On 1st August, six Christian churches were the targets of bomb attacks in Iraq — five in Baghdad and one in Mossul. They caused 10 deaths and 50 injured. This is the first time that Christian churches have been targeted since the American military intervention, which led to the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime last year.
In Baghdad, at least nine people were killed in four successive and co-ordinated bomb attacks on three churches and a seminary. The first explosion took place in front of the Armenian Church of the Karrada quarter, a very busy quarter inhabited by many Christians. The Church windows were shattered and metal fragments were scattered for hundreds of metres around. The second explosion took place about fifteen minutes later before an Assyrian Church in the same quarter. The noise of this explosion was so great that windows in many other building nearby were blown in. Two other explosions took place near other Christian Churches of the capital.
In Mossul, a car bomb exploded near a Christian Church. The attack, which took place in a very densely populated area in the North of the city, also caused extensive damage and many wounded.
Furthermore a big explosion took place in Kirkuk, near houses belonging to Christians, but there were no casualties as most of the people were in church for the evening service.
The Chaldean Patriarch, Head of the country’s biggest Christian community, called for Christians and Moslems unity, the day after the attacks. “We Christians and Moslems must cooperate for the good of Iraq, for we are a single family” declared Monsignor Emmanuel Delly, pointing out that this appeal would be contained in a message he was preparing for the Iraqi government.
These bomb attacks were unreservedly condemned by all the political and religious authorities of the country, as well as by Pope John-Paul II, who described them as “Unjust aggressions against those whose only aim was to cooperated for peace and reconciliation in the country”. The Pope expressed this condemnation in a message to the Chaldean Patriarch of Iraq, Emmanuel III, head of the country’s largest Christian community. Pope John-Paul II wrote and signed in his own hand — which is fairly rare — a message to Mgr Delly, in which he asks that “all who believe in a single clement and merciful God” unite “to deplore all forms of violence”.
The World Council of Churches (WCC), which represents the principle Christian churches (except for the Roman Catholics) has also firmly condemned “all forms of violence aimed at religious communities or any group of people and which seek to introduce hostility between religions into the conflict”.
The emblematic Shiite personality, the great ayatollah Ali Sistani, for his part, called for “government and people to work together to put an end to attacks against Iraqis”. The Shiite radical boss, Moqtada Sadr also condemned these acts.
For its part, the Iraqi Sunni ulema accused “foreign parties” of being the source of these attacks, “which aim at dividing the Iraqi people and want lasting chaos in the interest of the occupiers” of Iraq.
On the political level, Iraqi President Ghazi Al-Yawar described these attacks as “terrorist acts”, also considered as “enormous and abominable crimes” by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Mu’affack al-Rubai, the Iraqi National Security adviser, considered that the attacks bore the trademark of Abu Mussab Zarkawi, reputedly close to the Islamist Al Qaida network. “Zarkawi and his extremists are, in fact, trying create a breach between Moslems and Christians in Iraq” he added. An Islamist Internet site, in a communiqué claiming the attacks, attributed them to a hitherto unknown group, the “committee for planning and following-up in Iraq”.
Religious minorities in Iraq, mainly Christian, represent about 3% of the population, or about 700,000 out of a total of 24 million Iraqis, mainly Sunni and Shiite Moslems. The recent series of attacks on sellers of alcoholic drinks, who are mostly Christian, had aroused fears in the community even if, unlike the mosques already hit by bomb attacks over the last couple of years, the churches has hitherto been spared. The Iraqi Christians are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, since they arrived in Iraq in the 1st Century AD, whereas Islam only appeared in the 7th Century.
On 16 August the Iraqi President, Ghazi al-Yawar, arrived in Turkey for a two-day visit in the course of which he mainly raised with the Turkish authorities the security problems in Iraq.
Mr. al-Yawar, accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, met the Turkish President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul.
Amongst the bi-lateral subjects discussed was the safety of Turkish lorry drivers, several of whom are at present in the hands of armed groups in Iraq, according to Turkish diplomatic sources. On 2 August, some Islamist Internet sites had shown a video showing the execution of a Turkish hostage by an Islamist group. The hostage, Murat Yuce, was employed by a Turkish company working In Iraq for the Americans. This is the first Turkish hostage killed in Iraq.
The Turkish authorities have already let it be known that they are considering a series of measures to make working conditions safer in Iraq, which before the 1991 Gulf War was Turkey’s principal trading partner. They are, in particular, envisaging transporting goods between the towns of Zakho and Mossul, in Iraqi Kurdistan, then letting the Iraqis convey them to their final destination.
The Iraqi delegation also discussed the country’s political future. Turkey is keeping a close watch on the situation, particularly that of the Kurds, fearing a contagious effect that could restart the demands of the 15 to 20 million Kurds in Turkey.
The Turkish authorities also asked the Iraqis to cooperate with them by driving out the activists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK — banned and renamed KONGRA-GEL) who have sought asylum over the border.
In October 2003, Turkey and the United States had agreed on a “plan of action”, including military measures, against the PKK, considered to be a “terrorist” organisation. But Ankara, since then, has been regularly complaining of Washington’s inaction.
While assuring his hearers that Iraq did want to drive out the PKK activists, Mr. al-Yawar replied that he hoped that Ankara would not interfere in the internal affairs of his country. “I told President Yawar that we were expecting that they (the Iraqi authorities) would put an end to the presence of the PKK/KONGRA-GEL in Iraq and that they would see to it that Iraq did not become a shelter for terrorist organisations” declared the Turkish President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer during a press conference after his meeting with this opposite number. “We cannot ignore an organisation that endangers the security of our neighbours” replied Mr. al-Yawar.
But he added that Baghdad hoped to develop its links with Turkey in the context of “good neighbourly relations, without any interference in one another’s internal affairs”.
Furthermore, the Turkish President indirectly re-iterated Ankara’s fears of seeing the Iraqi Kurds taking control of the oil producing city of Kirkuk, lying about 220 Km North of Baghdad. “I told President Yawar that the attempts of any ethnic group living in Kirkuk — Turkoman, Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian or other — to claim control of the city would endanger the stability and order in Kirkuk and in Iraq” declared Mr. Sezer.
Kirkuk has been the scene of frequent disturbances between Kurds, Arabs and Turkomen since the end of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003. The Kurds claim control over it, pointing out that until the 60s the city had a Kurdish majority until the Baghdad regime embarked on its campaign of forced Arabisation.
On 29 August, Barham Saleh, the Kurdish Iraq Deputy Prime Minister, visited Teheran to try and sooth the growing tension between the two neighbouring countries, after accusations had been made of Iran's having meddled in the Iraqi Shiite revolt. Barham Saleh arrived accompanied by his fellow Ministers of the Interior and of Transport, on the first direct Baghdad-Teheran flight for 25 years. “I come bearing a message of friendship from the Iraqi government and nation to the government and people of Iran” declared Barham Saleh, who expressed the wish to “strengthen fraternal links” between the two countries.
Mr. Saleh met, in particular, the head of the Iranian Foreign Service, Kamal Kharrazi, for discussions largely devoted to the fate of Faridoun Jihani, the Iranian consul in Kerbala, kidnapped three weeks earlier.
The Iraqi Defence Minister, Hazem Shaalam had even gone so far as to describe Iran as Iraq’s “principal enemy”, Baghdad accusing Teheran of supporting the Shiite Mahdi’s Army militia so as to influence its neighbour’s political process — charge rejected by the Mullah’s regime. Relations are also tense following the disappearance of a series of Iran citizens in Iraq, including the arrest of four journalists of the Iranian News Agency (INA), who were finally released on 27 August.
In the context of large-scale “search and destroy” operations in Turkish Kurdistan, clashes have been multiplying. The governor of Hakkari Province, Erdogan Gurbuz, announced that eleven Kurdish fighters and two soldiers were killed on 31 August in violent clashes in the province. On 21 August, two Turkish policemen were wounded during an attack on the police station in the town of Semdinli, according to the Turkish authorities.
Furthermore, a police commissioner was killed on 13 August during an operation of the security forces in the Hatay region. Commissioner Mehmet Kose, who was seriously wounded during a joint operation carried out by the police and the gendarmerie in a region bordering on Syria, later died of his wounds after being transported to hospital. On the same day, in Van province, a Turkish gendarme was killed and another wounded in clashes with Kurdish fighters.
At the beginning of the month, a Kurdish fighter was killed during clashes with the Turkish security forces in a heavily wooded area near the town of Karlova, in Bingol province. Three other Kurdish fighters were killed in the course of a large-scale operation carried out by the Turkish gendarmerie in the upland pastures of Mount Pulumur, in Tunceli province.
Mines are also claiming more and more victims in the region. Thus ten soldiers and a train driver were wounded on 30 August following bomb attacks attributed to the PKK. The soldiers were wounded when the vehicle carrying them hit a mine on a road in Sirnak province, while in Bingol province a bomb exploded as a goods train passed, injuring one of the two drivers. Three soldiers and two Turkish army auxiliaries were wounded on 8 August in Bingol province, by the explosion of a remote controlled mine as their vehicle passed bye. In Siirt province, two people were seriously wounded on 28 August when their truck hit a mine. The day before, two other people were killed and five were wounded, all of the same family, by a mine explosion on a road in the same region. Near Cukurca, on 9 August, two Turkish soldiers were killed and an NCO wounded in a mine explosion on a road. Moreover, two people were wounded, including one soldier on duty, when a delayed action bomb exploded on the evening of *August, in a Turkish military complex at Yuksekova, near the Iranian and Iraqi borders. The complex included an Army recruiting office, whose windows were blown in by the explosion.
Elsewhere, a man was killed and another seriously injured by the explosion of a bomb they were attempting to lay before a police control point. The explosion took place on 7 August near Van airport, The CNN-Turc TV network quotes the governor of Van, Hikmet Tan, who thought that he was the target as he was due to pass that way a few hours later on his way to meet the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, in a neighbouring town. The man injured by the explosion hid himself for eight hours after the explosion and negotiated with the police in Kurdish before surrendering to the authorities.
Istanbul was not spared by all this violence, since
Two Kurdish activists and an Islamist received prison sentences from the State Security Court, a special judicial body from whose rulings there is no appeal, announced their lawyer, Anouar Bounni, on 30 August. “The court sentenced the Kurdish activists, Farhat Ali, a member of the Yakiti Party, and Ibrahim Naasan, of the Kurdish Unity Party, to three years imprisonment for membership of a secret organisation” and for “attempting to amputate a part of Syrian territory to annex it to a foreign State” specified Mr. Bounni, a well known Human Rights defender. Syria is fiercely opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdish State in Iraq.
The court also postponed to the end of October the trial of 15 other Kurds, arrested during the mid-March clashes between Kurds and police-backed Arab tribes, which resulted in 40 deaths, according to Kurdish sources (25 according to an official Syrian assessment).
Furthermore, this Court sentenced Mahmoud Nabhane to 14 years jail for membership of the Moslem Brotherhood and postponed the trial of 14-year-old Massab Hariri, accused of membership of this banned brotherhood, added Mr. Bounni. “The Syrian authorities are continuing, despite their promises, to violate Human Rights in Syria and to repress the activities of political activists” he remarked.
Mr. Bounni called for the suppression of the State Security Court and the release of all those who had been sentenced by this court.
Furthermore, a Kurdish prisoner, arrested two weeks previously by the Damascus authorities, died in prison under torture, stated a communiqué of the Kurdish opposition party, Yakiti, dated 3 August. “The citizen Ahmad Hussein, living in the town of Hassaké (on the Syrian-Turkish borders) was killed under torture by the military security services (…) who pretended he died of a heart attack” stresses the communiqué, which was signed by Fouad Aaliko, member of the Central Committee of the Yakiti party. “His body was handed over to his family in the night (of 2 August) and the authorities concerned refused any medical report on the reasons for his death and exerted pressure for his burial as soon as possible under a strong guard” added the communiqué. According to this communiqué, Ahmad Hussein, accused of being a member of the recently created Party for Kurdish Unity, was arrested on 17 July.
The Kurdish parties in Syria, which unite eleven banned organisations including Yakiti, had announced, last April, the death of two Kurds “tortured in a barbarous manner”.
Syria has a population of over one and a half million, mainly in the Northern provinces along the border with Turkish Kurdistan. Over 150,000 of them were stripped of their Syrian nationality during the 1962 census, which deprived them and their descendants (today totalling over 300,000 people) of any citizenship, making them “stateless persons” in their own country.
The Human Rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch, in a 78-page report published on 2 August highlights a frustration that is increasing among the thousands of Kurds and Turcomen who are living in “conditions of despair” while waiting for replies regarding their rights to land.
The coalition has failed to settle conflicts regarding land rights between Kurds and Arabs in the North, leaving a potentially explosive situation, warns Human Rights Watch. “If these conflicts for land are not treated urgently, the tensions between returning Kurds and the Arab colonists could rapidly explode into open violence” warns Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch general director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Kurds, Turcomen and other non-Arab groups were driven away from their homes and land under the Saddam Hussein regime, as part of an Arabisation programme, which, Human Rights Watch considers, “was, in fact, a campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed at permanently altering the ethnic composition of Northern Iraq”.
The report describes how the “provisional Authority has failed to take measures to remedy this, including when the situation became even more volatile” adds the New York-based organisation.
Human Rights Watch calls on the present Iraqi government, to which the Americans transferred authority on 28 June, “urgently” to set up a legal system to solve the questions of land rights and provide humanitarian aid to displaced Kurds and other non-Arab populations.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, the Kurds and other non-Arab groups returned to the North to claim back their property, points out the report, adding that the Arab families forced to leave also needed to be helped.
• OSMAN OCALAN CREATES HIS OWN PARTY. On 14 October, the Turkish press reported that Osman Ocalan, brother of the bass of the ex-Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Abdullah Ocalan, after leaving the PKK (which has renamed itself Kongra-Gel) has created his own political party. The Patriotic Democratic Party (PDP) was founded by Osman Ocalan and about forty ex-cadres of the PKK, including Yilmaz Kani, formerly the PKK’s leader in Europe and now in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Last year, Osman Ocalan had quarrelled with his brother, who is serving a life sentence in Turkey since 1999, largely for marrying a young Kurdish woman, whereas marriage is “an inadvisable practice” in the PKK rules.
He had been Abdullah Ocalan’s right hand man and, for a while, jointly directed the Kurdish fighters after his brother’s arrest and condemnation by the Turkish Courts for the PKK’s 15 years armed struggle for the creation of an independent Kurdish state in Turkey.
In a letter recently published on a pro-Kurdish web site, Abdullah Ocalan, alias “Apo” described him as a “cowardly brother” and openly displayed the divisions that have been undermining the PKK for several years.
Kongra-Gel, the latest emanation of the PKK, recently ended a unilateral truce it had declared in 1999. Since than incidents have been increasing, with ambushes or clashes with the security forces in Turkish Kurdistan. The hard-line wing of Kongra-Gel, which is itself divided into several factions, has threatened to rekindle the conflict.
• THE TURKISH ARMY CONTINUES ITS POLICY OF FORCED EVACUATION OF KURDISH VILLAGES. On 24 August, the Turkish Human Rights Association accused the security forces of having forcibly evacuated a Kurdish village — a widespread practice in the past, at the height of the fighting against the PKK. In July 2004, gendarmes burst into the village of Iliack, near Beytussebap, and ordered the inhabitants to leave their homes “for security reasons”, the Association for Human Rights (IHD) reported in a communiqué published after an enquiry the organisation had conducted on the spot.
“The soldiers had said that if the villagers continued to live in their houses they might be led to supplying food to Kurdish fighters” declared Reyhan Yalcindag, an IHD spokesman, a lawyer and member of the committee of enquiry. Ms Yalcindag explained that the security forces wanted the villagers to leave the region. She called on the local authorities to authorise the return of the expelled villagers indicating that legal proceedings would be undertaken against those responsible for this evacuation.
The 343 inhabitants of Ilicak are at the moment living under precarious conditions in tents erected near their village, according to IHD.
According to official figures, over 3,600 villages were forcibly evacuated during the 80s and 90s, and, according to Turkish Human Rights, more than 3 million people were forces to leave their village.
Moreover, on 27 August, two people were killed and five others wounded, all from the same family, by the explosion of a mine placed on a road near the Kurdish village of Pervari. The truck, in which a family was returning to its village, hit a remote controlled mine, according to the regional governor, Nuri Okutan.
• BRUSSELS INVITES THE IRAQI PRIME MINISTER TO THE NEXT E.U. SUMMIT, DESPITE HIS TENSE RELATIONS WITH FRANCE. The European Union invited Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, to attend the next EU summit in November to talk of Europe’s role in the reconstruction of his country. According to European leaders, this invitation was sent on 29 August, coinciding with the visit to Baghdad of the Dutch Foreign Minister, Ben Bot, whose country is presides the E.U. this month.
The Union has not yet received any confirmation that Mr. Allawi will attend this meeting on 5 November. To date this year, the EU has promised 305 million euros in aid for humanitarian and reconstruction purposes. A commitment that is likely to be renewed next year.
On another level, the French foreign Ministry has reacted to the remarks of the head of the Iraqi government, who declared in an interview that France would not be spared from terrorism, recalling that “having itself been victim of terrorist attacks” France conducted “an unceasing and resolute activity against this plague”.
“The French authorities have, for a long time, affirmed the necessity and urgency of mobilisation against all forms of terrorism” stressed the Foreign Office spokesman, Hervé Ladsous, in a communiqué published on 30 August. France “has always given its support and contribution to all the initiatives of the international community in this field”.
In an interview given to several Western journalists, including Le Monde, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, declared that “bomb attacks will occur in Paris, Nice, Cannes or in San Francisco”. In his view “the French, as well as all democratic countries, cannot be satisfied with adopting a passive position” because “terrorism has no limits (…). Avoiding confrontation is no reply”.
For the Quai d’Orsay (the French Foreign Office) these remarks are “unacceptable” as they seem “to cast doubts on France’s determination in the struggle against terrorism”.
• UNO VOTES UNANIMOUSLY TO EXTEND FOR ANOTHER YEAR THE MANDATE OF THE UNITED NATIONS’ AID MISSION FOR IRAQ (UNAMI). On 12 August, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution extending for another year the mandate of the United Nations’ Aid Mission to Iraq (UNAMI). A mission whose operations remain limited pending an improvement in the country’s security conditions.
In this resolution on UNAMI the Security Council reaffirms that the United Nations must play a major role in helping the Iraqi people and the interim government in forming institutions that can open the way to representative government.
But, in a report dated 6 August, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, let the Security Council know that the United Nations remained a “choice target” in the foreseeable future “for those who want to carry out spectacular terrorist attacks in Iraq”. Dangers that greatly limit the staff that the UN can send to the country.
Kofi Annan’s new envoy, the Pakistani Ashraf Iehangir Qazi, is due to take up his duties in Baghdad with a small team this week, which gives the UN an official presence in Iraq for the first time since last October.
Kofi Annan had then ordered the departure of all UN foreign staff after two bomb attacks against the UN offices in Baghdad and a wave of attacks on humanitarian personnel. The first attack, on 19 October 2003, had caused 22 deaths, including the UN Special Envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
The UNAMI offices will remain at Amman, in Jordan, until an improvement in security conditions in Iraq. The UN humanitarian programmes will continue with local staff.
• A MEDIA LYNCHING CAMPAIGN AND SHARP CRITICISMS FROM THE TURKISH ARMY FOLLOW THE VISIT BY THE MAYOR OF DIYARBEKIR TO THE FAMILIES OF VICTIMS KILLED DURING A CLASH WITH THE ARMY. Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbekir, is at the centre of a controversy since he went, on 7 August, with other pro-Kurdish mayors, to the family home of an activist of the ex-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) give his condolences to the family of a Kurdish fighter killed in a clash with the army. This has provoked a sharp reaction in Turkish politico-media circles. The mayor had also visited the family of the policeman killed in the same series of clashes — but the press deliberately ignored this fact.
The Minister of the Interior has sent inspectors to Diyarbekir in the context of an official enquiry that may eventually lead to the dismissal of Mr. Baydemir and his fellow mayors.
On 10 August, the new Commander in Chief of the Army, General Yasar Buyukanit, also took Mr. Baydemir to task, speaking of a “very ugly and ignoble attitude”. The next day the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Hilmi Ozkok, also attacked Mr. Baydemir, declaring: “this is an inappropriate attitude. The necessary procedure has been started by the Minister” (or the Interior).