13 March 2004, Volume 7, Number 9
INSIDE IRAQIRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL SIGNS INTERIM CONSTITUTION. After two delays, the Iraqi Governing Council signed the Transitional Administrative Law in Baghdad on 8 March. The law will serve as Iraq's interim constitution until a permanent constitution is ratified by 31 December 2005. The signing of the law was first slated for 3 March, but delayed due to the Ashura bombings in Karbala and Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 March 2004). The signing was delayed a second time on 5 March after Shi'ite members of the council refused to sign the document reportedly due to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's objection to key clauses. Shi'ite members met with al-Sistani on 5-7 March and announced that they would sign the law without changes.
A number of Governing Council members and their representatives commented on their reservations regarding the law on 9 March. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) official Majid al-Khafaji told London's "Al-Hayat" on 8 March that paragraph C of Article 61 of the law was the source of the dispute. "The issue has nothing to do with majorities or minorities or who is going to rule. We are opposing the proposed mechanism for objecting to the constitution. This mechanism should not be based on geography," he said, adding that the paragraph did not serve Iraq's "higher interest."
Al-Khafaji added that the paragraph in essence gives the inhabitants of three governorates the right to obstruct the constitution or to call for its amendment, which could eventually encourage those governorates to demand the right of secession. Paragraph C states: "The general referendum [for a permanent constitution] will be successful and the draft [permanent] constitution ratified if a majority of the voters in Iraq approve and if two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates do not reject it," (see the CPA website: http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress told Al-Arabiyah television that he was concerned that the law "was enacted by a non-elected body to oblige an elected body." "This is a big problem, but we have no choice," he said, adding that part of the delay in signing the law was so that Governing Council members could "explain these matters to influential leaders" and make those leaders aware that "this danger exists, and should be dealt with without affecting the signing process today."
Another Shi'ite council member, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, told Arab Republic of Egypt Radio on 9 March that about 11 council members had reservations about the document, but added that their reservations "were not enough to impede progress." "I believe that in this modern age and in a new Iraq, the atmosphere of observations and diverse views are supposed to be encouraged and respected. The final result is that the law was adopted and nobody opposed or blocked it. They merely had observations about it, which is a normal practice in politics," al-Ja'fari said, downplaying the purported dispute. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AS AL-SISTANI EXPRESSES RESERVATIONS. In response to a question asking Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's opinion of the new Transitional Administration Law, a website dedicated to the ayatollah (http://www.rafed.net/maktab) stated on 8 March that he remains skeptical of the legislation's legitimacy despite reports that he agreed that council members should sign the law. The response reiterated al-Sistani's reservations regarding the 15 November agreement between the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority establishing a deadline for the law's passage. "Any law drafted for the interim period will not gain legitimacy until it is endorsed by an elected national assembly," the response stated, adding "such a law puts obstacles in the way of drafting a permanent constitution that would preserve the country's unity and rights of Iraqis from all sects and religions."
Meanwhile, Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri said on 8 March that the law does not fulfill Iraqis' minimum demands, Al-Manar television reported. Al-Ha'iri objected to a clause that legitimizes the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-SISTANI ISSUES FATWA PROHIBITING ILLEGAL ENTRY TO IRAQ. The website of Al-Sistani's London office (http://www.najaf.org) on 8 March posted a fatwa by the ayatollah dated 6 February in which he forbids Muslims from seeking illegal entry into Iraq. Many Muslims pay smugglers to transport them illegally to Iraq for pilgrimage and other purposes when they do not have the proper documents to cross the border. Asked his opinion of this practice, al-Sistani wrote: "Entry into Iraq via unofficial border crossings and accepting money in return for carrying out or facilitating smuggling operations is haram [religiously prohibited], and God knows best." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
CELEBRATIONS TURN VIOLENT IN KIRKUK. What began as celebrations in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to mark the Iraqi Governing Council's signing of the Transitional Administration Law turned violent on 8 March as Kurds clashed with Turkomans and Arabs, international media reported on 9 March. Three Iraqis, including one woman, were killed and 20 were injured, LBC satellite television reported.
Eyewitnesses told LBC that the Kurdish demonstrators raised pictures of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani and Kurdish flags during the demonstrations. Demonstrators also set fire to the Iraqi flag. Britain's "The Guardian," reported that tens of thousands of Kurds took part in the demonstrations, with demonstrators claiming that the signing of the law -- widely known as Iraq's interim constitution, effectively returned Kirkuk to Kurdish control. However, the interim constitution actually leaves the status of Kirkuk unresolved, and also does not resolve the issue of property claims in the city. Thousands of Kurds were forcibly displaced from Kirkuk during the Hussein regime's Arabization policy and their homes were given to Arabs. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FORMER IRAQI GENERAL COMMENTS ON FUTURE DEFENSE MINISTRY. Former Iraqi General and member of the former Iraqi opposition Najib al-Salihi discussed the formation of the future Iraqi Defense Ministry with London's "Al-Hayat," the newspaper reported on 8 March.
Al-Salihi, who heads the Free Officers and Civilians Movement, said that differences existed between members of the Iraqi Governing Council and the United States over whether a civilian or military figure should head the Defense Ministry. "While the Americans want a former military figure with knowledge of regional and international security and military affairs for the post," he claimed, "members of the Governing Council want to appoint a civilian with no military history at all." He also contended that the Governing Council "wants a weak person to prevent the military from playing a role in the country."
Al-Salihi reportedly also said that former Iraqi Staff Major General Mahan al-Fahd is a strong contender for the position of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the new army, "Al-Hayat" reported. He added that the U.S. has organized training courses in the United States to train the chiefs of staff of the New Iraqi Army. A number of Iraqi officers and civilians also went to Washington to attend three-week training courses before serving as advisers at the defense ministry, "Al-Hayat" reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
INC OFFICIAL SAYS GROUP STILL IN POSSESSION OF HUSSEIN REGIME'S SECRET REPORTS. Iraqi National Congress (INC) official Aqil al-Ta'i told London's "Al-Hayat" that the INC is still holding huge quantities of secret files and reports belonging to the former regime on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the daily reported on 9 March.
The report comes as the INC moves to defend its leader Ahmad Chalabi, who has been accused in recent weeks of providing the U.S. and U.K. with bad prewar human and material intelligence on Iraq's WMD programs. Al-Ta'i said that some of the documents obtained by the INC after the fall of the Hussein regime have been turned over to U.S. officials and to the United Nations, while others "are still in our possession and being examined." Regarding the integrity of the intelligence passed to the U.S. prior to the war in Iraq, he said: "The information was given to the Americans backed with material evidence and it was very genuine."
Al-Ta'i claimed that unspecified intelligence circles were "not being serious in handling our own information about Saddam's WMD," adding, "Their stand was at times one of doubts and at other times one of disregard." Moreover, he contended that there is a split among U.S. agencies in the search for WMD in Iraq. "There is an American action that is deliberately not searching seriously for the information and persons involved in this file," he claimed. He also told the daily that the INC continues to work with the U.S. military establishment on the issue of WMD. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
NEW LAW GOVERNING CENTRAL BANK ANNOUNCED. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer on 7 March announced a new law governing the Central Bank of Iraq, according to the CPA's official website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). The law calls for an independent Central Bank "whose objectives are to achieve and maintain domestic price stability and to foster and maintain a market-based financial system" that is in line with international practices, the announcement stated. The bank will also work to promote sustainable growth, employment, and prosperity in Iraq.
Under the new law the Central Bank may not lend directly or indirectly to the government, but may lend to government-owned commercial banks on the same terms it would extend to privately owned commercial banks, the CPA website reported. The former law governing the Iraqi Central Bank under the Hussein regime permitted lending to the government. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BOMB EXPLODES NEAR SCIRI OFFICES IN BA'QUBAH. A bomb detonated on 10 March near the Ba'qubah offices of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), international media reported. Reports of casualties varied, with Reuters reporting that one person was injured when the bomb exploded just after 6 a.m. local time, and Al-Arabiyah television placing that number at four.
SCIRI is one of the leading Iraqi political parties. It is headed by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who also holds a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council. Al-Hakim is one of the Shi'ite council members who expressed last-minute reservations to the Transitional Administration Law ratified on 8 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TWO U.S. CIVILIAN CONTRACTORS, TRANSLATOR KILLED IN IRAQ. Unknown assailants on 9 March killed two U.S. civilian contractors and their translator when their vehicle stopped at a bogus checkpoint near Al-Hillah, AP reported on 10 March. Polish military spokesman Colonel Robert Strzelecki said men disguised in Iraqi police uniforms shot and killed the three individuals at the makeshift checkpoint. Polish troops have arrested five Iraqis in connection with the murders, he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TOP ANSAR AL-ISLAM LEADER ARRESTED IN KIRKUK. U.S. forces have reportedly arrested a leader of the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 10 March. An unidentified official from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) told the satellite news channel that Ayyub al-Afghani was arrested in Kirkuk, but provided no details regarding the circumstances of the arrest. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI OIL EXPORTS TOP $6 BILLION SINCE HUSSEIN'S FALL. Iraq has exported some $6.15 billion in crude oil since the fall of the Hussein regime nearly one year ago, Reuters reported on 9 March, citing the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The proceeds from the sale of oil have been deposited in the U.S.-run Development Fund for Iraq (DFI). Reuters cited oil-market sources as saying that Iraqi crude exports continue to rise and are expected to exceed 2 million barrels per day this month, approaching the country's prewar level of 2.8 million bpd. CPA official Robert McKee told the "International Herald Tribune" of 2 March that oil exports this year could amount to $14 billion in revenue -- some $9 billion more than last year. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FIFTEEN TERRORISM SUSPECTS HELD IN IRAQ. Iraqi police have arrested 15 suspects in connection with recent terrorist attacks in Iraq, washingtonpost.com reported on 5 March. Fourteen of the suspects -- all reportedly Iraqis -- were arrested in Ba'qubah on 3 March.
An unidentified military official said that one Iraqi is suspected of commanding a cell of Wahhabi Muslims. Wahhabi Islam, which is primarily practiced in Saudi Arabia, is also the sect of Islam practiced by Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The website reported that another individual was captured south of Baghdad. He was reportedly wearing a police uniform and carrying fake police identification. Iraqi Police Major Muhammad Dayikh Albu Say'a said the man confessed to being part of a group of what the newspaper called "mercenaries" that attacked Karbala and Baghdad on 2 March (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 March 2004). The police major alleged that the arrested man was planning to blow up two police stations. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. GENERAL SAYS HE WILL NOT ALLOW SHI'A TO OPERATE IN ARMED MILITIAS. United States Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on 4 March that he will not allow Shi'a groups in Iraq to form militias as protection against terrorist attacks, ft.com reported on 5 March.
Abizaid told the congressional committee that while groups such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) 10,000-strong Badr Brigades are welcome to join the Iraqi Army and other security forces, they would not be allowed to operate outside of that structure. He added that if he were to allow Badr to reconstitute its forces "it would be a destabilizing event because it would give the impression that ethnic militia are standing up, and create the impression that they are standing up for other than strictly defensive measures, which would not be good for Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
GROUP DISTRIBUTES LEAFLETS CLAIMING AL-ZARQAWI DEAD. A group identifying itself as Mujahedin Allahu Akbar distributed leaflets in Al-Fallujah this week claiming that suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi was killed in the northern Iraqi mountains near Al-Sulaymaniyah during a U.S. raid in the area last year, AP reported on 4 March.
While the leaflet did not provide the specific date for the alleged U.S. raid or for al-Zarqawi's purported death, it is presumably referring to the March bombings of an Ansar Al-Islam stronghold in northern Iraq just days into Operation Iraqi Freedom (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 March 2003). The leaflets further claimed that a letter held by coalition officials in Iraq and purportedly written by Al-Zarqawi (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004) is a fake. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSTURKEY APPEARS UNSUPPORTIVE OF NEW IRAQI LAW. Turkish officials on 8 March appeared concerned about Iraq's new interim constitution, AFP reported. Turkish government spokesman and Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said that "the interim law does not satisfy us, it increases our concerns," AFP reported, citing Anatolia news agency. Cicek added that Turkey views the interim constitution as "as an arrangement that will not help the establishment of permanent peace in Iraq and one that will allow for the continuation for a long time of unrest and instability there." Turkish officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that Kurds in northern Iraq might attempt secession, which could lead to civil unrest among Turkey's own Kurdish population. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KUWAIT SEEKING $435 MILLION IN COMPENSATION FOR MISSING FAMILIES. Kuwait on 9 March asked the UN Compensation Commission to pay some $720,000 in compensation to each family of the more than 600 Kuwaitis missing from the 1990 Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and subsequent 1991 Gulf War, Reuters reported the same day. The remains of a number of missing Kuwaitis have been discovered in mass graves in Iraq over the past year. Kuwait also asked the UN for $10 million to cover the costs of exhuming and identifying the remains of its nationals through DNA testing. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KUWAITI, IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS WORK TO SECURE BORDERS. Kuwait's assistant interior undersecretary for border-security affairs, Brigadier Sulayman al-Fahad, met in Kuwait on 6 March with Iraqi Interior Ministry Senior Undersecretary Lieutenant General Ahmad Ibrahim to discuss security relations, KUNA reported. The talks focused on preventing infiltrators and smugglers from crossing the Iraq-Kuwait border. The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry is reportedly sharing its expertise in border security with Iraqi police. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQUN ASSESSMENT TEAM VISITS SOUTHERN IRAQ. The United Nations sent an assessment team to southern Iraq this week to examine the security situation and overall conditions on the ground, the UN News Center reported on 9 March (http://www.un.org/news). The team visit was the second to southern Iraq since UN forces withdrew from the country last year (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 October 2003) following the August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva that the team "reported that Al-Basrah appears busier, in part due to the return of many Iraqis to the south." But the return of displaced Iraqis -- mostly refugees from Saudi Arabia and Iran, are reportedly beginning to put a strain on the economic and social situation in the south.
According to Iraqi statistics, some 122,000 refugees have returned to Iraq's nine southern governorates since the collapse of the Hussein regime, Redmond said. He cautioned, however, that UNHCR has not been able to verify those figures. UNHCR has helped repatriate over 9,000 refugees from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran claims that over 70,000 Iraqi refugees spontaneously repatriated themselves to Iraq after the war. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ANNAN CALLS FOR NATIONAL DIALOGUE IN IRAQ. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reportedly called for a national dialogue in Iraq following the signing of the Transitional Administration Law, UN News Center reported on 8 March.
Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, told reporters that the secretary general would be studying the interim constitution signed on 8 March. "In this regard, he'll also review the possible role which may be envisaged by the Iraqis for the UN," he said. Eckhard added that Annan "emphasizes the importance of an inclusive national dialogue and genuine consensus-building among all Iraqis, which will help to promote stability in Iraq as the country moves closer to regaining its sovereignty." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQEUROPEAN COMMISSION APPROVES 2004 AID PROGRAM FOR IRAQ. The European Commission on 4 March approved its 2004 aid program to assist Iraqi reconstruction, according to a press release posted on the commission's Rapid website (http://europe.eu.int/rapid/start/welcome.htm). The aid program identified three priority areas for assistance: restoring the delivery of key public services; boosting employment and reducing poverty; and strengthening governance, civil society, and human rights. The commission will disburse 160 million euros (currently $195 million) of the 200 million euros pledged at the 23-24 October Madrid conference on Iraq. "Our aim is to help the Iraqi authorities meet the expectations of the local population and bring some tangible improvements in living conditions," the press release quoted External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten as saying. Some 90 million euros from the funds will be allocated this year for public services such as health care and education, the provision of clean drinking water, and improved sanitation. Sixty million euros will aid employment initiatives and poverty reduction, while 10 million euros will go to governance, human rights, and civil-society programs. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RUSSIA REJECTS ALLEGATIONS THAT IT HELPED IRAQ DEVELOP MISSILES. Moscow flatly denies recent Western media reports that Russia helped the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in its efforts to develop banned missiles, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March, quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov.
"It is true that the Soviet Union cooperated with Iraq in that sphere, but at that time there were no international sanctions and no international instruments that restricted [such] cooperation," Fedotov said. He denied that Russia or the Soviet Union ever assisted Hussein in efforts to develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. He noted that a report by the UN Monitoring Verification and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) listed only U.S. and European firms as having been involved in such work.
Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman and presidential candidate Sergei Mironov told ITAR-TASS on 9 March that the UN should take responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the newly ratified Iraqi interim constitution, and expressed the hope that "legitimate bodies of power will soon appear in Iraq." (Rob Coalson)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SAYS INTERIM CONSTITUTION 'SHORTCHANGES' WOMEN. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 5 March press release that the Iraqi Transitional Administrative Law shortchanges women in Iraq (see http://www.hrw.org). "Equal rights for Iraqi women in marriage, inheritance, and their children's citizenship should not be left in jeopardy," said LaShawn Jefferson, executive director of the organization's Women's Rights Division. "The interim constitution should explicitly guarantee these rights." The press release added that the law does not specifically guarantee equality between men and women in at least three critical areas: it does not explicitly guarantee equal rights for women "to marry, within marriage, and at its dissolution;" it does not explicitly guarantee women inheritance rights equal to those of men; and it fails to guarantee Iraqi women married to non-Iraqis the right to confer citizenship to their children. "If a goal is to ensure that women's rights are given equal stature and protection, the constitutional process in Iraqi has gotten off to a weak start," Jefferson said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S., JAPAN LAUNCHING MEDIA CAMPAIGNS IN IRAQ. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq said on 9 March that it would launch an advertising campaign to promote democracy in Iraq, Reuters reported on the same day.
Billed as a "strategic communications and advertising campaign," the program's goal will be to inform the Iraqi people "about the democratic process that will see sovereignty returned to an interim Iraqi administration, the conduct of democratic elections, and the establishment of a new constitution for Iraq," a CPA announcement said.
Meanwhile, Japan is planning its own media campaign in Iraq, Japanese press reported this week. The campaign, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will promote Japan's reconstruction assistance to the Iraqi people and explain the role of Japanese Self-Defense Forces in Iraq. The commercial features footage of Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi committing $5 billion to the reconstruction of Iraq at the Madrid Donors' Conference last October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 October 2003), according to Tokyo's "Mainichi Shimbun." The commercial is set to air on Al-Jazeera by the end of the month. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE SAYS IRAQIS MUST WORK OUT DIFFERENCES. Colin Powell said on 9 March that he remains confident that Iraqis will be able to confront the challenges ahead despite their differences, RFE/RL reported.
The signing of Iraq's Transitional Administration Law "was such a historic step that I'm confident we'll be able to deal with these other challenges as they come along, or, we should put it another way -- the Iraqis will be able to deal with these other challenges as they come along, because this is now an Iraqi process," Powell said. "What we have launched now is an Iraqi process that will be driven by the Iraqis as they move forward, and they will have to reconcile the differences that might still exist within Iraq, and we will provide our assistance and guidance," he said. "But it is for them to determine how they will be governed, what kind of constitution they will have, and what kind of political system they will have within the guidelines of this administrative law and the constitution that will follow." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SOUTH KOREA TO SPEND $57 MILLION ON IRAQI RECONSTRUCTION PROJECTS THIS YEAR. South Korea announced on 9 March that it plans to spend some 67 billion won (about $57 million) on reconstruction projects in Iraq this year, yonhapnews.net reported on the same day. The funds are part of the $200 million pledged by South Korea in aid for Iraq.
The funds are expected to go towards the provision of some 200 police patrol cars, as well as some 1,000 computers, and 200 printers presumably to be used as part of the country's commitment to fostering job creation in Iraq. The troops will also work on restoring electricity and water to the city, and will also implement a buy-back program, paying Iraqis who turn in their weapons. Seoul will begin dispatching some 3,000 troops to Iraq next month. The troops will be stationed in the volatile city of Kirkuk, where one of their first goals will be to launch a major effort to clean up the city, joongangdaily.joins.com reported on 8 March. South Korea already has around 500 army engineers and medics in Iraq. South Korea also said on 8 March that it would invite 14 Iraqi officials to visit Seoul this month to tour Korea's high-tech companies and state-of-the-art network facilities, "The Korea Times" website (http://times.hankooki.com) reported on the same day. (Kathleen Ridolfo)