Iraq: Foreign Fighters Continue To Wreak Havoc
The revelation comes amid reports that three Kuwaiti nationals -- one who served time in the Guantanamo Bay detention center -- blew themselves up in Mosul last week.
Sheikh Sabah al-Shammari, spokesman for the Awakening Council of Ba'qubah Clans, told Iraqi media outlets that the documents revealed that the majority of the suicide bombers were foreign Arab nationals. He said the documents also revealed that widows of suicide bombers were present in training camps set up by Al-Qaeda in the Hamrin mountain area of Diyala. At least 15 women were being trained for suicide operations, he said.
The continuing reports of foreign fighters infiltrating from Arab states come as some neighbors have moved more aggressively to secure their borders, but they might also highlight problematic frontiers with other countries, including Syria and Iran.
Iraq has witnessed a surge in female suicide bomb attacks in recent months. At least two of those attacks were carried out in Diyala. A May 1 attack in Diyala was carried out by a woman who wore an explosives-filled vest and was pretending to be pregnant. She blew herself up outside a cafe and a children's shoe store. A male accomplice blew himself up at the scene as police and medical personnel tried to assist the wounded. At least 29 people were killed and 52 others wounded. While it remains unclear whether those attacks were perpetrated by foreign fighters, it is clear that insurgent bomb attacks in Diyala Governorate, which lies northeast of Baghdad, have not subsided despite the growing presence of Iraqi and coalition security forces.
Meanwhile, a former detainee from the Guantanamo Bay detention center reportedly carried out a suicide bomb attack in Mosul on April 30. According to Kuwaiti and pan-Arab media reports, Kuwaiti national Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was released from Guantanamo in late 2005 and, upon returning to Kuwait, appeared to have been rehabilitated. Family members said they were shocked to learn that he carried out a suicide attack along with fellow Kuwaiti national Nasir al-Dawasari some three weeks after disappearing from home.
Al-Ajmi's cousin, Salim al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiyah that his family was surprised when people in Iraq telephoned the family to say Abdullah was in Iraq. "His recent behavior was normal; we never expected him to go back to his past behavior," Salim al-Ajmi said. "We noticed that he would disappear every now and then. He would not return home or socialize after his return [from Guantanamo] like he used to do in the past."
He added that the Kuwaiti government "did not fail to give those young men [who were in Guantanamo] the chance to return to society," noting Abdullah and others "were offered assistance." Al-Ajmi said that Abdullah had an excellent financial situation and was married following his release from Guantanamo, with one child and another on the way.
The Kuwaiti website "Al-Siyasah" quoted sources on May 6 as saying a third Kuwaiti national was involved in the April 30 Mosul attack, identifying him as Badr al-Harbi. According to the website, al-Harbi had spent time in Afghanistan and was later jailed in Kuwait on unknown charges. The report said the Interior Ministry was looking for him when he disappeared, apparently fleeing to Syria for Iraq alongside the other two Kuwaitis. The sources told "Al-Siyasah" that al-Harbi was in a second suicide vehicle.
Meanwhile, a Yemeni state security court of appeals this week reduced a jail term for a national convicted of trying to go to Iraq for jihad. Bashir Muhammad Nu'man was sentenced last week to five years in prison for using a forged passport to travel to Syria with the intention of joining Al-Qaeda. The appeals court reduced the sentence to two years in prison for Nu'man, who was said to have been arrested in Syria and extradited to Yemen in February 2007, reportedly without offering any explanation.
The continuing flow of foreign fighters from Arab neighboring states to Iraq raises concerns that Iraq's neighbors are not abiding by pledges to help improve security in the war-torn country. Foreign ministers from Iraq's neighboring states reiterated commitments to help stem the flow of foreign fighters at a recent security meeting in Kuwait. The meeting came on the heels of increased U.S. and Iraqi pressure for neighboring states to do more. It also came just one week after officials from neighboring states met in Damascus for a security cooperation meeting that focused on the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq, in which participants endorsed the view that Iraq's security was the joint responsibility of all regional states.
Delegates in Damascus vowed to follow up on pledges made at the November security meeting in Kuwait and to "quickly name the liaison officers [on border security] who have not yet been named, to exchange information, and to hold another meeting on the sidelines of [an upcoming] interior ministers' meeting in Amman" in October. As RFE/RL reported at the time, that point demonstrates the snail's pace at which recommendations are being carried out, if they are being carried out at all.
Kuwaiti Interior Minister Jabir Khalid al-Sabah told the website "Al-Jaridah" last week that the men definitely did not enter Iraq via the Kuwait-Iraq border. He said the Interior Ministry does not restrict people from traveling abroad, and suggested the men had obtained visas before going to Syria. "The whole blame should be put on those who established these groups [such as Al-Qaeda], who took money from domestic and foreign destinations to destroy the sound human ideology, spoil it with falsehood, and call on Kuwaiti youth to [carry out] jihad," al-Sabah said. He added that the ministry does its best to keep suspected persons under surveillance and refer them to the authorities for arrest when appropriate.
Some neighboring states have taken the initiative to secure their borders with Iraq. Indeed, it does not appear that Arab foreign fighters have had any success in crossing the Kuwaiti, Saudi, or Jordanian borders into Iraq.
Syria has long been considered the main access point for foreign fighters, and despite some claims that the Syrian authorities are taking steps to control that flow, it is clearly not doing enough. Likewise, Iran has been reported to be another entry point for foreign fighters, particularly for Arabs entering Iraq from Afghanistan. Until Iraq can improve security along its porous borders with Iran and Syria, the problem will remain a major impediment to Iraqi security for years to come.
Iraq: Al-Sadr Refuses to Meet Baghdad Delegation In Iran
The Iraqi delegation reportedly met with Qasim Suleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps' Qods Force, on May 1, and was expected to meet again with him on May 2. The force is suspected of being the main supplier of Iranian-made weapons to Iraq. It has also been linked to the training of Iraqi militiamen. The delegation was also slated to meet with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On May 2, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini downplayed the delegation's visit, saying, "Iranian officials will hold talks with this delegation in line with helping settle differences and ongoing clashes in Iraq."
Al-Sadr spokesman Salih al-Ubaydi told Al-Sharqiyah television on May 1 that the delegation, comprised of Shi'ite politicians from the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) was "fishing in troubled waters." Al-Ubaydi said the Sadrists were reluctant to divulge the whereabouts of al-Sadr for political and security reasons. He acknowledged to AFP on May 1 that al-Sadr and other leading members of the so-called Al-Sadr Trend are in Iran. Al-Sadr has been rumored to be studying in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
Al-Ubaydi cited statements by government officials in recent days, including by Prime Minister al-Maliki, that the government would not sit and negotiate with al-Sadr. He confirmed, however, that al-Sadr's representatives have met with President Jalal Talabani and parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani in recent days, and said the dialogue with those officials continues.
"We reject any interference by the [UIA] in this crisis, except when such interference is carried out within the context of the national parliamentary initiative," al-Ubaydi said. "This is because we have found that the [alliance] is lacking in credibility."
The Al-Sadr Trend, which is represented in parliament by 30 "independent" politicians, withdrew its ministers from the cabinet in April 2007. It pulled out of the UIA, which exists mainly as a parliamentary alliance, in September, leaving the UIA in control of around half of parliament's seats.
The friction with the UIA is mainly due to an ongoing rivalry between al-Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), which is headed by Shi'ite politician Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim. Al-Ubaydi alleges that al-Hakim's quest for a super-region in southern Iraq and his desire for his party to win big in governorate elections in October are the driving force behind the government's crackdown on the Sadrists.
Of the UIA figures in the delegation, at least one, Hadi al-Amiri, has long-standing ties to Iran. Al-Amiri is the head of the former armed wing of the ISCI. Formerly known as the Badr Corps, it was set up with Iranian support in the early 1980s. The Badr Corps entered Iraq following the fall of the Hussein regime and later claimed to be disarming and turning to humanitarian work under the name Badr Organization. Al-Sadr spokesman al-Ubaydi told RFE/RL on April 22 that it is not the Sadrists, but the ISCI's Badr forces that are armed and funded by Iran.
Other members of the delegation include deputy parliament speaker Khalid al-Atiyah, Islamic Al-Da'wah Party legislator Ali al-Adib, and Tariq Abdullah, an aide to al-Maliki.
Al-Ubaydi described the delegation to Al-Arabiyah television on May 1 as "Iranians par excellence," claiming that al-Adib holds Iranian citizenship and al-Amiri is a "former general of the Iranian Army." He told the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on April 30 that the presence of Iranian weapons in Iraq is "quite normal," since Iran "sells weapons to anyone who wants, and the Al-Sadr Trend, Al-Qaeda, and the parties in Iraq's political process [a reference to the Badr Corps] have Iranian weapons." He added, "Therefore, it is quite natural to find Iranian weapons because they are bought and sold and any party can buy them."
Iraqi PM Gets Tough
On April 29, Prime Minister al-Maliki told reporters that the government will not tolerate arms in the hands of any forces outside its control. He maintained his position that the government is not singling out al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army, and that all armed groups will be dealt with. "We will not go back on our aim to disarm the militias, dissolve the Al-Mahdi Army, Islamic Army, and Umar Army, and terminate Al-Qaeda," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq quoted him as saying. The latter three groups are Sunni insurgent groups.
"When we say that there is one army, we mean the state army and not the army of the militias, regardless of the names and types.... Whoever insists on the existence of an army or and armed group wants to compete with the state in its responsibility, and such logic is totally rejected," al-Maliki added.
Al-Maliki said the delegation dispatched to Iran was not there to negotiate. "I did not send a delegation to Iran or any other state for negotiations. I did not permit myself or any of the field commanders to negotiate with any of the criminal gangs, militias, or outlaws. I said this before and I say it now: I will not negotiate. I set conditions for building the state. Whoever abides by them is a true citizen, and whoever rebels against them is an outcast."
In a statement to the people of Al-Sadr City on May 1, the prime minister again commented on the ongoing security operations targeting militias in the Baghdad district. He said the government is making security and reconstruction in Al-Sadr City -- arguably the poorest area in the capital -- a priority.
"We realize the magnitude of the suffering of Al-Sadr City's residents. Thus, we have drawn up the necessary plans to address the issue of housing, rehabilitation of the youth, and creation of proper job opportunities for them, and to build more schools and heath centers," he noted.
"We regret to say that what aggravates the suffering of citizens and harms them is that Al-Sadr City is controlled by criminal gangs and outlaws who obstruct construction and reconstruction projects and implement agendas that clash with national interests. This makes it imperative for us to confront those groups firmly and strongly. Entrenching security and enforcing the law are the responsibilities of the government," al-Maliki added. "We reiterate that those [militiamen] have no option other than laying down their weapons and stopping their tampering with citizens' security."
Aid Deliveries Obstructed
On April 30, government spokesman Tahsin al-Shaykhali told reporters in Baghdad that militiamen in Al-Sadr City have prevented the flow of aid to the impoverished area. Al-Shaykhali said that out of 77 vehicles carrying oil into Al-Sadr City recently, only 22 arrived. "They tried to intervene and intercept those...and steal those vehicles," he said of the militias. "Eighty percent of the needs regarding medicine and the treatment, and even the surgical end -- that is, the surgical operation is present and is being given in the hospital in Al-Sadr City," he said.
Meanwhile, the director-general of Fatima Al-Zahra Hospital told IRIN, the humanitarian news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, that hospitals in Al-Sadr City are still experiencing medicine and equipment shortages, IRIN reported on May 1. He said the hospitals faced shortages in painkillers, bandages, syringes, and other first-aid materials. Moreover, ambulances come under regular attack. "Work in my hospital has gone down 50 percent," he said, blaming a nearby Iraqi Army checkpoint that "makes it very hard for medical staff and patients to get to the hospital."
The government and coalition forces intend to pour $2.5 million in aid and reconstruction investments into Al-Sadr City in the next 90 days, U.S. Major General Kevin Bergner told reporters on April 30, in what he described as a "first installment." The Iraqi government had earlier announced an allocation of $150 million in aid to Al-Sadr City.
Given the Sadrists intense distrust of the UIA, it appears that the delegation will achieve little in terms of talks with al-Sadr or his representatives. The al-Mashhadani-Talabani route might yield more success, given that the two are far away from intra-Shi'a politics (al-Mashhadani is a Sunni Arab, while Talabani is a Sunni Kurd).
However, those talks may take longer to achieve desired results. As al-Ubaydi was quick to point out in interviews this week, the trend has major issues with Prime Minister al-Maliki, and believes he has reneged on several earlier commitments. Moreover, al-Ubaydi said, the Sadrists need "a third party" to act as an observer to any talks between the Al-Sadr Trend and the Shi'ite-led government, aka the UIA.
Iran Named As Top State Sponsor Of TerrorismThe U.S. State Department has issued its annual report on terrorism around the world. The report concludes that Iran is the world's "most-active" state sponsor of terrorism due to its continued support for Hizballah in Lebanon, the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and training and equipping Shi'ite militants in Iraq.
The report also lists Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and Sudan as among the top state sponsors of terrorism in 2007. The report says there was a 16-percent increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007 due to resurgent extremist activity there and in Pakistan.
The State Department also says attacks in Iraq dropped between 2006 and 2007 but still accounted for 60 percent of worldwide terrorism casualties. The report concludes that the Al-Qaeda network and its affiliates remain "the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners."
RFE/RL Washington correspondent Andrew F. Tully spoke about the report with Dell Dailey, the coordinator of the State Department's Office for Counterterrorism.
RFE/RL: In your presentation at the State Department, you referred to Iran as the world's "most-active" state sponsor of terrorism during 2007. Why?
Dell Dailey: They support the Taliban in Afghanistan. They support militant militias in Iraq. They support Hizballah, obviously, and they support Syria in its activities in Lebanon. So those four areas show that Iran's busy. It's busy meddling. It's busy in the terrorist business. And since they are a nation state, there's a certain amount of omnipotence that you can't do with a nation state that you might be able to do with a nonstate actor. So that's kind of why we put them at the very top.
RFE/RL: What was the state of terrorist activity in Iraq during 2007, and what groups are responsible?
Dailey: Since Iraq has turned out to be a very, very active battlefield, and [with] the success of our Iraqi armed forces and the presence of coalition forces, there's a pretty powerful conventional [military] presence. Now this compels the insurgents, the militant militias, and Al-Qaeda in Iraq to go to what we assume as nonstandard or asymmetric warfare techniques, like suicide bombing and terrorist attacks, because they can't go straight at a unit with forces on the ground because coalition forces are so powerful. They work that to their advantage and they go after both the civilian population and the coalition forces. And about 5,500 Iraqis -- civilians, nearly all Muslims -- [have been] killed by these terrorist groups. So because there's that much activity going on, we think that Iraq turns out to be the centerpiece for the activity.
RFE/RL: Afghanistan, of course, was the safe haven for Al-Qaeda when it mounted the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. What was the state of terrorism there last year?
Dailey: The Taliban, as a result of a very aggressive drug-production process in some of the agricultural regions, have been able to revitalize their fundamentally unpopular position with all this money. Because drug money can buy people, buy weapons, buy information, buy supplies, buy protection, and the Taliban have taken drugs to do this for them. And with that they've had a resurgence.
Our advantage is that the [UN's International Security Assistance Force] -- with the rapidly and vastly developing Afghanistan military and Afghanistan law enforcement -- we've been able to go after these folks. So there's been a lot more contacts -- combat actions -- that increase the numbers as showing that there's a lot more activity going on.
But don't be misled. Many of those [contacts] are driven by the aggressive action by both ISAF and the other coalition forces. So my take is, there's more activity going on, we're driving most of it, but the fact that the Taliban got their hands on this massive drug-growing capability really turned out to be a disadvantage for us.
RFE/RL: Outside Afghanistan, were there significant terrorist movements in the former Soviet states in Central Asia in 2007?
Dailey: Kazakhstan has identified 14 organizations in one of its declaration orders as foreign terrorist organizations. Uzbekistan has a pretty repressive government and as a result has, I would say, been pretty aggressive on terrorism against itself. But we don't see a universal, uniting, overall terrorist effort in Central Asia right now.
RFE/RL: Overall, are governments improving their abilities to fight terrorist groups? Or are these groups developing faster than governments can cope with them?
Dailey: Unequivocally, the governments are improving in their abilities to fight terrorism. For example, we're improving our counterterrorism finance capability [to freeze terrorists' bank accounts with] the establishment of the Financial Action Task Force. Countries are passing their counterterrorism legislation to go after terrorism. And with that counterterrorism legislation in place, they now have moral justification to go after terrorism with these rules, with these laws, with this legislation.
Find them, put them in their judicial system, have good evidence, have good prosecutorial presentation, have good judicial review and oversight, and have appropriate type punishments if they're found guilty, and then, of course, incarceration systems to put them in, and then systems to rehabilitate them afterwards. These are all going on right now that weren't going on five or six years ago. So the countries are becoming better in that area.
Law enforcement. Information sharing on an international basis. Capacity-building for both military and police systems have all dramatically improved. So it's our preparation as individual nations with bilateral support from stronger nations. And our multilateral institutions -- for example, the UN's counterterrorism efforts and some of its Security Council legislation and its General Assembly counterterrorism strategy -- all of that makes it more powerful for us to fight terrorism -- by a country, in that area regionally, and internationally. So we certainly are better off.