On 24 June, Ali Hassan al-Majid, more usually known by his nicknames of “Bucher of Kurdistan” and, especially, “Chemical Ali”, because of his partiality for using chemical weapons, together with two former leaders of the old regime, who were being tried with three others, was sentenced to death for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed during a campaign of mass executions and chemical bombing carried out in Kurdistan and christened the “Anfal” operations. These operations cost the lives of over 182,000 Kurds between 1987 and 1988. The Court found the Chief of Staff for the Kurdistan region guilty of having ordered the security forces for Iraqi Kurdistan to use chemical weapons against the Kurds. The former Assistant Director of military operations, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, also sentenced to death, expressed no remorse. The former Minister of Defence, Sultan Hashim al-Tai, for his part, proclaimed his innocence. Two other accused, Farhan al-Juburi and Sabir al0Duri, former leading officials of the powerful Army Intelligence Services, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Finally, a sixth defendant, Taher al-Ani, former governor of Mossul, was acquitted for “lack of evidence”, as proposed by the Public Prosecutor, who had, however, asked for the death sentence for all five of the others. Standing before his three judges, “Chemical Ali” remained impassive. His attitude was far removed from the self-confidence he displayed at the first hearing of the trial, which began on 21 August 2006. “It was I who gave the Army orders to destroy the villages and deport their inhabitants”, he had insisted. “I have no need to defend myself for what I did. I do not apologise. I have not made any mistakes”, he had replied firmly.
Mohamed al-Oreibi al-Khalifa, the Presiding Judge, declared in the course of the hearing: “You gave the order to the troops to kill civilian Kurds. You subjected them to systematic attacks, using chemical weapons and artillery”. “You were the originator of the massacre of Iraqi villagers. You confined them to their quarters, you burnt their orchards, killed their herds. You committed genocide”, the judge added. “Many Kurds were arrested by your orders and later found in mass graves (…) It was by your orders that chemical weapons were used against Kurdish civilians. Their mosques, their houses were destroyed”, he continued.
In a communiqué, the Kurdistan regional government considered that “the contrast between the methods used by these Saddam loyalists to carry out their “justice” and the legality with which there have been tried could not be greater”. These proceedings are “a triumph for the State of Laws and for the democratic practices that were so absent under the old regime, which the judicial authorities are striving to set up in Iraq today”, it added. Many inhabitants in Iraqi Kurdistan came out onto the streets to express their joy, many waving banners and others dancing to traditional folk tunes.
“I would have liked to dance but, for those of us who lost their brothers and dear ones, grief does not end with their executions”, declared Nergis Aziz, a 57-year-old woman who lost her husband and three brothers in this genocide. Ari Hearson, a 40-year-old former peshmerga, wounded during the Anfal operation, considered that “Chemical Ali” should not be executed but “put into solitary confinement to write his memoirs on the Anfal crimes and the way he had committed them. Crimes against children and unarmed citizens”, he added. For his part, the Kurdish Member of parliament, Mahmud Othman, stated that this trial was “incomplete because at no time was it said who had made the chemical weapons, in what countries and what companies had helped them to use them against us”. This M.P., a doctor who had treated victims during the Anfal campaign, also feared that this trial might further accentuate inter-communal divisions in the country, as had been the case after Saddam Hussein’s execution. For his part, the Sunni Arab M.P. Ayad al-Samarrai considered that the sentence on “Chemical Ali’s” was “fair”.
According to several estimates, some 182,000 people were killed and about 4,500 villages were destroyed during this campaign, which also caused massive displacements of the Kurdish population. Appallingly brutal in character, “Chemical Ali” held the position of Baath Party General Secretary in Iraqi Kurdistan from March 1987 to April 1989, co-ordinating at once the Army, the Police directorate, and the Army Intelligence forces engaged in the repression of the Kurds. In March 1987, he started an implacable scorched earth policy, in Iraqi Kurdistan with a vast operation of evacuating the population and their herds, forcible moving them to the desert borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, far from the traditional areas of Kurdish settlement. This policy was intensified after Iran launched, its “Nasr-IV” offensive against Iraq in June 1987.
Between 1987 and 1989 many attacks were made against the Kurds, with, in particular, the gas attack on Halabja in 1998. The Halabja case, however, was not dealt with in this case, as it was not part of the eight official operations that made up the Anfal operation. Anfal, named after a sura in the Qoran, meaning “booty”, consisted of systematic shelling, gas attacks, and assaults made against various parts of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in 1988. Around 1986, large parts of the Kurdish region had been liberated from control by the central government. At the beginning of 1987, Saddam Hussein gave his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, the responsibility of bringing Iraqi Kurdistan back under the control of the central government. “Chemical Ali” then set up “forbidden zones” in the region, treating all the inhabitants of such areas as insurgents. Villagers were transferred to areas that could be more easily controlled by Baghdad while the “forbidden zones” were bombed, shelled and then invaded. According to the human rights defence organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) these campaigns were intended to exterminate the Kurdish people and were not simply operations to control the insurrection, as the old regime claimed. “It must be stressed that the murders were not committed during the counter-insurrection operations: the detainees were killed several days or weeks after the armed forces had attained their objectives”, affirms HRW in a detailed report in the Anfal campaign dated 1993. “After all, the question of intention is at the heart of the notion of genocide”, stressed this report, which gave detailed documents and testimonies showing that such an intention existed (see “Genocide in Iraq — the campaign of genocide against the Kurds”).
Moreover, “Chemical Ali” was also the butcher of the Shiites during their revolt of 1991, as commander of the Republican Guards divisions in the South of the country. In the 90s he directed a campaign of forced displacement of the inhabitants of the marchlands (Southern Iraq), whose population fell from a million to 40,000. He also supervised the occupation of Kuwait. Thus, from August to November 1990 he was the bloodthirsty governor of that country, invaded by the Iraqi Army before returning to his post as Minister of Local Government, which he had held since June 1989. Without any qualms, in February 1996 al-Majid executed his own nephew, Hussein Kamel, on his return to Baghdad after having defected to Jordan the year before and attacked the regime. A member of the Revolution Command Council, (RCC) the highest leading body of the Baathist regime, “Chemical Ali” had been appointed responsible for the Southern Military Region, with the task of defending the country from the American-British offensive, launched on 20 March 2003.
The trial began on 21 August 2006, before the Iraqi High Criminal Court (IHCC), a jurisdiction specially created for trying the leaders of the old regime. In January 2007, proceedings against ex-President Saddam Hussein were officially dropped following the former Rais’s execution by hanging on 30 December 2006. The lawyers representing the former Iraqi dignitaries have decided to appeal. The IHCC’s Court of Appeals must receive the trial files within 10 days. Then, it has no set time limit for examining the appeal. However, in general this Court makes its rulings fairly rapidly. The appeals are examined by none judges of the IHCC’s Court of Appeals, which acts more like a court of final appeal. It rules on the questions of form and not on the substance of the case. Thus the appeal must be based on fault in the procedure or a breach of the law. Should the sentence be confirmed, as was the case for Saddam Hussein, the punishment must then be carried out with 30 days, in accordance with the Courts founding regulation, which specify that no one, not even the President of the Republic, can use any right of pardon to commute the sentences passed.
The Socialist International’s Council met over 29 and 30 June. With about 400 delegates from 120 political parties and organisations from all the world’s regions, as well as a number of Heads of State and governments, leaders of parties and other prominent guests making key speeches, such as the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Council tackled in its discussions, the reactions of the world-wide social-democratic movement, and adopted a number of initiatives for contributing to the resolution of conflicts and of instability, round a central theme of “Working for peace and world stability in a world of conflict beyond borders”. Jalal Talabani made a key speech on the perspectives for peace in the Middle East and introduced the discussions on the theme of “A new road for Iraq”: “We have come from a new, federal and democratic Iraq. An Iraq that has drawn up broad democratic freedoms for its people on the ruins of a criminal dictatorship, which has committed many crimes against its own people and has betrayed its country” (…) “When our people rose up to take up the challenge of reconstruction and renewal, it was confronted by the Security Council’s unjust Resolution 1483, passed by all its members, including the Arabs on the Council”, “this resolution imposed the occupation on us (…) and deprived our people of exercising their right to build parliamentary, political and military institutions”. “Despite mistakes and weakness, the failure of securing a complete victory over terrorism, we have, nevertheless, achieved considerable success in the fields of political, cultural and economic reconstruction”, declared Mr. Talabani.
The President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, for his part “thanked the Socialist International for its support for the people of Kurdistan and their legitimate rights”. “As you all know, we are building a very young democratic experiment in Iraqi Kurdistan. We need your support and the support of all our friends to help us strengthen and consolidate this democracy, so that it may become a launching pad from which democracy could spread to other regions of Iraq”. “In the region of Kurdistan, we enjoy more stability and security than in the rest of Iraq. However, we cannot yet speak of absolute security. The security we enjoy has allowed us to advance in reconstruction and investment and in the creation of legal institutions for the region”. Mr. Barzani declared.
“We have often expressed our willingness to make the experience and knowledge gained in the Kurdistan region available to our brothers in Baghdad so as to help them draw up solutions for other regions of Iraq that are suffering from terrorism” (…) “We have never been part of their problem, we have been and remain part of the solution. The Kurdistanis have, indeed. Contributed to the political process, to the national elections and the drafting of a progressive and democratic Constitution for Iraq”. (…) “The Kurdistan Parliament and people have applied in practice the desire of the people of Kurdistan to live in a federal, democratic and pluralistic Iraq, and we are committed to a united Iraq so long as the rest of the country observes the present Constitution — that guarantor of the unity of Iraq”, stressed the President of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The experience of other peoples and nations has proved the failure of all restrictive unions as well as of all the difficult divisions” (…) “The Kurds, the Turcomen, the Chaldeans and the Assyrians are contributing to the experiment in the region of Kurdistan. We are about to submit the region’s Constitution to the people of Kurdistan in the context of a referendum. This Constitution will guarantee freedom and rights to all”, he added.
“I affirm that, in Kurdistan, we are and remain unhesitatingly of one mind with the front against terrorism” (…) “We must also face up to threats and the build up of military forces that periodically take place on the other side of and along our borders. Our policy is to extend a hand of friendship and cooperation to our neighbours. We reject the language of threats and counter it with that of dialogue. I appeal to you to support our democratic experiment and to reject the threats that are facing us”, concluded Mr. Barzani.
The Socialist International declared its support for the “Iraqi President’s efforts as well as the efforts of those backing him up in the task of establishing a democratic and federal system”. “After a dictatorial regime has reigned for 35 years — during which the civil and political rights of the Iraqi people have been violated, ethnic and religious persecution encouraged — and an armed conflict with neighbouring nations, Iraq is, today, undertaking a process of national reconstruction that deserves to be fully recognised and supported”, the Council stressed.
The Socialist International has published a statement, called the “Geneva Declaration”, which reads, essentially as follows: “Iraq is a reality that strikes us forcibly every day. In our anxiety about the continuation of the vulnerable situation in which the Iraqi people are living, we express our solidarity with the leaders of that country who are bravely and tenaciously persisting in their efforts to build a free, democratic and peaceful society; to put an end to the reign of terror and to enable the advance, as a sovereign nation, towards the building of modern society of inclusion and opportunity for all. While recalling the earlier resolutions of the Socialist International, we issue a call for putting an end to the presence of all international troops and their withdrawal as soon as possible, when circumstances allow it with the support of the Iraqi people”. The International also re-iterated “most energetically its condemnation of terrorist actions aimed at different sectors of Iraqi society, which, nevertheless have failed to break national spirit, inspired as it is by the desire for reconstruction for taking control of their own destiny”. The International called on all the other States in the region to “abstain from interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq, to respect its independence, its sovereignty and its national unity”.
On 14 June, the Turkish State Council decided to dismiss from office a Kurdish mayor of Diyarbekir Province for having proposed the use of Kurdish in municipal services. Abdullah Demirtas, Mayor of Sur, a small municipality in the centre of Diyabekir Province, for having advocated, at the beginning of the year, “multi-lingual services to the population” of his Kurdish-speaking community. So as better to communicate with the users of municipal services, he had also distributed brochures in Armenian, English and Syriac. The State council unanimously ruled that the use of any other language than Turkish in “official” papers was contrary to the Constitution and Turkish law.
This body, the country’s highest administrative court, also decided to dissolve the townships municipal Council, which had approved the mayor’s decision. Mr. Demirtas, a member of the country’s principal pro-Kurdish party, the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP) had already been tried and acquitted for this matter by a criminal court.
Moreover, on 4 June, a Turkish Public Prosecutor started proceedings against Ahmet Turk, the DTP President, who he accused of having called the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, “Mister Ocalan”. This Public Prosecutor is demanding up to three years imprisonment for Mr. Turk, for “justifying crime” and “justifying a criminal”. In a statement made on 21 March in Diyarbekir, during the celebration of Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, the Kurdish political leader had used the term “sayin” (a Turkish formula of politeness meaning “honourable”, used for “Mister”) to designate Abdullah Ocalan, who is considered in Turkey as public enemy N°1 and has been serving a life sentence in isolation since 1999 on the island prison of Imrali. Ahmet Turk has already twice been sentenced for similar offences committed in January 2006 and in March 2007, but the carrying out of these sentences have been suspended pending a decision by the Appeal Court. The decision of the Prosecutor comes at a time of preparation for early General Elections that are planned for 22 July.
The DTP, Turkey’s principal pro-Kurdish party, which has little chance of sending members to parliament, will be backing independent candidates, mainly coming from its own ranks, in these 22 July elections. The Turkish parliament has several members of Kurdish origin, but parties that call for recognition of Kurdish identity are regularly subjected to legal proceedings and banned and are unable to reach the threshold of 10% of the overall national vote required for a party to represented in Parliament — despite the fact that they arrive at the top of the polls in Turkish Kurdistan and regularly win elections to the local authorities. Independent candidates, of course, cannot be and are not subjected to this threshold. Leyla Zana, the former Member of Parliament, jailed for ten years (1994-2004) and winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Human Rights Prize and her three fellow prisoners Hatip Dicle, Sirri Sakik and Orhan Dogan, all former M.P.s, are forbidden to stand for elections because of their prison record of “offences of opinion”.
Elsewhere, Mr. Irfan Dundar, one of Abdullah Ocalan’s lawyers, was sentenced on 13 June to nine months jail. Mr. Dundar will, however, remain free pending consideration of his appeal by the Appeal Court. Mr. Dundar was sued for “helping and harbouring a terrorist organisation” after being arrested at the Turkish-Iraqi border as he was returning, according to depositions signed by “Kurdish repentants”, from a visit to a PKK camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.
On 20 June, the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, began a one-week visit to China. Mr. Talabani is the first Iraqi President to visit China since diplomatic relations were established in 1958. Apart from Nanjing, a historic Mecca that contains Sun Yat Sen’s Mausoleum, he visited Beijing and Xi’an, the capital of Shanxi province (North West China). During his stay in Beijing, he met the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, the Chairman of the Permanent Committee of the Chinese People’s National Assembly, Wu Bangguo and the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao. China and Iraq also signed four agreements, including one cancelling part of the Iraqi debt. The two countries announced the signature of an agreement to cancel the Iraqi debt, following a meeting between the Chinese President, Hu Jintao and his Iraqi opposite number. “We will reduce or cancel the Iraqi debt to a great extent and will take part in the effort of training Iraqis in the areas of economics, fuel and power, diplomacy and management”, declared the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Qin Gang, at a Press conference. No detailed figures were given about the extent of these debt cancellations. The Iraqi debt to China is about $8 billion (5.95 billion euros).
The Iraqi President left Nanjing on 26 June to return home. Before leaving Nanjing, the 3rd stage of his seven-day visit to China, President Talabani met the Provincial Governor, Mr. Ling Boahua. During this meeting, Mr. Talabani said how impressed he was by the great changes that had taken place in the province that he had first visited 52 years earlier. He pointed out that relations between Iraq and China had progressed significantly over the last few years and that he considered his visit to China was a success. “I hope to return soon”, stressed Mr. Talabani, adding that his delegation “was bearing a message of friendship from the Chinese people to the Iraqi government and people”. Mr. Liang Baohua stated that Jingsu was one of the most open and developed regions of China and that it was ready to extend economic, cultural and educational cooperation with Iraq.
The Iraqi President announced, moreover, that his country had reached an agreement with china to buy “arms at advantageous prices” from it. The two countries also reached an agreement providing for the training in China of “600 Iraqi scientists”, he added.
On 16 June, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, invited his Iraqi opposite number, Nuri al-Maliki, to come to Ankara so as to discuss measures to be taken to prevent fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who have found refuge on the extreme limits of Kurdistan, from crossing its borders. Mr. Erdogan stated to the CNN-TV news channel that he was waiting for a reply to a letter he had recently sent to Mr. al-Maliki, proposing discussions around the end of June. Mr. Erdogan’s proposal comes at a time when heated discussion is taking place in Turkey over the timeliness of sending troops into Iraqi Kurdistan, ostensibly to dislodge the PKK. The Turkish Army has been asking, since April, for political authorisation to launch a cross-border operation so as to neutralise the PKK’s camps. At the end of May, the Turkish Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit publicly recalled that the Army was in favour of such an incursion but that it was up to the government to take the decision. He re-iterated this statement during a press conference televised on 27 June. The Chief of Staff asked the government to give political instructions for an incursion by troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. “Will we go into Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) simply to fight the PKK rebels or what shall we do, for example, if we are attacked by local groups of Iraqi Kurds?”, asked General Buyukanit. “It is necessary to know the political objectives of this fight and then the army will decide what kind of force it needs to achieve them and will ask for official agreement”, he added. “In April I had said that an offensive across the border would be beneficial and today I still think so”, added the general, confirming that “a plan” was being prepared.
The Turkish government, with the approach of elections planned for 22 July, is telling another side of the story. On 12 June the Prime Minister clearly opposed any Turkish army incursion, taking the risk of distancing himself from the all-powerful Turkish Army. “Is the struggle being waged inside our country over for us to now concern ourselves with Iraq? Have the 5,000 terrorists in the mountains of Turkey been so completely annihilated that we have to concern ourselves with 500 others who have taken refuge in Iraq?”, asked Mr. Erdogan, speaking just before a meeting of civilian and military leaders devoted to measures to be taken against the PKK. Mr. Erdogan considered that a Turkish operation in Iraqi Kurdistan “is the last thing to think of doing”, affirming that all ways of dialogue should be exhausted first. He did not, however, completely close the door on Turkish intervention. “If such a thing proves necessary, it will not be announced so noisily in advance”, he remarked. Questioned on 19 June on his plane when travelling to the countryside near the Armenian border, the head of the government declared: “We are continuing discussions with the Armed Forces. If need be, we will take the necessary measures (for a cross border operation) because we cannot let the PKK continue its attacks (…) but, first of all, our Iraqi neighbour and the United States should take measures to this effect, because this is part of the struggle against terrorism”. On 14 June, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, for his part, asked the Iraqi government to prevent the PKK from crossing its borders, stating that Turkey will do everything to ensure the security of its citizens. “We expect of Iraq that it ensure the security of its borders or, if it is unable to do so, that the coalition forces do it or, failing this, cooperate with those who are capable of resolving the problem”, he stated during a conference on security in Istanbul. The Turkish press has published information on plans to set up a buffer zone going p to 15 Km into Iraqi Kurdistan territory all along the Turkish borders. Them in some remarks published in the daily paper Radikal, Mr. Gul warned that Turkey would put these plans into operation if the Iraqi authorities or the United States fail to act against the PKK. “All the plans have been prepared (…) Everything, from the best scenario to the worst is ready on the table”, he declared, adding: “unfortunately the level of cooperation from the United States is not up to our expectation”. “If neither the Iraqi not the United States governments are able (to stop the PKK) we will make our own decision and carry it out”, he commented.
On 2 June, the Iraqi Prime Minister had stated that his country should not serve as a base for operations against its neighbours, but warned against any interference. “Iraqi soil must be respected and no be transformed into a field of operations. We do not want to injure our neighbours, but nor do we want them to interfere in Iraq by penetrating into the country to fight anyone what so ever”, declared Nuri al-Maliki in the course of a Press Conference in Irbil, in Kurdistan. “There is no doubt amongst our brothers, both in the Kurdistan regional government and in the Iraqi national government, on the fact that Iraq cannot be the starting point of attacks against our neighbours”, he continued during this conference, broadcast over the public TV channel Iraqia. “If there is the slightest problem, we must not have recourse to violence because this will only increase the intensity of the problem”, he warned.
The President of the Kurdistan autonomous region, Massud Barzani, opted for moderation. “I do not want to use the language of threats, war will not resolve problems. We want to discuss with them in all friendship”, he declared referring to the Turkish authorities. On 30 May, the US Army transferred responsibility for security of three Kurdish provinces of Iraq, Irbil, Suleimaniyah and Dohuk, to the Kurdistan regional government. Moreover, on 3 June, Massud Barzani denounced the shelling of Iraqi Kurdistan mountains by the Turkish Army. “There have been attacks by Turkish forces in sectors close to the border but, for the moment, no invasion if Kurdish territory in Iraq”, he declared during a press conference in Irbil. President Jalal Talabani stressed, during the same press conference, that Iraq would not accept “any interference in its internal affaires”. The Turkish forces shelled the mountain region of Hadji Umran, where PKK activists have sought refuge. Witnesses declare that the shelling lasted about thirty minutes but had caused no casualties. A few days ago Turkey massed troops along its border with Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that fuelled speculation on a possible incursion into Iraqi territory. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced on 9 June that it had sent an official letter to a Turkish envoy in the country to protest at this Turkish shelling of the Kurdish provinces. According to a communiqué made public by the Ministry, the Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister, Muhammad al-Haj, summoned the Turkish chargé d’affaires to give him a letter “protesting at the shelling in the provinces of Dohuk and Irbil which caused substantial damage, fires and panic in the population”. According to Jabar Yawar, spokesman for the Kurdish security forces (peshmergas) “the Turkish artillery shelled for 45 minutes at dawn, near villages of Dohuk province”. “Shells fell near of Kashan, Batuwa, Mullakantili, Nzuri and Kisti”, near Zakho. “Iraq will reject any proxy wars conducted on its territory, unlike the old regime”, affirmed the authorities in this letter.
The Turkish generals are looking for the slightest incident to go over the top. The simple checking of identity, at gun point, of Turkish soldiers out of uniform by Kurdish peshmergas in the city of Suleimaniyah on 1 June provoked a virulent communiqué from the General Staff, which was not its first threat. The Kurdish authorities tried to tone down the incident, that occurred just 48 hours after the US Forces had handed over security of the region to the Kurds. A perfect excuse for the Turkish Army, which claims its intervention in Kurdistan is necessary against the PKK — but above all against the Iraqi Kurds… The Americans are opposed to any Turkish intervention that might destabilise the area least affected by the sectarian violence that is tearing Iraq apart, while NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, while visiting Ankara on 12 June urged Turkey to act with a “maximum of restraint” with regards to Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Turkish army is at the moment conducting large-scale operations against the PKK in Turkish Kurdistan. On 12 June, the latter accused the Turkish General Staff of being responsible for the upsurge of violence and announced that it would stop its actions if the Turkish Army did likewise. “There has been a noteworthy growth in the actions (of the Army) despite the fact that the unilateral cease-fire observed by our movement since 1st October 2006 has not been officially broken”, stressed the organisation, in a communiqué reported in the pro-Kurdish news agency Firat.
This communiqué states that the PKK attacks come under the heading of “self defence”. According to General Ilker Basbug, Commander in Chief of Turkish land forces, the attacks have killed 64 Turkish soldiers, which represents an increase of 65 % over the previous year. He estimates that about 220 Kurdish fighters have been killed or captured over the same period. According to him, “between 2,800 and 3, 100 PKK terrorists are operating in Northern Iraq” and 1,800 to 1,900 in Turkey, mainly in the provinces of Sirnak and Siirt. He estimates the total number of Kurdish forces at between 5,100 and 5.650. On 6 June, against the background of this increase of Turkish army activity against the PKK, he declared several Kurdish areas “temporary security zones” following the incursion, according to Turkish security officials and one Iraqi Kurdish official, of several hundreds of Turkish soldiers into Iraqi Kurdistan. However, the Turkish and US authorities have denied this entry of Turkish troops. The Turkish Army did not give details of what was meant by “temporary security zones”. Some Turkish media believe that they are areas where overflights by commercial aircraft are banned. According to others, it means the imposition of supplementary security measures and that access to these regions will be severely restricted and controlled. In a communiqué published on its Internet site, the Turkish Army specified the location of these places and indicated that they would be maintained until 9 September without giving any further details. According to the press, these locations cover areas in the more northerly Kurdish provinces of Sirnal, Hakkari and Siirt.
Moreover, Iran is regularly shelling Iraqi Kurdistan villages, accused of sheltering fighters of PEJAK, an Iranian Kurdistan party close to the PKK. Moreover, five Iranian soldiers have been killed in clashes with Kurdish fighters or by stepping on a mine. On 10June two soldiers were killed near Maku, a Kurdish township in the province of “Western Azerbaijan”. Two others were killed by persons unknown near Mahabad, a Kurdish town in the same province. Finally, a fifth was killed in armed clashes near Piranshahr (Western Azerbaijan) by stepping on a mine. Already, at the end of May, seven soldiers and ten Kurdish fighters had been killed during armed clashes in this region. The Iranian province of Western Azerbaijan, that adjoins Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan, is inhabited by Kurds, with an Azerbaijani minority in the towns. It has been the scene for over a year of regular clashes between the Iranian Army and Kurdish militants, mainly of PEJAK.
Spared by the war ravaging Iraq, Kurdistan’s economy is experiencing exceptional growth. Tower cranes are springing up in the countryside, brand new blocks of flats, offices and shopping centres are rising out of the ground — firms are even recruiting labour from Nepal and Bangladesh. “It was not all that easy to attract investors, because Kurdistan is part of a country at war, but we concentrated on one point: guaranteeing security and political stability”, explained Falah Mustafa Bakir, responsible for International Relations with the regional government. One of the first laws adopted by the new Kurdistan government allows foreign investors to own all the capital of a firm, to repatriate the profits exempts them from taxation for ten years. Of the 5,000 firms registered in Kurdistan, 600 are foreign, of which 75% are Turkish.
Kurdistan, kept out of oil investments during the Saddam Hussein regime, is a land rich in “black gold”, which is increasingly attracting foreign companies. Over 600 square Km of ochre and stony hills, near Taq Taq, in the heart of the autonomous region, the drill of the TTopco oil company, a joint venture between the Turkish company Genel Enerii and the Geneva-based Canadian company Addax Petroleum, drilling deep into the rock to reach the reserves. TTopco has finished the drilling of three wells, which should produce a total of 75,000 barrels a day. Three others are to be drilled by the end of the year.
The proven reserves of Kurdistan only represent 2.9% of the 115 billion barrels buried under the feet of the Iraqis — the world’s third largest reserves — but experts expect fresh discoveries. According to Kemal Afaraci, the assistant to the site chief: “2.9% is just an estimate, we don’t really know. It is virgin soil here”, stressing the absence of any investments during the Saddam Hussein regime. By way of comparison, Iraq is producing nearly 2 million barrels a day, the overwhelming majority from the Basra region (Southern Iraq). Unlike the rest of the country, Kurdistan, spared the violence reigning elsewhere, is attracting foreign investors. The Norwegian company DNO, the Turkish Petoil group and the Canadian Western Oil Sands, are also carrying out prospecting in the region. These company’s contracts are sharing agreements signed with the Kurdistan regional government, and some of them are due to start producing in a few months time. They provide for these companies financing the drilling and operation of sites against a share of future production. However, the national Oil Law due to be passed soon, provides for the oil sector to be supervised by a Federal organisation, which has to endorse any contracts drawn up. In May, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussein Shahristani, declared that any contracts concluded before the passing of this law would be invalid. Falah Mustafa Bakir, the Minister for International Relations of the Kurdish government refuses to worry. “These contracts are in line with international standards and are compatible with the Oil Bill”, he insisted.
The Oil Bill is one of the key elements of the future American evaluation of the progress achieved by the Iraqi government. It aims at an equitable sharing of oil revenues between the provinces. The autonomous Kurdish region should enjoy 17% of the total, as it claimed, in accordance with an agreement signed on 21 June between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The main problem for the companies operating in Kurdistan remains exporting their crude oil. The must wait for the Oil Law to be passed before negotiating their export licences. Moreover, the pipeline linking Iraq to the oil terminal at Ceyhan, in Turkey goes through Kirkuk and is regularly attacked and closed. “We are thinking about an alternative that could be to connect Taq Taq directly to the Turkish border”, stressed Mr. Afaraci. Kurdistan should, in any case, keep its lead with foreign investors — especially if it recovers Kirkuk and its region, which is rich in oil and whose population is largely Kurdish, as proposed in the Constitution, for which a referendum is due to be held by the end of the year.
However the average monthly wage is about $400 and the majority of the Kurds, often obliged to hold down two jobs, are suffering from the increase in the prices of housing and food. The latter is almost all imported, mainly from Turkey, since local agriculture, largely destroyed by the Anfal operations, is still not very productive. “Saddam’s Iraq was socialist and we are going towards a market economy. Negative effects are always seen during the transition phase, but the population is, all the same, living better than before”, insists Aziz Ibrahim Abdo, Director General of the Ministry of Trade.
Tens of thousands of Arabs have come to seek asylum in Iraqi Kurdistan, the only region that has been spared the sectarian violence that are bathing the country in blood. Many Kurds of Mossul, a mixed city ravaged by violence that lies on the Southern borders of Kurdistan, are joining this exodus. On 14 June, the Kurdish authorities, faced with this influx, opened a camp at Khazir, in the district of Khabat, between Mossul and Irbil, on the route by which many refugees arrive. “We have to help these people, they have left everything to come here, but my district could not take care of any more. We have asked the province to open this camp”, explained Rizgar Mohammed, the mayor of the district. “Our sanitary equipment is no longer sufficient, nor is our production of electricity. Their presence in causing an increase in the price of housing, in unemployment and sometimes we have classes of 60 children”, he stated. About thirty Km from Irbil, about 250 tents bearing the initials of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) are thus lined up to receive the refugees.
According to government statistics, the number of civilians killed in Iraq fell in June to the lowest level since the beginning of the security operation started in February by the US and Iraqi forces. According to figures collected from the Ministries of the Interior, Defence and Health, 1,227 civilians suffered a violent death in June, which is 36% less than in May. This makes it the lowest recorded figure in five months. While the US Army authorities report that the number of attacks in Iraq over the last few months is unchanged, there has been a notable reduction, over the last few weeks, in car bomb attacks, which produce the heaviest casualties. According to the latest statistics, 222 Iraqi policemen and soldiers were also killed in June — slightly more than the month before.
The US Army, for its part, declared that the US and Iraqi forces, four months after launching the security operation intended to stabilise the Iraqi capital and avoid the whole country falling into civil war, still only control about a third of Baghdad. In the context of this campaign, 18,000 US troops have been deployed to strengthen those in and around the capital. On 4 June, the New York Times reported that, according to an internal assessment of the Army command, the US Army and Iraqi forces controlled 146 neighbourhoods of Baghdad’s 457. According to this one-page Army report, either the troops have not yet started operations or they are still meeting resistance in the remaining 311 neighbourhoods. The number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the intervention in March 2003 passed the 3,500 mark following the death of three soldiers on June 10 in a suicide bomb attack near Mahmudiyah, South of Baghdad. Nearly 85,000 US and Iraqi soldiers have been mobilised in the context of the Baghdad security plan, launched four months earlier. With the arrival of the latest reinforcements, 160,000 US troops will be deployed in Iraq. Some 5,500 British soldiers are also deployed in Iraq, especially round Basra, the country’s second largest city, some 550 Km South of Baghdad, but this contingent is due to be reduced by 1,600 by the end of the year. Some 156 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the start of the armed intervention.
Moreover, a car bomb attack against a Shiite mosque in the centre of Baghdad on 19 June cast the lives of 87 people, making it the bloodiest attack perpetrated in the capital since the one that had caused 140 deaths in a market place last April. Around 2 p.m. (10 a.m. GMT) a lorry bomb exploded in a car park adjoining the Al-Khallani mosque in the Sinak quarter of Baghdad, two days after the lifting of the total curfew imposed on Baghdad. The explosion made a crater three meters deep and six across. This attack came as 10,000 US and Iraqi troops were launching a large-scale operation against the al-Qaida terrorist network in Diyala Province, North of Baghdad, where thousands of people have been killed in terrorist attacks in the last year. Moreover, the two minarets of Samarra’s Shiite mausoleum, North of Baghdad, were destroyed on 13 June in another attack, less than a year after the destruction of its dome in a similar attack, giving rise to fears of a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq.
The destruction of the dome of this mausoleum, in a bomb attack on 22 February 2006, had sparked off an explosion of sectarian violence throughout Iraq. The mausoleum houses the tombs of Ali al-Hadi and of Hassan al-Askari, the tenth and eleventh Imams of the Shiite faith. Samarra is a centre of pilgrimage, greatly venerated by Shiites, the more so as it is the place where the 12th or “hidden Imam” disappeared. Hundreds of people demonstrated against this attack in the Shiite cities of Nassiriyah, Kerbala, Najaf, Samawa and Basra. The Grand Ayatollah, Ali Sistani, the highest religious authority of Iraqi Shiism, had called on “believers to abstain from vengeance on innocent people and the religious sites of others”. However, some hours after the Samarra attack, four Sunni mosques were targeted in attacks in Iskandariyah, 60 Km South of Baghdad, and in Baghdad itself.
On the other hand, the US Army announced at the beginning of June that Sunni Arab tribal leaders of Salaheddin province (North of Baghdad) had joined with the provincial authorities in the struggle against al-Qaida. The winning over of tribal coalitions, partly consisting of former insurgents, is now part of US strategy in Iraq. In Anbar province, the bastion of the Sunni Arab insurrection in Western Iraq, an alliance of tribal chiefs, “The Awakening of Anbar” is backing the Iraqi security forces and US troops in their struggle against al-Qaida.
Over 2,000 peshmergas will be deployed in Diyala Province (North-East of Baghdad), which has been prey to endemic violence. “Four regiments of 560 peshmergas will be deployed (in Diyala Province) in the next few days to help the US and Iraqi forces”, declared General Jabbar Yawar, the peshmerga spokesman. These forces are being sent to the Northern parts of the province, largely inhabited by Shiite Kurds, such as the towns of Mandeli and Khanakin. This deployment is the first assignment of peshmergas outside the autonomous region of Kurdistan since the transfer of responsibility for security of that region to the Kurdish security forces in May. Some Kurdish brigades of the Iraqi Army had already been sent to Baghdad to take part in the security plan launched in February to try and stamp out the largely sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.
Diyala province, which reproduces Iraq’s make-up in miniature, with a mixed population of Sunni Arabs, Shiites, and Kurds, is the scene of daily sectarian violence, and the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida is well established there. The casualties suffered by US troops and Iraqi security forces have increased here over the last few months. A suicide bomb attack on a police station at Mandeli on 13 June caused five deaths among the Kurdish police. Diyala borders on Suleimaniyah, one of the three provinces, along with Irbil and Dohuk, under the responsibility of the regional government of Kurdistan.