1 August 2003, Volume
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL ESTABLISHES NINE-MEMBER LEADERSHIP.
The Iraqi Governing Council elected a nine-member leadership committee on 29 July, international press reported. After more than two weeks of discussion, it was decided that a nine-member rotational leadership would best serve the council's needs, council members told Reuters. Ibrahim Ja'fari, a medical doctor who is the spokesman of the Al-Da'wah Party, was chosen on 30 July as the leadership's first chair, Reuters reported on the same day. Other committee members are Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI); Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) head Mas'ud Barzani; Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani; Iraqi National Congress (INC) chief Ahmad Chalabi; Secretary-General of the Iraqi National Accord (INA) Iyad Allawi; Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary-General Muhsin Abd al-Hamid; Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum; and former Iraqi Foreign Minister and head of the Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement Adnan Pachachi. Now that the council has chosen a leadership, it is expected to take up more pressing issues, including the drafting of an Iraqi constitution and the appointment of interim ministers. The council has also been charged with instituting economic reform initiatives and drafting electoral laws. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PURPORTED AUDIOTAPE OF DEPOSED IRAQI PRESIDENT MOURNS SONS.
An audiotape purportedly recorded by deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein mourns the death of his two sons Uday and Qusay, killed in a gun battle with U.S. forces on 22 July (see RFE/RL Iraq Report 24 July 2003). In the audiotape, broadcast on Al-Arabiyah satellite television on 29 July, the speaker says, "brothers and sisters, I mourn to you," adding, "Your brother Uday and Qusay, and Mustafa, the son of Qusay, took a stand of faith...they stood in the arena of jihad in Umm al-Rimah ["mother of spears" -- a name for Mosul] in Mosul, after a valiant battle with the enemy..."
The speaker then calls on Iraqis to sacrifice their lives and property for the sake of Iraq. "Had Saddam Hussein had 100 children, other than Uday and Qusay, Saddam Hussein would have sacrificed them on the same path," he adds. "Long live jihad and the mujahidin," he says, adding, "Ignominy to the two liars, their aides, followers and agents" in an apparent reference to the administrations of U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Unlike previously recorded audiotapes attributed to Hussein, this tape did not carry a date. The CIA has said that the audiotape appears to be authentic. (Kathleen Ridolfo)BAGHDAD POLICE CHIEF INJURED IN SHOOTOUT.
Baghdad's chief of police, Brigadier General Ahmad Kazim Ibrahim, and five of his men were injured in a shootout in Baghdad on 26 July, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. The shootout erupted during a raid to arrest individuals suspected of abducting citizens in the Al-Shu'lah neighborhood in the capital. According to Al-Jazeera, Iraqi newspapers have recorded numerous threats against Ibrahim by former regime members. Ibrahim reportedly told SCIRI's Voice of the Mujahidin radio that his forces released eight women and children from captivity in the Al-Sadadah area of Baghdad, the radio reported on 29 July. The captors of the four women and four children are reportedly in police custody. (Kathleen Ridolfo)FREE OFFICERS HEAD DISCUSSES COALITION PLANS FOR ARMY.
The head of the Free Officers and Civilians Movement Najib al-Salihi told the Kurdistan Democratic Party's daily "Al-Ta'akhi" in an interview reported on 29 July that the coalition decision to dissolve the Iraqi military institution has negatively impacted the Iraqi military and civilian population, because the army was largely a symbol of the nation's sovereignty. Al-Salihi, once a lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi Army, defected in 1995 and eventually established his organization in Washington, D.C. He told "Al-Ta'akhi" that he views the coalition's plan for a New Iraqi Army as obscure and said he had met with U.S. officials to discuss using his organization's offices as a headquarters for voluntary enlistment for the new army. "We raised many questions on the U.S. proposal to create a new army, but we did not get any answers," he added. Salihi said he believes that the new army must distance itself from any political affiliations and be subordinate only to an elected Iraqi political authority. (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-SADR SAYS HE IS AN ENEMY OF U.S. OCCUPATION.
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told Dubai-based Al-Arabiyah television that he remains opposed to the U.S.-led administration in Iraq in a 28 July interview aired the following day on the satellite channel. Asked why he remains opposed, since the U.S. liberated Iraq from a regime held responsible for killing his family members, he said, "The main and direct reason for the removal of the [Hussein] regime is the almighty God," adding, "All credit for the removal of the regime goes only to the almighty God." Al-Sadr said that he considers himself an enemy of the U.S. "in the general sense of the word," but said he is "not one who fights them."
Al-Sadr told Al-Arabiyah that he has established his Al-Mahdi army to "maintain peace and security in Iraq and protect the leaders and religious authorities in Al-Najaf and elsewhere in Iraq." He said the army would not resist the U.S. presence in Iraq, contending, "It is only to maintain security." He said the army would not be armed, and would not be funded, but later added, "If the army personnel believe in God and obey him and if they love their leaders, then they will offer themselves, money, and honor to their leaders and religious authorities. Therefore, we do not need financial or other support from anyone." Asked if his people were involved in resistance operations, he answered, "What resistance? I answered when I said this requires permission from the religious ruler and there is no such permission." He later reminded Al-Arabiyah that he is not qualified to issue fatwas, or religious edicts.
Al-Sadr also said that he has no personal relationship with the Iranian government, only "general relations." The cleric visited Iran in early June.
Asked what advice he would give the Iraqi people, he said, "I advise them to quit all that harms religion and ask them to unite and not be divided over their rights as we were divided in the past." He contended that he would not demand that Iraq become an Islamic republic, saying, "Only the Iraqi people have the right." However, in a Friday prayer sermon at the Al-Kufah Mosque on 18 July, and broadcast on Al-Arabiyah, al-Sadr told worshippers, "I shall strive, and you shall also strive with God's help to gather some parties in order to lay down a constitution, form a governing council, and declare an Islamic state that seeks to apply the Shari'a laws." He added that the establishment of his Al-Mahdi army would serve as "the first seed for the establishment of an independent Muslim state." Al-Sadr also vowed to soon open "bureaus" in some Muslim states "so that the embassies in these states would represent the opinion of the people and Hawzah," adding, "The representative of Iraq cannot be a deviate from Islam and its teachings." (Kathleen Ridolfo)MUJAHID GROUP VOWS TO FIGHT U.S. OCCUPIERS IN IRAQ.
Al-Arabiyah Television aired video footage on 28 July issued by the Salafist Mujahid Group, which claims that it will fight U.S. forces until they are expelled from Iraq. The group describes itself as carrying Islamic, Salafist, and Sunni banners. "Our shaykhs and our imams in the prisons of the renegade oppressors who are slaves of the slaves, we will avenge you, will take revenge on your captors and those who are holding you prisoner," the group announced. The group also addressed its "mujahidin brothers who believe in the oneness of God in the detention camps of infidelity and their prison cells in all parts of the earth, as in Guantanamo, Egypt, Morocco, Bilad al-Sham [Greater Syria], the Arabian Peninsula, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan," saying, "May God set you free. We will avenge you and we will take revenge on...those who hold you prisoner."
The group also threatened U.S. administration officials in the video saying, "Let it be known to you that we have young men who love death for the sake of God," adding, "You will not enjoy security, peace of mind, [or] safety so long as you remain infidel and continue your war against Islam and Muslims." The speaker goes on to claim, "America, you have declared war on God and the soldiers of God." The group then singles out senior U.S. officials, saying, "As for you, [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, decision makers in the 'Black House' and the Pentagon, and your lackeys and slaves...we will turn the ground under you into a blazing fire.... You will see death coming at you from every direction." (Kathleen Ridolfo)MILITANTS ATTACK LIQUOR STORE IN AL-BASRAH.
Five Iraqi citizens were wounded on 27 July when unidentified militants fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at a store selling alcohol in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah, Voice of the Mujahidin reported on 28 July. The attack occurred in the city center. Hospital sources told the radio station, purportedly operated by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), that the attackers exited two vehicles some 30 meters from the store, and fired two or three RPGs in its direction, hitting the building, and injuring individuals in the vicinity. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQ'S FIRST WAR CRIMES MUSEUM OPENS.
A building that the deposed Iraqi regime once used to house and torture prisoners in Al-Sulaymaniyah has been transformed into Iraq's first war crimes museum, the "Baghdad Bulletin" reported on its website on 7 July (http://www.baghdadbulletin.com). The building, once known as Amna Suraka (Red Security), is also the site where Ba'ath loyalists took their last stand against the Kurdish uprising in 1991. Once the Kurdish area was liberated, the building served as a home for displaced Kurds. Hero Ibrahim, the wife of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) Head Jalal Talabani, led the drive to transform it into a war crimes museum.
According to the "Baghdad Bulletin," the museum contains five statues of ex-prisoners, sculpted by local artist Kamran Omer, who told the magazine that "Two of the statues are of two late prisoners who were executed on the same day and the other three are from my own imagination." In addition, the museum houses an archive of pictures and documents seized by Kurdish peshmerga fighters during the 1991 uprising.
A number of torture chambers in the facility were left in their original condition to show the cruelty of the Hussein regime. Prisoners also helped by providing museum staff with information to recreate the confinement cells and collective rooms, the magazine reported. The writings of many prisoners can still be seen on the cells' walls. The building also hosts a permanent war photo exhibition, the "Baghdad Bulletin" reported. The "Baghdad Bulletin" is an English-language magazine published twice a month. (Kathleen Ridolfo)HUSSEIN COUSIN ASKS PERMISSION TO BURY UDAY, QUSAY.
A cousin of ousted President Hussein has asked U.S. administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer to release the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein for burial, Al-Arabiyah Television reported on 26 July. The two died during a shootout with U.S. forces on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). The cousin, Izz al-Din Hasan al-Majid, told the satellite channel that his decision to make the request is based on a personal conviction, saying, "It is a purely humanitarian issue. They are now dead people who no longer pose a threat to anyone." He said he intended to bury the men at the Hussein family cemetery in Tikrit. Asked if he fears that Iraqis would unearth the men's graves, he said, "The Iraqis are Muslims, and I do not think they would do such a thing, because it is in violation of Islamic law." No other Hussein family members have reportedly come forward to claim the bodies. However, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 July that tribal chief Mahmud al-Nada from the Al-Bunasir tribe was seeking U.S. permission to bury the bodies.
Members of the Hussein regime reportedly killed al-Majid's brother in 1991, he told Al-Arabiyah. In 1995, he fled with his cousins, Hussein's sons-in-law Husayn and Saddam Kamil al-Majid, to Jordan. The brothers and their families returned to Iraq in early 1996 after Hussein promised them amnesty, only to be gunned down by the regime along with several members of their extended family, including al-Majid's wife and four children. Al-Majid, who declined to return with the brothers, now lives in London. He told Al-Arabiyah that he has survived many attempts on his life over the course of his exile. In early June, he unsuccessfully attempted to gain asylum status for Saddam Hussein's daughters, Raghad and Rana, the wives of Husayn and Saddam Kamil al-Majid (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 June 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)ATTACKS ON COALITION FORCES CONTINUE IN IRAQ.
Attacks against coalition forces have continued unabated in the last week. Five U.S. troops were killed and 10 troops or other individuals were injured in separate attacks on 26 and 27 July, according to press releases posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). Three soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division guarding the Ba'qubah Children's Hospital were killed and four injured in a grenade attack on 26 July. Later the same day, one soldier was killed and two others were wounded in Baghdad when their convoy was attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. The soldiers were members of an engineer unit attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, CENTCOM reported. That attack also left three Iraqis injured. On 27 July, one soldier was killed and another wounded when their patrol was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade near the village of Al-Haswah, in the Babil Governorate. U.S. officials last week said they expected attacks on U.S. troops to continue, or even temporarily increase, following the deaths on 22 July of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the sons of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in a gun battle with U.S. troops (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 July 2003).
Iraqi militants continued their attacks on 28 July, leaving one soldier dead and three wounded, according to a CENTCOM press release. Militants reportedly dropped an improvised explosive device from an overpass onto a convoy carrying soldiers from the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad. The attack brought to 50 the number of U.S. soldiers killed by hostile fire in Iraq since major combat ended on 1 May, Reuters reported on 28 July.
Meanwhile, soldiers from the elite Task Force 20 on the trail of Hussein opened fire on two civilian vehicles in Baghdad on 28 July, killing at least five Iraqis, including a young boy, Reuters reported on 29 July; there were, however, conflicting reports of how the shooting took place. In a separate incident, militants floated a bomb on a palm log down the Diyala River, a tributary of the Tigris River, detonating it under a bridge linking the cities of Tikrit and Ba'qubah, AP reported on 29 July. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. REPORTEDLY CAPTURES FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT'S BODYGUARDS.
Reportedly acting on a tip, U.S. soldiers captured between five and 10 people believed to be bodyguards for deposed President Hussein in a 25 July raid in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 July. U.S. officials expressed optimism after the capture, noting that other detainees have disclosed during interrogation that the former president's bodyguards have played a major role in coordinating attacks against U.S. forces in Tikrit, the daily reported. "We continue to tighten the noose," Major General Ray Odierno, commander of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, told reporters in Tikrit.
Officials said it is likely that the men in custody have information about the movements of senior members of the deposed regime, including Hussein. Local residents told U.S. forces that they missed capturing Hussein's new security chief in the raid by 24 hours, AP reported on 27 July. Officials declined to divulge the identity of the man, who reportedly replaced Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, who was arrested by coalition forces on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. SOLDIERS CHARGED WITH ABUSING POWS IN IRAQ.
The U.S. military has charged four U.S. military-police officers with abusing Iraqi prisoners of war (POWs) at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S.-run POW camp in Iraq, AP reported on 26 July. The soldiers are accused of punching, kicking, and breaking the bones of prisoners at the camp. According to AP, they are the first U.S. soldiers to be charged with abusing POWs in Iraq. The soldiers, including two women, reportedly deny the charges, saying they acted in self-defense after Iraqi prisoners attacked them. "A few of my [military-police officers] were assaulted by the enemy prisoners, and we had to use force to regain control, all justifiable," Staff Sergeant Scott McKenzie reportedly e-mailed his relatives five days after the 12 May incident. The four soldiers have been separated and assigned restricted duties at a base in Kuwait, AP reported.
According to AP, all four face up to five charges each of assault and mistreating prisoners. Two have also been charged with making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice. At least three other soldiers from the 320th Military Police Battalion are also being investigated. British soldiers are also under investigation by the International Criminal Court for their treatment of Iraqi POWs (see this issue). (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. TROOPS CAPTURE PRESIDENTIAL BODYGUARD, ASSOCIATES.
U.S. forces captured a bodyguard of Saddam Hussein and two regime loyalists in a predawn raid in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on 29 July, international media reported. AP identified the bodyguard as Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit. Tikrit security chief Daher Ziana, and Rafa Idham Ibrahim al-Hassan, a leader in the Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary group, were also detained. "We got our prime target," Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell told AP. He described al-Muslit as having close ties to the deposed president's half brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, already in coalition custody. Reuters quoted an unidentified U.S. spokesman as saying that a fourth man was detained in the raid. U.S. forces captured between five and 10 people believed to be Hussein's bodyguards in a 25 July raid in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). On 28 July, soldiers excavated recently buried weapons outside a building belonging to the Saddam Fedayeen, including 40 antitank mines, dozens of mortar rounds, and considerable amounts of gunpowder, AP reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SOUTHERN IRAQ ADMINISTRATOR LEAVES POST.
Ambassador Ole Wohlers Olsen, the Danish coordinator for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in southern Iraq, resigned from his post on 28 July, international media reported the same day. Olsen told a press conference in Copenhagen that although he was slated for a six-month tour, his decision to leave early coincides with the CPA's restructuring plans, Danish radio reported. "It is convenient now, when troops are being replaced and other countries are taking over military tasks involving security and law and order, and when the administration in Iraq is being reorganized," he said.
Olsen had reportedly complained that the CPA has not provided him with the resources necessary to carry out his mission, Reuters reported on 28 July. "The attrition of south Iraq was far worse than I had expected," he told reporters. "My people in the administration office have no security guards with them as they move around either -- and I'm not happy about that." British diplomat Sir Hillary Synnott will replace Olsen, who held the position for less than two months, Danish Foreign Ministry officials told Reuters. (Kathleen Ridolfo)CPA INVITES APPLICATIONS FOR COMMERCIAL AIR OPERATION IN SOUTH.
The CPA issued a notice on 25 July inviting all commercial airlines interested in operating at the Al-Basrah International Airport to file applications by 2 August. The notice is posted on the CPA website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). According to the notice, the airport will initially allow two round-trip regional flights per day, and one round-trip international flight per day. Each airline chosen by the CPA must be prepared to conduct at least two flights per week, and each airline "must be prepared for a maximum two-hour turnaround without fueling, catering, or other ground services being provided." In addition, "each airline chosen must be prepared to operate without the carriage of cargo into or out of Al-Basrah." Airlines will initially be approved to operate for a period of three months. The approval "may be renewed or revoked [at] the discretion of the CPA. The notice does not indicate when the CPA expects the airport to reopen.
Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported on 29 July that British Airways, KLM Royal Dutch, Lufthansa, and Air France have already applied to operate out of Baghdad International Airport. KLM reportedly already lists Baghdad on its website as a destination, and plans to operate four flights a week beginning on 1 September. "The New York Times" reported that a round-trip fare on KLM from Amsterdam to Baghdad is likely to cost about 990 euros ($1,140) in economy class.
Like Al-Basrah, it's unclear when Baghdad International Airport will open. Militants continue to attack coalition military convoys on a near-daily basis on the road leading to the airport, where U.S. forces are stationed. In mid-July there were reportedly two separate incidents in which militants fired a surface-to-air missile at a C-130 cargo plane landing at Baghdad International Airport (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 17 July 2003). "We have representatives in Baghdad at this moment looking at all issues like safety," KLM spokesman Bart Koster told "The New York Times" on 29 July, adding, "the [CPA] has said they want to start regular air service as soon as possible. I assume they're in a bit of a hurry. But then again, they want to be assured that the airlines that have expressed interest can operate."
The daily reported that the U.S. Transportation Department has approved three U.S.-based airlines to operate in Iraq: Northwest (a KLM partner), and two charter companies. American Airlines, Delta, and United Airlines retain flying rights into Iraq. Those companies have not operated in Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War. (Kathleen Ridolfo)COALITION SETS UP AERIAL-GUNNERY RANGE IN IRAQ.
Coalition forces have established an aerial-gunnery range near Tikrit for the training of coalition helicopter pilots, according to a 26 July press release posted on the CENTCOM website. The range was opened on 21 July and will reportedly be closed on 17 August. The press release urges the local population to avoid the area, adding, "Concrete blocks on the trails leading to the range will have warnings written in Arabic stating that the area is off limits." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KUWAITI SEARCH TEAM CONFIRMS REMAINS OF TWO POWS.
The remains of two Kuwaiti prisoners of war (POWs) have been verified through DNA testing, a statement by Kuwait's Search and Investigation team announced on 29 July, KUNA reported on the same day. The remains of the man and woman were found in a mass grave in Al-Samawah, Iraq. Both individuals were taken prisoner by Iraqi forces on 2 November 1990. According to KUNA, the number of Kuwaiti POWs found at the gravesite now totals 11. The names of the 11 POWs were listed in the KUNA report, available on the news agency's website (http://www.kuna.net.kw/). (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRANIAN WEBSITE REPORTS ILLEGAL PILGRIMS KILLED AT BORDER.
The Iranian Baztab website (http://www.baztab.com) reported on 28 July that five Iranian citizens were killed along the Iraqi border near the Iranian city of Mehran on 27 July. According to the report, a group of 80 pilgrims traveling from the holy Iranian city of Qom hit a mine, as they tried to illegally cross the border. Four individuals were killed and 18 injured in the incident. The report said that among those killed was a "human smuggler" who was leading the pilgrims into the mined area. Another smuggler was injured. The report has not been verified by independent sources. (Kathleen Ridolfo)GUL SAYS NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MUST APPROVE TROOPS TO IRAQ.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said that the Turkish National Assembly must vote on whether or not that country will send troops to Iraq, NTV reported on 28 July. Gul told the news channel that the decision, which could take a few months, would allow troops to participate in the U.S.-led coalition's efforts to establish security in Iraq. Asked to compare this request to the National Assembly's rejection of a U.S. request before the war, which sought permission to launch military activities against Iraq from Turkish soil (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 March 2003), Gul said, "It is difficult to tell at the moment [whether the motion would pass]. There is a difference from that time period. At that time there was a war. We were going to war. At the moment, there is no war; there is only a risky region." Gul's comments to NTV came after a meeting with senior U.S. officials in Washington.
Gul held a press conference on 24 July with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during that trip. Powell told reporters that the United States "would like a decision [from Turkey] as soon as possible," but added that the issue of sending troops "is a judgment for the Turkish government to make." Powell told reporters at the press conference that Gul had assured him that the Turkish government was "actively considering" the U.S. request, and working on it in as "fast a manner as possible." The text of the press conference can be viewed at the State Department's International Information Program's website (http://usinfo.state.gov). (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQ, TURKEY AGREE TO REOPEN RAILWAY.
Iraq and Turkey signed an agreement on 30 July to reopen a railway line between the two states, Reuters reported on the same day. The railway will transport food and reconstruction supplies to Iraq from its northern neighbor. The Baghdad Railway was first constructed in the 19th century to connect vast parts of the Ottoman Empire, and connected Istanbul to the Iraqi capital Baghdad, and to Al-Basrah in the south. For a history of the railway, go to www.trainsofturkey.com. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. HALTS BAHRAINI FIRMS ATTEMPTS TO SELL MOBILE PHONES IN IRAQ.
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has reportedly banned Bahrain-based Batelco from selling mobile phones in Iraq, Reuters reported on 28 July. The CPA announced on 27 July a tender for three regional mobile phone licenses -- in north, central, and southern Iraq (see CPA website http://www.cpa-iraq.org).
The CPA "applied enough pressure for us to push the button," and shut down, Batelco Regional Operations Manager Rashid al-Snan told Reuters, adding, "I feel really sorry -- sorry for the Iraqis and sorry for the foreigners who were using the network." CPA officials, who declined comment to Reuters, reportedly told Batelco that they would confiscate the company's $5 million-worth of antennae and other equipment that the company set up in Iraq, without compensation, unless it turned off the phones.
Mobile phones were banned in Iraq under the Hussein regime. Mobile phone contracts, once awarded, will prove highly lucrative in a region where mobile phones are more the norm than landlines. With a population of 24 million, and an infrastructure that could take years to rebuild, mobile phones are a cheaper, and more practical option. According to Reuters, more than half the landlines remain out of service in Iraq. Applications for the U.S. tender are due on 14 August. (Kathleen Ridolfo)JORDANIAN AND IRAQI BUSINESSMEN ESTABLISH RECONSTRUCTION FIRM.
A group of Jordanian and Iraqi businessmen have established a joint development and investment company in an attempt to join the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, jordantimes.com reported on 28 July. The Jordanian-Iraqi Investment and Development Company reportedly has start-up capital of 50 million Jordanian dinar ($7.2 million). The company will have its headquarters in Amman, Jordan, with several offices throughout the region. The company will reportedly focus on the industrial, tourism, and educational sectors, jordantimes.com reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UNHCR HELPS REPATRIATE 240 IRAQI REFUGEES.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assisted in the repatriation of some 240 Iraqi refugees to their homeland on 29 July, UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/news). The refugees, housed at Rafha refugee camp in Saudi Arabia since the 1991 Gulf War, have lobbied for their repatriation, despite UN discouragement due to the unstable security situation in Iraq.
UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told a 29 July press conference in Geneva that more than 3,600 refugees from the camp are expected to be repatriated by year-end. The evacuation will be carried out in 10-day intervals. Rafha shelters approximately 5,200 Iraqis, the remainder of some 33,000 that once occupied the camp. According to Janowski, "More than 25,000 Iraqis were resettled from Rafha over the years, while 3,500 returned to Iraq -- the last group of Iraqis to return left the camp last December." UNHCR expects that as many as 500,000 Iraqi refugees may seek the organization's assistance in their bid to return in the coming months, primarily from camps in Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
The first convoy from Rafha carrying the 240-plus Iraqis transited through Kuwait before processing the individuals at the Umm Qasr border crossing just south of the city of Al-Basrah. "Today's convoy marks the beginning of the end of Rafha refugee camp, a chance for long-time refugees to finally return to their homeland," UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)PALESTINIANS GIVEN OFFICIAL STATUS AS REFUGEES IN IRAQ.
The United Nations has reportedly begun to give refugee status to some 80,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, Reuters reported on 16 July. Under the now-deposed regime of Saddam Hussein, Palestinians were registered as refugees. The regime protected them, providing them with a monthly stipend and housing. Iraqis who owned the properties evicted over 1,000 Palestinians from their apartments after the regime's fall. Some 800 families have found housing, but another 300 have ended up in a camp at a soccer pitch, the news agency reported. "In the absence of a regular refugee protection system, UNHCR now fills in," Reuters quoted a UNHCR statement as reading. The registration will aid UNHCR by providing demographics on the refugees, which will better help the agency in meeting their needs. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ICC INVESTIGATING BRITISH TROOPS IN IRAQ.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) will review a dossier recounting alleged human-rights abuses by British soldiers in Iraq, the court announced on 28 July, according to Reuters. The investigation follows a call by members of the Athens Bar Association for ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to investigate 22 alleged incidents involving British troops in the war, an ICC statement read. "Experts of the Athens Bar Association prepared 22 charges referring to specific incidents and requested the Office of the Prosecutor to exercise the jurisdiction of the Court in crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide," the statement noted. Both Britain and Greece recognize the ICC, while the United States and Iraq do not. The ICC has jurisdiction only in cases where crimes were committed by nationals of a state that is party to the court, or on such a state's territory, according to Reuters. More than 100 complaints have been filed with the ICC regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom, most of those against the war itself. (Kathleen Ridolfo)U.S. APPROVES BECHTEL WORKPLAN FOR IRAQ.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has approved Bechtel Group's plans for Iraqi reconstruction, clearing the way for the U.S.-based firm to hire subcontractors for reconstruction projects ranging from repairing bridges to rebuilding schools, LATimes.com reported on 29 July. Bechtel was awarded the 18-month, $680 million contract in April to rebuild a seaport, five airports, various electric power systems, road networks, rail systems, municipal water and sanitation services, school facilities, select government buildings, and irrigation systems. (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 May 2003).
The firm will reportedly make the restoration of power its top priority. Some $230 million, one-third of the contract, will go to the electric system, according to LATimes.com. Some $53 million has been allocated to repair 1,300 schools and health clinics, while $45 million will go to sanitation and water purification projects.
Bechtel's website (http://www.Bechtel.com) announced on 17 July that the firm has completed its first project, the four-lane Al-Mat Bridge bypass. Baghdad-based Al-Bunnia Trading Company completed the work; it was the first Iraqi subcontractor signed by Bechtel under the USAID Iraq Civil Infrastructure Contract. "There's only one first," the announcement quoted Cliff Mumm, program director for Bechtel's project team as saying. "It's a milestone for our program, and it's gratifying that an Iraqi company did the design and construction on this work," he added. The Al-Mat Bridge, located along Highway 10, was damaged during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It serves over 3,000 trucks transporting humanitarian aid and goods from Jordan to Iraq daily. The bridge itself will also undergo reconstruction work, which Bechtel says should take about six months. (Kathleen Ridolfo)RUSSIA WILL NOT INSIST UPON NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists in Moscow on 29 July that Moscow "does not insist upon a new UN resolution on Iraq," although it continues to believe that one would be desirable, ITAR-TASS reported. "We are all interested in a settlement being achieved as soon as possible," he said. "Russia is prepared to make its contribution to this process and to take part in the restoration of [Iraq's] economy." Putin called for the "enhancement of the United Nations' role" in stabilizing Iraq. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry on 29 July issued a statement saying the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq "does not influence the existence of Iraq as a state. Formally, its diplomatic relations with Russia continue." (Robert Coalson)THIEVES MAKE OFF WITH MILLIONS FROM IRAQ'S MOSCOW EMBASSY...
Three unidentified people broke into the Iraqi Embassy compound in Moscow in the early morning of 29 July and stole nearly $3 million and 100,000 euros ($115,000) in cash, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The intruders reportedly forced an embassy guard to open a safe containing the money. The embassy declined to comment on the incident, except to confirm that police are conducting an investigation. The Iraqi Embassy's activities have been virtually frozen since former Ambassador Abbas Halaf and his senior staff were recalled to Baghdad for consultations in June, newsru.com reported. Interfax reported on 28 July that Halaf would retire from diplomatic service. An embassy spokesman told newsru.com that new instructions from Baghdad are expected within the next few months. (Robert Coalson)...BUT GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER CASTS DOUBT ON ROBBERY REPORTS.
The government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 July published a long report calling into question whether the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow was actually robbed on 29 July. According to the earlier reports, three unknown people broke into the embassy at around 2 a.m. local time and forced a guard to open a safe containing more than $3 million in cash. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" notes that the Russian police officer guarding the embassy did not notice anything unusual and wonders why embassy staffers did not notify the police until around 6 a.m. that day. The paper also says no explanation has been offered as to how the security guard was able to open the safe. The paper quoted an unidentified Moscow police officer as speculating that the robbery might have been staged, as no outsider could have expected that such a large sum of cash would be kept in the embassy, which has been virtually inactive since its ambassador and senior staff members were recalled to Baghdad in June. (Robert Coalson)