B u l l e t i n

c o m p l e t

Bulletin N° 264 | March 2007



On 12 March, the President of Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, visited Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Abdullah, for an extended visit in the course of which he discussed the political and security situation in Iraq with Saudi leaders. On 14 February, Iraq had reopened ita Embassy in Riyadh, which had been closed since 1990, shortly before the Americans launched their Desert Storm operation to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s invading forces. Furthermore, on 22 March, the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, again raised the question of the referendum on the future of Kirkuk, recalling that “the patience of the Kurds is not limitless”. “Our people has committed itself to Iraq, but our patience is not limitless. We have more and more difficulty, as leaders, to explain to our people why our demands have still not been met”, stated Mr. Barzani.

In the opinion of the Kurdish Prime Minister, who was speaking at the inauguration of a water treatment plant, Baghdad has failed to satisfy four demands of the Kurdish people. “We want an equitable sharing of the country’s resources, a democratic solution to the Kirkuk issue, the possibility of sharing the reconstruction funds and the observance of political and democratic rights”, he listed. “What was taken from us by force must be returned peacefully and democratically”, hoped Mr. Barzani on the subject of Kirkuk. For his part, Ashti Hawrami, the Kurdish Minister of Fuel and Power, stated in an interview with the Financial Times That Iraqi Kurdistan wanted to increase considerable the presence of foreign oil companies in its territory by the end of the year. “We are having discussions with new companies” the Minister stated. “We hope that the operators will prefer to come (to Kurdistan) to settle and rather than invest in the rest of Iraq”, the Minister continued. According to him “there are 15 companies with which we hope to conclude successful negotiations”. “If we get ten more, I would be very satisfied”, he continued. An Oil Bill is due to be considered in the Iraqi Parliament in the next two months, which envisages the industry being managed by a General Oil Council and by an independent national ol company. The income from this should be paid into a Federal fund and distributed to the various provinces in proportion to their population, which would mean about 18% for the Kurds

Under the Saddam Hussein regime, Kirkuk was the victim of a policy of forced Arabisation. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, provides for holding a controversial referendum before 31 December 2007 so as to decide the region’s future. On 4 March, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, declared, during a meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers in Cairo, that “developments in Kirkuk could have a negative effect on the region, whereas reconciliation in this city would have positive repercussions”. The Minister made an appeal for “the preservation of the Iraq’s unity, because a divided Iraq would provoke a shock-wave throughout the region”

Since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, inter-ethnic violence has been frequent. On 19 March, three car bombs and two other bombs caused 18 deaths and 37 injured nearly simultaneous explosions in different neighbourhoods of the city


The Baghdad conference on Security in Iraq met on 10 March and brought together delegations from 17 countries and international organisations, representatives of countries neighbouring on Iraq and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government also invited the Arab League and the Islamic Conference Organisation. This is the largest International Conference to be held in Baghdad since the Arab League Summit in 1990, three months before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait

The organisation of such a conference, with the participation of syriaand Iran, that washington accuses of fueling the violence in Iraq, constitutes a turnig point, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, havng till then considered that it was up to Iraq to settle its own problems itself. The United States accuses Iranian agents of smuggling in arms and explosives to Shiite militias in Iraq for use against their troops. And, in Washington’s eyes, Syria is the principle point of infiltration of Arab fighters coming to join the Sunni groups linked to the Al-Qaida terrorist network. Relations are also tense with Saudi Arabia, as the Shiite leaders accuse the Kingdom of financing the extremist Sunni movements, and with Turkey that views Kurdistan’s autonomy most unfavourably. In the view of Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, the solution to Iraq’s problems depends on the common will of the United States, Syria and Iran to struggle jointly against the infiltration of fighters into iraq. Indeed, the US Administration has not ruled out bilateral discussions on Iraq with Teheran and Damascus marginally to the conference. Thus the US Ambassador to iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad explained that he had had an exchange of views with the Iranian delegation “directly and in the presence of third parties”, evoking a “first stage”. He refused, however, any details speaking only of contacts, described as “constructive and intended to resolve problems” and solely dealing with Iraq

Security measures were at a maximum for this meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, outside Baghdad’s highly protected “green zone”. At the opening of this conference, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki stated that “Iraq has become a front line battle field”. The country “needs support in this battle that not only threatens Iraq but which will also spread to all the countries of the region”. He also gave a veiled warning to Iran and Syria, without specifically naming them, by stating that Iraq “does not accept that its territory and towns become a field for settling regional and international quarrels”. In the course of this conference, Nuri al-Maliki called on Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran, to stop their interference in the country. The US Ambassador, Zilmay Khalilzad, welcomed discussions with the Iranian while calling on Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran to put an end to the infiltration of fighters and arms into the country. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghtshi, rejected the American accusations and stated that Iraq needed “a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops (…) to ensure peace and stability”

In a closing declaration, all those taking part expressed “their support for Iraqi sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention”. The Iranian Foreign Office spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hossein, stated in Teheran on 11 March that the conference had been “a good first step”, without mentioning the exchanges that had taken place between the Americans and the Iranians. As for the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, he considered, on CNN, that this conference described as a “major success” for his country, had tried to “break the ice” with Iran so as to establish “a suitable climate for discussions”. The delegations also decided to set up specialised commissions, in particular for displaced persons and also for fuel distribution and oil sales. The encounter was also a forum where a whole range of concerns were expressed, going from those of the Arab regimes that called for more room for the Sunni minority in Iraq’s political balance and their anxiety at Shiite domination to those of the Americans whose accused Damascus and Teheran of supplying arms to the resistance and letting foreign jihadists enter Iraq through their territories. Or, again, those of Turkey, opposed to a referendum on the future of Kirkuk


On 21 March, hundreds of thousands Kurds in Turkey celebrated Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, hemmed in by imposing security measures which, nevertheless failed to prevent incidents taking place, giving rise to about fifty people being taken into custody for questioning. Thus clashes marred the festivities at Mersin, a town in southern Turkey that has a substantial community of immigrant Kurds. A thousand demonstrators, mostly young people, clashed with the police after the celebrations. More than twenty of them were taken in for questioning and some were injured during the strong-arm police intervention. Moreover, the police detained for questioning some thirty people in other towns, mainly in the Kurdish provinces. In Diyarbekir over 100,000 people assembled as from the early morning on the Fair Ground, the traditional location of the celebrations, dancing to the tunes of folk songs and music. The celebrations were organised by the principal pro-kurdish party, the DTP (Party for a Democratic Society). Several thousands of police, supported by armoured cars were deployed round the area to ensure order there. The police fired in the air when the crowd threw stones at officers who had arrested a group of young people. In another incident, three women were wounded by stone throwing. In Istanbul, some 50,000 people gathered on an area of waste land near Zeytinburnu, in the European part of the city. In keeping with tradition, many people in traditional dress, including women, leaped over the bonfires or over burning tyres

The 15 million Kurds of Turkey generally take advantage of Newroz to call for basic rights and, for many of then to display their support for the PKK separatists. For several years past official celebrations have also been organised by the Turkish State for this pagan festival that marks the arrival of spring and is also celebrated in Iran and in the Moslem communities of central Asia. In 1992, the 21st of march was marked by bloody clashes between the PKK and the security forces, causing about fifty deaths. More recently, in 2002, two people were crushed by police vehicles engaged in repressing a demonstration in Mersin

On Iraqi Kurdistan, where it is a public holiday, the 21st march was celebrated officially. Additionally, celebrations were organised throughout the country, with folk music concerts and dances. Many families also take advantage of the public holiday to go out picnicking to celebrate the arrival of spring

In Europe, the Kurdish diaspora also organised celebrations. In London, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of Greater London, officially received the representatives of the different Kurdish centres. “Newroz is an opportunity for learning more about London’s different communities and I want to wish everyone a happy Newroz”, declared the Mayor of London. More than thirty schools and colleges in and around London were mobilised for the celebrations, which began from the beginning of the month with “children’s play days”. Some tens of thousands of Londoners attended concerts in Hackney, the peak off the festivities gathering some 50,000 people. In Paris, the Kurdish Institute, as it does every year, celebrated Newroz with the attendance of leading French and Kurdish public figures. The famous Kurdish singer, Sivan Perwer, livened up many parties with his group that had come specially for the festivities


On 12 March, the Public Prosecutor’s Office at Bursa, the Prinvince covering the Imrali Island Prison where Abdullah Ocalan is serving a life sentence, stated that the report of the Istanbul Institute of Forensic Medecine, which had carried out tests on the prisoner, revealed that he had not been poisoned. “It has been established with certainty that the allegations of poisoning are completely groundless”, said a legal source. A group of specialists had visited Imrli at the beginning of the previous week for a series of tests (urine, stools, blood and hair) on the prisoner. On 1 March, Abdullah Ocalan’s lawyers had made public in Rome the results of hair analyses that showed, according to them, that their client was suffering from poisoning apparently due to the consumption of toxic metals — chromium and very high levels of strontium. The defence lawyers had had six of their client’s hairs analysed by a French toxicologist, Pascal Kintz, without specifying his identity. The latter stated that he had identified doses of chromium “seven times higher than the average” as well as extremely high levels of strontium. Thisnanalysis was confirmed by two labortories in Oslo and Rome, they stated. One of the Kurdish leader’s defence lawyers, Giuliano Pisapia, stated that he was suffering from “gradual poisoning” and excluded the likelihood that it was due to the environment. One of the Turkish lawyers, Mahmut Sakar, asked that UNO, the Council of Europe, or its committee for the prevention of torture, take the initiative of sending an “independent medical delegation” to carry out a medical examination on the condemned man. Cemil Ciçek, the Mnister of justice, had declared “This is a lie. Turkey has never lowered itself to such a level”. Representatives of the Council of Europe have visited the PKK chief several times and found his state of health satisfactory but recommended an easing of his isolation. On 16 February, the Council of Europe had “found nothing to say against” Turkey’s rejection of Abdullah Ocalan’s demand for a retrial

For hismpart, retired general Hursit Tolon, who was in charge of Imrali, explained in the daily paper Sabah, that the security measures in this special penitentiary institution made any poisening impossible. “Not even a hair can leave” or enter without due authorisation, he explained. Moreover, he pointed out, any physical contact with Abdullah Ocalan is forbidden, even shaking his hand. And when his lawyers visit him, they have to sit at a fair distance and are under constant supervision. He also explained that the food eaten by the prisoner was tested and that the soldiers guarding him ate the same food. The Diyarbekir Public Prosecutor, for his part, demanded the opening of a judicial enquiry on the lawyers who had raised this question of poisoning, Messrs Mahmut Sakar and Irfan Dundar

“If these allegations are true, it means that a premeditated murder is being committed” stated Aysel Tugluk, Vice President of the Party for Democratic Society (DTP) at a press conference in Ankara. “Ocalan has a certain influence in in the Kurdish population”, she added. “If some harm befalls him, those who sympathise with him will react (…) and Turkey will be confronted with serious dangers”. On 11 March, groups of PKK sympathisers confronted the police in several Kurdish and Turkish towns. In the harbour town of Mersin (Southern Turkey), some demonstrators tried to bar the streets to an outlying neighbourhood with dustbins, and burning tyres in protest. After exchanging thrown stones and tear gas bombs the anti-riot police units charged the barricades with the help of armoured cars. The day before some unidentified masked men had thrown a Molotov cocktail at a municipal bus before being driven off by plain clothed policemen shooting in the air. There were no casualties in this incident. Incidents also occured in Urfa, where a group of demonstrators threw a Molotov cocktail at a mechanical shovel. In Istanbul, a hundred masked persons invaded the streets of the outlying neighbourhood of Esenler, on the European shores of the city and threw Molotov cocktails at parked vehicles, burning down three cars. In addition, thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Europe to protest at the poisoning of Abdullah Ocalan and demand his release, including a thousand in Marseilles on 3 March who went to to the European Union and European Parliament offices in Marseilles. Kurdish demonstrators also briefly surrounded the UN offices in Geneva in protest. Outwitting the vigilance of the UN guards, about twenty men climbed over the fence round the building and reached the inner courtyard befre being stopped by the security guards

Furthermore, on 11 March the Turkish Army discovered the bodies of seven Kurdish fighters of the PKK and shot down an eighth,according to local security sources. The bodies of the PKK members , who were still armed, were found i the course of combing operation in a rural part of Diyarbekir province The sources added that they had not been killed while fighting the security forces. The Turkish authorities put forward the idea that this was a settling of scores or an execution internal to the armed group. A Kurdish fighter was also shot down by the army ibn the neighbouring province of Mardin during fighting in as rural area near the locality of Nusaybin. On 20 March, two soldiers were killed by the explosion of a mine in the Kurdish province of Bitlis. The device exploded as the troops were conducting a combing operation in a rural area, according to the province’s governor, Mevlut Atbas. On 1 March Turkish security forces stated that a child of eight had been killed by the explosion of an unidentified object in Siirt province. Yusuf Aydinalp had found the object in a field close to his house in the village of Belenoluk and played with it, causing its explosion. Furthermore the Turkish authorities announced they had discovered the bodies of two Kurdish fighters, shot in the course of fighting against security forces in Sirnak province

Moreover, on 29 march an explosion had caused one death and ten injured in a luxury hotel in Turkey according to an assessment made by the country’s media. It was a gas cylinder that exploded in the kitchen of a hotel in the sea-side resort of Belek, near Antalya, on Turkey’s South coast. A Kurdish armed group, responsible for several bomb attacks in Turkey has threatened to attack tourist targets in the country and advised European tourists to avoid going there, according to the Firat news agency. In a communiqué published on the Firat internet site on 4 March, the Hawks for the Freedom of Kurdistan group (TAK) reported the arrest of 15 Kurds on suspicion of being members in France and Belgium and accused the European countries of attacking Kurds to protect their econpmic interests in Turkey. Turkey accuses TAK of being a front organisation of the PKK while the PKK states that it is a breakaway group over which it has no control


The American-led Multinational Force has lost 3,500 men in Iraq since the unleashing of the war in Iraq on 20 March 2003, the majority of which are Americans. Moreover, according to the internet site Iraq Body Count, at least 60,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the military intervention. In October 2006, the British medical review, The Lancet, for its part figured the number of civilians killed at 600,000. The Iraqi security forces have also paid a heavy tribute since, according to the authorities, almost 12,000 police have fallen since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraqis coinciding, for Bush, with a trial of strength with Congress. The Democrats want pass a Bill setting a timetable for withdrawal by autumn 2008. On 19 March, the US President called on the Americans to be patient and declared that the time had not come for “packing up and returning home” in the face of the constantly growing disapproval of the war being pursued in Iraq. During a video-conference, Mr. Bush, Iraqi prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus, agreed that the success of the Baghdad security plan would take “months not days or weeks”

On 29 March, the US Senate passed a resolution calling for a start to the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, despite the threat of a Presidential veto. The draft Bill, passed by 51 votes, with 47 against, calls on Mr. Bush to commence the withdrawal of troops within 120 days and sets the objective (that has no compulsive force) of ending combat operations by 31 March 2008. It also provides a 122 billion dollar package for financing US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The resolution is an unusual disavowal of an American President in times of war — the most scathing one delivered to date by the Senate to the Bush Administration over an Iraq war that has caused over 3,200 deaths amongst the US troops and cost 30 billion dollars since march 2003. However, Mr. Bush can veto this resolution, which follows on a similar one passed by the House of representatives. On 24 March, the Iraqi Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, speaking to the press in Tokyo at the end of a four-day visit to Japan, considered that a rapid withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would serve neither Iraqi nor Western interests. Immediate withdrawal was in danger of ending up in “chaos, and chaos in civil war”, he warned

The following is an assessment of deaths in Iraq since 2003 listed by nationality:

  • USA : 3,200 American soldiers or similar personnel killed
  • Britain : 133 British troops killed
  • Italy : 32 italian troops killed, 17 of them in a suicide bomb attack on an Italian army base in Nassiriyah (South Iraq) in November 2003. In addition, one intelligence agent was killed (by “friendly fire”). The last italian troops left in December 2006
  • Ukraine : 18 Ukrainian troops killed. Ukraine withdrew its contingent from Iraq in 2005, after a two-year assignment
  • Poland : 19 Polish troops killed
  • Bulgaria :13 Bulgarian soldiers killed. The Bulgarian batalion ended its withdrawal from Iraq in december 2005. In March 2006, 155 troops were sent there “on a humanitarian mission”
  • Spain : 11 Spanish troops were died in Iraq between 1 May 2003 and the withdrawal of the contingent in May 2004
  • Denmark : 6 Danish soldiers killed
  • Salvador : 5 Salvador soldiers killed
  • Slovakia : 4 Slovak solders killed. The new Slovak government has decided, in February 2007, to withdraw the hundred-odd engineering corps troops deployed there since July 2003
  • Latvia : 3 Lettish soldiers died
  • Estonia : 2 Estonian soldiers were killed in action in 2004
  • Thailand : 2 soldiers killed in a bomb attack in December 2003. The contingent was withdrawn in September 2004
  • Holland : 2 soldiers died in 2004. Their term of service ended in March 2005
  • Czech Rep : 1 soldiers killed in a road accident in 2003
  • Kazakhistan : 1 soldier killed in january 2005
  • Australia : 1 Australian serving in the Royal Air Force was killed when a British plane crashed near Baghdad in january 2005
  • Hungary : 1 soldier in June 2004, in a bomb attack. The contingent was withdrawn in December 2004
  • Rumania : 1 soldier killed in April 2006

The Pentagon’s last quarterly report on the situation in Iraq entitled “Stability and Security in Iraq”, published on 14 March shows that the number of attacks in the last quarter of 2006 reached the highest level since 2003. In the last three months of 2006, 45 bomb attacks a day were recorded in Baghdad. The number of deaths rose to 1,300 in December as against 100 in January 2006, according to this report. Echoing a recent report of the US Intelligence services, the report judges that the term “civil war” does not cover the complexity of the conflict, which includes sectarian violence, but also attacks against the coalition forces and common law crimes. The report concludes by indicating that the number of attacks between 1 January and 9 February 2007 exceeds 1000, as against a monthly average of 900 during the last six months of 2006

The US Army is concerned at the increasingly frequent resort to armour-piercing shells, which they say are made in Iran. These shells have killed 170 US troops in Iraq since 2004. Despite operations in Baghdad involving over 90,000 Iraqi and US troops, violence is continuing inthe capital. The most bloody since the launching of the new security plan took place on 29 March, in which 6 people were killed in a double suicide attack on a market in North-Est Baghdad

The number of Iraqis killed in violence dropped slightly in February, but remains three times more than in the same period of 2006. The number of civilians killed was 1,646 in February, a drop of 18% from January’s figure (1,992), making an average of 59 deaths a day, according to an assessment based on figures provided by the Iraqi Ministries of Defence, the Interior and Health. This figure, while a slight drop compared with the preceding months, is, nevertheless, three times as high as in February 2006, when 548 civilians were killed and some 500 injured. Indeed, it was as from that month that the spiral of sectarian violence accelerated,in particular after the bomb attack that destroyed a Shiite mausoleum in the Sunni Arab town of Samara (125 Km North of Baghdad) on 22 February. This data was published just two weeks after the launching of the new “security plan” for Baghdad on 14 February, in which searches, road blocks, and combing operations were intensified. The situation in Baghdad is “appalling” considered, for his part, the US co-ordinator for reconstruction, Timothy Carney, in an interview with the US public radio service NPR. In June 2003 “one could take a ride in ones own car, go to a restaurant (…) One could feel the determination, the certainty that things were going forward. When I returned in February (2007) I found an appalling situation regarding security”, he testified

In the month of March, as the major Shiite Moslem festivals approach, attacks aimed at pilgrims have intensified. On 6 March, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the middle of a crowd of Shiite pilgrims waiting to go through a road block at Hillah, 95 Km South of Baghdad, causing at least 120 deaths and 190 injured — one of the bloodiest since the beginning of the year. The victims were on their way to Kerbala, 80 Km soth of the capital, for the Arba’een festival. This marks the end of the 40 days mourning after the martyrdom of Hussein the prophet Mohammed’s grandson and son of Ali, at the battle of Kerbala in the 7th Century. The full mourning period is marked by the festival of Ashurah, the most important in the shiite calendar. Moreover, thirty Iraqi Shiite Kurds were killed on 7 March in a suicide bomb attack at Baladruz (100 Km east of Baghdad) the day after this particularly bloody attack at Hilla. A suicide bomber entered a café in the Mandeli quarter used by young people and blew himself up, according to the police. The neighbourhood is largely inhabited by Shiite Kurds, called “failis”. According to a US Army officer the explosion also wounded about forty people who were wandering around the adjoining market. Furthermore, a double bomb attack at Tal Afar, in North-West Iraq, using two lorries loaded with explosives, caused 85deaths and 183 injured. The larger of the two lorries contained between 3 and 4,5 tons of explosives, which makes it one of the largest bomb since the start of the American intervention. Some houres after this attack, which was, apparently aimed at the Shiite community, 70 Sunnis were executed in reprisal, according to an assessment made by the Iraqi forces. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has order the opening of an enquiry into the possible presence of policemen among the authors of this massacre

On the other hand, the UN High Commission for Refugees is going to strengthen its presence in its various operations in Iraq, where 50,000 people are leaving their homes every month, according to Antonio Guterres, the HCR official there. The Agency estimates that two million Iraqis have fled the country since the launching of the US intervention, four years ago. Moreover, 1.7 million Iraqis are estimated to be displaced persons inside Iraq. “We are going to establish and international presence in Baghdad and strengthen the activity of our seven branches in this country”, declared Antonio Guterres after a meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and several members of his government. Some 712,000 Iraqis have lost their homes in the last 13 months of sectarian violence, unleashed by the bomb attack on the Samara Golden Mosque, in February 2006


During a visit that ended a two-year freeze of high level contacts betyween the European Union and Damascus, the European foreign affairs spokesman, Javier Solana, asked Syria, on 14 February, to make a greater contribution towards easing tensions in the Lebanon and in Iraq. In the course of his discussions with Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu’alem and Vice President Faruk al-Chara, Janvier Solana urged Syria to fight the border arms trafficking between their country and the Lebanon and to encourage stabilisation of Iraq. The Baghdad authorities accuse Syria of harbouring a large number of former agents of the now defunct regimes army Intelligence services. he then met President al-Assad

Furthermore, in its 6 March issue, the Russian daily Kommersant, reveals that the Russian journalist, Ivan Safronov, who was killed falling from from the fourth floor of the building in which he lived, had been investigating Russian arms sales to Syria and Iran. This former colonel, who mainly wrote about the Army and space, had indicated that he had “received information” about the sale of Sukhoi-30 fighters to Syrian and of batteries of S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Iran, which “would have to transit through Belarus to avoid the West accusing Moscow of arming rogue states”, according to Kommersant. Ivan Safronovhad then phoned at the end of Februar from Abu Dhabi, where he was covering the Middle East’s largest Armaments Fair, IDEX-2007, saying he “had irrefutable confirmation” of this information, the daily paper continued. On his return to Moscow, he had spoken to colleagues about “the signing by Russia and Syria of contracts covering Pansir C1 anti-aircraft systems, MiG-29 fighters and Iskander (tactical) missiles”, added Kommersant

In May 2006, the specialist British review Janes, had confirmed that the sale of S-300SP missiles by Moscow to Minsk was intended to be an indirect sale of these weapons to Teheran. Following on the heels of this, the Russian Defence Ministry had insisted that Belarus would not sell the S-300 missiles to Iran. According to Kommersant, the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ) has expressed doubts at the thesis of suicide and was carrying out its own enquiries into Ivan Safronov’s death.The Russian courts had started an investigation for “incitement to suicide” following the journalist’s death


On 23 March, while on a farewell tour of iraqi Kurdistan, the US Ambassador was described by the Kurdish leaders as “a brother in arms” for having taken part in their liberation. For the country as a whole, Zalmay Khalilzad’s legacy seems more uneven. As his departure approaches (planned for that week) Khalilzad said he was proud of his role in Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, both backstage with the Iraqi exiles, before the US intervention on 2003, and as Ambassador during the last 21 months. “I would have liked the situation to be different”, declared Khalilzad during his journey to Kurdistan. “It is not as good as I would have hoped, but i think the Iraqi leaders must take the necessary decisions, particularly the Sunni and Shiite leaders. Compromises must be found”

During a reception organised on 24 March by the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, Khalilzad adopted idealist tones, evoking the “great idea” of democracy and prosperity, a vision as realistic, in his eyes, for the Near East as for America. He also considered tht the United States had been wrong in leaving Saddam Hussein in power after the first Gulf War in 1991. “I feel we made a bad choice in imposing sanctions and Saddam on Iraq”, he stated. Questioned about his future during his trip to Kurdistan, Khalilzad replied “I always slip a letter of resignation into my drawer when I begin a job”

With his assistants, Khalilzad is making great efforts to try and extract a compromise before his departure. He is going back and forth between the iraqi leaders to find an agreement on the oil legislation and on amendments to the legislation banning members of the Baath Party to apply for jobs in the civil service

The Iraqi government is drawing up a Bill to bring former members of Saddam’s banned Baath Party back onto political and social scene in the name of national reconciliation and the hope of reducing violence. “While remembering the extent of the crimes committed against the Iraqis by the old regime and the bosses of the Baath party, we are putting forward a law of “transparency and reconciliation” to rebuild a country open to all Iraqis who want a free and democratic Iraq, without sectarian divisions, racism or discrimination”, to quote the Bill. Concretely, the law will allow a certain number of former Baath members to apply for employment in the public sector and to take part in political life. The “debaassification”, undertaken three weeks after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime on 9 april 2003, had targeted hundreds of thousands of former members of the country’s single party, and not just the former cadres of that organisation. According to amny observers, this policy not only deprived the administration and army of many experienced cadres but also pushed into the insurrection the ordinary members who no longer had any future under the new regime

The new Bill provides for the creation of committees empowered to re-employ or grant pensions to former Baathists. These committees will also make more flexible the banning from office of certain former cadres of the banned party. “Those who were targeted by the purge will be able to return to their former jobs provided that they are not amongst the leading cadres of the old regime and are not involved in criminal activity”, summed up the US Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, in Baghdad. This policy is part of the US strategy to isolate the al-Qaida terrorist organisation from the armed Sunni Arab groups composed of former Baathists. For Hassan al-Sunaid, a Shiite member of parliament of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, this law should “be passed rapidly”, “to allow the reduction of the cycle of violence if the Baathists return”. “The Baath has professionals who know how to made the administration work, who know how to work for the State. Today the administration is badly managed. We could have benefitted from people from the old regime from the start. It will be hard to bring them back. It’s a good measure, but taken late”, said, regretfully, Kurdish member of parliament Mahmud Othman. However, some of the the Sunni Arab members of parliament don’t expect much from this Bill. Omar Abdel-Sattar Mahmud, of the Islamic party said: “The Baath has already been eradicated. We are more interested in ending terrorism and the interference by neighbouring countries”

The new US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, was sworn in at a ceremony at the US Embassy on 29 March. In the course of this he called on the Iraqi government to work for the unity of the country, so much beset by communal violence. Mr. Crocker, who is 57 years of age and speaks fluent Arabic, is taking over from Zalmay Khalilzad (appointed by President Bush to the post of US Ambassador to the United Nations) and admits that, with this post, he is taking on the United States’ “most tricky and sensitive foreign policy task”



On 10 March, the general commanding all Turkish land forces, Ilker Basbug, stated that the Turkish army could act “at any moment” against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s Kurdish fighters (the PKK) settled in Iraqi Kurdistan. “The terrorist acts committed in Turkey are directly influenced by the developments taking place in Iraq” declared the general during a visit to Diyarbekir. “The Turkish Republic is a sovereign State. When required by military necessity, it can at any moment take whatever measures it judges appropriate against separatist terrorists in Northern Iraq”, he continued. The general, who had come to “evaluate the situation” in the Kurdish provinces as spring approaches, was speaking to the press after a visit to an army hospital where casualties of the recent fighting against the PKK were being treated. According to security sources, two “village guardians” (a militia armed by the Turkish state to fight the PKK) were killed on 9 March in the Besta sector of Siirt province and a Kurdish fighter shot down on 8 March in the mountainous region of Sirnak

General Basbug estimated the number of Kurdish fighters in Turkey during the winter at between 1,100 and 1,200 and those in PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan at between 3,500 and 3,800. Ankara is showing increasing impatience at the Iraqi and American leaders’ reluctance to act against the PKK. The United States has advised Turkey against military intervention against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdish territory, fearing that such an operation would destabilise a region that has remained relatively calm

For his part, Yahya Rahim Safavi, a commander of the Guardians of the Revolution, was quoted by the Iranian news agency Mehr on 28 February as threatening a military incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan. “We reserve the right to pursue them over the borders” he warned. Violent clashes have occurred between Iranian soldiers and fighters of the party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PEJAK), the Iranian wing of the PKK. Several thousands strong, these Kurdish fighters have set up camps on the hights of Qandil, the mountain chain separating Iraq, Turkey and Iran. Since the PKK’s unilaterally declared truce with Turkey, on 1 October 2006, the Kurdish fighters have concentrated on the “Eastern Front” in Iran, with repeated ambushes, acts of sabotage and helicopter attacks. On 1 March, the Iranian army announced a fresh casualty list: 40 deaths in the ranks of the Kurdish fighters as against 7 iranians in the previous seven days, i.e. between 17 and 28 February


The fifth meeting of the Committee of Donors to the International fund for Iraqi Reconstruction (IFIR) began its work on 19 March in Istanbul, attended by 19 donor countries. Speaking at the opening of this meeting, the Iraqi Minister for Planning and Development, Ali Baban, stressed that the stability and restoration of order in Iraq would be in the interests of Turkey and the neighbouring countries as a whole, pointing out that the stability of the country depended inevitably on the consolidtion of its economic bases. The IFIR Committee,whose objective is to help the donor countries gather the resources and coordinate their support for the reconstruction and development of Iraq, was set up in 2004 by the United Nations and the World Bank. To date, some 26 donor countries have promised over 1.4 billion dollars to ensure a short and medium term financing corresponding to the priorities of investment in Iraq

The Iraqi Minister of Planning argued for an increased role of his government in the management of the Iraqi reconstruction. “The Iraqi government should see itself given a more important role in the choice of projects and the fund administration. We ask you to be more attentive, to be more in touch than in the past with the Iraqi government\s priorities”, explained Ali Baban to the twenty-odd representatives of the countries and international organisations assembled in Istanbul. According to Mr. Baban, nearly 80% of the 10 billion dollars of investments listed in the Iraqi budget will go to the armed forces, a sign or the country’s insecurity. In the Minister’s opinion, the principal challenges that the national economy has to meet are those of inflation, unemployment and public services

The United States at first intended to finance the reconstruction for oil sales, however production has hardly grown beyond the pre-war level, handicapped as it is by the reigning violence and the obsolescence of its infra-sctructures. Thus, Ali Baban hopes that the Iraqi Parliament will soon pass a Bill aime at a more equitable distribution of the oil revenues between the country’s religious and ethnic group. The Minister of Water Resources, Latif Rashid, added that Iraq needed 30 billion dollars from now to the year 2015 to finance dams and reservoirs as well as to rehabilitate the march lands and other rehabilitation projects. The vast marshy zones in the south of the country had been dried out by Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War in 1991. Though dried out for political reasons under Saddam Hussein, the marshlands of Southern Mesopotamia were n important and unique ecosystem as well as an important economic zone, 90% of whose area had disappeared. Although recovering, it was facing new threats. Today 40% of the marshlands had recovered their original form although they had nearly been destroyed under Saddam Hussein. In drying out the marches with dams and canals as from 1991, the former president was killing two birds with one stone: repressing the Shiite population of the South of the country, which was overwhelmingly hostile to him while making cultivatable some hitherto unused land. This land had been given as “rewards” to members of the Baath party, then in power

Moreover, at a time when the war in Iraq is starting its fifth year, this intervention has already swallowed up almost $500 billion and the total cost to the US may well exceed $1,000 billion. The bill is thus much higher than the Bush Administration had foreseen, though it only represents 1% of the US gross national product (GNP) as against between 9%and 14% for the Korean and Viet Nam wars. However, the Iraq and Afghan wars are financed by packages that are added to the Federal budget — a means of financing less controllable by Congress and usually reserved for exceptional or emergency situations, such as the Katrina hurricane. The Administration has restored the Iraqi war expenses to the normal Federal budget for the year 2008, after having first asked for a $100 billion extension for 2007

Moreover, this expenditure will not end with the departure of US troops from Iraq, pointed out Linda Bilmes, of the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. she estimates the total costs of assistance programmes for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at $350 billion in the first case and $700 billion for the second, taking into account the fact that the chances of survival of wounded soldiers are better than in the past. Linda Bilmes, like Nobel Prizewinner for economics, Joseph Stiglitz, evaluates the real cost of the war in Iraq at over $2,000 billion, taking into account both past and future expenditure — and also the economic impact, such as the price of oil, for example. But what would have been the cost of inaction? asks Steven Davis, lecturer in trade at Chicago University. With two of his colleagues, he evaluated the cost of maintaining the measures of overflying the exclusion zones and the disarmament inspections for ten years at about $14.5 billion a year — about a tenth of that of the war in Iraq


On 7 March, Sedat Yurtas, a leader of the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP) was sentenced by a court in Diyarbekir to six month imprisonment without remission for “praising” Abdullah Ocalan, who ha had called “Mr. Ocalan”. He is the second leader of this organisation, which is not represented in Parliament, to be sentenced on the same grounds. The day before, Ahmet Turk, head of the DTP, was sentenced to six month jail for having “raised” A. Ocalan. In a statement made in Diyarbekir, Ahmet Turk, a former member of parliament for a previous pro-Kurdish party, had denounced the isolation in prison of “Mister Ocalan”. Mr. Yurutas was accused of having “publicly praised a crime and a criminal” by calling the PKK chief “Mister Ocalan” when speaking on the Denmark-based Kurdish TV channel RojTV. His defence lawyerwill be appealing against the sentence as will Mr. Turk

Moreover, on 3 March, Sirin Tekik, Dicle Manap and Celallettin Padir, all members of DTP, were arrested for “propaganda in support of the PKK” and jailed pending their trial, according to the Batman court. The court also issued an arrest warrant for the Batman provincial leader of the DTP, Ayhan Karabulut, also accused of propaganda. These arrests follow searches of the DTP premises in Batman on 1 March. Before the search, the Batman DTP Committee had published a communiqué denouncing the arrest of three of its leaders in the neighbouring province of Diyarbekir, following statements judged as being threatening. The DTP was formed in November 2005 with the declared objective of trying to resolve the Kurdish conflict by peaceful means. However, its activists are regularly accused and hounded by Ankara on the grounds of being PKK tools

Furthermore, on 8 March, a hundred women were arrested and charged with having shouted pro-Kurdish slogans including some in support of Abdullah Ocalan, during an International Women’s Day demonstration. The Cizre Court, in the Kurdish province of Sirnak, charged 92 women, 31 of whom were kept in detention. These women, including some members of the principal pro-Kurdish party, the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP), had blocked Cizre’s main street and refused to disperse when ordered to do so by the police


On 30 March, police forcibly expelled sixteen Kurds from Turkey who had been on hunger strike in Montpellier for 29 days to secure the regularisation of their status, according to a member of the hunger strike support committee. The hunger strikers, fourteen men and two women qged from 22 to 48, all without official papers and working illegally, in some cases living in France for over ten years, are demanding “the regularisation of their situation on humanitarian grounds and the right to work”. “Instead of this, they are being offered temporary permits to reside without the right to work”, (which can be revoked at any moment) explained the support committee

Tension increased in the premises where the hunger strikers were sheltering when the police brought a letter from the prefect (county head of Ministry of the interior) to each one of them, pointed out the support committee. In the letter, the prefect, Michel Thénault, said he took note “of the ending of their movement” and stated that the prefecture would take the time needed to examine their situation, pointing out that, meanwhile they were “authorised to remain on French soil”. According to the support committee the strikers then threw stones in the premises, breaking some windows. The police surrounded the premises and the hunger strikers, who were very weak, were transported to hospital accompanied by shouts of “immediate regularisation” from members of the support committee and inhabitant of the neighbourhood


On 25 March, the Turkish police arrested a leader of an ultra-nationalsit party, who will be questioned in the context of the investigation into the murder of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, assassinated two months ago in front of the premises of his newspaper in Istanbul. The police took in for questioning Yasar Cihan, a local leader of the Great Unity Party (BBP — islamist and ultra-nationalist) in the city of Trabzon. The arrest followed some hours after Patriarch Mesrob II (the highest religious dignitary of the Armenian Orthodox community in Turkey) ad criticised the authorities for failing to find those who were behind the assassination

Hrank Dink was shot down in front of the premises of his paper, Agos, in Istanbul on 19 January last. The murder of this editor who had several times been sued by the Turkish courts for “insulting Turkish identity” had aroused indignation in the international community and considerable discussion in Turkish society about freedom of expression and the place of the ultranationalist movements. The Public Prosecutor charged 10 people in connection with this case, including some former members of the Great Unity Party’s (BBP) youth movement. This is not the first time that this party, whose members often work for the police as informers, has been involved in political murders

Furthermore, on 9 March, the Lausanne Police Court sentenced the President of the Turkish Workers’ Party (IP) to a suspended 90-day fine (100 Swiss francs a day) and a fine of 3,000 francs. In this, the Court followed the request of the prosecution. This si a first, that the Swis-Armenia Association, that associated itself with the prosecution, had long awaited. Though the political bodies had already recognised the Armenian genocide, the Swiss Courts, till then, had not yet ruled on the question. During the two days hearings the most radically opposite theses confronted one another . Dogu Perinçek, his lawyers and his witnesses all affirmed that it was wrong to talk of genocide because, in 1915, there was no intention by Turkey of planned elimination of the Armenian population. The Prosecution and the Armenian defence bodies, maintained that the genocide was an established and undoubted fact. Dogu Perinçek’s racist motives were also evident as he adopted as his own the ideology that had led to the deaths of between 1 and 1.5 million people

Moreover, on 27 March, Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Eastern Orthodox Church, announced that the would not attend the inaugural ceremony of a restored Armenian church in Turkey, despite his invitation by the Turkish authorities. “Given the fact that the restored church will be turned into a museum (…) and that the ceremony will be a secular one and not in the tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Holy Etshmiadzeen (the centre of the Armenian Church) will take no part in the ceremony”, stressed the Church in a communiqué

The Holy Cross Church was built on Akhtamar island in Lake Van in the 10th Century. Deserted after the genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire (1915-17) it has recently been restored by the Turkish authorities. The Catholicos as well as the Armenian Minister of Culture were invited to the ceremony in an unprecedented gesture, although the two countries have no diplomatic relations. “These actions cannot be considered a positive measure on the way to reconciliation between the Armenian and Turkish peoples”, considered the Armenian Orthodox Church. The Turkish-Armenian border was closed in 1993, at the height of the Nagorny Karabakh war in the course of which Armenian independence fighters took control of nearly a fifth of Azerbaijan, which speaks a Turkic type language and is allied to Ankara