The Iraqi National Council, that is acting as an interim Iraqi Parliament, has 100 members entrusted with the task of supervising the interim Iraqi government until the January elections. It met for the first time in Baghdad on 1st September. After several hours of speeches and discussion, the Kurds, who had seen their hopes for a position of Head of State or of Prime Minister dashed, gained the May, secured the position of Chairman of the National Council. Dr. Fuad Maasum was elected by a show of hands. The month before he had Chaired the 1,300 strong National Conference which had designated the majority of the members of the Council. He was a former Prime Minister of the Kurdistan regional Government and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. “I promise to cooperate with each one of you and that this Parliament will be an expression of the Iraqi street” he stated on his appointment.
The assembly represents the religious and ethnic diversity of Iraq and includes 64 Arabs, 24 Kurds, six Turkomen, two Chaldeans, two Assyrians, one Mandean and one Shabaq a community close to the Kurds and living in Iraqi Kurdistan. A quarter of the Council members are women.
The Shiite Moslems, who form the majority of the Iraqi population, have 45 seats, the Sunni Arabs, who make up about 17% of the 24 million inhabitants of Iraq but who have dominated the political life of the country from its inception, have 19 seats.
Even before the opening ceremony, a discussion broke out over the formulation of the oath that the delegates were to swear. The members of the Council were finally sworn in groups of ten before five Iraqi flags and a banner that proclaimed “A new Iraq”.
The National Council is empowered to approve the national budget and to veto certain of the interim government’s decisions with a two-thirds majority.
As the Council net, several mortar bombs exploded near the Convention Centre, near the Green Zone, a strongly protected enclave in Baghdad. They injured one person, according to the US Army. Two more such bombs later landed inside the Green Zone.
A mass grave containing dozens of bodies was brought to light on 7 September near the Kurdish town of Halabja according to the President of a Kurdish Association that campaigns against chemical weapons. The mass grave, discovered while a road was being built near the villages of Abu Obeida and Jellila, contained dozens of bodies of men, women and children, buried fully dressed pointed out Aras Abed who had himself lost 11 members of his family during the chemical bombing of the town of Halabja in 1988 by the forces of the fallen dictator, Saddam Hussein. “This mass grave consists of three ditches which contain the remains of inhabitants who had fled the chemical bombing before being shot up by the Iraqi air force’s fighters” pointed out Aras Abed. He added that the bodies had not yet been extracted from the pits but that the Minister for Human Rights had been advised so that he could send an enquiry commission to the spot.
“This new discovery has to be added to all the crimes against the Kurds committed by the Saddam Hussein regime and will help the investigators of the Special Court responsible for trying Saddam Hussein” he stressed.
On 16 March 1988, Saddam Hussein’s armed forces bombed the Kurdish town of Halabja with chemical weapons causing 5,000 and hundreds of thousands of injured in a matter of a few minutes.
On 26 September, only ten days before the European stage report on whether or not to open negotiations with Ankara over its joining the E.U., the Turkish Members of Parliament overwhelmingly approved a new Penal Code that, in the end, did not criminalise adultery. The Turkish government had, initially, decided to include an article re-establishing marital infidelity as a crime, punishable by imprisonment — a measure abolished in 1996. During an emergency session, the Turkish members of Parliament voted, by a substantial majority, in favour of the reform of the Penal Code without this clause. This article was only one of a number of reforms contained in the Bill to rewrite the Turkish Penal Code, which is 78 years old. But it had crystallised all the dissatisfactions. The other articles provided for heavier sentences for rapists, paedophiles, torturers, traffickers in human beings, murderers of children born out of wedlock. The government Bill also recognises rape in marriage and sexual harassment as offences. Other measures contained in the code have also aroused the anger of feminist NGOs, like the clause that punishes minors (under the age of 18) with prisons sentences of up to two years for having sexual relations. Homosexuals have also been forgotten in the new legislation. However, virginity tests, a controversial and bitterly attacked practice, can now only be carried out in the event of a formal request by a judge or public prosecutor, and not by the police as was often the case. Recep Tayyip Erdogan made joining the EU his priority. The Penal Code, which is due to replace the earlier one drawn up in 1926 modelled on that of Mussolini’s Italy, is part of a series of reforms being undertaken in Turkey over the last two years to make the country’s entry into the European club easier.
The controversy over the postponement on the adoption of the Turkish Penal Code had caused dismay, including amongst the supporters of Ankara’s membership. The last minute postponement had been motivated by the Turkish governments wish to reintroduce the measures making adultery a crime, an initiative poorly appreciated by the Europeans and described as “a joke” by Mr. Verheugen himself. Mr. Erdogan had retorted by objecting to any interference by Brussels in a matter that, in his view, was a purely internal question for Turkey.
In the last run in before the Commission’s verdict, opponents or critics of Turkey’s membership had been speaking up, like the European Commissioners from Austria, Franz Fischler (Agriculture) or from Holland, Frits Bolkestein (internal Trade). “Unfortunately, the debate on adultery has generated serious doubts in Europe on Turkey’s determination to preserve its secularism” remarked Onur Oymen, a Member of Parliament for the Republican People’s Party (CHP — the principle opposition party). “Even if the matter is settled, we have created a question of confidence”.
During his visit to Brussels on 23 September, Mr. Erdogan promised to get the Penal Code reform passed, as it was considered by the E.U. as essential for opening negotiations. He assured them that this reform would not criminalise adultery. At the end of this meeting, the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenther Verheugen, did not hide his satisfaction at his meeting with the Turkish leader, announcing that he would make “a very clear recommendation” on the question of opening negotiations for membership with Turkey. “My conclusion is that there are now no longer any obstacles on the table. In my view, Turkey does not have any additional conditions to fulfil to allow the Commission to make a recommendation” added the Commissioner. As for the question of torture, which has often been raised by the Europeans, Guenther Verheugen welcomed the fact that the experts sent there for on the spot investigations had concluded that it was no “justification for accusing Turkey of systematically engaging in acts of torture”.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan also met the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, before answering the leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament in a two-hour closed session meeting. The stands of supporters and opponents of Turkey’s membership remained unchanged, commented, in effect, the Green M.E.P. Daniel Cohn-Bendit. “Turkey is changing. I think that the changes are not complete and that it is time to open negotiations. They have been waiting for 41 years!” he declared. As for Hans-Gert Poettering, President of the principal group in the Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP — conservative) he considered that his organisation was evenly divided between supporters and opponents of Turkey’s membership.
Turkey’s future membership of the E.U., even though it were not to materialise for ten or fifteen years, also divides the countries of the Union and their public opinions even within teams in office. The French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, had thus asked the question, in the Wall Street Journal, of the compatibility of a Moslem country, like Turkey with the “values” of the European Union. However, the French President, Jacques Chirac, had recently re-iterated his support for Ankara’s membership once “all the required conditions” had been fulfilled.
On 6 October, the Commission is due to recommend to the member states of the E.U. whether or not to open negotiations with Turkey. The European Heads of State and Government will make their final decision on the subject during their Brussels summit on 17 December.
On 25 September, the Kurdish film director, Bahman Ghobadi, received the Jury’s Prize at the 52nd San Sebastian Film Festival for his film “Turtles can fly”.
The film “the first ever made on the Iraqi Kurdish children”, acted by children “who have never seen any cinema”, according to Ghobadi, begins on the eve of the Americano-British intervention in Iraq. Kak, alias “Satellite”, a young boy who has become the leader of the orphans of a refugee camp and the children of the surrounding villages, struggles along by reselling anti-personnel mines that he collects manually and by installing parabolic antennae for adults who want to keep up with international news. One day, there arrive at the camp a one-armed girl, his younger sister, and a blind child — trio of children whose tragedy is gradually unfolded.
The film ends with the arrival of the Americans and an amputation on Kak Satellite’s, who had been blown up by a mine to save the blind child. “Through always collecting US mines you’ve ended up being blown up by a US mine” one of his friends tells him, while Kak thought that the Americans were going to make a paradise of his country.
“Turtles can fly” does not deal wit “politics but with the real life of people. I have tried to show scenes that the cable and satellite never show. George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein have become TV superstars, but the real heroes are these children” the director stated during a press conference. “But, as I’m a Kurd I have to speak about politics. I rejoice at the disappearance of Saddam Hussein, but I find the American presence in the region painful. They could have come long before” he added. “In my film the extras are Bush, Saddam — the principal characters are the Iraqi people and the children of Iraq” according to the director of “A time for drunken horses”, his first film which was presented at Cannes in 2000.
“There are some very harsh scenes. I began the film with humour, with the setting up of a parabolic antenna, to introduce some jokes before moving on to the painful scenes” of rape by Saddam Hussein’s army, of death and mutilation, commented the 36-year old director.
“I hope that here will be a democratic government in Iraq and that Kurdistan may have its own film industry, that the Kurds may be able to express themselves through films” added the film maker, who insisted on the fact that the only three people involved in making the film were Iranian — himself, his assistant and the cameraman. All the rest were Iraqi Kurds.
The initial project was to film adults but “on seeing the tragedy of these children I felt morally responsible — something had to be done to describe their sufferings” said Ghobadi, for whom this is his third film.
The children in this film, one of sixteen entered in the competition for the Golden Seashell, had not been able to get visas to make the journey to the Spanish Basque country. “Turtles can fly” will be released in Iraq in October and in Europe, including France, early in 2005.
The Iraqi Commission charged with resolving conflicts over property in Kurdistan has, so far, been unable to settle a single case, although 167,400 Iraqis have been living in a dozen makeshift camps since March, stated an American officer. Amongst the people registered by the American Army, 153,000 were Kurds. Since early 2004, 77,000 of them have been living in camps at Kirkuk, 65,747 in camps at Salaheddin and 10,675 in Suleimaniah according to US statistics.
In addition, 4,757 Turcomen and 2,226 Arabs have found asylum in Salaheddin and 5,000 Arabs and 2,000 Turcomen have settled in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. The US Army has no figures for Diyala, which is the fourth province controlled by the 1st Infantry Division in North-western Iraq.
Tens of thousands of Kurds, impatient to return to the land from which they had been driven by the brutal policy of forced Arabisation carried out by Saddam Hussein, are living in camps, 44 of which are in Kirkuk Province, pending the outcome of the administrative procedures under way.
“The Commission for land claims is not working: out of the 143,222 displaced people who have registered a claim, only 5,399 files have been compiled” pointed out General John Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division.
According to these statistics, not a single claim has been settled since the Commission was set up by the former US Administrator, Paul Bremer. Since the transfer of powers at the end or June, this organisation is answerable to the Interim Government. “The government must act, and this will be expensive as many are claiming compensation” explained the general, stressing that the basic problem was the lack of funding, of interest and of organisations. “For the moment it (the government) has probably other centres of interest” he added.
In a report published last month, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch warned that if the question was not rapidly settled this could lead to an irruption of violence. This New York-based organisation had blamed the Coalition for not having set up a strategy for solving the crisis.
Questioned in Irbil on 9 September by AFP, Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) declared that the Iraqi Kurds were “ready to wage war” to preserve the Kurdish identity of the oil producing city of Kirkuk. “Kirkuk is at the heart of Kurdistan and we are prepared to go to war to preserve its identity and to sacrifice ourselves to preserve the gains secured by the Iraqi Kurds” he stressed. “The Kurds will not renounce nor negotiate this identity” added Mr. Barzani.
Elsewhere, on 18 September a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car bomb outside the Headquarters of the Iraqi National Guard in Kirkuk, causing twenty deaths and 16 injured, according to the police. This attack is the third one aimed at the Iraqi security forces in Kirkuk that week. The explosion hit a crowd of young Iraqis who were queuing up to enrol at a recruiting office.
On 24 September, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, made a solemn appeal before UNO for “help in beating the terrorist forces”, warning that failure would be a “defeat” for the whole international community. “I call on the representatives of the counties gathered here to help Iraq beat the terrorist forces and to build a better future for the Iraqi people” declared Mr. Allawi speaking before the UN General Assembly in New York.
Faced with “terrorists that have chosen to make Iraq their battlefield”, “our struggle is your struggle, our victory will be your victory. And if we are beaten, it will be your defeat” he stated. He added that his country needed “more help from the multi-national force” and that it was necessary “to broaden the base of countries contributing troops to this force”, in particular to enable UNO to function. Mr. Allawi nevertheless assured his audience that the Iraqi insurrection “will harvest nothing except failure” and reaffirmed his confidence in the possibility of holding elections in January as planned, despite the growing scepticism that this objective could be reached if the violence were to continue.
A certain confusion reigned in Washington on this question, after the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had declared that elections might only be held in those regions of the country sufficiently secure. Mr. Allawi also met the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, who had recently expressed doubts on the possibility of holding elections by the planned date.
While Iraq continues to be the object of deep divisions in the international community, the prime minister declared to the countries that were opposed to the war that “the differences on this question should not be an obstacle” to helping the reconstruction of Iraq.
Iyad Allawi also met his British opposite number, Tony Blair, on 19 September, a meeting in which he reaffirmed his commitment to keeping to the 31 January deadline for the poll. “We are doing our best and we will keep to this date (… ) We are four months” from the due date. “And in the next four months a number of things can change. And they will change in a positive manner”.
Some 9,000 British soldiers are taking part in the coalition in Iraq. This number is due to be reduced to 8,500 at the next changeover, planned for November. The Defence Minister, Geoff Hoon, pointed out that London might, nevertheless, deploy extra troops before the elections.
At the end of a visit to Turkey on 9 September, the European Commissioner for the Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, drew up a subtly shaded assessment of the advances of the country on the road to membership of the E.U., noting that there had been some “impressive progress” but also some “deficiencies”. From meetings Mr. Verheugen held over four days all over Turkey — from Ankara to Diyarbekir, from Izmir to Istanbul — it emerges that the Kurdish question remains at the heart of the European Commissions concerns.
“The Turkish project (of joining the E.U.) is achievable. The first steps were slow, but a good momentum has developed since. Over the last five to six years Turkey has changed and has become a quite different country” considered Mr. Verheugen in an interview given to the CNN-Turk TV network before taking the place for Brussels. Recognising “some impressive progress in several areas” he nevertheless pointed out “deficiencies”, especially with regard to minority rights.
In the course of his visit, the European Civil Servant made efforts to “feel the pulse” of Turkish society, only a month short of the publication date of the European Commission’s report on Turkey’s ability to join the European Union. This will be the basis on which the European leaders will have to decide, in December, whether or not to begin negotiations for Ankara’s joining the European club.
“I can promise you that (the Commission’s judgement) will be equitable, objective and honest and that it will take into account the impressive progress made in Turkey” Mr. Verheugen stated during a press conference on 6 September, following discussions with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul. This document “will not hide the fact that there are difficulties in certain areas and, of course, that the application (of the reforms) is not complete”. However, the European official assured his listeners that the judgement expressed in the document would be “a clear and firm decision” and not hedged with conditions.
Following his meeting with Mr. Gul, Guenther Verheugen met the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan before flying to Diyarbekir, where he met the Prefect, Nusret Miroglu, and the Mayor of the city, Osman Baydemir, and then the Kurdish ex-Member of Parliament, Leyla Zana, recently released from prison. At the end of this highly symbolic meeting with Mrs. Zana, and after visiting a Kurdish village, the European Commissioner, visibly moved by the fate of the Kurdish population, called on the government to ensure that the Kurds enjoyed all their cultural rights to the full.
The Turkish government has set afoot some measures concerning minority rights —authorisation of some private courses of the Kurdish language, 30 minutes of broadcasting on one national TV channel — thus breaking a b=taboo. “There have been some belated efforts (broadcasts and teaching in Kurdish) in this area. But much more could be done regarding cultural rights” Mr. Verheugen stated nevertheless during his 7 September visit to the Kurdish village of Tuzla, which had been forcibly evacuated by the Turkish security forces in 1995.
It some 500 inhabitants started to return home as from the year 2001. But many families are at present living in precarious conditions and are asking for help in from the authorities in rebuilding their houses. Mr. Verheugen called on the authorities to encourage the villagers to return home. “It is better live in one’s own village, under human conditions, to inhabiting shanty towns in big cities” declared the European Commissioner.
According to official figures, 3,428 villages were forcibly evacuated in the Kurdish regions during the 80s and 90s. The villagers of Tuzla have started proceedings against the State before the European Human Rights Court to obtain reparations for their enforced exile.
Mr. Verheugen suggested, moreover, that the European Union could participate in the financing of the return of populations forcibly evacuated from their villages at the height of the fighting between the Turkish Army and the PKK during the 80s and 90s. Regarding the upsurge of fighting and attacks that have been observed since June, the European Commissioner sent a clear message to the ex-PKK, renamed Kongra-Gel. “The PKK must put an end to the violence” he declared, adding “terrorism is unacceptable”.
Finally, Mr. Verheugen tried hard to reassure the Turks, by promising them that no new conditions would be set for their application, “which would be treated on an equal footing with the other candidate states.
On 28 September, following a meeting with Arab envoys and with UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, announced that the decision had been taken to hold a ministerial conference on the promotion of stability in Iraq, to be held in Egypt from 22 to 24 November, to assemble the Foreign Ministers of the countries most concerned. “The object of the conference is really to solicit support from these countries for the stabilisation of Iraq and of the electoral process” stated Mr. Zebari. He made the point that the idea of such a conference had been jointly formulated by the United Nations and the Interim Iraqi government.
Amongst those invited are Iraq’s neighbours, namely Turkey, Iran, Syria, Kuwait and Jordan, but also represented would be Egypt, the members of the G8 (the group of the most industrialised countries), China, as well as the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the European Union, he indicated. “It is not an international conference. It’s an enlarged regional conference” he explained.
On 28 September, while on a visit to Paris, King Abdallah of Jordan expressed his support for an international conference on Iraq but considered the holding of elections “impossible” in the present “chaos”. “(Iraqi) Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wants this international conference. We will, thus, support everything that the Baghdad government wants. We will support everything the Iraqis want” declared King Abdallah in an interview published in Le Figaro.
As against that, the King expressed great much more scepticism on the possibility of holding elections in Iraq. “It seems to me impossible to organise unchallengeable elections in the chaos that Iraq is experiencing today” considered the Hachimite monarch following his meeting with President Jacques Chirac.
For his part, while visiting Amman during his tour of the Arab states, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari indicated that his government was ready to help France secure the release of the two French journalists held hostage in Iraq by an islamist group. “The government desires and is ready to provide the French government every help possible to ensure the freeing of the hostages and their safe return home” Mr. Zebari indicated during a press conference in Amman. He said he had met, in Baghdad, a delegation from the French Foreign Ministry. “I expressed to them, in the name of the Iraqi government, our willingness to give them every support and information possible” stressed Mr. Zebari.
Iran will pursue its programme in the area of civil nuclear power even if this results in a break in the international supervision and cooperation, declared Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on 21 September. “We have made our choice and it is up to the others (the Westerners) to make theirs— declared President Khatami in a speech during a march past of the Iranian Armed Forces to mark the beginning of the “Sacred Defence” Week — an allusion to the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88.
The President stated that the international community should “recognise our natural right (of access to nuclear energy), then we could accept international supervision and pursue our efforts to acquire civil nuclear technology”. “Otherwise, we will continue on our way, even if this results in a break in international supervision and cooperation” he added. He once again repeated that Iran was not seeking to acquire an atom bomb. “Whether of not we are under international supervision, we are not trying to make an atom bomb because that is against our religion and our culture. We are opposed to atomic weapons” he stressed.
On 18 September, the governing Council of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had set a deadline of 25 September for a complete examination of the Iranian nuclear programme and had also required an “immediate” stopping of all uranium enrichment activities, although they are legal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. After three days intense discussions, the United States and three major European powers (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) had agreed, on 16 September, on a draft resolution to the IAEA. The Americans had ended by giving up the idea of an ultimatum to Iran to conform to the IAEA requirements by 31 October or else be summoned before the Security Council for international sanctions.
Uranium, enriched in centrifuges, can be used are nuclear fuel either for civil power generation or to make atom bombs. Hence the anxiety of the Western powers who would prefer to supply uranium already enriched. Teheran, that denies having any intentions of military use, had accepted, in October 2003, to suspend its enrichment activity in exchange of civil nuclear cooperation with Berlin, London and Paris. But Iran had gone back on this commitment this summer by resuming its enrichment activities, in particular the making and assembling of centrifuges. Teheran also began, a few weeks ago, the conversion of uranium, a stage that precedes that of enrichment. The Iranian leaders stated recently that they refused to extend the field of their suspension of enrichment activity, in particular to stopping the building of centrifuges and of converting the uranium.
This attitude of firmness by Teheran, a few weeks before the US Presidential elections, is interpreted by observers as a way of deciding to raise the stakes pending the real negotiations that would take place after the elections. Moreover, the Iranian opposition states that the installations that are known and inspected by the IAEA are only the tip of the iceberg of the Iranian nuclear programme, which is being developed in the greatest secrecy with technical help from Pakistan.
The American Army is paying a heavy price in Iraq. According to an assessment by Associated Press, over 1,000 soldiers have been killed in the country since the Bush administration began the war on 20 March 2003. On 7 September, less than two months before the US Presidential elections, the score of US deaths passed the 1,000 mark, less than one and a half years after the beginning of their intervention in Iraq. In addition to the 1,000 dead (three quarters in combat) nearly 7,000 US soldiers have been wounded since the invasion.
This assessment counts 998 soldiers and three civilians killed while working with the Pentagon. It has been compiled thanks to information supplied by the Defence Ministry, the families of the casualties and on the spot reporting by AP personnel.
This level was passed after the upsurge of violence of recent days in the course of which fourteen soldiers were killed. Seven of them were killed on 7 September: two during the clashes between the radical Shiite chief Moqtada al-Sadr and American troops and five others during separate attacks, mainly in the Baghdad sector.
Faced with this upsurge of violence, the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell recognised, on 26 September, that the organisation of elections in Iraq might be hindered. The insurgents “are determined to disturb the holding of elections”, planned for January 2005, he stated on the ABC television network, adding “Because this aggravates the situation we must increase our efforts to beat the rebellion”. Powell recognised, however, that there could be difficulties in organising a poll covering the whole of Iraqi territory, because of the violence. “We cannot say that there will be no attacks against polling stations or that there will not be some places where it will be difficult to vote” he declared.
No reliable figures for Iraqi victims exists for the country as a whole, but private estimates give between 10,000 and 30,000 killed since the beginning of the war. At the Sheikh Omar Clinic, in Baghdad, a register shows, as of 9 September, 10,363 violent deaths recorded in the Iraqi capital and its region since the start of the armed intervention at the beginning of March 2003. Some deaths were caused by clashes with Coalition forces, but also by car bombs, mortar bomb attacks, settling of private scores, hold-ups … The violent deaths recorded in the Baghdad clinic’s register only cover 18 of the country's provinces or the people killed in cities as troubled as Najaf, Kerbala, Falluja, Takrit and Ramadi.
The Iraqi casualties are members of the guerrillas, police and soldiers, but also civilians killed in shootouts or by bomb explosions. Iraqi victims of ordinary crime, of which there has been a marked increase, are also recorded. The assessment, however, does not show whether people were killed in a combat situation or from other causes.
The perspective of a violent death is the latest threat for a people, which has suffered several decades of war and of the brutal dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. The former regime is accused by the Human Rights defence organisations of having killed over 300,000 Iraqis it considered enemies.
In a country where the dead are, in accordance with Moslem tradition, often buried rapidly without being systematically recorded by the authorities, the real number of those killed in the conflict may never be know.
Some American leaders have, for their part, insisted that they did not have the means necessary to count the civilian deaths that have occurred since the beginning of the US occupation, which officially ended on 28 June. The new Iraqi authorities are still less up to supplying and precise figures of civilian deaths …
On September 1st, the Kurdish former Members of Parliament, Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak warned against the resumption of fighting between Kurdish fighters and the Turkish Army, which could prevent Turkey from joining the European Union. “Society has had enough of violence … It is time to say “That’s enough” to the sufferings, to the tears and mourning” considered the Kurdish former MPs in a communiqué. “Even if the risk is slight, if a date for opening negotiations for membership (of Turkey to the EU) is postponed because of fighting the moral responsibility would be enormous … That is why it is most important that the arms be silent” they continued.
Since their release last June, after ten years in prison, Leyla Zana and her colleagues have several times asked the Kurdish armed fighters to lay down their arms. They had been sentenced in 1994 to 15 years imprisonment for “support of the separatists of the ex-Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (PKK, renamed Kongra-Gel). This sentence was quashed in June. They are due to be retried in October.
In the opinion of the four signatories, the rapprochement between Turkey and the European Union would allow the most rapid settlement of the Kurdish question. “The attitudes and the contributions of the EU member states will be as important as the attitudes of the Turks and the Kurds in accelerating the process” of settlement, they wrote.
On 16 September, the Minister of the Interior insisted that his government was showing “zero tolerance” regarding torture at a time when the Members of Parliament were embarking with lightning speed on a vast pro-European reform of the Penal Code, which specifically punishes torture. A high official of the European Commission arrived in Turkey to carry out “final verifications” on the Human Rights situation and torture in the country, stated the Community executive in Brussels.
The European Commissioner for the Enlargement, Guenther Verheugen, had been worried, during his recent visit to Turkey by figures that the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD) had given him regarding torture, stressing that this crime had to be suppressed “in the severest manner”.
On 16 September, the Turkish Minister for the Interior, Abdulkadir Aksu, sharply attacked the country’s principal Human Rights defence organisation, which had made charges of “systematic” torture in Turkey. “There is no systematic torture or ill-treatment in Turkey” he declared, while admitting some isolated cases resulting from “individual errors”. Mr. Aksu considered that the IHD was having difficulty in “understanding” the transformations, “of a revolutionary character” taking place in Turkey in the field of Human Rights. He recalled the legal reforms adopted in recent times: more severe penalties for torturers and reduction of the period in detention in particular. “We are absolutely determined not to tolerate torture (… ) the government’s approach to torture is one of “zero tolerance’” he added.
According to the figures available to IHD, 1,391 people were tortured in 2003 by a variety of methods stretching from electric shocks to bastinado (beatings on the soles of the feet). Today these methods had become rarer, giving way to threats or deprivation of sleep or food, according to IHD, which furthermore demanded that, in addition to the policeman who carried out the torture, his superiors should also be brought to trial.
On 19 September the Ansar al-Sunna Army, a terrorist islamist group announced the execution by beheading of three members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Ansar al-Sunna, which broadcast a video on its Internet site showing their decapitation, stated, in a communiqué that the bodies of these three “agents” had been abandoned near Mossul to serve as an “example”.
The Ansar al-Sunna Army added that it had kidnapped the three Kurds near Taji, a town just North of Baghdad, as they were going to a base in the North of the country in a military vehicle. According to the Kurdish authorities, the three men were students going to Baghdad to apply for enrolment in the University there. They were kidnapper when their vehicle broke down. Kurdish sources confirm that the Kurds on the video are most likely those whose decapitated bodies were found in nylon sacks on 15 September, by the side of the road, North of Baghdad.
Furthermore, on 14 September Ansar al-Sunna published a communiqué claiming the assassination attempt, the day before, on the governor of Dohuk. The Iraqi Minister of the Interior confirmed that the governor of Dohuk province, Nichervan Ahmad, had escaped a bomb attack as he was going to his office in Dohuk. For his part, the governor stated on the Kurdish television station KurdistanTV that his two bodyguards were injured by the explosion.
On 31 August, the Ansar al-Sunna Army had announced the assassination of 12 Nepalese, taken hostage by this group for having worked with the US forces in Iraq. Their execution was the largest massacre of hostages in Iraq since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.
The Iranian President, who is seeing his Foreign policy challenged by the conservative-dominated Iranian Parliament, has had to postpone his official visit to Turkey. This visit, planned for 28 September “has been postponed until there is an agreement, in Iran itself, on the fate” if two contracts promised to Turkish companies “so that we may then reach an agreement with the exterior” declared the government spokesman, Abdolla Ramezanzadeh, on 26 September.
On 22 September, the Parliament struck a fresh blow at the reformist government’s policy of economic liberalisation by forcing the latter to submit all foreign contracts to the Members of Parliament for approval. This new piece of legislation was aimed, in particular, at the Turkish companies TAV (Tepe-Akfen-Vie) and Turkcell regarding, respectively, the second phase of the building of the Imam Khomeiny International Airport, near Teheran and a second mobile telephone network. Faced with the President’s fury, Parliament pulled back by specifying that this legislation would only apply to these two contracts alone. The two contracts “would go into effect only after Parliament’s approval” the new law stipulates.
`Parliament is only aiming at the two contracts with TAV and Turkcell. It is not hostile to foreign investments” insisted the First Vice-President of Parliament, Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, following the vote. “That’s not good enough. The government is still opposed to this law” declared Mr. Ramezanzadeh.
On 22 September, the President went into a rare temper and had denounced what he described as an “unprecedented law in the history of the Islamic Republic (which) paralyses the government’s action”. He had, however, insisted that his journey to Turkey would not be affected.
The contract that the government wants to award to TAV, for a total of 200 millions of dollars, has not yet been signed. The conservatives consider that the presence of TAV at the Airport endangers national security. It was with this argument that, in May, the Army had closed the Airport, which had just received its first flight after years of delays. TAV had secured the running of the first part of the part of the Airport — which is still closed today.
Turkcell, which signed its contract in September, is due to invest over 3 billion dollars in Iran. But it must also pay the Iranian State 300 million euros in licence fees. The conservatives consider that this contract also threatens national interests, since Turkcell could proceed to tap conversations or suspend the operation of the network.
The conservatives also accuse the two Turkish companies of links with Israel, the Islamic Republic’s declared enemy. “In the event o cancellation, the government would have to pay between 300 and 400 millions of euros damages” warned Gholamreza Tajardum, Vice-President of the Plan Organisation, as quoted by the official Iranian news Agency IRNA,
Already this summer the conservative M.P.s had opposed the privatisation of banks or the opening of branches by non-Iranian banks “to prevent foreigners from dominating our economy”.
The conservatives took back almost all powers as well as the Majlis (t he Assembly) in May, but the government objects to being reduced to just winding up current business. The supports of an open policy are becoming anxious at the signals being sent to foreign investors. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development Iran only attracted 120 million dollars of foreign investments in 2003 — a figure challenged by Iranian leaders, who put forward the figure of 2 billion dollars.
According to the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter of 12 September, a Swede of Lebanese origin, arrested in April with three other persons for their alleged implication in the double bomb attack on 1st February, in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, which caused over 100 deaths, has been released.
“We have lodged an appeal against his detention with the (Stockholm) Court of Appeal, which considered that the charges against my client made by the Public Prosecutor are insufficient" indicated his lawyer, Johan Eriksson to the daily Dagens Nyheter.
Four men, two Iraqis, an Israeli-born American and a 35-year old Lebanese-born Swede were arrested on the bases of telephone taps for “terrorist crimes or preparing to commit terrorist crimes”.
On 13 September, Adnan Erzoz, one of the accused who was appearing in the trial of those accused of the Istanbul bomb attack stated that some members of the Turkish cell of al-Qaida had net Ussama ben Laden and other leaders of the network. He also let it be understood that the terrorist organisation had given 150,000 dollars to finance the suicide bomb attacks in Turkey. In November 2003, 61 persons were killed and over 600 injured in explosions aimed at two synagogues, the British consulate and a British bank in Istanbul. Of the 69 suspects on trial, nine testified for the first time on 13 September.
Adnan Erzoz admitted having helped arrange a meeting in 2001 between Abu Hafs al-Masri, a former lieutenant of Ussama ben Laden, and Habib Akdas, the alleged leader of the Turkish cell of al-Qaida. During their meeting, al-Masri accepted to pay 8,900 dollars to send some Turks to Afghanistan, reported Adnan Erzoz. Al-Qaida is said to have also wanted a bomb attack to be made against an Israeli ship that was stopping off in Turkey or else against an air Force base used by US planes at Incirlik, in Southern Turkey, he added. Habib Akdas wanted to meet Ussama ben Laden, and he did so a few days after his meeting with al-Masri, according to Adnan Erzoz, who said he took part in the discussion.
Later in the year, Habib Akdas tried to persuade Adnan Erzoz to help him attack Incirlik, according to the evidence given by the accused. “He spoke to me and he wanted my help. He wanted 150,000 or 200,000 dollars from al-Qaida” Adnan Erzoz reported. “I did not accept his proposal (…) I accepted to dissuade him from it.”
In this trial, the Public Prosecutor is calling for life sentences for five people suspected of having played a direct role in the Istanbul bomb attacks. The other 64 accused face prison sentences of between four and a half and 22 and a half years.