12 August 2004, Volume
IRAQI PRIME MINISTER FACES BIGGEST POLITICAL TEST TO DATE.
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi faces the greatest political test of his admittedly young administration this week in the standoff between allied Iraqi and multinational forces on the one hand, and radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on the other.
As renewed violence that began on 4 August intensified and prompted the launch of what U.S. military sources described as a "major operation" against insurgents in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf on 12 August, Allawi's backing for that incursion appeared tenuous. Iraqi political and religious leaders this week -- including Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari -- called on U.S.-led multinational forces to withdraw from Al-Najaf as many leaders blamed the interim Iraqi government for the escalation of violence in the city.
The escalation of fighting had placed Allawi in the difficult position of having either to follow through with his 8 August demand that militiamen withdraw from Al-Najaf or face removal by force, or to back down, a move that would place his interim administration in a vulnerable position. As cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Imam Al-Mahdi Army stood their ground in Al-Najaf, Iraqis in Al-Basrah and Al-Nasiriyah demonstrated in support of the cleric; heavy fighting broke out in al-Sadr's Baghdad stronghold, Al-Sadr City, and in Al-Amarah.
Al-Arabiyah television reported on 11 August that President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir had submitted a six-point proposal for ending the standoff and that Allawi was considering the document, which would be presented to al-Sadr not as a compromise or "submission to [al-Sadr's] demands" but rather "from a position of power and control." The details of the plan have not been revealed. The plan could have helped extricate Allawi from his 8 August stance without more bloodshed. But media reports on 11 August also indicated that U.S.-led forces were considering storming the militia's base at the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf, a move that could spark enormous outrage from Muslims worldwide -- Shi'a consider the mosque the third-holiest site in the world. As the incursion got under way, an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said an agreement had been reached with multinational forces that only Iraqi security personnel would enter the holy sites.
Opposition to the fighting in Al-Najaf built throughout the week, with many Iraqis equating Allawi's interim administration with Saddam Hussein's regime and the oppression it inflicted on Shi'a. Iraqi Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Sadiq al-Husayni al-Shirazi issued a statement on 7 August warning that the escalation in violence could lead to civil war, according to the text of the statement posted on the Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) on 8 August. Al-Shirazi said he had hoped the interim government "would act more wisely in containing the clashes" and criticized the "foreign forces' use of violence" against militiamen and militants, adding that "the use of violence breeds more violence." The grand ayatollah proposed several steps to contain the spread of violence, starting with a commitment by all Iraqis to nonviolence. He called on multinational forces to avoid doing anything to spur fighting and said the interim government should take steps toward dialogue with militants.
The Iraqi Islamic Party offered to intervene and negotiate an end to the standoff on 9 August. Former Iraqi Governing Council member and party head Muhsin Abd al-Hamid called on the Iraqi government and al-Sadr to return to negotiations, adding: "We call on all parties to work toward saving the city from any other possible disasters, especially since the Iraqi people cannot tolerate more disasters. The Iraqi Islamic Party, along with the Iraqi Shi'ite and national parties and the Muslim Scholars Association, expresses readiness to intervene" through negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party reportedly issued a statement on 11 August saying it held Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zurufi responsible for the escalation in violence and planned to question him on whether or not he sanctioned the attacks by multinational forces on militiamen in the city. The declaration came after several statements were issued by the Shi'ite Political Council regarding the fighting.
The council lent its support to al-Sadr and denounced the multinational forces' military operations in the city. In a 7 August statement, the council called on the interim government to "observe the national interest and not yield to foreign pressure" in the standoff. The council further claimed that the military operations aimed at subjugating the Iraqi people and in particular Shi'a, and called on multinational forces to withdraw their troops and resume negotiations toward reimplementing the cease-fire agreement reached with al-Sadr in June.
The issue was further complicated by several Arabic press reports that suggested regime loyalists are fighting alongside al-Sadr militiamen in Al-Najaf. Reports of this nature are not new. Similar reports surfaced during a standoff in April and May. Shi'a cleric Muhammad al-Haydari warned worshippers during his Friday prayer sermon on 6 August that foreign elements were working to sow destruction in Iraq by sending arms to Iraq. Al-Haydari also recounted the confession of an apparent terrorist in Karbala who was arrested along with other members of his group in possession of explosives and a booby-trapped car. The man told his interrogators that he was from Western Iraq and was instructed that if captured, he should claim to be a member of the Al-Mahdi Army. Al-Haydari surmised that the intention of terrorists is "to carry out operations aimed at creating sedition and instability and then to blame the Al-Mahdi Army, but the truth is different."
The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (http://www.iwpr.net) reported on 10 August that Hussein loyalists were training Al-Mahdi militiamen in the use of rocket-propelled-grenade launchers in Al-Kufah. The "volunteers" were said to have come from Amarah, Al-Diwaniyah, and Al-Kut to join the fight against U.S. forces. The report said that AK-47s were smuggled into Al-Kufah under loads of watermelons.
One Hussein loyalist, former Colonel Rifa't al-Janabi, told IWPR that he traveled from Al-Fallujah to Al-Najaf to train the militiamen. "The Fallujah Consultancy Council of Mujahidin holy warriors sent me with nine other officers and forty soldiers who are well trained in using mortar and the RPG-7 grenade launcher," he said. "We had to stand by our Shi'a brothers in Najaf, who stood by us in Fallujah," he said, referring to the intense fighting that took place in that city in April.
Media reports have also revealed the level of Iranian involvement in the fighting in Al-Najaf. Iraqi police arrested 28 Iranians and three Afghans in the nearby holy city of Karbala on 8 August. Police deported about 1,000 Iranians from the city one day earlier, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Al-Najaf Governor al-Zurufi said on 8 August that police were searching for a group of 80 Iranian fighters thought to be holed up in Al-Najaf's vast cemetery. "There is Iranian support to al-Sadr's group, and this is no secret. We have information and evidence that they are supplying the Al-Mahdi Army with weapons and have found such weapons in their possession," he said. Iran has denied the claims.
Meanwhile, citizens in Karbala protested the ongoing fighting and called for the resignation of Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and Al-Najaf Governor al-Zurufi. Al-Arabiyah reported on 11 August that thousands demonstrated in Al-Nasiriyah, demanding Allawi's resignation. Protesters also twice set fire to the office of Allawi's political party, the Iraqi National Accord, in the city, once on 11 August and again on 12 August.
Allawi thus faces a political test that would challenge even the most well-seasoned politician -- which, of course, he is not. He needs to bring order to Al-Najaf while preserving his credibility -- it is unclear whether he has the power to do so. This week, leaders in the Al-Basrah, Maysan, and Dhi Qar governorates announced their desire to secede from Baghdad and establish a federal state in southern Iraq if Iraqi and multinational forces refused to withdraw from Al-Najaf.
Salim al-Maliki, deputy governor of Al-Basrah, on 9 August issued an order to close Al-Basrah's ports to prevent the export of oil from terminals there, KUNA reported. Al-Maliki then threatened to announce separation from Baghdad and to declare an all-out rebellion if the fighting in Al-Najaf did not stop. Meanwhile, the Dhi Qar Governorate Council issued a statement on 9 August saying it would join Al-Basrah and the Maysan Governorate in separating from Iraq on the same grounds, Al-Jazeera reported. Maysan Governorate Council Chairman Ali Hammud al-Musawi told Al-Jazeera on 10 August that the governorate would interrupt oil supplies flowing through Maysan and block all intercity highways until Baghdad changes its stance. "Iyad Allawi and his government...must know that we expect from them justice, liberty, and democracy; we expect from them peaceful negotiations with our sons and brothers" in Al-Najaf, he said. Any attempts by the governorates to secede could provoke a civil war in Iraq; 90 percent of Iraq's oil reserves are located in the south. (Kathleen Ridolfo)HRW WARNS THAT VIOLENCE MIGHT ERUPT IF PROPERTY CLAIMS ARE NOT RESOLVED.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 78-page report released on 3 August (http://www.hrw.org) that violence might erupt in northern Iraq if property-claim disputes are not resolved soon. The report, "Claims in Conflict: Reversing Ethnic Cleansing in Northern Iraq," documents the situation for thousands of displaced Assyrians, Kurds, and Turkomans who are living in dire conditions as they await a resolution to their claims. The organization notes that thousands of displaced people have returned to the city of Kirkuk since the fall of the Hussein regime in order to reclaim their homes and lands that were occupied by Arabs from southern and central Iraq as part of the former regime's Arabization policy.
"Kurds are flocking back to Kirkuk, but the city has little capacity to absorb them," Sara Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW's Middle East and North African Division, was quoted as saying in a press release posted to the website. "If these property disputes are not addressed as a matter of urgency, rising tensions between returning Kurds and Arab settlers could soon explode into open violence." The Arabs, meanwhile, are facing similar conditions, as many have been internally displaced over the past year. Some fled their homes and others were evicted by returning Kurds. They remain in the vicinity of Kirkuk, living in makeshift shelters, HRW reported.
According to the report, the Iraqi Property Claims Commission established by the former Coalition Provisional Authority has done little to help alleviate the crisis. Some 6,000 claims have reportedly been filed in 10 Iraqi governorates, "but the judicial mechanism put in place for the adjudication of these property disputes has still not been implemented," HRW said. In addition, the commission's statute does not indicate where Arab settlers are to be resettled; many have lived in Kirkuk for some 30 years. "The process of seeking redress for the displaced Kurds and others must not lead to new injustices against Arab settlers," Whitson said.
Widespread clashes could be on the way. Kirkuk Council head Tahsin Kihyah said skirmishes continue to break out in the Al-Bashir village as a result of the property disputes, "Hawal" reported on 7 August. The Turkoman returnees have demanded that Arab settlers vacate the village. Last week's clashes were the fourth since July. "If Arab settlers don't vacate the village, there will be dire consequences. That is why I need to stress that a just solution should be found before it gets out of hand," Kihyah said.
"Al-Mashriq" reported on 2 August that the Al-Mansur Construction Company has broken ground on a 600-unit residential complex in Banjah Ali, located about 10 kilometers south of Kirkuk. Some 25 local companies are taking part in the project, which is expected to be completed within 180 days. The project will provide homes to some 100,000 displaced Kurds, the daily reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI GOVERNMENT REINSTATES DEATH PENALTY, ANNOUNCES AMNESTY LAW.
The interim Iraqi government formally reinstated the death penalty on 8 August, international media reported the same day. The Coalition Provisional Authority had suspended the punishment last year. It will be implemented for a limited number of crimes, Al-Arabiyah quoted Deputy Justice Minister Bashu Ibrahim Ali and State Minister Adnan al-Janabi as saying on 8 August. Those crimes include murder, abduction, and drug-related offenses.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told a 7 August news briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera that the interim government will offer Iraqi criminals and wanted individuals who were involved in, but not arrested or charged with minor crimes, 30 days to turn themselves in under an amnesty law.
The law covers those individuals "caught in the possession of light weapons or those who used such weapons, possessed explosive materials, concealed information, and covered up terrorist groups or financed them and participated with them with the intention of committing such crimes." The amnesty also applies to those wanted by the former regime. "This amnesty will give these people a chance to...join civil society, participate in rebuilding the country," he added. "I invite the misled among our people and those who discovered deep in their conscience that they were wrong to immediately report to [police]...and convey information to the authorities in order to stop the series of crimes and terrorist attacks." (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI COURT ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR CHALABIS.
An Iraqi Central Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmad Chalabi and his nephew, Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal head Salim Chalabi on 7 August, "Al-Mashriq" reported on 8 August. The daily quoted an unnamed source at the High Crimes Tribunal as saying that Salim Chalabi is wanted for his alleged role in the assassination of a senior official at the Finance Ministry, Husayn Karim Ghassan, who was killed while investigating charges of administrative corruption. Salim Chalabi told BBC News in an 8 August interview in London that he would return to Iraq to face the charges, but later recanted, telling Al-Arabiyah television on 9 August that certain assurances would first need to be made for his safety.
Asked about the charges leveled against him, Salim Chalabi said: "My own impression is that the main beneficiaries from this process are those accused of war crimes.... I heard that some people do not want me to assume a certain position because my last name is Chalabi." He added that he thought it was "weird" that charges against both him and his uncle came to light the same day.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Chalabi accused Iraqi Judge Zuhair al-Maliki of targeting his family in an e-mailed statement to washingtonpost.com, the website reported on 10 August. Al-Maliki "has consistently attempted to manipulate the justice system...[and] he has pursued a political vendetta against the Iraqi National Congress," Chalabi wrote. Chalabi is wanted on charges that he counterfeited Hussein-era Iraqi dinars. Al-Jazeera reported on 8 August that counterfeit money was found at INC headquarters in Baghdad during a police raid in May. Western media reported that Chalabi was mixing counterfeit currency with old Iraqi dinars and exchanging both for the new currency. Chalabi aide Entifadh Qanbar called the charges "baseless" and said the court "does not conform with Iraqi judiciary law." Chalabi responded to the charges against him, telling Reuters on 9 August that he would return to Iraq from Tehran to face the charges. "I will return in a few days. I can easily prove that these charges are untrue and I intend to defend myself and clear my name," he said. Media reports on 11 August indicated that he had in fact, returned to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the INC continued to claim that the interim government is targeting the political party after Prime Minister Allawi signed an eviction order for the INC to vacate the Baghdad building it occupies on grounds that the building is state-owned property, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 10 August. The INC established its headquarters in a building formerly used by the Iraqi intelligence service following the downfall of the Hussein regime. Al-Arabiyah reported that the INC is also using the house of Barzan al-Tikriti, a former regime member and half brother of deposed President Saddam Hussein, as an office.
INC spokesman Mithal al-Alusi confirmed that the INC received the eviction notice and claimed that although the notice was addressed to all Iraqi political parties, asking them to vacate any former state buildings they might be using, only the INC had been served notice to vacate, MENA reported on 10 August. Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said on 10 August that the INC had indeed been notified first, but he said that all illegal occupants of government buildings will be evicted, AFP reported. The buildings "will be returned to the ministries that owned the buildings before" the fall of the Hussein regime, he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)GOVERNMENT CLOSES AL-JAZEERA FOR ALLEGEDLY INCITING VIOLENCE.
The interim government ordered the Iraqi offices of the satellite news channel Al-Jazeera closed for 30 days on 7 August for allegedly inciting violence in Iraq, international media reported the same day. Al-Jazeera broadcast a press briefing with Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib that day in which he said: "Al-Jazeera showed many crimes and criminals on its screen and they say things that harm the image of Iraq and the Iraqis. Those who commit crimes may be encouraged [by those broadcasts] to commit more crimes."
Prime Minister Allawi told the same press briefing that he had set up an independent committee to monitor Al-Jazeera's daily broadcasts over the previous one-month period. Iraq's National Security Council, after reviewing the committee's report, recommended that the news channel be banned. Allawi said the order will be enforced longer than 30 days should Al-Jazeera fail to change its reporting practices.
Al-Jazeera broadcast a response on 7 August, calling the order an "unjustified decision." The response claimed that the news channel adheres to "professional principles" including "balance, objectivity, and concern about its viewers' right to know the truth whatever it may be." The order appears to not have hindered the satellite news channel's reporting on Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PLAN FOR ARAB-MUSLIM FORCE NOT GAINING SUPPORT.
It appears that Saudi Arabia's initiative toward the creation of an Arab and Muslim military force to maintain peace and security in Iraq has gained little support in recent days (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 August 2004). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told "The News" in an interview on 9 August that he stands by his demand that three conditions be met before troops could be committed to Iraq.
The demands are that: Iraq invite Pakistan to send troops; other Muslim states commit troops as well -- those troops would not be led by Pakistani officers; and the Pakistani public support the deployment of troops to Iraq. Musharraf told the daily: "I have told this to [U.S.] President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan." He added that he relayed the same message to Prime Minister Allawi, who personally requested the deployment. "We, however, are not shutting our doors as the situation might change," Musharraf said, adding, "Our forces will never go to Iraq under the present environment." Meanwhile, Kurdistan Satellite Television quoted interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir said on 5 August: "We do not need the Islamic and Arab countries to send their forces in order to maintain security." (Kathleen Ridolfo)INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE INTO IRAQI DEATHS.
U.K. military police are investigating the deaths of 48 Iraqis, a number one-third higher than previously disclosed, London's "The Independent on Sunday" reported on 8 August. The Defense Ministry said on 7 August that it was investigating 94 cases of deaths related to illegal shootings, suspected maltreatment of detainees, or deaths resulting from injuries purportedly inflicted by British troops in Iraq. Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told Parliament in June that of 74 cases of alleged abuse investigated, 37 involved suspicious deaths.
Meanwhile, the Danish military is looking into claims that intelligence officers abused Iraqi detainees during interrogations at Camp Eden. Detainees have claimed that intelligence officer Annemette Hommel shouted at and threatened a detainee, while a military police officer played with his knife in front of the detainee's face, "Jyllands-Posten" reported on 9 August. Hommel is also accused of leaving prisoners to sit in stressful positions for long periods of time and of denying them water during interrogation.
Copenhagen's "Berlingske Tidende" reported on 8 August that Danish officers are exposed to a variety of heavy-handed interrogation techniques during their training, including moderate physical pressure, loud music, and standing for long periods of time. The daily reported that former top military personnel said the techniques used on cadet trainees are so stressful that, had they been real, they would have violated the Geneva Conventions' ban on torture. "When you train people they are exposed to moderate physical pressure. I am afraid that these things can become confused. That [trainees] cannot differentiate between the training situation and the real situation in a stressful situation," retired Lieutenant General K.G.H. Hillingso told the daily.
Former commando chief Poul Dahl said: "I cannot remember that I or others have ever said [to cadets]: 'This is a method that you may not use.' I firmly believe that the soldiers believe that this is something that they are learning because they are to use it."
As a result of the allegations against Hommel and others, the Danish International Brigade has decided to provide its soldiers heading to Iraq with one hour of training on human rights, in addition to training on how to handle the civilian population, "Politiken" reported on 4 August. (Kathleen Ridolfo)