On 30 January, the Iraqis voted massively for a historic poll, the first multi-party elections in fifty years, in an elections punctuated by bomb attacks that killed at least thirty-seven people but failed to dissuade the electors, especially the Shiites in the South and Centre of the country and the Kurds in the North, Adel Lami, a member of the Independent Electoral Commission estimated the percent participation at around 60% — a provisional figure based on rough estimates sent in from the local officials. Carlos Valenzuela, the Venezuelan UNO representative on this Commission, recognised that participation had exceeded expectations. The final official results are not expected before mid-February.
Some 14.2 million electors could vote in 5,159 polling stations. Seventeen thousand candidates and 223 lists were competing for three separate polls. For the National Constituent Assembly of 275 seats, the Iraqis had a choice between 111 lists and 7,761 candidates. The Iraqis also had to elect 41 members to each of the 17 provincial councils and 51 members to the Baghdad Council. As well as the drawing up of the new Constitution, the new National Assembly, 25% of whose seats are reserved for women, must appoint a new President and two Vice-Presidents who, in turn, will appoint a new Prime Minister and, consequently a Cabinet responsible for governing the country till the next elections, planned for December 2005.
The elections, which were watched by 26,629 observers, took place under an entirely proportion representation system, by lists with a single national level constituency. The polling stations were open from 7 a.m. and closed at 5 p.m. local time (GMT -3 hours). The ballot papers were in the two official languages, Arabic and Kurdish, the names, list Numbers and logos of the different lists being clear and legible.
Important security measures were taken for the elections. Baghdad’s international Airport was closed, as were the land borders, and an official 3-day holiday was also decreed as from 29 January. However, transportation, of sick and aged people to the polling booths, was arranged by special buses. An all night curfew was also imposed on most towns.
Shortly before the polls closed, the Non-Governmental Organisation, Eïn (Eye), which acts as umbrella for some 10,000 independent Iraqi observers, affirmed that these first multi-party elections since 1953 had suffered from “very little electoral fraud” and that “in a general way” the elections had taken place “in an excellent manner”. These elections were, globally, “in accordance with international standards”, according to a “preliminary evaluation” of the International Mission for Elections in Iraq (IMEI), which includes observers from a dozen countries, essentially European, and is based in Jordan.
From the first hours of the poll, which took place while 160,000 foreign troops were deployed in Iraq, the electors crowded the polling stations in the Shiite zones of the South and Centre of the country as well as in Kurdistan.
The interim President, Ghazi al-Yawar, was the first political public figure to vote in a special polling station opened in the Green Zone, the highly protected zone in the centre of Baghdad. “I am very proud and happy this blessed morning”, Mr. Yawar declared, wearing traditional clothes as he slipped his ballot paper in the boxes before being given an Iraqi flag in white, black, red and green.
In the towns of the “death triangle” and other Sunni Arab zones, participation was markedly less, some polling stations remaining closed. But an astonishing number of Sunni Arabs nevertheless went to the polls, defying the death threats of the extremist organisations and the calls for a boycott by the principal religious association of this community, which has dominated modern Iraq’s political life, and whose main political organisation, the Iraqi Islamic Party had withdraw from the race.
Nevertheless, the official in charge of the predominantly Sunni town of Samarra declared that less than 1,400 ballot papers had been cast out of a population estimated at 200,000.
The inhabitants of Baghdad voted in an atmosphere marked by a series of seven bloody suicide bomb attacks — although the kamikazes did not succeed in entering any of the polling stations. At least twelve people were killed in these attacks.
In the Shiite areas, millions of enthusiastic electors crowded in front of the polling stations, as in the holy city of Najaf, where “participation reached 90%” according to the local authorities.
In the provinces of Tamim and Niniva, the electors voted in mass, despite the fears of attacks and in the regions round Kirkuk and Mossul. One person was killed in Mossul, where only a moderate number of the town’s electors voted and where preparations for the poll only began a week before because of the security dangers. This state of unpreparedness prevented over 200,000 Kurds and large Christian communities of the Sinjar and Zemmar districts from being able to vote. In Kirkuk the Kurds and Turkomen went to vote in large numbers while the Arabs of this oil-producing city seemed to prefer staying away from the polls. Security measures were considerably strengthened in the city. Some 49,000 previously deported Kurds voted in this city — more than 10% of the 450,000 electors of all communities (Arab, Kurdish, Turkoman and Christian) in the city. The Baath party had deported tens of thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk to Arabise this oil-rich city, which had 959,000 inhabitants — 45% Kurdish, 35% Arab, 20% Turkoman and Christian. An agreement, reached with the Iraqi government on 14 January and formally approved the next day by the Kurds, allowed Kurdish electors who originally lived in Kirkuk and had been deported by Saddam Hussein, to vote in the city. Following this decision, the Unified Arab Front, which included Sunni and Shiite Arab organisations, immediately decided to withdraw from the provincial poll.
The electors also crowed the polls in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, as in Irbil, where the inhabitants hoped that this election would open a new era for their people, long oppressed by the old regime. The Kurds had also to choose 111 members for their autonomous parliament, for which there were 13 lists competing. “It’s a real holiday” stressed Suleimaniyah Province’s Security Chief, Dana Ahmad Majid. These remarks were corroborated by Omar Fatah, the Province’s Prime Minister: “There’s a real joy in going to vote and most people will be going to vote (since) security here is very strict” he stated.
The buildings housing the polling stations in Irbil were very strictly protected by the Kurdish police and Army. In general the security checks were strict, while remaining good humoured — no major incident occurred in Kurdistan before any of the polling stations — unlike the situation in the centre, of the country.
Jalal Talabani, General Secretary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was one of the first to vote in Suleimaniyah. “This is our first real democratic experience”, he declared on voting. He was followed a few hours later by Massud Barzani, President of the other major Kurdish organisation, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), who cast his vote in his stronghold of Salaheddin, 250 Km North of Baghdad. “I am very glad. God be praised, the Kurds and the Arabs are on an equal footing and can vote in democratic elections” Massud Barzani stated to journalists. “This election lays the foundations of a democratic, federal Iraq and I foresee a confident future for the Iraqis” he added. He also paid tribute to the peshmergas who “fought and fell in battle so that a day like this might arrive”.
Unlike the rest of Iraq, this is not the first time that Iraqi Kurdistan has had free elections. Having escaped a fresh wave of repression after the 1991 Gulf War, thanks to Western military intervention, the Kurds of Iraq elected, in 1992 a regional parliament, then, in 1999, three provincial councils.
The Kurdish leaders want the new Constitution to establish their right to self-determination. In Suleimaniyah, as in virtually the whole of Kurdistan, a self-determination referendum took place outside the polling stations, but the Province’s Prime Minister affirmed that the authorities had nothing to do with this parallel vote. “De facto, the present interest of Kurdistan is to remain Iraqi”, he declared. But “you will not find one Kurd who does not want independence”, he admitted.
The international community welcomed the Iraqi mass vote. For US President George Bush, this poll is a “resounding success” even it there is still “some way to go on the road to democracy”. According to him, the “Iraqi people has firmly rejected the undemocratic ideology of the terrorists” and has “refused to give way to intimidation by hoodlums and murderers”. The British Prime Minister, for his part, the British Prime Minister stated that the successful carrying out of the elections was “a blow to the heart of international terrorism”. On the other hand Mr. Blair feared the loss of a British troop transport plane near Baghdad. France and Germany limited themselves to congratulating the Iraqis and UN General Secretary Kofi, Annan, has already offered the new Assembly UN help in the drafting of the new Constitution.
The vote counting of these first elections began as soon as the polling stations closed. The elections officials estimate that they would need six or seven days to give the preliminary results and about a dozen days for the final results. The AUI list, that is putting forward 228 candidates and is supported by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite dignitary in Iraq, is favourite.
The Iraqi expatriates living in 14 foreign countries could also take part in the Iraqi elections. Registering began on 17 January in 36 towns of Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, Holland, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, The United Arab Emirates and the United states. The period for registration that should have ended on Sunday 23 January was extended till 25 January. But the number of 208,303 voters registered is lower than expected. Some 12,000 expatriates Iraqis in Australia began voting on 28January in Sydney, inaugurating the first independent elections in their country in 50 years. Syria has the largest number of Iraqi refugees, about 400,000 people, of whom some 200,000 are entitled to vote, but less than 10% have enrolled, however. Most of the Iraqis in Syria and Jordan are sympathisers of the old regime.
Iraqis living in Turkey started voting for their country’s parliamentary and provincial elections on 28 January. About 4,000 of the 30,000 expected registered to vote in Turkey, according to the International Office on Migrations (IOM), responsible for the organisation of voting by Iraqis abroad. Most pf the Iraqis settled in Turkey, which borders on Iraq, are Turkomen — a Turkic-speaking minority, of whose interests Ankara intends to be the defender, and which is the third largest ethnic group after the Arabs and Kurds. They claim to represent 13% of the 26 million Iraqis, but according to the last census only represent 2% of the population.
In France, only 868 Iraqis took part in the vote. List 130, which unites the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and an umber of smaller Kurdish parties, was by far at the top with 416 votes or 42.97% of the votes cast, followed by the Shiite AUI list with 154 votes and 15.8% and then the Communist Party list with 126 votes (12%). List 285, which is Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s list won 65 votes *6.7%) and Iraqi President, Ghazi al-Yawar’s list 255 11 votes. The party that brings together Sunni public figures around Adnan Pashashi won 33 votes and the party supported by Baathist public figures won 36 votes.
On 19 January, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh announced that the Iraqi government had created a High Committee to normalise the situation of Kurds in Kirkuk who had been deported and expropriated by the old regime. “The government has formed a High Committee responsible for applying Article 58 of the Provisional Constitution regarding the normalising of the situation in Kirkuk”, declared Mr. Saleh, during a Press Conference in that city. Article 58 aims at ending the situation created in Kirkuk by fallen President Saddam Hussein’s regime, which had driven Kurds out and encouraged Arabs to settle in their place. Mr. Saleh pointed out that the government is “convinced of the need to do justice and to remedy the demographic and ethnic changes introduced by the old regime”.
Barham Saleh also announced that the Iraqi government had allocated 100 million dollars to development projects in the city of Kirkuk to build roads, sewers and hospitals. “The city of Kirkuk is one of the richest in the world, but it is poor in projects and in services” he pointed out.
The Kurdish parties claim that Kirkuk should be part of the autonomous Kurdistan, but the Baghdad authorities have so far proposed a solution to the problem through Commissions responsible for checking the complaints of expropriation of Kurds in Kirkuk by the old regime.
On 26 January, the Turkish Army warned against the efforts of Iraqi Kurds who wanted “to alter the ethnic distribution” of Kirkuk. During a Press Conference, the Turkish Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff, General Ilker Basbug, protested against the “influx of hundreds of thousands of Kurdish immigrants into Kirkuk” who have been registered to vote (Editor’s Note: According to the Electoral Commission 49,000 displaced Kurds have been registered to vote in the city). According to the General, a permanent alteration in the ethnic composition is synonymous with inter-ethnic disturbances in this city. “Such a situation could constitute the first step towards the outbreak of civil war (…) We are worried by such developments, which constitute a threat to the territorial and political integrity of Iraq and which create an important security problem in the region” he declared.
In a more diplomatic tone, the Turkish General also deplored the fact that the United States had left the field free to the Kurds. “If the result of these elections is accepted by all in Kirkuk there will be no problem, but if not we will have a point of divergence (with Washington)” he stressed in particular.
The United States will have to accept responsibility for the possible ethnic disturbances in Kirkuk stated the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the day after the Army’s warning. “A false step in Kirkuk will have an impact on peace in Iraq” he told the press at Ankara airport before leaving for the World Economic Forum at Davos, in Switzerland. Mr. Erdogan called on the United Nations, the United States and the international coalition deployed in Iraq not to allow an “unfavourable structure” in Kirkuk — that is allowing the city to return to Kurdish control after the general elections. “If they tolerate such an error, then they will have to foot the bill of undesirable consequences”, he added.
For its part, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned, in a report published on 17 January, that the ethnic tensions in Kirkuk could provoke a civil war and a regional crisis. “In Northern Iraq, a crisis is gestating, largely ignored but liable, if it breaks out, to precipitate a civil war, the dismemberment of the country and even Turkish intervention” considered this group, that specialises in the observation of crisis situations. The ICG notes that the tension between ethnic groups has not ceased increasing since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003. According to the ICG “the pressure of opinion resulting from Ankara’s manipulation of the question of the Iraqi Turkmen and the pursuance of the deployment of Turkish forces on Iraqi soil could create its own dynamic and eventually precipitate military intervention in Kirkuk”.
On 24 to 27 January, Syrian President Bachar al-Assad paid his first visit to Russia to renew bilateral cooperation, despite a polemic provoked by Israel over a sale of Russian arms to Syria. This is the first visit to Russia by a Syrian head of state since 1999. In that year, the late President, Hafez al-Assad had gone there for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, of Which Syria had been the principal ally in the Near East. Mr. Assad was accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Faruk al-Shareh and a large delegation of businessmen.
This visit took place at a time when Damascus is under intense pressure from Paris and Washington, who attack its ward ship over the Lebanon. Since May 2004, Syria has also been subjected to economic sanctions imposed by the United States that accuse it of “supporting international terrorism” and of destabilising its Iraqi neighbour. The visit also takes place in the context of a polemic between Russia and Israel, which is worried about a contract that Mr. Assad may sign for the delivery of SA-19 ground-air missiles.
The excellent relations between Moscow and Damascus in the days of the USSR had been frozen in the early 90s. They have improved since 2001, according to some diplomatic sources. At present, while Syria seems isolated internationally, Moscow maintains an open attitude. At the height of the American threats against Damascus, Russia had called on the US leaders to “show more restraint”. In September, Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, had abstained during a vote on resolution 1559 passed by this organisation at the demand of Washington and Paris. This resolution had demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the Lebanon and the disarming of the militia in that country. Through its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, Russia had then considered it necessary to “resolve all the problems of the Near East”.
According to the Russian daily Kommersant, the Syrian President was welcomed with all due honours. “It is a long time since Moscow has placed so many hopes on a visit of this kind” wrote the liberal daily. “According to the ideas of some Russian diplomats, the young Syrian leader is the one who will help Russia to regain a place worthy of itself in the Near East and, through this its status as a super-power”. “Syria is the only country in which we still have a naval base”, stated Oleg Baranov, of the Moscow State Institute for Foreign Relations. “It is the only Arab country through which we can influence the situation in the Middle East because the others are more inclined to listen to the United States or even France”, he added.
Discussions with President Putin also covered Iran — suspected by the United States of wanting to equip itself with nuclear weapons — and on the situation in the Near East. Mr. Putin, for his part, stated that Russia planned to “use the Syrian route” to influence the peace process in the Near East.
To seal their renewed friendship, Moscow and Damascus displayed their determination to renew the privileged links they had in the days of the USSR, settling the thorny question of Syrian’s debt by deciding to develop their military cooperation, despite Israeli and American criticisms. “These discussions will be an important milestone, opening a new chapter in our bi-lateral relations”, declared with pleasure President Putin after welcoming his Syrian opposite number, Bachar al-Assad to the Kremlin. In a declaration signed by both presidents, Russia and Syria commit themselves to “developing their traditional cooperation in the technico-military area, in accordance with their mutual interests and their international commitments”.
Furthermore, Russia made an important gesture by accepting to cancel 73% of Syria’s debt, which goes back to the Soviet period. Moscow has thus wiped the slate clean of $9.8 billion out of a total of $13.4 billion.
On 19 January, two home made bombs exploded as convoys of Kurdish leaders went by in the cities of Irbil and Dohuk, killing one person and injuring another. In Irbil, a bomb exploded in the Azadi quarter as the convoy of the chief of the police academy, Wirya Maaruf, was passing. Mr. Maaruf was unharmed, but one person was killed and another wounded, In the city of Dohuk, the convoy of the Provincial Governor, Nechirvan Ahmad was also targeted by the explosion of a home made bomb, the local police stated. This attack damaged one of the cars of the convoy, without injuring anyone, according to the same source. This is the third attack on the governor of Dohuk.
Moreover, at least 15 people were killed and 30 others injured in an attack with a booby-trapped lorry on 26 January outside a Kurdish party headquarters in Sinjar. A lorry, loaded with one ton of TNT, exploded at 2.30 pm outside the KDP offices, killing 15 people and wounding 30 others. Ten cars were completely burnt out and half the building housing the KDP offices was destroyed as well as several nearby buildings. In a communiqué broadcast on Internet, the fundamentalist group of Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, the al Qaida leader in Iraq, claimed credit for this attack, specifying that it was a suicide attack. On 30 January, the attack on the convoy of the Kurdish Deputy Governor of Mossul, Khasro Goran, caused one death and one injured as a result of a home made bomb explosion as the convoy went by. A captain of the Iraqi police, assistant to the police chief of a locality called Tara Hanjil, between Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah and a KDP member, was also found riddled with bullets in Kirkuk on 20 January.
Meanwhile, bomb attacks and kidnappings continue. Monsignor Basil George Casmussa, Archbishop of Mossul, was freed on 18 January, less than 24 hours after being kidnapped, but eight Chinese working for the US forces were also taken hostage by an armed group. In Kirkuk, the security services nevertheless dismantled a “criminal and terrorist” network that specialised in kidnapping public figures and businessmen. According to a lading official “certain members of the network tried, by their operations, to foment sedition between the different communities of the region, Arab, Kurdish and Turcoman” before the elections.
“I am expecting an escalation of terrorist actions during the coming period, especially in Baghdad” he warned. This escalation has “the aim of forcing certain (Iraqis) to vote for a certain party and to force others not to go and vote during the elections” declared the Minister of the Interior, Falah al-Nakib.
Furthermore, the US Secretary of State designate, Condoleezza Rice, who was hear all day by the Senate Foreign Affairs Commission, promised, on 18 January, a more diplomatic foreign policy, but without any leniency for “tyrannies” and admitted that the United States was facing “great tactical challenges” in Iraq. Questioned at length about Iraq, she recognised, in particular, that there remained a great deal to do before the Iraqi forces would be sufficiently numerous and operational.
On 25 January, US President G.W. Bush’s Administration also announced that it would ask for an extra 80 billion dollars to cover the cost of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, according to Congress leaders. This will raise the total cost for the Iraqi and Afghan wars and the fight against terrorism in the rest of the world to over 280 billion dollars since the allocation of the first funds following the 9 September attacks. The demand will not be sent to Congress officially until the US President has presented his 2006 budget, next February.
In London, the Royal Air Force announced that a C-130 Hercules heavy transport plane, that can be used to transport either troops or equipment, had crashed North of Baghdad later that afternoon. This crash, whose cause is still undetermined, caused “about 10 deaths”, according to British Forces sources, according to whom it was “highly improbable” that there were more than 15 dead.
The American authorities in Iraq have lost all trace of a sum of about 9 billion dollars transferred to the Iraqi Ministries, completely lacking in adequate financial controls, security, communications and personnel, according to an audit carried out by an American Inspector General. The American leaders had relied on Iraqi accountancy agencies to check on the management of these funds, but these accountancy offices were not yet in operation at the time when the money was allocated to the ministries between October 2003 and June 2004, according to the report.
The conclusions of this audit, carried out by Stuart Bowen Jr., Inspector General responsible for checking the accounts for the reconstruction of Iraq, were revealed on 30 January. Washington paid out 8.8 billion dollars to the Iraqi ministries “without any assurance that these sums were posted to account” stressed Stuart Bowen Jr., who made public several reports of the Provisional Coalition Authority in Iraq, which was administering Iraq between June 2003 and June 2004.
Reacting to the Inspector General’s conclusions, the Chief Civilian Administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, considered in a communiqué that this audit contained “numerous false ideas and inaccuracies” and was lacking in professional judgement. Paul Bremer thus noted that the report “supposed that Western accounting and budgeting procedures could be immediately and entirely applied in the middle of a war”.
The Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, for his part, considered that the Provisional Coalition Authority had been curbed by “the extraordinary conditions” in which it had to work during its mission in Iraq. “We are simply not in agreement with the audit’s conclusions that the Provisional Coalition Authority did not supply adequate controls” he declared, adding that the transfer of such sums were part of the Authority’s mission to restore Iraqi governance.
Monsignor Paul Karatas, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Diyarbekir, settled in Istanbul, died on 16 January at the age of 71, following a long illness, reported a communiqué from the Chaldean Church. Monsignor Paul Karatas, of the Chaldean Catholic Church, attached to Rome since the middle of the 16th Century, had already been in hospital in Istanbul for several weeks. He was the only Bishop of this church in Turkey, where the Assyro-Chaldean community, all faiths included, amounts to some 10,000 souls.
Monsignor Paul Karatas was born in 1934, at the little Assyro-Chaldean village of Harbol, in Turkish Kurdistan. He was ordained priest in 1968 and in 1977 was consecrated Bishop by His Beatitude Monsignor Paul II Sheikho, former Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, whose seat is now occupied by Monsignor Emmanuel III Dely, in Baghdad.
The death of Monsignor Paul Karatas has deeply grieved the members of his community, now principally settled in Sarcelles, in France, in the Pontoise diocese. A year ago he had taken part in the blessing of the new Chaldean Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, in this diocese
On 18 January, Tokyo sent back to Turkey a Kurd and his son, to whom the UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) had given refugee status. Ahmet Kazankiran (49 years of age) and his 20-year-old son, Ramzan, were put on a plane for Turkey, thus becoming the first asylum seekers to be deported by Japan after having received refugee status from the HCR. In October 2004, the HCR had recognised as refugees the members of the Kazankiran family: Ahmet, his wife Safiye, their two sons, including Ramzan, and three daughters.
This decision provoked indignant reactions. Japan is undermining the European Union’s efforts in favour of Human Rights in Turkey, declared the Kurdish family’s lawyer on 19 January, demanding the right of asylum in the Archipelago. “By approving the present situation in Turkey, Japan is hindering the efforts being made by the European Union”, declared the lawyer, Takeshi Ohashi, before the journalists.
In another Press Conference the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, defended Japan’s policy, which, according to him, consists of “taking into account, as much as possible, Human Rights and individual situations”.
“My family observed the law and went to the Immigration Services”, declared Ahmet Kazankiran’s eldest daughter, Zehila (21) according to the daily paper Japan Times. “We simply want to protect our lives. How could be have been subjected to such horrible treatment?” she added, according to the paper, which reported the case on its front page under the headline: “Japan defies UNO, expels refugees”.
Japan has only accepted 10 people as refugees in 2003. No Kurd from Turkey has ever been accepted as a refugee in this country. The expelled Kurds run the risk of being tortured in Turkey, declared Erdal Dogan, whose family had organised a 72 hour sit in until the end of September 2004 before the United Nations University of Tokyo, to protest against the refusal of Japan to give tem refugee status. Most of the members of the two families have been living in Japan since the 90s and been struggling through the courts to receive refugee status. “A Western country would recognise Kurds as refugees even if it had friendly relations with Turkey. In Japan, on the other hand) questions of immigration) are never independent of politics” he declared.
On 20 January, the Hague Court of Appeal forbade the extradition of a woman leader of the PKK (renamed Kongra –Gel), Nusriye Kesbir, considering that she risks being tortured. Turkey is demanding her extradition charging her of being responsible for attacks on military objectives. “The Court of Appeals forbids the Minister of justice (Piet Hein) to extradite Nusriye Kesbir to Turkey” pointed out a communiqué from the Court of Appeal, confirming a lower court’s ruling of 8 November. The judges “considered that the danger of Mrs. Kesbir, who is an important member of the PKK, being tortured is too great” the communiqué stressed. They point out that the guarantees given by Turkey “are too general and not concrete enough to exclude the risk of torture”.
While noting that the Turkish government “has introduced important improvements in the area of human rights”, the Appeal Judges considered that “torture is not yet totally a practice of the past”. They recall the difference between “what the government wants and what takes place at a lower level in police stations and prisons”, which creates the high risk of torture for Mrs. Kesbir. The judges stress, however, that that this risk could, perhaps, be eliminated “if the Turkish government gave concrete guarantees of its determination to keep watch and ensure that Mrs. Kesbir be not tortured”.
Mrs. Kesbir had been placed in a detention centre pending her possible eventual extradition but the Public Prosecutor, after the Supreme Court’s ruling has also ordered that she be released. Although technically illegal in the Netherlands, the Minister of Justice, Wim Wok, indicated that it was improbable that she would be arrested for this reason.
Nusriye Kesbir is charged by Ankara with at least twenty-five attacks between 1993 and 1995, but she denies her involvement in these attacks. She had arrived at Amsterdam-Schipol Airport in September 2001 and her application for asylum was refused. In September 2004, after a green light from the Netherlands Supreme Court, the Minister of Justice had authorised Mrs. Kesbir’s extradition, making the point that he “had obtained an express guarantee from the Turkish authorities that (Mrs. Kesbir) would have the benefit of an equitable trial in accordance with international treaties”. Mrs. Kesbir had, however, started an appeal before The Hague Court stating that she feared torture and a biased trial. The Netherlands Minister of Justice, like Mrs. Kesbir’s defence, has eight weeks in which to appeal against this ruling before the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile two PKK members were arrested in the Netherlands and another in Germany suspected of extortion, the national Public Prosecutor’s Office announced on 20 January. “The Kurdistan Workers’ Party is suspected of using threats, force and extortion to collect funds for the organisation” according to a communiqué from the National Office. The two suspects were arrested at Rotterdam and The Hague respectively. A third was arrested in Germany, at an unspecified location, at the request of the Dutch police.
According to the Dutch authorities, the enquiry showed that drug traffickers were forced by violence to pay contributions to the PKK. Members of the Kurdish community are said to have suffered the same pressures. The National Office had received a complaint from a Kurdish businessman who said he had been the victim of an attempt to extort funds.
But these arrests are part of a series of enquiries being conducted in the Netherlands since 2003, according to the Prosecutors Office. At the end of 2004, 38 members of the PKK were arrested in the course of the dismantling of what the authorities had described as a training camp.
For its part, Turkey is seeking to secure the extradition of Remzi Kartal, Vice-President of Kongra-Gel, taken in for questioning in Nuremburg on the basis of an international arrest warrant for “taking part in a terrorist organisation” issued by Turkey. “Efforts are under way for his extradition in the terms of the convention for the extradition of criminals” declared the Turkish Minister of Justice, Cemil Cicek on 26 January. A file for requesting his extradition has been completed, stated the Turkish minister, adding that Turkey had demanded that he be kept in detention.
• HALABJA : BARHAM SALEH PROMISES THAT “CHEMICAL ALI” WILL BE TRIED IN THE MARTYRED CITY. On 22 January, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Saleh, promised the families of the Kurdish victims of the gas attack on Halabja, that their torturer, Ali Hassan al-Majid, alias “Chemical Ali”, one of the leaders of the old regime, would be tried in this Kurdish town. “We will bring Chemical Ali to you that he be tried before the families of the victims of this gas attack”, declared Mr. Saleh, speaking to these families during a meeting with them in Halabja. “The representatives of the Halabja victims must ask the next government to allocate part of the Iraqi budget to the reconstruction of this town, so that its inhabitants can erase the remaining traces of this gas attack”, he added.
“Chemical Ali” and the former Defence Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmad were the first of the Saddam Hussein regime’s top brass to be heard by an investigating judge of the Special Iraqi Court last December. Ali Hassan al-Majid, accused of having ordered the gassing of Kurds, is a first cousin of Saddam Hussein, of whom he was one of the closest collaborators. Sultan Hashem Ahmad is accused of involvement in the campaign against the Kurds.
On 16 March 1988, Saddam Hussein’s armed forces bombed Halabja with chemical weapons, causing 5,000 deaths and tens of thousands of injured in a few minutes.
• ISRAEL NEGOTIATES AN ARMS CONTRACT WORTH 1.5 BILLION DOLLARS WITH TURKEY, TO MODERNISE THE TURKISH ARMY. Israel is negotiating a contract of cooperation in the area of armaments with Turkey worth 1.5 billion dollars, the Israeli daily Haaretz announced on 31 January.
According to this paper, the Director General of the Israeli Defence Ministry, General Amos Yaalon, led a delegation to Ankara a week earlier, to discuss with senor officials of the Turkish Ministry of Defence, matters relating to cooperation between the two countries, and particularly regarding the modernisation of the Turkish Army. The contract envisaged, in particular, the modernisation by Israeli experts of 48 F-4 Phantom aircraft and of 200 to 300 Turkish M-48Patton tanks, a well as the purchase by the Turkish Army of Israeli Harpy type drones.
• ANKARA DEMANDS THAT THE IRAQI AUTHORITIES “CLEAN UP” MEMBERS OF THE PKK, INCLUDING THOSE POLITICALLY INVOLVED IN IRAQ. Turkey has asked the Iraqi authorities to undertake legal action against Kurdish parties that, according to them, have links with the PKK fighters. The spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Namik Tan, considered, on 19 January that “the terrorist organisation (the standard title given by the Turkish authorities to the PKK) is now making efforts to establish itself in Iraq by using Iraqi citizens who it has won to its cause”. According to Mr. Tan, who was speaking at a Press conference, the PKK has a strategy of “introducing into the Iraqi political system organisations that could be useful to it in the future”. “We have thus asked the interim government to begin legal proceedings against two parties that we think are linked to Kurdish rebel organisations (…) We have sent the information to the Iraqi administration and will continue to observe the situation closely” he added. The spokesman did not name the parties.
An official of the Foreign Ministry named the Party for the Democratic solution of Kurdistan and the Party for Democratic Reconstruction, adding that both were registered to take part in the 30 January elections in Iraq. Ankara also demands that Iraqi Kurdistan be “cleaned up” of PKK members who have found asylum there but the Turks have failed to convince their American allies to conduct military actions to this end. Washington recommends political means to resolve the question of the PKK’s presence in Iraqi Kurdistan by peaceful means.
On the other hand, clashes continue in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey. Thus, during a clash in the Sirnak region on January 20, the Turkish Army killed five PKK Kurdish fighters. According to the Turkish authorities, a Turkish soldier was also killed and another wounded during an attack on a gendarmerie post at Gullu hamlet in Mardin province on 27 January.
Furthermore, thirteen people were injured on 23 January in Siirt during clashes with the police on the occasion of the funerals of two Kurdish fighters killed in a shoot out with the Turkish Army. The incidents broke out when the crowd attending the funerals refused to bury the dead in the graves assigned by the local authorities and demanded they be buried elsewhere.
Faced with the police refusal, the crowd began to throw sticks and stones at them while the police used their truncheons and tear gas bombs.