Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq Report: May 7, 2004

7 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 16
FIVE-WEEK OLD STANDOFF BETWEEN COALITION, AL-SADR CONTINUES. No end appears in sight in the five week-old standoff between U.S.-led coalition forces and radical Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, despite attempts by Iraqi leaders to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 April 2004). Militiamen from al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army have attacked coalition forces in Amarah, Al-Najaf and Karbala this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 5 May 2004) leaving some 40 Iraqis dead.

Al-Sadr's militiamen first launched attacks in April against coalition forces after the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) ordered the cleric's "Al-Hawzah" newspaper closed on 28 March for two months on charges of incitement to violence. The same week, the CPA revealed that an Iraqi judge had issued an Iraqi arrest warrant months earlier for al-Sadr due to his involvement in the 10 April 2003 killing of Iraqi Shi'ite Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003).

A spokesman for al-Sadr interviewed on Al-Jazeera television on 4 May claimed that U.S. forces were "trying to escalate [the] military situation" with al-Sadr forces in and around the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, where the cleric has been holed up since early April. "What was noticed in the past two days in the holy cities of Al-Najaf, Al-Kufah, and Karbala is that the occupation forces are heading to escalation," Sheikh Ahmad al-Shaybani said.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 4 May that a committee has been formed to collect heavy weapons from al-Sadr militiamen in Al-Najaf, particularly weapons being stored at holy sites. Meanwhile, senior Shi'ite clerics in Al-Najaf have reportedly called on al-Sadr and his followers to abandon their positions in Al-Najaf and Karbala, reported on 5 May. The Washington daily reported that a 21-member committee composed of Shi'ite tribal, religious, and political figures is working to broker a deal that would allow the cleric to leave Al-Najaf.

Al-Sadr's aides have dismissed the committee's proposal, which was also not approved by the United States. Al-Sadr and his followers "do not occupy the holy shrines in the holy cities," said Qais Hazaali, an al-Sadr spokesman in Al-Najaf. "Any calls issued by the Governing Council, or any members of the Governing Council, do not represent Iraqis. They represent the occupation forces," he added. Some Shi'ite members of the Governing Council sit on the 21-member committee.

The young cleric did appear to receive some support, however, from secular-turned-Shi'ite political leader Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi Governing Council member who heads the U.S.-funded Iraqi National Congress (INC). Chalabi told a 4 May new conference that announced the above-mentioned 21-member committee that "sovereignty is not to be given, it is to be seized," reported on 5 May. Speaking about members of the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, Chalabi defended them, saying: "Most of them have parents in the mass graves, and they became fed up with the current situation, which the occupiers have ignored. But it is time to reject every military invasion and nonmilitary invasion of the two holy cities."

Al-Sadr criticized Iraqi Shi'ite political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party in his 30 April Friday prayer sermon in Al-Kufah for not taking a stand against the U.S.-led civil administration in Iraq, Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported. "I advise these [parties] which are defending the West and canceling and invalidating jihad, to think about the judgment of God," al-Sadr told thousands of worshippers at the Al-Kufah Mosque. Tensions have been on the rise in recent weeks between SCIRI's militia, the Badr Brigades, and al-Sadr loyalists. Abu Hasan al-Amiri referred to al-Sadr loyalists as extremists, Baghdad's "Al-Ittihad" reported on 29 April. An al-Sadr loyalist in Baghdad told the daily that relations between his group and the Badr Brigades constituted a longstanding struggle between the Arabs and Persians. SCIRI and its Badr Brigades are supported by Iran.

Meanwhile, Iranian-based Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri, who serves as religious guide for the low-level cleric's movement, appeared to distance himself from al-Sadr on 2 May. Al-Ha'iri's younger brother, Muhammad Husayn al-Husayn al-Ha'iri, speaking on behalf of the grand ayatollah, said in Qom: "His eminence has not issued any fatwa to engage in military confrontation with the U.S.-led occupying forces," AP reported. "The time is not ripe for that," he added. Also on 2 May, coalition forces reportedly arrested al-Sadr aide Adnan al-Unaybi in Al-Hillah, according to Al-Jazeera. Two Iraqis were killed during the raid, according to the cleric's spokesman. That same day, the U.S. military set up roadblocks around Al-Najaf in an attempt to impede movement by al-Sadr's militiamen and their weapons to and from the city.

It appears that the people of Al-Najaf are also growing tired of the cleric and his militiamen, who have brought unwanted tension to the holy city. A group calling itself the Dhu al-Fiqar Battalions distributed leaflets in Al-Najaf last week promising to break the wall of fear which has haunted residents, "Al-Ittihad" reported on 29 April. Another group, calling itself the Al-Najaf Battalions, attacked al-Sadr militiamen, injuring two on 27 April, the daily reported. The two battalions also reportedly carried out joint attacks against al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army in Al-Kufah, burning vehicles belonging to al-Sadr's militia and firing rocket-propelled grenades at the al-Sadr base. A third group calling itself The Faithful Youths in Al-Najaf also clashed with al-Sadr forces on 28 April in the city, "Al-Ittihad" reported.

Also this week, the Iraqi Defense Ministry issued a statement calling on all parties' militias to join the new Iraqi army. A ministry spokesman said that the ministry would not accept any party's militia unless it joined the new army, "Al-Mashriq" reported on 4 May. Meanwhile, some 150 Shi'ite leaders met on short notice in Baghdad on 4 May to discuss options on reining in the cleric, reported on 5 May. One tribal leader from Al-Najaf, Taqlif al-Farnoun, proposed allowing the U.S. to enter the holy city to go after al-Sadr. "Najaf is not Mecca," he said, adding, "The Americans don't want to go into the shrines. They want to get rid of criminals and thieves. So what if they enter the city?" According to, a number of men responded approvingly to al-Farnoun's proposal. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S., U.K. ABUSE OF IRAQI PRISONERS UNCOVERED IN IRAQ. The revelations in recent days that Iraqi detainees were abused at the hands of United States and British soldiers in Iraq has sparked outrage in Iraq, which suffered years of brutal treatment at the hands of Iraqi security services working for deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. The reports of prisoner abuse first broke when the U.S.'s CBS television broadcast photographs taken by U.S. soldiers while they were committing the abuses.

It was later revealed that the U.S. military had been investigating allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghurayb Prison west of Baghdad since last fall, reported on 30 April. The first of two military investigations into the allegations was completed in November, while the second, a classified report obtained by the website and written by U.S. Major General Antonio Taguba, was completed in February. Taguba reported that between October and December there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at the prison, which he characterized as a systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, the website reported.

The alleged abuses include: breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick; and allowing military dogs in at least one incident to bite a detainee. The website listed the names of all six suspects linked to the abuse and described how the U.S. investigation unfolded following reports by a U.S. serviceman who witnessed inappropriate treatment of prisoners and later viewed a CD containing the now-widely reported photographs depicting the abuse of detainees. That serviceman's report led to the first investigation, which was launched on 1 November, AFP reported on 3 May. AFP also reported that a seventh U.S. military officer was given a more lenient reprimand than his six cohorts, while another six U.S. military policemen are facing criminal charges.

The military policemen involved in the incident told Taguba that they participated in the alleged abuses at the orders of U.S. military intelligence, according to on 30 April. "We were told that they [military intelligence] had different rules," Sergeant Javal Davis was quoted as saying. The most senior enlisted man charged following the investigation, Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II, who previously worked for six years at the Virginia Department of Corrections, reportedly wrote in e-mails home that he "questioned" procedure but added, "This is how military intelligence wants it done."

Taguba also claimed in his report that Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who headed the Iraqi prison system, apparently did not recognize that the flaws in the prison system were due to poor leadership "and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers." Karpinski was removed from her position and suspended in January. Major General Geoffrey Miller, her replacement, formerly served as commander of the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention center.

As the allegations surfaced in the United States, two British soldiers provided London's "The Daily Mirror" with evidence of prisoner abuse at the hands of British soldiers stationed in southern Iraq. Part of the evidence included a photograph of a British soldier urinating on an Iraqi prisoner. The soldiers said that the photographs in their possession represented only the tip of the iceberg. "Maybe the officers don't know what is going on but everybody else does. I've seen hundreds of pictures," one of the soldiers contended. He added that many of the soldiers carried digital cameras in Iraq, some of which were issued by the British Defense Ministry. Many of the pictures were reportedly destroyed in September when an investigation was launched into the death of an Iraqi detainee. One soldier said he had even destroyed pages from his diary, noting, "I had written things down I shouldn't have." "If the world thinks they were shocked by these pictures they haven't seen anything," another soldier contended. "You ought to have been there, to have seen the things we've seen."

British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram said on 1 May that "such wrongdoing besmirches the good name of the...armed forces," BBC reported. Ingram added that there was no "culture of abuse" in the British Army although five separate inquiries into prisoner abuse are under way, the BBC reported. However, Amnesty International said that it has uncovered a "pattern of torture" of Iraqi prisoners by coalition troops," AP reported on 3 May. Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the issue on 2 May, saying: "Let me make it quite clear. If these things have actually been done, they are completely and totally unacceptable. I mean, we went to Iraq to get rid of that type of thing. Not to do it." There were also claims that the photos had been doctored and were not authentic.

U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the Iraqi people in separate interviews with Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television and the U.S.-funded Alhurra television on 5 April. "I have told our secretary of defense and I have instructed him to tell everybody else in the military I want to know the full extent of the operations in Iraq -- the prison operations. We want to make sure that if there is a systemic problem -- in other words, if it's a problem system-wide -- that we stop the practices," Bush told Al-Arabiyah. "It's very important for the people of the Middle East to realize that the troops we have overseas are decent, honorable citizens who care about freedom and peace, that are working daily in Iraq to improve the lives of the Iraqi citizens. And these actions of a few people do not reflect the nature of the men and women who serve our country," he added. White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the press that Bush only learned of the allegations in January, Reuters reported on 4 May.

U.S. officials announced on 4 May that two Iraqi prisoners were killed by Americans and 23 other deaths are being investigated in Iran and Afghanistan, Reuters reported on the same day. Army officials revealed that 25 prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have been investigated, adding that most of the deaths occurred in Iraq. An unnamed Army official said that a soldier was convicted of homicide by a U.S. military court for shooting a prisoner to death in September at an undisclosed detention center in Iraq. He added that a private contractor working for the Central Intelligence Agency was determined to have committed the other homicide.

Meanwhile, Major General Geoffrey Miller, the new head of the Iraqi prison system, said on 4 May that physical contact, hooding, stress positioning, and questioning naked detainees are not authorized U.S. interrogation techniques in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) noted in a press release posted on the CPA website ( Miller added that civilian contractors acting as interrogators are held to the same standards as the military. "If they do not follow our standards, then we discharge them. If there are acts that are beyond the level of discharge, then we will take the appropriate action to hold them accountable," he added. International media has reported this week that contractors are not subject to the same standards applied to a military force under the Geneva Conventions. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

AS IRAQI LEADERS REACT WITH SHOCK. Iraqi leaders reacted with shock to the allegations of prisoner abuse by coalition forces in the country, according to international media reports. Iraqi Interior Minister Samir Shakir Mahmud al-Sumaydi'i called for Iraqi participation in the running of prisons, Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 1 May. "We will seek to make the Interior Ministry take part in the measures and in the administration of the affairs of prisoners," he said. Iraqi and coalition forces should "agree on a method of treating prisoners in the wake of the [30 June] transfer of authority so that the Iraqi authorities will have a primary role in treating them," al-Sumaydi'i added.

Iraqi Governing Council member Muhsin Abd al-Hamid criticized coalition forces over the purported photographs of prisoner abuse published in the Western press, telling Al-Jazeera television on 1 May: "These photos show a flagrant aggression against the Iraqi people's dignity, because most of the prisoners are innocent. How can the army and soldiers of a modern country that claims that it came to liberate Iraq commit these crimes against citizens and prisoners?" KUNA reported on 4 May that the Iraqi Governing Council has sent an investigative team to the Abu Ghurayb prison west of Baghdad to investigate the allegations. The council also demanded in a statement that the justice, human rights, and interior ministries be allowed to visit Iraqi prisons on a continuing basis to ensure that prisoners are being treated fairly.

Meanwhile, former Iraqi Human Rights Minister Abd al-Basit Turki, who resigned on 8 April, said that he was aware of human-rights violations taking place in Iraqi prisons and had addressed the issue with CPA head L. Paul Bremer in November, AFP reported on 3 May. "I told [Bremer] the news. He didn't take care about the information I gave him," Turki contended. The coalition had no comment on Turki's allegations, AFP reported.

Turki conceded, however, that while he knew of prisoner abuse, he was not aware of the extent of the abuse at the time of his meeting with Bremer. "The prisoners I spoke to, they told me how Iraqi prisoners were left in the sun on U.S. bases for hours, prevented to pray and wash...left for two days on a chair and kicked at Abu Ghurayb," he said. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry has called for an independent inquiry into the allegations, "Al-Sabah" newspaper reported on 4 May. The ministry also demanded that control over the prison system be transferred to the Directorate of Reform, and that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent be allowed to visit prisons and conduct their own inquiries. The allegations have sparked large public protests outside Abu Ghurayb prison this week. Reaction to the allegations was equally harsh in the Arab world. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

CONTROL OVER AL-FALLUJAH HANDED TO IRAQIS, BUT GOVERNING COUNCIL OBJECTS. A number of Iraqi Governing Council members objected to a U.S. decision this week to place former Ba'athists who served in the military under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein in charge of the volatile Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah. The decision came as the U.S. tried to bring several weeks of fighting between anticoalition militants in the city and U.S. forces to an end. The U.S.-led operation was impeded when Iraqi army soldiers refused to work alongside U.S. forces in fighting the militants and, in some cases, joined the militants in battling U.S. troops there. Al-Fallujah is a Sunni stronghold, and many residents welcomed the appointment of former regime elements, who are Sunni, to command Iraqi forces in the city.

At the center of the controversy was the proposed appointment of former Iraqi General Jassim Muhammad Salih al-Muhammadawi, who has been accused of quelling the 1991 Shi'ite and Kurdish uprising that followed the Gulf War that year. General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the proposed appointment on 2 May, saying that Salih, who served under former President Saddam Hussein, would almost certainly not command the Al-Fallujah Brigade, Reuters reported the same day. "My guess is, it would not be General Salih.... He will not be their leader," Myers told ABC Television's "This Week" program. "He may have a role to play, but that vetting has yet to take place."

Meanwhile, Kurdish council member Jalal Talabani said on 2 May that Salih's appointment would be acceptable to the Governing Council, Reuters reported the same day. "Because the people of [Al-] Fallujah choose this man and this man will do his best; we must forget something that happened in the past," he said. In the end, former Iraqi General Muhammad Latif was successfully vetted and placed in charge of the brigade. Latif served under Hussein, but eventually opposed the dictator and was jailed for seven years in the 1990s after he disobeyed an order from Hussein on the movement of his troops, reported on 3 May. U.S. troops subsequently lifted a security cordon around the city on 5 May and allowed traffic flow in and out of the city, Reuters reported on the same day.

Iraqi Defense Minister Ali Allawi told Al-Arabiyah television on 1 May that the Al-Fallujah Brigade was formed under an agreement between U.S. Marines and Al-Fallujah dignitaries. Asked about contacts with "senior members of the former regime," Allawi said: "We did not meet with officers of the former regime. We met with former army officers. This does not mean that all of them are necessarily Ba'athists or involved with the former regime in terms of security. The officers who were present are professionals and have their own visions and views...We took their ideas and views into consideration and we hope that this good and professional section of the old army might play an important role in establishing the core of the new army," he added.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Governing Council spokesman Haydar Ahmad told Al-Arabiyah on 2 May that the Defense Ministry was not consulted on the formation of the Al-Fallujah Battalion, saying, "The tragedy of Al-Fallujah cannot be ended by forming a force without consulting the authority in this country." Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi told Al-Jazeera television in a 3 May interview that the council objected to the appointment of former Iraqi military personnel who served under Hussein, claiming, "The Al-Fallujah Brigade was formed at an initiative from the [U.S.] Marines. Neither the Iraqi Army nor the Iraqi government is responsible for them.... The issue is that those who carried arms and the terrorists who fight against the new situation in Iraq are from the Ba'athists and the remnants of Saddam's regime. They should not be given legitimacy to control any area in Iraq by force," Chalabi added. He said the "presence of elements and officers" from the former Republican Guard would also obstruct Iraqi Major General Latif's ability to command the force.

Chalabi, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, and SCIRI member Adil Abd al-Mahdi signed a joint statement supporting Defense Minister Allawi in refusing to consider what they called "The Republican Guard brigade" in Al-Fallujah as part of the new Iraqi Army, Al-Jazeera reported on 3 May. A number of Iraqi clerics also opposed the return of Ba'athists to the Iraqi military, including a spokesman for Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Jalal al-Din al-Saghir said: "Members of the Ba'ath Party committed the most heinous crimes and created bloodbaths and the biggest mass graves in the history of mankind," Voice of the Mujahidin radio reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

GROUP THREATENS TO BRING 'RESISTANCE' TO BAGHDAD. The anticoalition terrorist group Al-Mujahidin Brigades has reportedly been circulating statements in Baghdad calling on Iraqis to refrain from leaving their homes, attending school, or walking in markets as the group prepares to launch attacks against the coalition in the Iraqi capital, London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 1 May. "Your mujahidin brothers in Al-Ramadi, Al-Khalidiyah, and Al-Fallujah will bring the fire of the resistance to the capital Baghdad and lend support to our mujahidin brothers in the Al-Mahdi Army with the aim of liberating you from the injustice of the occupation. Forewarned is forearmed," the statement reads. The statement also calls on all business owners to close their establishments. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

SCIRI MEMBER DENIES LINKS TO IRAN, DEFENDS IRAN-IRAQ RELATIONS. Muhsin al-Hakim, a representative of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), denied that his organization is supported by the Iranian regime, according to an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency published on 22 April. SCIRI was based in Iran for some 22 years and was known to have been funded by the Iranian regime. When the group returned to Iraq following the ouster of the Hussein regime, SCIRI leadership was quick to distance itself from Iran but its radio station, Voice of the Mujahidin, still reportedly broadcasts from Iran.

"The Badr Organization [the armed wing of SCIRI] is a purely Iraqi organization, with Iraqi administrators and an Iraqi general secretary and Iraqi members," al-Hakim said during the interview. "This is a proven fact, and we follow no foreign countries," he added. Asked about the state of relations between Iraq, Iran, and the United States, al-Hakim said: "We invite every country to cooperate [in Iraq], but we do not want the land of Iraq to become a land where old scores are settled. We oppose turning Iraq into an instrument to confront regional neighbors."

Al-Hakim added that the deportation of Saddam Hussein-supported Iranian opposition group members belonging to the Mujahidin e-Khalq, the increase in the number of Iranian pilgrims being allowed to enter Iraq, and the release of Iraqi prisoners of war from Iran "are evidence of our peaceful relations with Iran." On statements made by State Department spokesman Adam Ereli regarding Iranian interference in Iraq, al-Hakim said: "During this time, we have witnessed a very positive role on the part of Iran with regard to humanitarian support, the development of religious tourism, and job creation." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI UNDERSECRETARY OF CULTURE KIDNAPPED. Jabar al-Jabari, the undersecretary of Iraq's Culture Ministry, was kidnapped in Al-Najaf on 4 May, KUNA reported. A source at the ministry said al-Jabari was abducted by members of an unidentified militant Islamic group opposed to SCIRI, to which al-Jabari belongs. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQI WATER MINISTER DISCUSSES REVITALIZATION PROJECTS. Water Resources Minister Abd al-Latif Jamal Rashid told the British daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" of 4 May that Iraq is undertaking a series of projects to revitalize its water system after years of neglect under the Hussein regime. Rashid said that a major project is under way to restore some 80 percent of Iraq's marshlands within three years. "This year we had a good rate of rainwater and surplus water, which we diverted to the marshlands. This water covered more than 50 percent of the area of marshlands," Rashid said, adding, "This rate may fall in [the] summer." The ministry is also looking into a number of regional and international agreements on water sharing. While no agreements exist between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria on a fixed share of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, all of Iraq's neighbors have diverted water from the rivers for their own use. "In the past, the volume of water that used to flow into Iraq totaled 27 billion cubic meters. This volume represents Iraq's legal share of water from the two rivers," Rashid said. "Now around 11 billion cubic meters of water, or one-third [of the previous amount], flows into Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

IRAQ GETS A NEW FLAG. A flag to represent the new Iraq was unfurled this week in Baghdad. The flag, chosen from 30 submissions, was designed by Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirchi, brother of Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Kamil Chadirchi. In a dramatic shift from the previous Iraqi flag, which carries the pan-Arab colors of red, black, white, and green, the new flag has a white background with an Islamic crescent in blue, and two horizontal lines symbolizing the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers as well as the Sunni and Shi'ite sects of Islam. A third, yellow-colored stripe represents Iraqi Kurds.

Iraqis do not seem to have taken to the shift. Iraqis protested against the flag for three days in Mosul this week, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Iraqi Governing Council member Adnan Pachachi told Abu Dhabi television on 2 May: "I do not like the new flag." Pachachi added that the rush to design a flag was undertaken too quickly. "For instance, there was an idea to make the crescent green so that the Arab colors will continue to appear, and to have two red lines with a yellow line between them instead of the two blue lines," he said. He added that he believed that the flag would not remain Iraq's permanent flag. Governing Council member Mas'ud Barzani agreed. "It will stand for a few months until we decide on a flag for Iraq," quoted him as saying. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

QATARI FOREIGN MINISTER SUPPORTS BA'ATHIST RETURN TO IRAQI GOVERNMENT. Hamid bin Jasim bin Jaber al-Thani called on the U.S. administration on 3 May to allow former members of the Ba'athist regime of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein to work in the new Iraqi government, Reuters reported on the same day. He contended that many Iraqis joined the now defunct Ba'ath Party in order to secure jobs and feed their families, and thus should not be excluded from working for the Iraqi army or police. The foreign minister, who also serves as Qatar's prime minister, added that the U.S. decision to exclude Ba'athists from serving in the new Iraqi government had turned many Iraqis into enemies of the United States. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

KHARRAZI SAYS IRAN TRYING TO DIFFUSE SITUATION WITH IRAQI CLERIC. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told a press conference in Brussels on 4 May that his country is continuing to help resolve the standoff between U.S. forces and Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf, Reuters reported on the same day. "Of course we have tried our best to defuse the situation in Iraq. We had some contacts with Muqtada al-Sadr as well in the past to calm him down and to a certain extent it was successful," Kharrazi said. Asked about the current role of Iran in the standoff, he added: "We are in contact with different sides in Iraq and we will continue with our efforts to resolve this Iraqi problem." Kharrazi said that the U.S. government had not solicited any mediation by Iran in resolving the conflict. "What the Americans have been expressing is that they are looking for a continuous, positive role of Iran and this does not mean they are looking for any specific action or asking for mediation," he said. He also criticized the U.S. decision to arrest or kill al-Sadr, telling reporters: "I believe that the question of Muqtada al-Sadr has to be put in the hands of religious leaders in Najaf. They have established a committee and should be allowed to settle it." (Kathleen Ridolfo)

ARAB WORLD REACTS TO PRISONER ABUSE ALLEGATIONS IN IRAQ. As expected by the U.S. administration, reaction to the photographs alleging abuse of Iraqi detainees held by U.S. and U.K. forces this week was harsh. By and large, editorial pieces lay blame on the United States for the alleged abuses at the Abu Ghurayb prison west of Baghdad. Most editorials failed to mention the allegations of abuse at British-run prisons altogether.

A commentary by Sultan al-Hattab published in Amman's "Al-Ra'y" on 2 May asked those who admire the United States: "What is [your] opinion of the crimes that project the image of the horrid American as he indulges in his hobbies and cultures in the Abu Ghurayb prison?" Al-Hattab likens the abuse of Iraqi detainees to the well-documented -- and similar -- interrogation style prevalent in the Israeli prison system, and calls the U.S. "perpetrators" "Nazis in every sense of the word." He further claims that the alleged acts of prisoner abuse expose "the fallacy of the alleged liberation and shows the true face of a criminal. There is no white occupation and black occupation, but only one criminal occupation," al-Hattab says.

Meanwhile, an opinion piece written by Adham al-Tawil in Syria's "Tishrin" claimed that the U.S. government reacted to the allegations by showing a "false interest" in the purported crimes that were committed by U.S. military personnel. "The fact that its soldiers violated laws of war as well as human rights has never been a concern that preoccupied it because it has made itself immune to any international questioning in this regard by categorically refusing to join the International War Crimes Tribunal," al-Tawil writes. He adds that the crimes carried out in Iraqi prisons by the coalition were committed because there was no one to deter the perpetrators. "Perhaps the worst thing about what happened, in addition to the fact that it was committed within the sight and hearing of the occupation forces' command, is that it did not serve a specific objective. It was carried out by military men and mercenaries who do not appreciate the value of humanity because they lack humanity."

An editorial published in Doha's "Gulf Times" on 1 May said the alleged abuse equates to "a calamity that destroys the dubious claims to legitimacy that the White House advanced in support of the war and the occupation." "U.S. troops were supposed to be liberators, not occupiers. Last year they proudly showed off Saddam Hussein's torture chamber in Abu Ghurayb jail as evidence of what they were liberating Iraq from. Then they refilled the cells and took up where Saddam's torturers left off," the newspaper wrote.

The editorial further criticized the appointment this week of Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention center, to take over administration of the Iraqi prison system. "We are supposed to be reassured by news that the concentration camp commander from Guantanamo Bay will now take full control of the prison system in Iraq. Yet, there are allegations of sexual abuse and torture from former inmates of his camp – allegations that the U.S. simply ignores because, after all, anyone who was thrown into the cages there and stripped of all rights was one of 'the worst of the bad guys,'" the paper contends. The editorial goes on to cite reported incidents of prisoner abuse by U.S. military policemen and Marines in July and October, refuting claims by U.S. officials that what happened at Abu Ghurayb was an isolated incident.

Meanwhile, Ahmad al-Rab'i wrote in the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," which is widely read in the Arab world, that the purported abuse by a few Americans should not reflect on the American people as a whole. " However, al-Rab'i contended that the Arab and Muslim world should be afforded the same kind of consideration. "It is our right, however, to take advantage of this incident to stress that extremists and sick people in all societies do not necessarily represent the culture of their societies. We note that as soon as the names of the terrorists who carried out the 11 September crime were released, and as soon as other crimes were committed in Africa and Spain and the perpetrators' affiliation with Islam was declared, influential circles in the United States launched an ugly campaign against Islam and the Islamic culture."

He continued: "The barbaric practices of the U.S. brigadier general [Janice Karpinski, under whose watch the purported incidents took place] do not reflect the culture of the American society. Similarly, the practices of Muslim terrorists do not represent the Islamic culture, nor do they represent the people of this region who call for peace and reject terrorism," al-Rab'i said. "Therefore, we must believe President Bush when he says that these abnormal practices by the U.S. brigadier general do not represent the American culture. We, however, want the president to believe us too when we say that terrorists and murderers do not represent our societies, people, and cultures."

The Arab public is familiar with such acts, which are often perpetrated by state security agencies against civilian detainees, and many in the region hold the United States to a higher standard. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor annual, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," which highlights the abuses across the world and was to be released this week, has now been delayed, presumably because the release coincided with this week's reports of abuse in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN COLLECTING DATA FOR HUMAN-RIGHTS REPORT ON IRAQ. The United Nations human rights office has begun collecting data for a report on civil liberties in Iraq, the UN News Center announced on 4 May. Jose Luis Diaz, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that Acting High Commissioner Bertrand Ramcharan expressed revulsion about the reports and photographs depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

A press release posted to the website said that the report, due to be completed by 31 May, will examine the period between April 2003 and May 2004, and address the military/security situation, the protection of civilians, the treatment of detainees, displacement, civil and political rights, including the freedom of religion, economic, social, and cultural rights, and human-rights institutions -- including the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry.

Ramcharan has requested that the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraqi Governing Council, and foreign ministers of coalition member states provide him with information relevant to the inquiry. He has also requested the assistance of nongovernmental and international organizations working in Iraq. The OHCHR plans to visit Amman, Beirut, and other neighboring capitals to conduct interviews with persons wishing to provide relevant information as well, the press release stated.

Meanwhile, the UN's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council to respect international human-rights law and grant Iraqi detainees access to the courts. The working group also urged both bodies to clarify the legal status of each detainee. "The Working Group's Chairperson-Rapporteur is seriously disturbed by the fact that these persons have not been granted access to a court to be able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," the UN News Center quoted Rapporteur Leila Zerrougui as saying. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

UN OPENS DISCUSSIONS ON NEW IRAQ RESOLUTION. The United Nations Security Council opened informal talks on 6 May on a resolution that would support a new Iraqi provisional government and the status of U.S. forces in Iraq after the 30 June transfer of power, Reuters reported on 6 May.

No text will be circulated at the session until UN envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi submits his report on efforts to establish an interim government. A vote on the resolution is not expected until June. The Security Council is also expected to debate the possibility of a UN-sponsored multinational force for Iraq that would be included in the resolution. Another issue to be dealt with in the resolution is the CPA-run Development Fund for Iraq, which is expected to be transferred to Iraqi control on 30 June. The United States reportedly wants a U.S.-approved international board which currently monitors the accounts, to remain in place, Reuters reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

NATO CHIEF SAYS ALLIANCE WILL NOT SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ WITHOUT UN RESOLUTION. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that he would not send NATO troops to Iraq without a new UN resolution and an invitation from a new Iraqi government, Danish Radio P1 reported on 30 April. Sixteen NATO countries are currently contributing forces to Iraq on an independent basis. "There must be a new Iraqi government which approaches NATO after 30 June, when it is planned that power will be transferred to the Iraqis. But NATO participation in Iraq will also depend on whether a new UN resolution, which I believe is important, has been passed," de Hoop Scheffer said. He added that while Afghanistan remains NATO's "top priority," there is no doubt that "Iraq will be a topic" discussed at the NATO summit in Istanbul scheduled for 28-29 June. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.K. BANKER OVERSEEING OIL-FOR-FOOD PROBE DEMANDS MORE U.S. ASSISTANCE. A U.K. banker heading the inquiry into allegations of corruption within the UN-administered oil-for-food program (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 12 February 2004) has reportedly claimed that politically motivated delays are obstructing the investigation of some $14 billion squandered by the deposed Hussein regime in Iraq, London's "The Times" reported on 1 May. Claude Hankes-Drielsma says that the accounting firm Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG) has traced hundreds of millions of dollars to bank accounts in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, calling it "one of the most sophisticated money-laundering operations they've ever seen." The investigation has been held up, however, by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer, who questioned KPMG's appointment to investigate the allegations and then failed to pay for the inquiry, "The Times" reported. Hankes-Drielsma said that he raised the issue with the U.S. Congress during a recent visit. Those taking part in the inquiry are reportedly worried that the delay will allow time for those involved in the scandal to destroy evidence. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

EU RELEASES 160 MILLION EUROS FOR PUBLIC SECTOR REHABILITATION. The European Union announced on 3 May that it was releasing 160 million euros ($191 million) to improve public services, living conditions, and human rights in Iraq, AFP reported on the same day. The funds are part of the 200 million euros pledged for 2003-2004 at the October Madrid donors' conference (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 October 2003).

"Although the security situation continues to impose limits on all those who want to help with the reconstruction of Iraq, the European Union is determined to play its part in building a better future for the Iraqi people," EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said. Ninety million euros will go to public services, specifically to primary and secondary education, health and immunization programs, and access to clean water and sanitation. Ten million euros will go to civil society projects such as election assistance, judicial reform, and human rights, while 60 million euros will go to help fight poverty through boosting local employment and agricultural production, AFP reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

U.S. TO MAINTAIN 138,000 TROOPS IN IRAQ. The United States military said on 4 May that it is notifying 47,000 active duty troops, reservists, and national guard members that they will be sent to Iraq this year, after the military decided to keep troop levels at 138,000, Reuters reported on 4 May. Among those receiving notification will be 10,000 active-duty U.S. Army soldiers and Marines, and 37,000 Reserve and National Guard troops. The Pentagon cancelled a plan in April to reduce troop levels to 115,000 as early as this month and will maintain its current level for at least additional three months -- and possibly into the winter. Some 20,000 U.S. troops who were due to return to the United States in April will now leave in July, Reuters reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)