13 September 2002, Volume 5, Number 29
SPECIAL REPORT: THE AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ. The question of whether an Al-Qaeda-linked group is operating in Iraqi Kurdistan has been debated and dismissed by Turkey, doubted by the United States, but accepted as fact by the Kurdistan Regional Government in whose region the group is said to be located, and, somewhat ambiguously acknowledged, by Iran.
The appearance of the Jund al-Islam (Army of Islam), a splinter group allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden, in Kurdistan has been neglected over the last year due to an accident in timing: a London-based Arabic newspaper carried word of the Jund's first appearance on 11 September 2001. Other events, namely the terrorist acts that brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon that day came to dominate world news on that day. Kurdish claims about the Al-Qaeda links were initially dismissed as an attempt to draw attention to themselves. And it should be noted that the Jund al-Islam appears very small and hardly a threat, although it has grown in numbers according to media reports and according to how distant the media sources are from the story. As the Al-Qaeda-Taliban network collapsed in Afghanistan a number of former members appear to have made their way to the Jund forces.
In view of the ambiguity surrounding the question of Al-Qaeda, it is worth examining exactly what materials exist on this subject. Thus, the available information has been ordered chronologically, and includes occasional analysis. For the most part, the materials are culled from Iraqi Kurdistan. There is, over the last year, a great deal of information about the Jund al-Islam, which appears to have Al-Qaeda elements. The reader may judge for her/himself whether the group constitutes a threat or not, whether it is Al-Qaeda-linked or not. This will have ramifications for any U.S.-led attack against Saddam Husseyn.
The first reported manifestation of an Al-Qaeda presence that was hostile to the interests of Muslims in Iraqi Kurdistan was a brief report in the Kurdish newspaper "Hawlati" on 5 August 2001, when clashes were reported between the Islamic Group (KIG) and the Islamic Unity Movement of Kurdistan (IUMK). An official of the Al-Sulaymaniyah Center for the KIG remarked that "we felt that there is a hand that wants to destroy the security of the region and create hostility and fighting. As a result of subsequent clashes, the IUMK withdrew to Halabcha and Tawila, and the region is quiet." The region did not remain quiet for long.
On 11 September 2001, the London-based Arabic newspaper "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" announced the formation of a new fundamentalist organization called the Jund al-Islam, a spinoff from the IUMK led by Abu-Abdallah Al-Shafi'i. The motivation of this group was at that time unclear. The "Kurdistan Newsletter" of 10 September 2001 reported that this group was one of the topics discussed in a meeting between Hoshyar Zebari, a personal envoy of Mas'ud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, in his meeting with Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The subject of the meeting was the development and coordination of a common strategy toward security and stability in the region and ways of combating the threat of self-proclaimed armed Islamic splinter groups in the Halabcha region.
In a surprise move to the PUK, which nominally controls the Halabcha region (close to the Iranian border), the Jund al-Islam occupied Shinirwe Mountain, overlooking Halabcha, on 11 September. A number of Jund members also entered Halabcha carrying black banners, according to KurdishMedia.com. At this juncture, PUK peshmergas (soldiery) intended to enter Halabcha without fighting in order to establish a dialogue between the PUK and the IUMK, led by Mulla Ali Abdulaziz.
According to Harem Jaff, who wrote a 12 September 2001 KurdishMedia.com piece, Mulla Ali denied any links with the IUMK, though there is still gossip saying that "all these Islamic groups are linked together as a cluster and financed by the terrorist Osama bin Laden and the Islamic Republic of Iran." One commando group controlled by Mulla Ali is called "the force of Osama bin Laden." The majority of this group's armed men are Arabs and it is said that "they have trained for four years in [creating] many types of explosions, and possessed all kinds of heavy weapons." Jaff also noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran has warned the PUK not to harm the Islamic groups. This is Iran's first appearance as a player.
In a special report on 19 September 2001, "Kurdistan Newsline" also described the Jund al-Islam as a "group of Bin Laden mercenaries." It furthermore identified the group's leader, Al-Shafi'i, as an Afghani-Arab, believed to be of Egyptian or Syrian origin. "Kurdistan Newsline's" report said that the mission of the Afghan-Arabs, at this point consisting of 400-500 armed followers plus the hard core of Afghan-Arabs, is handling terrorist training, financing, and propaganda. The report stated that the Jund Al-Islam's "most serious threat" is that it has been designated as a fifth column for the Iraqi regime. "According to intercepted intelligence in Kurdistan, Bin Laden's surrogate group is acting in concert with Iraqi intelligence services � [the] Mukhabarat."
The group itself is organized into cells which are divided into six military katibas (regiments). It is located in Biyara, in the Hawraman area near Halabcha. The Jund's weaponry consists of three or four Katyusha rockets and four artillery pieces in addition to antitank guns, rifles, machine guns, and mortars. The report also added that the group had received $600,000 from the Bin Laden terrorist network to finance their campaign.
On 22 September 2001, KurdishMedia.com reported that the Jund had issued a warning from a mosque in Biyara saying that those who do not cooperate and support them in their jihad will be considered "unbelievers" and killed.
In the meantime, the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Hawlati" on 16 September 2001 reported that nonaligned Islamic groups are talking to each other trying to find some common ground for self-protection from the Jund. Talks were conducted between the nonaligned groups and Mala Ali Bapir, the emir of the (KIG) in Iraqi Kurdistan. When the nonaligned groups agreed to affiliate themselves with the Islamic group, Sheik Muhammad Barzinji was made leader of the group, and Mala Ali Bapir was accepted as the general emir. Also, two Islamic armed forces also affiliated themselves with the Islamic Group. "Hawlati" predicted that this would cause a crisis between the KIG and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan which had been a part of the IUMK but split from it shortly before. On the other hand, the Iranian government welcomed the unification.
Some amount of fission and fusion among the various forces was inevitable. Mala Krekar, a former military commander for the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan who had trained in Afghanistan, was rumored to be toying with the idea of joining the Jund al-Islam. As it is, KurdishMedia.com of 24 September 2001 announced that Mala Krekar had joined the Jund al-Islam to fight the PUK.
Ali Bapir and a member of his political bureau visited Jalal Talabani, and it was decided that both sides agree to adhere to the terms of the Tehran Agreement, signed between the IUMK and the PUK, reported that Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Komal" on 16 September 2001. The Tehran Agreement was brokered by Iran in order to guarantee Muslim participation in Talabani's secular government.
Despite this agreement, there was heavy fighting around Halabcha between the PUK and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, according to the "Kurdistan Observer" of 26 September 2001. Following the fighting, it was reported that IMK leader Mala Ali Abdulaziz had joined with Jund al-Islam forces near Sharazor. An Iranian delegation arrived to mediate between the PUK and IMK. They are believed to have pressured the PUK leadership to allow the IMK leader and his group to return to Halabcha.
This armed clash was cause for more talks between the PUK and KDP leaderships in Salah al-Din. The PUK delegations asked Barzani for logistical help in their fight against the Jund. The "Kurdistan Observer" of 30 September 2001 reported that the KPD will consider sending troops to help the PUK.
The "Kurdistan Observer" also noted that an Iranian delegation arrived in Sulaymaniyah and asked the PUK to withdraw from Halabcha and allow the IMK to resume control of the Halabcha and Hawraman areas. Apparently to emphasize the Iranian interests in this matter, Iranian armed forces shelled PUK positions in the region as the PUK was rapidly gaining ground.
At the end of September 2001, Barham Salih, premier of the PUK-controlled region of Iraqi Kurdistan, traveled to Ankara and Washington to inform U.S. and Turkish leaderships of the state of play between the PUK and Jund al-Islam, especially on the links between the Jund and Osama bin Laden, according to the "Turkish Daily News" of 30 September 2001. Turkish officials dismissed Salih's claims of a Bin Laden involvement. To the various Turkish statements dismissing the Bin Laden threat, Salih said to the "Turkish Daily News" that, "We wish that Iraqi Kurdistan was not a terrorist base. The terrorist threat is not only for Iraq but for all our neighbors. We have to wipe out terrorism in our region and in that battle Turkey is vital."
Dismissing the August-September armed clashes, the Turkish government claimed that neither the KDP nor the PUK had complained about these terrorist threats until 11 September. But the extent of the threat only became apparent on 11 September 2001.
Ihsan Abd-al-Aziz, the son of the leader of the IUMK, denied the presence of the "Afghani-Arabs" and added that he had contacted the U.S. administration and the British to send delegations to verify the PUK statements and reports, according to the Istanbul newspaper "Radikal" on 3 October 2001. He did not deny the presence of Sunni Arabs in the region, but accused the PUK of sponsoring the extremist groups that dissented and split from his movement earlier this year in a bid "to weaken us and to strengthen them."
KurdishMedia.com announced on 4 October 2001 that the forces of the Kurdistan Communist Party (KCP) had joined the PUK in order to defend the region and participate in the fight against the Jund in the Hawraman region.
For the first time since the internecine Muslim fighting began, the PUK's Jalal Talabani and Mulla Abd-al-Aziz of the IUMK met to discuss the conflict. KurdishMedia.com reported on 10 October 2001 that Iran had promised assistance to the IUMK to enable them to retaliate against any possible offensive by the Jund. As a consequence, IUMK military forces had taken new positions in the hills around Tawila and promised the PUK to prevent Jund attacks in areas under IUMK control.
In the meantime, KurdishMedia.com reported that on 13 October 2001 the Kurdistan Islamic Group, led by Mulla Ali Bapir, convened a special meeting to discuss the possibility of merging the KIG with the Jund militants. This followed the failed discussions between Talabani and Bapir about the issue of dissolving the Jund. It is also suggested that the initiative may have come either from the Jund itself or a faction within it. Following the damaging PUK attacks at the beginning of October 2001, some Jund members left their lines and contacted the PUK or the KIG. The Jund has followed a strategy of infiltrating any movements which have opposed them. It was noted that following their military defeat, the Jund held several meetings with both the KIG and the Islamic Movement asking them to withdraw from the regional government so they could unanimously announce an Islamic government in the Halabcha and Hawraman provinces. However, the KIG refused this condition.
The KIG declared through its leader, Ali Bapir, that "we have come to establish Islamic rule in Kurdistan and so that Islamic law will prevail if we have the authority to do so" in his Friday sermon at the Jihad Mosque in Sulaymaniyah, according to the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Komal" of 25 October 2001. More to the point, he also said that "...we took part in the liberation of Kurdistan. We have the right to a share in the revenue and nobody is donating charity or alms on us. We do not impose Islam on anyone. However, we refuse anyone's imposing atheism on us." Most of the revenue in the PUK-controlled region of Iraqi Kurdistan comes from a duty imposed on trucks carrying goods from Iran into the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The "Kurdistan Observer" of 20 October 2001 reported that a high-ranking, but unidentified, Iranian government official met with Talabani. The Iranian official strongly denied claims made by the PUK that Jund al-Islam was linked to and funded by Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organization.
He persuaded Talabani to agree to Iranian terms calling for the return of the KIG and the IMK to the Halabcha region. In return, he granted the PUK a "symbolic presence" in that region. He also asked the Jund to disband and return to the IMK or KIG.
In retrospect, this seems an unrealistic and pointless suggestion since it was already quite clear that the Jund had thoroughly penetrated these Muslim organizations.
KurdishMedia.com reported on 30 October 2001 that Jund militia had set up checkpoints on the main roads connecting Tawila and Biyara with other PUK territories. There the Jund collected customs fees from the limited commercial traffic passing through on the way from Iran. KurdishMedia.com commented that "this seems to be a financial privilege given by Iran to Jund al-Islam in an effort to support the Jund al-Islam militia by providing them with access to financial revenue." The Iranian government controls the only road into PUK territories bringing in goods from the outside world.
It was reported that Jund plans to assassinate prominent members of the Kurdish leadership were also disclosed by Talabani to the Iranian official. The PUK also issued various threats to the Jund, according to KurdishMedia.com.
An Iraqi defector who had served 16 years as a member of Mukhabarat, the Iraqi intelligence agency, said in testimony to the Iraq National Congress (INC) that Saddam's apparatus had controlled Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda for three years. This was reported in "La Reppublica" of Italy on 3 November 2001, and Melbourne's "The Sunday Herald Sun" of 4 November 2001. The Al-Qaeda funds came from illegal oil exports. The INC remarked that this was the third time that a defector has claimed that Saddam was funding the Al-Qaeda network. Whether these funds are also used in Iraqi Kurdistan is unclear.
When Talabani held talks at the beginning of November 2001 with his counterpart, Mas'ud Barzani, in Iraqi Kurdistan, he said that attempts to resolve differences with the Jund had failed, and PUK forces had once again moved to attack, according to KurdishMedia.com of 5 November 2001. "Hawlati" reported on 28 October 2001 that the Jund had laid mines along its front lines and occupied strategic positions on Shram Mountain. All schools in the areas of conflict were closed down.
"Hawlati" also noted that the KIG and a wing of it led by Mala Krekar are holding talks with the Jund with a view toward uniting. These talks proved fruitless, as the Jund refused to disband, according to "Hawlati" on 12 November 2001. By the beginning of Ramadan, 17 November 2001, fighting between the Jund and the PUK resumed with some intensity. A senior PUK commander said, "there are nightly exchanges of mortar and heavy machine-gun fire, reported KurdishMedia.com. Obviously, the sanctity of Ramadan affected neither side.
By the end of November 2001, Iran once again offered its services to mediate between the various warring groups. The "Turkish Daily News" on 22 November 2001 reported that a new Tehran Accord was signed between the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) and the PUK. The agreement signed was based on the earlier Tehran Accord signed between the PUK, the KIG, and the IMK. It focussed on the declaration of the political stances of the KIG and IMK vis-a-vis the Jund al-Islam. According to KurdSat of 19 November 2001, both the KIG and the IMK were asked to distances themselves from the Jund. PUK sources then said that the Jund was cornered and forced to locate themselves along the Iranian border.
On 31 December 2001, "Hawlati" reported that a number of cadres and armed men from the Jund had joined the KIG. A source told "Hawlati" that seven "armed Arab men along with their families" had joined the KIG.
In the meantime, the collapse of the Taliban and, concomitantly, Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda group brought fighters of the Jund into an "unenviable position," according to an AFP report of 10 January. Said Pire, the foreign affairs chief for the PUK, said: "we have demanded that the non-Iraqi members of Jund al-Islam return to their home countries." He added that there were some 80 non-Iraqi Arabs, chiefly Moroccans, Jordanians, and Syrians in the group. And 60 Iraqi members had received military training either with the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
By the beginning of 2002 it was announced that the Jund al-Islam had changed its name to the Supporters of Islam and, in the Arabic nomenclature that has become more common in subsequent reports, Ansar al-Islam. At the same time, they held conciliation talks with the PUK. One result of the change to a less militant name was that the PUK might recognize them as a legal political party, reported "Hawlati" on 14 January 2002. One consequence of the talks between the two groups was that a number of the Afghan-Arabs had left for Baghdad, reported KurdishMedia.com on 1 February 2002. The former Jund admits that it is close to Osama bin Laden. Its Leader, Abu Abdullah al-Shaf'i, explained that the Jund believes in the necessity of retaliation, punishment of those who deviate from Islam, cutting off the hands of thieves, punishing single adulterers with 80 lashes and married adulterers by stoning to death. On the other hand, the PUK is trying to build a modern, civil society in Kurdistan. It is difficult to see any hopes for reconciliation between the parties.
By 3 March, AP reported that the U.S. admitted its awareness that a possible Al-Qaeda-linked group was operating in northern Iraq. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher is quoted as saying that he could not comment on Ansar al-Islam because official information on the matter is based on intelligence and therefore cannot be discussed publicly.
The AP dispatch also cites a recent article in the "New Yorker" suggesting that Al-Qaeda and Baghdad are jointly running the Ansar al-Islam. In addition, the "Kurdistan Observer" of 28 March 2002 cites a Kurdish military commander in Halabcha who expressed the belief that Iraq is funding the group. A "Daily Telegraph" report quotes Carole O'Leary, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at American University in Washington, who maintains that "Saddam's supporting Ansar al-Islam would be consistent with his desire to destabilize the Kurdistan Regional Government."
For the next several months reports abound on various acts of terrorism and random destruction by the Ansar al-Islam. Its desecration of a Naqshbandi shrine caused a follow-up report in the Sulaymaniyah newspaper "Al-Ittihad" on 16 August which noted that prior to its attack on the shrine they had turned to a London-based Abu-Basir, who is described as "one of the most important religious figures linked to [the Al-Qaeda] organization, who also supervises terrorist groups in various parts of the world, among them Ansar al-Islam." Whether such a fatwa (decree) was issued is unknown.
Even more ominous, if true, is that Barham Salih, premier of the PUK-controlled Kurdistan Regional Government, claims that PUK intelligence has confirmed "the existence of a facility experimenting with poison and chemical agents to be used in terrorist acts." The facility is under the supervision of the Ansar al-Islam, AP reported on 21 August.
A brief note on Iran's position as mediator between the Jund al-Islam, its successors, and the PUK. The territory controlled by the PUK is directly on the Iran-Iraq border. Iran's primary objectives are firstly to prevent the spread of Al-Qaeda cum Taliban within Iran, and secondly, to promote and protect Islamic movements in Iraqi Kurdistan. Whether Iran has accomplished these objectives at this time is unclear. With the exception of those areas traditionally under Iran's influence, both parts of Iraqi Kurdistan are secular, not religious, and nominally pluralistic. Iran has not been able to change the orientation of either of Kurdistan's ruling parties. But they have been able, so far, to prevent their own country from falling under these Western influences.
PUK PRIME MINISTER ON 'WAR FOR IRAQ,' AL-QAEDA... Barham Salih, prime minister of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-controlled territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), was interviewed by journalist Asli Aydintasbas on changing the regime in Iraq and his own Al-Qaeda problem. The interview was published on kurdishmedia.com on 6 September.
In the interview he dwells on the Kurdish fight against Saddam Husseyn in the context of the meeting of the six Iraqi opposition groups in Washington. He says: "We are not embarking on anything new now -- we Kurds embarked on this decades ago. This is not a war against Iraq but a war for Iraq.... This should be about the freedom of the Iraqi people -- about empowering Iraqis to reclaim their country as a nation at peace with its own people."
He also touches on an assassination attempt made on him in Kurdistan by "Al-Qaeda-related Islamic militants." One of the three assassins survived to face interrogation, in which the assassin said in answer to a question: "...he was set up to assassinate me upon the orders of Al-Qaeda -- for they are unhappy about the secular approach that we have in our region and they consider our region a zone of American influence."
Salih explains what he means by the term "Al-Qaeda": "it's a loose federation of various entities subscribing to the same ideology and trying to promote the same values and policies...." In Iraqi Kurdistan, they are now known under the name Ansaru'l-Islam. (David Nissman)
...AND A KDP OFFICIAL ON TALKS WITH U.S. AND TURKISH-KDP RELATIONS. Hoshyar Zebari, member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) political bureau and the official in charge of foreign relations, held a news conference which was reported in the Erbil newspaper "Brayaty" on 3 September. Among other topics, he touched on the recent visit to Washington by an Iraqi opposition delegation, representing six main groups, and their meetings with U.S. officials. He indicated the need for a political opposition conference to unify efforts.
He also talked about his recent trip to Turkey, and tensions between the KDP and Turkey, and his hopes that normal relations will be reestablished between them. He pointed out that Turkey and the lands controlled by the KDP are neighbors and that it is important for both sides to keep good neighborly relations.
Concerning the meetings of the Iraqi opposition movements and U.S. officials, he noted that the opposition movements represented were the KDP, the PUK, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraqi National Accord (INA), the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM). They met at first with undersecretaries, including Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith. Subsequently, they videoconferenced with Vice President Dick Cheney and later with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The U.S. message to the Iraqi opposition was that the U.S. position is unified on Iraq, and that they want the opposition to support each other and consolidate their unity.
With regard to the Kurdish position, Zebari pointed out that the KDP and PUK were generally united, especially on the position of defending their people, and as far as the future is concerned, they demand a "federal system within a democratic Iraq."
On the difficulties with Turkey, Zebari noted that Turkish-KDP relations only go back 10-12 years, and he pointed out that "we have never promoted the slogan of an independent Kurdish state." Basically, he says, the present poor relations are the result of a "misunderstanding."
On the proposed constitution for a future Iraq, Zebari claimed that it had been very positively received abroad, and added that it "has been put forward to be discussed and for others to exchange viewpoints in this regard." (David Nissman)
KDP, PUK AGREE TO REVIVE PARLIAMENT. The "Kurdistan Observer" reported an AFP item on 8 September that the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan's two main factions agreed on 8 September, to end the rivalry between the KDP and PUK and signed an accord to that effect. One of the consequences of this accord is that the Kurdish parliament, which was elected in 1992 and met briefly until infighting between the KDP and PUK broke out, can reassemble. Under the new agreement, KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani and PUK leader Jalal Talabani agreed to fix a date for the "reactivization of the unified parliament."
Under the terms of the accord, the Kurdish parliament will hold a session in Erbil on 4 October. The two leaders also agreed on "a mechanism for the functioning of parliament." In addition, four high-level joint committees are to be established "to settle within a month all other outstanding points" between the two parties.
The Barzani-Talabani meeting was the first between the two in almost two years. A U.S.-brokered peace process stalled in September 1998. This process resumed when Washington began to make threats of military action in order to oust Saddam Husseyn. (David Nissman)
UKRAINE SUPPLYING RADAR STATIONS TO IRAQ? Heorhiy Omelchenko, chairman of the Ukrainian parliamentary ad hoc commission investigating the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, told a news conference in Kyiv that U.S. intelligence agencies have evidence that Ukrainian Kolchuga radar installations were supplied to Iraq, reported Interfax on 3 September.
The U.S. Justice Department is officially investigating reports on the illegal sale of Kolchugas to Iraq. The State Department is to report to the Senate in October its findings about the presence of Ukrainian defense hardware in Iraq.
Interfax notes that foreign media have reported stories of illegal arms sales to Iraq by Ukraine. Allegedly, three Kolchuga systems were sold to Iraq for $100 million. (David Nissman)
BAGHDAD-BASRA OIL PIPELINE PROGRESSES APACE. Iraq Satellite Television on 6 September reported on progress in building the Baghdad-Basra oil pipeline, which will be 528 kilometers long at completion. The Baghdad report claims that "the engineering and construction is being done by Iraqi hands despite the continued unjust blockade and the obstruction of Iraq's contracts for purchasing important materials for the oil sector by Committee 661 [UN Resolution 661]."
Construction began on 1 June. Almost 70 percent of the technical work and engineering of the pipeline between al-Diwaniyah storage tanks in the al-Qaisiyah Governorate and the storage tanks in the al-Muthanna Governorate has been completed.
The construction of the pipeline is being done according to international specifications. It is being welded and galvanized, and air, water, and radioactive tests are being done to verify the durability of the pipeline and ensure that no leaks take place in the future. (David Nissman)
'CHEMICAL ALI' REPRESENTS SADDAM IN ALGERIA. Saddam Husseyn's cousin, 'Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali," whom the Paris-based International Alliance for Justice (IAJ) calls a war criminal for his leading role in the chemical attack of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 which killed 5,000 civilians, met with Algerian President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika in his capacity as special envoy of Saddam Husseyn, reported a protest statement from the IAJ on 9 September. It is the first time "Chemical Ali" has traveled outside Iraq since 1988 on official business.
"Chemical Ali's" other crimes include his management of the Anfal operations during which 182,000 civilian Kurds were rounded up by security forces and ended up in a mass grave, the destruction of 4,500 Kurdish villages, the destruction of more than 150 Assyrian villages, and other war crimes and acts of brutality.
Al-Majid's official titles, past and present include director-general of the National Secretariat of the Revolutionary Command Council, minister of the interior, minister of defense, director of the Security Directorate, secretary of the Bureau for the Organization of the North (responsible to Baghdad for the affairs of Kurdistan), and military governor of Kuwait "province" during the Iraqi occupation in 1990-91.
The IAJ expressed the shock of the human rights community for the meeting between Bouteflika and al-Majid. (David Nissman)
SUDANESE SPEAKER OF NATIONAL ASSEMBLY RETURNS FROM IRAQ. Ahmad Ibrahim al-Tahir, speaker of the Sudanese National Assembly as well as speaker of the Arab Parliamentary Union (APU), returned from the extraordinary meeting of the APU in Baghdad, reported Sudan Television from Omdurman on 6 September.
Al-Tahir said that 17 countries out of the 21 APU member countries were at the meeting. They discussed the U.S. threat of attacking Iraq and unanimously objected to U.S. threats to attack Iraq. They also resolved to ask the UN to lift all sanctions on the country, since Iraq had fulfilled all its requirements.
The Sudan Television report ended by saying, "The attendance of 17 countries in this extraordinary meeting was a clear indication that there exists Arab solidarity with Iraq." It should be noted that Sudan enjoys a close relationship with Iraq. (David Nissman)
BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL QUESTIONED ON RETURN FROM IRAQ. Leanid Kozik, leader of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and a close aide to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, said his trip to Iraq earlier last week had much to do with "the situation concerning the Belarusian firm Belmetalenerha [Belarusian Metal and Energy]", reported Belapan from Minsk on 6 September. The company has been the exclusive exporter of goods to Iraq for years. Exports have included 500 tractors worth more than $5 million in 1999, Kozik said, and "Belarus never saw the money."
Kozik claimed that unknown people approached him at the airport and threatened to "set the press on him" unless he let Belmetalenerha alone. There was no further explanation of this remark given in the report.
Kozik is co-chairman of the Belarusian-Iraqi Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation. (David Nissman)
IRAQI CULTURE DAYS OPEN IN AMMAN. "Iraq Culture Days" opened in Amman and throughout Jordan on 7 September, reported the "Jordan Times" on 8 September. Included in the cultural festival will be poetry readings, plays, traditional music, and dance troupes. One of the highlights will be the play, "Zabibah and the King," based on a novel allegedly written by Saddam Husseyn. Another featured group is the Iraqi National Group for Traditional Arts. (David Nissman)
ASSYRIAN NUN MURDERED IN BAGHDAD. On 15 August, 71-year-old Sister Cecilia Mosh Hanna was murdered at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Monastery in Baghdad, reported the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) on 31 August. The Chaldean nun's neck was slit and her head was severed from her body, allegedly the work of three armed assailants.
Sister Cecilia had dined with her family in Baghdad that night but returned to the monastery because neither of the other two nuns was there.
AINA claims that the slitting and beheading is a "prototypical signature of Islamic extremists putting 'infidels' to the sword." By killing Sister Cecilia the day before a nationwide Christian spiritual retreat, the killers apparently hoped to maximally terrorize and horrify the Iraqi Christian community.
The Iraqi government has issued no statement or condemnation of the event, despite a strongly worded letter from the Chaldean Patriarch Mar Raphael BeDaweed I. However, the government reportedly has one assailant in custody. (David Nissman)
END NOTEKURDS PROPOSE NEW IRAQI, KURDISH CONSTITUTIONS
By David Nissman
At the end of August, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) posted two draft constitutions to its website (http://www.krg.org). The first is a "Constitution of the Federal Republic of Iraq" and the second a "Constitution of the Iraq Kurdistan Region." If there has been no response from Baghdad on this Kurdish endeavor, it was announced that the Turkish Army has entered Iraqi territory, or Iraqi Kurdistan, at the end of August just after the posting of the draft constitutions on the KRG website. The timing of this invasion is connected to the publication of the draft constitutions on one of the official Kurdish websites. According to kurdishmedia.com of 2 September, the new chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Army, General Hilmi Ozkok, has acknowledged that the Turkish Army in fact invaded Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 September 2002) and is keeping a presence in the northern territories (Iraqi Kurdistan). General Ozkok explained that the reason for the Turkish presence in the region is "to serve a specific purpose, but it would not be right for me to explain the reason for their presence."
Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) said that near the settlement of Bamerni "there are around two dozen Turkish tanks, troops, and helicopters." He requested their withdrawal. Kurdishmedia.com notes that Aytac Yalman, chief commander of the Land Forces, responded to Barzani's request by mocking Barzani's name and his political organization, and stressing that developments in northern Iraq will be in Turkey's favor.
Turkey has entered Iraqi Kurdistan often in the past to pursue the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is now thought to be defunct. While Turkey has officially refused to state the reasons behind the current invasion, the cause was no doubt the new draft constitutions which may be a stepping-stone in the direction of Kurdish independence with a state in its own right. Although Hoshyar Zebari, the KDP's international affairs representative said that the constitution "was only a practical exercise," Turkey fears that a secession of Iraqi Kurdistan from Iraq would ignite national sentiment among Turkey's 20 million Kurds.
Subsequently, Barzani, in an interview with "Die Zeit" (carried by the "Kurdistan Observer" on 5 September), noted that Kurdish support for a U.S. attack on Iraq hinged on the "guarantee of a federal system." Thus, the draft constitution of the Iraqi Kurdistan region is somewhat more than a "practical exercise," if less than a concrete proposal. In fact, it spells out Kurdish intentions for the future. Another issue, touched on both in his interview and in the proposed Kurdish constitution, is the area to be considered Kurdistan. Article 2 of the draft constitution includes the province of Kirkuk within its administrative boundaries. Since it is now under Baghdad's control, this would naturally be a bone of contention between Baghdad and Kurdistan even with a new post-Saddam regime in Iraq. Barzani, asked about this in his interview, stated that "we would give our life to our enemies, but not Kirkuk."
The draft of the "federal" constitution of Iraq, in its preamble, points out that there was a "fault in [its] constitutional system and the nature of its political system" at the time that Iraq came into existence after World War I; this "fault" was the "high degree of centralization" in the basic law of 1925, which defined the constitutional makeup of the country until 1970. This centralization, accompanied by the "indifference of decision makers to the presence of the special characteristics of the Kurdish people, are among the basic reasons for the Kurds being deprived of their legitimate rights under successive Iraqi governments, which came to power under both the monarchy and the republic." Thus, the Kurdish proposal of a federal system under which the Kurds would attain autonomy within an Iraqi state. Baghdad, however, has consistently ignored federalism as a viable system, and there is no reason to think that it would not do so at the present time. In the event of a fundamental regime change in Baghdad, there are no grounds to think that the situation would be any different under a successor government.
Finally, the proposed constitution for a "federal" republic of Iraq does not mention secession, although it may become a problem for the future since the only mechanism for solving disputes is described under Article 70 which states: "Conflicts that may arise between the federal and regional authorities in relation to the responsibilities designated in this constitution shall be referred to the High Court, 'Constitutional Court' for adjudication."
The Constitution of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region preamble begins by tracing the history of Kurdish self-determination from the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, the annexation of Southern Kurdistan to Iraq in 1925, Iraq's statement to the League of Nations (still binding) in which Iraq committed itself to give the Kurds their national rights, the 1958 statement in the interim Constitution of the Republic of Iraq that the Arabs and Kurds are partners in the Iraqi state, and the systematic violation of these agreements with the Kurds to the present time.
The draft constitution of the Iraqi Kurdistan region presents a model of the region under the conditions of autonomy which Kurdistan would receive under a federal system. It is stressed in the preamble that this alternative "is in harmony with the principles of the new world order" as illustrated by countries who have selected this option, such as the United States, Canada, Belgium, and others.
The articles of this draft constitution follow a similar sequence to those in the draft constitution of a federal republic of Iraq, and grant citizens similar rights and responsibilities to those in Arab Iraq. Although the Kurdistan region would also have a president, its president would not have the power to represent Iraq in the international community, a power granted only to the president of Iraq. Otherwise, his duties are constitutionally much the same but confined to the Kurdistan region.
The primary argument against Kurdish autonomy as represented by the draft constitution is geopolitical, meaning that the appearance of Kurdish autonomy would, or could, be considered tantamount to Kurdish independence. Such a manifestation might provoke the Kurds of neighboring Turkey, Iran, Jordan, and Syria to advocate similar measures for themselves at the minimum, resulting in basic political changes in the region. It is felt by geopoliticians of the countries concerned that this would result in regional instability, and that this instability might spread outside the region. Hence, the rapid Turkish response and the silence which this initiative has met in the rest of the region and internationally.