Kurdistan, that had, so far, managed to keep clear of the wave of terrorism that is being inflicted on Iraq was hit full force on 1st February. Taking advantage of the traditional ceremonies of exchanging good wishes on the occasion of the Moslem festival of the Sacrifice, two suicide bombers mingled with the crowd and managed to enter the premises of the two main Kurdish political parties and blow themselves up just as they were shaking hands with Kurdish leaders present to wish them a happy holiday.
One of the bombers, disguised as a mullah, mingled with visitors to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) while his colleague went, at the same time, to the premises of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) about ten kilometres away. They had, hidden, under their wide robes, belts stuffed with high explosives mixed with shot to increase the devastating effect. On this day of Moslem festivity and forgiveness, the Kurdish security services, generally very vigilant, had suspended body searches out of politeness for the thousands of visitors come to offer their best wishes, while taking all precautions against any car bomb attacks. This relaxation of vigilance was exploited by terrorists who had long been lying in wait and several of whose previous attempts had been foiled by the Kurdish police.
The toll of this double attack is very heavy: 105 killed and nearly two hundred injured. Many Kurdish leaders were amongst those killed including: Sami Abdulrahamn, Secretary of the KDP Political Committee, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, together with his son; Shawkat Sheikh Yazdin, General Secretary of the Council of Minister in Irbil, member of the KDP Central Committee; Saad Abdullah, Minister of Agriculture, member of the KDP Political Committee; Akram Mantik, Governor of Irbil; Mahdi Khoshnaw, Deputy Governor of Irbil, together with his son; Mahmud Halo, Deputy Minister of Agriculture; Ahmad Rojbayani, Mayor of Irbil; Nariman Abdul-Hamid, Irbil’s Chief of Police; Hijran Barzani, KDP political officer; Shakhawan Abbas, Peshmerga Forces and member of the PUK leadership; Mula Muhammad Bahirka, head of the PUK Committee in Irbil; Bahroz Kashka, member of the PUK leadership in Irbil and Khoshrow Shera, member of the PUK leadersip in Irbil. Adnan Mufti, member of the PUK leadership and former Deputy Prime Minister of the Suleimaniah Kurdish Regional Government was seriously injured. Six journalists and cameramen of Kurdistan-TV, who were broadcasting the ceremonies live were also murdered. Their pictures enabled the immediate identification of one of the suicide bombers.
The responsibility for this double attack was claimed by Ansar al-Sunni (partisans of the Prophet’s tradition) on 4 February on an islamist Internet site. Run by an Iraqi Arab whose pseudonym is Abu Abdallah Hassan ben Mahmud, this Sunni terrorist group act as the local branchy of the Al-Qaida network. According to American and Iraqi services, the overall operations of the Al-Qaida jihadists are co-ordinated by the Jordanian al-Zarqawi, considered responsible for the murderous attacks of August 2003 against the Jordanian Embassy and the UNO headquarters in Baghdad and against the Ayatollah al-Hakim in Najaf.
This massacre, taking place on a Moslem sacred religious festival, has provoked a real psychological trauma in the Kurdish population. The Kurdish authorities decreed three days mourning, which was broadly observed throughout Kurdistan. More or less everywhere, Kurdish communities in neighbouring countries, but also in Europe, Central Asia and the United States identified themselves with this national mourning by organising commemorative ceremonies to pay homage to the victims, and silent marches against terrorism. The Iraqi Government Council, for its part, decreed three days mourning throughout Iraq, where similar attacks have already hit Shiite communities. Several foreign governments sent messages of condolence. As well as Washington, London and Berlin, Paris, through its Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin expressed its feelings and sympathy for the victims.
Even the Kurdish Members of Parliament for the former Party for Democracy (DEP — banned), imprisoned in Turkey form the last 10 years — Leyla Zana, Orhan Dogan, Hatip Dicle, and Selim Sadak, managed, on 11 April to send a message of condolences from the depths of their jail to Massud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, respectively President of the KDP and General Secretary of the PUK.
“We offer our condolences for our brothers who were killed and wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were wounded in this attack. We offer our condolences to our people and condemn with aversion, this felonious attack. We share your pain and that of your people in our heart. Our pain is collective” the former M.P.s write in a letter written in Kurdish.
No one should be unaware that no force, no attack and no provocation can make our people retreat from its goal. We think and hope that the feelings of union and of solidarity of our people, dispersed to the four corners of the world, will be still further strengthened. Our people will overcome the obstacles liable to hinder the path to peace by union, reciprocal solidarity and support and will join the democratic world … We share your pain, with feelings of a warm solidarity and once again offer our condolences. With all our feelings, our respects and our friendship …” the jailed M.P.s concluded.
The M.P.s’ message was read in full on the TV news programmes of both the Kurdish satellite TV news programmes, Kurdistan TV and Kurdsat, broadcasting from Iraqi Kurdistan and widely viewed by Kurds in the Near East and Europe. The same networks opened their programmes for several weeks for a wide public debate on the means of fighting terrorism and consolidating Kurdish democratic institutions.
1 February has become, for the Kurds, the equivalent of 11 September 2001. The tragedy has strengthened Kurdish national consciousness over and above the borders and the political, religious or regional differences. To avoid any such disasters recurring, the Kurdish authorities have taken a series of security measures including an increased lookout for Islamist militia and surveillance of Kurdistan’s borders.
An Iraqi Kurdistan based organisation is conducting a campaign calling for a referendum allowing the population of that region to decide whether it wants to remain in Iraq or not. “We are a non-political movement that is trying to enable the voice of the people of (Iraqi) Kurdistan to be heard so that it determine its own future” said Halkaut Abdallah, one of the members of the Movement for a referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, at a Baghdad Press conference in 25 February. “We have collected 1.7 million signatures demanding the holding of referendum of self-determination of all persons over the age of 16, of all faiths and of all parts pf Iraqi Kurdistan” he pointed out. According to him, these signatures were collected between 24 January and 15 February.
The Movement for a Referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan was created after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime with the tacit support of the two principle Kurdish parties, Jalal Talabani’s PUK and Massud Barzani’s KDP.
At a conference in Irbil in December, that brought together 135 members from all over Kurdistan, the participants decided to collect signatures to exert pressure on the American and Iraqi authorities.
On 24 February, this organisation had met with two members of the Interim Government Council, Salaheddin Mohammad Bahaeddin, of the Kurdistan Islamic Union and an independent Shiite, Mohammad Bahr al-Ulum. Mr. Bahr al-Ulum declared, on this subject, “I told them that the referendum should also be extended to the Arabs so that they could give their opinion on the question. But as they insisted that the popular consultation only concerned Kurdistan, I told them to present an official request so that the Government Council could reply”.
The 20 February General Elections in Iran, which the conservatives, not surprisingly, won recorded an unprecedented level of abstention for this kind of vote, although the Islamic Republic has made participation in the elections a barometer of popular support for the regime. Only 50.57% of the electors went to the polls to elect some 290 members of parliament, announced the Ministry of the Interior on its Internet site. The polling stations were empty, which is why the regime’s authorities delayed closing them for two extra hours. Never have so many electors cold shouldered the ballots at any general election or even in other major vote (such as presidential elections or referenda) in all the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in a few weeks time. Independent observers estimated the actual rate of participation at less than a third of those registered.
The conservatives have, officially, won an absolute majority in the Parliament, according to the results of a general election denounced as a “historic fiasco" by the reformers. According to the final results announced by the Ministry of the Interior, the conservatives won 27 of the 30 seats in the capital, bringing the number of them elected at the first round to 156. The absolute majority is 146, since there are 290 seats in Parliament. These figures, for which five days of counting were needed, seal the victory of a generation of conservatives that claim to be both pragmatic and devoted to Islam and who, despite their denials, will put the brakes on the political, social and cultural reforms so timidly begun by the “reformers”, close to President Khatami.
The conservative victory was guaranteed since the Council of Guardians, institutional pillar of the regime’s ultra-conservatives, had disqualified the bulk of the leading reformist candidates on the grounds of disloyalty to Islam and the Constitution. Before the elections, the Council of Guardians had this disqualified over 2,400 candidates, including the majority of the sitting members, leaving only 250 reformers out of 4,500 approved candidates. These disqualifications plunged Iran into the most serious political crisis the country has known for decades. The reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, had at first declared that he would oppose the holding of elections of the disqualifications were not cancelled, before giving in completely, while declaring that the poll would not be equitable. Many calls for boycotting the polls were made.
According to the official figures, only 39 reformers were elected in the first round, whereas they had made up three quarters of the members of the outgoing Parliament.
In Teheran, of 30 sitting members, 29 were reformers, the only conservative being the top of the “builders” list, Gholam-Ali Hadad-Adel. The head of the only reformist list allowed, the Coalition for Iran, is no longer in the running. Mehdi Karoubi, Speaker of the outgoing Parliament and close to President Khatami and long considered the incarnation of reform, decided to withdraw on 25 February. Arriving in 31st position, he could have stood for the 2nd round. Thus every one of the 30 seats was won by the conservatives.
The voters of Teheran and the Kurds showed the highest rate of abstention, according to the figures published by the Ministry of the Interior on 23 February. In Teheran, of 6.04 registered electors, only 1.7 million went to the polls, i.e. a rate of participation of 28.11% , as against 2.9 million (55.91%) in 2000. Yet the number of electors had increased by 800,000 between the two elections. Various sources dispute the official figures — thus, according to a report on the “Rouydad” web site, the rate of participation in Teheran was only 20%. Mohammed Reza Khatami had toppped the poll in the previous elections, scoring 1,794,605 votes personally. Like the majority of the outgoing reformers in the capital, he had been disqualified by the conservatives’ control organs.
In Ispahan (central Iran) the third largest city in the country and a reformist bastion, only 32.19% of the electors voted, against 47.45% four years earlier. On the City of Tabriz (Northern Iran), the second largest university town, the winning candidate reached the top of the poll with only 90,000 votes (out of 1,000,000 electors) — that is 6.5% of the electorate. Amongst the majors agglomerations, the Holy City of Mashhad (North-East) the second largest agglomeration in the country had a 47% turnout — but, according to the Ministry of the Interior, of 700,000 ballot papers 100,000 were blank … The city of Mashhad is of capital importance to the regime both for political and religious reasons and because it houses Razavi’s large Quds forces (a militia totally devoted to the conservatives). The Council of Guardians had prevented any of the reformist candidates from standing — the conservative at the top of the poll was elected with only 28,000 votes, one tenth of the votes.
In Iranian Kurdistan, where all the outgoing Members of Parliament, close to the reformers, had been disqualified, the rate of participation dropped in four years from 70.18% to 32.26%. Outside Kurdistan Province, in towns whose population had a Kurdish majority in the neighbouring provinces, the participation was also weak, as low as 23.65% in the historic city of Mahabad, according to official figures. But the periodical “Iranian Kurdistan” states that the real figure for participation is barely 7%. In Kermanchah, the largest city in Kurdistan, where several tens of thousands of the regime’s troops are quartered, the rate of participation was even lower than at Tabriz. The election was also a failure at Sanandaj, Kamiaran, and Diwandara — sources close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) report that in the working class quarters of Awiar, Bulwari, Xasrawa, Shalman, Sharif, Ama, Adab, Nemaki, Wakil and Farah in Sanandaj, the rate of participation was virtually naught. In Marwan, out of 132,000 registered electors, only 33,255 votes were cast — but with 5,251 of the ballot papers blank and 10,000 of the votes coming from the armed forces quartered in the town. According to information from the towns of Piranshahr, Sardasht and the surrounding villages, the rate of participation was barely 10%. In Saqez, Baneh, Bokan and Shno the rate of participation was under 15%. Iranian Kurdistan recorded the lowest rate of participation in the whole of Iran.
Moreover, according to the Ministry of the Interior, the rate of participation exceeded 100% in two constituencies: 100.77% in Poldokhtar (Western Iran) and 101.97% in Mamassani (Southern Fars Province), where it had been 114.15% in 2000. The Ministry gave no explanation …
The authorities had announced that it had prevented the transport of convoys of electors in Fars Province. Voters can vote in any constituency they like. The only restriction being that if there is a second round the elector must vote in the same constituency. A stamp on their identity card prevents voting twice.
This first round also confirmed the election of 31 independents and 5 representatives of religious minorities, 58 seats remain open for the second round. This round, which should take place at a date still to be determined, will strengthen the conservative dominance. Only 17 reformers remain in the ring. Traditionally the second round has a poor turnout, the conservatives can rely on a faithful electorate and so will win again.
The conditions under which these elections took place were criticised by the European Union and the United States as “a setback for democracy”. The American President, G.W. Bush declared on 24 February that the Iranians had been “deprived of the opportunity of freely choosing their representatives”. The European Union expressed its “disappointment” at this poll, considering that the exclusion of the majority of the candidates had made “a real democratic choice impossible”. “It is clear to everyone that these elections were distorted from the outset” declared the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw at a meeting.
Moreover, a hundred members of Parliament have asked President Khatami, as they are allowed to do, to come and explain to Parliament “his ambiguous stands” in defence of the candidates before the elections and on his failure to keep his promises. The Member of Parliament Reza Yussefian insisted that it was not to launch an attack on him.
Furthermore, at least eight people were killed and 38 injured in clashes that took place during the elections in two towns in the South, Firuzabad and Nurabad Mamassani and in Izeh in the South-West.
Nearly a year after the fall of the Baathist regime, the situation remains tense in the mixed population cities of Mossul and Kirkuk, were islamists and Arabs loyal to the Baath are provoking violent clashes. Thus an Iraqi civilian was killed on 26 February in an attack by rocket launcher on the premises of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk, the Iraqi police reported. “The premises of the PUK were targeted at 20.50 hours (5.50 pm GMT) by three rockets and an Iraqi passing nearby was killed” by one of them stated General Turhane Yussef, the Kirkuk Chief of Police. “The attackers fired three rockets from a car as they drove past the premises” added the General. He pointed out that exchanges of gunfire took place in the same quarter after the attack, without specifying the origin of the shots.
This is the second attack against Kirkuk premises of the PUK, one of the two most important parties of Iraqi Kurdistan, in the space of five months.
Kirkuk, in which co-habit Kurds, Arabs and Turcomen, is daily the scene of attacks against the police and Iraqi security forces which work in collaboration with the coalition allies.
On 23 February, a suicide bomb attack (the third since the end of January aimed at the Kurdish community, determined to preserve its autonomy in Northern Iraq) caused eight deaths, including the bomber, in Kirkuk. The kamikaze had blown up a vehicle loaded with explosives in from of a police station in a Kurdish quarter, killing seven police and injuring at least 52 people. The violence of the explosion seriously damaged the police station and destroyed vehicles parked nearby.
Moreover, on 29 February Turkomen clashed with Kurds in Kirkuk provoking the setting up of a nighttime curfew on the town. The American authorities clamped down a curfew as from 18.00 (6.00 pm) local time and closed several of the main roads to avoid possible disturbances in this city of a million inhabitants. The day before, a woman had been killed and 10 people injured by bullets during a demonstration of joy by the Turkomen at the news that the Iraqi executive had promised to guarantee their rights. On 25 February, in the centre of Baghdad, thousands of Turkomen, mostly from Kirkuk, had demonstrated to demand “respect for their political rights and against their marginalisation”.
The Turkomen make up 250,000 of this city’s one million population. They make up about 2% of the 25 million overall population of Iraq. They are represented on the Government Council by a woman, Songul Shapuk, and on the Council of Ministers by the Minister of Reconstruction and Housing, Bayan Baqer Sulagh.
Furthermore, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official reaffirmed, on 18 February, that Kirkuk, forcibly Arabised by the fallen Baathist regime, should be added to the three provinces of Kurdistan. “Kirkuk is a city that is at the centre of a conflict. But the problem can be resolved by taking a census” declared Fuad Maassum, a leading member of the PUK in a press conference. “This census can only be taken after the return of those (Kurds) who were forcibly displaced and the departure of people who were settled in their place” he added, referring to the Arabs settled in Kirkuk by the Baathist regime to enable them to control this important oil-producing city. “After this census, Kirkuk will be attached to Kurdistan, of which it is historically part”.
The claims on Kirkuk by the Kurds in December 2003 unleashed bloody clashes with this multiethnic city’s Arabs and Turkomen. The Interim Government Council called on the Kurdish chiefs to be patient and the American administrator, Paul Bremer, postponed examination of the status of Kirkuk till 2005.
For their part, five Kurdish parties that are not represented on the Government Council have appealed to the Kurdish leaders on that body not to abandon their claim to Kirkuk. “This question must not be postponed till after the elections and the drawing up of the Constitution. Kirkuk must be recovered today” declared the general secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, Mohammad Hajji Mahmud. Leaders of the Kurdish Communist Party, of Jamaa Islamiya, of the Islamic Movement and of the Kurdistan Party of the Proletariat share this view and are demanding that the new Iraqi security forces keep out of their region, virtually autonomous since 1991. “We do not want these forces, that have served the former dictatorial governments, to run Kurdistan with fire and steel and persecute the Kurdish people” stated Bahman Ahmad of the Kurdistan Party of the Proletariat. Abdelrahman Abdelrahim of the Islamic Movement went further: “We reject the idea that our region and its security be in the hands of any central government”.
According to officials of the city, some 600,000 people, mostly Kurds, were expelled in stages from Kirkuk beginning with the 1975 defeat, when the Shah of Iran abandoned them after the Algiers agreement with Iraq on the border dispute.
Elsewhere, on 23 February, the KDP offices in Mossul, in Northern Iraq, were attacked and two members of that organisation assassinated. “On Monday night some assailants in a car attacked the KDP offices in the very centre of Mossul. However the peshmergas (Kurdish fighters) fired back and they fled on foot” reported a KDP official the next day. “The Kurdish militia found in the abandoned car hand grenades, anti-tank rockets and Kalashnikovs as well as leaflets in which was printed “Death to the heathens who cooperate with the Americans” and “How many gods do you worship”” added the official.
According to him, these attacks against Kurdish organisations are conducted by islamist groups.
Furthermore, two KDP activists were found murdered on 22 February, a few hours after being kidnapped. According to Police Captain Abdallah Mahmud “the bodies were found in dustbins”. Yet further, the next day a KDP official in Mossul was found shot in his car, added the police officer.
On 21 February, two Iraqis and were killed and four others wounded in several attacks in Mossul, including one against the home of the Chief of Police of Ninivah Province. “Two armed Iraqis, driving a white car, attacked, with automatic weapons, the home of Ninivah Province Police Chief General Mohammad Khayri al-Berhawi” according to a police officer, Hikmat Mahmud Mohammad. The police found automatic weapons, rocket launchers and hand grenades in their car.
An Iraqi civilian was killed the next day in the same region, by the explosion of a booby trap placed by the side of a road used by American Army convoys. “At 10am (7am GMT) a booby trap exploded, killing a passer-bye on the spot” reported Police Lieutenant-Colonel Abdekajal Hazem Khattabi.
Moreover, two of the bodyguards of General Abdelrazzak al-Juburi, a member of the Provincial Council, were wounded on 22 February by shots sired by unknown people driving an Opel car, according to Hikmat Mahmud Mohammad.
On 22 February, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, arrived in Istanbul in a two-day official visit to support the Turkish Government’s efforts to meet the criteria for membership of the European Union and to help achieve the re-unification of Cyprus.
On 23 February, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, praised the progress achieved by Turkey towards joining the European Union, considering that there were “good chances” that negotiations for membership might begin at the end of 2004, as the Turkish Government hoped. “Thanks to the reform process, Turkey is on the right road” for joining the Union, stated 'r. Schroeder during a Press Conference after his discussions with his Turkish opposite number Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
This is the first official visit of a German Chancellor to Turkey since 1993.
The reforms adopted by Turkey to align itself with European standards of democracy and Human Rights, the so-called “Copenhagen criteria” “provide good chances” for a recommendation by the European Commission to open negotiations for membership at the end of this year, according to Mr. Schroeder. Bur he also stressed the necessity for putting the reforms into effective practice, and offered the help of his country in this area. Turkey’s integration into Europe ism important for strategic and economic reasons, the Chancellor considered.
Turkey has been knocking at Europe’s door since 1963, when it signed a first association agreement with the European Economic Community. In December, the E.U. leaders must decide whether the progress achieved by Turkey a since 1999 justify the beginning of negotiations for membership with Turkey, the only candidate for membership that has not begun such negotiations. “Turkey can absolutely count on Germany’s support” stressed Mr. Schroeder, whose position on this question is in sharp contrast to that of the Christian Democratic opposition.
A week earlier, the leader of that opposition, the German Conservative Angela Merkel, had proposed, during a visit to Ankara, a “privileged partnership” for Turkey in place of membership — an option immediately rejected by Mr. Erdogan. Clearly satisfied by Mr. Schroeder’s support, Mr. Erdogan stressed his government’s “determination” to go forward in the carrying out of reforms, asserting that his country had “to a large extent” fulfilled the political criteria for membership. “We are expecting, in great confidence, a positive decision” on the opening of negotiations for membership, he added.
Regarding Cyprus, Mr. Schroeder welcomed “the positive contribution” of the Erdogan government to a settlement of the division of Cyprus, stressing that the pursuit of these efforts would contribute to the decision of the European leaders in December.
Mr. Schroeder also met President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the leader of the opposition, Deniz Baykal (social democratic).
The Chancellor was accompanied by a delegation of 13 bosses of major companies. Germany, which is the European country with the largest community of people of Turkish and Kurdish origin numbering about 2.5 million, 600,000 of whom are Kurds, is also Turkey’s main economic partner, with a trade, in 2002, of about 14.2 billion euros. Moreover nearly 3.5 million Germans visit Turkey every year — the largest influx of all foreign tourists.
Mr. Schroeder’s agenda of discussions also covered Iraq and the Near East.
The U.S. led coalition has admitted it is increasingly faced with foreign fighters in Iraq, where attacks targeting civilians and police reached a record figure in February, even as a second contingent of Japanese soldiers entered Iraq on 27 February.
The Commander of coalition land forces in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, clearly evoked this danger by stating, on 26 February, that the foreign fighters had become a much greater threat than Saddam Hussein’s accomplices. “It is today clear that terrorists of (Abu Mussab) Zarqawi’s Ansar al-Islam or al-Qaida are the first in carrying out operations against the coalition” he stated. According to him, the attacks against the coalition carried out by Saddam Hussein’s partisans have diminished as against those by islamists and foreign fighters linked to the al-Qaida network.
The coalition has identified a Jordanian, Abu Musssab al-Zarqawi, linked to al-Qaida, as the brains behind the wave of suicide attacks in Iraq since August. General Sanchez accused Abu Musssab al-Zarqawi’s supporters of having, since January, committed the attacks on the coalition headquarters in Baghdad, the offices of the principal Kurdish parties in Irbil, the Iskandariyah Police Station (Southern Iraq) and the Army recruitment centre in the capital, causing a total of almost 300 deaths. “How can you explain that more people are dying? There are terrorist elements that are attacking Iraqi people. They are targeting defenceless people” he stressed. The U.S. Army has doubled the reward for the capture of Zarqawi from 5 to 10 million dollars, after a having published a document attributed to him in which he lays out his “strategy for terror in Iraq”. On Tuesday it announced that it had killed one of Zerqawi’s lieutenants during a raid in Ramadi, 100 Km West of Baghdad.
At Riyadh, where he had discussions with Saudi leaders, the month’s President of the Interim Government Council said that he had received assurances that the Saudis controlled their borders with Iraq and were preventing any attempt at infiltration. During a Press Conference, Mr. Mohsen Abdel Hamid stated that the Saudi leaders had assured him that “they control the border as best they can (…) and that they disapproved of any infiltration by individuals” who might wish to take part in actions liable to endanger Iraqi security.
On another level, a second 140-strong contingent of Japanese land forces entered Iraq on 27 February from the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border while an oil pipeline linking two Iraqi refineries in Samara was burning. Samarra is a Sunni town about 100 Km from the Iraqi capital. This second contingent had come to reinforce the 100 Japanese soldiers already settled in Samawa (Southern Iraq) since the beginning of the month for a “humanitarian and reconstruction” mission, according to Tokyo. All in all, some 600 Japanese will be based at Samawa by the end of March in what is the first action by the Japanese Army in any war theatre since 1945.
Moreover, on 25 February, the UN Interim Special Representative in Iraq, Ross Mountain, excluded any immediate return of UN foreign staff to Iraq. Questioned by journalists as to such a return, Mr. Mountain stated that the question depended on “the development of the security situation”.
On the other hand, the number of Iraqi police killed since the end of the war in Iraq is approaching that toll of American soldiers, which shows the increasing involvement of Iraqis in their country’s security, explained American Army authorities on 23 February. According to the latest assessment, 263 American soldiers have died since 1 May 2003 when President Bush announced the end of the fighting. According to Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Assistant Director of Operations of the coalition forces in Iraq, the number of Iraqi police killed on duty is approaching and may even have passed this number. However he gave no precise figures. On his arrival in Iraq on 23 February, the US Secretary for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, declared that he was optimistic about the country’s security situation. “On each of my many visits to Iraq, my impression is that each time I observe improvements. Every week the number of Iraqis taking part in the security forces increases” Donald Rumsfeld declared in an interview on Iraqi television. “In June and July last there were no Iraqi security forces. Today, in February 2004 there are 210,000 Iraqis serving in the security forces. That is a fantastic score” he added. This is his fourth visit since the “end of the war”.
Several dozen attacks have been launched against the multi-national division of 9,000 men in Iraq, which includes 2,400 Polish soldiers and is commanded by Poland. To day they have only resulted in 1 death amongst the Poles, an officer killed by automatic weapon fire on 6 November. But on 18 February, seven Iraqis were killed and 86 people injured, including 58 coalition soldiers, in a double suicide attack with booby-trapped vehicles against a Polish Army base South of Baghdad. This was the first attack of this kind against a Polish base in Iraq, declared the Polish General Staff spokesman Colonel Zdzislaw Gnatowski.
Furthermore, in 14 February insurgents launched a spectacular twin assault against Iraqi security forces at Fallujah, in the course of which 27 people were killed and about thirty wounded. At least 23 police and four attackers were killed in simultaneous attacks on a police station and a building of the Iraqi Civil Defence Corps (ICDC — an auxiliary police force). This attack in the rebel town of Falluja, 50 Km West of Baghdad, is the third this week by insurgents against Iraqi security forces. This twin assault occurred in the same spot where, two days earlier, the head of the American Forces Central Command (Centcom), General John Abizaid had escaped an attack by anti-tank rockets.
On 10 February, a suicide bomb attack in front of a police station in Iskandariya, South of Baghdad, caused 55 deaths. The next day a booby-trapped car exploded before the Baghdad recruitment centre for the new Iraqi Army, causing 47 deaths.
Plunged into profound uncertainties regarding the exact manner of the transfer of power, the Iraqi leaders are discussing an amended timetable to prepare for general elections.
On 23 February, in a report to the Security Council, Kofi Annan stressed that technical and legal problems on the spot should be settled first, and that it would take at least eight months before the country would be able to organise elections, implying that they could not take place before 2005. Mr. Annan, who had sent a fact finding mission to Iraq between 6 and 13 February led by his Algerian adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, to examine the feasibility of the general election called for by the Shiites, considered that “it would be extremely difficult and, perhaps, even dangerous” to attempt such a poll before the end of June and that the American plan of organising a caucus was not “a viable option”.
He also stressed that security in Iraq needed to be “considerably improved in a manner that would guarantee the honesty of the electoral operation and the credibility of the process”. “If the (organisational) work were to begin immediately and the political consensus rapidly reached, it could be possible to hold elections by the end of 2004” added Mr. Annan, stating that the eight months period was a minimum for an institutional and legal framework to be set up and to find the means and money needed to organise elections. “None of theses conditions exist for the moment in Iraq and there is profound disagreement on these fundamental aspects” he said.
In a first reaction, the American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, described the UNO document as “a constructive contribution to our common objectives, which are to transfer a sovereign and democratic Iraq to the Iraqi people”. “We share UNO’s positions on the importance of direct elections as soon as possible at the same time as we also share its concern at the feasibility of holding direct and honest elections in a few months time” he declared in a communiqué on the evening of 23 February.
According to him, the report “clearly states that sovereignty must be transferred to the Iraqi people on 30 June, and we are going to adhere to that stage”. “We hope to see UNO involved (…) in the coming stages, including the establishment of a provisonal government for the period following 30 June” he stressed. A member of the Interim Government Council, Adnan Pashashi, considered, for his part that “UNO can play a role of primary importance in the preparation of elections and in registering the electors and drawing up an electoral law”.
In fact, the UNO report completely shattered the principal terms of the agreement signed between the Government Council and the Coalition on 15 November 2003, except for the date of 30 June 2004 for the transfer of power.
The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, spiritual head of the Iraqi Shiites demanded in a communiqué on 26 February that the UN Security Council pass a resolution setting a date for general elections before the end of the year 2004. Ayatollah Sistani asked for speedy general elections to choose the authority that would receive power from the occupying coalition on 30 June. He added, in his communiqué, that a UNO resolution would “assure the Iraqi people that this question would not be postponed again”. “The Marjaiya (the Shiite religious directorate) wants the body that receives power at the end of June to have wider powers to prepare clear and free elections but to run the country without taking any important decisions” stated the Ayatollah.
Ayatollah Sistani met five Shiite members of the Government Council, including Muaffak al-Runai, who stated: “We all entirely agree with Sir Sistani’s communiqué”. The delegation also included Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Abdel Aziz Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) as well as Ahmad Shayyah al-Barrask and Mohammad Bahr al-Ulum.
For its part, the Iraqi executive announced on 25 February that it would shortly reply to the UNO report on elections and the transfer of power. The Interim Government Council “has received this report, has decided to submit it for examination by a special committee for a detailed opinion and will reply officially to the UNO General Secretary in writing next week” declared the current President of the Interim Government Council, Mohammad Bahr al-Ulum. “There are positive and negative points in the report. What is positive is that it insists on the holding of general elections and on the date of the transfer of power” from the coalition to the Iraqis. “The negative points are the exaggeration of (religious) sectarianism and the fear of the Sunnis and Kurds of Shiite domination of an elected government” added the Shiite leader. “The report should have avoided mentioning these subjects” in his opinion.
The Coalition had announced the day before that it was ready to delay negotiations with the Iraqis on the status of its forces after the transfer of power. These negotiations were initially planned for the month of March, but the coalition indicated that the Iraqi Government Council preferred to discuss this point later, even after the 30 June. The UNO report of 23 February noted, in this respect that “many Iraqis have insisted that only an elected government can sign a bilateral agreement on security with the coalition and that any other form would lack legitimacy”. However, according to this report no government could be elected before 2005. The Coalition has about 150,000 troops in Iraq, mostly American.
On 15 February, the governments bordering on Iraq, at the end of their meeting in Kuwait, solemnly called for an end to the occupation of Iraq “as soon as possible”, arguing in favour of a vital role for the United Nations in the process of transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis. A final communiqué, adopted after long discussions, stressed “the importance of developing the role of UNO” for it to prepare the ground “for an end to the occupation (of Iraq) as soon as possible”.
This 11-point document does not specifically name the United States, the principal occupying power in Iraq since the overthrow of the former Baathist regime in April 2003.
However, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faruk al-Sareh, backed by his Iranian opposite number, Kamal Kharazi, had called for the final text to mention “the end of American occupation of Iraq” indicated the members of the drafting committee.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, considered that it was unnecessary to sharpen the tone, mentioning the sovereignty and independence of Iraq being a clear reference to ending the occupation. “We cannot talk of the immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces before the establishment of a representative authority and a government strong enough to control the situation” declared the Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Moasher.
Moreover, the neighbouring countries “denounced terrorist actions” on Iraqi territory and welcomed “UN resolutions, in particular N° 1511, calling for a precise timetable for the transfer of power to the Iraqis”.
In a declaration without precedent in the region, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Turkey furthermore hailed “the decision of the Iraqi people to try the leaders of the former Iraqi regime, in particular the former president, for crimes against Humanity”. The communiqué expressed “support for the efforts” of the Interim Government Council in Iraq “to face up to its responsibilities”. It expressed the hope of the neighbouring countries to see a “broadly representative Iraqi government”.
The communiqué attacks the “crimes of the former regime” particularly evoking the “mass graves”, deplores that “Kuwaiti prisoners and those of other countries had been killed by the (overthrown) regime” and demanded that “the authors (of these crimes) be tried”.
The document “condemns the attacks and terrorist actions that target Iraqi civilians and police as well as staff of humanitarian organisation, of UNO and diplomats” but makes no reference to attacks against American troops or those of the Coalition.
Mr. Zebari announced that his country and several of its neighbours would be forming bilateral security commissions to control the infiltration of “terrorist” groups into Iraq. “We have asked our neighbours to help us control the borders in a more effective manner to prevent terrorist groups from entering Iraq to perpetrate terrorist and criminal attacks” added Mr. Zebari. These neighbouring countries “have given a positive reply. The next stage will be the formation of bilateral security commissions uniting Iraq, on the one hand, and Syria, Jordan, Turkey and, perhaps, Saudi Arabia on the other” he added.
The next meeting of Iraq’s neighbours is due to take place in Egypt at a date that has yet to be set.
The Kuwait meeting was the fifth of this kind, following on that in Istanbul (January 2003), Riyadh (April 2003), Damascus (November 2003).
Berhan Salih, Prime Minister of the Suleimaniah Regional Government, arrived in Ankara on 9 February for discussions with the Turkish authorities. In the course of his discussion with Osman Koruturk, the Turkish special coordinator for Iraq, B. Salih indicated that an autonomous Kurdish region would not tolerate the presence of the PKK operating on its soil. “We are ready to work to displace all kinds of elements that constitute a threat to our neighbours” he declared.
A few weeks earlier, Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Irbil Regional Government had called for the withdrawal of Turkish troops stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan. Questioned on the subject, B. Salih declared that there was no question of using force to expel the Turkish troops and that “friendly discussions can be held with the United States, Great Britain and Turkey and a solution found”.
Berham Salih also asked for hospital treatment for eight more of the wounded victims of the bomb attacks carried out simultaneously against the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Irbil, which had caused over a hundred victims. The week before a first group of seven had been transported to hospital in Ankara for treatment.
Furthermore, Abdullah Gul, Turkish Foreign Minister, declared in Warsaw on 9 February, in discussions with his Polish opposite number, that Turkey would take part in NATO’s stabilisation of Iraq. NATO will meet next June in Istanbul to decide the means of its participation in the stabilisation of Iraq.
On the other hand, during a visit to Ankara by Egyptian President Hosni Moubarak on 11 February, Turkey and Egypt issued a joint warning against any attack on Iraq’s territorial unity, thus stressing their fears that increased autonomy might be given to the Iraqi Kurds. “We are of the opinion that the preservation of the territorial integrity of Iraq is a necessity and that attempts that might lead to the dislocation of Iraq are dangerous” declared the Egyptian Head of State, who was speaking to the Press at the end of his discussions with his Turkish opposite number Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
Mr. Moubarak’s last visit to Ankara was back in 1998, when he went to try and mediate between Turkey and Syria, at that time on the brink of war because of Syria’s support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who saw Mr. Moubarak in the evening, had stated, in February last year, that his country was ready to play the role of mediator between Syria and Israel. Turkey has hoped for years to host an international conference to contribute to a solution to the Near East conflict.
On 22 February, a Syrian Emergency Court sentenced two leaders of a Kurdish party to fourteen months imprisonment, but ordered their immediate release as they had already served their sentence in pre-trial detention declared the lawyer and Human Rights activist Anouar Bounni. Marouane Osmane and Hassane Saleh, leaders of the Kurdish Yakiti (Unity — banned) Party were sentenced for having “tried to annex a part of Syrian territory to another State”, according to Mr. Bounni, who also considered, in his declaration that the verdict “was an attempt to regild Syria’s image” but nevertheless “illustrates the determination to continue sentencing people for any political activity”.
Messrs. Osmane and Saleh, arrested in December 2002, had been “initially sentenced to three years imprisonment, but the State Security Court decided to reduce their sentence to fourteen months and to release them” added the lawyer. According to him, Messrs. Osmane and Saleh were defended by eighteen lawyers.
About 150 people, mainly Kurds, gathered outside the Court shouting slogans in Arabic and Kurdish and calling for more “freedom”. Banners carried by the Kurdish demonstrators called for “solidarity with the Kurdish prisoners being tried by the State Security Court” against whose verdicts there is no appeal. Five diplomats accredited to Syria (US, European Union, British, Canadian and Dutch) were in the crowd.
The two Kurdish leaders were arrested a few days after a demonstration before the Syrian Parliament by some 150 Kurds in December 2002. The demonstrators were calling on the authorities to “review their discriminatory policy” towards the Kurdish population of Syria.
Furthermore, the verdict on seven other Kurds accused of belonging to a “secret organisation” and of wishing to “annex a part of Syrian territory to another State” is due to be announced on 11 April next, stated Mr. Bounni. These seven Kurds had been arrested on 25 June 2003 during a demonstration in Damascus demanding Syrian nationality, on the occasion of World Child Protection Day.
The Yakiti Party had, on 8 February, demanded a solution to the Kurdish question, while affirming its “commitment to the integrity of Syrian territory”. “The Kurdish Yakiti Party, like all the Kurdish parties in Syria, none of which has any legal existence, demand a democratic solution to the Kurdish cause in the context of the integrity of Syrian soil” the Secretary of its Central Committee, Abdel Baki al-Youssef, had affirmed in a communiqué. “The desire to annex a part of Syrian land to a foreign State is an unfounded accusation that (the authorities) habitually use against all Kurdish political activists” the communiqué stresses.
Kurdish political parties complain of “segregation” of the Kurdish population of Syria, estimated at about one and a half million people. They demand that the authorities restore their national identity cards to about 300,000 Kurds in Syria from whom they had been arbitrarily been withdrawn in 1962, in the context of a policy of forcible Arabisation of the Syrian Kurdish territories running along the border with Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan. The communiqué refers to the detention, for over a year, of the Party’s Lebanese representative, Farhat Abdel Rahmane, “arrested in December 2002 in Lebanon by the Lebanese Intelligence Services at the request of the Syrian Army Intelligence” and handed over to them. Farhat is accused by the State Security Court, an Emergency body, of “belonging to a secret organisation” and of “wishing to annex a part of Syrian territory to a foreign State” adds the communiqué that demanded his release as well as “all the political prisoners in Syria”.
Furthermore, representatives of Syrian Human Rights organisations have declared that over 130 political prisoners have been released in Syria in the context of Presidential pardons. Amongst the people released are 84 islamist activists and some members of the Iraqi branch of the Baath party, according to a communiqué published on 30 January by the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Syria. Its President, Aktham Naisse, welcomed these releases, stressing that certain detainees had been released for humanitarian reasons and exhorted the Damascus government to release all political prisoners and “put the country on the road to serious and effective democratic detente”. According to him, some 2000 political prisoners are detained in Syria, some of them for nearly 20 years.
• IRAN IS SEEKING TO EQUIP ITSELF WITH THE BOMB. Iran has carried out nuclear experiments that it has omitted to reveal, according to an internal report on that country published on 24 February by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The IAEA inspectors discovered traces of polonium, a radioactive element that enables the triggering of a nuclear chain reaction. Yet, the report points out, the Teheran government has not mentioned any research with polonium in its declarations on the subject of its past or present nuclear activities.
The IAEA report points out that the Agency discovered polonium last September and stresses that the element “can be used for military purposes (…) specifically as a neutronic detonator in certain types of nuclear weapons”.
On 25 February Iran minimised the importance of the IAEA report, stating that it was based on a “misunderstanding” which would soon be cleared up. Teheran also insinuated that it might resume the enrichment of uranium if it finds that its present suspension of this is insufficient to win the confidence of the international community.
Teheran is striving to convince the world that its nuclear programme is solely for civilian use, to produce electricity. Although Iran has, indeed, ceased to enrich uranium, as it promised during the visit to Teheran of the European “troika” in November, it continues to produce and assemble centrifuges intended for its vast underground enrichment site of Natanaz. Information from a variety of sources indicates that Teheran has benefited from nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, which already possesses atomic weapons.
The project of endowing Iran with a nuclear industry goes back to the reign of the Shah, who invested a billion dollars in the French nuclear waste retreatment plant, Eurodif. Nuclear cooperation with France ended after the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the Iran-Iraq war. Teheran then signed a contract with the Russians for the building of a nuclear power plant, in principle for the generation of electricity. Parallel to this, it launched a secret programme for making nuclear weapons. In fact, in this country that is floating on a sea of oil, the civilian nuclear programme is intended to train the personnel and acquire the equipment necessary for the production of an “Islamic” atom bomb.
• THE EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT FINDS TURKEY GUILTY OF VIOLATING THE “RIGHT TO LIFE” AND OF “INHUMAN AND DEGRADING TREATMENT” ON THE PETITION OF A KURDISH FAMILY. On 17 February, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) found Turkey guilty of serious violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and particularly of its clauses guaranteeing the “right to life” and forbidding “inhuman and degrading treatment” during an operation by the Turkish Army against a Kurdish hamlet. The Court sentenced Turkey to paying a total of 70,480 euros damages to Abdurrazak Ipek, a 61 year old Kurd whose two sons disappeared while being subjected to violent and barbaric treatment from the Army on 18 May 1994 in the hamlet of Çaylarbasi (Dahlezeri in Kurdish) in Diyarbekir province,
The two young men are presumed dead which established, in the Court’s view, a breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the right to life”).
For the judges of the Human Rights Court, the “distress and anguish” inflicted on the father by the disappearance of his sons, exacerbated by the destruction of the family home and the contempt displayed by the authorities in the face of his complaints, constitute “inhuman treatment”, banned by Article 3 of the Convention.
The absence of any written record of the arrest of the two young men and the conditions of that arrest are in breach of Article 5 of the Convention, guaranteeing that “none may be deprived of their freedom save (…) through due process of law”.
During the operation, the soldiers set fir to the houses in the hamlet, reducing most of them to ashes, including that of Mr. Ipek and his family, thus violating his right to property (Article 1 of protocol N°1 of the Convention.
“No effective recourse” could be exerted or obtained in Turkey against exactions by the Army, in breach of Article 13 of the Convention.
Finally the Strasbourg judges considered that “the Turkish government did no fulfil its obligation (…) to provide the Court with all the necessary facilities to establish the facts” which constitutes a breach of Article 38 of the Convention.
• FRANCE, IN ITS TURN, BANS THE KURDISH SATELLITE NETWORK MEDYA-TV. On 12 February, the Higher Audiovisual Council (CSA) decided to withdraw its licence to broadcast from the Kurdish satellite TV, Medya-tv, thus putting an end to the programmes of this channel, accused of being the successor of MED-TV, banned on 22 March 1990 by Great Britain for “justifying violence and PKK propaganda”.
Medya-tv, which had started broadcasting on 30 June 1999, had applied to the CSA for a licence to broadcast, but the French Television regulatory body had refused to grant it one. The State Council, to which the channel’s lawyers had appealed, handed down its decision on 12 February by confirming the CSA’s position and by calling on the ABSAT company to immediately put an end to all the channel’s broadcasts.
The officers of the channel, which is broadcast to 77 countries, criticised this decision, stressing that the silencing of Medya-tv will be used by Mr. Chirac, who is expected in Ankara in a few months time, to negotiate future contracts with the Turkish authorities.
• RECONSTRUCTION IN IRAQ : THE DONORS TO IRAQ FIRMLY COMMIT THEMSELVES TO A BILLION DOLLARS FOR 2004. The donors to Iraq, meeting in Abu Dhabi, announced firm commitments of a billion dollars for that country’s reconstruction, on top of the 33 billion at Madrid the year before. At the end of a two-day conference, the donors “confirmed firm commitments of nearly a billion dollars for the year 2004, on top of the commitments undertaken at Madrid last year” declared the Japanese Ambassador to Iraq, Masamitsu Oki, President of a “Committee of Donors” created in Abu Dhabi. These commitments mark the “operational” launch of two funds devoted to the reconstruction of Iraq, added the Ambassador, whose country is contributing up to 500 million dollars. In addition to Japan, the United States, Great Britain and the European Commission are amongst the contributors.
At the opening of the conference at Abu Dhabi, on 28 February, the Iraqi Minister of Planning, Mehdi al-Hafez, proposed some 700 projects to the donors, costing a total of 4 billion dollars with a view to their being financed in the context of the 33 billion promised at the Madrid donors' conference in October 2003.
The Abu Dhabi conference announced the creation of a Donors Committee to concretely collect the sums promised, through two reconstruction funds: the Multilateral Fund and the Iraq Development Fund, under the ægis of the United Nations and the World Bank. This Committee consists of 13 members: Australia, Canada, the European Commission, India, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, Sweden, Great Britain, and the United States, the Japanese Ambassador specified.
The Iraqi Minister of the Interior, Nur Badran, was present at Abu Dhabi to lobby for his department, through contacts with certain delegations taking part in the conference. He indicated that his Ministry needed “billions” of dollars to re-establish the various security services and overcome the insecurity that continues to reign in Iraq, eleven months after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.
The absence of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait was particularly noticed at the Abu Dhabi conference. A Kuwaiti official stated that his country had not been invited to this conference. The Emirate, nevertheless, announced on 29 February a contribution of 10 million dollars to the two funds and thus becomes a member of the Donors Committee.
• THE GENERAL SECRETARY OF AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, ON A VISIT TO TURKEY, CALLS FOR THE EFFECTIVE APPLICATION OF THE REFORMS AND FOR THE RELEASE OF THE IMPRISONED KURDISH EX-M.P.s. A delegation from Amnesty International, led by its General Secretary Irene Khan, visited Turkey on 8 February, including Istanbul and Ankara where it met the Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Gül, the Minister of the Interior, Abdulkadir Aksu, members of the State Council, the Presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeals, the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights and the Parliamentary Commission for Harmonisation with the European Union. Before returning to London, the members of the delegation went to Diyarbekir on 13 February to meet some women’s groups and Human Rights Defence groups with whom they discussed the specific problems of the region.
In the course of her discussions with the Prime Minister, Irene Khan handed him a note in which Amnesty International recognised the progress achieved while stressing the concerns it continued to have regarding the observance of Human Rights in Turkey. In this note, the organisation particularly denounced the case of torture and ill-treatment, for which the authorities responsible for applying the laws were still being accused, as well as the impunity that the latter enjoyed (hence the necessity to settle the problem of the heritage of violations committed in the past), the restrictions that still weighted on free expression, the criminalisation of non-violent dissident opinion and violence against women.
Irene Khan also asked Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the release of all persons imprisoned for having expressed their opinions in a non-violent manner, including the defenders of Human Rights, Leyla Zana and her colleagues. The Prime Minister, once again, unhesitatingly compared his 3-month incarceration with Leyla Zana’s situation (10 years already!) reproaching Amnesty and Europe of applying “double standards”. He reproached the latter for not having visited him in prison whereas during the imprisonment of the Mayor of Diyarbekir, Feridun Çelik, five Foreign Ministers came from Europe. He criticised the Human Rights defence organisations of dressing Human Rights “in an ideological l shirt”.
Furthermore, on 12 February Amnesty International published a document regarding the “repressive legislation, arbitrary application: Human Rights defenders faced with pressures”. According to this document, “despite legal and constitutional reforms that have recently taken place in Turkey, human rights defenders remain, in this country, the targets of acts of harassment and intimidation from agents of the State and continue to come up against a horde of laws and Parliamentary documents that limit their activity”. “As fast as the old laws are repealed, the authorities find new strategies for obstructing the activity of Human Rights defenders” declared Amnesty International.
Amnesty International reiterates its appeals for a fundamental reform of the legislation and practices with the concern to guarantee freedom of expression, of association and of assembly in the country.
• THE FINANCING OF THE BAKU-TBILLISI-CEYHAN OIL PIPELINE HAS BEEN CLINCHED. The financing of the future Baku-Tbillisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which is to transport Caspian oil towards world markets via Turkey, was finally clinched on 3 February, with the signature of an agreement definitive agreement between the international lenders and the Azerbaijani authorities. The lenders, who include International institutions like the European Bank for reconstruction and development (BERD) and public financial agencies, major commercial banks are contributing up to 70% of the construction costs of this project, set at $ 2.95 billion. The remaining 30 % have already been advanced by the members of the consortium that will own the BTC pipeline.
The BTC, the construction of which began last year, and which is due to come into use in 2005, is designed to carry up to a million barrels of crude oil from Azerbaijan to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, passing through Georgia. About 1,760 Km long, the route of the pipeline was designed to avoid passing either through Russia, Armenia or Iran, and has been enthusiastically supported by the American authorities.
The owning and operating consortium is led by the British oil group BP, and includes, in particular, the Azerbaijani oil company Socar, the French Total, the Norwegian Statoil, the Italian Eni, the Japanese Itochu, the American Unocal, ConocoPhillips, and Amerada Hess companies. The financing of the project by the international lenders had been delayed because of concern over the ecological consequences of the project, in particular because it passes through the Borjomi Valley in Georgia, which contains a famous mineral water spring.
• EUROPEAN DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE HAS LED TO THE ARREST OF A SYRIAN, CLOSE TO THE SYRIAN SECRET SERVICES, WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ORGANISING THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION OF KURDS ACCROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN. The Syrian chief of a ring organising illegal immigration in the Mediterranean, and in particular of the wrecking of the East-Sea in February 2001 off the French Riviera, with 900 Kurds on board, has been arrested and is now in prison in Damascus, Le Journal de Dimanche revealed on 8 February. According to this French Sunday paper, basing itself on a three-year long investigation, Majid (or Abdelmajid) Berki, 30 years of age, “who claims to be close to the Syrian secret services, was arrested at his home in Damascus, following joint approaches by the French, Italian and German Ambassadors to the Syrian authorities”.
The man, suspected of having organised the deliberate wrecking of the Cambodian tramp cargo boat East-Sea with 900 Yezidi Syrian Kurds on board near Saint-Raphael in 2001, but also that of the Sam off the South of Italy the year before with 400 Kurds the year before and of the Monica, flying a Tongan flag of convenience off Sicily with 930 illegal refugees, also Kurdish, had already been arrested in Beirut on 23 April 2003, tried by a Lebanese military court and left free, the paper pointed out.
In November 2003, “diplomatic pressure was then exerted by France, Italy and Germany” and Abdelmajid Berki “was locked up”. “With countries that don’t want to cooperate in the struggle against illegal immigration, this is the only way to get results” stated officials of the French Ministry of the Interior to Le Journal de Dimanche”.
Only a small number of the 900 refugees (men, women and children) who were on the East-Sea decided to remain in France, where they were granted refugee status. The majority of them went to Germany and the Netherlands where there are substantial Syrian Kurdish communities.