13 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 17
INSIDE IRAQCOALITION BATTLES AL-MAHDI ARMY THROUGHOUT IRAQ... Coalition forces engaged militants from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on 11-12 May, international media reported. According to AP, U.S. troops entered Karbala overnight from two directions, fighting the militants around the Mukhayyam Mosque, a main mosque in the city, which reportedly serves as the base for the militia belonging to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The mosque is located less than 1 kilometer from one of the holiest Shi'ite sites, the Imam Ali shrine. Some 20-25 militants were reportedly killed in the fighting, which was said to be continuing.
The U.S. military also engaged al-Sadr militiamen in several Iraqi cities this week, bombing the cleric's Baghdad office in the early morning hours of 10 May, Reuters reported. U.S. forces had raided the same office on 9 May and arrested two al-Sadr associates, one of whom is the alleged financier for the cleric's militia.
The bombing followed two days of heavy clashes with al-Sadr supporters in the Iraqi capital, as well as in Al-Kufah and Al-Najaf. Nineteen members of the cleric's Imam Al-Mahdi Army were killed in Baghdad clashes on 9 May, while another 13 were killed in overnight clashes near Kufah on 10-11 May. Fourteen militiamen were captured in the fighting. Al-Sadr loyalists took to the streets of U.K.-controlled Al-Basrah on 8 May, setting up checkpoints in several areas of the city, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. A British military spokesman described the presence of the militiamen as a disturbance, the satellite television channel reported. It is unclear whether the British took any action against the militia. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AS NEGOTIATIONS REPORTEDLY STILL UNDERWAY. Negotiations remain underway this week to bring an end to the standoff with al-Sadr (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 May 2004) according to Arab media reports. Al-Jazeera reported on 12 May that an agreement has been reached among all parties in Al-Najaf to turn al-Sadr's group into a political entity. The satellite television channel also reported that it was agreed that al-Sadr would not face charges related to the assassination of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi until after the 30 June transfer of power.
Al-Arabiyah television reported on 12 May that some 20 parties involved in the negotiations have drafted a seven-point initiative to end the standoff. Al-Arabiyah and several other news organizations reported that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is reviewing the initiative and is expected to give his approval, and Abd al-Karim al-Anzi of the Iraqi Al-Da'wah Party told Al-Arabiyah that he was confident that U.S. forces would also accept the proposal. "Senior officials in the U.S. administration and the Coalition Provisional Authority have said that Al-Najaf is a respectable holy place that should not be attacked, and we hope to see this [opinion] in the dialogues and on the ground," al-Anzi said. "We also hope that they will give a positive response, because we want to spare Iraq, its sons, and its cities, especially Al-Najaf and Karbala, any bloodletting," he added.
Meanwhile, al-Sadr issued a statement on 12 May saying that he would not dissolve his militia unless ordered to do so by Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "If the religious authority issues a fatwa on dissolving the army, then I will be in the service of this authority, and if it does not issue such a fatwa, then Al-Mahdi Army will stay and will defend its country and holy places," the statement read. Al-Sadr aide Shaykh Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji criticized al-Sistani on 11 May, accusing him of colluding with occupation forces, because he has not come out in support of al-Sadr, ebaa.net reported.
Al-Sadr appeared to lash out at the very political parties that are attempting to help resolve the standoff peacefully, saying: "This army does not follow some parties, which want to sow sedition and which do not have the right to express an opinion on this issue." The statement was a clear message to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which has close relations with Ayatollah al-Sistani. SCIRI official Sadr al-Din al-Qabbanji said on 11 May that al-Sadr's actions amounted to treachery under the pretext of resisting occupation, and called on a quarter million Iraqis in Al-Najaf to demonstrate against the cleric on 14 May. Al-Sadr's forces reportedly opened fire on SCIRI demonstrators on 11 May, Al-Arabiyah reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. GENERAL SAYS COALITION WAITED TOO LONG TO ARREST AL-SADR. U.S. Major General Martin Dempsey said on 11 May that U.S. forces waited too long to rein in al-Sadr, nytimes.com reported on 12 May. "Why didn't we marginalize him sooner?" Dempsey asked. "Because in the course of the year that I've been here, and in the course of seeking advice from as many possible people as we could -- religious leaders, political leaders, tribal leaders -- as you might expect, we received such a wide variety of advice on how to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr that it caused us to be a little bit careful." Dempsey added that in the six months between October and April, al-Sadr was training troops, stockpiling weapons, and gaining resources. "And so when I say we missed the opportunity, we probably gave him six months more than we should have," the general said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-BASRAH GOVERNOR DENIES U.K. FORCES COMMITTED HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. Al-Basrah Governor Wa'il Abd al-Latif denied that British forces have been guilty of any human rights violations in the city, Al-Jazeera television reported on 11 May. "No human rights violations have been registered against the British forces since their entry into Iraq and until today," Abd al-Latif said. "On the contrary, we used to hear the opposite. We used to hear that he who enters the prison leaves with biscuits, blankets, and pocket money in his hand." The governor added that the only complaints lodged have been one or two cases of British soldiers opening fire for security reasons. "We cannot say that these are human rights violations," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-QAEDA-AFFILIATED WEBSITE POSTS VIDEO OF AMERICAN BEHEADED IN IRAQ. A website affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, al-ansar.biz, posted video footage titled "Shaykh Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi Slaughters an American Infidel with his Own Hands and Threatens Bush with More" on 11 May. The video shows the beheading of a man who identified himself as U.S. citizen Nicholas Berg. Speaking before his execution, Berg stated that he was from Pennsylvania, and recited the names of his parents and brother and sister. Berg reportedly went to Iraq of his own volition to look for work.
Berg was warned to leave Iraq after he was detained by Iraqi police at a Mosul checkpoint on 24 March and turned over to U.S. officials and detained for 13 days, AP reported on 12 May. His family filed suit against the military for illegally holding Berg on 5 April and he was released the next day. His last contact with his family was on 9 April. Berg's body was found on 8 May in Baghdad, the same day he was beheaded, according to a U.S. official.
Prior to Berg's killing, a masked man reads a statement in the videotape addressing the "nation of Islam" and asking Muslims: "Where is the sense of honor? Where is the rage?" and "Where is the sense of vengeance for the honor of Muslim men and women in the crusaders' prisons?" in reference to reports of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison. The statement criticizes those who call on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan or Arab League head Amr Musa to bring an end to the crisis in Iraq, claiming that Muslims should hear the call of God urging them to action.
The statement also warns U.S. President Bush, saying: "Your worst days are coming.... You and your soldiers will regret the day when your feet touched the land of Iraq." To Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the statement warns: "We are yearning to meet your soldiers." To the mothers and wives of U.S. soldiers, the group says it tried to exchange Berg for Iraqi soldiers held at Abu Ghurayb, adding: "We will send you coffin after coffin and box after box [of U.S. soldiers] slaughtered in this way." U.S. officials deny that the group ever sought to exchange Berg for prisoners in U.S. custody. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BOMB DETONATES IN NORTHERN IRAQI MARKET. A bomb detonated in a busy market area in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 11 May, Al-Jazeera television reported. Witnesses on the scene said a Katyusha rocket was hidden and detonated inside the market, killing four and wounding 25 others in a heavily populated Kurdish area of the city. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that three people were killed and 22 others wounded in the incident. An unnamed police official told the news agency that the bomb was made up of gas canisters. The force of the explosion tore down power cables and ignited wooden stalls in the market. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
DIYALA GOVERNOR SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. Abdallah Hasan al-Jaburi, the CPA-appointed governor of Diyala Province, survived an assassination attempt near Ba'qubah on 10 May, Al-Arabiyah reported the same day. Two of al-Jaburi's bodyguards were killed in the attack, and three others were wounded. Attacks on coalition-appointed officials have risen in recent weeks.
Hamid Qaraghuli, the chairman of the Yusufiyah city council, was assassinated by armed gunmen near that town, located some 20 kilometers south of Baghdad, "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on 6 May. Witnesses in Yusufiyah reported that graffiti in the town warned that the "mujahedin" would kill anyone who cooperated with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the New Iraqi Army, or the police. Yusufiyah is populated by Sunni Muslims.
Meanwhile, the CPA announced on 8 May that it has appointed one bodyguard each to members of Baghdad's city advisory councils, "Al-Mashriq" reported on 8 May. The decision comes following increased assassination attempts on members of the capital's advisory council. An unnamed source told the daily that the policy would be applied to other governorates in the future. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. GENERAL SAYS COURT-MARTIAL WILL NOT BE SHOW TRIAL. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad on 10 May that the court-martial of U.S. military policeman Jeremy Sivits, who will be tried in Baghdad on 19 May for charges relating to the prisoner-abuse scandal, will not be a show trial, according to the transcript of the news briefing issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority's press office.
Sivits has been charged with conspiracy to mistreat detainees, dereliction of duty for failing to protect prisoners, and maltreatment of detainees. Kimmitt said cameras would not be allowed to record the proceedings, which will be open to the public. "It's a practice of the U.S. military that in an open hearing, we allow family, we allow observers, we allow print reporters. It has not been our practice in the past to allow cameras inside," Kimmitt said. "But I'm absolutely confident that the gentlemen and the ladies of the Iraqi press will adequately record what happens inside that courtroom so their readers can observe it through the written word," he added.
Kimmitt announced on 12 May that charges have also been filed against Sergeant Javal Davis and Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick III. "The five charges [against Davis] are conspiracy to maltreat subordinates, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, maltreatment of detainees, rendering false official statements, and assault," Kimmitt said. Frederick has been charged with "conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, maltreatment of detainees, assault, and wrongfully committing an indecent act by watching detainees commit a sexual act." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SOURCE SAYS KURDS NOT SERIOUS ABOUT UNIFYING ADMINISTRATIONS. The Al-Sulaymaniyah-based newspaper "Hawlati" cited a "source" on 8 May that claims the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) would not integrate their two administrations until after general elections in Kurdistan, slated for January. The newspaper also reported that five Kurdish political groups (the Kurdistan Islamic Unification, the Kurdistan Communist Party, the Kurdistan Toilers' Party, the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party, and the Islamic Group) have each said they believe that the PUK and KDP do not want to unify their administrations.
"I am aware that now there is a positive atmosphere of compatibility" between the PUK and KDP, said Salah al-Din Baha' al-Din, of the Kurdistan Islamic Unification group. "However no one feels that serious efforts to unify the two administrations are in the making. Every work and step requires preparations. Although those two administrations are currently on good terms with each other, it does not seem that they are making preparations to unify," he said. "Regrettably, I do not feel there is a resolve for unification," he added.
Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party Secretary Muhammad Haji Mahmud contended: "As much as these two parties talk about the unity of Iraqi territory, they do not care about the unity of Kurdistan.... They talk about federalism in the region whereas they apply the federalism of governorates.... They will beguile away the time until next January and will not criticize one another," he added.
Meanwhile, Kurdistan Communist Party Political Bureau member Ibrahim Sophi told "Hawlati": "In our view the unification of the administration, the formation of a joint council or a Kurdistani front would have rendered a stronger foothold for these two parties, had other parties been their partners in a ratified accord.... It is improbable for them to do it now." He added: "However, they can take steps in this little time and accomplish this task making the lever of the Kurdish group in the Governing Council and the Iraqi dossier stronger and more effective." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDS ARREST SUSPECTED TERRORISTS. Kurdish security officers arrested an unspecified number of suspected terrorists, who were preparing to carry out attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah, KurdSat reported on 12 May. Officers raiding a house used by the suspects discovered a large stockpile of weapons and explosives. The suspects reportedly admitted under interrogation that they were planning attacks on government institutions once they had accumulated enough weapons. The suspects also claimed that they were receiving funding and logistical help from abroad. Al-Jazeera reported on 12 May that 30 suspects were arrested in the raid. The suspects are reportedly members of the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam, which has a long-standing feud with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which governs Al-Sulaymaniyah and the surrounding area. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDISH OFFICIAL DENIES KURDS FORMING SEPARATE ARMY. A Kurdish official working for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan denied claims that the U.S. has approved the formation of a so-called Kurdistan National Army, London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 12 May. "The rumors about this are baseless," Khosru Muhammad told "Al-Hayat." "Such an idea was not raised in the first place," he contended. "The peshmerga forces are currently enlisted in the formations of the new Iraqi army. The commanders of peshmerga forces are distributed among the key units of the Iraqi army and hold key positions in the structure of the new Defense Ministry," he added. Muhammad reminded the daily that a large number of peshmerga are now working with the border and regular police, while older fighters are slated to be pensioned off as part of an agreement between the Kurdish groups and the Coalition Provisional Authority. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. GENERAL PLEASED WITH SITUATION IN AL-FALLUJAH. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters at a 12 May press briefing in Baghdad that he is pleased with the performance of Iraqi General Muhammad Abd al-Latif and his forces in Al-Fallujah, according to the transcript of the briefing, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority. "Right now we're quite pleased with the command structure that's operating within Fallujah. Obviously we're starting to see some results. There have been no cease-fire violations in the last seven days. We are conducting patrols inside the city.... We still have objectives to attain, but at this point, I would say that the Marines are quite pleased with the efforts and the command of General Latif," Kimmitt said.
A U.S. Marine Convoy entered Al-Fallujah in a joint patrol with Iraqi security forces on 10 May for the first time following a five-week standoff (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 May 2004) with insurgents. U.S. forces have set up checkpoints throughout the town and remain stationed nearby so that they may quickly respond should violence break out. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
NEW IRAQI POLITICAL GROUP FORMED. Some 500 Iraqis convened in Baghdad on 8 May to set up a new political group aimed at using "legitimate resistance to end the occupation," Al-Jazeera television reported on the following day. The group, which calls itself the United Iraqi Scholars Group, appointed a 16-member leadership to be headed by Shaykh Jawad al-Khalisi, a senior Shi'a cleric. The members of the group are described as moderate Sunni and Shi'a Muslim Arabs and Kurds.
Al-Khalisi has called for the 30 June transfer of power to be "done under the umbrella of the United Nations and not the CPA." "In previous talks we told [UN Envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi about our desire to politically take part in the transfer of power but on one condition, that it should not be done under the shadow of the occupation," he said. The United Iraqi Scholars Group was formed following some eight months of planning. Thirty-five political parties have reportedly merged into the group. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSARAB FOREIGN MINISTERS PREPARE DRAFT RESOLUTION ON IRAQ. Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on 9 May finalized a draft resolution on Iraq ahead of the 22-23 May Arab Summit in Tunis which urges the UN Security Council to take measures to end the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq as soon as possible, MENA reported on 9 May.
The draft reportedly welcomes all UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq, and urges the Iraqi people to focus on national unity and renounce violence. It also stresses the importance of Iraq's territorial integrity and calls for the establishment of an Arab troika of the previous, current, and future chairmen of the Arab summit to follow developments in Iraq. Arab governments will also be called on to contribute to reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The draft also condemns terrorist bombings that target civilians, clerics, police, and diplomatic missions, and denounces the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in coalition custody. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SYRIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES NEW BORDER CROSSING. The Syrian government announced that a new border crossing would be opened at Al-Ya'rubiyah on the northern Syrian-Iraqi border to facilitate the transport of goods, "Al-Ba'ath" reported on 10 May. Basil Umar Sunufah, the general director of the Customs Directorate, said that the crossing will enable a swifter passage of goods to the Iraqi market and allow Syrian, Arab, and foreign companies to easily transport goods. Work has yet to begin on the new crossing, which was established in cooperation with the Iraqi Trade and Foreign ministries. An office will be established at the border crossing for Cotecna, the company assigned by the United Nations to inspect all goods entering Iraq. Until now, Cotecna was only based at the Al-Tanf border crossing, thus all goods entering Iraq could only pass through this crossing. The establishment of a Cotecna office at the Al-Ya'rubiyah crossing should help ease the burden at Al-Tanf. Representatives from the UN Oil-for-Food Program announced on 21 November 2003 that Cotecna would continue to authenticate the arrival of goods into Iraq on behalf of the CPA and the Iraqi ministries (http://www.un.org/Depts/oip/index.html) after the program ends. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
JORDAN HOSTS SUMMIT ON IRAQ. The Jordanian parliament opened a meeting for the speakers of neighboring parliaments on Iraq on 12 May, the Petra news agency reported. Participants in the meeting stressed the need to help the Iraqi people to develop democratic institutions, and called for the preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity. Parliament speakers from Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey attended the meeting.
UN Special Representative Ross Mountain addressed the meeting, calling on Iraq's neighbors to help promote a smooth transition to power in Iraq, the UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/news). "Your presence here is testimony to the importance you all attach to assisting Iraq to establish its own parliamentary organs and thereby promote the growth of a healthy political life," he told participants. He also asked participants to lend their full support to the UN as it assists in establishing an interim Iraqi government. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQBRAHIMI CONTINUES DISCUSSIONS WITH IRAQIS ON TRANSFER OF SOVEREIGNTY... UN Special Adviser to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi has continued his discussions with Iraqi leaders on the upcoming transfer of power and future interim Iraqi government, the UN News Center reported this week (http://www.un.org/news).
Brahimi met on 8 May with the Iraqi Governing Council and its President for the month of May Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad (a.k.a. Izz al-Din Salim), the UN reported. "For over 90 minutes they discussed proposals for the caretaker government to which sovereignty would be transferred on 1 July," UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. Brahimi also met with a group comprising some 30 tribal leaders, as well as Judge Dara Nur al-Din, a group of cabinet ministers, and representatives of professional associations. Fawzi said that the meetings allowed Brahimi to clarify what the transition actually entails, adding, "I think that now most people are on-board with what is happening."
Fawzi also contradicted media reports in the last week, saying that Brahimi did not propose a caretaker government composed of technocrats. "What he did suggest was that the next government that takes over sovereignty on 1 July should consist of men and women known for their honesty, integrity, and competence in the first instance," Fawzi noted. "They should have the professional capacity and competence to run the affairs of this country for the limited period of seven or eight months leading up to elections when a fully representative government will be elected."
Brahimi also met with Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim on 11 May, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said on the same day. Hakim reportedly praised the UN efforts to help facilitate the transition to an interim government. "He said he had passed the report on to [Shi'ite Grand] Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who was pleased with it and found it to be balanced and positive," Eckhard said. The meeting reportedly also addressed ideas for convening a national conference in Iraq. Brahimi's discussions with Iraqi political, religious, and professional leaders are reportedly ongoing. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AS IRAQI ELECTIONS APPEAR ON TRACK. The United Nations said on 7 May that efforts to compile nominations for posts on the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission are progressing "on track." Iraqis have until 15 May to nominate individuals to sit on the seven-member commission, which will be the exclusive authority to organize and conduct Iraq's transitional elections. Electoral commissioners and the chief electoral officer will be appointed on 31 May.
The UN News Center (http://www.un.org/news) reports that Iraqis have been nominating individuals through manual submissions at governorate locations and through email. Some 5,000 nomination forms and 600,000 leaflets announcing the process have been distributed throughout Iraq and another 5,000 forms were scheduled to be distributed to the public. Iraqis can also participate in the process through a website (http://www.electionsiraq.org) where information and forms are available in Arabic and Kurdish.
According to the UN, violence has prevented some Iraqis from accessing Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) sites for Iraqis to deliver nominations in some areas of the country. But the UN contends that nominees or their representatives can submit nomination forms at "any accessible governorate location" or via email. Women's groups, professional associations, political parties, civil organizations, and academics have all reportedly expressed an interest in the commission, the UN reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UNICEF 'DISTURBED' BY ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE OF DETAINED CHILDREN. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on 11 May that it is "profoundly disturbed" by news reports alleging that children may have been abused while in coalition custody in Iraq. "Although the news reports have not been independently substantiated, they are alarming nonetheless," UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz told a press conference in Geneva (http://www.unog.ch/news2/documents/newsen/pb040511.htm).
Personnaz noted that the detention or imprisonment of a child should only be used as a last-resort measure and for the shortest appropriate period of time. Children should never be incarcerated with adults, he added. "States had an obligation to protect children and to ensure that their officials were aware of, trained in, and complied with the relevant international standards," Personnaz said.
Al-Jazeera interviewed a former Iraqi detainee on 7 May who claimed that the U.S. forces brought a 12-year-old girl to his cell block, stripped her, and beat her in front of her brother. "She was naked and screaming and calling out to [her brother] as they beat her. Her brother was helpless and could only hear her cries. This affected all of us, because she was just a child," Suhaib al-Baz said. He also claimed that a 15-year-old boy was brought to the cell block and beaten in front of his father. "He collapsed so [the soldiers] stripped him and poured cold water over him. They brought a man who was wearing a hood. They pulled it off. The son was shocked to see his father and collapsed. When he recovered, he now saw his father dressed in women's underwear and the Americans laughing at him." Al-Baz's claims have not been substantiated. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQICRC SAYS PRISON ABUSE IN IRAQ TANTAMOUNT TO TORTURE. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on 7 May that the alleged abuse it investigated at U.S.-run prisons in Iraq was found to be systematic and equivalent to torture, AFP reported on 7 May. "The elements we found were tantamount to torture. There were clearly incidents of degrading and inhuman treatment," ICRC Director of Operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl said. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that it warned the U.K. government a year ago that its troops were abusing Iraqi prisoners, the BBC reported on 9 May.
The human rights group says it first raised allegations of torture and the death of one Iraqi in British custody in a May 2003 memo to the U.K. Defense Ministry. The group subsequently met with British government officials to discuss the memo in June. A second memo detailing prisoner abuse was sent to the British government in July 2003, and a third to Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon in October 2003, to which the government replied, vowing an investigation would take place. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.K. DEFENSE SECRETARY SUGGESTS PHOTOS OF BRITISH SOLDIERS ABUSING IRAQIS ARE FAKE. U.K. Defense Secretary Hoon told the House of Commons on 10 May that the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police has said that there are "strong indications" that a van seen in purported photographs of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners was not used in Iraq at the time that the alleged photographs were taken, independent.co.uk reported on 11 May.
"Additional lines of inquiry are being pursued to corroborate this," Hoon told the parliament. The defense secretary later told Channel 4 television that photographs purportedly depicting British soldiers urinating on a hooded Iraqi prisoner, kicking him, and hitting him with the butt of a rifle are fake. "Certainly that is the evidence that we have, that this particular truck was not in Iraq. It is now really a matter for 'The Daily Mirror' to indicate whether they are willing to cooperate, as they said they would do, in now investigating what looks increasingly like a hoax," Hoon said. Asked specifically if he was implying the pictures were fake, he answered: "Well, it appears to be the case, yes."
Amnesty International (AI) said in a report this week that British forces have shot and killed "many" civilians "in circumstances where there was apparently no imminent threat of death or serious injury to themselves or others." The report (http://www.amnesty.org) issued on 11 May detailed the killing of 12 Iraqis at the hands of British forces. The report further states that the British government acknowledges its soldiers have killed 37 civilians since 1 May 2003. However, AI contends that the British Army has not opened investigations into many of the incidents. "Where investigations have been opened, the British Royal Military Police (RMP), which is responsible for conducting the investigations, has been highly secretive and has provided families with little or no information about the progress or conclusions of investigations," the report said. Reuters reported on 11 May that the lawyers for the families of the 12 victims won the right in London's High Court to take the government to court. It is not clear whether the 12 victims involved in the court case are the same 12 named in the AI report. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RUSSIAN HOSTAGES TO BE RELEASED. Two Russian contractors taken hostage in Iraq this week are alive and may be released as early as 13 May, Reuters reported on 12 May citing the Russian news agency Interfax. "We have encouraging evidence that our people, who were kidnapped in Iraq, are alive and well, but so far we do not know where they are," Interenergoservis General Director Alexander Abramov, the contractors' employer, told Interfax. He said that the men were attacked by militants as they drove home from work on 10 May. One man in their group was killed in the incident. "We always advised our workers in Iraq not to stop anywhere on the road to work considering the complex situation," Abramov said. The workers apparently stopped for a snack on their way home from work. "Fifteen minutes after they moved off, their car was caught up with, shot at, forced to stop, and two were seized," he said. Five Ukrainian and three Russian nationals were kidnapped and subsequently released by their captors on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 April 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ITALY SAYS 'SURPRISED' BY IRAQ TORTURE ALLEGATIONS. Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino said on 12 May that Italy was "surprised" by allegations that Iraqi prisoners were tortured by coalition forces in Iraq, RAI Due television reported. "In reference to the several questions on the matter of tortures inflicted on Iraqi prisoners, I reiterate that the government was surprised and outraged when it learnt the news," he said.
Meanwhile, the Italian website agi.it reported on 11 May that the Italian office of human rights group Amnesty International has claimed that the government knew of torture incidents at Abu Ghurayb prison. The website cites comments made by Italian Foreign Undersecretary Margherita Boniver to the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Italian parliament on 3 July, in which she referred to the reports made by Amnesty International on the conditions in Camp Cropper and other prisons. It also refers to a memorandum sent on 26 June by Amnesty International to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer and a subsequent press release issued on 30 June. The memo reportedly stated: "The conditions at Abu Ghurayb can be construed as cruel treatment, inhuman and degrading, banned by international law."
RAI Tre television reported on 10 May that a widow of an Italian soldier killed in Al-Nasiriyah in November 2003 also claimed that her government was aware of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Pina Bruno claimed that her husband spoke to her about American abuse of prisoners in Al-Nasiriyah jails. He reportedly told her that prisoners were kept naked and treated worse than cockroaches in dilapidated prison cells. Bruno said that her husband told her that his superiors were aware of the abuse. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
DOMINICAN TROOPS DEPART IRAQ. Some 260 troops from the Dominican Republic left Iraq this week, arriving home on 10 May, according to AP. Forty-two other soldiers from the Dominican contingent are expected to return in the near future. Dominican President Hipolito Mejia announced on 20 April that he would withdraw his forces from Iraq. The soldiers were serving under Spanish command. Some 115 Nicaraguan troops left Iraq in February as part of a normal troop rotation and have not returned. Honduras began withdrawing its 370 troops from Iraq on 11 May. The withdrawal is expected to be completed by 27 May, Reuters reported. El Salvador has pledged to keep its troops in Iraq until August. (Kathleen Ridolfo)