with police. The MENA report was not corroborated by any other media outlet. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BREMER TO ESTABLISH DEFENSE MINISTRY THIS WEEK. Meanwhile, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer announced on 24 March that he would formally establish the new defense ministry this week, RFE/RL reported. "One of the primary duties of any state is to protect its individual citizens from foreign aggression. Iraq's security is the first concern of Iraqi citizens. We hear it every day and [it is] the top priority of the coalition. To assure that Iraq has the structures necessary to do so, I will formally create the new Iraqi Ministry of Defense and a cabinet-level, national-security committee later this week," he said at a ceremony marking 100 days until the transfer of power from the coalition back to Iraqis.
The Turkish daily "Sabah" reported on 23 March that Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga commander Babekar Bedirhan would be appointed chief of staff of the new Iraqi Army. Bedirhan is well-known and reportedly worked with Turkish forces on behalf of the Kurdistan Democratic Party to fight the Turkish-Kurdish resistance group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. The daily also reported that the defense minister appointment is expected to go to a secular Shi'ite personality, and that Brusk Shaways, the younger brother of Kurdistan National Assembly President Rowsch Shaways, will be appointed deputy defense minister. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MILITANTS IN IRAQ CONTINUE TO ATTACK POLICE, CIVILIANS. Militants continue to attack police and civilians in an effort to further destabilize the country, according to international media reports. Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 23 March that five Iraqi police recruits were killed in Al-Hillah when militants pulled alongside a bus transporting them to work and opened fire. Reuters reported that nine policemen were killed and two injured in the incident. Just one day later, militants killed Al-Hillah police chief Colonel Yassin Khudayr, riddling his car with bullets in the nearby town of Al-Musayyab, Reuters reported on 24 March.
On 24 March, two policemen were killed and two others wounded when militants attacked an Iraqi police station in Kirkuk, police commander Major General Turhan Yusuf told Al-Arabiyah. The same day, militants in Baghdad fired rockets at the Sheraton Hotel and the coalition compound, wounding one foreign contractor, Reuters reported. In Al-Fallujah, two civilians were killed and two wounded when they were caught in crossfire between U.S. forces and militants in the early morning hours of 24 March. A U.S. spokeswoman said that fighting in Al-Fallujah broke out after militants opened fire after a roadside bomb detonated near a U.S. military vehicle. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in that attack. Two roadside bombs also detonated in two separate attacks in Mosul on 24 March, Reuters reported.
Six Iraqis were injured on 22 March when a suicide car bomber struck a U.S. military base some 50 kilometers north of Baghdad, Reuters reported. The bomber detonated his vehicle at the gates to Camp Anaconda, located near the town of Balad. Major Neal O'Brien told the news agency that two members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) injured in the attack are in serious condition. There was no word on the condition of the other four Iraqis reportedly injured. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AS IRAQI POLICE SAY AL-QAEDA RECRUITING IRAQIS TO BE SUICIDE BOMBERS. An Iraqi police officer told "The Times" of 22 March that Al-Qaeda is increasingly recruiting young Iraqis, brainwashing, and even drugging them before sending them out to commit terrorist acts against their own people. Iraqi police Colonel Karim Sultan told the British daily that raids along the Saudi border before the 2 March Ashura bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004) led to the arrest of a dozen men in possession of audiotapes of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and some $20 million worth of narcotics.
Sultan said the drugs are shipped from Afghanistan via Iran. They are then transported to Iraq with the crowds of Iranian pilgrims that cross the border to visit the holy sites in Karbala and Al-Najaf. The drugs also made their way to the Saudi market via the same Afghan-Iran route, he said. "It's a huge network. They have a lot of different contacts. It's almost impossible to count. Bin Laden is starting to funnel his money in here," Sultan said.
Regarding the recruitment, he added: "It's a long process to brainwash them. They seduce them with money, then start to use drugs on them until they are half conscious." The Iraqis are then sent out on missions. The antispasmotic prescription drug Artane is a favorite, he said, because it reportedly induces a sense of invulnerability in the user. Sultan speculated that recruitment is taking place in villages, where he has heard Al-Qaeda has sponsored lectures. Sultan said that Al-Qaeda communicates through a variety of means: Internet, satellite telephones, letters, and couriers. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ASSYRIAN GROUP LOBBIES PRESIDENT BUSH ON BEHALF OF IRAQI ASSYRIANS. Iraqi Assyrian National Congress President Sargon Dadesho sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush last week expressing his group's opposition to the Transitional Administration Law and calling for greater rights for Assyrians in Iraq, Zindamagazine.com reported on 15 March. In his letter, Dadesho said that the law is "unbalanced and undemocratic." "It seems that another genocide has been committed against our Assyrian people, the indigenous people of Iraq, under your rule. This crime was initiated in Iraq by the enemies of the Assyrian people who want to claim their historical lands and wipe out the Assyrian nationality," the letter stated. "These conspirators employed an agent of their own creation, namely the 'Christian representative' in the Governing Council to further their evil scheme," it continued.
Dadesho also complained that "a new fabricated nation has been created in Iraq under the name of 'Chaldo-Assyrian' to replace the historical legal and holy name of the 'Assyrian Nation.' This is an unforgivable offense committed by the American Government and the unelected Governing Council." He further rejected the wording of the transitional law, which refers to Assyrians as a group or community, claiming that the reference obliterates the Assyrian nationality. He also claims that the law fails to recognize the national rights of Iraqi Assyrians. Dadesho called on the U.S. government and Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to take immediate steps to protect the national and human rights of the Assyrians in Iraq, and urged the U.S. not to listen to the Christian representative Yonadam Yousif Kanna, who he claims does not speak for the Assyrian people. Dadesho's group is based in California. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-SISTANI, GOVERNING COUNCIL CONDEMN ASSASSINATION OF HAMAS FOUNDER. Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a statement on his website (http://www.najaf.org) on 22 March condemning Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Shaykh Ahmad Yassin as a "repulsive criminal act" and calling on Arab and Muslim people to "consolidate their ranks and unify their word and work diligently to liberate the seized [Palestinian] land and reinstate the stolen rights."
Al-Sistani said Yassin was a scholar and martyr "who dedicated his life to the service of his country and religion and became an icon of patience and resistance."
Meanwhile, Iraqi Governing Council member and head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim told Al-Jazeera on 22 March that Yassin's "martyrdom" "not only affects Iraq but it also affects the Arab and Islamic nation." He added that Yassin's killing "will make us all reconsider our positions with regard to resisting the Zionists. It will also urge us to strengthen our unity, know our enemies, and stand beside the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause." Governing Council members Salah al-Din Muhammad Baha al-Din and Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i also condemned Yassin's assassination in interviews with Al-Jazeera. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MAYSAN MARSH ARAB COUNCIL OPENS DIALOGUE TO REHABILITATE MARSHLANDS. The Maysan Marsh Arab Council held its founding conference in Amarah on 20 March to discuss possibilities for rehabilitating Iraq's marshlands, the U.S. State Department announced in a 22 March press release (http://usinfo.state.gov). The council's goal is to "provide a voice for the Marsh Arabs of Maysan so their interests and concerns will be factored into national and international plans that affect the marshes," the press release stated.
Nearly all the marshlands were drained in Iraq in the 1980s by the Hussein regime. Water was diverted for massive irrigation projects, leading to massive environmental degradation. The program also aided the regime by thwarting the Shi'a opposition's ability to use the marshlands for cover. Conference participants discussed "numerous issues surrounding proposed plans to re-flood parts of the vast network of wetlands along the Tigris River basin." Participants expressed concerns over the possible environmental and agricultural impact, managing returning refugee populations, and the allocation of arable land. Several follow-up meetings are expected. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI SHI'ITE GRAND AYATOLLAH ASKS UN NOT TO SUPPORT INTERIM CONSTITUTION... Ali al-Sistani has reportedly asked the United Nations not to endorse the Iraqi Transitional Administration Law, Reuters reported on 22 March. Al-Sistani told UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi in a letter last week that he would boycott the presence of a UN advisory team in Iraq if the world body endorses the law, which serves as Iraq's interim constitution.
"The religious establishment fears the occupation authorities will work to include this new UN resolution to give it international legitimacy," al-Sistani wrote. The ayatollah specifically said the interim constitution would lead to sectarian strife because it calls for a three-person presidency to be composed of one Sunni and one Shi'ite Muslim, and one Kurd. "This builds a basis for sectarianism," he said. An anonymous person at al-Sistani's office in Al-Najaf on 22 March told "RFE/RL Iraq Report" that al-Sistani wrote the letter to Brahimi.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said on 21 March that the Iraqi Governing Council would ask the UN to issue a Security Council resolution on the transfer of power in Iraq, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. Zebari reportedly told reporters in Amman that a resolution would give legitimacy to the transfer of power scheduled for 30 June. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
PUK OFFICE ATTACKED IN MOSUL. Militants on 20 March attacked the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan office in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, international media reported. According to Voice of the Mujahedin radio, militants fired mortar shells at the office, killing a passerby and wounding three guards and a civilian.
Local police Major Dara al-Surchi told Reuters that four mortars were fired and one landed near the building, killing an Iraqi. Meanwhile, Iraqi Turkoman Front leader Subhi Sabir escaped an assassination attempt on 19 March when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his vehicle in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Anatolia news agency reported on 20 March. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ARAB-KURDISH DIALOGUE CONFERENCE OPENS. The first Arab-Kurdish dialogue conference opened in Irbil on 18 March, KurdSat television reported. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani participated in the conference alongside members of the Iraqi Governing Council, ministers, and political and national figures. Representatives from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) also attended. The main theme of the conference focused on the need to establish firm relations based on mutual understanding and the importance of holding national dialogue among all Iraqis, KurdSat television reported. Kurds living above the 36th parallel in northern Iraq were protected by the coalition for 12 years. In that time, the Kurdish parties established their own regional governments and a revitalization of Kurdish culture took place. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI POLICE ACCUSE DANISH TROOPS FOR NOT THWARTING CHILD ABDUCTIONS. Iraqi police are reportedly blaming Danish peacekeeping troops in Iraq for not doing enough to thwart the increasing incidents of child abductions, Copenhagen's "Berlingske Tidende" reported on 23 March. Police reportedly say that the Danish troops are responsible for protecting the civilian population, but as many as 30 children have been abducted in the western Iraqi city of Qurnah alone since Danish troops entered the city last summer. The Danish military says their attempts to locate abducted children have been obstructed by poor intelligence gathered by the Iraqi police. "Berlingske Tidende" reports that abductions continue to rise in the city. Most of the children have been freed after their families paid a ransom, but five are still missing. Denmark has some 500 troops stationed in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on 17 March that Danish troops would remain in the country. "The government has no plans to withdraw Danish forces from Iraq. That would be a victory for the terrorists and be a fatal signal that terrorism pays," Rasmussen said during a debate in parliament, Reuters reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSAGREEMENT ON IRAN-IRAQ PILGRIMAGES FORTHCOMING. Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, who is serving as the head of the Iraqi Governing Council and who visited Iran earlier in the month, said on 21 March that the two countries will sign an agreement on the pilgrimage traffic soon, IRNA reported the next day. Making pilgrimages to shrines is a practice specific to the Shi'a branch of Islam, the majority faith in Iran and Iraq.
The majority of the most important shrines are in Iraq. The shrine to Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib is in Al-Najaf, the shrine to Imam Hussein is in Karbala, shrines to Imam Musa al-Kazim and Muhammad al-Jawad are in Al-Kazimiyah, and shrines to Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askari are in Samarra. Two other shrines -- to Imam Hassan and Imam Ali Zain al-Abidin -- are in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
There are more than 1,100 shrines and pilgrimage sites in Iran, according to the Library of Congress Country Study on Iran. The most important shrine in Iran is the one to Imam Reza, which is in Mashhad. Second in importance is in Qom and is that of Imam Rezai's sister, Fatimah, known as Hazrat-i Masumeh. A brother of Imam Reza is buried at Shah Cheragh in Shiraz, and another relative is entombed at the Shah Abdul Azim shrine in Rey, which is south of Tehran.
Reacting to the 2 March Ashura bombings in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq announced on 14 March that it would close 16 of the 19 official crossing points between Iraq and Iran as of 20 March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 March 2003). This does not seem to have had a tremendous impact on the pilgrimage traffic and, on 21 March, Kermanshah Province police chief General Javad Hamed said that 5,000 Iranian pilgrims cross the border every day, IRNA reported. Hamed said 1,500 people cross at the Shalamcheh border crossing in Khuzestan Province and 3,500 people cross at the Mehran border crossing in Ilam Province.
The Mehran crossing was closed on 2 March because of security concerns after the Ashura bombings in Iraq, and it was reopened on 17 March, ISNA reported. On 22 March Colonel Cheraghi, the deputy chief of police in Ilam Province, said that about 14,000 Iraqi pilgrims have entered the country in the last six days, IRNA reported. He added that 1,400 Iranian pilgrims have entered Iraq in the same period.
Ilam Province Governor-General Karim Shurangiz went on to say, "Only convoys of pilgrims who have obtained permits from the State Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization can go to Iraq via this border post," ISNA reported on 22 March. Shurangiz added: contrary to the past, when only one passport was required for every 37 people, now each person must have a passport.
A number of shrines and pilgrimage sites are located in Ilam Province, which borders Iraq. The major shrines in the province are the Aminzadeh Saleh and the Jaber Mausoleum in Dareh Shahr, the Imamzadeh Sayyid Ibrahim (a grandson of Imam Baqer) in Dehloran, and the Imamzadeh Sayyid Muhammad Abed (a son of Imam Musa Kazem and a brother of Imam Reza) in Mehran.
Other pilgrimage sites in Ilam Province include Sayyid Akbar near Dehloran Sayyid Hassan on the Mehran-Dehloran Road, and the Sayyid Ibrahim Qatal pilgrimage site on the Mehran border road. The Abbas pilgrimage site is in Dehloran, the Sayyid Fakhredin pilgrimage site is close to Abtaf Waterfall, and the Jaber Ansari pilgrimage site and the Madar Zuleikha pilgrimage site are in Dareh Shahr. The Sayyid Salah al-Din Muhammad site is in Abdanan, and the Abbas pilgrimage site and the Baqer pilgrimage site are in Shirvan va Chardavol. The Sayyid Abdullah pilgrimage site is near Sarab Aivan and the Haji Hazer pilgrimage site is in Aivan.
Pilgrims' interest in some of these sites has led to problems. A commentary in the 19 February issue of "Peyk-i Ilam" weekly said that the authorities should pay closer attention to these sites because of the demands imposed by the pilgrimage traffic, and it warned of the danger posed by "the various diseases on the ground and inside the tombs." The commentary warned of a "dysfunctional situation" and said, "the stench aggravates every human being." Pilgrims' donations should be used to clean or replace carpets that have been in use for several years. "Why do the custodians not use all the revenues from these Imamzadehs -- and it is not clear where the money goes after it is collected and deposited in the bank -- and decide to spend it on the sacred sites themselves to provide sanitation, hygienic services, and other things?" The "Peyk-i Ilam" commentary also suggested that a cleric be designated to serve as a guide for the pilgrims at the holy sites. (Bill Samii)
INC OFFICIAL SAYS 'NEW INFORMATION' WILL CLEAR CHALABI. Iraqi National Congress (INC) official Entifadh Qanbar told reporters on 23 March that new information would soon clear INC head Ahmad Chalabi of fraud charges in Jordan, AFP reported on 23 March. In 1992, Chalabi was tried and found guilty in absentia of fraud and embezzling $288 million from Jordan's Petra Bank into Swiss bank accounts. "New information, never released before about the bankruptcy of Jordan's Petra Bank will soon emerge and demonstrate that the bank's hardships were tailor-made by...senior Jordanian officials," Qanbar claimed. Qanbar said that the unidentified officials were working with then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his regime to bring about the collapse of the bank. "Internationally known legal experts will reveal this scandal," Qanbar added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
YEMEN REPORTEDLY RECRUITING FORMER IRAQI MILITARY OFFICERS. Yemen is actively recruiting former Iraqi military officers to join the Yemeni army, dpa reported on 24 March, citing Arab press reports. "Secret contacts are currently under way between Yemenis and officers in the dissolved Iraqi army with a view to convincing them to join the Yemeni army," the news agency quotes a ranking Iraqi officer as telling London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." The newspaper reported that former military officers that served in the Ba'athist regime have lost all hope of joining the new Iraqi army. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THREE CONFERENCES ON IRAQ INVESTMENT CONVENE IN REGION. The Bahraini government is hosting a three-day conference this week to encourage investment in Iraq, Manama's "Bahrain Tribune" reported on 22 March. Some 1,000 businessmen, bankers, and investors have gathered for the conference titled "Iraq-Arab Alliance for Reconstruction, Trade and Investment," the daily reports. "We have natural resources, human resources, and a readily available workforce. But, what we need is the foreign investments. Arabs should come forward and take advantage of the existing opportunities," Iraq representative Atta Abd al-Wahhab told conference participants.
Meanwhile, the second conference on rebuilding Iraq got under way in Amman on 21 March, Petra news agency reported. Trade delegations from 24 countries reportedly attended the event, sponsored by the Amman World Trade Center and the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan. Jordan continues to promote itself as a gateway to Iraq. JABA President Azzam Shweihat said that his country offers great benefits in terms of its geographical proximity to Iraq, investment laws, banking and communications systems, and political stability, Petra reported.
In Baghdad, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced in a 23 March press release posted on its website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) that the Iraq Joint Venture Conference successfully attracted billions of dollars in private-sector investment. The 19-20 March conference brought more than 55 executives from 25 international companies to discuss joint-development projects with Iraqi firms. For details on some of the agreements made at the conference, see the CPA website. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQUN INVESTIGATING ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION IN OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM. The UN's auditing office is moving forward with an investigation into allegations of corruption in the oil-for-food program (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004), the UN News Center reported on 17 March.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said the same day that the UN Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is speaking with current UN employees, former oil-for-food personnel, and others outside the UN system as part of its investigation, but is waiting for "evidence" from Baghdad. "It isn't just that they're waiting for the Governing Council to provide copies of the documentary evidence that some members of the council indicated that they had," Eckhard said. "We don't yet know whether we will ever get this evidence from Baghdad." The oil-for-food program was established by the UN in 1996 and allowed the Iraqi government to sell oil for food and humanitarian goods, sustaining an estimated 60 percent of the population. The program was officially concluded in November (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 November 2003).
Eckhard told reporters on 23 March that the OIOS has sent two letters to the Iraqi Governing Council -- first on 6 February and again on 11 March -- requesting assistance, but has yet to receive a response. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer has pledged his support to the office, however. Eckhard also said that Secretary-General Annan is expected to inform the UN Security Council this week of the details of the panel that would be looking into the allegations of corruption within the oil-for-food program, including the names of panel members.
The spokesman added that Annan is seeking support from Security Council members, although such support is not a requirement for the investigation to move forward. However, "without government support this investigation is not going to go very far, so [Annan] is hoping for some kind of signal from the Council that they support this effort," Eckhard noted.
Meanwhile, The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) said on 18 March that the Hussein regime took in approximately $10.1 billion in illegal revenues through the oil-for-food program, a figure substantially higher than previous estimates, AP reported the same day. The GAO previously estimated the regime collected $6.5 billion in illegal revenues via the program. The GAO now believes the regime took in $5.7 billion for oil smuggled out of Iraq and $4.4 billion from illicit surcharges on oil sales and purchases of commodities. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell commented on the U.S. investigation, telling reporters in Kuwait on 20 March, "We are concerned, deeply concerned, that money that was supposed to be going to help the Iraqi people was diverted by Saddam Hussein, once again demonstrating the nature of that regime," AP reported on 21 March. "That money was not used for food or health care or clean water.... It was used for palaces and debauchery," he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS HE IS PREPARED TO SEND TEAM TO IRAQ. Kofi Annan said on 18 March that he is prepared to send a UN team back to Iraq "as soon as practicable," UN News Center announced the same day (http://www.un.org/news).
Annan told reporters at UN headquarters in New York that he has replied to an invitation from the Iraqi Governing Council to send a UN team to Iraq to help plan for nationwide elections. The governing council is also seeking UN assistance in establishing a broad national dialogue on the shape and scope of the interim government, the website announced. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer reportedly also sent a letter to the UN this week asking the world body to assist Iraq during the transition period.
The UN Security Council issued a statement on 24 March hailing the decision to send UN experts to Iraq, the UN News Center reported. "The Security Council calls on all parties in Iraq to cooperate fully with these United Nations teams, and welcomes the security and other support provided to them by the Iraqi Governing Council and the CPA," the council president for the month of March, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, said in the statement, which was read at an open meeting. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQPOLAND PLEDGES TO STAY IN IRAQ. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 20 March in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that Poland would carry out its mission in Iraq to a "successful end," PAP reported 21 March. Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, who visited Polish troops in Iraq on 21 March, said the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq would manage even if Spain withdraws its contingent from the division, as Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has suggested (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2004). "We are in a position to cope with this, because this process is accompanied by the goal of increasing the operational capabilities of the Iraqi security forces," Polish Radio quoted Szmajdzinski as saying. "So it's not a situation from which there is no way out, but I'm not saying that anyone will pull out for certain." (Jan Maksymiuk)
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT DESIGNATES ANSAR AL-ISLAM AS FOREIGN TERRORIST ORGANIZATION... The U.S. State Department on 22 March announced that it has designated the Iraq-based militant group Ansar Al-Islam as a foreign terrorist organization. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, in a press release posted on the department's website (http://usinfo.state.gov), said: "Ansar Al-Islam, which operates in Iraq, has close links to and support from Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda and [its leader] Osama bin Laden participated in the formation and funding of the group, which has provided safe haven to Al-Qaeda in northeastern Iraq. Ansar Al-Islam trained in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The group has been one of the leading groups engaged in anticoalition terrorist attacks in Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI JUDGES VISIT INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES COURTS IN THE HAGUE. A group of Iraqi judges on 23 March toured the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, AFP reported the same day. ICTY spokesman Jim Landale said that about a dozen judges took a standard tour of the ICTY but did not hold any special meetings with tribunal officials. The judges were also scheduled to meet with ICC spokeswoman Claudia Perdomo, who told AFP on 23 March that the judges would attend a presentation "of how the registrar set up the court and what practical measures were taken." Iraq adopted its own war crimes tribunal in December to try the former members of Saddam Hussein's regime on war crimes charges (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 11 December 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI MEDIASEEN AS WORK IN PROGRESS. An editorial published by Iraqi reporter Hiwa Osman in "The Washington Post" on 21 March highlighted the current state of the media in Iraq. While the mere existence of some 200 newspapers is a profound development from just one year ago, when former President Saddam Hussein's state-run media was the sole source of information for most Iraqis, the quality of reporting remains weak and sometimes sensational, Osman points out. "Purging Iraq of the type of thinking and journalism [Hussein] fostered" has proven to be a real challenge, she writes.
Osman, who works with London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), is helping train Iraqi journalists in journalistic standards. The IWPR has set up a training center in the Mansur district of Baghdad with the support of the U.K. Department for International Development. The organization is conducting journalism-training programs in the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah as well.
The Baghdad center has already trained some 100 journalists, many with no prior experience in reporting, IWPR Iraq Program Manager Maggy Zanger told "RFE/RL Iraq Report" in a 24 March e-mail. Zanger said that many journalists ask for additional one-on-one training after participating in the center's three-week training course. The center appears to have had a positive impact on Iraqi journalists. Some 15-20 reporter-trainees regularly attend weekly editorial meetings to pitch story ideas as well, she said. The BBC World Service Trust is also working to train Iraqi journalists and to set up local and regional radio and television broadcasting stations in southern Iraq, according to the department's website (http://www.dfid.gov.uk).
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) also appears intent on raising journalistic standards in Iraq. CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer announced on 24 March that he will establish an Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (ICMC) and an Iraqi public-broadcasting service, RFE/RL reported. "In a country such as Iraq is today, government-owned media exists to inform the public, not to promote the political interests of the president or the prime minister of the moment. For that reason, I intend soon to establish a new Iraqi Communications and Media Commission, which will regulate these publicly owned media," Bremer said in a public address marking the 100-day countdown to the 30 June transfer of sovereignty.
"Like the oil beneath the ground, Iraq's airwaves belong to all the Iraqi people. To ensure that these airwaves are administered in the public interest, I will create the public-broadcasting service to take care of the public broadcasting and the Iraqi communications commission will administer their use independently of the government," he added.
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on 19 March issued a report that concluded there is a "determination [among Iraqi media professionals] to break the stranglehold of political control" (http://ifj.org ). The organization contends that Iraqi journalists are subject to measures that try to "discipline, control, and censor information" in Iraq. In a separate report issued on 15 March, the IFJ accused U.S. authorities in Iraq of attempting to "control and intimidate" the media (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 March 2004). The report cited the detention of journalists and unknown "internal regulations" enforced by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to control journalists, as well as new rules initiated by the coalition that require journalists to register and to obtain coalition-issued press cards to work in Iraq.
The IFJ is not alone in its criticism of the coalition in recent days. Some 30 Iraqi journalists voiced their outrage at a 19 March press conference in Baghdad attended by Bremer and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell over the killing of two Al-Arabiyah journalists in Iraq last week, apparently at the hands of coalition forces. Powell pledged a full investigation, but said that "terrorists" were responsible for the killings, the website of the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 20 March. "At a scene where there's been a battle or an explosion or something of that nature, there tends to be confusion," Powell told reporters. "Mistakes happen. Tragedies can occur." At least 21 journalists have been killed in Iraq over the past year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army released a report on 22 March into the 17 August death of Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana, the news agency reported. Dana was shot and killed by a U.S. soldier outside the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad. The report said the soldier who shot Dana had "reasonable certainty" that Dana was about to fire a rocket-propelled grenade. The report concluded that a lack of procedures for communicating the presence of journalists among U.S. troops contributed to the incident. Dana was carrying his camera and reportedly had alerted U.S. troops to his presence at the prison before he was shot, according to Reuters. (For more information on the current media environment in Iraq, see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 November 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)