On 29 August the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, stated in a communiqué that he supported Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s National Reconciliation policy on condition that it did not call Kurdish rights into question. “We are putting all our weight behind the National Reconciliation process, today as we have done since the fall of the old regime”, insisted Massud Barzani. “But we observe that certain parties have laid down conditions to the reconciliation process, such as amending the Constitution and going back on federalism. We are supporting the reconciliation process, but it must not be carried out at the expense of the Kurdish people”, continued Mr. Barzani.
This statement came following the national reconciliation meeting with 600 tribal chiefs attended by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that took place in Baghdad on 26 August to check the daily acts of violence that are bathing the country in blood. “You have gathered here under the banner of national reconciliation. No Iraqi can be excluded from this project, at this stage — we need all of them, Sunni, Shiite or Christian”, declared Mr. Maliki in opening the conference, held in a hotel in the centre of Baghdad. “Iraq will not be rebuilt by violence but by dialogue. To free our country from the presence of foreign troops we need unity and a national consensus”, he added before the sheikhs who had come from all over the country. At the end of the meeting the meeting the participants signed “a pact of honour” promising, in the framework of the government’s reconciliation policy, to put an end to the violence that is daily drenching the country in blood. The tribal chiefs meeting in Baghdad promised “to preserve the country, to bring an end to the carnage and population displacements as well as to arrest the takfiris (Sunni extremists)”, stated Sheikh Fa’al Neamah, reading the document finally drafted byn the participants. During this meeting, a Sunni Sheikh representing a tribe from Anbar (West) and Salaheddin (North of Baghdad) Provinces, Abderrazak Suleiman, voiced a series of demands, the chief of which were the maintenance of Iraqi unity, the amendment of the Constitution (too federal for his taste), stopping the “deBaassification” aimed at former members of Saddam Hussein’s party. Federalism is strongly opposed by the Sunnis who are afraid of finding themselves isolated in more barren provinces while the Kurds and the Shiites share the oil resources of the country between them.
Tribes are the backbone of the traditional organisation of Iraqi Arab society. Of varying sizes, sub-divided into clans, led by Sheikhs, the tribes unite individuals sharing kinship bonds, living in the same region but not necessarily of the same faith. The Secretary of State for Dialogue, Akram al-Hakim, considered that “national reconciliation will succeed if the different groups manage to reach a compromise”.
For his part, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of the principal Shiite parties, called on the activists of his party to “convince people” the advantages of federalism. “The best insurance for our people would be to put federalism to work in the Provinces of the Centre and the South, following consultation with the people”, stated Mr. Hakim.
In Washington 15 August, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, declared for his part that US President, George W. Bush, rejected the idea of partitioning Iraq as a solution for putting an end to the violence shaking the country. “H doesn’t back it (…) It’s not achievable”, pointed out Tony Snow, referring to a proposal, that keeps recurring, of dividing the country into distinct States on the basis of the different communities. “Most of the Iraqis don’t want it (…) The Iraqis don’t consider themselves as Sunnis, Shiites or Kurds but as Iraqis, as descendents of Mesopotamian civilisation”, he said.
Moreover, on 2 August, the Italian Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, announced that Italy had decided to spend 30 million euros “in the next few months to strengthen the multinational commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq”. “Italy supports the “International Compact” project jointly launched by UNO and the Iraqi government”, insisted Mr. D’Alema following a meeting in Rome with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh. This project, launched on 27 July with World Bank support is a contract of objectives aimed at creating a framework to enable the reconstruction and development of Iraqi economy and its integration into regional and world economy. “We also intend to take an active part in it to strengthen relations between Iraq and the European Union in the context of international management of the process of stabilisation and peace”, Mr. D’Alema pointed out. Even though the new Italian government, led by Romano Prodi, has decided on the total withdrawal of its troops from Iraq by the end of autumn “this does not mean that Italy is completely withdrawing from Iraq, where it will remain present through economic, political and cultural cooperation”, the Minister added. Mr. Saleh, for his part, thanked Italy for “its continued support and its sacrifices in Iraq”, where 31 Italian troops have died in three years. “Besides, the departure of Italian troops does not mean the withdrawal of Italy from the Iraqi scene, where Rome will remain committed regarding its political and economic aspects”, added the Iraqi Kurdish leader.
The first hearing of the Iraqi criminal High Court of the Anfal trial opened in Baghdad’s high security Green Zone on 21 August. This is Saddam Hussein’s second trial and follows on the Dujail case in which he was tried for the massacre of Shiite villagers in the early 80s. The verdict for this trial is expected in the autumn. Saddam Hussein, the former dictator, is being charged with genocide for having ordered the Anfal (“war booty” from a verse in the Qoran) campaigns that caused over 182,000 deaths in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1982. He refused to plead at the opening of his trial. Seven leaders of the old regime were in the dock with him, including “Chemical Ali”. Saddam Hussein is accused of having ordered the “Anfal” campaign and being the person most responsible for the genocide, along with Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali” because of his propensity for using chemicals. It was the latter who was made responsible for carrying out the orders of his cousin, on his father’s side, to “settle the Kurdish question once and for all”. Sabir al-Duri, Director of Military Intelligence under Saddam Hussein’s regime, is charged with being one of the instigators of the Anfal plan and one of its main actors of its execution. Sultan Hashim al-Tai, Saddam’s former Minister of Defence was operational commander in the field of the campaign. Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, assistant operational commander and a member of the Hussein clan, is accused of having actively taken part in the operations while Farhan al-Juburi, Director of Military Intelligence for Eastern Iraq is accused of having actively taken part in the operations.
Public Prosecutor, Munkith al-Farun, listed the eight successive campaigns of Operation Anfal, between 22 February and 6 September 1988. “A considerable number of chemical weapons were used, thousands of villages razed to the ground and children were separated from their parents. Women were imprisoned, raped and tortured. Only the pride and dignity of the people survived — all the rest was destroyed”, declared the Prosecutor, who estimated that about 182,000 people were killed. The Public prosecutor tried to show that the dictator was guilty of genocide through ordering this operation, in the course of which 4,500 Kurdish villages were destroyed. “It is time for humanity to know (…) the extent and scale of crimes committed against the people in Kurdistan”, declared the Public Prosecutor. “Entire villages were razed to the ground, as if killing the people was not bad enough”, he added, showing photographs of the corpses of women and children. This new trial will see between 60 and 120 plaintiffs and witnesses for the prosecution appearing before the court, which will also have to examine over 9,000 documents. Many Kurds have been waiting for this opportunity, as with the Shiites for the Dujail trial. Several thousands of survivors and relatives of the Anfal victims demonstrated in Suleimaniyah on Monday, calling for Saddam Hussein’s head.
In the main towns of Iraqi Kurdistan, the population observed five minutes silence in memory of the victims. For those Kurds who survived the campaign of repression, this day represents a victory — but also revives cruel memories. “I am impatiently waiting to see him come before the court to satisfy my thirst to see him humiliated”, said Abdallah Mohammed, who lost two sons, three daughters, three brothers and three sisters-in-law in the Anfal campaign of repression. Those who survived the air raids and the artillery bombardments were killed by the army, according to Human Rights defence organisations. The Kurdish leaders hope to make this trial a high point of national catharsis. The Minister for Human Rights, Yussef Mohammed Aziz, points out that 32 lawyers are due to go to Baghdad to represent the victims and that 42 Kurdish witnesses have been appointed to represent their people. Despite the reservations of some observers, the Kurdish leaders say they are convinced that they can prove the connections between the accused and the horrors committed. Kamal Othman Khoshaw, Public Prosecutor of Kurdistan, states that his tram has found proof of Saddam’s personal responsibility. “Amongst the documents is one coming from the Armed Forces General Command to the General Command of the operation. It is signed by all the Chiefs and some members of the Party who were involved”, he insisted.
The Director of the Anfal Centre in Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, Ali Bandi, considers that Saddam Hussein wanted “to destroy the Kurdish people” but recalls that many Western countries “sympathised” with the fallen dictator. The Anfal Centre seeks both to collect information and documents on the campaigns of repression in Kurdistan and also to help the victims and their families. “We say that Saddam Hussein is guilty — but that he is not the only one guilty. Saddam Hussein enjoyed the sympathy of many countries. Germany, in particular, helped him to stay in power. Dutch firms took part — moreover they have been condemned by the Dutch Courts, which we thank for this. The Iraqis used chemical weapons against us, but many major powers, like the United States, kept silent. We paid the price of the cold war. The French sold arms to Iraq and cooperated a great deal with it. They sympathised with the Iraqi regime. However, we also remember Danielle Mitterrand, who defended the Kurds. There is a street here in Dohuk named after her and all Kurds have a little place in their hearts for Danielle Mitterrand”.
There is also the problem of displaced persons. There are two kinds of displaced persons, those whose villages had been “Arabised” by the old regime and those whose villages had been rased during the Anfal campaign. Mussa Ali Bakir, Head of the Internally Displaced Persons Office (IDP) for Dohuk and Mossul states that “the problem of displaced persons goes far beyond just that of their numbers. … Saddam displace populations and burned down villages, destroying the economic fabric but also the family cells and the conditions for any possible return”. “The international lenders only understand part of the problem. We must resettle the displaced people in their villages, but this is not easy. Security must be guaranteed, the fighting must be stopped, including between Kurds, remove all the mines (Editor’s Note: 20 million mines are said to have been dispersed across Kurdistan). Former villages must also be made accessible by road and houses worthy of the name must be built”, Mussa Ali itemised.
According to analysts, the evidence of the massacre of Kurds at the instigation of fallen dictator Saddam Hussein is solid, but the Special Court that is trying the case is ill equipped for a trial on an issue as complex as genocide. “The evidence against the old regime is solid but, in view of the events during the trial for the Dujail massacre, the Court does not seem equipped to conduct procedures of such an importance against a Head of State”, declared Nehal Bhutta, of the New York based Human Rights defence organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW). “The proof of genocide lies in the creation by then Iraqi government of forbidden zones in which all the inhabitants are to be executed”, points out Nehal Bhutta. “The argument that all the inhabitants were rebels is not a credible one as children were amongst the tens of thousands who died in this operation”, he added. However, the prosecution seems to have gained maturity and transparency: in particular, the six prosecution witnesses who came to the bar during the third hearing did so unveiled. Human Rights organisations had criticised the excessive use of anonymous witnesses, hidden behind a screen and with their voices artificially disguised, during the Dujail trial.
Around 1986 wide areas of the Kurdish region had been freed from control by a central government increasingly under pressure because of its war with Iran. Early in 1987, Saddam Hussein charged his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, with the task of bringing the region back under central government control. The latter set up “forbidden zones” in the region and regarded all their inhabitants as “insurgents”. The villagers were transferred to areas more easily controlled by the Baghdad while the “forbidden zones” were bombed and then invaded. According to the Human Rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch, these campaigns were aimed at exterminating the Kurdish people and not simply counter-insurgency operations as the former regime claimed. “It must be stressed that the murders were not only committed during the counter-insurgency operations: detainees were killed several days or weeks after the armed forces had reached their objectives”, states HRW in a detailed report on the Anfal campaign, dated 1993, translated and published in French by Karthala publishing under the title of “Genocide en Irak — La campaign d’Anfal contre les Kurdes”. “In the end, the issue of intention is at the heart of the concept of genocide”, stresses the report, which details documents and eye witnesses showing that this intension did exist, according to the organisation.
The character of Ali Hassan al-Majid is central to this case. He is the subject of several accusations, in particular regarding the use of poison gasses, of mass executions and of setting up detention camps so as to subdue Kurdistan. Ali Hassan al-Majid was Saddam Hussein’s henchman in the dirty jobs. Saddam Hussein’s right hand man, he was regularly called upon whenever it was a matter of smashing the slightest protest movement against the old regime. A man of appalling brutality, he held the post of general secretary of the Baath Party in the Northof Iraq from March 1987 to April 1989, co-ordinating, at the same time, the Army, the police forces and the military Intelligence engaged in repressing the Kurds. In May 1987, he began an implacable scorched earth policy in Kurdistan, with a vast operation of evacuating the population and the livestock, forcibly transported to near the Jordan and Saudi Arabian borders, far from the traditional areas of Kurdish settlement. However, he was also the butcher of the 1991 Shiite uprising, as Commander of the Republican Guards divisions in the South of the country. During the 1990s, he directed a campaign of forced deportation of the inhabitants of the marchlands (Southern Iraq), the population of which dropped from a million to 40,000. He also supervised the occupation of Kuwait. Thus, from August to November 1990, he was the bloodthirsty governor of that country, invaded by the Iraqi Army, before resuming, in 1991 his position of Minister of Local Government, which he had held since 1989. In February 1996, without the slightest qualms, Mr. Majid executed his own nephew, Hussein Kamel, on his return to Baghdad, after having defected to Jordan and denounced the regime the year before. Member of the Revolution Command Council (RCC, the highest organ of the Baath regime), Chemical Ali was appointed head of the Southern Military region with the task of defending it against the Americano-British offensive, launched on 20 March. In January 2003 he visited Damascus, then Beirut, in the context of a tour of Saddam Hussein’s emissaries aiming to put forward Iraq’s point of view, one and a half months after the beginning of the UN inspection on the country’s disarmament.
The trial will not deal with the most notorious attack, that on the town of Halabja, in March 1988, in which 5,000 people are estimated to have died from gassing. This will be treated as a separate case.
On 23 August, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) proposed a ceasefire to the Turkish government. Murat Karayilan, one of the politico-military chiefs of the PKK declared that “in response to many requests from the government of Iraqi Kurdistan and to statements of the American State Department, we are ready to observe a ceasefire and to chose a peaceful manner of settling the question of the Kurdish people in Turkey”. “We are ready for a ceasefire as from 1 September, World Peace Day. Turkey must be ready to respond to this in a flexible manner”, added Murat Karayilan, who declared he was the N°2 man in the Iraqi PKK. “We k now that Turkey has expansionist and nationalist ambitions and wants to put pressure on the Iraqi Kurdish leaders. We do not expect them to attack us, but we are ready to defend ourselves”, he continued, referring to the thousands of Turkish troops massed along the border.
On 11 August the German-based pro-Kurdish press agency, Firat, had reported that Abdullah Ocalan had reported that Abdullah Oclan had announced that he might call on his activists to declare a ceasefire if Ankara displayed “a sincere approach” for a resolution fo the conflict. “It is possible to stop the shedding of blood (…). If the government displays a sincere position we will do what is in our power. I will call for a ceasefire and the clashes will cease”, the PKK chief is said to have declared. These statements have, apparently been sent to the agency by Ocalan’s lawyers who, according to this source, are said to have met him on his island prison of Imrali, where he has been serving a life sentence for treason since 1999. “Our demands are very clear (…). Our children must be educated in their mother tongue and (be able) to listen to the radio, watch television and read the papers” in Kurdish, Abdullah Ocalan is said to have declared. The PKK head is also said to have declared that, if Ankara took “certain measures and gave certain guarantees” following such a ceasefire, the fighters would withdraw to Iraq or another country. “At a final stage, the arms would be laid down for good, in the event that a legal guarantee were given”, he is said to have stressed, in what seems to be an allusion to a demand for an amnesty for all members of the PKK. “A democratic dialogue is necessary (to achieve) am permanent solution (…). You cannot finish with the PKK by begging the United States and by cooperating with Iran and Syria”, A. Ocalan is said to have considered.
For his part, on 12 August the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, insisted that Iraq would not be a PKK sanctuary, during a telephone conversation with his Turkish opposite number, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to the Turkish Press Agency Anatolia. Mr. Maliki is further said to have insisted that his government would continue to work with the United States and Turkey in the common struggle against the PKK. On 2 August, the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, had insisted that Iraq “Will do everything possible to prevent the PKK Kurdish separatist organisation from attacking Turkey from Iraqi soil”. “I personally intervened on the issue of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party and called the Turkish representative to assure him that the Iraqi government has seriously decided to see to it that Iraqi territory ceases to be used by armed groups aimed at neighbouring countries”, declared the Iraqi President in the course of a Press conference. “Iraq will do everything possible to prevent the PKK from attacking Turkey from Iraqi soil”, he continued, insisting that he had decided to order the closing of the PKK offices. A tripartite meeting between Iraqi, American and Kurdish leaders is due to take place on this subject shortly, Mr. Talabani indicated.
Turkey has long complained at the inaction of Baghdad and Washington regarding the PKK. In July it had threatened cross-border military intervention against PKK camps in Kurdish territory if Baghdad did not act. On 30 August the Turkish Foreign Ministry welcomed the appointment of retired general Joseph W. Ralston as Washington’s “special envoy” for co-ordinating the struggle against the PKK. The communiqué issued considered that this appointment constituted an “opportunity” for taking “concrete steps” in the struggle against the PKK. General Ralston has served as Supreme Commander of NATO and several times visited Turkey, which is a member of that organisation.
At least 98 PKK activists and 66 members of the security forces died in the violent actions that have increased this year, according to an AFP tally. Thus a civilian who was collecting firewood in an area of woodland was killed and two soldiers were wounded in a clash that took place on 24 August near the town of Bitlis. The day before, the local media reported that five members of the PKK had surrendered to the Turkish forces in Silopi, in Sirnak province. A communiqué from the provincial governor indicated that a total of 69 PKK activists had surrendered to the Turkish forces in Sirnak. Moreover, on 20 August the Anatolia press agency reported that two PKK Kurdish PKK fighters were killed in fighting in Sivas province, in central Turkey. Two other Turkish soldiers were killed on 15 August fighting the PKK on the heights of Gabar, in Sirnak province. On 13 August, two policemen were killed and another wounded by Kurdish fighters at Tunceli, using a remote controlled mine. This incident occurred near the anti-riot police station in the centre of the city of Tunceli. A Turkish warrant officer was killed on 7 August in his house at Beytussebap, about 50 Km from the Iraqi border, while a fighter was blown apart when the device he was handling exploded, in the same region, according to the local authorities. The day before, three soldiers were killed and eight other people injured during attacks by alleged members of the PKK in a rural area of Gumushane province (North-East Turkey). The provincial governor, Veysel Dalmaz, stated that PKK members enticed an army vehicle into an ambush during which the driver was wounded and lost control of the vehicle. Earlier in the day, a remotely controlled mine had exploded as a goods train passed by, between the provinces of Bingol and Elazig, wounding 4 security guards.
In addition to the PKK, another radical group, the Hawks of Kurdistan Freedom (TAK) on 29 August, claimed responsibility for a triple attack at a seaside resort in South-West Turkey the day before that had wounded 21 people, including 10 Britons, and also another in Istanbul, on the same day, that had wounded six. The TAK also claimed another explosion that occurred the day before in the tourist resort of Antalya (Southern Turkey) that caused three deaths and about twenty injured. In the statement making their claim, the TAK stated that they had carried out their attack on Antalya in reprisal for conditions of confinement to which Abdullah Ocalan was subjected. On their Internet site, the TAK also indicated, on 23 August, that their members had started forest fires in at least 17 areas to protest against the “fascist attitude” of the Turkish authorities in Turkish Kurdistan. The TAK had also, on 15 August, claimed responsibility for a bomb attack carried out the day before in a tourist quarter of Istanbul that wounded three people. A low powered bomb exploded in the tourist quarter of Sultanahmet. The device, a “percussion bomb” (a term used to describe devices aiming at making more noise than victims) was placed under a bench in Sultanahmet Square, which is surrounded by the Mosque-Museum of Saint Sophia, the Sultanahmet Mosque and the Ottoman Topkapi Palace. “We assume full responsibility for this action (…) whose consequences could have been much bloodier”, the Hawks of Freedom for Kurdistan pointed out in a communiqué reported by Firat news agency. The explosion took place on the eve of the anniversary of the PKK’s launching of armed struggle on 15 August 1984.
Moreover, on 5 August the TAK claimed responsibility for two bomb attacks that caused 17 injured. One bomb, placed before the entrance to the Diyarbekir regional offices of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) damaged the building without causing any casualties, according to the authorities. Earlier, TAK had claimed two simultaneous bomb attacks in front of a bank in Adana (Southern Turkey), which injured 17 people. In a communiqué published on their Internet site, the TAK made the point that their attack was an act of reprisal against “the fascist treatment to which President Apo and our people are being subjected”. “Our actions will become more and more violent every day”, TAK threatened. The branch of the Oyakbank bank next to the explosion, which is owned by the Turkish Officers Pension Fund, was targeted because it is answerable to the Army the communiqué stressed.
Furthermore, for the last year the Province of Iranian Kurdistan has been the scene of armed confrontations between Iranian troops and activists of PEJAK, an Iranian Kurdish group close to the PKK. A daily paper, Kayhan, reported on 21 August that five Iranian Kurds, members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and four PKK fighters had been arrested and three others wounded during a clash. “Five members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party were arrested in the Miandoab region (Western Azerbaijan)” declared Colonel Hossein Rashidi, one of the chiefs of the security forces in Western Azerbaijan, a province of North-West Iran with a mainly Kurdish population. He added that “weapons and documents have been seized”. According to this officer, “three members of the PKK were targeted by the armed forces after the death of a police officer and a member of the Guardians of the Revolution, killed by mines laid in the region”. Colonel Rashidi did not specify where these incidents took place.
Rostam Judi, a PEJAK leader, indicated, for his part, that two civilians had been killed on 18 August by Iranian artillery fire on villages in Iraqi Kurdistan that were sheltering Iranian Kurdish fighters. “The Iranian forces shelled (…) eight villages near Qandil, killing two civilians and forcing many of the inhabitants to leave”, he declared. In March, April and August, Iranian artillery has targeted positions held by this organisation, causing four deaths and considerable material damage in this mountainous area of Iraq that borders on Iran.
In its 16 August issue, the New York Times, basing itself on figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry and various morgues throughout the country, suggested that the month of July was the most murderous since the beginning of the war in Iraq, in 2003, with a 9% increase compared with June and twice as many deaths as in January. Thus in Baghdad, the Ministry of Health announced that the capital’s morgue had received “the bodies of 1,850 people in the month of July, most killed by gunfire”, as against 1,350 in June. Ten civilians died every day in Iraq, victims of the sectarian violence that is shaking the country, of bomb attacks in market places, of attacks by regular militia wearing official uniforms or, very often, executed by bullets. Thus, for the month of July, there was a total of 3,438 violent deaths. This despite the security plan for Baghdad, launched mid-June by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, with the deployment of over 50,000 members of the Iraqi security forces and US soldiers. The failure of this plan has led to the launching of a “second phase”, for which an additional 5,000 US troops have been sent to the capital, considered a priority area. “As Iraqis and, especially, as Shiites we have become the targets of the takfiris (Sunni extremists) and Saddam Hussein supporters”, declared Aziz Zein al-Ali, one of the spokesmen of the supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one opf the most important Shiite parties. The US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has accused senior leaders of the regime of being linked with the Sunni or Shiite militia. “A great deal of the responsibility lies with the Iraqi politicians, most of whom have links with the militia”.
Despite assurances by the US Army that the situation in the capital has improved, at least 77 people, as of 30 August, have been killed in Iraq — 24 of them in a bloody bomb attack aimed at a street market in the centre of Baghdad. A double bomb attack later hit Karrada, a business quarter in the centre of Baghdad, killing three people, including a policeman, and injuring 14 others in a queue at a service station. In other attacks throughout the capital, particularly in the Dura (Southern) and Amariyah (Western) quarters, ten peopler were killed. However, according to the US Army, violence has diminished by 46% in Baghdad since the beginning of August, as compared with previous months. Since 7 August, nearly 30,000 men, American and Iraqi, have been conducting house-to-house searches in the most dangerous quarters, beginning with Dura, one of the most dangerous, and Gazaliyah (Northern Baghdad). This strategy seems to have born fruit in these districts. The security plan also envisages the setting up of dialogue between Sunni and Shiite community representatives and measures of economic development. Despite exceptional security measures, on 20 August Shiite pilgrims were the target of attacks as they passed through the Sunni quarters of the capital to visit the mausoleum and celebrate the anniversary of the death of Mussa al-Kazim, the seventh of the twelve Shiite Imams, persecuted and killed in 799. His mausoleum lies in a mainly Sunni quarter on the West bank of the Tigris, and twenty pilgrims were killed and 300 wounded in the course of a number of separate attacks as hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims paid tribute, in Baghdad, to their revered Imam. The violence has not diminished in the rest of the country, either in the “Sunni death triangle” to the South of Baghdad, where corpses of people who have been kidnapped and killed are regularly found, or in the Baaquba region, to the North of the capital, where armed men maintain a reign of terror over the civilians.
In the South, tension is also great following the violent clashes on 15 August between the police and followers of the radical Shiite Ayatollah, Mahmud al-Hassani in the Shiite holy city of Kerbala, where a three-day curfew was decreed.
In Kurdistan, two anti-Kurdish suicide attacks killed 10 people and injured 50 early in the evening of 27 August in Kirkuk. The two attacks, using car bombs, occurred within a few seconds of one another, in the Iskan quarter of Kirkuk. One of the attacks was aimed at a house linked with the memories of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s family. The second occurred in front of the house of Colonel Ahmed Abdallah, a local police chief. Earlier in the day a suicide car bomb attack on the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani’s party, killed a guard and injured 16 people. Four police, moreover, were shot down about fifty kilometres south of Kirkuk in the course of the day. “This attack bears the hallmark of Baath and Ansar al-Sunna (an extremist Sunni group linked to al-Qaida) terrorists, who see great danger from the PUK”, opined Jalal Joha, a local official of this Kurdish party.
Furthermore, nine people, five peshmergas and four civilians, were killed and 51 injured in a suicide attack in Tamim, one of the quarters to the West of the city of Mossul, near one of the biggest offices of the PUK. The week before, these same offices had been sacked by followers of a Basra Shiite sheikh, a certain Yaqubi. They had been incensed by an article by a PUK leader in the Kurdish daily Al-Ittihad, which had accused Yaqubi of inciting “hatred against the Kurds”. In a communiqué, Jalal Talabani had regretted this article, which could have wounded some people’s feelings, adding that he had not been advised of its publication.
On 5 August Turkey began the construction of a huge dam on the Tigris, despite violent criticisms aroused by this project that will destroy a major historic site force the displacement of several thousands of Kurds. Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan took part in the inauguration of the Ilisu Dam construction site, near Dargecit, 45 Km from the Syrian border by laying the first stone. The project has been very controversial from its very inception in the late 70s. At the heart of the criticisms is the little town of Hasankeyf, on the banks of the Tigris — a prosperous city in ancient Mesopotamia, then the last stronghold of Saladin’s Kurdish Ayyubide dynasty, but today poverty stricken and in danger of losing much of its land under the lake formed by the Dam. The many opponents of this project, which also includes the building of a hydroelectric power station, fear not only the disappearance of a unique historic site, where Assyrian, Roman, Kurdish and Ottoman monuments stand side by side but also of a traditional style of life that its Kurdish and Arab population has so far preserved.
To stop the project, some activists have petitioned the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg and have called on international lenders to suspend their loans to the consortium charged with its construction. On the other hand, the supporters of the project consider that it will bring to this poor region the means of developing its economy, in particular by enabling the creation of 10,000 jobs, the development of fishing and the irrigation of arable land. According to Mr. Erdogan, this project is the proof of Ankara’s determination to improve the living conditions of the Kurds in Turkey. “The step we are making today shows that the South-East is lo longer neglected (…). This Dam will bring substantial benefits to the local population”, he declared in the course of the ceremony.
Planned for completion in 2013, the Ilisu Dam will become the country’s second largest water reservoir and the fourth largest hydroelectric power station, with an annual production of 3.8 million Megawatts. Its cost is estimated at 1.2 billion euros. According to some officials, 80% of the Hasankeyf archaeological sites, including tombs and some of the underground houses, already worn by the weather and years of neglect, will remain above the water level. The rest, and particularly some mosques, a public bath and the remains of an ancient bridge across the Tigris, will be transferred to an open air museum, which will become, according to Mr. Erdogan’s expressed wish, “a tourist centre”. The government is determined to preserve the Hasankeyf heritage, added Mr. Erdogan, recalling that 66 million euros had been allocated to archaeological research, already well under way. Some opponents, for their part, consider that even if the monuments are transferred, the integrity of the site and of the original countryside will be irredeemably altered. The government also envisages to pay compensation to the inhabitants of nearly 200 villages that will be expropriated and to build a new town to house the population of Hasankeyf. “The Dam will destroy 12,000 years of history”, laments Abdulvahap Kusen, the Mayor of Hasankeyf and member of a civic group opposed to the project. “Neither I nor anyone else will go to live in the new locality. If Hasankeyf is destroyed we will migrate to the big cities”, he declared.
In 2001, the British Building and civil engineering company, Balfour Beatty PLC had withdrawn from the project, citing “the environmental commercial and social complexity”. The Italian building company Impreglio did the same. The official responsible for the hydraulic works, Veysel Eroglu, for his part considered that “the Dam will give life to the region” and that “it should have been done thirty years ago”. But Maggie Ronayne, an archaeologist from the Galway National University of Ireland, who has been working on the site since 1999 explains: “This Dam is a weapon of mass cultural destruction — not only because of the great number of monuments but also of the culture of the people here”.
The Ilisu Dam is part of the Project for South-Eastern Anatolia (GAP) that envisages the building of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power stations on the Tigris and Eurphrates. The GAP is sharply criticised by Iraq and Syria, who accuse Turkey of expropriating the water of these two rivers that flow from Kurdistan to the drought-stricken lands of the South.
On 22 August, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, made a working visit to Syria for discussions with Syrian leaders on the situation in the Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Mr. Gul met Syrian President Bachar al-Assad as well as his Syrian opposite number Walid al-Mu’allem, about the Lebanese issue and the problem between the Israel and the Palestinians. On 20 August Mr. Gul had visited Israel and the Palestinian territories to seek a solution to the Palestinian problem. During his meeting with the Palestinian leader, Mahmud Abbas, Mr. Gul pointed out that “efforts must be made in the region to enable a permanent peace”. “The kidnapped Israeli soldiers must be freed and the Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons must also be freed” the Minister declared, adding: “Such acts could establish a new climate of peace in the region”.
For his part, the German Foreign Minister, Walter Steinmeier, had cancelled a visit to Syria planned for 15 August in protest at a speech by President al-Assad that praised the Hezbollah and threatened Israel. Damascus confirmed that the head of the German Foreign Office had cancelled a visit to Syria, but cited “divergent views” regarding UN Resolution 1701, calling for an end to hostilities between Israel and the Hezbollah to explain his change of plan. The German Foreign Minister cancelled his visit to Syria declaring that the remarks made by President Bachar al-Assad constituted a “negative contribution”. “We say (to the Israelis) that after having tasted humiliation in the latest battles, your arms will not protect you — neither your planes, nor your missiles or even your nuclear bombs … Future generations in the Arab world will find means of beating Israel”. The Syrian head of State had cried out. The Syrian Foreign Minister did not made any reference to Mr. Steimeier’s remarks about Bachar al-Assad’s speech, limiting himself to stating that the visit had been cancelled at Germany’s request because of “divergent views between the two parties on their evaluation” of the UN ceasefire plan.
On 1 August Iran began a series of major Army manoeuvres throughout the country, supposedly due to continue “for an unspecified time”. They are held “to present the new defence doctrine” of the country, according to the Army’s spokesman, General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani, as quoted by the public television service. This exercise was announced at a time when the international community had given Iran till the end of August to suspend its uranium enrichment as well as just after the ceasefire in the Lebanon, that Teheran considered a victory for the Hezbollah and, indirectly good news for Iraq. As the General explained, these manoeuvres reflect the present level of tension in the region: “We must be prepared to face any threat and we must be an example for other countries” and “our Army is ready to foil any plots against the Islamic Republic of Iran”. These great manoeuvres involve 12 infantry regiments. In April Teheran had launched the most important military exercises to date, and claimed to have tested several high-tech weapons, including missiles.
At this time, when tension is at its height in the Near East, the Turkish Foreign Ministry obliged two Iranian planes flying to Syria to land in Turkish Kurdistan to search them — apparently for rockets or other military equipment. On 16 August, the mass circulation daily, Hurriyet, reported that Iranian planes had been forced to land at Diyarbekir Airport on 27 July and 8 August but that no military equipment had been found. Namik Tan, the Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed the facts, adding that Turkey was only acting in conformity with international regulations. “Turkey is a country that is careful to act in the context of the rules of international agreements”, he declared. “The incident took place in this context”. The spokesman added that relations between were not damaged by the incident. “There are no problems between the two countries”, he added.
On 24 August, the Swedish agency TT reported that over a thousand Kurdish-language copies of a famous series of children’s books by the Swedish novelist Astrid Lindgren were seized by the Turkish authorities in Istanbul. A cargo intended for libraries in five Kurdish areas in Turkey was seized because it was not accompanied by the required authorisation from the Ministry of Education and also lacked customs documents, according to the authorities cited by TT.
The 1,208 books, including 25 different “Fifi Brindacier” titles (a heroine created by Astrid Lindgren) hqad been shipped in Sweden on 7 August by the Komak association, which is active in promoting education in the Kurdish population of Turkey. The adventures of Fifi Brindacier, a freckle faced girl with wearing a comforter, have been translated into 85 languages and published in over a hundred countries.
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has suede a caricaturist and a weekly for a cartoon in which he is shown in the form of a tick. Mr. Fatihj Shahin, a barrister, has stated that he had filed a complaint with an Ankara Court, on 1 August, against the satirical magazine Leman and the caricaturist Mahmet Cagcag for insulting the Prime Minister following the publication of the incriminated cartoon in the 6 july issue of the satirical weekly.
Referring to a tick-borne hemorrhagic fever that had killed about twenty people this yeqar in Turkey, Mahmet Cagcag had drawn Mr. Erdogan in the form of a tick, biting the head of a man and written underneath that he was “making Turkey suffer”. Mr. Sahin explained that the Prime Minister was demanding 25,000 Turkish lire (13,000 euros) damages.
The lawyer specified that no date had yet been set for the trial but that it bould probably begin when the legal term began in September. This procedure is the fourth undertaken by Mr. Erdogan against caricatures. The Prime Minister has lost all three previous cases. In April 2004 he had sued the Left wing daily paper Evrensel for a caricature showing him as a horse, mounted by one of his advisors. In February 2005, he sued the daily Cumhurriyet for a caricature depicting him as a cat entangled in a ball of wool, then a week later the satirical magazine Penguen that had drawn him as a whole series of animals as a gesture of solidarity with Cumhurriyet. These legal actions aroused a wave of criticisms in the Turkish press, which questioned the sincerity of the head of the government when he stated that he was determined to increase freedom of expression in Turkey to ease the country’s entry into the European Union.
On 11 August, the Conservative Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi, committed himself to eliminating the “signs of immorality in society” and to “purifying” the cultural sector. He also announced that a reduction in the number of press agencies authorised to work in Iran. “Unfortunately we are seeing inappropriate signs of immorality in present day society” declared Mr. Saffar-Harandi in a speech broadcast on the State radio. “However you now have my word that I will commit myself to a purification of the cultural atmosphere”, he added. “In the near future, we will nom longer see an unhealthy cultural production of books, films, music, happenings etc.”, he continued in this speech addressed to a crowd just before the Friday prayer. The Minister then attacked the growing number of press agencies by announcing his intention to reduce them. “I have no other choice than to restrain them, since investment has gone more to quantity than to quality,” he stressed. He explained that 11 press agencies were working with a permit from his ministry, that eight others were waiting to receive it and that between 50 and 60 had begun procedures to secure one.
Mr. Saffar-Harandi took office last summer following the election of the ultra-conservative Mahmud Ahmedinjad as President. Last autumn the authorities had launched a campaign against what they perceived as a “Western cultural invasion” in the State media. But, in fact, this only resulted in a wider spread of traditional or “soothing” music in broadcasts. According to Mr. Saffar-Harandi, the supervision of the cultural sector is a government prerogative that “must not be yielded to society”. “No one has the right to clash with the ideals of the people and the system, including in the cultural domain” because other wise the religious values of the Islamic Republic “will not survive” he added. The broadcasting and distribution of music, films and books is subject to a procedure of authorisation by the Ministry of Culture, while the press has, for a long time, been subjected to legal attacks.
Furthermore, on 28 August the Iranian media announced that the Iranian authorities were organising an International Conference on the Holocaust (the reality of which they challenge) on 11 December to celebrate World Human Rights Day. This Conference, entitled “Research on the Holocaust: world perspectives” is being organised by the Centre for Political and International Research of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. It is planned to last two days. The themes for discussion are: “the reasons for anti-Semitism in Europe”, “the holocaust seen in the light of historic documents”, “the holocaust, the law and the media” and finally “the holocaust and Zionism”. The ultra-conservative Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmedinjad has cast doubt on the reality of the holocaust on a number of occasions in the last few months. Mid-August the Iranian daily Hamshahri and the Iran House of Caricatures organised, in Teheran, an exhibition of caricatures on the holocaust of the Jews during the Second World War. Mahmud Ahmedinjad, who describes the Jewish state as a “tumour” has accused the Europeans of having used the “myth” of the holocaust to create the state of Israel.
The alleged perpetrator of the attack against the Turkish State Council, that caused one death and four injured in Ankara, tried to escape from the courtroom as his trial began on 11 August causing the suspension of the hearing. Alparslan Arslan, a 29-year old lawyer, earlier acknowledged having committed the attack against the highest body of Turkish Judicial administration as well as a grenade attack against the centre-left daily Cumhurriyet, giving religious motives. The young man was making his statement when the muezzin's call to prayer sounded through the courtroom. “That is the Friday call to prayer — I must conform to Allah orders”, repeated the accused several times as the judge refused to let him leave the hearing to pray. A. Arslan then jumped out of the dock and tried to escape but was rapidly overcome by the gendarmes present in the court. In the face of the disturbance caused by the lawyer’s eight alleged accomplices, on trial with him, the court suspended the hearing for two hours.
Later in the day, Alparslan Arslan made a second, unsuccessful, attempt to escape after hearing the afternoon call to prayer. A. Arslan admitted the attack on the 4th Chamber of the State Council, in which he had opened fire on five judges, killing one and wounding the four others, as well as one of the three grenade attacks on the daily Cumhurriyet, in which there were no victims. According to witnesses, the lawyer had burst into the State Council’s courtroom crying “I am a soldier of God!”. “I planned in my head the events at the State Council and at Cumhurriyet”, he declared. “I have a nature inclined to violence”. Thye accused explained that he had acted in reaction to a State Council decision on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf.
This state institution is well known as a stronghold of secularism and for the vigour with which it imposes observance of the ban on wearing the Islamic headscarf in public administrations and universities. Alparslan Arslan pointed out that the attacks on Cunhurriyet were aimed at punishing the paper following the publication of a caricature in which a pig (an unclean animal for Moslems) is shown wearing an Islamic headscarf. The lawyer also gave some clues to his political past by explaining that one of his fellow detainees, Suleyman Esen, his intellectual guide as a student, was, at the time, head of a local branch of the Idealist Hearth, an extreme Right organisation. The Public Prosecutor asked for life imprisonment, without any reduction for good conduct, for Alparslan Arslan and four of his alleged accomplices, charged with an attempt to overthrow the Constitutional order, with assassination, using explosives and breach of the law on firearms. The attack on the State Council had aroused sharp political tension, the opposition accusing the government (whose origins lie in the Islamist movement) of having encouraged the attacker by taking a stand against the ban on the Islamic veil and by criticising the State Council’s decision on the subject.
Cyprus intends to complain to the International Automobile Federation (IAF) about the conduct of the giving of trophies of the Formula 1 Turkish Grand Prix on 25 and 26 August. In fact it was a Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, who gave the winning trophy to the Brazilian driver Felipe Massa (Ferrari). Nicosia did not appreciate the fact that the organisers presented Mehmet Ali Talat as President of the “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” — a political entity that no one recognises except Turkey. The Cyprus Government spokesman, Christodoulos Passiardis, accused the Turkish leaders of having exploited a sporting event for political ends and of having “conned” the IAF. “The Cyprus Government will denounce this unacceptable and provocative bit of play-acting organised by Ankara”, stressed Mr. Passiardis.
The Turkish organisers recognised that they had circumvented the IAF rules regarding the prize giving but expressed no regret — far from it. “Such a promotion (of their Cyprus case) is priceless”, declared the President of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, Murat Yalcintas to the Anatolia press agency. “The Formula 1 race was a splendid opportunity. Cyprus is our national cause.” Mr. Yalcintas admitted that, under the IAF regulations, the organisers were obliged to inform the IAF of the identity of the public figures giving the prizes. “However, as we had the idea of using Mr. Talat in mind, we delayed notification to the utmost. We only gave the information about noon on the day of the race”, pointed out Mr. Yalcintas. For his part, Mr. Passiardis stated that the Cyprus Automobile Federation, a member of the IAF, will also be complaining.
Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, Cyprus has been divided into a Turkish-occupied part in the North and a Greek part in the South, governed by the only Cyprus government with any international legitimacy for representing the island as a whole. This is the entity admitted to the European Union in 2004.
The Turkish government is faced with an unprecedented agricultural crisis provoked by the anger of the hazel nut producers, badly hit by the drop in price of this fruit, of which Turkey has a virtually a world monopoly. There were nearly 100,000 (according to the police —150,000 according to the organisers) who demonstrated to attack the government’s policy at the end of July. The demonstration took place at Ordu, on the Black Sea, (North-East Turkey), where these nuts have been cultivated since immemorial times. The rally developed into a clash with the police and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sacked the local police chief, considering his attitude towards the demonstrators far too lenient … The demonstrators burned effigies of Cuneyd Zapsu, a major exporter of hazel nuts and one of Mr. Erdogan’s close advisers, who they accuse of deliberately lowering prices.
Between 70 and 80% of the hazel nuts produced in the world come from Turkey, according to Ministry of Agriculture figures and over two million people live mainly from their cultivation in the Black Sea region. This nut represents some 30% of the national agricultural output. Hazel nut production is greater than world consumption — hence the collapse of the price, which dropped from 6 to 2.5 lire (3.2 to 1.3euros) — the lowest level in Turkey’s history. The small scale producers, who have difficulty is selling their hazel nuts, are in debt to the banks, some have even been ruined. Total losses are evaluated at some 2.5 billion dollars (1.95 billion euros) according to specialist in this field. The Union of hazel nut producers (Fiskobirlik) responsible for sales, cannot pay the amount they owe the cultivators, causing prices to drop still further, and is highly criticised by the government that is pointing to it for its “incapacity” in managing the crisis. But it is the government that is the main target of the peasants. Indeed, the Staten used to clear Fiskobirlik’s deficit (estimated at 100 million dollars — 78 million euros) by buying up the surplus nuts. But, for the last three years the government has refused to bail out Fiskobirlik because of its commitment to the IMF, which has demanded that it reduce its budget expenses.
On 8 August, Mr. Erdogan called a “hazel nut summit” at which several ministers took part to take stock of the situation and it was decided to buy up part of the surplus this year — a decision judged insufficient by the producers. The President of the powerful Ankara Chamber of Commerce, Sinan Aygun, called for a “mobilisation” to prevent this crisis leading to a social scourge in the production areas. His organisation decided to distribute hazel nuts in the schools to dispose of the surplus product. “The hazel nut is the keystone of Turkish economy” he went so far as stating, calling on Turks to consume this “national” fruit in great quantities. The President of the Union of Chambers of Agriculture (TZOB), Semsi Bayraktar, for his part threatened the government with further demonstrations unless he involved himself more in helping settle the crisis.