5 September 2003, Volume 6, Number 37
NOTE TO READERS:
For breaking news and in-depth analysis on the situation in Iraq, place a bookmark at: http://rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis
INSIDE IRAQIRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL APPOINTS CABINET. The Iraqi Governing Council announced the appointment of Iraq's first post-Hussein cabinet on 1 September, international media reported. The new ministers will oversee the day-to-day operations of Iraq's 25 ministries. The council stopped short, however, of naming a prime minister, Reuters reported.
The appointees include Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari as minister of public works. She has been serving as the Kurdistan Regional Government's minister of reconstruction and development since 1999. Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official Hoshyar Zebari will serve as foreign minister, Nuri Badran as interior minister, and Kamil al-Kaylani as finance minister. Abdul Basit Turki will hold the human rights portfolio, and Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, the son of Governing Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, will serve as oil minister. Hashim al-Shibli will be justice minister and Abd al-Amir al-Abbud was appointed minister of agriculture.
The cabinet took office on 3 September after being sworn in by Iraqi Governing Council members Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, Jalal Talabani, and Ahmad Chalabi. Ministers will report to the Iraqi Governing Council and, according to AFP, a coalition-appointed adviser will remain on staff in each ministry. U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer continues to retain ultimate authority over all decision-making in Iraq. Bremer told reporters at a 2 September press conference that the CPA advisers "are now preparing briefing books for the new ministers, to give them books that provide advice on what the major policy issues are and on the budget. And they will continue to be advisers to the ministers." The ministers will set policy for their ministries and be answerable to the Governing Council on issues of policy and budget, Bremer added.
The cabinet's composition reflects the make up of the Governing Council, with 13 Shi'ites, five Sunni Arabs, five Kurds, one Christian, and one Turkoman. For a complete listing of cabinet members see: (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraqcrisis/). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TERRORIST ATTACKS CONTINUE IN IRAQ. A suspected car bomb detonated outside the Rasafah police station in Baghdad on 2 September, Al-Jazeera reported. A correspondent on the scene said that one officer was killed and as many as 10 people were injured in the incident. The injured are thought to be Iraqi police personnel, since the site is closed to civilians. The car bomb was reportedly detonated in a parking lot "near the office of the Baghdad police chief," the correspondent noted. U.S. forces have secured the site but have not yet commented on the incident. Two U.S. soldiers were killed elsewhere in Baghdad on 2 September when a vehicle they were traveling in hit an explosive device on one of Baghdad's main supply routes, Reuters reported a U.S. military spokeswoman as saying. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AS CARS PACKED WITH BOMBS DISCOVERED. Security forces in Iraq arrested four men on 31 August after discovering two cars packed with explosives in Al-Kufah, located some 10 kilometers from Al-Najaf, AFP reported on 1 September. "We found the seats [in one car] were not well designed and had new covers. This raised our suspicion and we searched the seats and found them filled with bombs," a local policeman told AFP, adding that the two occupants in the car were from the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. "Earlier we seized the same kind of car filled with bombs," he said. The two occupants of that car were reportedly Yemeni. Iraqi clerics have issued warnings in recent days that Saddam Hussein loyalists or Al-Qaeda sympathizers are likely to strike in Iraq this week, AFP reported. CNN reported on 2 September that police in Al-Najaf also discovered a booby-trapped car in the holy city on the same day that Iraqis gathered there to mourn slain cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT CRITICIZES U.S. OVER SECURITY. Iraqi Governing Council president for the month of September, Ahmad Chalabi, told Al-Jazeera television on 1 September that only Iraqis could provide real security in the country. "There is no way to achieve security in Iraq unless the Iraqis assume this responsibility in full...the Iraqis have better knowledge about their situation and...they are able to pursue and end acts of terrorism, and crimes that are taking place." He appeared critical of the U.S.-led coalition's handling of the security situation in the country, telling Al-Jazeera, "The Americans do not know how to deal with the remnants of the regime and terrorism in the right manner. They need the Iraqis, and they know that. We expect to get what we want in terms of the freedom of movement after it becomes clear to them that we can do that."
Chalabi asserted that militants loyal to the deposed Hussein regime and foreign elements are responsible for terrorist attacks inside the country. He said that the coalition "cannot preserve security and combat terrorism on their own," insisting, "They are preoccupied with their own security because they are facing a threat." Asked whether attacks against U.S. forces should be considered acts of resistance, Chalabi replied, "The real resistance and ending of the occupation is not through firing at an unguarded U.S. vehicle or killing a U.S. soldier here or there. Whoever [is] committing an act of terrorism obstructs the process of restoring full sovereignty over Iraq to the Iraqis."
Chalabi reiterated earlier claims that he does not seek a political role in Iraq saying, "I have repeatedly said that I am not nominated for any post in Iraq and I do not want this. I believe that the major part of my mission is over...I seek to be a man who contributes to the construction of civil society in Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
PURPORTED HUSSEIN AUDIOTAPE DENIES CONNECTION TO AL-HAKIM ASSASSINATION. An audiotape released to Arab satellite channels Al-Jazeera and LBC purporting to carry the voice of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has denied any link between Hussein and the 29 August killing of Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim in Al-Najaf, the news channels reported on 1 September. According to LBC, the speaker in the audiotape states, "Many of you might have heard the hissing of snakes, the servants of the infidel occupation invaders, who -- after the killing of al-Hakim -- rushed to accuse, without any evidence, those they called the supporters of Saddam Hussein of the incident. I would like to comment as follows: Saddam Hussein is not the leader of the minority or a group with whom he is affiliated or who are affiliated with him. He is the leader of all the great Iraqi people -- Arabs and Kurds; Shi'ites and Sunnis; Muslims and non-Muslims." The CIA said that the audiotape is likely authentic, AP reported on 3 September. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BA'ATHIST ELEMENTS THREATEN AIRLINES USING AL-BASRAH AIRPORT. The Iraqi Ba'ath Party reportedly sent a statement to London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" on 27 August claiming that the Al-Basrah International Airport is a legitimate military target and warning international airlines not to use it, the daily reported on 28 August. "The British occupation forces are trying to impose an illegal administrative and political situation" in Al-Basrah, the statement claimed. "We appeal to the Arab and foreign airlines, which have expressed their readiness and intention to operate civilian flights by submitting a request to the occupation forces in this regard, to halt their programs and to refrain from cooperating with the illegal British occupation forces," the statement read. "We look forward to a declared decision in this regard by the Jordanian, Qatari, Yemeni, Egyptian, and other airlines."
The group claims that it has issued similar statements concerning the Baghdad International Airport, the Al-Bakr Air Base, and other smaller airports in Iraq. Both Royal Jordanian Airlines and Qatar Airways announced this week that they have postponed starting flights into Al-Basrah at the request of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) due to security concerns. The airport was due to open to commercial air traffic by the end of August. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
DAILY COUNT AT BAGHDAD MORGUE GIVES INSIGHT INTO VIOLENCE. Coroners in the Iraqi capital are faced with a daily workload more than triple the prewar figure, an average of 35 Iraqis a day, Reuters reported on 28 August. Those Iraqis who met violent or suspicious deaths are examined at Baghdad's Institute for Forensic Medicine, while family members wait outside to claim their loved ones for burial. The dead are victims of random violence, revenge killings, and violent crimes. "Before the war, we would see maybe 10 cases a day," the institute's director, Fayik Amin Bakir told Reuters. "Now it is three or four times that, and nearly all because of shootings. It's a new situation, a terrible situation." An Iraqi police officer, Ghazwan Whalid, told the news agency that the police are doing their best, but noted, "Every day a police officer is killed in Baghdad." The lack of a functioning judicial system is part of the problem. Criminals taken into police custody are sent to detention facilities, but many are released after a few weeks. "The Americans jail them and after 20 days release them," he said. "Then they'll find us and take their revenge." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
LEADER OF UBAYD TRIBE ARRESTED FOR PIPELINE ATTACKS. The Sunni leader of the Ubayd tribe, Shaykh Hatim al-Ubayd, was arrested by coalition forces for allegedly inciting members of his tribe to commit acts of sabotage along the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline, Kurdishmedia.com reported on 1 September.
According to the report, al-Ubayd's home was raided in the village of Ramal, as was his nephew's in the village of Asar. The raids resulted in the seizure of 4 million Iraqi dinar (approximately $2,667), small arms, and rocket-propelled grenades. Representatives of the tribe had reportedly recently struck a deal with the U.S. to protect the pipeline in exchange for which some 100 tribe members would receive a stipend of $100 per month. According to Kurdishmedia.com, around 700 members of the tribe received a monthly stipend of $200 per month under the Hussein regime, with the head of the tribe receiving much more. Al-Ubayd had complained publicly in recent weeks that the U.S. payment was less than Hussein's and, according to a 31 August MENA report, a number of jobless members of his tribe are suspected of arson attacks on the pipeline. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AL-KUBAYSI INTERVIEWED ON U.S. OCCUPATION, AL-SADR. Leading Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Kubaysi discussed his opinions of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and his relationship with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in a 27 August interview aired on Dubai's Al-Arabiyah Television. In the interview, al-Kubaysi called for Sunnis and Shi'ites to forge closer relations in Iraq, and said he is not opposed to the possibility of a Shi'ite leader leading the country. Asked his opinion of the Iraqi Governing Council, al-Kubaysi said that there is no alternative to the body, but added that council members "will be suspected and cursed by all the people, as is the case now," for cooperating with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Asked about a sermon he gave at the Abu Hanifah Mosque that called the Americans infidels and urged resistance, al-Kubaysi said, "Considering them infidels was not discussed...but I called for resisting them." He later said that "If the Americans deal well with Iraq and give the Iraqis their rights within a year, then that is alright. They are occupiers and this is a reality. They did not come on a picnic. They came seeking interests." Al-Kubaysi told Al-Arabiyah that he is opposed to a federal formula for Iraq, saying, "I am for a united Iraq."
Asked about his exit from Iraq after criticizing the U.S.-led CPA, he said that now "there is an attempt via a third party to put out the fire." Asked if the "third party" might help facilitate his return to Iraq, he said, "This is possible." The cleric said, however, that he would not cooperate with the Iraqi Governing Council. Moreover, when asked if he supports resistance in Iraq, the cleric appeared to sanction resistance against coalition forces, saying: "I am against destroying the Iraqi people's public property, which is their only wealth at present. Such acts are cowardly. If you want to fight the Americans they, as well as their installations, are in front of you. But attacking the United Nations or the Jordanian Embassy is not courage."
On his relations to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, al-Kubaysi denied reports that claimed he had provided the young al-Sadr with $50 million in financial support, saying he did not give al-Sadr "even 50 million fils," adding, "I do not have money. Otherwise, I will give [it to] him." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
WIFE OF TARIQ AZIZ SAYS HUSBAND WAS LOYAL TO COUNTRY, NOT HUSSEIN. Violette Aziz, the wife of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, said that her husband, whose has been in coalition custody since April, was loyal to his country but critical of the Hussein regime, according to an interview published on 1 September in Rome's "La Repubblica" newspaper. Speaking from Jordan, where she and two of her four children have been granted political asylum, Aziz claimed that in the weeks and months leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom her husband had tried, to no avail, to prevent the war in Iraq. Upon his surrender to coalition forces on 24 April, he reportedly told her that he had no fear, saying, "My only fault is that I have stayed loyal to my country."
Asked why he hadn't outwardly opposed the Hussein government, she said, "He would be dead. No one could oppose Saddam. My husband did everything in his power to prevent the war," even appealing to Pope John Paul. "Tariq was in despair in those days. He suffered from ongoing and increasingly deep depression; he knew that war was inevitable despite his efforts...the same thing had already happened before, back in the days of the invasion of Kuwait. My husband kept repeating [then] that would be Saddam's greatest mistake. He was the only one in the regime to make no secrets of his opposition to that war and that is why the Foreign Ministry was taken away from him."
Aziz said that she has received word from her husband twice via the International Red Cross since April -- one letter to her daughter requested toothpaste, shaving foam, clothing, and cigarettes. Asked how she arrived in Jordan, Aziz told the daily that the U.S. military "took care of getting us to Jordan" after King Abdullah granted her family political asylum. She said that the American soldiers that took her husband into custody promised that he would receive medical treatment for a heart ailment and that they would allow him to call her every day. She said she had considered appealing to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who she said "had been a friend of my husband ever since he opened the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad," but remarked, "Everything has changed now and I believe that there would be no point in writing to him or even to President Bush." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
POLISH-LED FORCE TAKES CONTROL OF CENTRAL IRAQ. U.S. Marines have transferred control of an area of central Iraq to Polish-led forces, international press reported on 3 September. "I have absolute faith and confidence in the 21 nations that will assume their responsibilities today," U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, told a ceremony marking the transfer in Babylon, Reuters reported.
One area, however, the holy city of Al-Najaf, will remain under U.S. control. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Colonel Ray Shepherd said that the transfer of control over Al-Najaf would be delayed by at least two weeks following the assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on 29 August outside the Imam Ali Mosque in that city. The spokesman for the 1st Battalion, Seventh Marines, Major Rick Hall, confirmed the delay to reporters this week saying, "We now want to stay here and assist as much as possible." There are currently some 900 Marines stationed in Al-Najaf. An Iraqi police presence was also stepped up in the city following the 29 August bombing, which killed more than 80 people and injured more than 100. The FBI is assisting Iraqi police in investigating the incident (see this issue). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TRIBAL CHIEFS SANCTION THE KILLING OF VIOLENT CRIMINALS. Tribal chiefs in Central Iraq's Wasit Governorate have reportedly signed a document condoning the killing of anyone who is proved to have committed armed robbery, theft, looting, or kidnapping, if that person's actions resulted in the death or injury of his victims, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 27 August. The decision was made at a meeting to discuss ways to establish law and order in the governorate, attended by the governor of Wasit, Ni'mah Sultan, and representatives of local political and religious parties. According to the radio report a "tribal document" was signed at the meeting that said that the tribes would sanction the killing of anyone who uses arms to confront local security forces, which will patrol local roads and public spaces as well as pipelines in the governorate. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KIRKUK GOVERNOR COMMENTS ON PRESS REPORTS ON CLASHES. The governor of Kirkuk, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa, has issued a statement to "Kurdistani Nuwe" denying international press reports attributing recent clashes in the city (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 August 2003) to ethnic tensions between Kurds and Turkomans, the daily reported on 26 August. "These disturbances were carried out by some troublemakers," Mustafa wrote, adding, "The incidents did not occur as a result of conflict between two national groups as reported by some Arab and Western media.... In this context, I deny the statement which an Arab channel TV attributed to me, according to which I had said that the Kurds killed three Turkomans in Kirkuk."
Meanwhile, the Turkoman representative to the Kirkuk Civil Administration Council, Irfan Jamal Kirkukli, issued a statement blaming Ba'athist elements for sparking the clashes. "I also want to say that before Operation Iraqi Freedom we, as Turkoman political parties in Kurdistan, have had offices and Turkoman media and a TV station, which still continues to exist thanks to the Kurdistan Regional Government. We have never been badly treated. On the contrary, we have been helped by the regional government and [Kurdish] political sides, and Turkomans' rights have been defended on all levels," Kirkukli said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
REGIONAL NEWSKUWAIT IDENTIFIES SIX MORE POWS. Kuwait announced on 1 September that it has identified the remains of six individuals, five Kuwaitis and one Saudi national, whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in Iraq in May, Reuters reported on the same day. All were prisoners of war missing since Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The state-run news agency KUNA reported that the remains of 23 Kuwaitis have been identified to date from the mass grave in Al-Samawah, located approximately 250 kilometers south of Baghdad. According to Reuters, Kuwait claims that the former Hussein regime captured up to 605 POWs, mostly civilians, during the 1990 invasion. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
TURKEY TO SUPPLY ELECTRICITY TO IRAQ. Turkey will begin selling electricity to Iraq effective 15 September, Istanbul's "Radikal" reported on 31 August. The agreement came following talks between representatives of the Turkish Energy Ministry and private sector companies and the Iraqi Energy Ministry and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). According to the report, the Habur-Zakho transfer lines linking the Turkish and Iraqi Interkonnekte systems will be renovated to carry the electricity. Payment for the electricity will reportedly not be all in cash, with Iraq exchanging an unspecified amount of oil for the electricity. Some 200 megawatts of electricity will come from the Karadeniz Energy Company's Silopi power stations.
The daily reported that Iraq needs a ready supply of 6,500 megawatts, and currently has only 600 megawatts of "live" energy, while generators inside Iraq produce 1,200 megawatts. Thus, some 5,000 megawatts are needed. It is not known how many megawatts have been requested by the Iraqi Energy Ministry. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FROZEN IRAQI ASSETS IN JORDAN MAY GO TO JORDANIAN BUSINESSMEN. Assets belonging to members of the deposed Iraqi regime held in Jordanian banks may go to compensate Jordanian businessmen for money owed to them by the Hussein regime, the "Jordan Times" reported on 31 August. "The government's decision to freeze Iraqi assets was to avert adverse consequences expected to reflect on the banking sector and on the country's economy in the case of a full withdrawal of deposits, particularly as they were all in foreign currency," an unnamed government source told the daily, adding, "All Jordanian businessmen adversely affected by the change in the Iraqi regime may claim their dues if they provide a special committee with documents attesting to their rights." Businessmen can also seek compensation for "damages" for unfulfilled contracts signed with the former Iraqi regime, the source said. According to the "Jordan Times," Iraqi assets frozen in Jordanian banks amount to some 650 million Jordanian dinars (approximately $923 million). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KUWAITI NATIONAL BANK PART OF CONSORTIUM TO RUN TRADE BANK. A consortium of more than a dozen international banks led by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has won a bid to head the newly established Trade Bank of Iraq, Dow Jones Newswires reported on 2 September. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) approved the bid on 29 August. The Trade Bank was established to facilitate the purchase of big-ticket items from abroad by Iraqi ministries (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 July 2003). According to Dow Jones, the J.P. Morgan group will be paid around $2 million to run the bank. The consortium is also expected to benefit from billions of dollars in anticipated business that would eventually be transacted through the facility, Peter McPherson, the director of economic development for the CPA, reportedly said.
According to Dow Jones, the consortium includes 13 banks representing 14 countries: The U.S., Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Turkey. The Kuwaiti National Bank is also a member. Some 60 banks reportedly applied to take part in the Trade Bank, with six consortia making the final cut, U.S. Treasury officials told Dow Jones. The Iraqi government will foot the bill for the bank's operations and also provide most of its staff, McPherson said. "We are very much looking forward to Iraqis taking steadily more leadership in this," he noted, adding, "There are many people in this country we believe can do it, particularly with some exposure and training." The bank will open with an authorized capital of $100 million from the UN Iraq Development Fund. According to the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), the Trade Bank will begin issuing letters of credit by the end of September. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
CPA HEAD COMMENTS ON SECURITY SITUATION IN IRAQ. The head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, commented on the security situation during a 2 September press conference in Baghdad, the CPA website reported (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). Bremer told reporters that the U.S. "completely agrees with the argument that we should find ways quickly to give Iraq and Iraqis more responsibility for security, and indeed that is exactly what we are doing. We have almost 40,000 Iraqis now in the Iraqi police around the country. We have recruited at least three battalions -- full battalions of Iraqi civil defense corps, all in the last four weeks.... We hope to reach the goal of 65,000 to 75,000 police officers by the end of 2004." He added that 49 of Iraq's 151 prisons have been reopened and 300 of the country's 400 courts are functioning.
Asked to comment on the possibility of armed militias participating in the policing of Iraq, Bremer rejected the idea outright. "We believe that there is not a role in the new Iraq for organized militias," he said, adding, "We do not believe organized militias are consistent with an independent, unified Iraq." He noted, however, that the CPA has encouraged members of militias, including SCIRI's Badr Corps, to play a role in security by joining the Civil Defense Corps, the New Iraqi Army, or local police forces. Bremer did, however, acknowledge that a number of Iraqi tribes are assisting the coalition in maintaining security for power lines and pipelines. "We have 18,000 or 19,000 kilometers of power lines in this country and 7,000 kilometers of pipelines, and that's a very large amount of critical infrastructure that needs to be protected. And we have, for several months now, engaged selected tribes in helping us do that," he said.
Bremer noted that security would remain a challenge as police work to catch the estimated 100,000 criminals released from jail by Hussein prior to the war. Many of those criminals are responsible for the murders, kidnappings, theft, and other violent crimes that are widespread in Iraq today. Bremer said that while international standards call for a three-month training period for police, Iraqi police are being trained in eight weeks in an effort to get them on the streets faster. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQUN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE LAID TO REST IN GENEVA. Around 1,000 relatives, friends, and colleagues of UN Special Representative to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello paid tribute to the fallen envoy as he was laid to rest in Geneva on 28 August, international media reported. Vieira de Mello's son, Laurent, told the congregation at St. Paul's Church that "the revolting and incomprehensible attack of 19 August killed our father and many of his colleagues, but his assassins did not really kill him, because his legacy and ideals of helping people live on in each of us."
The 55-year-old Brazilian left his post as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in late May to serve a four-month term in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 May 2003). He was killed in the 19 August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Twenty-two candles were lit during the church service for the 22 other victims, the UN News Center reported. Vieira de Mello's widow, Annie, and his sons, Laurent and Adrien, then lit the 23rd candle by his flower-covered coffin. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named Ramiro Lopes da Silva as acting special representative to Iraq following de Mello's death. Da Silva has served as United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq since July 2002. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UN ORDERS INDEPENDENT INQUIRY INTO IRAQ BOMBING. The United Nations has ordered an independent inquiry into the 19 August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, Reuters reported on 2 September. The decision came after critics charged that the world body should not investigate itself. "An independent inquiry will be conducted to investigate our security arrangements in the run-up to the bombing," the undersecretary-general for management, Catherine Bertini, told UN staff in a 2 September e-mail. Bertini did not provide details of the composition of the independent body and the UN will still conduct its own investigation.
According to Reuters, UN Security Coordinator Tun Myat has recently returned from Iraq and is expected to report to the UN in the coming days. That report may not be made public, however. Questions remain over whether the United States failed to provide security to the UN, and whether the world body had refused security assistance from the U.S. "We were never able to confirm that on any occasion the UN refused an offer of security," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said, adding, "We did say that we did not want to live in an armed camp, and we are currently reassessing security since we became vulnerable to this violent attack." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
UNMOVIC HEAD SAYS U.S., U.K. WMD CLAIMS UNFOUNDED. The acting head of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Demetrius Perricos, told Athens weekly "Kiriakatiki Elevtherotipia" in an interview published on 31 August that claims made by the U.S. and U.K. regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs prior to the outbreak of the war were unfounded.
Asked about claims made by the Blair administration that Iraq could launch biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes of receiving the order, Perricos said: "There is no doubt that the phrase 'within 45 minutes' included in the British report was incorrect. The picture of a country fully ready to use weapons of mass destruction, which it supposedly had, was presented. However, how reliable was the information used by the British and American governments to achieve the political decisions they sought? The claim on the Iraqi capability to stage overwhelming attacks within 45 minutes is being reversed, there has been no uranium, and the aluminum piping that was supposedly used to enrich the uranium might be simply intended for shells. Some of the most important elements presented are falling apart."
Asked if he believed that the weapons found by UN inspectors were sufficient cause for war in Iraq, Perricos responded "of course not," adding, "I keep saying that the so-called 'smoking gun' was found nowhere. They are still looking for evidence. The Iraqi Survey Group, a team created by Americans, British, and Australians, is continuing the searches, but nothing specific has so far been released to the press. [Iraq Survey Group head] David Kay said a few days ago in a television interview that there would be surprises. So let us wait to see if these surprises have to do with weapons or some program. Of course, nobody goes to war for a program, since it is not known whether the weapons the program refers to have been created. We all want to see the truth."
Perricos later noted that UNMOVIC carried out inspections for nearly four months, and the Iraq Survey group has been searching for WMD in Iraq since June, saying, "It is now approximately nine months that inspections have been carried out and nothing has been found." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQU.S. PRESIDENT EXPANDS EXECUTIVE ORDER ON PROPERTY CONFISCATION. U.S. President George W. Bush expanded Executive Order 13303 (22 May 2003) on the confiscation of assets and property belonging to former Iraqi officials and their family members on 29 August, the U.S. State Department announced on the same day (http://www.state.gov). The executive order "broadens the scope of persons whose assets may be frozen under those orders by adding the immediate family members of former Iraqi senior officials." It also allows for the confiscation and vesting of some of the assets and "provides for the transfer of all vested assets to the Development Fund for Iraq." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
WIFE OF ARMS EXPERT TESTIFIES AT HUTTON INQUIRY. The wife of a British weapons expert who committed suicide following his exposure as an informant to a British newspaper testified before the Hutton Inquiry on 1 September, Reuters reported on the same day. The inquiry, which is charged with examining the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, was told by his wife, Janice, that her husband was disturbed by the way some officials in the Blair cabinet apparently sought to undermine his credibility after he was exposed as a source for a BBC report. "He said he felt totally let down and betrayed," Kelly said. Asked by whom he had felt betrayed, she said, "I believed he meant the MoD [Ministry of Defense] because they were the ones who had effectively let his name be known in the public domain." David Kelly was a former United Nations weapons inspector who had visited Iraq on several occasions. He reportedly told the BBC that the Blair government had exaggerated its claims about Iraq in order to build public support for war (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 24 July 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BRITISH ARMY OFFICER CLEARED OF ABUSE CHARGES. A British army officer has been cleared by the Ministry of Defense on charges of allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners of war (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 May 2003), Reuters reported on 1 September. A U.S. military officer accused Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, the former commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, of abusing prisoners in his battalion's custody during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Specifically, Collins was accused of kicking, punching, and threatening Iraqi POWs, and pistol-whipping an Iraqi civic leader. A British military spokesman commented on the investigation saying, "He as been cleared...there are no criminal charges pending and no other action is expected." (Kathleen Ridolfo) DENMARK COMPENSATES FAMILIES OF IRAQIS KILLED IN INCIDENT. Denmark will pay compensation to the families of two Iraqis killed by Danish soldiers and to one Iraqi who was injured during a 16 August incident near Al-Basrah, Danish Radio P1 reported on 27 August. According to press reports at the time of the incident, a Danish patrol stopped a truck carrying several Iraqis west of Al-Basrah. An exchange of gunfire ensued and one Dane was killed along with the two Iraqis. The injured Iraqi and the families of the two Iraqi victims will be paid around 80,000 kroners ($11,700) each, according to the Danish Army Operative Command, Radio P1 reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. TO FORMALLY SEEK UN RESOLUTION FOR MULTINATIONAL FORCE. U.S. President George W. Bush has reportedly agreed to seek a UN Security Council resolution calling for a multinational force for Iraq, nytimes.com reported on 3 September. That request marks a change in strategy for the U.S. in Iraq, although it is expected that Bush will seek to retain overall command of the multinational force.
The decision came as a study was released by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office stating that if the Pentagon follows through with a plan to rotate active-duty army troops out of Iraq after a year, it will only be able to maintain a force of 67,000 to 106,000 active duty and reserve Army and Marine forces, since anything larger will compromise U.S. military operations elsewhere in the world, nytimes.com reported.
Meanwhile, a State Department official spoke to Reuters about the upcoming resolution, saying, "We've got language. It enhances; it elaborates; it talks about how countries can contribute," adding, "It's on how to define further the vital role of the UN in political, military, and economic areas and how to provide ways for the UN members to support efforts by the Iraqi people." U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told reporters in an interview released on 27 August that the plan will call for a multinational force under the sponsorship of the UN and under the command of the United States. "That's one idea being explored. And others just started talking about widening decision-making. [We] haven't finished our deliberations," Armitage said. "We've got a ways to go." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan discussed the proposed plan recently, saying that the Security Council could approve a new multinational force headed by the United States, which is the largest troop contributor, Reuters reported. Many countries have said they will not participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq without a UN mandate. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
AS FRANCE, RUSSIA VOICE SUPPORT. Both France and Russia have indicated that they would be open to a new Security Council resolution supporting a multinational force in Iraq. France called for the establishment of a provisional Iraqi government and a United Nations-mandated international military force to handle security in Iraq on 28 August, reversing an earlier position, international press reported. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called for the change at the annual meeting of French ambassadors in Paris, Reuters reported. "A real change of approach is needed [in Iraq]," he said. "We must end the ambiguity, transfer responsibilities, and allow the Iraqis to play the role they deserve as soon as possible." De Villepin said that security arrangements in Iraq "cannot just be the enlargement or adjustment of the current occupation forces. We have to install a real international force under a mandate of the United Nations Security Council," he said.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to welcome the idea of a multinational force in Iraq, telling reporters on the Italian island of Sardinia, "I can't see anything wrong with it. It's quite possible, but on condition that the UN Security Council makes a decision to that effect," Interfax reported on 1 September. Putin added that a new Security Council resolution "would be useful only if it reflects a serious, substantial role for the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq and in the organization of economic and political life in that country." The United Nations should "have practical control of the process of democratization of Iraqi society and the formation of legitimate bodies of power there." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
END NOTEWHO KILLED MUHAMMAD BAQIR AL-HAKIM?
By Kathleen Ridolfo
A symbolic funeral was held in the holy city of Al-Najaf in Iraq on 2 September in memory of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim.
The ayatollah was killed in a car bombing on 29 August as he left the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf following a noon Friday prayers sermon. Some 80 Iraqis were killed and more than 100 injured in the incident. Al-Hakim's body has yet to be identified, and mourners carried a casket containing only his wristwatch, ring, and pieces of his turban in a three-day procession from Baghdad to Al-Najaf.
The tension in the holy city is a reflection of the environment of turmoil seen in other Iraqi towns, where acts of sabotage and terrorism occur far too often in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Just one week before al-Hakim's killing, his nephew Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim was targeted when his office in Al-Najaf was bombed. He escaped uninjured. While Iraqi police claim they already have suspects for 29 August car bombing in custody, there would be no shortage of non-Iraqi suspects. Al-Hakim was indeed a target for Hussein loyalists, but he also could have died at the hands of Iranians, rival Shi'a groups, or Islamist militants.
Al-Hakim came from a prominent Iraqi Shi'a family, and like many of his relatives, he was a leading opponent of the Ba'athist regime. He was jailed in 1972, 1977, and 1979. Upon his release in 1980, he sought refuge in Iran and in 1982 founded the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which became the most prominent Iraqi Shi'a group. SCIRI enjoyed Iranian political and financial support, and used Tehran as a base for operations for its armed wing, the Badr Brigades. Prior to the U.S.-led war in Iraq this year, SCIRI claimed to have some 10,000-armed men inside Iraq.
The group had contacts with the United States and participated in the prewar meetings of Iraqi opposition groups. After the downfall of the Hussein regime, many Badr fighters returned to Iraq and established a presence there. The armed wing was reportedly disarmed by the United States in early June, although a small number of men remained armed to provide security for high-ranking SCIRI members. Al-Hakim returned to Iraq in May and reinstated himself as a leading ayatollah at the Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah Shi'ite seminary in Al-Najaf. He told reporters that month that he would not seek a political role in Iraq, but would remain the spiritual leader of SCIRI.
But in the holy city of Al-Najaf, things were not peaceful. A fierce power struggle erupted between the older, established clerics and the younger generation of clerics, none more vocal than Muqtada al-Sadr, the young son of slain Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was gunned down along with Muqtada's two older brothers reportedly by Hussein's men in 1999. Muqtada's followers, the Sadriyun, are thought to be responsible for the 10 April killing of U.S.-supported cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was killed in a bloody attack just steps from where al-Hakim was assassinated at the Imam Ali Mosque. Accounts vary, but it is believed that al-Khoi was killed when assailants attacked him and the mosque's custodian, an Iraqi Sunni cleric who might have been collaborating with the Hussein regime, as the two men emerged following a meeting of reconciliation. It is unknown whether al-Khoi or the Sunni cleric was the target of the attack.
Muqtada al-Sadr denied that the Sadriyun had any role in the attack. He has since become increasingly critical of the U.S.-led occupation, and has established the Imam al-Mahdi Army, a volunteer movement that he claims will protect the Shi'ite seminary in Al-Najaf and spur a nonviolent movement to rid Iraq of coalition forces. Al-Sadr has also clashed with more prominent Shi'a clerics in Al-Najaf, largely because of doctrinal differences, and has openly criticized clerics who were on good terms with the United States. A cleric of little standing, al-Sadr attached himself to Qom-based cleric Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri and relies on the elder cleric to issue fatwas, or religious edicts, that support his agenda. Soon after al-Khoi's death, al-Sadr criticized Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for meeting with U.S. officials, which might have prompted the ayatollah to announce that he would have no relations with the U.S.-led coalition. Al-Sistani promptly took refuge inside the Al-Hawzah, refusing visitors and interviews.
Al-Sadr was equally critical of al-Hakim and SCIRI, particularly when the ayatollah's brother, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, assumed a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council, which al-Sadr refused to recognize. Furthermore al-Sadr, while of little religious standing, reportedly claims thousands more followers than SCIRI, and is particularly popular with the young, the poor, and the disenfranchised. But, while al-Sadr and his Sadriyun have a motive, it is unlikely he would sanction a terrorist attack of this kind just steps from the holiest mosque to Shi'ites in Iraq.
Another possibility is that elements within the Iranian regime targeted al-Hakim. While al-Hakim and his men lived under the patronage of Iranian clerics for more than 20 years, his return to Iraq was reportedly viewed in Tehran as a loss for the clerics in Qom, both in standing and in financial terms, since Qom had become the center of Shi'ite theology over the past two decades. Furthermore, the decision of the Al-Najaf clerics to welcome Hossein Khomeini, the grandson of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- who moved from the Qom-based Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah in Iran to the Al-Najaf Hawzah in early August -- might also have angered some clerics in Qom. Khomeini, who said that he moved to Al-Najaf to continue his religious training and to teach, quickly made a name for himself by criticizing the Iranian clerics. International press reported that the move reflected a growing division in Iran between some Qom-based clerics and the Iranian religious authorities. Moreover, Khomeini praised the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and claimed that Iranians were ready to topple their regime and might even welcome the assistance of the United States in doing so.
Arab militants have also been suspected in the attack on al-Hakim. While the number of foreign militants inside Iraq is unclear, U.S. government officials continue to claim that foreign fighters -- particularly from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia -- infiltrate Iraq on a daily basis. A leading Saudi cleric told AP on 31 August that the militants, once shielded and supported by the Saudi regime, are now under fire at home due to U.S. pressure on Saudi Arabia to crack down on terrorist cells. "Most youths think the only safe road is to go to Iraq," Muhsin al-Awajy told AP. "They are trapped between the international campaign against terrorism and this campaign at home."
Kuwait's alwatan.com.kw reported on 27 August that Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan sources claim that some 1,200 foreign fighters linked to Al-Qaeda had made their way into northern Iraq from Afghanistan via Iran in recent days. A senior Iraqi police official told AP that there were nine key suspects in the bombing in custody, including two Saudis and one Palestinian carrying a Jordanian passport. The official said all nine, the remainder being Iraqis, admitted ties to Al-Qaeda, the news agency reported on 2 August.
Muhammad Husayn al-Hakim, the son of Muhammad Sa'id, may have unwittingly foretold the attack on Muhammad Baqir when he was quoted in the same article as saying, "We ask the American forces to set up numerous border posts," alluding to the possible involvement of foreigners in terrorist attacks on the UN and Jordanian Embassy. "If they managed to reach and attack UN headquarters, they can carry out assaults in Karbala and [Al-Najaf]," he said.
Hussein loyalists have been blamed for the assassination of al-Hakim and, as noted earlier, there was no love lost between the ayatollah and deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The governor of the Al-Najaf province has said that the number of Iraqis being held after the bombing is fewer than five and that all are Iraqis tied to the former regime. It is also possible that Al-Qaeda fighters have teamed up with Hussein loyalists to launch attacks to sow discord and chaos in Iraq.
Hussein has purportedly denied any involvement in the incident in an audiotape released to Arab satellite channels on 1 September. However, the type and amount of explosives used indicate the involvement of regime forces. Moreover, nearly every leading Shi'ite figure blamed Hussein loyalists for the attack, with many expressing disbelief that any rival faction -- be it Shi'ite or Sunni -- could carry out such a deadly attack on a site revered by both sects. Shi'ite leaders -- in fact all Iraqi leaders -- agree that the loyalists' motive is to stir up discord among Iraqis in the hope of sparking a civil war in the country. The United States has yet to comment, but the FBI is assisting in the investigation.
In his final sermon on 29 August, the slain cleric denounced Hussein loyalists. "The Ba'athist regime targeted the Marjiya [the leading Shi'ite religious leaders] and carried out acts of aggression against the Marjiya. It killed...[Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Gharawi, and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and targeted al-Sistani and Bachir al-Najafi [leading Marjiya]," AFP quoted al-Hakim as saying. "The men of the ousted regime are those who are now targeting the Marjiya," he said. He might have been right.