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Iraq Report: October 19, 2007

Former Iraqi Official Says Political Parties 'Failing' To Work Together

PRAGUE, October 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Kamran al-Karadaghi, a former chief of staff for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, says that Iraq's political climate will not improve until the country's leaders find the political determination to make "very hard decisions." He also discussed the current tensions between Turkey and Iraq's Kurds, as well as the issue of "normalizing" the disputed region of Kirkuk.

Al-Karadaghi, also a former editor in chief of RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, talked to RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on October 15.

RFE/RL: Many in the West are concerned with the Iraqi parliament's performance and its failure to pass outstanding legislation. Can you talk about this failure and whether the prospects for passing legislation are good?

Kamran al-Karadaghi: The problem with the parliament is the way the parliament acts and the procedure of the parliament. The parliament consists of representatives of different political groups, who were elected not individually by the electorate, but they were elected as part of lists. In a way, there is really no free member of the parliament. [Parliamentarians] cannot really decide [anything] on their own, it's all political maneuvering, it's all [based on the] positions of their political groups. So, you can't talk about the failure of the parliament, but you have to talk about the failure of the political groups who have representatives in the parliament.

RFE/RL: The Shi'ite and Kurdish alliances in parliament formed the "moderates' front" a couple of months ago, and it seemed the idea was to join together and try to constitute a majority so that legislation would be pushed through. That didn't appear to play out the way they had hoped.

Al-Karadaghi: My opinion, my own observation in Iraq...[is] this was not the only reason or the main reason was not to establish a majority in parliament to pass laws and things. But I think it was also part of the political process in Iraq, part of the struggle between the political was an attempt to get out of the bottle by breaking the existing status quo of the political alliances in Iraq.

These parties, the two main Kurdish parties, the Shi'a alliance, and Al-Da'wah Party -- and one cannot say the entire Al-Da'wah Party, it was more the Prime Minister [Nuri al-Maliki], who is the official leader of the Al-Da'wah Party -- and the Islamic Party.... There was an alliance between the two main Kurdish parties [known as the Kurdistan Coalition], SCIRI [a reference to the Shi'ite party led by Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, now known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC] and the Islamic Party. The hope was that the Islamic Party would join, but they didn't.

This is the way now how the Iraqis work. They always try to find something alternative or something parallel [to keep their options open]. So, when this didn't work and the Islamic Party didn't join this new [moderates' front], they [instead] invented this so-called three-plus-one, the three members of the Presidency Council plus the prime minister....

So I don't think there was a direct attempt to try and secure a majority in the parliament, because they all know, the political parties, that there is always [going to be] a shift in the political groups. One day the political groups side with an alliance, the next day they side with another party.

Some people think that the four parties which tried to establish [the moderates' front, that this] was a mistake because it alienated the Sunnis. Some think that it was a good step and that the Sunnis failed to join them. But this is all part of the failure of the political leadership in Iraq.

RFE/RL: Since the moderates' front was formed, Tariq al-Hashimi, the Sunni Arab leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party and Iraqi vice president, has since gone into talks with other parties, such as the Shi'ite Al-Fadilah Party and several other smaller parties. The idea was that these groups together would try to form a counteralliance in parliament. What are the prospects that this will actually happen, given the diverse positions of these parties?

Al-Karadaghi: I don't think it will work.... All the political parties and groups in Iraq have different interests. It is very difficult for all of them to agree on one target, [one issue] like for example before the regime change in Iraq. There was one purpose: to topple the regime. But now...they are in power. So they have different [views,] whether it is Al-Fadilah Party, or Sadrists, or others, the Islamic Party....

The Islamic Party, maybe they have an interest [shared position] with Al-Fadilah on one issue, but they cannot afford to lose the Kurds as allies on other issues. So, it is really very difficult [to move forward] unless all the main political leaderships of different parties find the determination within take very hard decisions, nothing will work.

Shi'ite Parties' Agreement Fragile

RFE/RL: There was an agreement forged last week between Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the SIIC. It was described in the press as an agreement that will bring peace to the southern region. Again, given the diverse positions of the two groups, what is the likelihood that that would happen, and if you know, what is the real motivation for this agreement being forged?

Al-Karadaghi: Of course [SIIC] and the Sadrists have a history of rivalry, especially between the two clans of al-Hakim and al-Sadr. And it still exists. But, there were some reasons for this [agreement].

First, now you have Ammar al-Hakim [son of ailing leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim,] who is in charge of [SIIC]. He is young, he is energetic, and he has some ideas and he wanted to show leadership. And the same thing with Muqtada. But we should not forget also that Iran played a major role in this. The Iranians have an interest to keep the Shi'a together and these two groups are powerful among the Shi'a. So, there are some domestic and some outside reasons for this alliance.

And I would say also the marja'a, [Shi'ite clerical leadership, headed by Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani and others, feel the rivalry and the differences between the Shi'a groups have gone too far, and they want to keep it under control.

Maybe it will work for awhile but I don't think this will [have] a real significant development in the future.

RFE/RL: Ammar al-Hakim came out in favor of the establishment of federal regions over the weekend and al-Sadr's office reacted very strongly against al-Hakim's statement.

Al-Karadaghi: So, here you are, yes. This is also a problem within the Shi'a alliance, the approach to the position regarding federalism. [SIIC] is for, Ammar al-Hakim especially...even more than his father, I would say. And we all know that for the Kurds this is essential. But other groups, Fadilah are against it, the Sadrists are against it. These will always be reasons to weaken any new alliance of the kind between Ammar al-Hakim [and al-Sadr].... It's not an alliance really. They made an agreement [and] I think it will have an effect for the short term but not for the long term.

Kirkuk Referendum To Be Delayed

RFE/RL: Kirkuk is a big topic right now because of the upcoming planned resolution. From Kurdish officials we hear that plans for a December referendum to determine whether Kirkuk will join the Kurdistan region is still on target, but we hear from other sources that it has already been agreed that the referendum will be delayed due to the tension the issue is causing between the Kurds and Arab parties in Iraq.

From the beginning it was obvious that it was very difficult to keep within the timetable [outlined in the constitution] for practical reasons at least. You cannot have a referendum without solving several other issues. Article 140 [of the constitution, which applies to Kirkuk] says there must be a process of normalization. Normalization is different than referendum. Normalization means first you have to solve the problem of the deportees, and of the settlers, the Arab settlers.

Second, you have to solve the problem of the borders between provinces -- the administrative issues -- because the Kurds have claims on some territories they say were part of the Kurdish autonomous region but under Saddam Hussein they deliberately took these territories and attached them to [other governorates like] Tikrit, Diyala, and others.

So, you have to solve all these problems. The problem of the Arab settlers is also not that easy [to solve]. Even within [Article] 140, the Kurds themselves have always said there is a difference between the Arabs who originally lived in Kirkuk and the Arabs who were brought by Saddam Hussein for the reason of ethnic cleansing and to change the demography of Kurdistan. The process now [has] started to give compensation. There are Arabs who signed petitions that they want to leave. But it's not an easy process, it's difficult. For practical reasons, it will not happen by the end of this year.

Maybe some Kurds also were not very careful [in making] these statements insisting either by the end of the year or it will be doomsday.... They should be more practical about these issues. But, I don't think the tensions or the opposition from Arabs against Article 140 will change the view of the Kurds. The Kurds are committed to implementing, they want Article 140 to be implemented, but they will also show some flexibility on the process of implementing 140, and they will [allow] some time for it to happen.

Turkey, Iraq, Kurds Must Communicate

RFE/RL: We have to ask you about Turkey. The Turkish government is seeking permission from parliament to possibly launch a large-scale incursion into Iraq. What do you think the ramifications of such an incursion will be? We saw statements from Jabar Yawar, the Kurdish regional minister for peshmerga affairs, saying that peshmerga militia forces will be ready to respond to any incursion. Will peshmerga who have joined the army and are based south of the Kurdistan region be called back to the region, and what would be the ramifications of such a move?

First of all, the Turkish government say that getting a permission from parliament does not mean automatically that they will go inside [Iraq]. They want to secure the permission, especially with the military, to have a free hand to do whatever, whenever they decide to do something.

At the same time, some people who know the situation well think maybe the Turks won't launch a wide-scale [incursion] into Iraq. [Rather], this is part of putting a strong pressure on the Kurds, really, not on the Iraqi government. Ankara knows the Iraqi government does not have the means of doing anything militarily in Kurdistan. It's the Kurdish peshmerga.

If you follow the Turkish press, commentators, you feel [that] the Turkish government and the military think they will have this experience like they had with Syria. They put a lot of pressure on Syria, they employed their army on a huge scale along Syria's borders, and Syria caved in [and] kicked [Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah] Ocalan [out] from Syria....

The Kurds of course, are also obliged to make these kinds of statements, to be on the alert. There are Kurdish peshmerga who are part of the Iraqi Army, but the main [peshmerga] forces are still in the Kurdistan area. There are some units outside Kurdistan, but in territories and provinces attached to Kurdistan -- in Diyala, they don't have a lot now in Baghdad -- they were there for a while in Baghdad and now they've [left]. But, now what they are doing outside the Kurdish provinces is to secure roads, secure oil pipelines, and these kinds of things.

I am sure that, God forbid it comes to a confrontation, they will of course abide by the Kurdish leadership, by the leadership of the Kurdistan administration. But, as I said, there are a lot of political activities [talks] still going on. The Kurds sometimes don't show flexibility regarding their relationship with Ankara.

It's true, the Turks are very difficult to deal with. Since the regime change in Iraq, and especially after the constitution [was approved], and the fact that now you have a legal administration in Iraqi Kurdistan which is recognized by the Iraqi Constitution, to pretend now that [Kurds] don't exist is wrong. But this is now how Ankara is behaving.

And I think Baghdad also has very limited options. The fact that they signed a [security] agreement with Turkey recently has two sides. One, Baghdad knows that they can't do anything in Kurdistan. On the other hand, this agreement can also put Ankara in an embarrassing position because if they go into Iraq, according to the agreement, they cannot go into Iraq without permission from Baghdad. And Baghdad is not ready to give such a permission.

So, things are still balanced. But if there will be a large-scale interference, it will have very bad consequences for the Kurds, first, and also for relations between Ankara and Baghdad, the United States,'s very unpredictable. There can be [many] different complications.

RFE/RL: If the Kurdish peshmerga serving in the national army are called back to Kurdistan, how will it impact the security situation south of the region, because now they are helping secure areas where Al-Qaeda is active in Iraq. Will it have a huge impact on the security situation?

Al-Karadaghi: No, I don't think it will have a huge impact on the security situation in Arab areas. Because [participation] is still limited in some areas. They are securing roads...even if these units stay where they are, it will not have a big effect on the capability of the Kurdish forces. Because the Kurds have now really a huge army of fighters.

Iraqi Family Seeking Asylum Tells Tragic Tale

October 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqis fleeing in search of asylum in Europe often do so illegally, paying smugglers to transport them to the European Union. Their journeys are expensive and dangerous. Sa'id Ketchu lost his wife, 29-year-old Iman Eliyas Juma'a, on one such attempt in August. Sa'id and his 12-year-old daughter Janan recounted the experience to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq correspondent Simira Ali Mandi on October 10.

Radio Free Iraq (RFI): What were the reasons behind your decision to leave Iraq?

Sa'id Ketchu: I was forced to leave Iraq for security reasons. I received a threat. I was an investigating officer at the of Ninawah [Governorate] Police Directorate -- Tilkayf police section. I received threats more than once.

One day I was working on some documents, and was on my way to the judge, when some men with beards and wearing dishdashas [traditional Arab garb] -- it was clear they were terrorists because of their beards and dishdashas -- accosted me.

They said they have a case pending with me, they said I had sent for them. I told them that I didn't know them. They showed me a subpoena that I confirmed was in my handwriting and with my signature. [I said:] "There are legal reasons. If there was no legal reason, I wouldn't have sent for you." They said, "No, if you don't get rid of our case we will kill you." They were blatant terrorists, and they frightened me. It meant that I was facing being killed. I was forced to "take care" of their case.

I [later] received another threat -- I once saw one of our officers being killed by them in front of his home in Mosul. He had passed by me, greeted me, and went home; an hour later he was killed. I am Yazidi [a non-Muslim religious minority], and the Yazidis in this neighborhood are under constant threat, to a terrifying extent. I was forced to seek refuge in Europe. I was forced to leave Iraq by any possible means.

RFI: You have a family; you decided to leave with your family, which consists of your wife and three children.

Ketchu: I obtained passports. I had to sell my land and my household belongings -- anything to save my family. My daughter needs an operation, she already had one operation two years ago. She had kidney stones, but the condition has recurred. I tried talking to a number of doctors; one day they tell me she's all right, the next says that there's a problem.

The security situation prevents me from taking her to Baghdad, and we cannot afford to go to Jordan. So I told myself that the best thing for me is to save my family and myself. We could see a doctor in one of the European countries, and we could all find some rest there. The situation in Iraq is getting worse daily.

RFI: How long did you stay in Turkey with your family? Sa'id, you decided to leave Iraq, and you left with your family which consists of a wife and three children. You took them to Turkey. How long were you there?

Ketchu: The first time, I was there for 47 days waiting to find a way -- a proper and safe way. During these 47 days I was daily conned by different people. I spent between 60 and 70 notes ["waraka," a reference to $100 bills, so $6,000 or $7,000]. My visa expired and the police detained us at the hotel. I tried to pay the fine, but they refused. They took us and sent us back to Iraq.

But there was no way [to stay], so I had to try again. I was forced into a deal with a smuggler to get out. He took us back to Istanbul at a cost of 40 notes. So it cost me a further $4,000. I stayed in Turkey for about a month, during which I tried twice to move on. Once, I was arrested on the way to Greece, and the second time they arrested me after I had reached Greece and sent me back.

The third time I was approached by someone whose name was Sami Gardi, and I agreed with him that he would take us to Greece in exchange for 2 notebooks ["daftar" means $10,000, so $20,000], legally, aboard a tourist ship. It was to be legal, with nothing to fear, because you know I have children, my daughter is sick, and if the Turks were to catch me again they would hurt me, because my name and our photos were in their computers.

The [smugglers] took us from the hotel in an ambulance-size vehicle. We were about 20 people. They told us it would take three hours, but it took eight hours. We reached the Greek border -- an island on the border -- where we were to be picked up by a yacht. I told them that I would not board a yacht -- only a tourist ship. The five-story ship [they promised] turned out to be a boat for five people.

RFI: Were your movements with the smugglers done at night? Were the smugglers Turks or were they from different nationalities?

Ketchu: The smuggler we first dealt with was Sami Gardi. I didn't meet him personally, but dealt with him by phone. Sami Gardi is presently in Turkey, but we can't find him. The principals are in Greece and my brother is now in Greece trying to get their photos and addresses, so that I can present my complaint through Interpol.

RFI: Are the smugglers Iraqis or Turks?

Ketchu: They are...Sami Gardi is an Iraqi from Irbil but he lives in Istanbul at an unknown address. You know their methods: each one has 20 identities.

RFI: And the others? Are they also Iraqis, or are they Turks?

Ketchu: The one who was my guarantor is known in Greece; we can find them and catch them. They are Iraqis: one is Yazidi, and the other is Sorani [speaker of Sorani Kurdish dialect]. The Yazidi is my guarantor, but he was afraid to show me the actual smuggler. Thus I have been forced to submit a complaint so that the judge can take action against the criminals.

So, at 10:30 p.m. we boarded the boat that would not hold more than five people, but we were 20. They herded us aboard like sheep. After less than 15 minutes, we felt our feet getting wet; we thought that it was just our wet clothes; we called to them in Turkish, "Water, water." He [the smuggler] stripped down to his shorts and slid overboard. God only knows how we survived; I still don't know; it was God's will.

RFI: Was the smuggler a Turk?

Ketchu: Yes, of course, he was a Turk. He didn't speak Arabic.

RFI: Did he escape?

When we hesitated about boarding the boat, we were afraid they might kill us and leave us among the trees. After the boat sank, I don't know what happened to any of the others. We were in the water for half an hour; I don't know how the children made it. It was a horrible miracle. I couldn't hear anybody or see anybody. It was after three days that the police called me in to see the bodies.

When the boat sank, we were spotted by a German tourist boat whose captain was a Turk. He called for help and we were picked up by various boats. The children were holding on to each other, and the sick girl was holding her younger brother. When the boats arrived, she lost her grip on the child, and a Sorani dived in to save him.

RFI: How many people drowned in the incident, was it just your wife?

Ketchu: My wife and another Kurdish man from either Al-Sulaymaniyah or Irbil. After three or four days, the ones who saved us brought us some clothes, as the children were down to their shorts.

RFI: How long were you detained?

Ketchu: We were held in prison for seven or eight days. It was my brother who came -- for the funeral and everything -- to talk to the Turkish authorities. Though the Turks treated us well, they refused a Red Cross plea for us to remain. The press was not allowed to interview us, and we couldn't see the UN.

RFI: Will you and your family try once again to leave Iraq?

Ketchu: There is no alternative. I have already begun to look for ways, for my family's sake, as their situation is now worse than before.

RFI: You have already paid a heavy price. Will you once again trust the smugglers?

Ketchu: No. I cannot go by the same route. I cannot stand to see any water -- even a puddle in the street. The children are suffering from mental problems and they need medical treatment. When they arrive safely, God willing, it would still take a team of competent doctors to cure them.

RFI: Would you encourage Iraqis to leave, in view of your difficult experience?

Ketchu: I cannot advise them either way, but the situation in Iraq is getting worse daily. Everybody who has heard my story is astonished by our experience.

RFI: Do you feel that the Iraqi situation is so bad that you would risk the lives of your family again?

Ketchu: I would gamble, but I would not try the same frightening route again. I would try to reach the UN.

RFI: You are adamant about leaving Iraq?

Ketchu: I am; there is no alternative at all. I have become absent-minded and psychologically drained. We need to see psychiatrists, but where would we go? We cannot go anywhere other than Irbil or Al-Sulaymaniyah.

RFI: If an international organization were able to provide treatment for your daughter, would you stay in Iraq? Or are you insisting on leaving?

Ketchu: I am not planning on leaving Iraq like some others who are seeking their well-being. I plan to leave Iraq because there is nothing left for us here. Even if they appointed me to a ministerial post in the Iraqi government, I would still not be able to live here.

Sa'id's eldest daughter Janan, also told RFI about their harrowing experience.

RFI: You were in the boat, as well as your late mother, your sister, your brother, and your father, is that right?

Janan Ketchu: Yes.

RFI: You were sitting next to your mother?

Janan: My brother, sister, and I were in one place with my mother.

RFI: Do you remember what time it was?

Janan: It was 10:45 p.m.

RFI: The smuggler took you to the boat, were you still in Turkey then? You hadn't reached Greece yet?

Janan: The smuggler put us in the boat, and we moved out slowly. Little by little, water began to seep into the boat, until it sank.

RFI: Was the smuggler with you in the boat?

Janan: Yes, he was with us.

RFI: What happened to him?

Janan: He took off his clothes and swam away to Turkey.

RFI: Was it a big boat?

Janan: No, it was for about five people.

RFI: Five people. How many were you?

Janan: Twenty people.

RFI: Did the boat have an engine?

Janan: It had a motor. We told him to return, but he didn't, and the motor sank.

RFI: At that moment, what did you feel? What did you do? Whom did you hold on to? Whom did you want to save? How did you save yourself?

Janan: Little by little the boat began to sink. I grabbed my brother, and a woman grabbed my sister. We continued to scream until they came to save us.

RFI: Did you have any life-saving vests or anything? Were you wearing something?

Janan: No, he didn't give us anything.

RFI: So you were in your clothes; but how did you save yourself from drowning? Did you try to swim?

Janan: No, I don't know how to swim.

RFI: So how did you stay afloat?

Janan: My father was holding me, and I was holding onto my brother.

RFI: You didn't see your mother after that?

Janan: No.

RFI: Did you stay were you were? How did you reach the shore? The boat was 600 meters offshore, so how did you manage?

Janan: Our saviors were Germans in one boat, and Turks in another.

RFI: So a boat with German tourists spotted you, and they came to you along with a Turkish government boat?

They searched for my mother, but couldn't find here for three days. On the fourth day, while we were in prison, they found her body.

RFI: How did they treat you in prison? How long were you detained?

Janan: About a week. They treated us well, and the tourists brought us clothes and things.

RFI: What is your condition now? Do you still visualize the sea and the darkness?

Janan: (No response).

RFI: Janan, Janan, tell me about your brother and sister. Your brother, Zardasht, and your sister, Avista.

Janan: My brother is four years old, and my sister is six. I am 12 years old.

RFI: Were you going to school?

Janan: I was in the sixth year of primary school.

How are you living now? Who is looking after you? What is your situation -- you and your siblings -- without your mother?

Janan: We are living with my [maternal] uncle. They love us.

RFI: Do you want to go to Europe again? After what you have experienced?

Europe? Yes, but not by sea.

RFI: Why do you want to go to Europe?

I have a kidney ailment. My father was threatened. I need to have an operation.

RFI: Why do you want to leave Dahuk? Because of the treatment?

Janan: There is no treatment here.

RFI: Tell me about your brother. How is he now without his mother? Does he cry at night, or have bad dreams? Tell me about Zardasht and Avista, do they ask where their mother is?

Janan: No, they don't ask. They don't ask about anything.

RFI: Do you have a particular wish?

Janan: To go to my aunt in Germany.