On 30 November, Michael Trimble, who runs the Iraqi High Criminal Court’s Investigation Department on Mass Graves, summed up two years of research while giving detailed and atrocious evidence at the 26th hearing of Saddam Hussein’s trial. “In this mass grave in Ninive Province, 123 bodies were exhumed. All had been shot. There were 25 adult women and 98 children”. “In most cases, dried up water courses were used to hide the mass graves — the same techniques were used from site to site”, continued Michael Trimble, a member of the US Army Corps of Engineers. “90% of the children discovered in the three test sites were under 13 years of age at the time of their deaths” he pursued. “The majority of bullet wounds on these children were in the head. In the case of adults, 76% of the bodies showed bullet wounds in the head. The other 24%showed no traces of bullets, but marks of blunt instruments. We conclude that they had been beaten with clubs or rifle buts”, stated Michael Trimble. He explained at length his working methods, both on site to exhume the bodies and in the laboratory to establish the cause of the victims’ deaths. “Here is a skull bearing the signs of impact by a bullet near the top. It passed through the brain and is now at the base of the left eye”, he demonstrated.
Michael Trimble projected a number of photos of remains found in these mass graves, including one of a pregnant woman and her foetus. He lingered over the photo of the body of a child, between 6 and 12 months old, killed by a bullet in the nape of the neck. “The Court may wonder why an adult hand is in the photo. In fact, when we exhumed the body of the child we also dug up the blanket in which it was wrapped. We did not know that the mother’s hand, the right one I think, was inside it until we began to examine the body in the laboratory”, the scientist stressed.
Michael Trimble is the third expert to give evidence in the trial. Dozens of Kurds had earlier described in detail the chemical shelling and bombing of their villages, the raping of women and the summary mass executions. On 28 November a first forensic medicine expert gave evidence before a display of photos showing skeletons and skulls of Kurdish victims of summary execution during the 24 hearing of Saddam Hussein’s trial. Dr. Clyde Collins Snow, an American forensic medicine expert, described to the Iraqi High Criminal Court the exhuming of 27 people buried in a mass grave after being executed by a firing squad, in the village of Koremi, in Kurdistan. “I saw that the bones were still in an excellent condition, four years after the events. We counted 87 impacts on the 27 bodies”, he explained, detailing a visit to this village in 1992. “We did not have the means of investigating all the identical cases, but we believe that Koremi is emblematic of what happened in other villages in the region”, Mr. Snow considered. A British laboratory also identified traces of mustard gas on lumps of earth in which the bodies of a little boy and an old man were found with no apparent cause of death. Saddam Hussein then interrupted.
Amongst the Kurds who give evidence to the Court, the survivor of a collective execution of Kurdish villagers testified to the Iraqi High Criminal Court on 28 November. 2hudhur Qadir Mohammed, a 36 year-old former peshmerga, describned the chemical bombing of his village by the Iraqi Air Force in May 1988, then his capture in November of the same year. “I was led, with other detainees, to a trench and a firing squad opened fire on us. I was protected from the bullets by the bdies of my fellow countrymen and pretended to be dead”, he testified.
The day before, another witness, Taimor Abdallah Rokhzai, aged 30, told how the inhabitants of his village were captured by the Iraqi Army in April 1988. “The women and children were separated from the men. I was only 12, so I was with the first group. We were taken from one camp to another , two little girls died during these moves”, he testified. “We were loaded into a vehicle, then were made to get down in an isolated place. There was a trench there. We were lined up, then a soldier opened fire. I was hit on the shoulder”, he added. “I saw bullets smash the skull of a woman and scatter her brains on the ground, I saw a pregnant woman shot down. It was horrible”, continued Taimor Abdallah Rokhzai. “The soldiers kept on firing, then there was a sudden silence. I expected to die. My body was covered in blood. I dragged myself out of the trench”, he further indicated.
The previous hearing took place on 8 November. Judge Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifa then adjourned the trial to 27 November to give the defence the time needed to present witnesses. During the first 22 hearings of the trial, which began on 21 August, several dozens of witnesses described the chemical bombing of their villages and the summary executions of Kurdish villagers. On 8 November, the Court heard Ashia Tahir, a 64n year-old woman, wearing a head-scarf orna mented with Kurdish flags, who described the “chemical bombing” of her village, Chuiza, in August 1988. “The soldiers arrived three days later and burned down our village. They told us we had nothing to fear, that Saddam Hussein himself had promised to spare our lives, so we left our hiding places in the caves and surrendered”, she explained. “We were then abandoned for a year and a half in a desert region near Irbil that was short of everything. About twenty children died of diarrhea before we were allowed to return home”, she added. “I denounce Saddam and Chemical Ali for these crimes. I demand compensation for the blood of my husband and my son”, she concluded.
Earlier, two former Kurdish fighters gave similar accounts. The first of them, Ayub Abdallah Mohammed, told of the chemical bombing of his village, Bergie, on 24 August 1988. “The birds began to fall from the sky, then our noses started to run”, he recalled. A second witness, Tawfiq Abdelaziz Mustafa, told how he found “the burned bodies of a villager, his wife and their child” after the attack on his village. “I lost a good deal of my sight after this attack”, he added.
During the 21st hearing, on 7 November, in the absence of the defence lawyers who were protesting against the choice of the judge, Saddam Hussein had rejected the evidence of a Kurdish survivor on the summary executions suffered by his relations and the inhabitants of his village in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1988. “Who can verify these facts”, the fallen dictator spat out, declaring that he loved the Kurds “just like the Arabs”.
The witness, Qahar Khalil Mohammed had told of the arrival of the Iraqi Army to his village in Kurdistan on 25 August 1988. The Iraqi troops “took us out of the village, separated the men, the women and the children. The Army gathered 37 men and started firing at us indiscriminately”, declared this survivor. “In all, 33 people were killed — I lost my father and my two brothers. As for me, I was hit by a bullet in the back and the forehead”, added the witness, removing his turban and clothes to show the scars. “I want the whole world to see my scars (…). We were wounded, an army doctor came to see us and shouted at us “I’ll treat you with a screw-driver. He drove a screw-driver into the wound in the leg of another villager”, described Qahar, who was freed after three years in prison. The second witness, Abdul Krim Nayif Hassan, from the same village, also survived the planned execution. “When we returned home, the village had been destroyed. I went back to the place where we had been shot and found four mass graves”, he said. “Later strangers from the Human Rights Watch organisation came to exhume the victims — they found the corpses of 27 people”, he explained, while pictures were screened showing the exhumation of fragmented skeletons.
The fallen dictator and six former leaders, including his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, are on trial for having ordered and carried out the Anfal army campaigns in Kurdistan in 1987-88, which caused over 180,000 deaths. Only Saddam Hussein and Ali are charged with genocide, but they all face death sentences. The accused, all present in the dock, remained unmoved, as did their lawyers. Only those representing Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali are boycotting the trial since the dismissal of the former judge for political reasons. Saddam Hussein and chemical Ali were sentenced to death by hanging on 5 November, in another trial, for the execution of 148 Shiite villagers at Dujail, in the 1980s, as a reprisal for an attack on a Presidential convoy. A procedure for lodging an appeal was automatically filed. If the Court of Appeals of the Iraqi High Criminal Court confirms the verdict, it will be carried out within 30 days. Prime Minister Nuri al-Malikihad indicated soon after the verdict, that he expected “the execution to take place before the end of this year”. The human rights defence organisation, Human Rights Watch, published a 97-page report on the Dujail trial, in mid-November, according to which was marred by so many irregularities that the death sentence does not rest on solid bases and should be annulled. The NGO denounced the attitude of the Iraqi government, which, according to them affected the independence of the judges, stressing that much of the evidence and its key elements, had not been presented to the defence in advance. It regretted that the witnesses and the accused had not been able to be brought face to face, which is “a breach of the elementary rights of the accused”. The Kurds, and first amongst them the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, considered that Saddam Hussein should not be executed before the end of the Anfal trial. The order of execution must be signed by the president of the Republic or his Vice-Presidents. President Jalal Talabani, who is opposed to the death sentence, let it be known that he would be absent to avoid signing the decree, which would then have to be signed by his Vice-Presidents — the Shiite Adel Abdel Mehdi and the Sunni Arab Tareq al-Hashemi.
Saddam Hussein’s death sentence was broadly welcomed by the Shiites. Although making up the majority of the population, but oppressed by the former dictator’s regime, the Shiites demonstrated their joy throughout the country, seeing the death sentence on Saddam Hussein as a long awaited event. On the other hand, the Sunni Arabs, the community to which Saddam Hussein belonged and wich he had always favoured, protested tha it was a plot, promising dark days ahead for the Americans and their Iraqi allies. Kamal Kerkuki, Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament, for his part confirmed that “the sentencing of Saddam Hussein could reduce the terrorist operations as, with this verdict, the supporters of the fallen president lose all hope of his return to power”. “Saddam’s supporters dream of his return to power, but with this sentence, there is no longer any hope that he will again rule the country, which could dissuade them”, he added.
In the United States, President George W. Bush welcomed Saddam Hussein’s death, which took place a few days before Congress elections in which is party was facing difficulties. “It is a major success for this young Iraqi democracy and its constitutional government”, he declared. The same satisfaction was expressed in London. “I welcome the fact that Saddam Hussein and the other accused have been brought before the Court and have had to answer for their crimes”, declared the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett. Moscow, on the other hand, warned against the “catastrophic consequences” that the hanging of Saddam Hussein could have for Iraq, which “will divide Iraqi society still further”. France “took note” of the death sentence and hoped that this decision would not lead to fresh tensions in Iraq, declared French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, in a communiqué. In the Middle and Near East, reactions were divided. In Kuwait, occupied by the Iraqi Army 16 years ago, cheers, the trilling sound of celebration, and tears of joy greeted the news. Iran, which had suffered heavily from the eight years of war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “greets the sentence favourably”, according to the Foreign Ministry. But for the Egyptian Moslem Brothers, “the innumerable crimes committed” by Saddam Hussein are less than those “committed by the occupation”. In the Palestinian territories, the spokesman for the Islamic movement Hamas stated: “We (…) support anyone who supports our people, and Saddam Hussein was one of them”.
Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq since march 2005, Arrived in France on 1 November at the invitation of the French President for a visit aimed at warming relations between Baghdad and Paris, which had opposed the British-American military intervention at the beginning of 2003. Mr. Talabani’s visit, welcomed at Orly Airport by the Minister of Sports, Jean-François Lamour, was the second of an Iraqi Head of State since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime early in 2003. Reviewing the units of the Republican Guard, which provided the honour guard, Mr. Talabani was welcomed on the steps of the Presidential palace by Mr. Chirac. The two leaders shook hands before the many photographers before beginning their discussions. Mr. Talabani was accompanied by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Hoshyar Zebari, of Industry, Fawzi al-Harriri, of Education, Khodair al-Khuzai, and of Science and Technology, Raid Fahmi Jahed, for a one-week visit to France. “The aim of my visit is to give a fresh impulse to our relations”, he explained in an interview published the next day in Le Figaro. “The past is past” and “I call on the French to observe Iraq in a ne3w way”.
At the end of a one and a half hour meeting with Jacques Chirac at the Elysée Palace, Mr. Talabani explained that he wanted to give the French president “a true picture of the situation in Iraq today”: “it is not a completely rosy picture” but “neither is it as dark as the medias sometimes present it”. “We discussed the negative and the positive aspects, the progress that has been achieved in various areas in Iraq and the problems from which we are suffering”, he added. “We asked president Chirac to continue supporting the Iraqi people in all areas” and “expressed our desire to improve and deepen relations between Iraq and France”. The French President, for his part, “confirmed that, in this difficult period for Iraq, Fr4ance gave its support for the policy of national reconciliation, of all inclusive dialogue and of action in favour of the unity of Iraq and of its reconstruction”, according to his spokesman, Jerome Bonnafont. President Jacques Chirac reminded his Iraqi opposite number, Jalal Talabani, on 2 November that France judged that it was “important to set a perspective of withdrawal” of the international force from Iraq. Resolution 1546 on the mandate given to the international force in iraq is due to be reviewed at the end of 2006. During a talk given to the French International Relations Institute (IFRI) on the same day, the Iraqi President estimated that “Two or three years are needed to reconstruct our security forces and say goodbye to our (American) friends”. The Iraqi president mocked the opponents of the conflict, stressing that “without this war I would, no doubt, be here before you not as a President but as a refugee”. The Iraqi President, moreover, called on the French to “invest more in the new Iraq”. In this respect, he met the leaders of the Total oil group.
President Talabani extended his official visit by two days for a private visit, principally to meet the media, intellectuals and French public figures. Accompanied by his wife and his ministers, he visited Mrs. Mitterrand at her home in the rue de Bièvre, in Paris, to reiterate the gratitude of the Kurdish and Iraqi people for her support of the resistance to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Segolene Royal, potential Socialist candidate for the Presidency, came to give Mr. Talabani “a message of friendship between the peoples” and expressed her wish for “a rapid reconstruction of this country, which has been ravaged by the dictatorship, as we know”, so that “the Iraqi people, which has so greatly suffered, may again find the dignity, the self-confidence and the desire to get back on its own feet”. At the end of her meeting with the Iraqi president, on 3 November, Segolene Royal considered that the situation in Iraq “is not yet totally stabilised” but “the country is starting to get back on its feet” despite a “kind of terrorism”. Questioned on the timetable for the withdrawal of the international force, the Socialist presidential candidate considered that “the moment will come when the Iraqi government considers that it has come, that is when all the conditions of security and proper democratic workings have arrived”. “It is not up to others, outside the country, to decide the forms of this transition”. “There are both elements of light” and “at the same time there is the weight of disorder, of a kind of terrorism, and so the situation is not yet totally stabilised”.
Moreover, Laurent Fabius and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, two other possible Socialist candidates for the Presidency, also had meetings with the Iraqi President. A meeting between Jalal Talabani and Nicolas Sarkozy took place on 3 November at 8.30 a.m. at the Hotel Meurice, then a dinner was organised in honour of the Iraqi President by the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy. The Foreign Office spokesman, Jean-Battiste Mattei, had mentioned, on 30 October, the fact that France had decided to cancel 80% of its share of Iraq’s external debt, that is a sum of four billion euros, and that it had received 500 iraqi trainees the y6ear before, in the context of cultural, scientific and technical cooperation. A new office of the French Embassy to Iraq would be opened next year in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Three weeks after his return from France, President Talabani, accompanied by the Ministers for Industry and Technology and for Foreign Affairs, began a long expected official visit to Iran. The Iranian State Television, specially mobilised for the event, announced that the Iraqi President had arrived in Teheran “at the head of a high ranking delegation”. This is Jalal Talabani’s fourth visit to Iran since taking office. Apart from his opposite, number Mahmud Ahmedinjad, who welcomed him with great pomp at the presidential Palace, he also met former president Hashemi Rafsanjani then, on 28 November, the Supreme Guide of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Jalal Talabani, who speaks Farsi (Persian) was very clo0se to the Iranian leaders before Saddam Hussein’s fall. On arriving, the Iraqi President explained that his country “needed extensive assistance from Iran to struggle against terrorism and re-establish security in Iraq”. Mr. Talabani had received, a year earlie3r, a similar commitment to help from Iranian leaders. All the leading Iranian public figures took advantage of Mr. Talabani’s visit to repeatedly say that the United States was responsible for the situation in Iraq and should leave the country. On 29 November, the head of the Council of Discernment and ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani repeated this message to him, declaring that “the enemies of the Iraqi people were trying to create a civil by confronting Shiites, Kurds and Sunni Arabs against one another”. Mr. Rafsanjani also accused the United States of opposing any possible reconciliation between Teheran and Baghdad. “The government and people of Iran have many times repeated that they were ready to assist the Iraqi people — but in the background they are trying, behind the scenes, to divide our nations and prevent this aid”. The Iraqi President, for his part, stigmatised, during his meeting with Mr. Rafsanjani, those who “have the aim of setting different sectarian groups against one another”. The Iraqi President insisted, moreover, on the fact that his country needed, on questions of security, “the help of all the countries of the region, and particularly the help of the 5slamic Republic of Iran”. He thus implicitly referred to the special and favourable relations between Teheran and influential Shiite parties in Iraq.
Anxio8us to establish its status as a regional power, Iran wished initially to call a three-cornered summit, to which the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, would also be invited. Jalal Talabani immediately accepted, only postponing his arrival because of the curfew in force in the Iraqi capital and the closing of Baghdad airport. However, Bashar al-Assad did not reply to Teheran’s invitation. The silence of the Syrian authorities to Iran’s invitation was most probably to avoid embarrassing the Teheran regime with a refusal. Damascus probably also feared to irritate the United States by openly supporting Iran in its determination to affirm its influence in Iraq. By distancing themselves, the Syrian authorities were leaving open the possibility of a rapprochement with Washington.
“The Iranian nation and government will most certainly sand alongside Iraq, their brother, with all the help that the government and nation are able to provide. We have no objection to cooperation, whatever might be its field” declared Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinjad according to the official Iranian news agency, ISNA. Addressing the Americans he added: “I advise you to leave Iraq to preserve the little reputation you have left”. “Hand over responsibility to the Iraqi government with a precise timetable, as it has asked. The Iraqi people are capable of managing the situation and re-establishing security” he added during a joint press conference with his Iraqi opposite number. “This journey was a 100% success. I say to the Iraqi people that soon the results of thi8s visit will be perceptible”, declared for his part Mr. Talabani, in reply to his “old friend Ahmadinjad”. “Both countries have firmly condemned the criminal actions and the sabotage of terrorist groups and insisted on the necessity of fighting against these groups”, according to a joint communiqué. Iran reaffirmed its “availability for helping the Iraqi people and government” to “strengthen and put an end to internal clashes”. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Guide, also met the Iraqi Pre4sident and considered that “the departure of the occupation forces is the first step towards settling the problem of insecurity” The spiritual chief and highest Iranian State authority indicated that “the principal reason for the present situation in Iraq is the policy of the United States, which is applied through certain intermediaries”, pointing a finger at “the terrorists and Baathists”.
Iraq and Iran, which confronted one another during the long war (1980-1988) renewed relations after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. Six months after his election as President in April 2005, Jalal Talabni was the first Iraqi Head of State to make an official visit to Iran since that of Abdel Rahman Aref, President of Iraq between 1966 and 1968. The Iraqi Prime Ministers (Shiite) Ibrahim Jaafari and then Nuri al-Maliki also made such visits. The Shiite and Kurdish parties, pre-eminent in the government and national Assembly, have historic links with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which provided them with support and, sometimes refuge when they were in opposition to Saddam Hussein.
The latest bi-monthly report on human rights in Iraq, published on 22 November, indicates that the number of victims of inter-communal violence, of which Baghdad is the epicentre, reached a level unprecedented since 2003: 3,709 deaths, as against 3,345 in September and 3,009 in August. A country given over to chaos, of terrorised inhabitants who are turning their quarters into fortified sectarian camps while of hundreds of thousands of other civilians are on the road to exodus — this is the dark picture painted by the United Nations in their latest report on human rights in Iraq. The report indicates that the worsening of violence in Iraq has increased poverty and provoked “unprecedented” population movements. Since the bombing of a Shiite sanctuary at Samarra in February, 418,392 people have had to leave their homes to escape sectarian violence. Moreover, 100,000 people hare fleeing to Syrian and Jordan every month bringing the number of Iraqis who have sought refuge abroad since the beginning of the American military intervention in March 2003 to 1.6 million.
This report raises questions regarding the activity of the 300,000 members of the US Army trained Iraqi security forces and on their religious allegiances. The UNO report states that information is accumulating about the militia and death squads that are acting under the protection of the official police and are giving themselves over to “kidnapping, torture, murder acts of corruption, extortion and robbery”. The document casts doubts on the recent affirmations by Mr. al-Maliki that the Iraqi forces would be able to reduce the violence in the next six months. Some 70% of the acts of violence, principally between Shiite and Sunni Arabs, representing some 5,000 of the 7,054 civilian deaths recorded in September and October, were counted in the capital, where the most of the victims bore signs of having been tortured or bullet wounds, UNO reported. The sectarian violence in Iraq has greatly 9increased this year. On 23 November, a series of suicide bomb attacks, perpetrated in Sadr City, the great and deprived Shiite suburb of Baghdad, caused over 200 deaths and led to reprisal attacks on Sunni Arab neighbourhoods. The UN representative for human rights, Gianni Magazzeni, nevertheless conceded, in a press conference, that this evaluation, based on figures from the Baghdad morgue and the Ministry of Health, is not unanimously accepted.
In October, the British medical review, the Lancet, had unleashed a controversy by establishing, on the basis of a sociological study, that some 655,000 Iraqis had died directly through the war — a figure considered not credible by many other researchers. The Iraqi Minister of Health, for his part, put forward the figure of 150,000 but a government spokesman set the figures at more like 40,000. The Iraqi Health Ministry, on 22 November, challenged UNO’s estimates, which it accused of “fooling everyone”. “The real figure is one quarter of that”, according to Ali al-Chimeri, a member of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s organisation. He also accused UNO of having procured data by “illegal and indirect” means, through doctors and nurses. The militia operate openly and with impunity in the name of political factions represented in the government — and it is this impunity that fuels the cycle of violence and reprisal, Mr. Magazzeni considered for his part.
On the other hand, South Korea, with the third largest contingent in Iraq, but deployed principally in Iraqi Kurdistan, announced on 30 November the complete withdrawal of its contingent of 2,300 soldiers by the end of 2007. After at first sending some non-combatants in 2003, Seoul had later raised its contribution, a year later, to 3,500 troops. Seoul had begun to reduce the size of its contingent in April. It now has about 2,300 soldiers stationed at Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where security is guaranteed anyhow. London has also announced a reduction of its contingent by several thousand troops by the end of 2007. Poland, the forth largest country in terms of military presence, announced for its part that its 880 troops will leave Iraq “no later than the end of 2007”. The UN Security Council unanimously decided to extend the 160,000-man multilateral force’s mandate in Iraq for a further year. The Council thus responded rapidly to the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had called for this extension, while assuring that one of his government’s priorities was to assume full responsibility for security in the country, though it needed more time for that. The resolution, prepared by the United States, prolongs the multinational force’s mandate for a year as from 31 December 2006 and au8thrises a review, at the Iraqi government’s request, by 15 June.
On 29 November, US President George W Bush began a visit to Amman centred on the search, together with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, for a strategy for countering the explosion of violence in that country. Immediately after his arrival, Mr. Bush met King Abdullah II of Jordan, but the planned three-corner meeting with Mr. Maliki was cancelled “for lack of time”. After this meeting, King Abdullah II arranged a dinner in honour of the US President, to which Mr. Maliki was not invited. Mr. Bushy met Mr. Maliki for breakfast the next morning. During a joint press conference with Nuri al-Maliki, George Bush declared:“We have every interest in ensuring that freedom prevails in the Middle East, and firstly in Iraq. This is the reason why the4 idea of an elegant withdrawal is totally unrealistic”. The American leader noted that the Iraqi Prime Minister and he had excluded any project of dividing Iraq as a means of putting an end to sectarian violence. “The Prime Minister has clearly said that a division of his country, as proposed by some, does not correspond to the wishes of then Iraqis and that any partition would o0nly result in an aggravation of religious violence. This is also my opinion”, he declared. Mr. Bush pointed out that they were also agreed about accelerating the training of Iraqi security forces and the process of delegating security to the Iraqis. The US Army, he declared, was in Iraq so that “the job be done” and would remain there so long as the Baghdad government wished. US President George Bush, declared that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was just the man for the situation in Iraq, saying he had agreed with him that any partition of the country would only have the effect of exacerbating the violence.
The members of Parliament and Ministers who support the pro-Iranian radical Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, have suspended their participation in the Iraqi Parliament and government in protest at the meeting between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the US President George Bush. In a communiqué, the 30 members of parliament and five ministers concerned explained that their decision was necessary as the meeting between Bush and al-Maliki at Amman constituted “a provocation of the feelings of the Iraqi people and a violation of their constitutional rights”. They also criticised George W. Bush’s visit to Jordan, which “has pirated the will of the people at a period when the sons of Iraq are writing their destiny with their blood, not just ink”. Moqtada al-Sadr’s supporters had initially threatened to leave the Parliament and government permanently if Nuri al-Maliki were to go to Amman.
In an interview with the local press published on 13 November, Mr. Maliki had also attacked his Sunni Arab partners of the Concord Front (44 members of Parliament and 5 Ministers). “They use double talk and I wonder how they can be our partners in a political process for which they do not accept responsibility”, Mr. Maliki considered, criticising the leaders of this block of having threatened to leave the government and “taking up arms” if the militia were not broken up and powers not better shared. The Kurdish Member of Parliament, Mahmud Osman, expressed his scepticism regarding the extent of such a reshuffle. “A government reshuffle is dependent on the agreement of different political blocks and I do not think that it can provide any solutions to the problems”, he declared. “The solution in Iraq is too complicated to be settled by a ministry reshuffle. For the last two years, we have been call ing for political changes in Iraq and no one has listened to us”, he added.
However, the following the passing of the death sentence on Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government did, on 6 November, announce a major concession to the supporters of the fallen dictator: the thousands of members of the Baath Party, formerly in power, ousted from all posts in the State machine after the American intervention, may now be able to return to their jobs. The Supreme National De-Baathification Commission has drafted a Bill that will shortly be placed before Parliament, according to its Executive Director, Ali al-Lami. This Bill is in line with a 24-point National Reconciliation Plan announced in June by Nuri al-Maliki, in which he called for the re-examination of the De-Baathification programme. Before the redrafting of the Bill, the Commission had drawn up a list of 10,302 Baath Party cadres to be dismissed, but the new Bill only has 1,500 names. Mr. al-Lami pointed out that 7,688 members of the Baath Party have been fired since the creation of the Commission in January 2004. In May 2003, one month after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the United States had dissolved and banned the former party in power, but had later adopted a more flexible position, inviting former officers if the demobilised Army to join the security forces. Since its creation, the De-Baathification Commission has checked the CVs of thousands of former Baathists who have been re-employed.
The politico-economic reconstruction of Iraq is still the stumbling block. On 14 November, Daniel Speckhard, assistant mission chief at the US Embassy in Baghdad, stated that the Baghdad administration had a billion dollars available for reconstruction in the Iraqi capital. “Over a billion dollars have already been spent for the reconstruction of Baghdad in the last three years and another billion dollars is available for continuing existing projects or for starting new ones”, he pointed out. “The biggest challenge, today, is knowing how to spend this money”, he added, as an aside during a workshop on reconstruction in Iraq, attended by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh.
The political instability and then outbreak of violence that Iraq has been experiencing over the last three years have deprived the country of 24.7 billion dollars of oil revenues (19.1 billion euros), according to a report of the Iraqi Oil Research Institute, published on 23 November. The economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the chaotic management under the Saddam Hussein regime followed by the upsurge of violence since the US military intervention in March 2003, are so many further factors that explain the present lag in Iraqi production of its “black gold”. Billions of dollars must thus be injected to develop the industry, recommends the report, drawn up by the Inspection Division of the Iraqi Oil Ministry. “All the data confi9rm that the oil industry in Iraq cannot sustain itself without the participation of foreign companies, so as to develop oil fields and increase the volume of exports”. But the majority of foreign groups are waiting for the coming into force of a law on oil, which has been subject to negotiation for several months, before any new investment in the country.
Iraq has the third largest oil reserves in the world. Of the 80 oil fields in the country, barely 17 are being worked. Only 1,600 of the 2,300 operating pits are actually working. Many of the pits on the Rumeila field have now been abandoned, because they had been badly managed and resorted to out of date drilling and pumping methods. “Problems in certain oilfields have provoked a rise in the level of water in the operating pits, which has led to loss of production in a great number of sites”, the report stresses. Moreover, the pipeline connecting Iraq and Turkey has been practically unusable since the US intervention because of many acts of sabotage. The report figures losses due to this sabotage at 8.7 billion dollars from the beginning of 2004 to the first half-year of 2006, inclusive. Thus Baghdad can now only rely on its main pipeline in Basra Province for its oil exports. According to statements made this week by an Oil Ministry spokesman, about 1.7 million barrels a day transit via this pipeline.
Furthermore, on 20 November, the European Commission and the Iraqi government started negotiations in Brussels for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the E.U. and Iraq. These negotiations will be undertaken by Commissioners Ferrero-Waldner and Mendelson (E.U.) in the name of the Commission and by Deputy Prime Minister responsible for economic affairs, Barham Saleh, on behalf of Iraq. The TCA will contribute to the gradual strengthening of relations between the European Union and Iraq and to the re-integration of that country into the world market. The agreement aims at improving the context of the exchanges between Iraq and the E.U. and covers a wide range of subjects, including trade in goods, services, measures for encouraging investment, customs, the rights of intellectual and industrial property and regulations for concluding public contracts.
Cooperation, for its part, may cover several key aspects such as electronics as well as human development of and poverty reduction, the environment, culture and education. By opening these contractually binding negotiations withy Iraq, the E.U. wishes to ease Iraq’s commitment to the international community and strengthen the roots Iraq’s present institutional and socio-economic reforms. This should improve the country’s living conditions, promote bi-lateral trade relations and, in the end, guarantee a minimum level of predictability, transparency and legal security for the economic dealers.
On 16 November, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Mliki arrived at Ankara for a meeting with his Turkish opposite number Recep Tayyip erdogan. The two men discussed bilateral relations and the struggle against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), dug in in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, near the Iranian border. During his one-day visit, the Iraqi Prime Minister was accompanied, in particular, by his Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Sebari. Mr. al-Maliki had originally been due to make this visit on 16 October, but it had to be postponed because of a sandstorm in Baghdad that had grounded all the planes at the time. “We discussed the necessity of accelerating cooperation against the PKK. I pointed out to Mr. Maliki that concrete steps had to be taken to secure any result” in the fight against the PKK, stressed Mr. Erdogan. The Iraqi Prime Minister assured his Turkish opposite number that Iraq would not become a “sanctuary” for radical elements that might threaten neighbouring states. During a joint Press conference with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mr. Maliki stated that the oil resources of Iraq belonged to all Iraqis and had to be distributed equitably, without advantaging a single community. “These resources must be equitably distributed to the citizens”, he pointed out. “One community must not be deprived and another enriched”, he stressed. At the end of September, the prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, had stated that the Kurds wanted to be masters of their own oil and had warned that any external interference could revive calls for the independence of Kurdistan.
Ankara continues to threaten to carry out cross-border operations against the PKK this summer if Washington and Baghdad do not intervene there. The PKK, for its part, says it is determined to resist the repeated threats to dislodge them by the Turkish and Iraqi authorities. This Kurdish organisation declared a cease-fire on 1 October. However, as with other ceasefires it has proclaimed in the past, Turkey has rejected it. Despite the PKK’s ceasefire, and even though fighting has substantially diminished in intensity since then, six PKK fighters and a Turkish soldier were killed in fighting in Bingol province following the unleashing of an Army operation. Six soldiers were wounded, three by bullets and the others by a landmine explosion. During a clash on 14 November, near the village of Baskale, a Turkish soldier was also killed. Three members of the PKK were shot down in clashes between 6 and 11 November in Sirnak.
To avoid any danger of Turkish Army intervention against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan, two former American leaders proposed, on 27 November, the deployment of NATO forces in Iraqi Kurdistan. In a document made public before the NATO summit in Riga on 28/29 November, Richard Holbrook, former US permanent representative at UNO and Ronald Asmus, Assistant Vice-Secretary of State for European Affairs in the Clinton Administration, stated that NATO members had every interest in avoiding Iraq falling into open civil war. “Already, today, some voices are being rai8sed in Turkey openly to demand the invasion of Northern Iraq to put an end to the constant raids being carried out from Northern Iraq by the terrorist organisation known as the PKK”, declared the two former leaders in a document made public by a German think tank. “The best means of reducing this danger would be that NATO deploy some soldiers in Northern Iraq”, they add. Such an initiative seems highly unlikely because of the deep divisions created within NATO by the US military intervention in 2003. France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg had then opposed the invasion and have since resisted strong attempts to involve the Atlantic Alliance in Iraq. “The issue was neither discussed nor envisaged in any official or unofficial manner within NATO”, declared James Appathurai, the Alliance spokesman.
On 29 November, the European Commission recommended a “slowing down” of negotiations for Turkey’s membership of the E.U. — a recommendation that the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately described as “unacceptable”. On 11 December he European Foreign Ministers will have to decide about this recommendation, which they are not obliged to follow. Dissensions between the 25 on the issue of membership of this large, strategic and Moslem country are so great that difficult negotiations can be foreseen before reaching any unanimous decision (in 10 to 15 years time at the earliest).
The recommendation of a partial suspension of negotiations with Turkey, painfully begun in October 2005, seemed inevitable after the failure, on 27 November, of a last attempt of the Finnish Presidency of the E.U. to convince the Turks to open their ports and airports to Cyprus ships and planes. Because of Ankara’s refusal — closely linked to the fact that only the Greek, Southern part of the island, which Ankara refuses to recognise, joined the E.U. in 2004 — the Commission has recommended suspending discussion of 8 of the 35 chapters that mark out the stages of the E.U.-Turkey negotiations. The chapters concerned cover the questions relating to the customs union, and more broadly Turkey-Cyprus relations, to the circulation of goods to the development of agriculture as well as transport or foreign policy. The Commission also demands that no other chapters be discussed so long as Turkey fails to fulfil its obligations to Cyprus. “Europe needs Turkey and Turkey needs Europe. There is no freeze or hibernation (in negotiations). The train continues to advance, but more slowly. The European Union is a community of laws and there have to be consequences when obligations are not met”, explained the Commissioner for the Enlargement, Olli Rehn. “It is a seriously measured decision” and legally “very solid”, added the commissioner, while recognising that the discussions between the 25 were likely to be complicated. “There are some very different positions as between the member states”, Mr. Rehn conceded. “It is precisely for this reason that we do not want to make a recommendation as of now, since we want to guide the 25 and help find unity on this question” as from 11 December. This will enable us to avoid polluting the European summit of 14 and 15 December with the explosive subject that Turkey always constitutes.
As a proof of how sensitive the discussions will be, even before the Commission’s officially announced recommendation some European leaders present at the NATO summit in Riga on Wednesday had begun consultations to defuse a potential crisis with Turkey. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while stressing that “the long term strategic interest of Europe and the rest of the world” was “to have Turkey inside the European Union”, warned that “it would be a serious mistake to send Turkey an unfavourable signal”. While France is increasingly hesitant about Turkey’s entry into the E.U., President Jacques Chirac defended the Commission during a meeting with Mr. Erdogan in Riga, considering that it “had no other choice”. A spokesman for the government of the (Greek) Cyprus Republic, clearly hostile to Turkey’s membership, considered, for his part that “freezing some chapters was not a penalty” but confirmed “the privilege that Turkey was enjoying while not observing its obligations”.
Cyprus has been divided sinceits invasion by Turkey in 1974. The Southern part of the island, which joined the E.U. in 2004, is mainly inhabited by people of Greek language and culture. The North, a “state” only recognised by Ankara, which deploys 40,000 troops there to maintain it, has been subjected to an international embargo for many years. In 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union with the E.U. to the ten states that had joined the Union in 2004. However, it continues to refuse to apply this to the Greek Cypriots, demanding, as a precondition, the lifting of the embargo on the “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” — whose existence is only recognised by Ankara. A journalist, David Muntaner and his cameraman Frederic Bak, were arrested after filming a civilian area adjoining the barrier surrounding Varosha, announced the Basin-Sen journalists’ union (a Turkish-Cypriot journalists’ union) in a communiqué. Accused of filming a restricted military zone, they are due to appear before a Turkish Army Court. The ghost town of Varosha, near the former holiday resort of Famagusta, has been emptied of its Greek Cypriot inhabitants ever since the 1974 Turkish invasion. The E.U. plan, presented by Finland, proposed transferring the ghost town of Varosha to UNO — but the so-called “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus” has indicated that it would not agree to give up this town, even in exchange for renewal of trade with the E.U.
In addition to the Cyprus question, Brussels is calling on Turkey to make more effort in the struggle against the use of torture and for the protection of freedom of expression and minority rights in Turkey. The recommendation of the European Commission coincides with a veto by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer on a Bill giving property rights to religious minorities in Turkey as demanded by the European Union. The Turkish President has asked Parliament to re-examine nine articles in the Bill — which, by the way, does not fully meet the requirements of the European Union. Mr. Sezer opposes these measures that, according to him, grant them economic rights that go further than the objective of charitable works, the presidency announced on 29 November. The principle objective of the Bill, passed by Parliament at the beginning of November, was to prepare the way for communal Foundations (principally Greek, Armenian and Jewish) enabling them to recover property seized by the State since 1974 under controversial legal decisions. Turkish nationalists criticise this Bill on the grounds that it strengthens the position of religious minorities in Turkey.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had announced, on 5 November, that his country was ready to amend article 301 of the Penal Code, which allows legal proceedings against writers and journalists, following sharp criticism on the subject by the European Union. A 92-year old Turkish scientist, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, a convinced secularist, was acquitted on 1 November, at the beginning of her highly controversial and publicised trial for her writings regarding the wearing of the veil. This eminent specialist on the ancient Sumerian civilisation (4th Millennium B.C.) had exposed herself to the fury of Islamist extremists by her writings on this ancient people. In these, she maintained that they were the first to veil women as a mark of distinction and respect, thousands of years before the appearance of Islam. In a book published last year Mrs. Cig had affirmed that the headscarf had been worn, for the first time, by Sumerian “public women”. These were priestesses, who sexually initiated young men in the temples without being prostitutes. His trial followed on those of authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak, which had aroused international protests. The charges against Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, sued for having mentioned the Armenian genocide, were abandoned while novelist Elif Shafak was acquitted. Unlike Orhan Pamuk or Elif Shafak, sued under article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which provides for penalties for insulting the Turkish Republic, its institutions or Turkish identity, the archaeologist was charged with “inciting religious hate”.
An opinion poll on 14 November by the pro-government paper Yeni Safak indicates that a majority of Turks remain in favour of their countries entering the European Union, despite present day tensions between the two. According to this poll by the ANAR Institute, 54.1% of people questioned could vote “YES” today in a referendum on Turkey’s integration into the European Union, as against 37.1% who would vote “NO”. However, nearly two thirds of the same sample of Turks questioned between 17 and 25 October throughout the country, predicted that Turkey would never be admitted to membership, as against 30% who still believe in this possibility. These results contradict another recent poll that showed that the supporters of entry into the European Union had dropped from 60% two years ago to 32% today.
Pope Benedict XVI, whose remarks about Islam last September had unleashed the anger of some Moslems, arrived on an official visit to Turkey on 28 November. The Pope’s journey to Ankara, Ephesus and Istanbul, which originally had as its central theme relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, today appears more as an opportunity for ending the polemic aroused by the Pope’s statements in Ratisbonne. The Turkish leaders gave Pope Benedict XVI a polite but icy welcome on this, his first visit to a Moslem country. About 15,000 people shouting anti-Western slogans, demonstrated against Benedict XVI’s visit on 26 November at Caglayan, on Istanbul’s European shore. The number of those taking part was, however, far less than the million people predicted by the organisers of the demonstration, the Saadet Party (SP — the Happiness Party, islamist), whose slogan was “The Pope is not welcome”. Posters showing photos of victims of the war in Iraq bore the question “Who did this?” Another banner asked: “Who is responsible for terrorism? The United States, Israel and the European Union or Iraq and the Palestinians?” The Sunday edition of the Islamist daily Milli Gazete, that supports the SP, headlined “It is Istanbul here, not Constantinople”. In this tense context, three thousand police patrolled the Turkish capital to avoid any incidents, sharpshooters were posted on the rooftops and armoured cars were parked at every crossroad. The streets were practically empty — a sign of the lack of interest the Pope’s visit aroused in the population. Unlike his visits to Christian countries, there were no delirious crowds to meet him in Ankara, at the first stage of his visit, from 28 November to 1 December, which also included visits to Ephesus and Istanbul. Only a row of Turkish soldiers gave him the honours due to him as Head of State of the Vatican, since it was in this capacity that he met with Turkish President Ahmet Sezer. The Turkish journalists did not fail to stress that the Pope had even taken care to hide his cross as he left the aeroplane.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Foreign Minister, who were due to leave for the NATO summit in Riga, only welcomed the Pope in the Airport’s VIP lounge. In the opinion of the observers, Mr. Erdogan, for reasons of domestic politics and as leader of a Party born of the Islamist movement, at first balked at appearing in the same photographic “frame” as the head of the Catholic church. It must be said that 2007 is a double election year in Turkey — Presidential in April and legislative in November. Mr. Erdogan has Presidential ambitions, in a context already very controversial because of his religious and political convictions. While in Ankara, the Pope visited Ataturk’s mausoleum then met the President of the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Bardakoglu, head of the Turkish Moslem Clergy, who did not fail the criticise his remarks in Ratisbonne last September about the links between Islam and violence. According to the daily paper Sabah, the Grand Mufti, in his way “taught” the Pope the real nature of Islam.
After a first and very political day, Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the open air at Ephesus, in the West of the country, where the Virgin Mary is said to have passed the last years of her life. He also paid tribute to a Catholic priest killed in Trebizond at the time of the demonstrations against the caricatures of Mohammed.
The vestiges of this little stone house, whose oldest foundations go back to the first century of the Christian era, have become a popular pilgrimage centre since the 1950s, visited by both Christians and Moslems. After mass, the Pope went on to Istanbul, where Kadir Topbas, AKP Mayor of Istanbul, also kept his distance. Although essentially devoted to his meeting with Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, the spiritual head of 300 million Orthodox Christians, his stay in Istanbul was also very controversial. The Pope took the opportunity of the event to use the Patriarch’s Ecumenical title — a designation rejected by Ankara, that denies him any political or administrative role. These two major branches of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church, heir of Western Christianity and the Orthodox Churches, derived from the Church or the East, have been separate since the 1054 schism because of a conflict over the powers of the Pope and liturgical differences. The Pope also spoke at the Patriarchal Church of Saint George and visited the Saint Sophia museum, formerly the Constantinople Basilica, then the Armenian Cathedral. While in Istanbul he also met the Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan and the Grand Rabbi of Turkey, then the members of the Catholic Episcopal Conference.
In a 99% Moslem country, the Christian community of Turkey, divided into various persuasions (Orthodox, Syriac, Jacobite, Gregorian Armenian, Catholic) today numbers barely 200,000 souls, but its present borders sheltered, from the very beginnings of the Christian era, substantial communities. Today, however, Ankara refuses to allow the reopening of Turkey’s sole Orthodox seminary, on the Istanbul island of Heybeli, or to hand back confiscated buildings and property to Christian foundations. The human rights defence organisation, Minority Rights Group (MRG), on the occasion of Pope Benedict’s visit to Turkey, denounced the discrimination to which the Christian and other minorities are subjected in that country. “The Pope’s visit to Turkey is a rare opportunity to bring to the forefront the enormous difficulties which face the Christian and other minorities in Turkey”, declared Nurcan Kaya, responsible for the MRG programme in Turkey, in a communiqué. The MRG notes the existence of “discriminatory laws” although Turkey is, officially, a secular state that guarantees, in theory, substantial rights to religious minorities. The organisation cites the example of the law passed this year, aiming at improving the system regarding the property of non-Moslem foundations. This law, the MRG points out, “makes no attempt to return property confiscated by the State from Christian communities in the past”. “Christians also face restrictions regarding the opening of theological centres and have limited opportunities for training priests and seminarists”, observes Nurcan Kaya.
Pope Benedict XVI is the third Pope to have visited Turkey since Paul VI in 1967 and John Paul in 1979. The Pope’s visit was marked by good will gestures on both sides, and in particular by Benedict XVI’s support for Ankara’s membership of the European Union. A few years ago, when he was still only Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he had aroused Turkey’s anger by expressing his reserves about that country’s membership of the E.U. “A surprise from the Pope: Benedict, who had declared that he was hostile to Turkey’s entry into the European Union spoke a different language in Ankara”, wrote the Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet. Asked to define the Vatican’s position, the Holy See’s spokesman, Father Frederico Lombardi, stated that the Pope could not take up a political stand but “encourages and regards in a positive manner the way Turkey is committing itself to the path of dialogue and of rapprochement with Europe on the basis of common values”. “Thus is beginning well. In Ankara the Pope told the world that Islam was a religion of peace”, rejoiced the daily paper Hurriyet. The national Turkish television channel, TRT, which had the exclusive broadcasting rights on the Pope’s visit, for its part opened an enquiry into the way the channel had covered the visit. Followed everywhere by a fixed camera, the Pope was constantly hidden by a Turkish soldier standing at attention.
After saying Mass at the Holy Spirit Cathedral on 1 December, Benedict XVI returned to Rome, while a book entitled “Who is going to kill the Pope in Istanbul?” whose front cover shows a bearded sharpshooter aiming at the Pope against a background of a burning cross, was breaking all sales records with 100,000 copies sold in Turkey.
On 2 November, against the background of the nuclear crisis, Iran launched major military manoeuvres, including firing missiles. “Shahab missiles, with a charge of fragmentation bombs and capable of a 2,000 Km range, were fired in the desert in the region of Qom”, about 200 Km South of Teheran, reported the Al-Alam television channel. Fragmentation bombs explode near the surface, dispersing a great quantity of fragments over a large area. The Shahab-3 missiles have a range of 2,000 Km, according to the Iranians, which makes their range cover the US bases not only in the Gulf in Israel and Southern Europe as well. This is the first time this weapon has been used in manoeuvres and not simply fired individually for testing. The Iranian manoeuvres lasted for ten days, over 14 if Iran’s provinces, including those bordering on the Gulf and the Sea of Oman. The Shahab-2 missile, derived from the Soviet Scud-C, has a theoretical range of 500 Km, which would enable it to aim at targets in Iraqi territory, but also countries in the Arabian Peninsula bordering on the Gulf.
Furthermore, some Russian press agencies reported on 24 November that Russia has started to deliver TOR-M1 ground-air missiles to Iran as part of an earlier agreement. “The deliveries of TOR-M1 to Iran have begun — the first systems have already been delivered to Iran”, it is learnt from a source in the Russian military-industrial complex cited by the Interfax press agency, which adds that the Iranian troops who will be using these systems will have to be trained in Russia. According to the Russian arms exporting company Rosoboronexport, the Russian leaders affirm that “Iran is a sovereign State, a member of UNO as well as of the League of Arab States and no international sanctions that forbid it from receiving offensive weapons are in force”.
Delivery of TOR-M1 missiles, that imply conventional weapons, is not in breach of any international pact, according to Russian leaders, who point out that these missiles are short-range defensive weapons. According to the Interfax Agency, the TOR-M1 system can identify a maximum of 48 targets and fire at two targets simultaneously at 6,000 metres (20,000 feet) altitude.
All this is against a background of growing tension about the Iranian nuclear programme. Gregory L. Schulte, US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared on 27 November that the US secret services estimated that Iran could be capable of producing an atom bomb by 2010. “This gives us time, but we are in 2006, only four years away. It gives us time for diplomacy but it does not give us time for complacency”, he added. Mr. Schulte’s comments broadly reflect those of the Director of US secret services, John Negroponte, who had explained in a BBC interview last June that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within the next 4 to 10 years. According to Mr. Schulte, the process remains complicated, there are several imponderable to take into account, in particular the foreign help that Iran may receive, whether Teheran manages to make its centrifuges work and the importance the country gives to possessing atomic weapons. For the moment, it seems that the Iranians will have given the nuclear weapon “their highest priority”, he observed.
On 23 November, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) refused to grant Iran’s request for an expert assessment of a projected reactor, fearing that it could be used to produce military grade uranium. However, the IAEA’s decision, after several days’ discussions between the industrialised countries, leaves open to Iran the possibility of reformulating its request in the future. On the other hand, the IAEA has accepted to supply Iran with expert assessments for seven other nuclear energy projects, which it does not consider dangerous.
On 20 November, the Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmedinjad, declared that his country expected to install 100,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium — a far higher figure than that presented hitherto. “We intend to install 100,000 centrifuges and, God willing, Iran will be able to fulfil its needs for nuclear fuel by next year”, declared the President, as quoted by the Iranian Press Agency Isna. The centrifuges are used for enriching uranium, which could then be used for nuclear weapons. Teheran maintains that its atomic programme is purely civilian, but the United States are persuaded that the Iranians are seeking to equip themselves with nuclear weapons. Mr. Ahmedinjad had declared, on 14 November, that Iran intended installing 60,000 centrifuges in order to produce fuel for nuclear power stations, according to him.
Iran intends starting up its first nuclear power station, which has already suffered many delays, in 2007. Hitherto Iran has had available two sets of 164 centrifuges. As things stand, these sets would take several years to produce sufficient material for making an atom bomb. The United Nations are demanding that Iran suspend its work on uranium enrichment, at a time when the country still does not have a nuclear power station. According to UNO, it would be more economic for the Iranians to buy nuclear fuel on the world markets. Over two months after the deadline (31 August) set by the Security Council in its resolution 1696 for Iran to suspend this enrichment failing on pain of sanctions, it is still impossible to say when then Council will actually act. The five permanent members of the Security Council, (Britain, China, France, Russia, USA) together with Germany, are still examining a draft resolution prepared by the Europeans, aiming at imposing sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic programmes. But the six great powers are having difficulty in agreeing on its terms, mainly due to opposition by Russia and China.
Between 13 august and 2 November, Iran fed its Natanz centrifuges (in the centre of Iran) with “a total of 34 Kg” of uranium fuel, which enabled it to produce a small quantity of enriched uranium, according to the IAEA confidential report. This IAEA report also points out that the Agency’s inspectors found traces of plutonium in some containers on a waste dump at Karaj, West of Teheran. Iran is at present enriching to a level of 5%, as needed for a power station. It would have to be enriched to 90% to obtain an effective atom bomb.
On 14 November, the Syrian authorities released the son of the Syrian Kurdish Ulema, Mohammad Maashuk Khasnaoui, assassinated in 2005. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), an NGO close to the London-based opposition, declared in a communiqué, “this release took place after intense activity by the OSDH. It constitutes a step in the right direction”. The Syrian intelligence services had arrested sheikh Murad Khaznaoui the day before at the Syrian-Jordan border, as he was going to Jordan, the OSDH had announced some time before, in a communiqué citing information given by his brother, Murshad Khasnaoui. “The OSDH calls on the Syrian authorities to set up a commission of enquiry, composed of honest jurists, into the assassination of Mohammad Maachouk Khaznaoui and to bring the assassins to court”, adds the OSDH. “The OSDH calls on the Syrian authorities to forbid arbitrary arrests and to put an end to the interference of the security services with the courts so as to preserve (the country’s) national unity”, the communiqué continues.
The Kurds make up about 9% of the country’s population and are subjected to “discriminatory policies”. Further to the recognition of their culture, they demand to be treated like full citizens, demanding political and administrative rights “in the context of the country’s territorial integrity”.
On 19 November, Genel Enerji, the fuel and power division of the Turkish conglomerate Cukurova, and the Swiss oil company Addax, announced the discovery of a promising oil field on the Taq Taq site, about 60 Km North East of the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan. The single test well drilled by then two partners has started producing 30,000 barrels a day of “light oil” (47° API) mixed with “little gas“. Such production levels, from drill hole less than a hundred metres in depth, indicate a significant deposit. Mehmet Sepil, the Chairman of Genel Enerji, expressed his delight at becoming “the first Turkish private oil company to develop a major oil field”. This well is the first of a series of three campaigns planned by Genel and Addax.
Ashti Hawrami, Minister of natural resources in the government of Iraqi Kurdistan, took pleasure in announcing “this success allows us to expect starting our first oil exports from the Taq Taq site in 2007(…). We will continue our exploration programme so as to achieve our objective of exporting a million barrels a day from the Kurdistan region in the course of the next few years — which will enable us to make a significant contribution to Iraqi oil revenues, destined to be shared by the country as a whole”.
Based on Geneva, Addax is the production subsidiary, set up in 1994, of oil group Addax & Oryx. This trading company became in the 90s a diversified group very present in West Africa, where it controls a network of petrol filling stations as well as hydrocarbon storage and LPG bottling installations. Its production and oil extraction unit draws the bulk of its 80,000 barrels a day production from fields it operates in Nigeria. Early in September, it acquired a minor Canadian oil company, Pan-Ocean Energy, for 1.6 billion Canadian dollars, before transforming its production unit into public company quoted on the Toronto Stock Exchange a few months ago. The share value of Addax has now reached the equivalent of 3 billion euros.
Spared the wave of sectarian violence that is shaking the other regions of Iraq, Kurdistan has drawn up some restrictive regulations to forestall the arrival of a flood of displaced Iraqis. Major Hirche Khaled Aswahi, who runs the Department of Residence at Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan, has thus declared that “Arab, Christian, Turcoman and even Kurdish families from other provinces wishing to settle in Kurdistan must find a guarantor already residing in the region”. According to him, then guarantor must be a local government official. “Our objective is to preserve the security of Kurdistan”, spared the violence that is daily drenching in blood other provinces of Iraq, states this official. “No country restricts the right of its own citizens to settle on part of their territory, but we want to ensure security in our region and fight against the infiltration of terrorists”, admitted Major Aswahi.
The number of families displaced towards Kurdistan remains relatively small, compared with the overall number of displaced persons in Iraq. According to this official, 2,054 Kurdish families have arrived in the Irbil region. A thousand others have gone to Suleimaniyah and to Dohuk, the other two main towns of Kurdistan. According to figures published in October by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, some 754m000 Iraqis have been displaced by violence in the country since the American invasion in March 2003. Nearly half of them have had to flee their homes in the course of the last eight months following the outburst of sectarian violence after the destruction, last February, of the Shiite mausoleum in the Sunni city of Samarra, tom the North of Baghdad. These departures mainly affect the centre of the country, the displaced persons mainly going to areas mainly inhabited by fellow Sunnis or Shiites, where they ore most often sheltered by relatives. To go to Kurdistan, displaced persons must, furthermore, provide a guarantor and make an application with a family file. In the event of obtaining residential status, it must be renewed every three months. Doctors, engineers and academics do not need to find a guarantor, as it is their employers who guarantee them housing and other facilities, according to Major Aswahi. President Jalal Talabani has repeatedly called on these senior cadres to come and settle in Kurdistan, safe from the violence. “We would prefer that they come with their families and settle amongst us and serve their country rather than go abroad”, he stressed.
On 5 November, former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, died at the age of 81 in an Ankara Army hospital, where he had been under treatment since May, following a stroke. This former “Left” nationalist politician who retired some three and a half years ago, was struck down by a cerebral haemorrhage on 19 May after attending the funeral of a magistrate assassinated by a young ultra-nationalist lawyer with Islamist motives. He had spent several months in a coma before undergoing a brain operation from which he gradually emerged after his artificial breathing apparatus was disconnected.
Mr. Ecevit had bowed out and left the stage after a long political career, following the overwhelming defeat of his government at the last general elections, in November 2002, in which his party, the DSP, lost all its seats in Parliament. His failing health and the collapse of the coalition government he had led since 1999, tolled the knell of political career of over 40 years in which become Prime Minister five times. He started as a journalist in 1950 in papers close to the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the party of the Republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). In 1959 he was elected regional head of the party at Zonguldak, a mining region in North West Turkey, on the Black Sea coast. He rapidly rose in CHP’s ranks and became its General Secretary in 1966 before taking over the leadership in 1972, succeeding the man who had brought him into politics and sponsored him, Ismet Inonu, former Prime Minister and President of the Republic, a comrade-in-arms of Ataturk and hero of the war of independence (1991-1922). A charismatic leader, riding the left wave3 of the 1970s, he became Prime Minister at the head of a coalition with the Islamists of the of former Prime Minster Necmettin Erbakan’s National Salvation Party. During this government coalition, which lasted six months, Mr. Ecevit ordered the invasion of Cyprus in retaliation for an attempted coup d’état by Greek nationalists (sponsored by the Colonels’ dictatorship in Greece) aiming at annexing Cyprus to Greece. He was again Prime Minister in 1999, when Abdullah Ocalan was captured in Kenya. However his prestige was severely hit by the economic crisis that hit the country in 200-2001 — as well as the fact that he had been in power during the planned massacre of the town of Maras on 24 December 1978. This event, which was mainly aimed at the Alevis, a moderately secular Moslem sect, resulted in 113 deaths (official figures — over 1,000 according to eye witnesses) — mostly killed with knives.
Born in May 1925, of a Kurdish father in a wealthy Istanbul family, throughout his career this former journalist took a pride in flouting his Kurdish origins. In the name of the unity of the State, he even became one of the hardest enemies of Kurdish nationalism. He passed his School-leaving certificate in 1944 at Istanbul’s prestigious Robert College, an American High School, going on to study English literature at Ankara University. He also studied Sanskrit at Oxford and translated T.S. Eliot and Rabindranath Tagore into Turkish. He wrote poetry in his spare time. Never having been tempted into going into business, he gained a reputation for integrity — itself rather rare in Turkish political circles, which have regularly been tarnished by a multitude of corruption scandals. His modesty and puny physique hid an authoritarian and often intolerant character, particularly with regard to the slightest opposition within his own party. Since his electoral defeat Mr. Ecevit has lived a somewhat cloistered existence with his wife, Rahsan, who took care jealously to protect his privacy.
He was buried in Ankara with a State funeral. “Turkish politics has lost one of its most important public figures”, declared Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while President Ahmet Necdet Sezer paid tribute to “a key figure of our political history”, particularly stressing his secular convictions.
On 10 November, a Turkish court sentenced a renegade member of the PKK, become a Turkish Army informer, to nearly 40 years jail. Veysel Ates was found guilty by a court in Van, of having committed a bomb attack on 9 September that caused one death and 9 injured in a Semdinli bookshop. He will have to serve 39 years and 27 days in prison, a similar sentence to that passed on the two other authors of the attack, gendarmerie non-commissioned officers sentenced to 39 years and five months jail, who have appealed against their sentence.
In his indictment the Prosecutor considered the attack as a provocation, aimed at destabilising Turkish Kurdistan and causing the failure of Turkey’s application to join the European Union, that began in October 2005. The Prosecution had called for life imprisonment for all three men.
The trial was considered, by many observers, as a test of Ankara’s determination to establish the supremacy of Law and to repudiate the dubious practices used in then past by uncontrollable elements in the Army in the fight against the PKK. The attack had been mentioned in the European Commission’s report as an example of the lack of civilian control over the security forces and of the persistent influence of the Army in political life (despite reforms intended supposed to limit its powers) since General Buyukanit, commander in chief of the Land Army, was implicated in the case.
On 19 November, the Iranian national radio reported that the Iranian foreign Ministry had summoned the Argentine chargé d’affaires in Teheran to protest against the issuing of an International Warrant by an Argentine judge for the arrest of former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. This warrant is “an irresponsible action and not in conformity with (normal) international legal and judicial procedures”, stated Safar Ali Eslamian, Director of th4e Latin-American Affairs Department of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Iran reserves the right to respond to this case by legal and judicial channels, stated Mr. Eslamian, adding that “American and Israeli support for the Argentine judge expose a plot to incriminate Iran”.
At the beginning of November, an Argentine Judge, Roldofo Canicoba Corral, had again issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Rafsanjani and others responsible for the bomb attack perpetrated in 1994 against a Jewish cultural Centre in Buenos Aires (Argentina) that had caused 85 deaths and over 200 injured. The Buenos Aires prosecutors had accused the leaders of the then Iranian government of having plotted this attack, the most murderous in Argentine history, attributing the actual execution to the Lebanese Hezbollah. Teheran had denied any involvement in this case and threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Argentina
On 25 November, some Iranian soldiers attacked a PKK camp, according to Iraqi Kurdish sources. Mustapha Sayyed Kader, Assistant Commander of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s Peshmergas, indicated that “members of the Iranian Armed Forces attacked a PKK border post without, however, crossing the border”. A local PKK chief, for his part, indicated that “Iranian soldiers entered Iraq in the border region of Nowzang. They clashed with a unit of PEZAK (Party for a Free Life) for about an hour before retreating”. A treaty signed between Ankara and Teheran provides for Iran fighting against the PKK, while Turkey fights the armed opposition to the Mullahs’ regime, the People’s Mujahiddin.
Furthermore, according to the Iranian press agency Fars, the Iranian police have foiled an attempted bomb attack on a railway line and arrested four Kurdish fighters. Mohammad Ali Zaker, commander of the Border Guards in the region of Khoi, in Northwest Iran, declared on 13 November that “four men linked to foreigners were arrested with 20 Kg of TNT. They wanted to blow up the railway line linking Iran with Europe” (i.e. the line connecting Teheran with Istanbul). “One of the men arrested is a former member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and all four are members of the region’s rebel groups”, he added.
At the end of September, an explosion had occurred on the pipeline linking Iran and Turkey, not far from the border between the two countries and the Iranian authorities had evoked an act of sabotage. Similarly the Iranian authorities announced last august the arrest of five Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and four fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during armed clashes between Iranian soldiers and activists of PEJAK, an Iranian group close to the PKK.
From 28 October to 9 November, Montreal was the capital of the Kurdish cinema, holding a first Festival at the Quebec Cinématheque. Twenty-one Kurdish films celebrated the recent effervescence of Kurdish filmmaking. On 28 and 29 October Kilomètre Zero inaugurated the Festival, followed by Marooned in Iraq and A Time for Drunken Horses (Golden Camera at the 2000 Cannes festival) by Bahman Ghobadi. The Festival’s programme, designed in collaboration with the Montreal Kurdish Institute, also included some masterpieces by the father of Kurdish films, Yilmaz Guney (Yol) as well as works by Kazim Oz (The Land) and Jano Rosiebiani (Life).
Moreover, the renewal of Iraqi cinema also owes a great deal to Kurdish filmmakers. Hiner Saleem, selected for the official competition at the 2004 Cannes Festival with his Kilomètre Zero, commented: “In 80 years, Iraq has produced less films than India produces in 3 hours or France in 2 days — that is only five films. At the age of eight I was surprised to find that, on the telly, people didn’t speak our language and I swore to make Kurdish appear on this box”.