On 24 September, the Kurdish Parliament started examining a draft Kurdish Constitution in which, in particular, it claims the city of Kirkuk and the right of self-determination, the actual exercising of which would depend on circumstances. An autonomous region of Iraq since 1991, Kurdistan is defined in the draft Constitution as “a federated region that is part of a federal, parliamentary and democratic Iraqi State, based on political diversity (multi-party), peaceful changeover of political power and on the principal of separation of powers”. In defining Kurdistan’s borders, the draft Constitution includes the province of Kirkuk that the Kurds have always claimed. Under the Saddam Hussein regime, large numbers of Kurds had been expelled from Kirkuk and replaced by Arabs. According to article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, there is due to be a census then a referendum in this region to decide whether it should join the Iraqi Kurdish federation. The Kurdish draft ÀConstitution also claims some towns and villages in Nineveh, Diyala, and Wasset Provinces that are inhabited by Kurds but are not included in the present federated region of Kurdistan.
On the other hand, to prevent any possible future division within the Kurdish region, which has experienced armed internal conflicts in the past, the draft Constitution stipulates that “the creation of another autonomous region within the autonomous region of Kurdistan shall not be allowed”.
Finally the draft recognises the right to self-determination to the Kurdish people. It stresses that “it has chosen a free federation with Iraq so long as the latter observes its Federal Constitution, its parliamentary, democratic and federal system as well as the individual and collective rights” of its citizens. Kurdistan could review this choice “should the Federal Constitution be violated or should the federal option be abandoned”. Similarly, it could review its options “in the event of a policy of racial discrimination” by Iraq or “if the old regime’s after-effects” are maintained, which specifically alludes to the policy of forced Arabisation which was practiced in Kirkuk.
Furthermore, following a decision to this effect by the Kurdish government, the Kurdish flag now waves alone over public buildings in Kurdistan. “The Kurdish flag must be raised on all public building and government institutions of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan”, the Kurdistan government ordered, adding that “in the regions where the Baath flag was flown, it must be replaced by the Kurdish flag”. In Suleimaniyah Province, stronghold of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi flag often flew alongside the Kurdish flag on government buildings. But it had no official status in Irbil, Kurdistan President Massud Barzani’s stronghold. “This (Baathist) flag only dates from 1963and since then all the massacres, all the collective murders and crimes have been committed”, which is why “it is impossible to raise this flag in Kurdistan, since it reflects one of the blackest periods in the history of Iraq” Mr. Barzani had declared in March 2005. In April 2005, Jalal Talabani had taken the oath as President of Iraq over the Iraqi flag, but had expressed the wish for a change of national symbols. “There will certainly be a new flag as the present banner is Saddam Hussein’s”, he had pointed out soon after his election.
The Turkish authorities, always suspicious of Kurdish aims of independence, reacted in a moderate manner. “It is primarily up to the Iraqis to worry about this development”, stated the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, curtly on television. “It is clear that this business is a new step towards the independence of Kurds”, judged Sedat Laçiner of the Institute of Strategic Studies (USAK), for his part. “Even if the Kurds have back pedalled, by provoking controversy they have got the world discussing their emblem and their struggle for independence”, stated the analyst. In the course of a reception in Ankara in August before a number of journalists, the new Chief of Staff of the Turkish land forces, General Ilker Basbug, had warned “What do you think about Kirkuk? We must watch very carefully what is happening there”. He thus intended to draw the media’s attention and remind them that the defence of Turkish interests, using the Iraqi Turcomen as an excuse, constituted Ankara’s “red line”.
Meanwhile, on 24 September, the political parties and religious groups represented in the Iraqi Parliament agreed to debate a Shiite proposal that would authorise the creation of federal regions in Iraq, although they had several times postponed debating this sensitive subject. This agreement was reached following a compromise achieved with the Sunni Arabs, who are very much a minority in the country, whereby they secured the creation of a parliamentary commission to review the Constitution. They have agreed to freeze to 2008, at earliest, the possible creation of any new autonomous region in the framework of the Federal C0onstitution adopted a year ago. The Shiites, who make up the majority of the members of Parliament, claim, like the Kurds, the power to form a new autonomous region in the South. The Sunni Arabs are opposed to this as they are still dreaming of a strong, centralised State and fear to find themselves, in a federal Iraq, deprived of any oil fields. Besides the 18-month postponement of this Bill’s implementation, the Sunni Arabs have also obtained agreement that a parliamentary commission be formed as of 25 September to examine any possible amendments to the Federal Constitution. They hope thus to secure the passing of amendments that would enable, for example, the creation of new autonomous regions to be restricted.
Meanwhile, federalism seems to be having difficulty in being fully integrated into the political culture of some Iraqi leaders. Thus the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, has not hesitated to denounce the attempt of the Iraqi central government to “sabotage” efforts by the Kurds to develop oil resources. The government’s head firmly stated, on 25 September, that the Kurds would oppose with determination any attempt to deprive them of the right to develop their own oil industry, warning that any external interference in its affairs could only revive calls for the independence of Kurdistan. “The people of Kurdistan voluntarily chose to be part of the Iraqi union, on the basis of the Constitution”, Mr. Barzani pointed out in a communiqué. “If the Ministers in Baghdad refuse to conform to this Constitution, the people of Kurdistan reserves the right to reconsider this choice”, he warned. The Kurdistan Prime Minister’s remarks were in reaction to an interview given by the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussein Shahristani, in which he stated that his Department would study the terms of any oil contract signed by the Kurdish authorities. “I am indignant at Mr. Shahristani’s efforts at sabotaging foreign investment in the oil sector in Kurdistan”, stated Mr. Barzani. “The regional government of Kurdistan is working to develop its oil industry, a sector from which the previous regime had excluded us to punish our people”, he continued. According to Mr. Barzani, the Iraqi Constitution gives the regional government authority over oil and gas since they do not form part of the “exclusive powers of the Federal government”. Major oil reserves have already been found in various parts of Kurdistan and experts expect fresh discoveries. Some Turkish, Portuguese, and Norwegian companies are engaged in prospecting in the three autonomous Kurdish provinces, and at least one major discovery has been brought to light.
From 6 to 9 September, the Paris Kurdish Institute, in partnership with Salahaddin University and with the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the French Foreign Ministry, organised the first World Congress of Kurdish Studies at Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This event, the first of its kind, gathered together, at the Salahaddin University Cultural Centre, the majority of the research workers and academics who have devoted their work to increasing knowledge of the Kurdish people, its history, its culture, its language and its social and political situation. Coming from about a dozen countries — in Europe as well as the United States, but also from Iran and Turkey — contributors took parting this Congress, which was conducted in Kurdish and English. The symposium sought to make an inventory of work being done in many areas of Kurdish studies, to discuss the perspectives and to put forward concrete proposals for the future. The Congress also provided an opportunity for the participants to get to know one another, to exchange ideas and to build up relations of cooperation and work between Kurdish and Western research workers.
The Congress was opened by speeches by Salahaddin University President Dr. Mohammed Khoshnaw and by Dr. Mohammed Ihsan, Kurdistan Minister of Extra-Regional Affairs. Both of them welcomed the contributors and participants to this first World Congress. Then the President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, Dr. Kendal Nezan, in his speech, stressed not only the intellectual curiosity by also the civic courage of those research workers who are so often subjected to politico-administrative harassment and legal proceedings and even imprisonment, in the case of research workers in Turkey. He also paid tribute to the Turkish sociologist, Ismail Besikçi who passed about twelve years in prison for having carried out academic studies on Kurdish society but also to those academics who were not able to be present at the Congress either because of their work commitments or for reasons of health.
The first Panel in the theme of “Kurdish studies in France: Language and Literature” was presided by Dr. Joyce Blau, Emeritus Professor, who taught Kurdish for about thirty years at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (INALCO). Dr. Pierre Lecoq, lecturer at Paris’s Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études Sociales, presented the place of Kurdish in the great family of Iranian languages. Dr. Lecoq pointed out that Zazaki and Gorani were often linked to the Caspian region. “Linguists have long recognised that neighbouring languages mutually influence one another. But a similar convergence in Kurdish since this language is, today, spoken at a great distance from Persian and Kermani. There is only one way of explaining this: that when Kurdish acquired its present form it was spoken around (…) a territory roughly borders by Southern Media, Northern Persia and Eastern Carmania”. Dr. Salih Akin, lecturer at Rouen University, then spoke to give an assessment and suggest the perspectives of “linguistic research on Kurdish in France”. He thus stressed that “in the absence of national institutions and standardisation, its development has been on a polydialectical structure, in which each dialect is subdivided into a variety of local forms”. He also deplored the lack of specialised research on the Kurdish language, “through political disinterest in a little known language and lack of career prospects”. Dr. Salih Akin then listed the various categories of his research work in the university context and one of his students, Ibrahim Seydo Aydogan, preparing a doctorate at the same university, rounded out this contribution by giving an account of his work on “the identification of verb tenses in Kurdish grammars”. On the same theme, Mrs. Sandrine Traida, a linguist by training and herself preparing a doctorate, made a contribution on “the syntactic status of the noun (N-V) in Kurdish composite verbs”, starting from the observation that “Kurdish composite verbs do not show homogenous syntactic properties”. Gérard Gautier, an anthropologist and computer expert, for his part, put forward a proposal concerning the development of a body of computerised text in Kurdish. Dr. Gautier drew up a table of “the evolution of the computerised tools available to the Kurdish language” and suggested the “creation of an instrumental corpus of 100,000 words by a non-commercial consortium as a first step to the creation of a larger corpus of about a million words”. To close this panel, Mr. Yannis Kannakis, an ethno-musicologist, made a contribution on his research in the town of Hakkari. Thus he gave an account of his paper on “Speaking with a soft voice and singing with a loud voice. Spoken and sung discourses in Hakkari Kurdishness”, illustrated by photos taken on the spot and by Kurdish song recordings. Staying in Hakkari from November 2004 to April 2005 for his research work, Mr. Kannakis, who was expelled by the Turkish police before the end of his research project, gave an account of the difficulties encountered in doing fieldwork for research on the Kurds, specifically in Turkish Kurdistan. “I was able to see, time and again, that music can, in fact, help the Kurdish people to express (…) the unspoken resentments and things hard to speak about”, Mr. Kannakis explained. Mr. Kannakis concluded by saying he had many times heard Kurds say “our national music has made us what we are”. According to Mr. Kannakis “such categorical statements linking music to the foundations of collective identities in transition are pretty rare, today, outside the Kurdish world”.
The second panel devoted to “Kurdish Studies in France: the social sciences” was presided by Dr. Hamit Bozarslan, lecturer at Paris’s Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études Sociales. After a general picture of Kurdish Studies draw by Mr. Giles Doronsoro, lecturer at Paris University I, the philosopher Ephrem Isa Yousif described the Merwanides and Ayyubides, “two brilliant and tolerant Kurdish dynasties” as described in the Syriac Chronicles. Mr.Yousif described the itinery of the Merwanides, referring in particular to the Syriac chronicler Elie of Nisibe. Regarding the Ayyubides, he highlighted the great Malik al-Ashraf, “a great figure who was the subject of admiration by the Syriacs … Prince of Edessa and of the Jezirah”. Mr. Boris James, a Ph.D. student complemented this contribution by preenting “the use and values of the term “Kurd” in mediaeval Arab sources”, while Dr. Florence Hellot, a historian, spoke to the theme “Living together in Kurdistan: the Christians of the Eastern Church and the Kurds”, while Dr. Clemence Scalbert, a linguist, described the situation of Kurdish literature. Thus she placed the development of literature and of the Kurdish literary field in a context of conflict and maintained that Kurdish literature includes Turkish language writers, considering that the “use of languages is part of literary strategy”. Besides literature, social and political science have been included in the research work being carried out in France. Thus Julie Fernandez de Barena, with a background as a historian, was able to make an exposé of her work on “the emergence of a Kurdish protest movement in Syria”, a country that is less explored than Turkey, Iran or Iraq through a Kurdish angle. “The Qamishli events in March 2004, maqrked in a most visible way the irruption of a Kurdish protest movement in Syria and could be the forerunner of a new communal factor in its internal political chessboard, since hitherto the Kurdish factor had only had a marginal place”, she stated. Chris Kutshera, a journalist and specialist on the Kurdish question, closed the panel by highlighting “French precursors of Kurdish studies”. He presented the work of three French travellers who wrote about their missions to Kurdistan: “François Petits de la Croix, son of an official interpreter of Louis XIV… His book “The sojourn of Sir François Petits in Syria and Persia” is a remarkable document, with descriptions of the cities of Diyarbekir, Hasankeyf and Jezirah … at the end of the 17th Century”. “Amédée Jaubert, charged with a diplomatic mission to the Persian Court by Napoleon, travelled through Turkey from Constantinople to the Persian borders”, while “Baptistin Poujoulat, a traveller, witnessed the Ottoman campaign against the Beg of Rewanduz in 1837 … and showed how already in the first half of the 19th Century, Kurdistan was being devastated by Turkish Armies”.
The third panel was devoted to “Kurdish Studies in Germany”, presided by Dr. Phillip Kreyenbroek, lecturer at the Georg-August University in Gottingen, who presented a paper on “The Yezidi and Ahl-e Haqq traditions as evidence of Kurdish cultural history”. Dr. Kreyenbroek pointed out that “Kurdish cultural history has sometimes been misunderstood by Western research workers because they look for exact equivalents of Western phenomena: signs of “great” culture, such as “elite” written literature”. “To search for a “Looking for a “great” culture in Kurdistan can only lead to limited results and leads one to think of Kurdish culture as largely derivative of Persian, Arab or Turkish models”, he insisted. He also pointed out that these remarks were broadely based on his own research work on the Yezidi religious texts, worked out in cooperation with Dr. Khalil Jindy Rashow and published under the title “God and Sheikh Adi are perfect: Sacred Poems and religious narratives from the Yezidi tradition”. Dr. Rashow, a lecturer at the same university, also present on the panel, then presented his paper on the “keys for a broader understanding of the Yezidi religion”. “The March 1991 uprising of the people of Kurdistan against the Baath regime, the creation of the UN security zone and the setting up of a Kurdish government opened a new chapter in the rights of religions and national minorities. By establishing the Lalesh Social and Cultural Centre at Duhok (12 May 1993), the Kurdistan government undertook a major cultural and scientific achievement for the Yezidi religion”, pointed out Dr. Rashow, adding that “the Yezidi religion is a very ancient religion that is not born of another religion”. On the same subject, Miss Eszter Spät, preparing a Ph.D at the University of Central Europe, in Budapest, presented her paper on “the Yezidi prophet, the tripleformed Christ or Hellenic Aion. The traditional patterns of the Yezidi misbahet of Abraham”, while Dr. Khanna Omarkhali, a specialist in religious studies from St. Petersburg, provided a complement on the theme of “the symbolism of birds in Yezidism”. Dr. Birgit Ammann, of the European Centre for Kurdish Studies in Berlin, for her part, presented “the city of Amadiya in the light of European sources”, “capital of the Kurdish emirate of Bahdinan, one of the most powerful Kurdish emirates till its fall in the mid-19th Century”. Dr.Eva Savelsberg, working at the same Centre in Berlin, for her part explored “an overall view of the Kurds of Syria since 1920”, analysing “the development of an autonomous Kurdo-Christian movement in 1930 and the beginning of a Syrio-Kurdish nationalism to the March 2003 uprising, when mass anti-Syrian demonstrations took place in Kurdish North of Syria”. This panel on Kurdish Studies in Germany was rounded off by a contribution from Mrs. Parwin Mu=ahmudwesyi, preparing a Ph.D. at Georg-August University at Gottingen, on the theme of “Kurdish poetic meters”.
On the third day of the Congress, a panel brought together Kurdish Studies specialists in Sweden, under the chairmanship of Dr. Khalid Salih, lecturer in political science and a member of the Paris Kurdish Institute’s Board. Mr. Reso Zilan, President of the Language and Literature Department of the Paris Kurdish Institute, drew a picture of the teaching of Kurdish in Sweden, the most advanced country with respect to Kurdish language publications. Amongst the speakers, Mr. Mehmed Tayfun, linguist and historian, spoke on “the history of the publication of Kurdish books in Turkey from 1844 to 2006”. The sociological aspect of the Kurdish diaspora was then raised by three contributors. First by Dr. Minoo Alinia, on the theme of the “Kurdish diasporic movement, a social movement in a new global area”. Then Mr. Barzoo Eliassi, preparing his doctorate at the Social Science Department of the University of Mid-Sweden, questioned “identity, diaspora and social inclusion … of the Kurdish youth in Sweden”. Finally Mr. Khalid Khayati, of the Department of Ethnic Studies at Linköping University presented “the Kurds of the diaspora in Sweden as trans-frontier citizens”. According to Dr. Alinia, “the diasporas are the most powerful expression of a new global political area and a certain form of social movement”. For his part, Mr. Eliassi focused on “the significance of the origins and itinerary” in the lives of young Kurds in Sweden, questioning how far they are identified in society with respect to their ethnicity, their nationality, their sex, their sexuality or even their social class. Finally, according to Mr. Khayati, “the political allegiances that exist in Kurdistan have a profound influence on the political organisations and associations of Kurds in the diaspora” and “often the national consciousness was more important amongst Kurds settled outside Kurdistan”.
The second panel of the third day was devoted to “Kurdish Studies in the United States” and was presided by the journalist Jonathan Randal, author of the book “After such knowledge, what forgiveness? — My Encounters with Kurdistan”. Dr. Keith Hitchins, lecturer at Illinois University, presented a contribution on “the formation of the Kurdish nation in Turkey between 1890 and 1938” based on a perspective of comparison. “Despite differences in their historic development, political environment and cultural sources, the Kurds of Anatolia, the Rumanians of Transylvania and the Jadids of Central Asia share certain key characteristics”, he declared by way of introduction, developing this thesis in his contribution. Dr. Michael Gunter, lecturer at Tennessee Technological University presented his research work on the “change in dynamics in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)”. “Despite persistent problems, the dynamic of change in the KRG is encouraging, particularly when compared with the rest of Iraq or even of the Middle East. The KRG has initiated enormous positive steps for Kurdish unity, democratisation and modernisation. The ultimate problem lies in the question of who will guarantee these accomplishments?” asked Dr. Gunter. Dr. Janet Klein, lecturer at Akron University, Ohio, for her part, presented the subject “Kurdish militia and the Ottoman Empire: implications for the resolution of the present conflict”. She reached the conclusion that “the similarities and differences in the history of groups as different as the Armenians, the Turks the Kurds and the Sudanese can lead to a more balanced understanding of the conflict so as better to react in the prevention or resolution of conflict”. Dr. Nicole Watts, lecturer at San Francisco University, focused her research on the city of Diyarbekir on the subject of “pro-Kurdish mayors in an alleged democracy: the political symbols in Diyarbekir”. According to Dr. Watts, “officialisation has eased the self- (and external) legitimisation of a new generation of Kurdish elites”, but “the pro-Kurdish mayors have suffered … from the disciplinary powers of the system … the Kurdish activists have been the target of attacks and, even more, been subjected to “a coercive government conduct” that controls their behaviour and discourse
The last panel of the day was devoted to “Kurdish Studiesw in other countries”. Chaired by Dr. Abbas Vali, President of the new Kurdistan University at Irbil, the panel brought together Dr. Joost Jongerden, lecturer of Social Science at the Group-Wageningen University and at the Athena Institute-Free University of Amsterdam, who spoke about the “productive power to abrupt control: theses on the techniques for re-settling the Kurds in Turkey”. Dr. Jongerden set himself the objective of studying “the production of space and the exercise of power, between productive power and an abrupt control, through a series of micro-studies (historical, anthropological, sociological) to show and discuss how power is exercised over a people by special political means”. “Seeking a Kurdish novel that tells us who the Kurds are” was the subject of Dr. Hashem Ahmedzade, lecturer at Exeter University, in the United Kingdom. Dr. Ahmedzade tried to clarify the question the question of knowing whether “the Kurdish novel, in accordance with the required conditions for this genre, has succeeded in representing the Kurds in their identity” and regretted that “the Kurdish novel still suffers from a lack of access to the book market”. Mr. Abdullah Keskin, an Istanbul publisher, backed up this argument by presenting “the development of Kurdish publication in the North (Kurdistan) and in Turkey”. According to Mr Keskin, his publishing house, Avesta, which has been in existence for about ten years, has published 210 titles, 60% in the Turkish language and the rest in Kurdish. “Fifty of our books have been banned” but “supporting a culture and a language that are subjected to oppression and interdicts for about ten years is not only a political or national obligation but also an ethical commitment”, the published concluded. Dr. Mirella Galetti, lecturer at Naples University, for her part, presented “Kurdistan and its Christians”, pointing out that “societies in Kurdistan are in the process of change and it is fundamental to focus on and understand the present situation since in some years time this reality will only be a matter of archaeological remains”. Coming from Switzerland, Dr. Jodl Tejel, a historian and sociologist by training, developed the theme of “the building of Kurdish identity in Syria during the French Mandate between 1920 and 1946”. According to Dr. Tejel, “the intellectual relationship between the Kurdish elites and the French “Kurdologists” engendered a sort of consensual nationalist doctrine that is virtually informal. It is hard to know who is at the source of the new ethnic discourse that seeks to legitimise Kurdish aspirations for the setting up of a Kurdish state since 1919 and for placing the Kurds amongst the modern nations”.
The fourth and last day of the Congress was the opportunity for drawing a picture of “Kurdish Studies in Kurdistan”, divided into three main areas: social sciences, language and literature and perspectives for Kurdish Studies. At the panel, presided by the President of Salahaddin University, Dr. Mohammed Saddik Khoshnaw, Dr. Khalil Isamail Mohammed presented a statistical paper on “the population of Iraqi Kurdistan”, then Dr. Nur Y. Hezrani spoke on the subject of “Kurds and civilisation” followed by Dr. Qader Muhammad Bashderi on “the historic origins and the organisation of political parties in Kurdistan” and, finally, Dr. Ahmad Mirza Mirza spoke about “historic and civilisational relations in Kurdistan”.
A second panel presided by Dr. Rashad Miran included Dr. Tahir Hasso Zebari who developed the theme of “the structure of Kurdish society”, Dr. Abdul-Hamid Sa’ed, who gave an exposé on “the social problems in Kurdistan society”, followed by Dr. Ahmad Abdul-Aziz who gave “a critical study of the work of Munzer al-Mussili on the Kurds”. This panel was rounded off by the contribution of Mrs. Naznaz Muhammad Malla Kadir on the subject of “roots of the Arabisation of Kurdish culture” and Mr. Arif Zêrevan on “which alphabet for the correct transcription of Kurdish?”.
The morning ended with a last panel presided by Dr. Muhssin Hussein, which brought together Dr. Muhamad Abdullah Omar on the subject of “Kirkuk and geo-historic federalism”, Dr. Hamid Ahmad exposing “the important aspects of the development of geography for the history and civilisation of the Kurds”, Dr. Muhammad Abdullah Kaka-Sur who presented a communication on “written publications on Kurdish history” and Mr. Abdul-Karim Hawta’s exposé on “the present reality regarding industry in Kurdistan and the importance of its development”.
The afternoon of this full day began with a panel on the “development of the Kurdish language” presided by the lexicographer Salah Saadallah. “The strange aspects of the poems of Mahwi” were presented by Dr. Ibrahim Hussein Shiwan, followed by Dr. Abdullah Hussein on “the linguistic differences between towns and villages”. Finally Dr. Abdul-Wahid Dizayee presented a paper on “the notion of respect in Kurdish culture”.
A second panel, presided by Dr. Shukreya Rassul Ibrahim covered “language and literature” and included Dr. Rafik Shwani, querying “the definition and beginnings of Kurdology in Europe and Kurdistan”. Dr. Hidayat Abdullah spoke on “the promotion of alphabetisation in Kurdish publications”, followed by Dr. Mustafa Zanganah presenting “the interpretation of social according to certain Kurdish points of view” and Dr. Himdad Hussein on “the Kurds as seen by the English”.
Dr. Muhamed Diler Amr and Mr. Attaq Karadagh spoke on “the role of journalists in Kurdish linguistic research”, then Mr. Aryan Ibrahim presented a communication on “the Bedir Khan family”. Mr. Sero Kader and Mr. Sonya Saddik also spoke on “the religious and civil community in the city of Irbil”.
The Congress was followed with great interest by the Kurdish and Iraqi media, which widely covered the four days of discussions, that were also enlivened by contributions by a public consisting of journalist and political cadres, students and academics, coming not only from Kurdistan but also from Baghdad, from Europe, Turkey, Iran and Syria. The texts of the various contributions are available on the Paris Kurdish Institute’s web site (www.institutkurde.org and will be published in Kurdish.
The jury of the Saint Sebastian International Film Festival, in Spain, awarded its first prize, the Concha de Oro (golden sea shell) jointly to the film “Half Moon” by the Kurdish film director Bahman Ghobadi and to “My son and I” directed by Martial Fougeron. The French actress Natalie Baye won the prize of best actress for her role in “My son and I” while the prize of best actor was won by the Spanish actor Juan Diego for his performance in “Vete de mi”.
Both critics and public present at Saint Sebastian gave an ovation to “Half Moon”, which also won the prize for best photography, awarded to Nigel Buck and Creighton Bone. Two years ago Ghobadi also won the Concha de Oro for his film “Tortoises also fly”, which also enjoyed critical acclaim. This film, selected to represent Iraq at the next Oscar in Los Angeles, tells the story of a group of Kurdish men from Iran who, wanting to take advantage of the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, tried to give a concert for their Iraqi Kurdish neighbours. On the sidelines of the showing of his film, Bahman Ghobadi explained at length the difficulties encountered before, during and after shooting the film. Only having a small budget, he had asked, in vain, for aid from his country’s authorities. He explained, above all, his very great disappointment that this co-production by Iraq, Iran, Austria and France had not received authorisation for screening in Iran. “I am very glad to have this prize but saddened that my film is still banned in Iran”, stated the Iranian Kurdish filmmaker, clearly very upset at the Festival’s closing ceremony on Saturday night, “I dedicate it to the Kurdish people”.
The jury at the 54th Saint Sebastian International Film Festival was presided by the French film actress Jeanne Moreau. Seventeen films were in competition for the Concha de Oro this year. This Festival is the oldest and most prestigious of the Spanish-speaking world and takes fourth place in Europe after Cannes, Venice and Berlin.
In a report adopted by the European Parliament on 27 September (249 votes for, 71 against and 125 abstentions) the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) warned Turkey that it is exposing itself to a freeze in its negotiations for membership of the E.U. that began in October 2005. Camiel Eurlings, reporter of this non-binding resolution considered that “It’s a firm but equitable resolution, because we are setting aside our own commitments and concerns and are asking Turkey to show some commitment and determination”.
The European Parliament warned Turkey that its refusal to lift its embargo on Greek Cypriote ships and planes could “stop” the negotiation process for it joining the European Union. The MEPs called on Turkey to recognise Cyprus, to withdraw its forces from the island and to lift the embargo on Cypriote ships and planes. The report reminds Turkey that lack of progress in this area “will have serious implications for the negotiation process and could even stop it”. In an evaluation report, the MEPs noted “persistent failings” in the areas of freedom of expression and worship, as well as in minority rights, relations with Cyprus and recognition of the Armenian genocide. The document recalls that the negotiations with Ankara constitute “a long term process which is, by its very nature, an open process that does not, a priori, automatically lead to membership”. While the Parliament had dropped a clause that would have made recognition of the Armenian genocide a “precondition” for Turkey’s entry, the report considers it “indispensable that a country on the way to joining should tackle recognition of its past”. It also urges Ankara to establish diplomatic relations with Yerevan and to open its land borders with its neighbour. The MEPs softened the wording of the document by removing a paragraph that would have made the recognition of the Armenian genocide a precondition of Turkish membership. In a resolution passed on 28 September 2005, the MEPs had, however demanded this precondition. The Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission had still maintained it three weeks earlier, arousing the anger of the Turkish authorities.
Finally, the Parliament calls for the abolition or alteration of clauses in the Turkish Penal Code that run counter to European standards of freedom of expression, such as Article 301 that provides penalties for “disparaging Turkish identity”. It also expresses its “sharp concern” at the failure to respect women’s rights and at the preponderant role of the Army in Turkish public life.
In Ankara, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stressed that the reforms “were continuing at full speed and without our losing our enthusiasm”. “We are carrying out these reforms not because the E.U. wants them but because Turkey needs them”, he added on 26 September at a meeting of his party’s members of Parliament. “Changing the laws is not enough (…) mentalities also have to be changed. We must be patient”, he emphasised. During a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 26 September, the European Commissioner for the Enlargement, Olli Rehn, considered that “there has been little progress in the reforms over the last twelve months. It is important for new initiatives to be taken, there must be more progress before the Commission presents its report on 8 November”. After the vote on the resolution, the Turkish Prime Minister undertook to continue the reforms planned for gaining membership, but warned than any introduction of new criteria would be unacceptable. “We cannot accept the introduction of new criteria”, he declared during a press conference in Istanbul. On 19 September the Turkish Parliament returned early from its recess to discuss a new series of reforms to strengthen the country’s application for membership of the E.U. before the European Commission’s new report on Turkey. A widening of the freedom of association of the Orthodox Christian minority is amongst the laws due to be put to the vote.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has decreed a new unilateral truce that should come into force on 1 October. The announcement was made on 30 September both by the Kurdish press agency Firat and by Murat Karayilan, one of the military leaders of the PKK, from his base in the Qandil mountains, in Iraqi Kurdistan. The latter, however, warned that the PKK fighters would not lay down their arms for all that. The PKK fighters would only open fire “in the event of being targeted” but “we will not carry out any operations of a military nature”, declared Murat Karayilan. “This cease fire will be carried out by all the parties making up the PKK”, he pointed out, adding, “If the Turkish State has a democratic solution to the Kurdish question, we will renounce the use of arms”. On 28 September, Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK chief detained on the island prison of Imrali, had urged his fighters to make this gesture so as to stop “the growing tension and continuous clashes”. “I am fulfilling my responsibilities and call for a cease-fire by the PKK” Abdullah Ocalan is said to have declared in a communiqué made public by his lawyers. According to the Firat news agency, the PKK hopes to be able “to initiate a democratic process for the solution of the Kurdish question”.
Hitherto Ankara has totally ignored the PKK’s previous cease-fires, saying it refused any negotiations with “terrorists”. Abdullah Ocalan had proposed on several occasions (in 1993, 1995 and 1998) a cease-fire in exchange for the opening of a political dialogue, but his demands were always rejected by Ankara. The PKK had put an end to a five-year truce in June 2004. This was followed by an upsurge of attacks in several regions that had cost the lives of 110 Kurdish fighters, according to an AFP body-count based on Turkish Army figures. Last year a previous truce declared by the PKK had only lasted a month. The longest PKK truce, which had followed the capture of Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, lasted five years.
The influence of the Iraqi Kurds seems obvious in this latest truce. Kamran Qaradagh, head of the personal staff of Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, had state on 25 September, on the Turkish television news channel, NTV, that the Iraqi President had met the PKK leaders and that he was expecting them to declare a truce soon. “A cease-fire declaration could soon be possible” Mr. Qaradagh had indicated, commenting on some remarks recently made by Mr. Talabani and published in the American weekly Newsweek. “We have convinced the PKK to break off the fighting and, in a few days time, it will officially announce a cease-fire”, the Iraqi President had declared in an interview given to Newsweek. “This will help Iraq start a new chapter in its relations with Turkey (…) We call for moderation by on the Kurds of Turkey, that they conduct their struggle by peaceful means”, he had added. The announcement of this truce comes at a time when the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Ocalan, is due to meet US President, George W. Bush, in Washington on 1 October. Just after the appeal for a truce issued by A. Ocalan, Erdogan had declared: “The term cease-fire is wrong. A terrorist organisation must lay down its arms”. “A cease-fire is made between States. It is inappropriate for a terrorist organisation”, Mr. Erdogan had indicated during an interview, on 28 September, with the private television channel Samanyolu.
Moreover this truce comes at a moment when a heated exchange has taken place within the military hierarchy. The new Chief of the General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, generally considered a hawk, has said he is determined to fight the PKK by all means available. The government is criticised for not being repressive enough. However, in the last few weeks a renewal of clashes has caused the death of about a dozen soldiers and police. Activists considered to be close to the PKK have also perpetrated bomb attacks on tourist centres causing three deaths and about twenty injured. According to Ankara, over 90 soldiers have been killed in PKK attacks this year, and 500 civilians killed or wounded — a substantial increase on previous years. The violence is, nevertheless, much lower than in the 90s, when the Army was forcibly emptying and razing to the ground thousands of Kurdish villages.
However, analysts consider that the multiplication of bomb attacks in the course of the last few months has weakened the government’s position and strengthened that of the Turkish nationalists. In August 2005, the Turkish Prime Minister, whose origins lie in the Islamist political trends, had promised, in the course of a notable speech in Diyarbekir, that the old Kurdish question would only be settled by “more democracy”. With only eight months to go till the election of a new President and 14 months to a general election, it is essentially up to the government to resist the temptation of nationalism pointed out the political observer Cengis Aktar, who denounced the drift already begun. “I hope that the government will understand that it must again become the spearhead of change and rally the liberal and reformist forces of Turkey behind it”, he added.
In Diyarbekir itself, the explosion of a device near a very busy park in the city centre on 12 September killed 12 people, including eight children, and injured 14 others. A little known Turkish group, the Turkish Vengeance Brigade (TIT), that could be a paramilitary unit, claimed the attack on its Internet site, indicating its determination to “avenge the victims of the PKK” and declaring that it would, henceforth, kill “ten Kurds in Diyarbekir for every Turkish martyr killed by the PKK in the West”. According to the local authorities, the bomb, hidden inside a thermos flask, exploded prematurely. The target could have been a police complex located a little more than a kilometre from the place where the explosion occurred. The PKK denied any responsibility for the explosion, which it denounced, according to the pro-Kurdish news agency Firat. The city’s mayor, Osman Baydemir, denounced it as a “deliberate provocation to sabotage the efforts being undertaken by part of the political class to put an end to the conflict with the central authority in Ankara”, and appealed to his fellow citizens to “be sensible”. On 16 September, some 5,000 people carried out a silent march along the main road where the explosion occurred in Diyarbekir, against this bomb attack. On 14 September, hundreds of demonstrators had clashed with the security forces in the city, accusing the government of hiding the identities of those responsible for the attack. This, in fact, took place the day after the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP) had launched an appeal for a cease-fire to the PKK, and a few hours after the arrival in Ankara of a US special envoy, General Joseph W. Ralston, former NATO Commander in Chief, to discuss means of countering the PKK. At the end of his meeting with Turkish leaders, the general promised to seek “effective” and “visible” measures against the PKK.
According to the Turkish press, Mr. Erdogan, during his meeting with the US President, is due to ask for action by US troops against the PKK camps, entrenched in Iraqi Kurdistan. In statements over a US radio station, the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, has recently called on Syria, Turkey and Iran to stop meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, threatening otherwise to support dissident groups in these neighbouring countries. Asked what his country intended doing if this intervention did not stop, Mr. Talabani declared: “We will retaliate in the same way. We’ll support the opposition in those countries and will create problems for them”. These remarks created an uproar in the national press. On 28 September, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rejected the accusations, stressing to some journalists in Istanbul: “These are most unpleasant remarks that are incompatible with his office (…) Ours is a country that has always defended the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq”, indicating that he hoped the Iraqi Head of State would correct is “slip of the tongue”. On 19 September, moreover, Iraq announced that it would be closing all the PKK representative offices in t6he country. The demand that the PKK be considered a “terrorist organisation” is one of a number of measures demanded by Mr. Erdogan of his Iraqi opposite number, Nuri al-Maliki in a letter dated11 September.
The Iraqi High Court that is trying Saddam Hussein for genocide against the Kurds has decided to suspend its hearings till 9 October. This decision, following the stormy 12th day of the hearings, marked by a series of incidents, will enable the defendants to contact their lawyers or choose new ones. Saddam Hussein was expelled from the Baghdad courtroom for the third time in a week, provoking protests from the six other defendants, one of whom was also expelled in his turn. Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants were protesting against the fact that the trial was continuing although the defence lawyers as a body had decided to boycott it because they considered that the government “was exercising strong pressure” on the court. To re-establish calm, the judge, Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Majid al-Khalifa, suspended, for an hour, the hearing of Kurdish witnesses who came to describe the ill treatment that they and their families had suffered in 1987-88. “You are the accused — I am the judge”, declared the Judge as he ordered the former president to leave the courtroom because he would not be silent. The other defendants started to protest and the judge said “Silence! Let no one speak”! “Saddam outside. Make the others sit down” Mr. Khalifa ordered the ushers. The trial them resumed, with the judge giving Saddam a lesson in good behaviour. After asking the former president to rise, the judge read him the regulations regarding behaviour in court while Saddam listened patiently. “You are the accused here. You have rights — but also obligations. You can defend yourself, question the witnesses. I am prepared to allow all this —but this is a courtroom, not a political arena”, the judge stated.
Saddam Hussein and his six co-defendants are on trial for having ordered and carried out the al-Anfal army campaigns that, between 1987 and 1988 caused 180,000 victims in Kurdistan. Twp witnesses appeared before the court on 26 September to describe how their families had disappeared in the course of these operations. Addressing the court in traditional Kurdish dress, Aasi Mustafa Ahmed, 51 years of age, was called up in 1982 for military service in the war against Iran then taken prisoner in battle by the Iranians. Released in 1990, he wanted to return to his village of Zingana, near Suleimaniyah, only to learn from a cousin that the village had been razed to the ground and his family had disappeared. “When we returned from captivity, we were told that we had honoured our country as loyal soldiers. But I returned to find my house had been demolished, and my family disappeared”, he declared, pointing out he had four children under ten years of age at the time of the attack by the Iraqi forces. “I don’t know to this day where they are”, he said, pointing out that he had been unable to get any reply from the government indicating whether his family had been captured during the Anfal operations. The second witness, Jabbar Ahmed Aziz, 65 years of age, was living at Towb Khana (250 Km North of Baghdad) in 1988 when the Iraqi Army attacked his village and captured the feeing inhabitants. In prison the authorities separated the men from the women and the young men from the old. After taking the young men to an unknown destination, the others were freed. However, on returning to their village they were informed over loud speakers that their village would be razed in three days. He then fled with his wife and children to the nearby town of Shamshamal. Returning to his village to see what had happened, he was seized by soldiers and beaten up. When freed, he was unable to find his family “I do not know what happened to them”, twenty years ago, he said.
From the beginning of the trial on 21 August, witnesses have been describing the deaths of inhabitants of the region resulting from attacks using chemical weapons, the situation of victims not treated properly in the hospitals and the conditions of detention is filthy prisons in Southern Iraq. One witness described how the women were led into the office of the director of Nugrat Salman prison (Southern Iraq) to be raped there. Rifaat Mohammed Said first told, on 25 September, how the Iraqi Army gased his village then, for the first time, this witness described the brutalisation of women in Nugrat Salman prison where he was himself incarcerated. Every day a woman detainee was led to the office of Hajaj, the prison director, re told the court. “The women returned crying and saying that they had been raped”. He also described the appalling detention conditions in the prison where “some days two or three children died of hunger”.
Another witness, Mohammad Rass’ul Mustafa, a Kurd of over 70 years of age, related the chemical shelling of Sawisaynan, an hour on foot from his own village. He then described his five months detention at Nugrat Salman prison, where he saw 400 to 500 people die, particularly old ones. When he was released he was unable to find his wife or his five children. Fahima Amina Karim, in turn described how, after a gas attack on her village, her family had been taken to an army hospital where a doctor refused to treat her daughter’s burns saying “She doesn’t need any treatment as she’s going to die”. “My daughter died in my arms. They took away her body and I’ve never learnt where they buried her”, she said.
On 20 September, in the course of the trial’s 10th session, five Kurdish victims described the sufferings experienced during the al-Anfal campaign, some of the accounts of which were unbearable. Ahmed Mohammed Faris told how he had been forcibly taken from his village and detained in Nugrat al-Salman prison, near Samawa, in the South. “The conditions for the detainees were really awful”, recalled this old man. “One day I saw some dogs devouring something: it was the head of a woman whose body had been buried near the outside wall of the prison”, he stated. Gharib Kader Hama Amin also described the deplorable conditions of his imprisonment with his father in the Samawa detention centre. “We urinated on the ground, there were no sanitary conveniences. Every day ten of our people died of sickness or torture”, he recounted. His father died in the prison. According to him, there were over a thousand Kurds in the centre “and not a single Arab”. One old woman, Esmat Abdel Kader, wearing traditional dress, was severely wounded by the chemical bombing. “I still have scars on my hands, I have had operations on my eyes and I have difficulty in breathing”, she told the court. Another villager, Ahmed Kader, described the chemical attack on his village, the smell of gas and their flight. He told how, with his brother’s help, he went to collect the corpses of the scattered victims and bury them. “There were 12 here, 20 there, 5 somewhere else”. There was blood running from the mouths and noses of the victims, he indicated. “My eyes were running, my whole body was shaking because of the gas” he added. He stated that he had lost eight relatives, including two sisters, during the Anfal campaign. Shamsa Rostom is a woman who lived near Halabja. In 1987 she fled to her father’s village and there the government decided to keep them in internment centres. In 1988 an army offensive was launched against the village and she fled up the mountain. She saw the soldiers set fire to the houses. “From high up on the mountain we saw columns of smoke rising from the village. We tried to go further away but the soldiers caught us and sent us to detention centres”.
Despite the horror of these descriptions, the judge appointed for Saddam Hussein’s trial for genocide against the Kurdish population stated, during a hearing on 14 September, that Saddam Hussein had not been a dictator, drawing on himself sharp criticism from leading Kurds and Shiites. He was dismissed on 19m September by the Iraqi government for lack of objectivity. “The Iraqi government considers that the judge is no longer impartial as can be seen when he stated that Saddam Hussein had not been a dictator”, declared the government’s spokesman. During an exchange between Saddam Hussein and a witness, at the seventh session, Abdallah al-Amery had intervened to say to the fallen president “You were not a dictator”. Upon which Saddam Hussein thanked him. Jusge Amery presided over the next session during which three fresh witnesses were heard. “We remained exposed to a white smoke with a pestilential smell for several minutes. Then my heart began beating faster, I vomited, my eyes burnt and I couldn’t stand upright”, Iskander Mahmud Abdel Rahman, 41 years of age, told the court. “I have never fully recovered my sight and my body was burned all over”, he added showing the court his back, which was covered with 20 cm long scars. Ubaid Mahmud Mohammed, 58 years of age, recalled the attack on his village, Seyusinan, on 22 March 1988. “I heard one inhabitant crying “Run for your lives! It’s a chemical attack! It’s a chemical attack!” My wife and my six children are dead and I sometimes wish I had died with them. There is nothing worse than surviving the death of one’s own children.”
Judge al-Amety’s dismissal created a stir, the defence lawyers’ collective left the courtroom and Saddam Hussein was expelled for trying to protest against this decision. A Kurdish people’s defence centre, the Halabja Centre against the Extermination of the Kurds, had demanded his “dismissal and the appointing of another competent and neutral judge whose ideas have not been polluted by the fascist Baath (the party in power under the old regime)”. “His friendly attitude towards the accused, irritated the victims’ families and impartial observers”, the Centre pointed out in a communiqué, stressing that the judge’s statement that Saddam Hussein had not been a dictator had “been the last straw that broke the camel’s back”. Dr. Fuad Hussein, head of staff the personal staff of the President of Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, declared for his part that “We greatly welcome the actions of the court, particularly since the appointment of a new president, since the previous president was conducting the trial in a false direction”. “The trial was on the point of becoming a political trial, disregarding the crimes that had been committed” by the old regime, he continued. Falakeddin Kakai, Kurdistan’s Minister of Culture, in an article published in the Kurdish daily Khabat, deplored the freedom given to the ex-president to threaten his victims in the very precincts of the court. “He, who is accused of war crimes, of having buried his victims in mass graves, he takes the liberty of attacking the Public Prosecutor, the civil participants, the witnesses and the lawyers. What is Abdallah al-Amery doing — he states that Saddam is being tried on whether he was a dictator or a democrat”, he wrote. “Let it be known, however, that he is being tried not to judge whether he was a democrat or a dictator but for crimes committed and the judge must act in consequence”, the Minister insisted.
Moreover, some Shiite Imams have accused the presiding judge of not being sufficiently firm, indeed of even defending the accused. “The judge is taking on the defence of the accused and straying from the truth”, stated Sheikh Sadreddin al-Kubbani, a member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) during his Friday sermon at Najaf. The Kerbala representative of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest Shiite religious authority in Iraq, for his part declared that such trials “in principle, were aimed at sentencing criminals, specifically those responsible for exterminating a people and revealing the truth of their crimes”. “Unfortunately, the trial has taken another turn. Saddam Hussein, after having fallen from his pedestal, has returned with all his usual arrogance to threaten and intimidate the people through the court”, stated Sheikh Abd el-Mahdi al-Karablai in his weekly sermon. “The victim (the civil party) has become subjected to mockery and doubt cast on everything he relates”, added this Imam before adding: “the people is thus derided and the years of tyranny ignored”.
Furthermore, the Human Rights defence organisation Human Rights Watch denounced “a flagrant violation of the independence of the Court”. However, the first sessions of the Anfal trial had taken place in a calmer and more professional climate. Thus the accused, here, are all principal dignitaries and military leaders of the old regime, whereas several minor figures were in the dock in the Dujail trial. The prosecution had gained in maturity and transparency and, especially, the 24 prosecution witnesses had all come forward openly, not hidden behind a screen. With the accused, too, the tone had been more measured and the diatribes of protest and inflammatory statements much less frequent.
At least 6,599 civilians were killed throughout Iraq in July and August, according to a UN report published on 20 September. At least 3,590 people were killed in July and 3,009 in August. There were over 8,000 injured. The number of Iraqis killed in the violence has increased by over 13% compared with the previous two months and many of them had died under torture because of their religious affiliations, according to the UNO report. “An increase in incidents linked to security were recorded in July with, consequently an unprecedented increase in the number of civilians killed throughout the country”, the report points out. “Although the number of murders dropped at the beginning of August, new increases of violence) became evident at the end of the month in Baghdad and other governorates”, the report continues. “The overwhelming majority of the victims were killed by shooting” according to the same source. “The number of injured was to 3,793 in July and 4.309 in August. Amongst the deaths in July, 183 were women and 23 were children. In August, 194 were women and 72 children. Iraq has been plagued by a renewal of sectarian violence since the bomb attack on a Shiite mosque in the Sunni town of Samara in February.
Moreover, the authors of the report considered that these figures, although high were probably underestimates. In July, they pointed out, the Ministry of Health had not recorded any deaths in Anbar, a province where complete chaos reigns, especially in the extremely violent towns of Ramadi and Fallujah.
UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, considered that Iraq was on the edge of civil war. The record of violence has sharply increased compared with the two previous months. Quoting the Iraqi Ministry of Health, UNO stated that 2,669 people had been killed in May and 3,149 in June. In the capital, the total number of deaths had reached 5,106. “In August there was an (overall) drop in the number of victims, probably because of a reduction of their number” in Baghdad, the report continued. UNO does not exclude the possibility that this drop could be explained by an “improvement of security” in certain quarters due to the operation to make the capital more secure launched in June, in which 30,000 US and Iraqi troops took part.
The jihadist groups took advantage of the month of Ramadan to intensify their attacks. Ramadan has been made a month of mourning these last few years by a series of terrorist attacks. At the beginning of September, Abu Hamza, the head of al-Qaida in Iraq, had called on every Sunni Arab to kill at least one American “within the next 15 days”. Abu Hamza had also urged the Sunni Arabs to take vengeance on the Shiites, describing the latter as “lackeys” but nevertheless urging them to “repent and return to reason”. The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida has never revealed the nationality of Zarqawi’s successor. According to the US Army, the head of the organisation, whose photo it has distributed, is an Egyptian called Abu Ayub. However, according to Yasser al-Sirri, the director of the London-based Islamic Observatory, Abu Hamza is, in fact, an Iraqi called Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Baghdadi.
The US Intelligence services consider that they and some militiamen are infiltrating, with police connivance, the Baghdad quarters from which they had recently been driven. On 28 September, General Caldwell declared “murders and executions are, at the moment, the prime cause of civilian deaths in Baghdad”. On 29 September the Iraqi government announced the imposition of a general two-day curfew banned any traffic of vehicles or pedestrians. Faced with communal violence, the number of Iraqi families having to leave their homes is increasing very rapidly, with at least 240,000 people already displaced, according to the Ministry of Migrations and Displace Persons. The number of families forced to flee their quarters, which have become a clear field for bomb layers, militia and death squads, has reached 40,000 according to a Ministry official, adding that refugee camps may be formed in Nineveh province (Northern Iraq) round Baghdad and in the Southern province of Dhi Qar.
Moreover, sic bomb attacks cost the lives of 24 people and injured 84mothers on 17 September in Kirkuk. A booby-trapped lorry exploded in the town centre in the morning causing 18 deaths and 55 injured stated Sarhat Qadir, the local police chief. The explosion took place near the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) lead by Massud Barzani. Some hours later, a suicide attack using a booby trapped car hit a joint Americano-Iraqi patrol in the South of the town killing at least three passers-bye and wounding eight others. Two civilians lost their lives and four others were injured in other parts of Kirkuk, according to Sarhat Qadir. Some instants later a car bomb blew up near the home of a Sunni Arab Sheikh, Al-Waasif al-Obeidi, killing one of his bodyguard and injuring eight people. In the afternoon, another car bomb exploded as a joint Americano-Iraqi patrol was passing in the Southern part of Kirkuk, killing six people — two police and four soldiers according to police colonel Burhan Tayib.
In an interview in the American daily, the Washington Post, Iraqi President declared that Iraq “will need American forces for a long time” and indicated that 10,000 men and two air bases will be enough. He added that certain Sunni Arabs were in favour of an American presence as they “think that the main danger henceforth is coming from Iran”.
Mr. Talabani, who spoke at a conference on 26 September at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington, stated that US military presence in Iraq dissuaded the neighbouring countries from attacking the country. On 17 September, the Iraqi advisor on National Security, Mowaffak al-Rubai had also declared on CNN that “the multi-national forces, the coalition forces, were necessary in Iraq”, especially for “logistic support”. “And the American troops will not be able to leave Iraq in the foreseeable future”.
Furthermore, on 26 September, the US House of Representatives finally approved the release of $70 billion to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bill as approved forbids the US government from using these for building permanent military bases in Iraq. With this further budget extension, Congress has voted $500 billion for financing the military commitments in Afghanistan and in Iraq since the beginning of these interventions.
On 14 September, an International Trade and Industry Fair, with 800 firms, including US car builders General Motors and Fords, opened at Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. This four-day Fair consisted of 200 pavilions in which 800 firms from 27 countries had their stands. American, German and Japanese firms were particularly well represented though not French firms were present. According to Raed al-Rahman, director of an Iraqi economic development centre, American firms dominated the fair, but several Arab companies also took part, including Iraqi ones. According to the commercial attaché of the US Embassy to Iraq, Andrew Wylagle, the American firms present came mainly from the motorcar, insurance and private security sectors. He also announced that a large trade delegation to Kurdistan would be coming next year as many US firms were interested in investing in this region, relatively spared from violence, especially if compared with the rest of Iraq. Apart from General Motors and Ford, the principle Japanese car builder, Toyota and the German Mercedes (the upmarket subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler) also exhibited as well as the American manufacturer of electronic and telecommunications equipment, Motorola.
In opening the Fair, Nechirvan Barzani expressed the wish that Kurdistan “might become the gateway to investments in Iraq”. He hoped that “this encounter would provide the opportunity for deals that could enable the resolving of many problems facing the country, particularly the inadequate capacities of the electric distribution network, of the sugar refineries, the infrastructures, etc.” Nechirvan Barzani also recalled that a new law on foreign investments had been passed by the Kurdish autonomous region a few months previously so as “to encourage the arrival of foreign firms so that they could use Irbil as a base in Iraq”.
Oil and associated industry groups also took part in the Fair, whose dominant theme was the reconstruction of Iraq. Some representatives of the Iraqi Ministries of Oil, Planning and Reconstruction also took part. But the US Ambassador to Baghdad, who took part in the opening ceremony, urged the American investors to show interest not only in oil but also in agriculture and tourism. “I think that you will have a good return on your investments in the tourist sector in Kurdistan”, he declared. He also stressed, addressing some American groups, that this region, so rich in resources (oil, water) and manpower, could “help them reap profits”, hoping that these firms conclude contracts.
On 12 September, Nuri al-Maliki paid his first visit to Iran since taking office in May, in the hope that his predominantly Shiite government would have the support of a powerful ally and so be able to contain the murderous violence tearing his country apart and allow the development of his country’s oil industry. To clearly show the bonds linking the two countries, President Ahmedinjad personally welcomed the Iraqi Prime Minister — under normal protocol, he would have been welcomed by the Vice-President. Mr. Maliki came at the head of a delegation mainly consisting of members of parliament, and the Iraqi advisor on national security, Muaffaq al-Rubai. The Iraqi Prime Minister met the principle Iranian leaders, including the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who (according to the Iranian public television) declared, at the end of his meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, that the withdrawal of US forces would be a solution for putting an end to the instability in Iraq. “Part of the sufferings (of Iraq) is due to the actions of the old regime and part is due to the presence of occupiers in Iraq”, declared Ali Khomenei to Mr. al-Maliki, according to the Iranian press agency. During his discussions with Mahmud Ahmedinjad the Iraqi Prime Minister asked Iran to take more severe measures to prevent al-Qaida activists from entering Iraq. “Iran supports the Iraqi government that has been formed by the will of the people and considers that an independent and united Iraq is in the interests of the region”, declared, for his part, Mr. Ahmedinjad. “We totally support our brothers in the Iraqi parliament and government”, the Iranian President further added. The head of the Iraqi government also had discussions with Ali Larijani, principal Iranian negotiator on the nuclear issue and thanked Teheran for having received Iraqi leaders opposed to Saddam Hussein. “Iraq is Iran’s natural ally”, declared Mr. Larijani to Mr. al-Maliki, according to Iranian television. A meeting also took place with former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and with the secretary of the Supreme Council of National Security.
At the end of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s visit to Teheran a joint communiqué, published on 13 September, indicated that Iran condemned the acts of terrorism in Iraq and supported the Iraqi people and government in their struggle against terrorism. “While condemning the terrorist actions in Iraq, Iran totally supports the Iraqi people and government in their struggle in the face of terrorism and criminal actions”, affirmed the communiqué. The Iranian president had declared the day before that Iran would provide “help to establish complete security in Iraqis the security of Iraq is the security of Iran”, stated the communiqué. The communiqué as published affirms “Teheran favourably welcomes the decision of the Iraqi government to expel the members of the terrorist group of Monefeghin (a term used to describe the People’s Mujahaddin, the principal armed group opposed to the Iranian government) and considers that this is a positive step towards strengthening relations between the two countries”. Allies of Saddam Hussein, the People’s Mujahaddin are confined to a base in the Baghdad region and are being supervised by the US forces.
As a last sign of an increasing cooperation between Teheran and Baghdad, on 12 September the Iraqi Oil Minister announced that the two countries had reached agreement to develop some common oil fields and that Iraq would sent the crude to Iran for refining. These agreements and Mr. al-Maliki’s journey reflect the strengthening of links between the American backed Iraqi government and Iran. The agreement is due to be signed in a few months, after the fields have been surveyed and defined. It required both parties to specify, in the defined territories, the nature of their oil riches and to pump it jointly. “The Iranians say that they are even ready to take all the oil they need for the Abadan refinery from us, which is equivalent to half a million (barrels a day)”, pointed out Mr. Shahristani. He added that Iranian firms are confident of building the pipeline in nine months. Iraq envisages signing similar agreements with Syria and Kuwait, two other neighbours with which it shares oil fields, he added to Reuters. The Iraqi Oil Minister indicated that the government was preparing a Bill on hydrocarbons that should be passed before the end of the year, laying down the conditions of investment and operation for international oil companies. When passed, a National Oil Company will be created. “It will have a regulating and supervising role, it will define the oil policy that companies operating in the country must apply”, the Minister pointed out.
The United States regularly accuses Iran of supporting the terrorist groups or the Shiite radical movements. On 12 September, the White House reacted suspiciously to Iran’s commitment to contribute to the re-establishment of security in Iraq, affirming that “the most important thing that Iran can do is not to be itself part of the problem by financing separatist and terrorist groups that are trying to undermine democracy in Iraq”.
On 27 September, Iran announced it had begun producing a naval gun, the Fajr 27, capable, they claim, of firing 76mm shells at 85 a minute. “The Fajr 27 meets the needs of our naval forces and can hit both in the air and surface targets”, the Minister of Defence, Mostafa Mohammed Najjar said. He pointed out that the development of this weapon had required six years work. “This weapon can rapidly react to any attack whether air or surface” the Minister added, specifying that it could be “automatically controlled”. According to Mr. Najjar, the range of this cannon, that can be fitted on a ship, is 17 Km. The Minister mentioned the export possibilities of the Fajr 27. According to him, 54 countries already produce this type of weapon. This is the latest of a series of announcements of new equipment for the Iranian armed forces, but experts have often doubted the reality of the performances announced for these items of equipment. At the beginning of September, Iran presented a fighter-bomber, the Saegheh, “similar to the (American) F-18 but having increased capacity and locally built”, according to a senior Iranian military leader. However, the Saegheh uses a fuselage similar to the F-5, which is a 40 year old model, with a tail resembling that of the F-18, a much more modern plane.
On 22 September, during the annual march in Teheran of the “Sacred Defence”, commemorating Iraq’s attack on Iran in 1980, Iran had made a display of its military might, including a missile capable of hitting Israel. It warned the Western powers that it would retaliate “like lightning” to any attack on its territory. “We want peace but we issue a warning: the expansionist powers must not think of aggression against Iran because our lions (Editors Note: the armed forces) are so powerful they can strike the enemy like lightning and destroy it”, declared Vice-President Parviz Davudi. Thus the Iranian Army deployed for the occasion a display of weapons, particularly the Shahab-3. With a range of 1,500 Km (extensible to 2,000 according to Iran) it can easily reach Israeli territory, but also American bases in the Arabian Peninsula. But the model presented was not the latest model, shown in 2005, nor did it bear the anti-American and anti-Israeli graffiti that had led the European military attachés to leave the stand last year.
Insisting that “atomic weapons have no place in Iran’s defence strategy”, Mr. Davudi considered that “using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is our absolute right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty”. Iran refused to submit to a UNO resolution demanding the suspension of its uranium enrichment programme. Discussions are taking place between the Iranians and Europeans to try and find a way out of the crisis and avoid the possibility of sanctions against Teheran. In an interview with the 18 September issue of the US weekly Time, the Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmedinjad insisted that he did not fear an American attack to destroy the country’s nuclear installations. In Washington’s eyes, an Iran armed with atomic weapons remains an unacceptable perspective and the US has always refused to exclude the military option against Teheran. Finally, for the first time, members of the Arab minority, in traditional dress, marched in the ranks of the Islamist militia, together with Kurds and Baluchis, whereas those border provinces, peopled by these minorities, have experienced disorders in recent months.
On 30 September, the Iranian President declared that Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment, even for a few days, rejecting a key demand of the great powers. “They are putting on pressure for us to suspend this (the uranium enrichment). At first they demanded a six months suspension, then a three months suspension and finally just a month, but we have refused”, declared Mr. Ahmedinjad. “Today they are asking for a suspension of a few days and tell us to evoke technical problems. But we tell them that we have no technical problems to make us suspend. Why do you want us to lie to our people?” added the president in a speech on the occasion of the new university year. “They (the Westerners) want us to suspend our activity even for a short period (…) and then say that Iran has given in”, he added. Allaeddin Borujerdi, Chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, declared for his part that “the road we have taken is irreversible. We have suspended our activities for two years and today there is no need to suspend our research activity” on uranium enrichment. The chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and the diplomatic representative of the European Union, Javier Solana, conducted intense discussions in Berlin on 27 and 28 September to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. These negotiations covered a series of economic and diplomatic measures offered to Teheran in exchange of its suspension of uranium enrichment.
According to the Russian press agencies Itar-Tass and Interfax, Russia and Iran have reached an agreement on the start-up date for the Bushehr nuclear power station, being built with Russia’s help. On 26 September, Sergei Schmatko, president of the Russian Atomstroiexport Company that is participating in building the plant, stated that the two parties had signed an additional protocol setting a September 2007 date for the power station going on line and a March 2007 date for the first delivery of nuclear fuel to Iran. This agreement concludes the discussions between Sergei Kiriyenko, Director of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency and Gholamreza Aghazadeh, Director of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency. After two hours of discussion the tow leaders had left the building of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) without making any statement. One of Mr. Aghazadeh’s assistants, Mohammed Saidi, regretted that “although Russia, at the time, had given Iran a written commitment for the date of delivery of the fuel, it has not materialised”. Quoted by the Russian press agency Novosti, Mr. Aghazadeh added that “the Iranians can complete the building of the Bushehr power station themselves is the Russians are not capable of doing so”. Russia reached an agreement with Iran in 1995 to deliver the Bushehr (Southern Iran) power station, but the project ran into delays — mainly under pressure from the American authorities. Bur Russia has always rejected American demands to abandon this project, insisting that it did not threaten the system of non-proliferation of nuclear arms and that it was being carried out under the control of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). In particular, Russia agreed with Iran that the spent nuclear fuel, of Russian origin, be returned to Russia so as to avoid the danger of its being diverted to military uses. The original Bushehr power station project was launched in the 70s by a subsidiary of the German Siemens Group. This withdrew at the time of the 1979 Islamic revolution. In 1995, Moscow took over by signing a $1 billion contract with Teheran to finish the building. According to Mr. Aghazadeh the project is at present 90% complete.
Furthermore, General John Abizaid, head of the Central Command (Centcom) that supervises US operations in the Middle East, stated on 19 September that Iran, which has the most powerful army in the Middle East, is a military danger and that it relies on non-conventional means to thwart the US superiority in the region. He also detailed the capacities that Iran possesses during a meeting in Washington with journalists specialised in defence questions. The Iranians have a navy capable of “temporarily blocking the straits of Ormuz”, through which 40% of the world’s oil passes, he stressed. Blocking the straits would provoke a very great rise in the price of oil, according to the experts. Iran also disposes of “missiles” that it can launch against other countries in the region and it has links with “terrorist organisations” such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, that could create “problems not only in the Middle East but at world level” added General Abizaid.
On 30 September, the Syrian writer, Mohammed Ghanem and a young Syrian Kurdish activist Sivan Abdo, were released on completing their sentence. Mohammed Ghanem, arrested at his house at the end of March, was sentenced in June to six months imprisonment by an Army Court at Raqqa (Central Syria) on the grounds of having “insulted the President of the Republic (Bashar al-Assad), damaging the State’s image and inciting sectarian dissention”. Mr. Ghanem was accused of having published articles considered critical of the internal situation in Syria. As for the Kurdish activist Sivan Abdo, he had been arrested in January 2004, following the bloody incidents in Syrian Kurdistan, and sentenced to two and a half years jail by the Damascus State Security Court. He was accused of having “provoked sectarian dissention”. There had been bloody clashes for five days in March 2004 between some Kurds and police or Arab tribes, particularly at Qamishli and Aleppo, resulting in 40 deaths, according to Kurdish sources (25 according to the Syrian authorities).
On 29 September another Syrian Kurdish activists, Abdo Khallaf Wallo, was released by the authorities according to the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (NOHRS). This Kurdish activist was arrested in June by the security forces in Hassake province (North-East) and was released for health reasons. According to Mr. Qorabi, the arrest of Wallo, a former leading member of the Kurdish Democratic Party was due to “his political activity in general and his role in the events of March 2004”. The President of the NOHRS appealed to the authorities “permanently to close all the files on the Qamishli events and to apply in practice the Presidential amnesty of 31 March 2004, decreed in favour of those accused”. In this respect, the NOHRS recalled, in a communiqué, that 46 people who had been arrested for their alleged involvement in the clashes were still being prosecuted, despite the amnesty. The organisation also launched an appeal for “the liberation of all the political detainees in Syria”.
Furthermore, on 14 September, the Syrian security services arrested a human rights activist, Mohammad Haji-Darouiche, according to the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights (SOHR) in a communiqué. Mr. Haji-Darouiche, a member of the Human Rights Association of Syria (AHRS) “was summoned by the security services and arrested without our being able to know the reasons” the SOHR added. “We denounce the se political arrests, particularly of civil society activists and remind the government of its undertaking to observe international laws”, pointed out the communiqué. SOHR asked the Syrian government to “free Mohammad Haji-Darouiche or else bring him before an impartial court”.
Moreover, the Syrian film director, Omar Amiralay, a critic of the regime, was briefly arrested on18 September by the authorities in Syria and prevented from travelling to Jordan, according to Ammar al-Qorabi, president of the NOHRS According to him, the authorities arrested Mr. Amiralay at the Syria-Jordan border, as he was going to Jordan to make his latest film and questioned him on the reason for his repeated journeys, particularly to the Hashemite Kingdom. The film director explained that these journeys were in connection with his work. After being detained for several hours, Mr. Amiralay was released but prevented from going to Jordan. Mr. Amiralay, 60 years of age, is a famous filmmaker who lives in France. His last film, Deluge in the Baath country, was seen as an indictment of the Baath Party in power in Syria for the last 35 years. The film was produced by the German-French TV channel ARTE and was awarded the prize of the best short film (46 minutes) at the Arab Film Biennial, run by the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris.
On 26 September fifty-six Kurdish mayors were brought before a Diyarbekir court for having written to the Danish Prime Minister in December 2005, urging him to resist Ankara’s demands that he close down a Kurdish television channel. The mayors are accused of “deliberate support” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) because of this letter, written in English to Anders Fogh Rasmussen in December 2005. They face up to fifteen years imprisonment. About forty of those charged were present at this first hearing, including Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbekir, the socio-cultural capital of Turkish Kurdistan. A large number of police were deployed outside the court.
Several of these mayors are at the moment being targeted by the Turkish legal system in other trials, mainly for “trying to justify the PKK”. “This is a tragic-comic trial” stated Firat Anli, one of the mayors being tried, pointing out that these elected representatives were being tried for having expressed their opinions on a TV channel that had “a wide-spread audience” in Turkey’s Kurdish provinces thanks to satellite dishes. Speaking on behalf of the other mayors, Mr. Anli indicated that they all rejected the charges, evoking a democratic action. The judges set the next hearing for 21 November.
Ankara had demanded that the Danish authorities cancel the broadcasting licence they had given to Roj TV, which is based in Denmark, where it has been broadcasting since 2004, on the grounds that “the channel has links with the PKK”. The charge against the mayors states that Roj TV regularly quotes PKK leaders and reports their statements “inciting violence in accordance with the PKK’s propaganda”. The Turkish authorities consider the channel “incites hatred” by openly supporting the PKK. Washington also asked Copenhagen to close down the channel whereas the Danish Audiovisual Supervisory Authority considered, at the beginning of the year, that the Roj TV programmes did not contain any incitement to hatred.
On 18 September, four hundred and five soldiers of the Turkish Army were acquitted for “lack of evidence” by a Turkish court that has been trying them for nearly three years on charges of “collective rape and torture” of a Kurdish woman detainee. This controversial trial, which began in the Kurdish town of Mardin in October 2003, was transferred to Sungurlu (Northern Turkey) for security reasons. The victim — introduced only by her initials, S.E. — today 34 years old, suffered serious psychological trauma and emigrated to Western Turkey whence Germany gave her asylum. She complained that she had been raped and subjected to repeated physical abuse by the soldiers while in detention on three occasions in 1993 and 1994 in Army posts at Mardin. The ex-detainee, who was never charged, had to be sent to hospital after the last round of ill treatment.
The 405 troops (341 soldiers and 64 officers) on duty in those posts at the time were accused in the charge sheet. Most of them have completed their period of national service (conscription is the rule in Turkey) since the events according to Mr. Reyhan Yalçindag, the plaintiff’s lawyer. “The verdict is no surprise, we will appeal” the lawyer explained, affirming that “the mere fact of transferring the trial is a flagrant violation of the rights of the defence”. The sentence was handed down in the absence of lawyers who refused to go to Sungurlu, pointed out Mr. Yalçindag, whose office is in Diyarbekir.
On 22 September, a Turkish court acquitted the novelist Elif Shafak, judging that nothing proved that she had “insulted Turkey” in her latest novel, in which she recalls the Armenian genocide. Elif Shafak, 35 years of age, faced three years jail because of remarks made by her Armenian fictional characters in her book “The Father and the bastard”, published in March in Turkey, where it was a big hit. In the novel, an Armenian talks of “Turkish butchers” in connection with the Armenian genocide, the existence of which Ankara refuses to recognise. After an hour and a half of this politically explosive trial, the court judged that there was not enough evidence against the novelist. The latter, who has just given birth to a little girl and is still in hospital, was not present. The highly controversial Article 301 of the new Penal Code punishes “offences and insults against Turkey, Turkish national identity or to government officials”. According to Elif Shafak, who teaches at the University of Arizona, the new penal code “was used as a weapon to silence many people. My case is only a stage in a long chain”. The trial, that received great media coverage, was considered a test case for the democratisation efforts of the Turkish government, which is hoping to catch up on European values and which started difficult negotiations for membership of the European Union last year.
Some nationalist demonstrators, gathered in front of the court, showed their anger in the course of a short clash with the police. In particular, they brandished a European flag embossed with a swastika and the inscription “European fascism”. Though Ankara says it has no intention of altering the laws regulating freedom of expression, certain members of parliament of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party do not exclude amending this critical law, which is a bone of contention with the European Union. Elif Safak is the latest of the intellectuals sued under this controversial law. The Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Vice-President of the Turkey-E.U. Parliamentary Committee, Joost Lagendijk, who attended the hearing, has re-iterated that this article should be repealed. “Only the repeal of this article will satisfy the E.U.”, he declared. The Turkish courts, under strong international pressure, had abandoned, in January, proceedings against the outstanding Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, author of “Snow”. Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist, for his part, received a six months suspended sentence. No one has yet been imprisoned under this article, but dozens of other cases are pending, which has driven the European Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, to call, last July, for the amendment of this clause “to guarantee freedom of expression”.
The number of legal proceedings in Switzerland connected with the “Food for Oil” programme has gone from 5 to 22 with a case send from a preliminary enquiry to the Federal Examining Judge’s Office (MPC). Confederation’s Public Prosecutor is at the moment conducting 17 Criminal Investigation Department investigations against companies or people liable to face Swiss legal proceedings, indicated the MPC’s spokesperson, Jeanette Balmer, on 17 September, thus confirming a news item from NZZ am Sontag. These proceedings essentially concern clarifications of the breaches of the embargo on Iraq or suspected cases of money laundering and corruption of foreign civil servants. The Secretariat of State for the Economy (SECO) is itself at present examining three cases with the possible opening of administrative proceedings, declared Mrs. Balmer. A case has already been treated by the Federal Examining Judge’s Office. On 9 August this Office, opened a preliminary enquiry against a Swiss and a foreign citizen, who were intermediaries in the oil business with the Saddam Hussein regime. In the next month the MPC will transfer another case to the Office with a request for opening a preliminary investigation. The names of firms or people that are the subject of proceedings are not cites by the MPC because of enquiries pending.
In 1995, UNO had launched the “Food for Oil” programme with Iraq, which allowed Iraq’s Sadddam Hussein regime to export a limited quantity of oil despite UNO sanctions in exchange for food and medicines. This programme rapidly became a source for under the table deals and swindles. According to the final report directed by former President of the US Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volcker, about 220 firms, including Swiss companies, are alleged to have made under the table deals. In all, some $1.8 billion are said to have evaded UN control. The Volker Commission especially examined the case of raw material traders. In Switzerland the enquiries mainly concerned companies that delivered humanitarian goods, Mrs. Balmer stated.
At a time when tensions between Washington and Damascus were high, some islamist, armed with automatic weapons and grenades attempted, on 12 September, to “storm” the US Embassy in the Syrian capital, according to the authorities, who also talked of a vehicle loaded with explosives and a “terrorist attack”. The Islamist apparently failed to make a breach in the walls of the American embassy. But a member of the Syrian anti-terrorist forces was killed in the attack and at least eleven other people were wounded, including a policeman, two Iraqis and seven workers at a nearby workshop, according to the Syrian official news agency. The event has, however, given rise to contradictory information. According to the Syrian public television channel, four armed men “tried to storm” the US diplomatic mission, equipped with automatic rifles and grenades. The attackers arrived in two vehicles. One of the cars, loaded with explosives was parked in front of the Embassy but did not explode, the bomb being defused. However, according to a testimony obtained by the United Press agency, two armed men in a car had stopped in front of the Embassy, had got out of their car and fired on the Syrian guards posted before the building then blown up the vehicle. This witness added, anonymously, that the security personnel had had riposted before the arrival of the Syrian forces.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Canada, praised the Syrian security agents for having repulsed the attack, while stressing that it was “too early” to point a finger at those responsible and “speculate” on the reasons for this attack. In Washington the White House sent thanks to the Syrian authorities for “having come to the help of the Americans”. “The American government is grateful for the help that the Syrians provided in pursuing the attackers and, once more, illustrating the importance for Syria of being an important ally in the war against terrorism. This does not mean that it is an ally. We hope that it will become an ally and will make the choice of fighting the terrorists”, stated Tony snow, the White House spokesman.
Following the attack, Damascus, broadly isolated for the last two years, called on the international community to resume dialogue with it. “Efforts must be combined for a real struggle against terrorism. Syria’s long and successful experience in this field proves that the world is capable of winning victory”, wrote the government paper Techrine, the next day. It stressed Damascus’s readiness to “cooperate” in the struggle against terrorism. Imad Mustapha let it be understood that an opportunity exists for improving Syrian-American relations. “The policy followed by the United States does not contribute to the development of positive relations. An opportunity exists for developing them, since Syria has always considered that dialogue could settle the problems. The ball is in the American court”, he declared to the official daily as-Saoura.