7 December 2004, Volume
IRAQI GROUPS DEBATE ELECTION POSTPONEMENT.
Some 17 Iraqi political groups and dozens of political figures gathered at the home of former Foreign Minister and veteran Sunni leader Adnan Pachachi on 26 November to discuss a proposal to postpone Iraq's national elections for up to six months.
A number of prominent Sunni groups have said that the elections, slated for 30 January, should be delayed due to the unstable security situation -- particularly in Sunni areas -- which has hindered the ability of groups to organize and register parties and voters. Media reports have indicated that the majority of registration centers in the Al-Anbar Governorate are closed due to security concerns. The Muslim Scholars Association, perhaps the best-known Sunni group, has threatened to boycott the elections altogether after U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an attack into the restive Sunni city of Al-Fallujah in November.
Pachachi told Iraq's Al-Sharqiyah Television in a 27 November interview that the meeting was useful. "Most of the attendees believe that it is in the interest of Iraq under the current circumstances to postpone the elections for a specific period so that the political forces that are still hesitant can participate in them. Through a constructive dialogue, we hope these forces will reconsider their position." He added that an improved security situation would also allow for voters to cast ballots free from pressure or even coercion. A number of militant groups have issued statements threatening to target political parties, candidates, and voters in the January elections.
The meeting, attended by representatives of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord (INA), as well as the two main Kurdish parties, set off a firestorm of speculation as to the why these groups would support an election delay. Allawi's spokesmen were quick to tell the media that although INA representatives attended the meeting, they did not endorse the proposal. Spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib said that Allawi "takes seriously his responsibility to proceed with the mandate given to him by the interim State Administration Law and the resolutions of the [UN] Security Council, which include extending help to the Higher Commission to hold elections at the end of January," Al-Arabiyah television reported on 27 November.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) was quick to clarify that while it was prepared to hold elections on time, it would not be opposed to any delay to allow Sunnis to better organize. The postponement would allow for broader participation, which would only lend legitimacy to the elections, KDP representatives said. Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told peyamner.com that the Kurds would only require a postponement if the weather deteriorates in the northern Kurdish areas and prevents voters from making it to the polls, the website reported on 27 November.
The call for a postponement also sparked claims by Turkoman groups that Kurds would support a six-month delay in order to continue their effort to change the demographic composition of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Turkoman parties charged that Kurds would continue a campaign to drive the Arab and Turkoman population from the city and resettle Kurds there.
Both Kurdish parties have made it clear in recent months that they believe Kirkuk is a Kurdish city and should be incorporated into a federal Kurdistan. The city holds the largest proven reserves of oil in Iraq. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said in a statement last week that it would oppose elections in Kirkuk Province on the grounds that Article 58 of the interim State Administration Law calls for the return of all displaced Kurds to Kirkuk before the elections. Kurdish Premier Barzani said his party would reject elections in Kirkuk until a population census can be held, peyamner.com reported on 27 November.
Six Turkoman parties rejected the call for delaying the Kirkuk elections, saying that the Kurdish groups wanted to impede the political process in Iraq. "We do not reject the return of the expelled people to their homes, but we refuse to say that failure to implement [Article 58] that is related to the expelled people would annul the legal basis that legitimizes the election of the Kirkuk Governorate Council," the statement said. "The Kurdish parties had better understand that resolving the issue of the expelled people will not result in specifying the identity of Kirkuk," it continued.
The 26 November meeting prompted a meeting of some 40 political parties the following day to discuss, and ultimately reject, the postponement proposal. Participants at the meeting, held at the Baghdad office of the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, signed a statement calling for elections to be held on schedule.
The statement claimed that under UN Security Council Resolution 1546, any postponement would be illegal; a postponement would also violate the State Administration Law. "It will also remove the legal and legitimate cover under which the [interim] National Assembly and the government are performing. The government's jurisdiction legally ends on 31 January 2005," the statement added. A postponement "will also lead to further security and political chaos," and "reward the terrorist forces that are hostile to the political process," it continued. The statement was signed by a number of Shi'ite political organizations, including SCIRI, the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, the Iraqi Hizballah Party, The Iraqi National Congress, the Unified National Alliance, eight Turkoman political parties, and a number of secular and tribal groups.
It is unclear whether a postponement of elections would produce a worthwhile result in the end. Sunni groups such as the Muslim Scholars Association have been resistant to nearly every political development in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime; a delay is unlikely to change their stance. There is also no guarantee that the security situation will improve significantly over the next six months. However, six months would give political parties, and more importantly, secular independent candidates, additional time to organize and campaign in a country where freedom of movement has been seriously obstructed in recent months. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
INTERIM GOVERNMENT DENIES MEETING BA'ATHISTS IN JORDAN.
Members of the interim Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, have denied that last week's meeting with members of the "opposition" in Jordan included former Ba'athists loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussein.
Allawi reportedly met with several businessmen, academics, and tribal chiefs at the 1 December meeting. A broader meeting is scheduled in Amman for 8 December and will be attended by some 120 exiled political personalities who lived abroad during the Hussein regime, Al-Jazeera reported on 1 December.
"There is an important Iraqi community in Jordan and we wish them to participate in the electoral process," Allawi spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib told reporters in Amman. "The meeting came in the course of a series of encounters with Iraqi personalities living in Arab and international capitals with a view to bolstering national unity and ensuring wider participation in the political process," he added, according to a 2 December dpa report. An estimated 100,000 Iraqis live in the Jordanian capital.
However, media reports ahead of the 1 December meeting indicated that Allawi would be meeting with personalities that once had strong connections to the Hussein regime. Lebanon's "Daily Star" quoted Allawi as saying that representatives of two prominent tribes from the restive Al-Anbar province would attend the meeting. Regarding Ba'athists, Allawi called reports of such meetings "an invention by the media -- nothing more or nothing less." Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told the interim National Assembly on 30 November that the government aimed to "widen the scope of participation" in January's national elections to groups "that renounce violence and terrorism," the daily reported. "We still think that national reconciliation is necessary and vital but we also make a distinction," al-Zebari said.
The interim government avoided a demand made by French officials in October to allow oppositionists to participate in October's Sharm el-Sheikh meetings on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 and 22 October 2004). But media reports from the conference indicated that a number of Arab states attending the conference called on Allawi to open a dialogue with the opposition. Dozens of former Ba'ath Party members reside in neighboring countries including former parliamentary speaker Sa'dun Hammadi and former Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. Abha's "Al-Watan" reported on 28 November that Allawi's Iraqi National Accord (INA) Party has, as part of its political program, already initiated meetings with Ba'ath Party members who had left the party due to differences with Hussein. The daily named several former Ba'athists that have already been approached by the INA. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDISH PARTIES ANNOUNCE JOINT ELECTORAL LIST.
Iraq's two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), announced on 1 December that they would run a joint list in parliamentary elections in January. KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani and PUK head Jalal Talabani addressed the media following a meeting in Salah Al-Din that was broadcast on Kurdistan Satellite Television the same day. Barzani called the agreement "historic," adding, "We have decided to enter both the [parliamentary] elections in Iraq and the [parliamentary] elections in Kurdistan in a joint list." He noted that smaller parties allied with the Kurdish groups would be included on what he termed the "broad national list."
Talabani called on Kurds to register to vote and take part in the elections. "These elections are very crucial for Kurds. As many votes the Kurds can cast, as many representatives they would have in the new Iraqi National Assembly," he said. Asked about the allocation of shares for the list that will be put forth for the Kurdish parliamentary elections, Talabani said that it has not been determined how many slots will be made available to each party. "We gave shares to all the parties" on the list. "However, until we meet with them and compete the process, we cannot reveal any numbers.... You can be assured that we, the KDP and the PUK, have reduced our numbers to a great extent," he said, in order to allow for more diversity within the parliament.
Asked about the Kurdish stance on Kirkuk voting (see item), Barzani said: "Our stance is obviously very clear...We have no objection to the participation of the people of Kirkuk in the National Assembly elections. However, the elections of the Kirkuk Governorate Council cannot be carried out, except after the normalization of the situation in the city...as agreed in the [interim] State Administration Law. (Kathleen Ridolfo)WEBSITE REPORTS 180 POLITICAL PARTIES REGISTERED FOR ELECTIONS.
A Denmark-based website (http://www.iraq4allnews.dk) reported on 25 November that the Iraqi Electoral Commission has approved the applications of 180 political parties and independent candidates ahead of January's national elections. The website quoted commission spokesman Farid Ayyar, as releasing the names of the political parties and individuals that registered. The list includes about three-dozen independent candidates. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PIPELINE ATTACKS COST GOVERNMENT $7 BILLION.
Oil Minister Thamir al-Ghadhban has estimated that attacks by insurgents on oil pipelines in Iraq from August 2003 to October 2004 have caused $7 billion in losses, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 30 November. A pipeline transporting oil from Karbala to the Al-Musayyib Power Plant was attacked on the same day, in the latest in a string of attacks, the television channel reported. Six oil wells at the Khabbaz oil field west of Kirkuk remain on fire, with experts estimating several weeks before the fires can be put out. Ghadhban said that the ministry plans to sign contracts with foreign firms to develop the Farmalah oil field in Kirkuk and the Himrin oil field in the Diyala governorate.
According to a 29 November report in London-based "Al-Hayat," which also quoted al-Ghadhban's comments, there is currently no prospecting under way in Kurdistan. Ghadhban said the ministry intends to revitalize oil activities in Kurdistan that will include the development of oil fields, establishment of refineries and warehouses, and the construction of a new pipeline network to facilitate the transport of crude oil and other byproducts, "Al-Hayat" reported. Al-Ghadhban told the daily that Iraq is in need of international investment to develop the Al-Faw petrochemical center and port. Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 1 December that the ministry had formed a 2,000-member pipeline-protection force, equipped with state-of-the-art technology to secure the pipeline infrastructure. (Kathleen Ridolfo)WEBSITE REPORTS EMBEZZLEMENT SCHEME IN AL-NAJAF.
The Al-Najaf News Network (http://www.al-najafnews.net) quoted sources within the Al-Najaf governorate on 29 November as saying that Iraqi and multinational forces have arrested Deputy Governor Ali al-Shaybani, as well as a number of government employees who sit on a committee led by al-Shaybani, for allegedly embezzling funds earmarked to compensate victims of the Al-Najaf standoff earlier this year. Those arrested reportedly embezzled the funds by forging claims. However, AP reported on 29 November that al-Shaybani was arrested after police uncovered an alleged plot to assassinate Governor Adnan al-Zurufi and other top officials. (Kathleen Ridolfo)MILITANTS CONTINUE TO INTIMIDATE MOSUL RESIDENTS.
Government offices, businesses, and schools in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul remain closed due to the continued insurgency there, "Al-Zaman" reported on 27 November. The daily reported that gunmen have expanded their network throughout the city and are distributing their directives house-to-house and district-to-district, leaving residents with no choice but to obey orders, which recently included a call for people to remain indoors on 24 November.
The militant group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad in Bilad al-Rafidayn -- which is led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi -- posted a statement on a website on 28 November claiming responsibility for the killing of 17 Iraqi forces and a Kurdish peshmerga in the city, AP reported on 29 November. Some 50 Iraqis have been killed in Mosul in the past 10 days, AP reported, while the "Chicago Tribune" reported on 28 November that as many as 70 Iraqis were found dead in the city in a little more than a week, with many bodies dumped in the city center. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Erik Kurilla said the surge in violence has led to an increase in the number of residents coming forward with information on the insurgents, the "Chicago Tribune" reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)KARBALA POLICE CATCH WOULD-BE BOMBER AT CENTRAL PRISON.
Police arrested a would-be suicide bomber at the Karbala Central Prison on 28 November, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Police spokesman Rahman Mushawi said a man attempting to carry a large quantity of explosives into the inner prison courtyard during visiting hours was caught by police before he could detonate the explosives. Mushawi said the man told police that he planned to detonate the bomb inside the prison but that he did not say why. (Kathleen Ridolfo)WEAPONS, BOMB-LADEN CARS UNCOVERED IN BAGHDAD MOSQUE RAID.
National Guard forces reportedly uncovered a weapons cache and seven booby-trapped cars in a raid on the Yasin Mosque in Baghdad on 27 November, the Shi'ite News Agency (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 28 November. The report cited a National Guard source as saying that one Strela rocket, nine Strela missiles, 30 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 25 Kalashnikov rifles and other automatic weapons, dozens of hand grenades, and equipment to make car bombs were seized in the raid. Seized documents included pamphlets urging Iraqis not to participate in the January elections, the website reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAN HOSTS MEETING OF IRAQ'S NEIGHBORS.
Iran hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring states from 30 November to 1 December, international media reported. The meeting concluded with the issuing of a nine-point communique that resembled the concluding statements of previous meetings held by the foreign ministers. The document called for mutual cooperation on border security and for countries to exchange information and intelligence to prevent the movement of terrorists and subversive elements to Iraq, IRNA reported on 1 December.
The communique also stated that Iraq's neighbors were willing to help train and equip Iraqi police and border guard units. Iranian Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asghar Ahmadi said on 28 November that Iran was particularly eager to offer training. The offer provoked a terse response from Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, who told the media in Tehran on 1 December: "What we need is closer cooperation with our border forces fro preventing misuse at the joint borders. We need no training from outside for our police forces," MENA reported the same day. Al-Naqib also stressed that Iraq wants its neighbors to block the flow of funds to insurgents in Iraq. He contended that the resistance was being aided by funds flowing from Afghanistan through Iran and into Iraq. Turkey is expected to host the next regular meeting of Iraq's neighbors. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN TO OPEN ELECTION-MONITORING CENTER.
The United Nations will open a center in Baghdad to organize the work of international observers during Iraq's national elections in January, MENA reported on 1 December. Abd al-Husayn al-Hindawi of the Electoral Commission said a conference would be held on 7 December in Canada to prepare a coordinating body to oversee the observers. Al-Hindawi added that the commission intends to offer technical training to Iraqi election officials in Amman before the elections.
UN election chief for Iraq Carlos Valenzuela told AP in a 1 December interview that preparations for the 30 January elections remain on track. "I won't say I am happy, but I am satisfied with the process," he said. Valenzuela said that there were reports of intimidation "in many places" throughout Iraq, adding "but the process is still going ahead." He added that some 4 million expatriate Iraqis are expected to participate in the elections at polling stations in 15 countries, including Iran, Jordan, Egypt, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The UN's International Organization for Migration is organizing expatriate voting, which is expected to cost some $92 million. The UN had opposed expatriate voting due to the exorbitant cost and potential for fraud. "There will be allegations, fraud, and all that. But the commission felt that, yes, that was a problem, but they also felt that the integrity of the process will also be questioned if out-of-country voting was not taken," Valenzuela said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)MYSTERY OF MISSING EXPLOSIVES SOLVED?
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari reportedly gave a letter to London's "The Independent" on 30 November written by former Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to Saddam Hussein asking permission to use explosives under UN seal in suicide attacks against U.S. forces last year, the daily reported on 1 December. Some 350 tons of explosives, including 191 tons of HMX disappeared following the downfall of the Hussein regime (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 29 October 2004).
The letter, purportedly written on 4 April 2003, just five days before the regime's fall, recommends that HMX be removed from underground bunkers and given to suicide bombers. The letter said the world was getting the impression that Iraqi civilians were cooperating with U.S. troops, "The Independent" reported. Sabri recommended that the regime send suicide bombers to target checkpoints to "make the savage Americans realize that their contact with Iraqi civilians is as dangerous as facing them on the battlefield." The daily states that there is no proof that Hussein acted on Sabri's suggestions but recalls that U.S. troops were targeted in a number of suicide bombings at checkpoints at the time. It should also be recalled that a number of highly explosive bombings were carried out in the months following liberation -- particularly in August, when Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim was assassinated and when UN Headquarters in Baghdad were bombed.
Al-Zebari told "The Independent" that the letter was found in the Foreign Ministry archives. It was marked "confidential and immediate" and sent to Hussein's secretary Abid Hamud. Sabri now lives in Qatar. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. SENDING ADDITIONAL TROOPS AHEAD OF ELECTIONS.
The United States has announced that it will send additional troops to Iraq ahead of the 30 January national elections. The U.S. military made the announcement on 1 December, saying troop levels would be increased to around 150,000 from its current level of 138,000, Reuters reported the same day. Thousands of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq and due to return home in the coming weeks will now remain at their posts when replacement troops are rotated this month and in January. Some 1,500 soldiers from the elite 82nd Airborne Division will also be deployed to Iraq, Reuters reported. About 1,100 82nd Airborne troops were sent to Afghanistan during that country's national elections in September.
The British government was reportedly finalizing a plan to deploy up to 1,000 soldiers to Iraq in the run-up to the national elections scheduled for 30 January, London's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 28 November. Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, were put on notice and were expected to leave for southern Iraq by the end of the year, the report said. The 650-member unit would be supported by soldiers from other units to form a 1,000-strong force, the weekly said. However, bbc.co.uk reported on 1 December that the deployment of the regiment was part of a routine troop rotation, and the total number of U.K. personnel in Iraq would remain at current levels in January. The Danish parliament voted recently to extend its troop deployment by an additional six months from 2 December, according to media reports. The South Korean cabinet has also endorsed a plan to extend its mission of some 3,600 troops to Iraq for another year, Yonhap news agency reported on 29 November. The parliament is examining the proposal and has sent a fact-finding mission to Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)