21 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 18
INSIDE IRAQIRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT KILLED IN BAGHDAD... Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of May Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad, also known as Izz al-Din Salim, was killed outside coalition headquarters in Baghdad on 17 May when a car bomb detonated near his vehicle, international media reported. Uthman was the head of the Islamic Al-Da'wah party in Al-Basrah and editor of several newspapers and magazines. He was known as a peaceful man and an intellectual, according to Arab media reports. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told CNN that it is unclear whether Uthman was entering or leaving the coalition compound at the time of the blast, which he said was likely caused by a couple of artillery rounds placed in the trunk of the suicide bomber's car. Initial reports indicated that four to six Iraqis were killed in the blast. Sixteen others were wounded in the attack, including two U.S. soldiers. Uthman is the second Governing Council member to be assassinated. Aqilah al-Hashimi, also a Shi'ite, was gunned down on 20 September and died five days later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003). The coalition compound in Baghdad came under mortar attack by insurgents on 15 and 16 May, Al-Jazeera reported.
Uthman told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in a 15 May interview that Iraqis should continue working together to fight terrorism. "We are just coming out of a stage of severe repressions, terror, genocide, and individual killings that we have been suffering from under Saddam's regime. We just moved away from that and are still reflecting on these issues. But we -- the rationally thinking people, the scientists and others -- we should all launch a wide campaign to bring the situation under control," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AND TWO GROUPS CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY. A group identifying itself as "The Arab Resistance Movement-Al-Rashid Brigades" claimed responsibility for the 17 May assassination of Iraqi Governing Council President Uthman (aka Izz al-Din Salim) in a statement posted on the anbaar.net website. "Two heroic members...carried out a qualitative heroic operation that led to the killing of the traitor and mercenary, Izz al-Din Salim. The Brigades pledges to the masses of our nation to pursue struggle until the liberation of glorious Iraq and dear Palestine," the statement read.
Meanwhile, a statement posted to the Islamic Renew Organization's website (http://www.tajdeed.net) purporting to have been written by a group affiliated with wanted Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and dated 17 June, claimed responsibility for Uthman's assassination. "God has bestowed his grace on our brother for killing the accursed Izz al-Din Salim, the current president of the Council of Infidels, and killing some members of his entourage and wounding others," the statement reads. Addressing the Iraqi Governing Council members, it says: "We ask if it is time [for you] to learn? Shall you continue down the wrong path before you fall under the swords of the mujahedin, one after another?" The statement, signed by the military wing of the Jama'ah al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad, "guarantees" that attacks will continue. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS OFFICES, CHALABI'S RESIDENCES RAIDED. U.S. forces raided the offices of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and residences of INC head Ahmad Chalabi in Baghdad on 20 May, international media reported. Nabil al-Musawi, who heads the INC's political bureau, told Al-Jazeera television that the raids were a U.S. attempt to pressure the INC over its criticism of the occupation of Iraq. "In the past few weeks, we asked our brothers in the IGC [Iraqi Governing Council] to reconsider, after the transfer of power takes place, all decisions ambassador Bremer made during his stay in Iraq. Furthermore, we did not agree with the coalition on the details of the transfer of power to Iraqis," he said. U.S. soldiers were looking for two INC members for unknown reasons, Reuters reported. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq said that INC security members traded gunfire with U.S. troops outside Chalabi's home. CNN reported that Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers seized documents and computers in the raids.
INC political bureau head Nabil al-Musawi told Al-Jazeera on 20 May that the organization has not changed its stance vis-a-vis the United States. When asked about Chalabi's hot-and-cold alliance with the United States, al-Musawi said: "When our goals became compatible with the U.S. administration's goals, we said that we agree and when we disagreed we confessed to this as well. Now, we disagree with them on some issues, including means of transferring power to Iraqis." He also criticized Washington for putting Iraqis from the diaspora into positions of power. "If Iraqis are to receive power, then how does the U.S. administration allow summoning people from outside Iraq to offer them ministerial posts following the transfer of power to Iraqis?" al-Musawi said. "We reject this." Chalabi and his organization -- which until this week was funded by the United States -- were brought to Iraq by the United States after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. CANCELS IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS FUNDING. The United States has reportedly decided to stop financing the INC, a former Iraqi opposition group this is now a political party, nytimes.com reported on 17 May. The group has reportedly received $335,000 per month since mid-2002, and some $27 million over the past four years, according to an INC official.
The funding came from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, which paid the INC to provide intelligence on Iraq -- some of which was later determined in internal government reviews to be useless, misleading, or even fabricated, nytimes.com reported. Chalabi has been a vocal critic of the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq and of UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi over the past year.
INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar told Al-Jazeera television in a 19 May interview that the CIA was responsible for the withdrawal of funding. "The CIA gave President Bush wrong information [about the INC's handling of U.S. funds]. It wants to put the blame on another party. The CIA has a motive; namely, it does not want the de-Ba'athification to continue," he contended. "It is helped by many Arab countries that neither want the de-Ba'athification to continue nor want to see democracy in Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.K. FORCES BATTLE MILITANTS AND MORE IN SOUTHERN IRAQ. U.K. forces battled Iraqi militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in southern Iraq on 15 May, AFP reported. Some 16 Iraqis were killed and two British soldiers were wounded when the militants ambushed a British patrol between Al-Basrah and Al-Amarah, according to a U.K. military spokesman. "We sent a clear sign that we are not going to tolerate hostile action against our people by a minority of militia forces who are intent on causing harm and preventing the progress of what we are doing," the spokesman said. Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 16 May that 10 Iraqis arrested by U.K. forces during the fighting were killed and mutilated by British soldiers. An Al-Arabiyah correspondent claimed that his team had viewed and photographed the bodies of the victims, which were bruised and broken. "Some of them had their eyes plucked out...[while] others had their throats cut by a thin wire," he contended. The correspondent said that residents of Al-Najaf, Al-Amarah, and Al-Majar demonstrated after the Iraqis were buried. Beirut's Hizballah-run Al-Manar television reported similar accounts from citizens, claiming on 15 May that 20 Iraqis were killed and mutilated by British soldiers.
The claims added fuel to the fire of al-Sadr's movement. "This crime of executing more than 20 Iraqis and mutilating their bodies in a terrorist manner shows [the U.K. troops'] ugliness, insolence, lowliness, and the rancor they harbor against the Iraqi people," al-Sadr aide Qais al-Khaz'ali told Al-Arabiyah on 17 May. A British Defense Ministry official confirmed that 20 Iraqis were killed and 13 wounded on 14 May, saying that troops returned fire "to save their lives" following numerous attacks on British convoys that included a roadside bomb attack followed by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and machine-gun fire, the BBC reported on 15 May. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ITALIAN TROOPS ATTACKED IN AL-NASIRIYAH. Italian troops in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah were attacked by Iraqi militants loyal to al-Sadr on 16 May, Al-Arabiyah reported. Italian Major Antonio Sotelli, spokesman for Italian forces in the city, told the satellite news channel that militants fired on his troops from a local hospital. He said his troops did not return fire on the hospital and indicated that his troops are hesitant to rein in the militia. "We have all types of weapons and means to control the situation, but we do not want to retaliate in a violent way or inflict losses on the other side. We do not want to escalate the situation," Sotelli said. Two Iraqis were reportedly killed in the clashes and 20 others wounded. Sotelli indicated that there were Italian casualties, but did not elaborate. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EIGHT IRAQIS KILLED IN KARBALA CLASHES... Eight Iraqis were killed and 13 others wounded when U.S. forces clashed with militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr in the holy city of Karbala on 17 May, Reuters reported. Militiamen reportedly launched rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. tanks during the fighting, which took place some 100 meters from the city's shrines, which are among those most revered by Shi'a Muslims. U.S. military spokesman Kimmitt told a 17 May news briefing in Baghdad (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) that al-Sadr's militiamen are holed up in the Iranian quarter of downtown Karbala. Polish multinational division troops in Karbala reported that the militiamen are also firing on coalition forces from the second floor of the Imam al-Husayn Shrine, and using the shrine for cover, presumably because coalition forces are hesitant to fire on a holy site. Militants launched three hit-and-run attacks on police stations in Al-Najaf on 17 May, using rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and small-arms fire, Kimmitt said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
...AS AL-SADR CLAIMS PEOPLE OF AL-NAJAF SUPPORT HIM. Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television in a 15 May interview that the people of Al-Najaf support his movement, despite numerous media reports to the contrary (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004). The cleric said that negotiations to bring an end to the standoff between his Imam Al-Mahdi Army and coalition forces had gone nowhere. "I heard that the so-called civil administrator (L. Paul Bremer) rejected this document which was signed by the parties and the Shi'ite authorities," al-Sadr said.
Regarding calls by SCIRI official Sadr al-Din al-Qabbanji for Iraqis to demonstrate against the presence of al-Sadr's militia in Al-Najaf (the demonstrations were reportedly cancelled due to widespread fighting in the city), al-Sadr claimed that al-Qabbanji had "backtracked" on his call. "We offered him advice, telling him that such things stir up sedition," he said. Regarding media reports contending that the cleric's movement be turned into a political group as part of a negotiated settlement, al-Sadr said: "There is not change toward a political organization." He added that the Imam Al-Mahdi Army "can be neither dissolved nor turned into a political entity," adding that all Muslims were members of his army and could only withdraw their membership by renouncing Islam, later saying his army is an "ideological" army. He further claimed that his Al-Mahdi Army has "no headquarters, no salaries, and nothing like that."
Asked about reports that his militia might be merged into a joint security force that would guard the Shi'ite holy cities in Iraq and whether his militia would give up control over the Imam Ali Shrine, al-Sadr said: "We are not controlling anything. We are defending." He added that his militia would remain in Al-Najaf until coalition troops withdrew from Iraq. As to reports that his militia had robbed holy places, as claimed by the Baghdad Awqaf Department, al-Sadr said: "They are not eyewitnesses...There are many rumors in this and other towns."
Al-Sadr told Al-Arabiyah that his militia is well armed and ready to confront U.S. forces. Asked how he would respond if U.S. forces approached his position in Al-Najaf, he responded, "There will be time bombs to protect the [Imam Ali] mausoleum." The cleric denied that he was seeking a political role in Iraq. "I want one thing; namely, martyrdom," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
CPA SAYS IT WILL NEGOTIATE WITH AL-SADR. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has reportedly stated that it will hold direct negotiations with al-Sadr, Baghdad's "Al-Sabah" reported on 19 May. The CPA reportedly sent a letter to Iraqi Governing Council member Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi saying that they would forward the names of their negotiators to al-Sadr, and asking that he do the same as soon as possible. "Al-Sabah" is a U.S.-funded newspaper. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI GRAND AYATOLLAH CALLS ON AL-SADR MILITIA, U.S. FORCES TO WITHDRAW FROM AL-NAJAF. The office of Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a statement on behalf of the ayatollah on 18 May, calling on U.S. forces and radical Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army to withdraw from the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, international media reported the same day.
"It's permissible...to demand the withdrawal of all military vestiges from the two cities and allow the police and tribal forces to perform their role in preserving security and order," al-Sistani said in the statement, Reuters reported. The ayatollah also called on Shi'ites not to enter Al-Najaf due to the dangerous situation in the city, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Sadr has repeatedly said he will not leave Al-Najaf, where he has been holed up for six weeks, unless asked to do so by al-Sistani.
Meanwhile, Iraqi women staged a silent protest in Al-Najaf on 18 May, carrying placards that called on coalition forces to withdraw from the city, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported. Eight Iraqis were killed and 13 wounded in fighting on the night of 18-19 May in Karbala, Al-Arabiyah reported on 19 May. The same news channel also reported that more Al-Mahdi fighters have arrived in the city from nearby governorates to fight U.S. forces. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
COALITION ACCUSED OF BOMBING WEDDING PARTY IN AL-QA'IM. The U.S.-led coalition has been accused by Iraqis and Arabic media reports of having bombed a wedding party in the western Iraqi city of Al-Qa'im on 18 May, international media reported on 19 and 20 May. At least 40 people were killed in the attack, some of them reportedly women and children.
A statement posted to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil) on 19 May said coalition forces carried out a military operation against a suspected foreign-fighter safe house in the open desert, coming under hostile fire during the operation. "Close air support was provided. Coalition forces on the ground recovered numerous weapons, 2 million Iraqi and Syrian dinars, foreign passports, and a SATCOM [satellite communications] radio."
Al-Jazeera reported on 19 May that there were signs that a wedding had been held at the scene, including musical instruments. "On our way to the village we did not see anything that warrants a military operation," a correspondent said. It is common for celebrants to fire guns into the air during wedding festivities. Meanwhile, nytimes.com on 20 May cited an AP report that quoted Lieutenant Colonel Ziyad al-Jaburi, deputy police chief of Ramadi, as saying that 15 children and 10 women were killed in the bombing. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. SOLDIER PLEADS GUILTY AT COURT-MARTIAL FOR IRAQI PRISONER ABUSE. Specialist Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty to three charges in a court martial relating to allegations of prisoner abuse at the U.S.-run Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad, international media reported on 19 May. According to a 14 May press release posted on CENTCOM's website (http://www.centcom.mil), Sivits was charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates (detainees); dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment; and maltreatment of detainees.
Sivits reportedly took many of the photographs (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 May 2004) depicting abuse of Iraqi detainees and faces lesser charges than his six colleagues. Three co-defendants deferred entering pleas at their 19 May arraignments in the same Baghdad courtroom, international media reported. Sergeant Javal Davis, Specialist Charles Graner Jr., and Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick all waived their right to have the charges against them read in court. The military judge in the cases, Colonel James Pohl, set a new hearing for 21 June, AP reported.
A press release issued by the CPA on 19 May said that Sivits would be transferred to a temporary military confinement facility for a short period of time before being transferred to a military regional confinement facility. The press release added that Sivits might be called to testify by the prosecution or the defense during the trials of his codefendants.
Explosions rocked the U.S.-controlled green zone in Baghdad just hours before the 19 May trials got under way there, according to an Al-Arabiyah report. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDISH LEADERS TO DEMAND CABINET POST. Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Mas'ud Barzani reportedly met in northern Iraq on 20 May to determine their demands for a Kurdish seat in the future Iraqi cabinet, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 20 May. The Kurdish groups reportedly want the positions of president or prime minister to be reserved for a Kurd.
The two groups have reportedly met several times in the past week to develop a united position, which they intend to present to UN special adviser Brahimi. The daily reports that one of the demands to be made to Brahimi is that the next UN Security Council resolution include a clear recognition of the Transitional Administrative Law (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 March 2004), since the Kurds see it as the sole guarantee of the acknowledgement of Kurdish rights in Iraq. The Kurds also believe that they are entitled to one of the two top posts in the government because they constitute the "second nationality" in Iraq, "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported.
Nechirvan Barzani, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member and prime minister of the Irbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government told "Al-Hayat" that the Kurds "view the posts of president of the state and that of prime minister as sovereignty posts, and they are naturally entitled to one of them to reaffirm that they are indeed partners in administering the Iraqi state," the daily reported on 18 may. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SHI'ITE POLITICAL COUNCIL FORMED IN BAGHDAD. Four Shi'ite members of the Iraqi Governing Council along with 18 Iraqi political organizations reportedly announced the establishment of a Shi'ite political council in Baghdad on 16 May, the Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 17 May.
A statement released by the council called for the Iraqi government to take control of the armed forces, security agencies, Iraqi foreign policy, and the revenues from the Development Fund for Iraq, currently under U.S. control. The council also called for the dismissal of U.S.-appointed advisers to the interim coalition. The statement also noted the council's objection to the return of former Hussein-regime elements to positions within the Iraqi military and government.
The Governing Council members participating in the council are: Ahmad Chalabi, Ahmad al-Barak, Salamah al-Khafaji, and Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi. Other signatories to the statement included the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party-Iraq Branch, the Islamic Movement of Iraq, the Iraqi National Congress, the Unified Iraqi Islamic Movement, Hizballah of Iraq, the Shi'ite Kurds Islamic Federation, and the New Iraq Movement. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
MUHAMMAD ARMY MEMBER GIVES INTERVIEW, DESCRIBES GROUP. An unidentified member of Jaysh Muhammad (The Army of Muhammad) from Ba'qubah gave an interview to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (http://www.iwpr.net) that was published on 14 May and described his group in detail.
The member said that most Jaysh Muhammad fighters are farmers by occupation who have joined the Sunni movement, which he described as Salafi, not Wahhabi, in an effort to drive the coalition from Iraq. He admitted that there are Arab fighters among the ranks of his group, but said they are few in number and limited to Arabs who "lived with us [before the war] and did not come from abroad after the war." The member denied that his group is linked to Al-Qaeda. He also denied that his group receives funding from abroad, saying it is funded "from honorable and good people in this country."
The member said that his group opposes the Iraqi Governing Council because it was not elected, and because many council members came from exile. "They do not understand Iraqis' suffering and Arab traditions. [They] were distorted by the Western life they lived," he said. He also claimed that his group is affiliated with an Islamic political party, but declined to identify which party, only to say that it is not the Iraqi Islamic Party. He denied that his group targets police officials. "A Muslim must not kill a Muslim, no matter what," he said. However, he condoned the kidnapping of foreigners, saying that "kidnapping is an obligation."
Asked about the 30 June transfer of sovereignty, the member said his group will continue to target the coalition in Iraq. "Handing over of power to Iraqis is in theory a beautiful thing," he said. "In practice it is merely ink on paper." As for the United Nations, he said: "There is no real United Nations. It is an organization completely controlled by the United States and its resolutions always serve U.S. interests." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SARIN-FILLED ARTILLERY SHELL DETONATED IN IRAQ. An artillery shell recently detonated near a U.S. convoy in Baghdad contained the nerve agent sarin, international media reported on 18 May. Trace amounts of the chemical were released from the shell, causing injury to two ordnance-disposal experts, AP quoted a U.S. military official as saying on 17 May. "The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed today that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found. The round had been rigged as an [improvised explosive device (IED)], which was discovered by a U.S. force convoy," U.S. Brigadier General Kimmitt told reporters at a 17 May press briefing in Baghdad (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). "A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of agent. The round was an old binary type requiring the mixing of two chemical components in separate sections of the cell before the deadly agent is produced. The cell is designed to work after being fired from an artillery piece. Mixing and dispersal of the agent from such a projectile as an IED is very limited." Kimmitt added that the Hussein regime had declared that all such rounds were destroyed prior to the 1991 Gulf War. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. INITIATES WEAPONS BUY-BACK PROGRAM IN AL-SADR CITY. The United States launched a weapons buy-back program in the impoverished Shi'ite Baghdad neighborhood known as Al-Sadr City, KUNA reported on 18 May. Iraqis in the impoverished neighborhood said that U.S. troops were offering up to $500 for weapons. The program will reportedly run for one week only, after which the United States will initiate a search campaign to confiscate all weapons. Eyewitnesses told KUNA that militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr killed two Iraqi civilians who sold their weapons to U.S. forces for $1,000.
U.S. Brigadier General Kimmitt told a 20 May Baghdad press briefing that the buy-back program has been and "overwhelming success," so much so that the program has been extended for two days. Kimmitt said that the coalition is paying Iraqis money equal to or above black-market value for their weapons. The cost of an AK-47 assault rifle, for example, can feed a family in Al-Sadr city for three months, Kimmitt said. Some $1.2 million has been paid out through the program thus far, he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RUSSIAN HOSTAGES RELEASED. Two Russian engineers kidnapped in Iraq were released on 17 May, international media reported. The men, who were in Iraq working as contractors, were kidnapped on their way home from work on 10 May. One of the former hostages, Aleksandr Gordienko, told Russian television that he and his colleague were treated well. "There weren't any kind of problems, and they treated us as they would guests, like friends," he said.
An armed group identifying itself as Al-Ta'ifah Al-Mansurah (The Victorious Sect) claimed responsibility for the abduction of the engineers and released a videotape of the men, Al-Jazeera reported on 16 May. The little-known group was one of 18 armed groups to sign a statement published by London's "Quds Press" on 2 May claiming to have inflicted huge losses on coalition troops and threatening attacks against coalition forces and Governing Council members. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
VISA SYSTEM PLANNED BEFORE 30 JUNE TRANSFER OF POWER. Iraqi Interior Minister Samir al-Sumaydi'i has said that his ministry is working with the country's Foreign Ministry to devise a registration system for all non-Iraqi citizens entering the country, Al-Jazeera television reported on 19 May. "We now have thousands of non-Iraqis [living in Iraq] whom it is not easy to count and get enough information about in one or two days. Our goal is, at least, to work out a visa system by 30 June," he said. It is unclear when the system would become operational, requiring all entrants to Iraq to obtain a visa. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER REJECTS FUTURE SITE OF U.S. EMBASSY. Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party and a Sunni member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told London's "Quds Press" that he objects to the United States' use of the Republican Palace in Baghdad as the site of its future embassy, the newspaper reported on 19 May. He said the establishment of a U.S. embassy on the site, located within the so-called green zone, would not only disrupt traffic through the closing of major roads around the compound but would be seen as a kind of usurpation of Iraqi sovereignty.
"I have no doubt that the entire Iraqi peoples disapprove of it because it is a blatant violation of the dignity of the Iraqi people at their seat of power. We call on the United States to revoke this dangerous decision, which will trigger a very tense situation between the Iraqi people and the U.S. government," he said. Abd al-Hamid called on the United States to build an embassy in the Al-Safarat neighborhood of Baghdad, where other embassies are located. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
PLANNING MINISTRY ANNOUNCES OCTOBER CENSUS. The Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, which assumed full sovereignty from the coalition on 14 May (see http://www.cpa-iraq.org), has announced that it will carry out Iraq's first post-war census in October, iraqpress.org reported on 17 May. Ministry consultant Faiq Abdelrassoul told the website that the Iraqi Central Bureau of Statistics has prepared census forms and is working to draft maps to be used by census officials during the undertaking. "The coming census will be taken as a basis from economic and social indicators upon which the future reconstruction and development of the country will depend," he said. It is not known how long it will take to carry out a nationwide census. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSJORDAN'S KING FEARS CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ. Jordan's King Abdullah II told U.S.-based ABC television in a 16 May interview that the prospect for civil war in Iraq is "more likely today than it was a year ago," Reuters reported the same day. Abdullah said that should civil war erupt, it could destabilize the entire region. "If we see a disintegration of Iraq [into] civil war...then the whole region will be dragged into Iraq," he added.
The king echoed statements by U.S. officials, saying that it was likely that instability would escalate prior to the 30 June transfer of power. Asked who should lead the country, Abdullah suggested that candidates for the prime ministerial position be Iraqis who lived inside the country under Saddam Hussein's rule. "I would imagine it would be someone from the inside, as opposed to somebody that came into Iraq once the regime fell, and somebody who's, you know, is a pretty tough individual, because you're going to need a powerhouse...to be able to bring stability and calm to the Iraqi streets." Abdullah rejected the idea of sending his troops to Iraq. "It's not that we don't want to play a part in sharing responsibility, but my own personal belief [is] that we in Jordan, as a country that has a border with Iraq, as do other countries -- four or five other countries that do -- I think we all have personal agendas." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS' CONFERENCE LENDS SUPPORT TO IRAQ. A conference by the speakers of parliaments of countries neighboring Iraq ended with a statement of support to the Iraqi people and a call for the United Nations to facilitate the establishment of a national congress in Iraq, Jordan's "Al-Ra'y" reported on 14 May. The two-day conference, held in Amman on 12-13 May, issued a final statement saying that the participants discussed ways in which the parliamentary community could provide assistance in bolstering democratic institutions in Iraq. The statement expressed concern over the continued instability in Iraq, and called on the international community to offer humanitarian aid and reconstruction assistance to Iraq.
The statement said that the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Arab Parliamentary Union, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, the federation of parliaments of the Organization of the Islamic Conference members, and the International Parliamentary Society could "basically and effectively contribute to the election process in Iraq" by sharing their technical expertise, offering advice in the constitutional field, helping establish state institutions, and by reviewing the Iraqi draft constitution. Parliament speakers from Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey participated in the conference. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRANIAN STUDENTS DENOUNCE COALITION OUTSIDE BRITISH EMBASSY. An estimated 100-200 students burned British, U.S., and Israeli flags outside the British Embassy in Tehran on 16 May, chanted death to those countries, and demanded the expulsion of the British ambassador in protest against coalition policies in Iraq, international news agencies reported. Students threw "stones and objects" at the embassy and scuffled with police and embassy guards before dispersing after a couple of hours, IRNA reported on 16 May. Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 16 May termed "unacceptable" coalition forces' entry into Al-Najaf and Karbala to battle militiamen loyal to Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr, IRNA reported. He said that Iran cannot mediate between "occupiers and Iraqis whose country is under occupation," but will use its contacts inside Iraq to help "reduce divisions among Iraqis." "That is our duty, and is different from mediating between [Iraqis] and the occupiers," he added. "Iraq's stability and security means Iran's stability and security, and Iran's efforts to resolve differences between Iraqi groups will continue." (Vahid Sepehri)
THE UN AND IRAQIRAQ ASKS UN TO REDUCE REPARATIONS FROM OIL. An Iraqi delegation reportedly traveled to the United Nations on 19 May to ask that the UN reduce the reparations paid for the destruction of the Hussein regime's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and subsequent Gulf War, Reuters reported on 18 May. The delegation is also seeking full control over oil revenues.
"We will negotiate on the basis that Iraq must be fully in charge of its resource wealth and the 5 percent of oil revenues we pay must be reduced further," Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Bayati told Reuters. According to earlier reports by Reuters, Iraq owed some $98 billion in reparations to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for the 1990 invasion and subsequent war (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 3 October 2003). As of 18 September, the United Nations Compensation Commission, which handles reparations, had paid out some $17.8 billion to individuals, corporations, and governments with claims stemming from the occupation and war (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 September 2003). The UN estimates the total asserted value of claims to be $350 billion. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN HELPS RETURN REFUGEES FROM IRAN. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assisted in returning 74 refugees from camps in Iran to Iraq on 18 May. The convoy was the first repatriation in two weeks, after UNHCR halted its assistance program due to continuing instability in Iraq.
UNHCR reported that refugees were given mine-awareness training at the Shalamcheh border crossing before they entered Al-Basrah. Staffers in the southern Iraqi city provided the refugees with aid, including blankets, plastic tarpaulins, tents, and household items. Eighty-eight refugees who had planned on returning to Iraq changed their minds following news reports about fighting in Al-Najaf and Karbala, the agency said. Some 6,100 Iraqis have returned home from Iran with UN assistance, while 4,856 refugees have been repatriated from Saudi Arabia. UNHCR said it did not know when the next convoy would depart Iran, citing ongoing instability in southern Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. ASKS SECURITY COUNCIL TO PROVIDE PROTECTION FOR UN WORKERS. The United States asked the UN Security Council on 19 May to call on member states to provide protection for UN personnel retuning to Iraq, the UN News Center website (http://www.un.org/news) reported the same day. UN personnel are expected to return to Iraq after the 30 June transfer of power to assist in preparations for nationwide direct elections, slated for January.
"We are working to establish a unit within the MNF [multinational force] under unified command to provide dedicated security for United Nations personnel and facilities in Iraq," the U.S. deputy permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador James Cunningham, told the Security Council. "The ability of the United Nations to continue its vital role in assisting Iraqis to prepare for elections depends on its security. We urge the international community to participate in this important task."
More than 210,000 Iraqis already serve on the Iraqi security force, but their response has been uneven and their quality and leadership are being improved, Cunningham said. The number of UN personnel due to return to Iraq was not disclosed. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN REPORTS THAT ALMOST 2,000 IRAQIS HAVE BEEN NOMINATED TO ELECTION COMMISSION. Almost 2,000 people have been nominated to serve on the Iraqi Independent Election Commission, which will oversee national direct elections in Iraq slated for January, the UN News Center reported on 19 May. Six percent of the 1,878 nominations submitted between 2 and 15 May were for women. Two hundred and sixty-six nominations (14 percent) were submitted via e-mail.
The UN is now in the process of reviewing the submissions at an undisclosed location. The number of nominees will be reduced to 20 nominees, who will eventually be interviewed by a UN panel of electoral experts, who will then reduce the list to 15 candidates for the seven commissioner positions. Five people will be interviewed for the position of Chief Electoral Officer, and three finalists will be chosen (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQAMERICAN ADVISERS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ AFTER HANDOVER. Some 200 U.S. and international advisers will remain at their posts in Iraqi ministries as consultants after the 30 June transfer of power, Toronto's "Globe and Mail" reported on 20 May. "We want the Iraqis to understand that we are not abandoning them," the daily quoted Ambassador Francis Ricciardone as telling a United States Institute of Peace briefing.
The daily also reported that U.S. reconstruction teams will be placed in four regional headquarters around Iraq to distribute the billions of dollars of aid to the country. A newly established Shi'ite political council released a statement this week calling for the dismissal of U.S. advisers from Iraqi ministries, the Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 17 May.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Governing Council is recruiting former Ba'athist bodyguards to serve on a security team protecting council members, the "Globe and Mail" reported on 19 May. The decision came after it was determined that many candidates were not qualified to serve on the team, having failed to a pass training course. "Now we will recruit people who have already worked in this field, to shorten the training time," said Hilmi Bassim, who is helping create the team. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. TO SEND SOME 4,000 TROOPS TO IRAQ. The South Korean government said on 15 May that the United States would redeploy a brigade-level force of some 4,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea to Iraq within the next few weeks, joongangdaily.joins.com reported on 16 May. "The U.S. government recently notified our government through diplomatic channels that it has decided to send a brigade to Iraq," an unidentified official was quoted as saying. The website quoted U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Maureen Cormack as saying she had no information on the deployment. Meanwhile, Kim Sook, chief of the Foreign Ministry's North American affairs bureau, said: "As the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the U.S. has voiced the need to redeploy some of U.S. Forces Korea, and the two countries agreed to review this." Kim added that the talks were still in the early stages, Yonhap news agency reported on 17 May. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan said that "a number of options are being discussed [with South Korea] to help ensure the U.S. meets its obligations to Operation Iraqi Freedom, while ensuring the U.S. also meets its ongoing commitments throughout the Asia Pacific region." South Korea was to dispatch some 3,600 of its troops to Iraq early this year but continues to stall on the deployment. The Pentagon reportedly confirmed the redeployment on 17 May, international media reported.
U.K. TO SEND ADDITIONAL TROOPS? The British daily "The Times" reported on 18 May that the United Kingdom will reportedly announce next week that it plans to send some 3,000 soldiers to Iraq, thereby increasing its military presence there by one-third. The decision, if true, would place further pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair's administration, which is facing mounting pressure at home over the occupation of Iraq.
"We are not going to have any so-called quick exit, there will be no cutting and running Iraq, we will continue until the job is done." Blair told reporters in Ankara on 17 May, RFE/RL reported. The prime minister said that the assassination of Iraqi Governing Council rotating President Uthman "just underlines how important it is that we stay until the job is done." The additional troops, if deployed, would bring Britain's total troop commitment to Iraq to some 10,000 soldiers.
Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon meanwhile, said on 16 May that no decision had been made to deploy more forces to Iraq, but noted that the situation is under "constant review," BBC News reported. "Clearly if the commanding officer on the ground says at very short notice we require extra troops because of some significant deterioration in the security it would be irresponsible of me not to agree to that request and agree to it very promptly," he said.
Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook called on the British government to devise an exit strategy for Iraq. "I personally think we need an exit strategy that says as soon as [Iraqi] elections have been held, as soon as there is a democratic government to run Iraq, we're getting out," BBC quoted Cook as telling GMTV's Sunday program. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY WOULD WITHDRAW TROOPS IN IRAQ, IF REQUESTED. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Poland will withdraw its forces from Iraq if the interim Iraqi government set to assume power on 30 June requests such action, PAP news agency reported on 16 May. Kwasniewski also echoed a recent statement by the Polish left's candidate for prime minister, Marek Belka, saying that Polish troops should remain in Iraq as part of a UN-led force. (Belka, who also suggested he would like to reduce the number of Polish troops in Iraq, lost the first parliamentary vote for his confirmation on 14 May.) Poland has some 2,500 soldiers in Iraq, the third-largest number after the United States and United Kingdom. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
HOON SAYS 'HANDFUL OF INVESTIGATIONS' UNDER WAY IN PRISONER ABUSE PROBE. U.K. Defense Secretary Hoon told BBC's "Breakfast with Frost" program on 16 May that his ministry was investigating a 'handful' of cases alleging prisoner abuse by U.K. soldiers in Iraq.
Asked how many cases were under investigation, Hoon said that "there are a handful and I won't be more precise than that because, in fact, as the result of the very latest letter from Amnesty International [alleging abuse] we're looking again, going through all of our previous cases, to establish whether or not there are any new allegations contained in Amnesty International's most recent letter. Because one of the problems that we've had with these allegations is that many of them have been simply recycling previous cases."
London's "The Independent on Sunday" reported on 16 May that military sources have said that the U.K. will prosecute six soldiers in relation to two incidents of abuse in Iraq. The first is in relation to the beating and subsequent death of hotel receptionist Baha Musa at the hands of British soldiers. At least one soldier will face manslaughter charges in that case, the newspaper reported. Details surrounding the second case are unknown.
Meanwhile, U.K. military police have arrested a number of soldiers who allegedly produced fake photographs published in London's "Daily Mirror" purporting to depict U.K. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004), guardian.co.uk reported on 19 May. As many as four soldiers are being questioned in the investigation. The "Daily Mirror" denied that it revealed the names of the soldiers. The Defense Ministry meanwhile declined to give details of the arrests, but no charges have been filed, according to a spokesman. The scandal led to the resignation of the newspaper's editor, Piers Morgan, on 14 May. (Kathleen Ridolfo)