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Iraq Report: March 5, 2004

5 March 2004, Volume 7, Number 8
EXPLOSIONS ROCK KARBALA AND BAGHDAD ON MUSLIM HOLY DAY. Some nine explosions rocked the Shi'ite city of Karbala on 2 March at two entrances to the city as some 2 million Muslims gathered to commemorate the Ashura holy day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004), Iraqi and international media reported.

A correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on the scene said he believed the explosions were not caused by mortars, as some media had reported, but rather by bombs placed along the road. It was later verified that three of the blasts came from suicide bombers, one was a land mine, and five came from carts loaded with mines and explosive charges, Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of March Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told reporters at a press briefing broadcast live on Al-Arabiyah television on 3 March. He added that an unspecified number of suspects "of various nationalities" have been arrested and are being interrogated on the incident.

At least three explosions were heard outside the Al-Kadhimiyah Mosque in Baghdad on 2 March as Shi'ite worshippers gathered for Ashura ceremonies, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. One blast occurred inside the mosque, and two others exploded outside the mosque, which is the third holiest site in Shi'a Islam. An unspecified number of foreign worshippers were among the dead and injured -- including Afghans, Iranians, Lebanese, and Thais -- in the explosion, which Bahr al-Ulum said killed 65 and wounded 260 people. Bahr al-Ulum told reporters that two suspects were arrested in the incident but he did not give details. In addition, an individual traveling in a booby-trapped car was arrested near the mosque before the car was detonated, he said.

At the same press conference, Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said of the Baghdad bombings: "Actually, we have a real problem, which I hope you will convey. There are hands, legs, and heads and we do not know to whom they belong. There are piles, and I mean piles...and we do not [know] to whom they belong. The lesson we derive is the following -- what happened is not like the bombing of the UN compound and personnel, the Red Cross hospital, or the killing of the martyr [Governing Council member] Aqilah al-Hashimi. It was not an ordinary political assassination. What happened was a qualitative change and a qualitative turning point in the nature of the conflict against terrorism." He added that the events of 2 March have "only made the Iraqi people more united, steadfast, and cohesive."

At an earlier press conference on 2 March broadcast live on Al-Jazeera television, Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi read a council statement calling for a three-day mourning period. Terrorists are targeting Iraq's unity and "seeking to foment sectarian sedition by cutting the firm ties among all groups of our people," the statement read. "We say that such crimes will only strengthen our people's insistence on the unity of ranks, as well as their determination to build a new Iraq." The statement called on Iraqis "to be calm and patient and to adhere to national unity in order to foil the plans of Iraq's enemies." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-SISTANI ISSUES STATEMENT ON ASHURA BOMBINGS. Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a handwritten statement condemning the 2 March bombings in Karbala and Baghdad, reported. "No words can condemn those atrocious crimes, which were committed by individuals who were stripped of all values and noble principles," the statement says. "While we hold the occupation troops responsible for what we have observed of procrastination and prevarication in controlling Iraq's borders and stopping infiltrators, and their failure to reinforce the national forces assigned the task of providing security, enable them to recruit capable elements, and secure their requirements of the necessary devices and equipment to perform their tasks, we urge the dear Iraqi people to exercise greater caution and vigilance vis-a-vis the machinations of the enemies and greedy ones," the statement added.

Ahmad al-Safi, a representative of Ayatollah al-Sistani, told Al-Arabiyah television on 2 March that the United States is responsible for overall security in Iraq and should thus be held accountable for the Karbala and Baghdad bombings. "Frankly, we say that the uncontrolled security situation in Iraq is deliberate," al-Safi said. "Regardless of the direct perpetrator, we accuse these forces and hold them fully responsible." Al-Safi argued that the United States "should have flown some helicopters to protect the city." Shi'a leaders have in the past called for little to no presence of coalition forces in Shi'a holy areas, preferring to police those areas themselves.

Iraqi police and Civil Defense Corps personnel were reportedly out in heavy force in both Karbala and Baghdad when the bombings took place. Iraqi and coalition forces foiled a number of other planned attacks on 1-2 March, including the discovery of a booby-trapped car in the holy city of Al-Najaf (see below). The car was set to explode as Ashura celebrants passed by in procession, international media reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SCIRI HEAD SAYS BOMB ATTACKS THWARTED IN AL-NAJAF. Iraqi Governing Council member and Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim told Al-Arabiyah television on 3 March that three bomb attacks were thwarted in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf in the previous 24-hour period. He blamed the United States for not providing enough security in Iraq, and for also not allowing Iraqis to "defend themselves properly." Al-Hakim has repeatedly called for a greater role for SCIRI's Badr Brigades (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004), which the United States ordered to disband following the downfall of the Hussein regime.

Voice of the Mujahedin reported on 2 March that local police in Al-Najaf defused a 3-kilogram bomb the night before that was planted some 50 meters from the Imam Ali Shrine -- the starting point for the 2 March al-Husayn processions in the city. Police also intercepted a booby-trapped car as it was preparing to enter Al-Najaf on 1 March, according to the radio station. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SUNNI AND SHI'ITE CLERICS MARCH IN SOLIDARITY IN BAGHDAD... Sunni and Shi'ite religious leaders marched together in Baghdad on 3 March in a show of solidarity, AP reported on 4 March. "We and our Sunni countrymen are, and have been and always will be, brothers," said Amr al-Husayn, an aid to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Shi'ite Governing Council member Ibrahim al-Ja'fari characterized the 2 March bombings as "a crime directed not only against Shi'ites, or Islam, but against humanity." "Anyone who kills a Sunni is against the spirit of Shi'ism. And anyone who kills a Shi'ite is against the spirit of Sunnism," he added. Meanwhile, Shi'ite Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i dismissed talk of a possible civil war in Iraq, AP reported. "We are nowhere near civil war," he said. "It will never happen in this country."

Several religious leaders and Governing Council members have made statements in recent weeks stressing the need for solidarity among religious sects and warning Iraqis to avoid sectarian strife. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...AS SHI'ITE CLERIC'S AIDE SAYS IRAQ FACING CONSPIRACY. Hasan al-Zarkani, a spokesman for Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said on 2 March that "Iraq is facing a serious conspiracy from inside and outside," LBC satellite television reported. Al-Zarkani suggested that the United States might be behind the attempts to destabilize Iraq. "The names they [the United States] are using, like [wanted terrorist Abu Mus'ab] al-Zarqawi and others, are only pretexts to cover this big file through which they are trying to undermine Iraq's unity," al-Zarkani said. "We do not clear Israel or the global policeman -- the United States -- it is using, or the agents who cooperated with them" of involvement in the conspiracy. Asked whether the terrorists are seeking to ignite a civil war in Iraq, al-Zarkani said: "There is a definite intention for this. They want to trigger sectarian feuds and a civil war by all means." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CPA HEAD ISSUES STATEMENT ON ASHURA BOMBINGS. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer has issued a statement condemning the 2 March bombings in Karbala and Baghdad during the Shi'ite holy day of Ashura. The statement, posted on the CPA website (, reaffirms the coalition's commitment to bringing security and democracy to Iraq.

"We know that [terrorists] did this as part of an effort to provoke sectarian violence among Muslims," Bremer said. "We know they chose this day so that they could kill as many innocents as possible." He added, "the terrorists want sectarian violence because they believe that is the only way they can stop Iraq's march toward the democracy that the terrorists fear." Bremer also cited a letter purportedly written by Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi in which he apparently appeals to Al-Qaeda for support, saying that once Iraq is democratic there will be no pretext for terrorist attacks there (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ANSAR AL-SUNNAH ARMY VOWS MORE ATTACKS, CRITICIZES SHI'A IN IRAQ... "Al-Hayat" reported on 1 March that the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army has posted a statement on a web group hosted by the Islamic Media Center ( vowing continued attacks against the U.S. military in Iraq. The statement, signed by the army's "amir," Abu Abdallah al-Hasan bin Mahmud, criticized the Governing Council for colluding with the U.S.-led coalition, and the Shi'a community for failing to take a stand against "the infidel assailants in our Muslim country." Specifically, the statement said the Governing Council members are "members in a government where the U.S. governor and not Allah the Exalted makes the final decisions." Regarding the Shi'a, the statement says: "We were not surprised by this ignominious stand on their part, but praised Allah the Exalted for not giving them a share in the jihad and the reward for it.... It is in [the Shi'a] community's nature to stand with the infidels against the people of the Sunnah...." The statement also criticized mosque preachers for not encouraging jihad in Iraq and said that jihad not only threatens the U.S. military in Iraq but "is also a danger to the American people." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...WHILE PURPORTED AL-QAEDA LETTER DENIES ROLE. A letter purportedly written by the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization has denied any role in the 2 March multiple bombings in Karbala and Baghdad, Reuters reported on 3 March. The letter, sent to the London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" newspaper and signed by the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades with the name "Al-Qaeda" in parentheses, blamed the attacks on the United States. "U.S. troops have committed a massacre against the innocent Shi'ite people to set sectarianism ablaze among Iraq's Muslims," the letter said. "We, and with God as our witness, say we are innocent of this act and of anything that will drive the Shi'ites away. Our mujahedin...will not do anything that will harm the Iraqi people."

A number of Iraqi Governing Council members blamed suspected Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi for the 2 March attacks. Al-Zarqawi has been linked to Al-Qaeda (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004). The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades have claimed responsibility for a number of recent terrorist attacks, including the car bombings outside two Istanbul synagogues in November, AP reported on 17 November. U.S. officials have cast doubt on these claims, saying there is no proof the group exists or has links to Al-Qaeda, the news agency reported on 22 November. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KURDS REPORTEDLY VANDALIZE TURKOMAN HEADQUARTERS. Kurds reportedly broke into and vandalized the headquarters of the Iraqi Turkoman Front in Kirkuk on 29 February, Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported on 1 March. The vandals apparently destroyed computers, furniture, and 20 vehicles parked on the grounds. The vehicles belonged to supporters of the Turkoman Front. Party official Subhi Sabir said the group that attacked the headquarters was carrying Kurdish flags and pictures of Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Mas'ud Barzani. "We do not know whether they carried out this act upon directives from these two people, or [if] it was a spontaneous act," Sabir said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GOVERNING COUNCIL AGREES ON TRANSITIONAL ADMINISTRATION LAW... The Iraqi Governing Council agreed on 1 March on a draft Transitional Administration Law that would act as Iraq's interim constitution until a permanent constitution is drafted and put to a national vote, international media reported. "Islam will be the official religion of the state, and it will be a source...of legislation," Governing Council spokesman Hamid Kifa'i told the BBC. "Also, the law will say to respect Islam as the religion of the majority."

Meanwhile, Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi, told Al-Arabiyah television that the law also provides for Kurdistan to retain its current status, leaving the question of the region's future autonomy to an elected government. Qanbar also said the new Transitional Administration Law provides for one president and one prime minister, Al-Arabiyah reported.

Governing Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Beirut's Al-Manar television in a 1 March interview, "It was agreed that Islam will be the official religion of Iraq and a source of legislation." "Moreover, no law will be passed in violation of the agreed principles and the generally accepted tenets of Islam." Meanwhile, Sunni Muslim Ulama Council spokesman Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi told Al-Jazeera on 1 March that Islam should be the sole source of legislation in the new Iraqi government. "It seems that the Governing Council adopted a stand hindering [CPA head] Bremer from using the so-called veto right. Therefore, we do not believe that this law reflects our ambitions, but rather it helped the U.S. vision materialize by coercion," he said. A number of Shi'ite clerics have also opposed the transitional law for not making Islam the sole source of legislation.

The transitional law was to be officially signed on 3 March, but the Governing Council delayed the signing as part of the three-day mourning period set to begin that day in reaction to the 2 March bombings in Karbala and Baghdad. Governing Council President for the month of March Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum has said that it will be signed on 5 March. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

...CANCELS DECISION NO. 137. The Iraqi Governing Council voted on 28 February to cancel the controversial Decision No. 137, which sought to alter the personal-status law in Iraq, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported. The decision, which was ratified in December, sought to replace civil law with Islamic Shari'a law with regard to family issues, potentially setting back women's rights in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2004).

Governing Council members Mahmud Uthman and Nasir Kamil Chadirchi supported fellow council member Raja Habib al-Khaza'i in her request to revisit the decision, while Adnan Pachachi, who chaired the council meeting, put the vote on the agenda. Fifteen members of the council voted to repeal the decision, while five members -- all reportedly Shi'ites -- voted against the repeal. Salim Chalabi -- representing his uncle, Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi -- voted in favor of the repeal, but reportedly left the Governing Council session along with the five Shi'ite groups that opposed the repeal.

Hamid al-Bayati, spokesman for SCIRI head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, told Al-Jazeera television on 28 February that al-Hakim and fellow Shi'ites walked out of the Governing Council session in protest of the "arbitrary way" in which Decision No. 137 was presented for cancellation. "Discussing Law No. 137 was not on the agenda," he said.

Al-Bayati added that Decision No. 137 was designed to protect all sects in Iraq. "This law came to serve all denominations, ethnic groups, and sects because it gives the right for each denomination, ethnic group, sect, and religion to be legally tried according to its ethnicity, religion, sect, and principles in civil-status issues," he said. "However, some parties tried to take advantage of the law to tarnish the reputation of SCIRI, saying it was a law aimed against women and liberties and that it encourages sectarianism," he added. He further contended that had CPA head L. Paul Bremer signed the December decision, which was introduced and passed when al-Hakim served as council president, it would have "restored matters to their normal condition" by "giving everyone their rights." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AL-HAKIM CALLS FOR EXPANDING GOVERNING COUNCIL. Governing Council member and SCIRI head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim reportedly called for an expansion of the Governing Council to include all parties and factions in Iraq, KUNA reported on 1 March.

The Shi'ite leader's comments reportedly came during an address in Baghdad to Iraqis during the Ashura holy day. He also called on Iraqis to unite around the religious and political leadership, and to work hard to attain the interests of all Iraqi factions without exception. Al-Hakim expressed his support for Islam to serve as the major source of reference in the country's constitution. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CMM LEADER CRITICIZES GOVERNING COUNCIL, BUT SAYS HE WOULD JOIN. The head of Iraq's Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) criticized the Iraqi Governing Council in an interview with London-based "Al-Zaman" published on 1 March, but said that he would consider joining the council should the opportunity arise. Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn was an active member of the Iraqi opposition prior to the war in Iraq, but was not afforded a seat on the Governing Council by the CPA in Iraq. His group calls for a reinstatement of monarchial rule in Iraq.

Asked about whether he would seek to participate in a future Iraqi government, al-Husayn said: "We are studying the issue. We do not mind actual participation in this interim stage. We had reservations over the forming of the Governing Council and the marginalization of the Iraqi people's role. If the upcoming new mechanism incorporates real representation and confidence that the interests of all factions of the people will be served, then there is no objection to participating in this process."

Al-Husayn criticized the Governing Council in the interview, saying that it "has failed completely even in its simplest responsibilities because any government or regime must give hope to the citizens and secure health care and employment. The Governing Council has failed as an institution." He claimed, however, that his criticism was not aimed at the council's members, saying, "They made a mistake when they accepted the Governing Council in its current form and authorities and agreed to rely on political leaders who have come from abroad." Al-Husayn has apparently tried to portray himself as "more" Iraqi than other opposition members, despite the fact that he left Iraq as a child when the monarchy was deposed in 1958.

Asked about comments by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 February 2004) in which Brahimi warned of civil war in Iraq, al-Husayn told "Al-Zaman": I do not think that if a civil war breaks out, God forbid, it will be for sectarian reasons; rather the reasons will be political. I think handing over authority to the Governing Council in its current form would be the first step toward a civil war in Iraq for political and not sectarian reasons." "Every faction will use its militias and weapons to seize control of its region," he added. "The people will refuse the interference of the central authority because they would not recognize its legitimacy." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI TURKOMAN FRONT LEADER CALLS FOR RECOGNITION OF TURKOMANS. Iraqi Turkoman Front leader Faruq Abdallah told London's "Al-Quds al-Arabi" in an interview published on 1 March that the Turkoman presence in Iraq dates back thousands of years, and as such should be recognized as a distinct community by a future Iraqi government.

Abdallah contended that the Turkoman presence in Iraq dates to the year A.D. 670, and historically the Turkomans in Iraq have held fast to their Iraqi identity, despite claims to the contrary that the Turkomans were agents of the Ottoman Empire, and later, the Turkish state. "The [Hussein] regime adopted the policy of divide and rule against us in order to depict the Turkomans as the enemies of the people by fabricating unfounded charges against them," he said. Following the downfall of the Hussein regime, the Iraqi Turkoman Front was excluded from the political process, he added.

Asked whether his group is a "fifth column" for Turkey in Iraq, Abdallah said: "The two Kurdish parties leveled this charge at the Turkomans to weaken and marginalize their role and to make additional political gains. But we as Turkomans do not deny our Iraqi identity. We are first Iraqis." He added that while there are no formal statistics on the number of Turkomans in Iraq, his group estimates the Turkoman population to number about 2.5 million to 3 million. "We held a census in Mosul and Tall Afar and found that the average number of the Turkoman population in these two cities was 750,000, excluding Irbil and other Iraqi regions," he claimed.

Asked about statements by Sami Dunmuz of the Islamic Movement of the Iraqi Turkomans, in which Dunmuz said he expected fighting to erupt between Kurds and Turkomans in the northern city of Kirkuk (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004), Abdallah said that while Dunmuz's group is affiliated with the Turkoman Front, his opinions only represent his own movement. However, he added, "There will be no stability [in Kirkuk] before each person is given his rights."

Iraqi Turkomans staged a sit-in outside CPA headquarters in Baghdad on 28 February. Al-Jazeera reported that some 180 protesters were demanding recognition of the Turkoman nationality in Iraq. Other international media reported that some of the protesters said they were on hunger strikes. Unidentified individuals attacked the headquarters of the Iraqi Turkoman Front in Kirkuk on 29 February, Ankara's TRT 2 television reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP CALLS FOR RECOGNITION OF CHALDO-ASSYRIANS. The international group Human Rights Without Frontiers issued a press statement on its website ( on 24 February calling for Iraqi constitutional recognition for the Chaldo-Assyrian community in Iraq. The press release noted that the Chaldo-Assyrian community has been "subjected to prejudicial treatment in all constitutions of Iraq since 1921 to the present." Some 250 Chaldo-Assyrian villages were destroyed by the Hussein regime, forcing internal displacement of the community within Iraq. Some Chaldo-Assyrians fled Iraq altogether. The statement contends that should the Transitional Administration Law -- the precursor to Iraq's constitution -- due to be ratified this week, fail to provide for equal rights for the Chaldo-Assyrian community, the remaining population inside Iraq may flee and join the diaspora in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

The statement lists the demands of the Chaldo-Assyrian community in Iraq as: constitutional guarantees for representation in the three branches of government; recognition of the Chaldo-Assyrian community as an indigenous, distinct community; the right to teach Syriac, the Chaldo-Assyrian language "wherever members of the community reside"; and the right to self-administration in the Nineveh plain "to protect the culture of Chaldo-Assyrians and similarly persecuted neighbors" such as Yezidis and Shabaks under a federal government.

It appears that at least some of the Chaldo-Assyrian demands will be met, as Governing Council member Yonadam Yousif Kanna, who holds the Christian seat on the council, told reporters in Baghdad on 1 March that the Transitional Administration Law set to be signed by CPA head L. Paul Bremer on 5 March "gave the right to the other communities of the Iraqi people -- the Turkomans, the Chaldeans, the Assyrians and the other segments of the Iraqi people -- to teach their languages in official schools." "The language that will be used in the official statements will be explained in a supplementary law," he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

LEADING CLERIC COMMENTS ON UN REPORT. Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on 26 February posted a comment on the recent UN elections assessment (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004) on his website ( Al-Sistani said that several points in the UN assessment are "compatible" with his own views. He demanded "clear guarantees" in the form of a UN Security Council resolution that elections will be held on a fixed date to ensure that there are no further delays.

"The religious authority also demands that the unelected authority to which power will be handed over on 30 June, should be an interim administration with clear and specific authorities to prepare the country for free and fair elections. This administration, which will run the affairs of the country during the transitional period, should not have the power to make important decisions that would be binding on the government that will be formed by the elected council," the statement said.

Al-Sistani added in his 26 February statement that there is a growing concern that the parties involved in arranging the transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to the Iraqi people "will not be able to reach in the remaining period a mechanism that would enjoy the support of the broadest sectors of the Iraqi people" as required by UN resolutions. He noted that there is further concern that "these parties will be entangled in ethnic, sectarian, and political quotas," which al-Sistani himself "sought to overcome by calling for adopting a mechanism for elections." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KURDISH ANSAR MEMBER CLAIMS LINKS TO AL-QAEDA. A Kurdish member of the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam has acknowledged links to Al-Qaeda, Al-Jazeera television reported on 25 February. The station broadcast a videotaped statement by Hoshyar Salih Hama Arif, who is now in coalition custody, in which he says: "We know for sure that the United States is technologically superior to us.... We do not care about their strength. [Jihad] is the best way for us to win the best reward in the hereafter. At the beginning, we tried to obscure our relationship with Al-Qaeda to dissociate ourselves from the U.S. list of wanted persons. However, when the Americans attacked us, we became no longer fearful of showing our association with Al-Qaeda." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

LARGEST JAPANESE CONTINGENT THUS FAR ENTERS IRAQ. A convoy of Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces crossed into Iraq from Kuwait on 27 February to join their contingent in Al-Samawah, Reuters reported. Some 130 soldiers traveled in a convoy of 30 military vehicles and were expected to link up with about 100 other Japanese soldiers at their base later that day.

"It is a great pleasure for us to be here today. I am very happy," Colonel Koichiro Bansho, the contingent's commanding officer, told reporters at the border crossing. The Japanese government plans ultimately to have some 1,000 troops in Al-Samawah. The soldiers will focus on humanitarian projects in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI DONORS COMMIT $1 BILLION FOR IRAQI PROJECTS. Iraqi donors meeting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, agreed on 29 February to fund some $1 billion in reconstruction projects this year, Reuters reported. Iraq had requested that donors contribute $4 billion (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004) of the $15 billion in non-U.S. pledges made during the Madrid donors conference in October.

Iraqi Planning Minister Mehdi al-Hafiz, who led the Iraqi delegation to the conference, told the conference that Iraq would need some $55 million through 2008 to rebuild the country. "We all know that the road to the vision of the new Iraq is long. I am here to tell you that we have identified the path and that we know what steps are needed to begin this journey," Dubai Gulf News quoted him as saying. "We have worked hard to improve the investment climate and create an environment in which private enterprise can flourish. We now have one of the most liberal trade regimes in the world," he added.

Al-Hafiz commented on the outcome of the meeting, saying: "This will be a strong starting point.... We feel grateful to the donors and thank them," Reuters reported. World Bank officials told the news agency that donors have already begun distributing the aid money to two Iraqi trust funds. A donor coordinating committee has been set up and is reportedly chaired by the highest-contributing donor states: the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Qatar, Kuwait, Canada, the European Commission, Australia, Sweden, India, Korea, Spain, and Norway. Two rotating seats on the committee will be given to countries contributing less than $10 million, one delegate told Reuters. A Qatari delegate added that the number of members on the committee would increase as more countries signed up with $10 million donations.

Meanwhile, it was announced that the next round of donor talks would convene in Doha in May, reported on 29 February. The World Bank, the UN, and Iraqi representatives are expected to attend that meeting. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SUNNIS, SHI'ITES REPORTEDLY CLASH IN NORTHEAST IRAN. Clashes between Sunnis and Shi'ites broke out on 1 March in the northeastern Iranian town of Khaf, Mehr News Agency reported on 2 March. Iranian Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said a traffic accident involving a group of Shi'a and two Sunni motorcyclists led to a fight. A group of Sunnis reportedly later blocked the road on which the Shi'a were traveling and clashes erupted. The Khorasan Province Governorate-General's Security Council brought the situation under control, according to the news agency. However, clashes broke out again on 2 March resulting in injuries to a few people and destruction to some public and private property. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT ASKS CITIZENS NOT TO VISIT IRAQ FOLLOWING ASHURA ATTACKS. Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi has asked in a letter that Iranian citizens not travel to Iraq due to "difficulties" there, evidenced by the 2 March Ashura bombings in Baghdad and Karbala, the Iranian Students News Agency reported.

Ahmadi said that a number of pilgrims without proper documents had attempted to cross the border in recent days, creating problems for border guards in Mehran and Shalamcheh. "Because of the difficulties inside Iraq, visitors must seriously avoid demanding to visit that country without proper documents," he wrote in the letter. He added that it is illegal for Iranians to cross the Iraqi border without a passport, and contended that all pilgrims wishing to enter Iraq must register with the official pilgrimage envoys. Iran estimated that 23 pilgrims were killed in the 2 March bombings, AP reported on 4 March, but that number has not been confirmed. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI BANK FORMS PARTNERSHIP WITH JORDANIAN EXPORTS BANK. The Iraqi Al-Ahli Bank has concluded a partnership agreement with the Jordanian Exports Bank, Al-Ahli manager Ghassan Kamal told Baghdad's "Al-Mada," the daily reported on 25 February.

Kamal said that his bank was forced to look for Arab or international partners because the new Iraqi banking law obliges all government and private banks to operate with capital of not less than $5 million. "Since our bank has only 937 million Iraqi dinars -- approximately equal to less than $400,000 -- we began to study ways on how to raise our capital without burdening the shareholders and founders." He said that the Jordanian Exports Bank made a suitable offer, and Al-Ahli agreed to sell 49 percent of its shares to the Jordanian bank at a value of $7.3 million. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GUL APPEARS MIFFED BY IRAQI TRANSITIONAL ADMINISTRATION LAW. Turkish Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters on 1 March that Iraqi Governing Council members had not reached an agreement on Iraq's Transitional Administration Law -- the precursor to a permanent Iraqi constitution -- despite announcements to the contrary, NTV television reported.

Asked to comment on the fact that an agreement had been reached by Governing Council members, Gul replied: "The same disagreements are still valid. The draft has not been finalized yet." He later told reporters in Ankara on 2 March, "It is a basic law, it is not Iraq's constitution but an important legal document." Asked about aspects in the draft that apply to the Turkoman minority in Iraq, Gul said, "A better constitution would have been requested, of course." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UNMOVIC ISSUES 16TH QUARTERLY REPORT ON IRAQ, STANDS READY TO RESUME INSPECTIONS. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) issued its 16th quarterly report on its activities to the UN Security Council on 27 February (

The report notes that UNMOVIC did not receive any specific information from the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group regarding the weapons-of-mass-destruction inspections by former Survey Group head David Kay and his team, particularly with regard to Kay's testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. The report adds that Kay's successor Charles Duelfer, a former inspector for the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), UNMOVIC's predecessor, had told the same U.S. committee that the Iraq Survey Group would be prepared to issue a second interim report on its inspections in late March. UNMOVIC hopes that the report will be made available to it.

UNMOVIC also reported that it continues to assess materials on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction available in the public domain since the downfall of the Hussein regime against what the commission has learned from its inspections inside Iraq. The commission continues to work on draft modifications to the ongoing monitoring-and-verification plan for Iraq, including revisions of the annexes to the monitoring plan. "It should be noted that, while the list of items and materials subject to the provision of the export/import mechanism in resolution 1051 (1996) was updated in June 2001, the annexes to the monitoring plan approved in resolution 715 (1991) have not been updated since 1995. There has been a critical assessment of the merit and practicality of monitoring the items included in the current annexes to the plan. This has resulted in a sharper focus on monitoring items that are associated with 'choke points' within the processes of dual-use facilities with potential for the production of proscribed items and materials," the report says. Such draft revisions, the report adds, hope to make the monitoring system unambiguous "so that all parties (Iraq, the Commission, and supplier States) can implement their rights and obligations in an effective manner."

UNMOVIC is also examining the origin of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, including the "political and security environment that prompted decisions that led to their establishment." "Iraq's rationale for the development of chemical and biological weapons and means for their delivery is explored, as is the degree to which Iraq saw its chemical and biological weapons programs as a deterrent or wither it saw value in having offensive capabilities. The extent to which Iraq had a coherent concept of use or military doctrine for its chemical and biological weapons and what role such weapons played in its overall military doctrine is another issue being studied," the report notes. For example, UNMOVIC contends that in many cases, research projects designed for defensive purposes were later diverted to offensive activities. The commission points the Iraq Chemical Corps as one case in point.

In an effort to explore "lessons learned" from Iraq, the commission is also studying Iraq's "conversion" or "adaptation" of conventional arms to deliver chemical and biological agents. "This leads to another area of study which is the extent to which conventional munitions 'signatures' must be monitored in an effort to detect possible activities relating to weapons of mass destruction," UNMOVIC said. The commission has also compiled a biological sampling, screening, and analysis report containing detailed descriptions of all samples handled by the biological inspection team from November 2002 to March 2003. The report provides detailed summaries of Iraq's chemical and biological munitions in the reports appendices as well as a table listing the major proscribed items and materials declared by Iraq as having been destroyed unilaterally and by the coalition during the 1991 Gulf War in its 17-page report. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE SAYS WORLD BODY READY TO 'RE-ENGAGE.' UN acting Special Representative to Iraq Ross Mountain told a gathering of international donors to Iraq in Abu Dhabi on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004) that the UN stands "ready for robust re-engagement at all levels" in Iraq, the UN News Center ( reported the same day. Mountain told international donors that the UN has continued to support humanitarian activities in Iraq over the past year, funneling 90 percent of the $2.2 billion it raised in a flash appeal for Iraq.

The UN withdrew its foreign staff from Iraq last year following the August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, but continues to function at reduced levels using local staff (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 October 2003). Mountain said that despite the dependency on local staff "we are remobilizing more."

Mountain cited the need to meet Iraq's basic needs, including the provision of aid to vulnerable groups, and the establishment of good governance programs as the most pressing challenges facing the world body. Adequate employment is the "most essential need," he said.

Mountain expressed confidence that the UN and Iraqi leadership together can address the challenges of reconstruction "through trust, commitment, and confidence." The acting special representative met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad prior to his attendance at the Abu Dhabi donors conference (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. COMMANDER SAYS INTELLIGENCE INDICATED ATTACKS WOULD TAKE PLACE. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid told the U.S. House of Representative's Armed Services Committee on 3 March that the United States had intelligence prior to the 2 March bombings in Karbala and Baghdad that indicated the attacks would take place during the Ashura holiday, international media reported.

Abizaid said coalition raids the night before the bombings against operatives of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi likely prevented more carnage, AFP reported. "We have clear intelligence that ties al-Zarqawi to this attack," he said. "We also have intelligence that shows there are some linkages between al-Zarqawi and former regime elements, particularly the Iraqi intelligence services."

The CENTCOM commander also told the House Armed Services Committee that intelligence also indicated that terrorists planned on targeting prominent Shi'a personalities. Abizaid reminded committee members that security in Karbala has been left to Iraqi police and civil-defense personnel "since the early days of the U.S. occupation" because of religious sensitivities. He added that there is some indication that terrorists distributed leaflets in Baghdad following the attacks claiming that U.S. forces had fired mortars on worshippers. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

BLAIR, BREMER SAY TERRORISTS CONTINUE TO INFILTRATE IRAQ'S BORDERS. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament on 3 March that terrorists continue to infiltrate Iraq's borders from neighboring countries, RFE/RL reported.

"There is a very clear reason why terrorists, literally, from every extremist group around the Middle East are pouring into Iraq in order to try and do as much damage to innocent people there, and that is because they know that if Iraq does become a stable, democratic and prosperous country, a Muslim country with tolerance of worship, with sovereignty vested in the Iraqi people, then that is not just a huge signal of hope across the Middle East -- it deals a tremendous blow to the propaganda of those extremists and fanatics who would say that the purpose of any conflict in Iraq was to seize the oil or subjugate the Iraqi people," Blair said. He did not offer specifics as to the identities or affiliations of the infiltrators. Meanwhile, British envoy to Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock told BBC Radio on 3 March that coalition troops would remain in Iraq "at least another two years, maybe more."

Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer told a Baghdad press conference on 3 March that the coalition remains committed to working side-by-side Iraqis in an effort to provide better security in the country, RFE/RL reported. He also appeared to echo Blair's statements saying: "It is increasingly apparent that a large part of this terrorism comes from outside the country, and we are strengthening border protection to counter it. There are 8,000 border police on duty today, and more are on the way. We are adding hundreds of vehicles and doubling border-police staffing in selected areas. The United States has committed $60 million to support border security." U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told the same press conference that there are currently 200,000 Iraqis working within the Iraqi security forces. Sanchez also highlighted U.S. commitment to establishing security in Iraq, saying, "The terrorists will not succeed." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

FORMER BRITISH MINISTER SAYS GOVERNMENT SPIED ON KOFI ANNAN. A former member of U.K. Prime Minister Blair's cabinet told BBC Radio 4's "Today" program that British intelligence agencies bugged the offices of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the war in Iraq, international media reported on 26 February.

Clare Short, the former U.K. international development secretary, said she knew British agencies had spied on Annan, "The Guardian" reported. "I know, I have seen transcripts of Kofi Annan's conversations." "Indeed, I have had conversations with Kofi in the run-up to war thinking, 'Oh dear, there will be a transcript of this and people will see what he and I are saying,'" Short said. She appeared unsure as to whether such spying activities were legal. Short resigned from Blair's cabinet on 12 May to protest the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix told "The Guardian" in an interview published on 28 February that while he did not have concrete evidence, he believed that the United States bugged his office and home in New York in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Blix added that shortly before the war in Iraq, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf visited him and produced pictures of an Iraqi drone and a cluster bomb that Blix believes the United States obtained from UN offices. "He should not have had them. I asked him how he got them and he would not tell me and I said I resented that," Blix said. He conceded that UN staffers could have leaked the photographs to U.S. officials, but added, "It could also be that they [the United States] managed to break into a secure fax and got it that way." Former UN weapons chief Richard Butler said that it was "plainly silly" to think his phone calls were not being monitored during his own tenure as weapons chief, "The Guardian" reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RULES OUT SENDING FORCES TO IRAQ. Moscow will not send troops to Iraq under any circumstances, acting Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Paris on 3 March, ITAR-TASS reported. "Citizens of all countries get killed there these days. Of all countries except Russia. Russian soldiers will never go to Iraq," Ivanov said, adding that he believes the danger of a civil war in Iraq is real. (Rob Coalson)

SWITZERLAND LOCATES MILLIONS IN IRAQI FUNDS. Swiss authorities have said that the country has identified between 8 million and 10 million Swiss francs (approximately $6 million-$7.8 million) in funds belonging to blacklisted Iraqis that it will turn over to Iraqi authorities for the reconstruction of Iraq, AFP reported on 29 February.

Swiss officials reportedly matched the assets of 55 Iraqis and five Iraqi companies and organizations with the UN blacklist, Othmar Wyss, deputy head of the Swiss Economy Ministry's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. The assets will be transferred to the U.S.-run Development Fund for Iraq by late March or early April, he said. Wyss said that "several million" in Iraqi funds remain in Swiss accounts frozen under UN sanctions, but they had not yet been examined. (Kathleen Ridolfo)