On 14 June, Massud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), assumed the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of Iraqi Kurdistan while committing himself to strengthening the national unity of the country and fraternity between Kurds and Arabs. On 12 June, Mr. Barzani had received the 42 votes of his own party, the 42 votes of his ally Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the 27 votes of the other smaller Kurdish organisations. The swearing in ceremony, which the Kurds wanted to be particularly splendid, was postponed because of a sandstorm, which had prevented important public figures arriving from Baghdad. Massud Barzani’s installation at the head of the three Kurdish Provinces assumes a major importance for the Kurds. It was under a gigantic picture of Mustafa Barzani, who had led and inspired Kurdish resistance to Baghdad’s central authority for many long years, that the son took his oath of office, one hand on a copy of the Qoran. The ceremony, which took place in the 111-seat Kurdish House of Parliament, was attended by the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani and the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Hajem al-Hassani. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was unable to make the journey to Irbil, but UN General Secretary Kofi Annan’s envoy, Ashraf Qazi and several foreign diplomats were present.
“I will spare no efforts for strengthening national unity, fraternity between Kurds and Arabs and unity within Kurdistan”, declared Mr. Barzani after taking his oath at the Kurdish Parliament’s rostrum, before an audience of diplomats and public figures. “We have a historic opportunity for drawing up a permanent Constitution that will determine our destiny and it is essential that it guarantee a free and worthy life for every Iraqi citizen”, he added. “We have fought together to bring down the dictatorship with out friends, the United States and Great Britain, and we now have the task of building a new democratic, federal and plural Iraq”, he continued. The head of the KDP also undertook a solemn commitment to “preserving the rights and gains of Kurdistan”, whose autonomy dates, in fact, from 1991, with the setting up of the air exclusion zone over part of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Adnan Mufti, declared “this is a historic day for the Iraqis, and particularly the Kurds. A day that marks the beginning of a new era, devoted to consolidating democracy”. Then, addressing the audience, he stressed “Your presence here bear witness to the solidity of the bonds between the various components of the Iraqi people — the Arabs, the Kurds, the Turcomen as well as the Assyrio-Chaldeans”. For his part, President Talabani stressed: “This event is likely to strengthen national unity, a genuine unity between ethnic groups, built on a free choice”. “ We believe that the democratic experiment in Kurdistan can serve as an example of that democracy to which we aspire for Iraq”, he added.
The Kurdish Parliament first met in Irbil on 4 June, more than four months after the General Election that had elected this 111-member assembly, as well as the 275-member Iraqi Parliament and 18 Iraqi Provincial councils. This delay was due to differences between the two main Kurdish parties on the method of electing the President of the Autonomous Region, the KDP insisting on direct election by universal suffrage (which would have meant holding another election). On 29 May they reached an agreement that involved confiding the Presidency to Mr. Barzani for four years and asking Parliament to elect his. The Bill adopted by the Kurdish Parliament makes the President the Chief Executive and co-ordinator between the regional authorities and Baghdad, the head of the Regional security forces and spokesman for the Iraqi Kurds with international bodies. This Bill, proposed by both the KDP and the PUK, was passed after three sittings. It envisages the direct election of the President of Kurdistan by universal suffrage for a four-year term of office, with the possibility of standing for re-election once only — but that, in view of the circumstances, the Kurdish Parliament should, exceptionally, the elect first president.
The whole of Kurdistan welcomed the election of Massud Barzani with jubilation. People came out of their houses onto the streets in the main towns to celebrate Mr. Barzani’s election to the Region\s top post. Cars, draped in the Kurdish national colours, ran hooting round the streets of Irbil, now officially established as the Region’s capital. Popular celebrations and parties lasted for several days, in an atmosphere of calm, without any violent incidents. In Iran, demonstrators came out into the streets to celebrate Massud Barzani’s swearing-in at Mahabad, a historic stronghold of Kurdish nationalism — and also the city where the Kurdish president was born (during the short-lived Kurdish Republic of 1946). However, the Iranian police moved in to disperse the crowds, which provoked clashes. Peaceful demonstrations of support took place in several towns in Turkish Kurdistan, particularly in Diyarbekir where pictures of him were displayed. In Syria, as well as in the Kurdish communities of Europe, the Kurdish President’s election was celebrated with parties. In Paris, several hundreds of people were invited to a reception organised by the Kurdish Institute. Many foreign and Kurdish public figures sent messages of congratulation to President Barzani, including George Bush, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, and Javier Solana. Evidently, Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand, a long-standing defender of the Kurdish cause, also sent a message in which she wrote, in particular:
“I have learnt with great joy of your election as President of Kurdistan. I am very glad to have lived long enough to see the realisation of the dream of a President, democratically elected by the people of Kurdistan.
I am glad to see that struggles for freedom and dignity, when they are led by lucid, just and courageous leaders enjoying the support of their populations, end up by triumphing, despite apparently insurmountable difficulties and obstacles. A few years ago I celebrated the victory of my friend Nelson Mandela — today I am celebrating yours with many and faithful friends of the Kurdish people.
First ever President of Kurdistan, you will henceforth have to assume historic responsibilities for your people. Knowing your wisdom and sense of justice, I am convinced that, henceforth, you will act as President of all the people of Kurdistan, without political or religious discrimination, and not just as leader of a party. You will have a crucial role to play in laying down, in your Region, the foundations of a just, equitable and united society, observing the rights of the working classes, women and minorities. The unity of your people, which is your most precious asset, can only be achieved and maintained if the political system you establish is based on justice, democracy and equality of opportunity for all its citizens,
No doubt the Kurds of other parts of Kurdistan will see the elected President of Iraqi Kurdistan as the spiritual president of all the Kurds. There too, you will have to maintain solidarity with your brothers of countries of the region still struggling for their freedom to help them peacefully to secure their rights.
Finally, you will have to play an important part in setting up institutions in a democratic and federal Iraq, by cooperating closely with President Talabani, with the political parties and the Kurdistan Parliament and with all those forces that are working for a peaceful, stable and sovereign Iraq.
The task awaiting you is immense, but it is also exciting because history has given you the chance and the honour of realising a centuries-old dream of your people. I am sure that your father, who devoted his life to the realisation of this dream, would be most proud of you, as al of us, Kurds by birth and Kurds at heart, are very proud of you.
Wishing you every success in your eminent office, I embrace you most affectionately.”
For his part, the President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, in his message, stressed: “Your election is a political event of the utmost importance in the history of the Kurdish people. It crowns a three-century long struggle to create a Kurdish State. A struggle first launched by Ehmedê Xanî, pursued with courage by the great figures of our national history such as Mîr Mohammad of Rawandiz, Mîr Bedirxan of Botan, Sêx Ubeydullahê Nehrî, Sêx Saîdê Pîran, Sêx Mahmûd Barzanji, Ihasan Nûrî Pasa, Pêsewa Qazî Mohammed, Mela Mustafa Barzani and Dr. Abdul Rahman Qasimlou. You have, with Brêz Jalal Talabani, embodied in these last decades, this glorious struggle for the freedom of the people of Kurdistan.
The fact that Jalal Talabani is today President of Iraq and you of Kurdistan, that you have been cooperating hand in hand in the national interests of our people, is a source of great pride for all the Kurdish nation and for all our many faithful and devoted friends throughout the world. Democratically elected by the Kurdistan National Assembly, you are henceforth, in effect, President of all the Kurds. You embody the hopes and aspirations of 35 million Kurds of the Near East. From California to Kazakhstan, from Norway to Australia, all the Kurdish communities of the world have their eyes on you, on the Kurdistan Government and parliament. The success of your Government will serve as a model and source of inspiration to the Kurdish national as a whole and will open the way for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish problem in the neighbouring States and for their indispensable democratisation.
This is why we are all with you with all our heart. The heart of every Kurdish patriot is beating in Irbil and they are all ready to be mobilised for the success of the Federated State of Kurdistan, for its President, its Government and its Parliament.
I am sure that you will know how to mobilise and channel these energies and that, together, we will build a free, democratic and fraternal Kurdistan.
With my respects and brotherly greetings”.
No sooner elected, Massud Barzani went to Baghdad on 19 June to put the demands of the Kurds before the Members of the Transitional Assembly that is charged with drawing up the future Constitution, repeating his commitment to the fundamental transitional law passed in 2004. “If we base ourselves on the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and our agreements made before the fall (of Saddam Hussein) then we will be able to write and approve the Constitution in time” declared the President of the Kurdish Region to the Members of Parliament. “We are all agreed that the TAL should be the basis and we must stand by that, We must not be deviated from it” he insisted.
The TAL was drafted and adopted by the Iraqi Government Council set up by the American authorities who ruled Iraq after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, from April 2003 to June 2004. This law stipulated the drafting of a definitive Constitution by 15 August, which was to be submitted for approval by a referendum before 15 October. An extension of the deadline of up to six months was authorised. “We promise, once more, to cooperate in the building of a federal, democratic and plural Iraq”, repeated Mr. Barzani, who had replaced his traditional Kurdish dress with a dark suit. “We must correct all the reasons and consequences of the changes imposed by the old regime on the demographic composition of the country, at Kirkuk and in other Kurdish regions”, he stressed.
The Kurds are claiming the return to this city of al those who had been driven out during the campaign of forced “Arabisation” conducted by the Saddam Hussein regime, as well as the restoration of their property. This point is stipulated in Article 58 of the TAL. “We must apply Article 58 and recognise the specifically Kurdish character of Kirkuk and make it a symbol of coexistence” insisted Mr. Barzani.
During a Press conference the day after his speech in Baghdad, Massud Barzani expressed the hope that his country should henceforth be called the Federal Republic of Iraq and that this name be written into the Constitution. “We want the new name of our country to be the Federal Republic of Iraq”, he stressed. He presented the arguments in favour of this system and offered to help regions that wished to become Federal Regions. “Those who want to impose a centralised government want to divide Iraq. Our experience proves that federalism represents the unification of Iraq and not its division, and those who believe the opposite are mistaken”, pointed out Mr. Barzani.
The idea of forming one or more autonomous Shiite regions in the centre and the South of Iraq has been in the air for several months. Thus, at the beginning of June, the governor of Kerbala, Okail Khazali, announced the setting up of a committee with the responsibility of determining, by the end of the month, whether it were better to associate with the Province of Najaf, further South, or with Babylon, further North and Wasset, further East. The committee has until 30 June to resolve this issue. It will be on the basis if its recommendations that the other provinces will be approached, the Regional officer had indicated. In March a tribal chief and Member of Parliament, Abdel Karim al-Mohammadawi, had issued a call for setting up a Shiite autonomous region in the South, modelled on the Kurdistan region. On the basis of the fundamental law, at present in force in Iraq, three governorates (provinces) can group together to form an autonomous region, with the exception of Baghdad and Kirkuk.
“Since the creation of the Iraqi State, over 80 years ago, we have only experienced tyranny and dictatorship, we have been governed by un-elected governments that imposed their force with tanks” declared Mr. Barzani, referring to the monarchy and then the republican regime that followed in 1958. “What do you want? To repeat the experience (…) of the past or that we set to work to install a federal mechanism that works and resolves our problems, such as they have in Germany” he concluded.
On the other hand, Massud Barzani denied news reports of acts of violence against the Arab and Turkic minorities by Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan. “The news published in the Washington Post is baseless and the accusations made are false”, he stated. On 15 June the Washington Post had stated that the Kurds in Kirkuk had summarily arrested hundreds of Arabs and Turcomen and forcibly conducted them to prisons in Irbil and Suleimaniyeh with the support of American forces. According to Mr. Barzani, “the American Army arrested suspect in Kirkuk and other regions and asked to be able to send them to Irbil for a specific and limited period of time, till the end of their interrogation or till the Americans took them back”. “We have not arrested anyone, and all those who were transferred to Irbil were send there at the insistent request of the Americans and who have since taken them back”, added Mr. Barzani. The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, categorically denied any US involvement in these acts.
The Conference on Iraq, which brought together, in Brussels on 22 June, over 80 countries and international organisations, ended with the adoption of a declaration of support for the Iraqi transition government in its efforts to restore security and rebuild the country. “What we ask is exactly that for which your people ask you. The children of Iraq are exactly like yours, they do not want to lose their fathers and become orphans. The women of Iraq are exactly like yours, they do not want to lose their husbands and become widows”, exclaimed the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who arrived with several members of his cabinet. This was the first time the new Iraqi authorities had had the opportunity of expounding their vision of the future before the international community that was present in full, from Russia to China, including Syria and Iraq.
The government had set itself four priorities, pointed out the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari: to draw up a Constitution and ensure that the elections took place in December as planned; to ensure the stability of the country; to rebuild the economy; to establish solid links with the neighbouring countries, including Syria and Iran. Baghdad, declared the Minister, does not underestimate the “very real challenges” with which Iraq is faced. One of these challenges is to ensure that all the components of Iraqi society take part in the political future of the country, in particular the Sunni Arab minority that used to dominate the country under the Saddam Hussein regime and which is sustaining the ranks of the insurgents. “We want a stable constitutionally elected government established by a democratic process”, Mr. Zebari summed up. The Iraqi government, he explained, will ask for help in training its army, building up its police force and its magistracy. Moreover, Baghdad expects concrete measures from its neighbours to control their borders and prevent infiltration of insurgents into Iraq.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice considered that, in return, the new Iraqi executive must improve security, develop its economy and “open a political area for all the members of Iraqi society who reject violence”. She also stressed later during a Press Conference, that Syria “has a responsibility” — that “of not letting its territory be used” as a rear base for terrorist operations in Iraq.
No concrete initiative was expected of the Brussels Conference, which was attended, in particular, by the UN Secretary, General, Kofi Annan, and the heads of the American and European foreign offices. It was principally held to express a political message of support, which is reflected in the final statement: the Conference supports the efforts undertaken by the transition government with a view “to achieving a democratic, plural, federal and united Iraq that reflects the will of the people and fully observes political and human rights”.
A Conference of donor countries will be held separately on 17 and 18 July in Amman in Jordan. During the previous one, in 2004, the donors promised some 32 billion dollars. The Paris Club, which includes the United States, Japan, Russia and the countries of the European Union, moreover, cancelled over 80% of Iraq’s debt in 2004, that is, some 24 billion euros. This represents a quarter of the Iraqi debt. The other countries to which Iraq is estimated to owe about 57 billion euros, will be encouraged to do likewise.
“This is a very important day for Iraq”, commented British Foreign Minister Jack Straw. “This stresses that the international community, deeply divided” before the US launching of the conflict in 2003 without UN approval is “henceforth rallying round in an active way to support the building of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Iraq”.
The participants have decided “to support the democratically elected Iraqi transition government … (which) has carried out a complete survey of its political and economic programmes as well as those in the area of public security, by stressing the areas that need priority action”.
The participants “expressed their support for the efforts of the Iraqis aiming at a democratic plural federal and unified Iraq reflecting the will of the people where political and human rights are fully observed”.
The participants “urged all Iraqis to participate in the political process and called on the Iraqi transition government (…) to continue and intensify its efforts to involve all parties to renounce violence (…) so as to promote national reconciliation. The participants firmly condemned the terrorist actions, including the kidnappings and assassinations”.
The participants “called on Iraq and the States of the region (…) to cooperate with one another so as to prevent cross border transit of support for the terrorists, to strengthen neighbourly relations and improve regional security”. They “welcomed the Iraqi vision of economic reconstruction and reaffirmed the importance of creating the conditions for a social-economic development (of Iraq) likely to benefit all Iraqis”.
The participants “recalled the commitments they had made to lighten Iraq’s debt and called on other creditors to undertake a lightening of the debt on terms as generous as those given by the members of the Paris Club”.
The participants “agreed to decide between now and the Amman meeting (on 17 and 18 July) on means for stimulating the co-ordination of their aid to Iraq”. “The participants fully recognised the importance of the agreement of the sovereign Iraqi government to the presence of multinational forces and these forces have indicated their commitment to acting in conformity with international law, including the obligations of international humanitarian law”.
The Baas Party Congress that met from 6 to 9 June “affirmed the necessity of settling the problem of the 1962 “census” organised at Hassaké (which had arbitrarily stripped tens of thousands of Kurds of their citizenship) and of working for the development of the (Kurdish) region”. According to the recommendations of the Congress published on 14 June by the Syrian press, it invited the government to grant Syrian nationality to some 225,000 Kurds who had been considered foreigners. According to the Syrian Kurdish parties, 225,000 Kurds are deprived of their nationality as a result of the 1962 census, to which must be added 75,000 others “without identity documents”. The Kurdish leaders deny any secessionist aims and assure that they only want recognition of their language and their culture, as well as their political rights.
Furthermore, the Congress of the Baath Party, in power in Syria, re-elected President Bachar al-Assad as General Secretary of the Party and recommended a revision of the State of Emergency law as well as the promulgation of new laws on political parties and the media. The delegates also elected a new national leadership, into which several new public figures close to President al-Assad have entered, while the bulk of the veterans are no longer members. The Baath Congress, the first for five years, declared itself in favour of a “revision of the State of Emergency” proposing “to limit its application to crimes that attack the security of the State” declared Mrs. Boussaina Chaabane, Minister for Emigrés and spokesperson of the Congress, during a Press Conference. The State of Emergency, which has been in force since the Baath Party took power in 1963, gives very wide powers to the security services, bans meetings and authorises press censorship.
In a blaze of propaganda, the regime also promises “profound political and economic reforms” such as “the adoption of a law on political parties and the revision of the electoral law” for local and general elections. Some Syrian leaders had indicated, before the end of the work of the Congress, that the parties that would be authorised should not have “any ethnic, sectarian, religious or regional basis”. This automatically excludes the Moslem Brothers and the Kurdish parties, banned at the moment and yet the only real opposition organisations. The Baath only tolerates six small parties, of a more or less socialist orientation, on the political checkerboard.
The delegates also recommended the drafting of a “law on news and information”, according to the Sana News Agency. They recommended the “constitution of a higher council for news and information” and “the amendment of the law on publications”, which at present allows prison sentences for journalists who contravene it. According to Mrs. Chaabane, the Congress also recommended that Syria be steered towards “a social market economy”, that is by maintaining the social role of the State. It called on “the government to set up a plan of global economic reform, with a timetable”. Mrs. Chaabane further indicated that the party “outlined the strategy” that will be carried out by the government. According to her, the delegates elected a Central Committee of 96 members, including 18 women.
At the end of its work, Mr. Assad made a 3-hour speech. Five members of the old leadership are in the new 21-man national command. Besides President Assad, there remain the Foreign Minister, Faruk al-Chareh, the Prime Minister, Mohammed Naji Otri, the Finance Minister, Mohammed al-Hussein, and the President of the Committee of national Security, Mohammad Said Bkhetane. Notable new members are the Minister of Defence, Hassan Turkmani, the Director of General Intelligence Services, Hicham Bakhtiar, the Speaker of Parliament, Mahmud al-Abrach, and one of President al-Assad’s advisors, Hayssam Satayhi. On the other hand, most of the veterans have left the party’s leadership, in particular Vice-Presidents Abdel Hakim Khaddam and Zuheir Macharka, the former Minister of Defence, Mustapha Tlass, and former Prime Minister Mustapha Miro. Only the posts of Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament will be reserved to Baathist Party members.
Slight improvements in the Syrians’ daily lives are also promised. “Syrians will be exempted from having to obtain prior authorisation from the Security Services for certain activities. Sixty seven situations are covered by this measure, while includes organisation of a wedding”, the paper Al Quds al-Arabi reported in its 9 June issue. This London based Pan-Arab daily quotes other events that “benefit from this emption, like opening a hairdressers, a bakers, a grocers, a video games or a ready made clothes shop. Syrians will also be able to import car spares parts. Syrian students will no longer need authorisation to enrol in universities, training colleges or nursing schools.” These measures must still be passed by the Baath-dominated Syrian Parliament — which in all can take over a year.
On 14 June, one week after the end of the 10th Congress of the Syrian Baath, President Assad appointed Abdallah Dardari as Deputy Prime Minister, responsible for economic affairs. A Dardari is not a member of the ruling Baath party — a first in Syrian history since the Baath took power. The day before President Assad had appointed a new head of the Intelligence Services who also has not emerged from the Baath party ranks. For its part, Al Quds al-Arabi indicates that “contrary to what might be thought, the appointment of General Mamluk as new head of Intelligence Services indicates a toughening of the regime”. Mamluk, the daily recalls, “has been head of the Air Force Intelligence Services for the last two years”. (Editor’s Note: the coups d’états that have take place in Syria and in Arab countries have all been led by Air Force officers. Control of the air gives them a head start on the other armed forces.)
The daily quotes the Syrian Human Rights organisations, which fear that the “appointment of Mamluk at the head of General Intelligence might be the sign of the regimes determination to continue using the “big stick” against its population”. The more so as “Mamluk is known for having practiced torture to a great extent on political detainees”. The foreign-based Syrian NGOs denounce his appointment and demand his trial for torture by international bodies.
Pending the promised reforms, the repression against Kurds continues and all State organs are pressed into service. Some 60 young Kurds were arrested in Qamichlo, in the North of the country, after a demonstration, on 5 June, demanding the truth about the death of an influential Kurdish cleric, Maachuk Khaznawi, whose death had been announced on 1 June by the Syrian authorities. According to these authorities, a “criminal gang” was responsible for his assassination. Shortly before his death, Sheikh Khaznawi had toured Europe in the course of which he had met Kurdish leaders, but also a leader of the Moslem Brotherhood, a movement that is banned in Syria, Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanuni. On 6 June, a meeting took place between representatives of Kurdish parties and Arab tribes in the region, to contain the disturbances, which had taken on an ethnic character, opposing “Arabs to Kurds”, according to certain Kurdish leaders. “Our problem is not with the Arabs but with the authorities who are throwing the Arabs into this conflict and using them as tools against us”, stated Kheireddin Mrad, general secretary of the Azadi party (banned, like the other eleven Kurdish organisations in Syria). According to the general secretary of the Yekiti Kurdish party, Hassan Saleh, “dozens of small shops owned by Kurds were pillaged by Baathist militia” consisting of Arabs, during the 4 June disturbances. “We want dialogue to settle the Kurdish problem, especially on the occasion of the holding of the Baath Party Congress” Mr. Saleh assured his hearers. He accused the authorities of “refusing any dialogue up to now”.
“The Kurds have some legitimate claims and postponing the solution to this question is not in the country’s interest”, stated, for his part, the moderate Islamist member of Parliament Mohammad Habash, who is also President of the Damascus Centre for Islamic Studies, of which Sheikh Khaznawi was Vice-President. The authorities have several times made promises that have remained dead letters. He also explained that the Kurdish organisations “have taken a stronger line as they’ve realised that international circumstances were more in their favour” at a time when “Kurdish national feelings have grown” because of the situation in Iraq. “The solution is for the State rapidly to respond to Kurdish demands to avoid the situation being exploited by foreign parties” added the parliamentarian.
Moreover, on 12 June the State Security Court, a special State of Emergency court, sentenced two Kurds to two and a half years jail for being members of “a secret organisation seeking to have parts of Syrian territory annexed by a foreign country”, reported the civil rights lawyer Anouar Bounni. The two Kurds, Mohammad Ali Bakr and Abdel Kader Kader, are members of the Democratic Union Party (formerly the Turkish PKK) pointed out Mr. Bounni.
The parents of about 26 detainees, from Qatana, a locality about 25 Km from Damascus, also assembled before the Court to “learn the fate” of these detainees, who have been kept incommunicado for 13 months without any visiting rights. According to Mr. Bounni the detainees, many of whom are under 20 years of age, had been incarcerated “for being members of an islamist movement”. The lawyer attacked all these arrests “contrary to all the news that is being propagated about the changes taking place in Syria, in particular regarding the State of Emergency, which is still in force” in the country as it has been for the last 42 years.
On the other hand, on 26 June, a Syrian Court acquitted one of the country’s principal Human Rights defender, accused of anti-government activity, turning down all the charges levelled against him. The National Security Court considered that Aktham Naisse, President of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria, was cleared of all charges. Aktham Naisse was arrested in April 2004, for “having revealed false information on behalf of a clandestine group that had links with international Human Rights defence organisations” and other charges connected with his activity against the Baath party. He had been released four months later on payment of a 200-dollar bail.
His lawyer, Anouar Bounni, stressed that the National Security Court “was unconstitutional, illegal and unjust”, despite this acquittal. “(Four) months jail — what can compensate for that?” he stressed. But Ammar Qurabi, spokesman of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights welcomed an “excellent” verdict and hoped that the other political prisoners would be freed shortly.
About fifty Syrian intellectuals also condemned “the campaign of assassination and terror that targeted the Lebanese writer and journalist Samir Kassir and the Kurdish cleric Mohammad Maashouk Khaznawi” in a communiqué published in Beirut on 3 June. “These two aggressions are part of a series of criminal and terrorist acts that are drowning the Arab world in blood (…) thanks to the maintenance of totalitarian and dictatorial regimes”, the communiqué asserts. “We denounce this campaign, which is aimed at freedom of expression, diversity of opinion, and the calls for democracy of which Arab societies have urgent need” says this document signed, in particular by the opponent Michel Kilo, the sociologist Bourhane Ghalioun, and the Human Rights defender Aktham Naysse. “We protest against this campaign of assassinations and terror that is taking place and against its authors; we demand that the truth be made known rapidly and that the assassins be brought to justice” it adds.
According to figures supplied by the Iraqi government on 1 July, violence in June cost the lives of 430 Iraqis, including 266 civilians — thus a drop of 36% compared with May. The number of injured is 933, — a drop of 20%. These figures do not cover American soldiers killed in June, which amounted to at least 75, according to the Pentagon. In all, 160 attacks, 53 of which were with car bombs, were recorded throughout the country.
In May, 672 Iraqis had been killed by the islamo-Baathist insurgents, 19% more than in April, which meant an increase for a second consecutive month. Since the Americans handed over to a provisional Iraqi government, years before, over 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed according to the Non-Governmental Organisation Iraq Body Count.
Furthermore, during a 30 minute speech on 28 June at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, to mark the first anniversary of the transfer of power t the Iraqi interim government on 28 June 2004, the US President George Bush avoided setting any deadline for the withdrawal of the soldiers at present in Iraq, while excluding the idea of sending extra troops there. He asked the Americans to show patience, despite the painful cost of the war. The US President considered that setting a date for the withdrawal of the 135,000 GIs in Iraq would be “a serious mistake” at a time when the Iraqi forces cannot yet manage to curb the violence. “Bush’s speech changes nothing for the Iraqi people and is no answer to its needs for water, electricity, transport and security against car bomb attacks. I think that the Iraqi people is quite indifferent to this speech because it is too concerned with its own daily needs” considered Mahmud Othman, a Kurdish Member of Parliament. President Bush’s speech “was addressed to the American people, not the Iraqi people” he added. “For us, there is nothing new in it. But Bush wanted to raise the morale of the American people at a time when the polls show that a majority of Americans is against his policy in Iraq”.
The US Secretary for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, for his part, denied that there were any contacts being made between the Americans and the al-Qaeda chief in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, even if there are “encounters” between American military leaders and some insurgents. Questioned during a Press Conference, on 27 June, on the eventuality of negotiations with the insurgents, Mr. Rumsfeld replied “No. And certainly not with people like Zarqawi”. Donald Rumsfeld, however, repeated that some American Army leaders “regularly met with local and tribal leaders. We also continue to meet Sunni leaders at national level”. Mr. Rumsfeld had recognised, the day before, that contacts had taken place with the insurgents in Iraq, while minimising their importance. According to the British paper, the Sunday Times, two meetings took place in June between American representatives and the chiefs of a certain number of Iraqi movements, including representatives of the terrorist organisation, Ansar al-Sunna.
This new approach has reinforced the Iraqi Sunni Arab representatives, both political and religious, who have been calling for several months for a dialogue with the insurgents so as to involve them in the political process and lower the level of violence. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, himself went part of the way in this direction after his election at the beginning of April, calling for discussions with “Iraqis who have borne arms against the foreign forces” but excluding the groups linked with al-Qaeda”.
On the other hand, a report by the American Democratic opposition, published on 27 June, indicated that excessive billing by the Halliburton oil services company appears to have cost the American tax-payer at least 1 billion dollars or even 1.4 billion. According to this report, quoting Defence Ministry and US Army audits, Halliburton, long directed by Vice-President Dick Cheney, is said to have bill over a billion dollars of costs “considered unacceptable” either because “unreasonable” or not justified by the terms of the contract.
On 20 June, thirteen police were killed and 103 others wounded in a suicide car bomb attack made on a police training ground of the city of Irbil, according to an assessment supplied by the city’s governor. “Thirteen police were killed and 103 others wounded in the explosion of a booby-trapped car driven by a kamikaze onto a sports ground where traffic police were being trained”, stated the governor of Irbil, Nozad Hadi. “It was 7.40 am when a kamikaze, dressed as a policemen, entered the field where 160 traffic police were being trained, driving a red Chevrolet” before blowing himself up with it, stated one of the wounded in an Irbil hospital. “The dead were all dressed for jogging and did not carry any identity papers on them” stated the head of the forensic institute, Dakhil Said. For his part, the Kurdish Minister of Health, Jamal Abdel Hamid, indicated that the wounded had been transported to the city’s four hospitals, but that most of them only suffered light injuries. In May, a kamikaze had mingled with police recruits outside a recruiting centre in Irbil before activating his belt of explosives, killing 46 people.
On the same day, six Iraqis, four of whom were police, were wounded in a car bomb attack near Kirkuk, according to the chief of Police of Taamim Province. “A car bomb attack aimed at lieutenant Colonel Nawzad Abdallah, Chief of Police of Lailan, 10 Km East of Kirkuk, caused six injured, including four police” stated General Shirko Shaker Hakim. The Chief of Police escaped unharmed. Amongst the six wounded, who were all hospitalised, three were in a serious condition.
In Kirkuk, twenty people died and 81 others, mainly civilians, were injured, in another kamikaze attack outside a bank in Kirkuk. About twenty suspects were arrested. According to Police Colonel Chirzad Abdallah, the attack was committed by a kamikaze wearing a belt with about 50 Kg of explosives, a very animated commercial quarter. In a communiqué on internet, the Ansar al-Sunna group, linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, claimed responsibility for this attack which took place at about 10 am local time when civil servants, police and old age pensioners were queuing up before the bank for their pay. According to police chief General Turhan Yussef, “the attack took place some 400 metres from the police HQ located on a crossroad leading to the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Suleimanieh”.
On 2 June, twelve people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack targeted at a convoy of the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Roj Nuri Shwech, stated the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. Mr Shwech was without bodyguards when the car exploded at Tuz Khurmatu, South East of the oil producing city of Kirkuk, according to a statement by the Information committee of the Defence Ministry. The explosion set seven cars alight. At least 38 people were injured in this attack.
Furthermore, on 25 June, the governor of a Kurdish province in the Autonomous Kurdish Region, proposed sending Kurdish peshmergas (militiamen) to help re-establish security in the regions further South devastated by the insurgents. “We are ready to send members of our peshmergas to the provinces of Diyala, Salaheddin and Kirkuk if we are asked” stated Dana Ahmed Majid, Governor of Suleimaniyeh Province. “We observe provincial borders, but we are offering our help to re-establish peace and security” he added. He said this at a meeting of Governors held at Baaquba (60 Km North East of Baghdad), capital of Diyala Province. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, had already proposed in April the use of “popular forces” (i.e. Kurdish and Shiite militias) against the insurgents, (essentially Sunni Arabs) regretting American opposition on this issue.
Since the American intervention in Iraq and the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, the peshmergas have continued to ensure security in these regions while the Kurdish members of the coalition in office in Baghdad, and particularly Mr. Talabani, have opposed calls for disarming them. The Kurds do not want the total integration of their peshmergas (about 10,000 men) into the Iraqi national Army.
On 25 June, the ultra-conservative Mayor of Tehran, Mahmud Ahmadinjad became the new President of Iran. He beat his pragmatic conservative rival, the cleric Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President and Speaker of Parliament, who is, today, in charge of the Council of Discernment, a powerful arbitration organ with extensive legislative powers. Mahmud Ahmadinjad secured 62.2% of the votes as against 35.3% for his opponent, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to the latest figures of the Ministry, the remaining ballot papers having been declared invalid. According to the Ministry, about 23 million Iranians went to the polls, that is a participation of about 49%, compared with 63% in the first round a week earlier. This is the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that a second round was needed for a Presidential election. However, many observers consider that the figures have been falsified. The participation, they consider, was really much lower and the ballot boxes were stuffed by the powerful “Guardians of the Revolution” network, which Mr. Ahmadinjad led.
This result reinforces the hold of the conservatives over the Iranian political system, after their victory in the general elections last year, and gives a wider margin of manoeuvre to the unelected clerical leaders, who have the last work on all the major political orientations.
During the voting on 24 June, the reformist-led Ministry of the Interior, reported “interferences” in certain Teheran polling stations. A member of the Ministry’s staff, responsible for preventing electoral infringements, was arrested after an argument with the representative o one of the candidates, and a group of the Ministry’s observers recorded 300 complaints of fraud in Teheran. The partisans of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also denounced “enormous irregularities”. After the first round, Mahmud Ahmadinjad’s opponents had brought up charges of “stuffing” ballot boxes, buying of votes, pressure on electors and mobilisation in his favour of the islamist ideological army and militia. In a communiqué, H. Rafsanjani considered that the ultra-conservatives in control of the “mullarchy” had “used every means available within the elite in power, in an organised an illegal manner, to attack his credibility”. “I can only complain to God”, he added, however, considering it useless to complain officially before judges already partisan in favour of his opponent.
The pasdarans (Guardians of the Revolution) and other extremist factions intimidated the electors and manipulated the ballots in favour of their candidate. Without even bothering to hide his game, the Supreme Guide of the Revolution, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, displayed his satisfaction: “the United States are humiliated by this election” he wrote. The council of Guardians, the ultra-conservative body that oversees the elections, and the armed forces, conducted a vast operation of mobilisation in favour of Mr. Ahmadinjad in the Armed forces and among the radical organisations, say the accusers.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) denounced this election in a communiqué published on 27 June. The KDPI expressed its astonishment that a candidate placed last in the polls before the elections could have won 5 million votes in the first round and over 17 million in the second, thus tripling his score. The KDPI also denounces his involvement in the “terrorist plot resulting in the assassination of Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlu, former General Secretary of the KDPI, of his assistant, Abdullah Ghaderi Azar, a member of the Party’s Central Committee, and of an Iraqi Kurd of Austrian nationality, Fadhel Rassul, ”. These assassinations took place on 13 July 1989 in Vienna, during a meeting with emissaries of the Iranian government, who had come from Teheran to discuss “peace” and find a “peaceful” solution to the Kurdish question in Iran. A witness, called witness “D” recently confessed to the former Iranian President, Banisadr, now exiled in France, and to Peter Piltz, a Member of the Austrian Parliament, that two teams had been planned for this assassination. “He was one of the second terrorist group, in which he was responsible for supplying the arms needed to accomplish this dirty work”, concluded the KDPI.
Mahmud Ahmadinjad, 49 years of age, created a surprise by winning 19.5% of the votes against 21% for Hashemi Rafsanjani in the first round. During his campaign he courted those disappointed in their hopes for social change, the victims of a tottering economy, as well as the powerful forces, mainly clerical, opposed to any development of the Islamic regime, set up in 1979. Mahmud Ahmadinjad, virtually unknown before becoming Mayor of Teheran in 2003, stated he wished to set up and “exemplary Islamic regime” and intends to encourage the Iranian oil companies. The Islamic Republic is in danger of taking the path of greater radicalisation with this former member of the ideological army, which preaches a stricter observance of Islamic values as well as intransigence towards the West.
The Supreme Guide, who he claims to represent, forbade any street demonstrations in the evident concern of preventing any violence after an election contested in such a tense atmosphere. Thus no public walkabout — Mahmud Ahmadinjad had to satisfy himself with appearing on television. He cultivated his image of a simple man, a good Moslem, whose demagogic populist discourse attracted considerable sympathy in socially disadvantaged circles. “I am very proud that people have shown me this kindness and confidence. Above all else, there is the honour of serving, whether as mayor or as President or as street sweeper”, stressed this man who had not hesitated to dress as a dustman. A few days later, the Iranian President made a much more virulent speech, declaring that the sensation caused by his election meant a “new Islamic Revolution” whose “wave will soon sweep the whole world”. “A new Islamic Revolution has taken place thanks to the blood of the martyrs and the 1384 revolution (this year’s date in the Iranian calendar) will, God willing, uproot injustice in the world” he stated during a meeting with the families of victims of a bomb attack against the Islamic Republic’s party in 1981.
This speech recalling the first years of the Revolution, whose “purity” Mr. Ahmadinjad has already extolled, worries Westerners. The Iranian elections have provoked a shock wave, the international community being particularly worried about its nuclear intentions. The new President advocates the formation of a new team including some of the country’s most anti-Western clerics. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, described the poll as “an electoral sham”. According to him, Mr. Ahmadinjad “is not a friend of democracy or freedom. He is someone very close to the Ayatollahs”. The Europeans reacted to the election of Mr. Ahmadinjad with a mixture of caution and anxiety. The new President is making a “serious mistake if he thinks that we are going to be soft, because we are not going to be soft” declared British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 27 June.
Moreover, according to testimonies published on 30 June by the Washington Times, former hostages in the American Embassy in Teheran affirm that the elected Iranian President was one of the principal actors in that taking of hostage for 444 days between 1979 and 1981. Mr. Ahmadinjad’s services have denied that he took part in the assault on the Embassy, but have not commented on his possible role throughout the crisis. On 4 November 1979, Iranian revolutionaries took the American Embassy in Teheran by storm. There were 90 people there at the time, and 52 of them remained captive for 444 days before being released in January 1981.
The Iranian election was neither equitable nor free, since the only candidates allowed were Shiites who had been vetted by an unelected committee of clerics. The election law, indeed, forbids candidates who are outside the elite in power to stand for President. Eight candidates stood for the first round of on 17 June. Over a thousand had registered, but the 12-member Council of Guardians only allowed six. Two reformers were later added, after the intervention of Ayatollah Khamenei. The Council, made up of Shiite clerics and jurists, excluded all 89 of the women who wanted to stand, as well as a good number of opponents of clerical power in Iran. The second largest oil producer in OPEC, the huge potential consumer market of this oil producing theocracy makes foreign investors’ mouths water. But all business and contracts are controlled by the mullahs. Hence a clannish system of corruption, denounced by Transparency International that places Iran in the middle of its list of corrupt countries, before India but just after Mongolia. Unemployment is officially 16%, but in reality exceeds 30%. And about 40% of the population lives below the poverty threshold.
On 24 June, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who was on a visit to Washington, was received at the White House by President G.W. Bush. President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Jaafari, strove to boast of the progress achieved in Iraq, while agreeing that the coming months would remain difficult, at a time when the Americans were expressing increasing doubts. “This is not the time to retreat”, declared Mr. Jaafari, thanking the Americans for their commitment. “We owe it to those who have sacrificed themselves to continue to pursue the objectives that they defended. I see what is happening in Iraq from close up and I know that we are making steady and substantial progress” stressed the Iraqi Prime Minister, sure that “the political process, which includes the Sunni Arabs, will undermine the terrorists”.
Since the transfer of sovereignty, a year ago, “the Iraqis can claim extraordinary successes, despite terrible difficulties” stressed Mr. Bush as well. Evoking the January elections, the setting up of the government and getting the constitutional process under way, Mr. Bush declared that “these are monumental tasks and yet, at every stage, right up to now, the Iraqis have reached their objectives and the terrorists have failed to stop them”.
In a Press Conference on evening of 23 June, the head of the Iraqi government had stressed “there is a very strong determination of the Iraqi people”. Evoking the insurrection he asked: “Can we really call this a resistance? I wander who on earth would accept that such activities occur in their country and be proud of them”, the Prime Minister asked. The Prime Minister also expressed himself in favour of a rapid enquiry into precise crimes committed by the former Iraqi dictator, hoping that his trial might be able to being in the coming months. He considered that it was time to try Saddam Hussein and recognised that “terrorism remained a major threat” in Iraq. “A lot of time has been lost, and I speak as the principal judge responsible for Saddam Hussein’s trial” he declared on 23 June after his arrival in Washington. “If we conduct an intensive enquiry (into Saddam Hussein’s crimes) the search will be unending, because there is no crime he hasn’t committed” he added. “We do not want a full enquiry. All we want is a verdict”.
On 20 June, the House of Representatives voted in favour of granting an extra 45 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of a Bill increasing the American Defence budget to 409 billion dollars. The Representatives approved this emergency fund, which will bring the cost of American military operations to over 300 billion dollars.
Moreover, on 20 June, the Assistant spokesman for the Defence Department, Adam Ereli, announced that the new US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmav Khalilzad, had left Afghanistan to take up his new duties in Iraq. Zalmav Khalilzad made a short stopover in Baghdad, where he presented his credentials to President Jalal Talabani before going on to Brussels to take part in the Conference on reconstruction in Iraq.
On 28 June, Iraq asked UNO for an end to the payments it is obliged to make to compensate the victims of the 1990-91 Gulf War. At the start of a 3-day session of the UN Indemnity Committee, the Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohammed Hamud-Bidan stated to the press that it was time to stop paying 5% of Iraqi oil revenues to the victims of a conflict 15 years in the past.
This is the last session of the UN Indemnity Commission, in the course of which it is due to approve the claims resulting from the occupation of Kuwait by the Saddam Hussein regime between 2 August 1990 and 2 March 1991. In all, the Commission has received nearly 2.7 million claims totalling 254 billion dollars. Claims have been made by 96 governments on behalf of their citizens, their firms and on their own behalf. Composed of representatives of States that are members of the Security Council, the Board of the Commission has so far approved indemnities of 52.1 billion dollars, of which 19.2 billion have, in fact been paid out.
The Council must this examine, by the end of the month, 33,000 claims amounting to over 50 billion dollars, in particular for environmental damages in Kuwait. The resources for paying these indemnities are deducted from the UN Indemnity Fund, which originally was supplied by 30% of the oil revenues generated by the export of Iraqi oil products.
In December 2000, the Security Council decided that 25% of the funds deposited from the “Food for Oil” programme would be transferred to the Indemnity Fund. In May 2003, UN resolution 1483 set the share to be paid to the Indemnity Fund at 5% of the revenues generated by the exportation of all Iraqi oil and Natural gas products.
On the fringe of the session, several NGOs protested before the Palace of Nations in Geneva against the indemnities, which aggravate the economic situation of the Iraqis. A representative of the movement, Caomihe Butterly, declared that the Iraqis has no choice when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, that it was he who was at fault and that it was also a fault to continue punishing the Iraqi people for Saddam Hussein’s crimes.
On another level, on 15 June, the Vice-President of a Swiss company — the author of correspondence suggesting that Kofi Annan was aware of the granting to this companies (for which Kofi’s son Kojo was working) of a contract for reconstruction in Iraq in the context of the “Food for Oil” programme — denied having raised this question with the UN General Secretary. The day before, the commission of enquiry in the “Food for Oil” programme had revealed that it had examined, “urgently” two internal emails sent in 1998 by the Vice-President of Cotecna Inspection, Michael Wilson. The first mentioned a brief discussion with the UN General Secretary “and his entourage” during a meeting in Paris at the end of 1998 on the firms candidacy for a 10 million dollar contract in the context of the “Food for Oil” programme. It refers to KA, who might be Kojo Annan, the General Secretaries son, who was a Cotecna consultant at the time. In the second email, Michael Wilson reports his optimism regarding the granting of the contract thanks to Cotecna´s “discreet but effective lobbying” in New York circles. Michael Wilson’s lawyers affirm that their client had never raised the subject of the granting of a contract to his firm with Kofi Annan.
On 1 June the UN spokesman, Stephen Dujarric, announced that the UN General Secretary had fired Joseph Stephanides, an official who managed the “Food for Oil” programme contracts with Iraq. Joseph Stephanides, who is a Cypriot national, was Director of the business Division of the Security Council. He is the first UN official to be fired since the publication of the Volker report on the “Food for Oil” programme, which revealed the existence of corruption. Two other people have been implicated. Kofi Annan considered that Joseph Stephanides had committed a “serious professional fault”. He is criticised for having manipulated the call for tender so as to favour a firm in the context of contracts regarding inspection of humanitarian supplies for Iraq. Joseph Stephanides, who has been working for the UN since 1980 had planned to retire in September, at 60 years of age, the obligatory retirement age at UNO.
The Volker Commission report accuses tow other UNO officials of misappropriation of funds of this programme, which amounted to a packet of 64 billion dollars, at a time when Baghdad was subjected to an embargo. No penalties have been taken against other people implicated, pending the publication of the full and final report.
Moreover, on 1 June the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, declared to the United Nations that Iraq will leave an independent organisation oversee its oil production and the management of resulting revenues. This decision taken by Baghdad to extend the existence of the international supervisory agency (IAMB) aims at proving that Iraq will use its oil resources “in a transparent manner to the benefit of the Iraqi people”, explained Mr. Zebari in a letter to the Security Council. This monitoring is also liable to reassure Iraq’s donors and creditors, by showing that the latter will manage its revenues and debts “in a responsible manner, to the benefit of the Iraqi people”, he continued.
The Security Council created the IAMB — which includes members of UNO, the World Bank and the International Monetary fund — in May 2003 to oversee the management of Iraq’s natural resources. Set up during the American intervention in Iraq, the IAMB saw its mandate extended after the take over of sovereignty by an Iraqi government in June 2004.
The last audit carried out by KPMG at the request of the IAMB covering the period from 29 June to 31 December 2004, identified a number of problems in the management of Iraqi oil revenues. According to this audit, made public a week ago, Iraq does not know where 618,000 tonnes of oil have gone (representing a value of 69 million dollars), has still not set up a system enabling it to measure its production, and attributes many contracts without invitations to tender. Moreover, the organisation responsible for selling Iraqi oil, SOMA, has illegally deposited 97.8 million dollars obtained from oil sales, in three bank accounts in Jordan in Iraq and carries out barter trades to the value of 461 million dollars, of which the IAMB disapproves as they are hard to supervise, according to KPMB. Hoshyar Zebari declared that the IAMB recommendations were welcome, considering that they helped the Iraqi authorities to take measures to correct fault in the system.
Furthermore, on 31 May the UN Security Council accepted to prolong the mandate of the American-led multinational force in Iraq, the Iraqi Foreign Minister having let it be known that his government was in favour. The mandate of this force does not expire until the end of the year and the formation of a permanent Iraqi government. But Baghdad has, nevertheless, the possibility of asking for their departure before this date. The Security Council considered that the mandate of the multinational force (in which 28 countries are represented) should continue till “the successful outcome of the political process”, as stipulated in the May 2003 resolution 1546, declared the Danish Ambassador to UNO, Ellen Loj, who is the current Council Chairperson.
On the evening of 6 June, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdigan, visited Washington against a background of relations still strained after Ankara’s refusal to be associated with the war in Iraq. “For over two years, relations between the United States and Turkey have been marked by a succession of mistakes. There is no going back on them, and relations will take years to be re-established” considered Michael Rubin, a research worker at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The White House prevaricated a long time before giving Recep Tayyip Erdigan and appointment, just an the American Ambassador to Ankara had to put up with delays to get an meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister.
Relations between Ankara and Washington, two NATO allies whose relations were traditionally good, became considerably looser after the cooling off mainly provoked by the refusal of the Turkish Parliament, in 2003, to authorise the passage of American troops through Turkish territory on their way to Iraq. Washington also did not appreciate the comments of the Turkish government about their Fallujah operations, which were described as “genocide” by the Turks. The differences of views seem to have been overcome, but Ankara is still frustrated by the lack of action of American troops against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), thousands of whom sought refuge in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan before the war.
In press statements before his departure for the United States, Mr. Erdogan tried to play down the differences. “We do not want to offend our strategic partner”, he declared to the daily Yeni Safak. “There may be unfavourable developments, but we can overcome them (…), in fact we have overcome the majority of them”. With the aim of putting relations back on the right rails, the two countries have made a series of gestures. Washington has continued to support Turkey’s membership of the European Union and some members of Congress and American businessmen visited the Turkish enclave in North Cyprus (unrecognised internationally— to support this mini “republic” isolated from the rest of the world. Ankara, for its part, has authorised the United States to use its Incirlik air force base (southern Turkey) for conduction its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Welcoming Turkish P.M. Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House on 8 June, US President GW Bush considered that Turkish democracy was an example for the “Great Middle East” region. The two leaders affirmed that the links between the two countries were solid, despite differences on the war in Iraq. “Turkey and the United States have a strategically important relationship”, declared Mr. Bush. “I told the (Turkish) Prime Minister how grateful I was for his support” for the American “Great Middle East” project, which aims at promoting democracy in a vast area from Morocco to Pakistan. “Turkish democracy is an important example for the inhabitants of the Great Middle East” declared Mr. Bush, in front of his guest before the television cameras. The US President thanked Mr. Erdogan for Ankara’s support for the process of democratisation in Afghanistan and Turkey’s work in helping the Palestinians create an independent state.
Mr. Erdogan made the point of having also discussed with Mr. Bush a project for the re0unification of Cyprus, divided since the Turkish invasion of 1874 into a Turkish-Cypriot North, where Turkey has 40,000 troops stationed, and the South under Greek-Cypriot control. He also hoped for more US cooperation in fighting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) retrenched in Iraqi Kurdistan. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice assured Turkey that her country would never allow any anti-Turkish “terrorist action” coming from Iraq indicated the Turkish Foreign Minister on 7 June after discussions with his American opposite number in Washington. “Mrs. Rice promised us that no terrorist action against Turkey coming from Iraqi territory will be allowed”, he told some journalists. Mr. Gul indicated that he had explained Turkey’s expectations regarding the struggle of the US Army against the PKK to his opposite number. “I saw positive signs on the part of the Americans on this subject” said Mr. Gul, congratulating himself. He said he was convinced that Turks and Americans would cooperate more in the future against the PKK. “Turkey cannot tolerate a fresh outbreak of acts of violence and infiltrations. We expect more determination from the Americans”, he nevertheless added.
Furthermore, during his working visit, Mr. Erdogan had discussions on 9 June with the UN General Secretary Kofi Annan on the Cyprus issue. The Turkish Prime Minister called on the Security Council to break the isolation of the Northern part of the Cyprus, occupied by Ankara, stating that his country had done more than Greece to overcome the divisions on the island. “We have said that would always be in advance of the Greek Cypriots and we have kept this promise” declared Mr. Erdogan before the Council after a meeting with the UN General Secretary Kofi Annan.
In 2004, the Turkish Cypriots approve Kofi Annan’s plan for re-unification, which the Greek Cypriots rejected. Since then, Cyprus has entered the European Union, but only the Southern part of the island enjoys this integration, the Northern art being only recognised by Ankara. Recep Tayyip Erdogan regretted that the Security Council has still not made any decision of Kofi Annan’s plan. “We think that a decision must be made, that recognition must take place and we hope for a happy outcome”, he stated.
On 28 June, a leading member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) urged Turkey to open a dialogue with his organisation on the model of the contacts made between the American Army leaders and the Iraqi insurgents. “We say to them (to Ankara) come and let us talk about a solution. Send us a senior official for discussions”, declared Murat Karayilan, a military chief of the PKK in an interview given to the German-based Mesopotaia news agency. He gave the example of the contacts being made in Iraq between American officers and the insurgents: “Look at Iraq, the United States announce that they have undertaken discussions with the organisations that are resisting with every means and who answer to no laws” declared Karayilan, who is reputed to be one of the most radical PKK leaders. He deplored the fact that the Turkish State had never engaged in any discussions with his organisation. “Is America humiliated? No, it is made greater by these negotiations” he considered.
Clashes have been multiplying since the beginning of spring, the Turkish Army launching vast mopping up operations in the mountainous regions of Turkish Kurdistan. The region has experienced relative calm for some years now but the wounds of the past have reopened. During funerals, the relatives of victims do not conceal their anger when they express their dissatisfaction at the reforms undertaken by Ankara to increase freedom for the Kurds. For them, the decision of the PKK to end its 5-year unilateral truce is the inevitable consequence of what they consider to be the continuation of discrimination and persecution of Kurds. Many Kurds fear now that the agitation may threaten the fragile freedoms they have recently begun to enjoy as well as the economic progress they hope to see for their disadvantaged region.
At least 65 fighters and 32 soldiers have been killed since April, according to the Turkish authorities. Five PKK fighters were killed on 24 June in the mountains of Bingol Province. Their funeral, on 27 June, turned into demonstrations that degenerated into clashes with the police resulting in several injuries. These events come a few days after a bloody incident in Van, where a young demonstrator was killed when the gendarmes fired on an angry crowd, which was protesting against the fact that the authorities had buried a PKK fighter without giving his body back to his family. Furthermore, on 18 June the Turkish Army announced that seventeen Maoist fighters, members of a clandestine movement, the Maoist Communist Party (MKP), were killed in the course of a two days of fighting with the Turkish Army in Kurdistan. They were executed by machine gun fire from three Sikorsky helicopters sweeping down to fire directly at them.
The Turkish media headlined this for at least three days after, the press particularly stressing the fact that it was, undoubtedly a “death-blow” to the Maoists. The mass circulation daily Milliyet, in particular, predicted that “the Maoists have thus been eliminated at a single blow”. The fighting took place in an isolated valley in the mountainous region of Dersim.
On 22 June, some 300 Kurdish intellectuals urged the Turkish government to proclaim a general amnesty for the Kurdish fighters and their imprisoned chief Abdullah Ocalan. “Should there be a general amnesty, it ought also to cover Abdullah Ocalan”, declared, to journalists, Tarik Ziya Ekinci, spokesman of the signatories of a document supporting a previous call for a general amnesty by intellectuals who called on the PKK to lay down its arms. “We totally accept this appeal, we ask the PKK immediately to cease its activities and that the State do what is incumbent on it to find a solution to the Kurdish question”, stressed Mr. Ekinci, former Member of Parliament or Diyarbekir and former General Secretary of the Workers Party of Turkey. He added that amongst the solutions to this question was the proclamation of a general amnesty. The Turkish State has, in the past, repeatedly offered partial amnesties, which exclude leaders of the PKK — and thus A. Ocalan, who was sentenced to death in 1999 on charges of separatism. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, which he is serving in the island prison of Imrali (North West Turkey), when Turkey abolished capital punishment in 2003 in the context of its aim of joining the European Union.
Abdullah Ocalan does not want to be re-tried in Turkey, where he considers that such a trial would not be “independent and impartial”, one of his lawyers indicated on 3 June. “My client does not want a new trial in Turkey. He does not want to be tried under present circumstances”, declared Mrs. Aysel Tugluk, who met A. Ocalan on 1 June. On 12 May, the European Court for Human Rights had found Turkey guilty of an inequitable trial in Ocalan’s case and recommended Ankara to organise a new trial. The Turkish leaders have stated that they would observe the Strasbourg Court’s ruling.
To have the benefit of a retrial, the condemned man must apply for it, but Abdullah Ocalan has denounced the existing laws and will not make such an application, his lawyer stressed. “Ocalan said that he will not play the lead in farce that Turkey will be staging” Mrs. Tugluk indicated, particularly criticising the declarations of the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul who had affirmed that A. Ocalan would get the same sentence were he retried “a hundred times”. The PKK chief has let his defence lawyers know that he wished to be tried by “a special court” to be set up by the Council of Europe. Mrs. Tugluk, moreover, denounced the restrictions imposed on her client’s defence by the authorities under the new criminal procedure that has just come into force. Thus, she and two other colleagues had their notes of their last discussion with their client confiscated. Someone was also present to record their conversation. “This is unacceptable. We cannot conduct a defence under these conditions”, she said. A. Ocalan also asked his lawyers to stop visiting him until the conditions for a new trial had been fulfilled to his satisfaction. On 5 June the Turkish Minister of Justice, Cemil Cicek expressed his opposition to the organisation of a trial outside Turkey. Explaining that no request to this effect had reached him, Mr. Cicek stated to the journalists as he was going to a Congress of his party at Uludag (West Turkey) that “such a thing is inconceivable (…). The Courts of the country where the crime was committed are alone competent. This is a matter of national sovereignty”, he added.
Furthermore, on 1 June, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, meeting in Congress in Iraqi Kurdistan near the Iranian border, proposed a cease-fire and a dialogue with the Turkish authorities. “We send out an appeal to the Turkish government, asking it to cease military operations so as to open the way to a dialogue, and we are ready, on our side, to decree a cease fire”, declared Murat Karayilan to the press on the fringe of the congress, held in the village of Lijwa, 500 Km North East of Baghdad. “We are not making it a condition that the government engage in a direct dialogue with us. We accept that the Turkish government dialogue with the Kurdish parties, political trends, public figures and elected representatives in the Kurdish towns so as to resolve the problem with them”, he added.
Mr. Karaylan called on the Turkish, Syrian and Iranian governments to “find a solution to the Kurdish problem through dialogue”, while denouncing “the military campaigns in Turkey and Iran against his party”. According to him, his organisation has changed its strategy, and campaigns henceforth for a “democratic confederation” and no for a united and independent Kurdistan any more.
KIRKUK: DISCUSSION ON THE STATUS OF THE CITY MAY BE POSTPONED SO AS NOT TO DELAY THE DRAFTING OF THE NEW IRAQI CONSTITUTION
The thorny debate on the status of the city of Kirkuk, which threatened to delay the drafting of the new Iraqi Constitution, may be postponed to a later date, this opening the way to the members of Parliament being able to adopt the new Constitution by 15 August as planned. “The definitive administrative status of Kirkuk (i.e. whether or not the city is part of Kurdistan) will be decided after ratification of the Constitution” declared Barham Saleh, Iraqi Minister of Planning. “We hope that the status of Kirkuk be settled as soon as possible (…) but we recognise that Kirkuk is a multi-ethnic city” added the former Deputy Prime Minister who is of Kurdish origin.
Determining the status of the city is one of the most sensitive questions in post-war Iraq, where ethnic and religious tensions regularly degenerate into scenes of violence, from which Kurdistan is less immune. According to some analysts, postponing the debate on Kirkuk risks postponing to a later date the disturbances to which this question will not fail to give birth. But the Iraqi leaders have accepted, in line with the recommendations of the interim Constitution drafted last year, that the fate of Kirkuk should only be decided once the definitive constitution has been adopted and a census of the disputed regions carried out. Once adopted by the Members of Parliament, hopefully by 15 August, the Iraqi Constitution will be the subject of a referendum on 15 October at the latest. Fresh General elections aimed at completing the institutional normalisation will then be organised in December.
A leader of the Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Ammar Hakim, had said he was opposed to the inclusion of Kirkuk in Kurdistan. “We do not accept the annexation of the city of Kirkuk by that region (…) because it belongs to all Iraqis ”, stated Ammar Hakim, son of the head of the SCIRI, Abdel Aziz Hakim. “We are opposed to the forced resettlement of Iraqis, because all have the right to live in the town of their choice”, he indicated, in reference to the return to their city of Kurds who had been driven out by the Saddam Hussein Regime.
Under Article 58 of the Fundamental Law, which is the present provisional constitution of the country, the government should favour the return of Kurds expelled by the former regime’s policy of forced Arabisation, and make proposals for the city that should be part of the permanent Constitution.
THE GERMAN BUNDESTAG ADOPTS A RESOLUTION ON THE ARMENIAN MASSACRE BUT AVOIDS TALKING OF GENOCIDE.
On 16 June, the German parliament, the Bundestag, adopted a resolution in memory of the massacres committed by Turkey between 1915 and 1917 against the Armenian people, while avoiding describing them as genocide. In this resolution, all the parliamentary parties ask the government to “commit itself to ensure the observance of freedom of opinion in Turkey, in particular with regard to the massacres committed on the Armenians”. “An arrangement must be found between Turks and Armenians for reconciliation and pardon for the (Turkish) historic responsibility”, adds the resolution, adopted by the parliamentary groups of social-democrats (SDP), conservatives (CDU-CSU), Greens and liberals (FDP). The German members of Parliament also ask Berlin to work to work to ensure that “Turkey immediately normalises its bi-lateral relations with Armenia”.
Turkey described the resolution as “irresponsible” and “narrow spirited”. “The German Parliament has adopted a resolution on the events of 1915. We deeply deplore and criticise it”, declared the Foreign Ministry in a communiqué. “The approval of such a resolution by Germany will bring chaos to our relations” the communiqué stressed.
Turkey fiercely denies the Armenian genocide that, according to current estimates, caused between 1,2 and 1,5 million deaths. It states that if hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks, even more Turks were killed during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and on the various fronts of the First World War.
THE NEW PENAL CODE COMES INTO FORCE, DESPITE SHARP CRITICIS.
On 1st June, the new Turkish Penal Code came into force after having been revised to meet the European conditions for opening negotiations with Ankara for membership. And this despite the criticisms of journalists who fear that freedom of the press be henceforth threatened. Past last year, the new Penal Code is destined to harmonise Turkish measures with the conceptions of Human Rights current in the E.U. It should have come into force in April, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan postponed it for fresh amendments, adopted by parliament on 27 May.
This is the first revision of the Penal Code, which was originally borrowed from Fascist Italy, in 79 years. It improves the status of women and children, recognises that rape in marriage and sexual harassment are crimes and toughens penalties for rape, paedophilia, people trafficking and torture. However, the press complains of vague formulations that facilitate restrictive interpretation and even repression of freedom of expression — even to the extent of imprisonment for opinions. A group of journalists, moreover, announced that they would start a hunger strike to protest against the coming into operation of this code. The Turkish press greeted the new code with distrust and scepticism: “The freedom of the press is in danger” headlined the daily Aksam, while Milliyet evoked “a bitter beginning”.
However, on 3 June the Turkish President vetoed one controversial law that allowed those responsible for illegal religious schools to avoid imprisonment, considering that the law was contrary to secularism. This law, which was introduced at the last minute by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) as part of a package of amendments to the penal reform being adopted, provoked an uproar in opposition and the liberal press. It allows those responsible for clandestine Qoranic schools merely to be fined and not be jailed for three years as at present. “Secularism in the keystone of the constituent values of the Turkish Republic” pointed out the Head of State in a communiqué by his press office, laying out this reasons for rejecting it.
Mr. Sezer considers that the new measure “encourages” the pro-fundamentalist circles to set up such institutions and warns against the “perverse thinking” that people educated in such schools would have and the “threat” this would be for national unity. Mr. Sezer can veto a law presented to him once only. If Parliament adopts this law a second time, in the same wording, he is obliged to endorse it, though he may refer it to the Constitutional Court.
The Turkish secular elite is categorically opposed to any measure the would facilitate the opening of private schools on the grounds that such measures would allow islamist movements to found their own education centres. There are regular police raids on schools of this kind, which are mainly located in the Istanbul suburbs, which are breeding grounds for pro-islamist parties.
IRAQI INSTITUTIONS ARE BEING SET UP BUT THE POPULATION IS GETTING IMPATIENT
On 14 June, the government formed by the Shiite Ibrahim al-Jaafari received its vote of confidence at the end of a sitting devoted to its action programme. In his general policy speech of 31 May, the Prime Minister committed himself to building a federal and democratic country and to reinforcing the security services against violence.
Furthermore, the Parliamentary commission charged with drafting permanent Constitution for Iraq managed, on 16 June, to reach an agreement guaranteeing the Sunni Arabs to take part in it with up to 15 members. This agreement was confirmed by Sunni Arab public figures — the community represents about 17% of the Iraqi population, but so far has not participated in the transition process. The agreement provides for consensus rather than voting to be the rule in the 55-member Commission, which must complete the drafting of the new fundamental law before 15 August. The Sunni Arabs boycotted the 30 January General Elections and so only sent a handful of members to the 2750member Parliament.
Over two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein and five months after the national elections, which were presented as a chance to rebuild the country, the Baghdadis cannot hide their bitterness at the situation. Two million Baghdadis are deprived of drinking water because, according to the authorities, of sabotage of a water works supplying the Iraqi capital by the insurgents. As the ambient temperature reaches 40°C, the inhabitants of West Baghdad have dug down into the ground to find underground paper pipes carrying hot water, that they then take home in bottles to drink or cook with. Apart from the shortage of water, many inhabitants only have electricity for a few hours a day, unless they are equipped with their own generator set.
A SERIES OF BOMB ATTACKS IN THE ARABIC-SPEAKING PROVINCE OF KHUZESTAN AND IN TEHERAN
According to the Iranian police, on 12 June a series of bomb attacks, the first in Iran for several years, caused six deaths and 70 injured in the largely Arabic-speaking town of Ahvaz (an oil producing town in the Province of Khuzestan, in South West Iran), the scene of recent ethnic clashes. Four explosions occurred before the offices of the governor of Ahvaz, the capital of this oil-producing province, bordering on Iraq, and also in front of the director of the Ahvaz radio-television station.
The Popular democratic Front of Ahvaz, that is campaigning for an independent Khuzestan (Arabistan) has denied any responsibility for the attacks while stating that hey have been claimed by another Arab group calling itself the Brigade of Revolutionary Martyrs of Ahvaz
Some hours earlier, a low powered device exploded in the centre of Teheran, causing one death and three injured. The police sealed off the area where the explosion had occurred, in a street leading into Imam Hussein Street, in a busy commercial quarter of the Iranian capital. The device had been hidden in a dustbin. The opposition People’s Mujahiddin has denied any involvement in these attacks.
Khuzestan, which contains the bulk of Iran’s oil reserves, has been plagued by ethnic incidents since April, in the course of which five people have been killed. Some 300 people had been arrested following these violent incidents.