For fear of a Turkish military incursion, dozens of Christian families who have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan have again been obliged to resume their exodus. In June Iraq had officially protested about Turkish shelling of villages in the Sharansh area of Duhok Province. For over a year, this area has been the scene of regular clashes between the Iranian Army and Kurdish fighters of the Free Life in Kurdistan Party (PEJAK), a group close to the PKK. Since the crash of an Iranian helicopter, many Kurdish civilians living on Mount Qandil have decided to their villages to find shelter in the valley, out of range of the Iranian artillery. On 25 August an Iranian Army helicopter crashed in the Qandil mountains, in North=West Iran, near the Iraqi borders, causing the deaths of six Guardians of the Revolution (the regime’s religious militia). The Kurdish fighters claimed that the aircraft had exploded through landing on a mine while the Iranian Army blamed the weather. Qalaa Diza, in Iraqi Kurdistan territory, is close to the Iranian province of Western Azerbaijan, mainly populated by Kurds. Several hundreds of villagers from these Kurdistan mountains have thus fled from the area to escape shelling by the Iranian Army. “Some 150 families have fled eight villages. We are worried about the situation in this area. If this shelling continues we may have to decree a state of emergency”, declared Hussein Ahmed, head of the Qalaa Diza district on 22 August. “The artillery fired eight shots today at Hajj Umran, on Mount Qandil. Two shells fell during the night”, pointed out the official responsible for Hajj Umran.
On 30Auguat, Iraq publicly demanded that Iran put an end to its regular shelling of border areas. Baghdad warned that pursuing this shelling would affect relations between the two neighbours. The artillery shelling “has unfortunately become a daily occurrence”, deplored the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari. “We recently summoned the Iranian Ambassador and handed him a letter of protest”. Iraq “demands the immediate stopping of these attacks”, which hit innocent people and “cause material damage to property, to the area’s environment and has also obliged many people to flee from their homes”.
However, Kurdistan continues to be a welcoming territory for many refugees. Sunni Arabs are flocking to Suleimaniyah to escape the violence and find a peaceful haven within the Kurdish community, which had been so savagely repressed by the Saddam Hussein regime. Hundreds of families are crowing into a makeshift camp on the outskirts of this town. “In the last 18 months 3,672 families, that is about 18,500 people, have settled in Suleimaniyah. There are also some 12,000 single men who have come to find work”, explained Mahmud Othman, the official responsible for keeping census the town’s census records. According to him, 70% of the arrivals are Sunni Arabs. Voluntary bodies, like the Red Crescent and Kurdish charity organisations, have provided tents, water food clothing and blankets. Over a hundred of these refugees hold a doctorate and 5,500 are students, according to the census.
Moreover, Nimrud Yukhan, the Minister of Tourism, whose ministry has 417 officials, is nursing ambitious projects of more hotels and airlines. Yukhan’s ambitions and even the very existence of a Ministry of Tourism, testify to the great confidence in the future of Kurdistan, as are the ambitious building projects that are being envisaged. Within easy reach of Irbil airport, the Kempinski luxury hotel chain is building one its hotels while the new Naz housing estate is going up with 14 story blocks of flats, all fitted with Broadband Internet access.
The Investment Council, a government agency, is said to have approved projects valued at over 3.5 billion dollars so far. However, the advice given by various foreign governments to their citizens who wish to travel abroad are hindering Kurdistan’s development. Thus the US State Department makes no difference between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq, strongly advising Americans against going there. Other countries like Denmark, Japan, Austria Sweden and Holland have, nevertheless struck Kurdistan off their list of dangerous destinations, rejoices Felah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdistan regional government’s external relations department. In May, the British tour operator, Hinterland Travel, organised a journey to the three Kurdish provinces for adventurous tourist in their fifties and sixties.
According to official statistics, with 1,773 deaths Iraqi civilians losses increased by 7% in August. This assessment, collected from different ministries, was 1,653 the month before. Official figures also record 87 killed in the ranks of the police and the national armed forces, whereas 224 had been killed in July. For its part, the US Army lost 81 men in August, a similar figure to that for July, according to a body count made by the Internet site icasualties.org. Between April and June the US Army recorded about a hundred deaths a month. Washington imputes this drop to the arrival of 30,000 reinforcements. In all, 3,700 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the start of the conflict. As far as “terrorists” are concerned, the Iraqi government reports 472 killed and 2,019 taken prisoner in August.
The most murderous attack that the country has experienced since the beginning of the war in 2003, struck the Kurdish religious minority, the Yezidis. Over 500 deaths were recorded by the Red Crescent, while the local authorities published the figures of 344 killed and 70 disappeared. Four lorries, loaded with explosives, were blown up in the villages of al-Khataniyah and al-Adnaniyah, two villages in the Sinjar region, in the Western part of Nineveh Province, some 370 Km North of Baghdad, essentially inhabited by Yezidis. The Ministry’s Director of operations, General Abdel Karim Khalaf declared that the lorries were stuffed with two tons of explosives. These two attacks, imputed to the Iraqi branch of the Al-Qaida organisation by the US Army, wiped out whole families of Yezidis.
These attacks are the most murderous since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein four years ago — but they are also the most murderous in the world since the 2,973 deaths in the United States on 11 September 2001. The Yezidi community, estimated at about 500,000, is a Kurdish-speaking religious minority living in Kurdistan.
Furthermore, four Kurdish policemen were killed and eight others injured in Diyala Province by “friendly fire” from the US Air Force. Kurdish forces have been deployed in Diyala Province, Mainly North of Baquba, at the request of the coalition forces to help fight terrorism. The Kurdistan regional government has called for an enquiry. The US has, at the moment the strongest force in Iraq since the start of the war with some 162,000 troops deployed in the country, according to the Pentagon. Although the strength of US forces in Iraq has fluctuated considerably, the previous peak was in January 2005, at 161,000, and corresponded with the holding of the general elections in Iraq.
On the other hand, on 29 August the Mehdi’s Army, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, announced the suspension of all “its armed actions” for a period of six months. Moqtada al-Sadr ordered the militia to suspend its activities following clashes between different Shiite groups that caused 52 deaths in the holy city of Kerbala. Some armed men attacked the offices of the powerful Shiite Party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in five of the Country’s cities and set fire to some of them.
On 28 August, the Turkish Parliament finally, but unsurprisingly, elected the former Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, President of the Turkish Republic. On the strength of its election victory, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), on 13 August, again proposed him as candidate to the Turkish Presidency. Last spring, this nomination, which had already provoked a serious institutional crisis between the AKP government and the Turkish Army, led to the early election — won with an absolute majority of seats by the AKP on 22 July.
Turkey’s future “first lady” will wear the Islamic headscarf, which is, however, forbidden in the Universities and public offices. This will renew the controversy over the place of this Islamic symbol in a State that claims to be strictly secular. Hayrunisa Gul, 27 years married to Abdullah Gul, have applied to the European Human Rights Court, when her husband was Foreign Minister, because she was barred from access to University because of her headscarf. The proceedings were finally dropped in 2004 after the Court dismissed the case of a veiled young Turkish woman who was protesting at this ban, which is strictly enforced in Turkey. The Guls have a daughter, Kubra, who also wears the headscarf. For four years she was one of the girls who hid this bit of cloth under a wig — a way adopted by militant Moslem students to bye-pass the ban on wearing the headscarf at University. This veiling, a strong symbol of identity amongst the rank and file electors of the AKP, and the controversy over whether a man whose wife wears this Islamic headdress can claim to hold high office is not new. The Army regularly purges its ranks of islamists and officers’ wives cannot wear the headscarf. As against this, the wives of a number of AKP leaders do wear this, like the wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to a survey carried out by the mass circulation daily Hurriyet, the wives of 325 (out of 550) members of the new Parliament resulting from the 22 July elections are so veiled. However, Mrs Gul will not be the first to first to enter the Cankaya Presidential Palace wearing this headgear. In fact, Latife Ussaki, Atatuk’s short-lived wife, used to cover her head in the early days of the Republic, founded in 1923, before removing it following the secularisation laws.
Before proceeding to the election of the Turkish President, the new Parliament met, for the first time, on 4 August for the official swearing in ceremony. In 1991, in the course of this ceremony, Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish woman to become a Member of Parliament, had stupefied the other members by addressing a message of peace to them in Kurdish. Three years later, Mrs Zana and three of her colleagues were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment (they served ten) on the grounds of “supporting a terrorist organisation”. None of the new Kurdish Members repeated Mrs. Zana’s challenge. The head of the Party for a Democratic Society, (DTP), Ahmet Turk, stated on the CNN-Turk news channel: “We wish to take part in drawing up a peaceful and democratic process (…) in a spirit of conciliation and dialogue: it is in this spirit that we wish to carry out our mission in parliament”. In the House, imitated by the other DTP Members, he even went so far as go to shake hands with the president of the National Action Party (MHP — ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist) Devlet Bahçeli, although he supports the idea of a pitiless war against the PKK. Koksal Toptan, a moderate conservative, the government’s candidate as the most likely to reconcile the nationalist opposition, was elected Speaker of the House on 9 August at the first ballot.
On 7 August the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, arrived in Ankara accompanied by a 30-man delegation, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Mr. Maliki met his Turkish opposite number, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the President of Turkey, Ahmet Necdet Sezer before leaving Turkey so as to visit Iran a day later. Turkey, whose Building and Public Works and transport companies are already active in Iraq, hopes to invest in the Iraqi fuel and power sectors. According to the Turkish Minister for Fuel and Power, Hilmi Guler, Turkey and Iraq are going to build electric power stations, one in Iraq and the other in Turkey. The agreement also covers cooperation on the development and renovation of electric power lines as well as in the area of oil prospecting.
The Turkish authorities also asked the head of the Baghdad government to act against the Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) based in Iraq, even though Mr. Maliki’s room for manoeuvre is considerably reduced by the security situation in Iraq and by the crisis facing his government. Turkey and Iraq have agreed to sign a document envisaging fighting the PKK. An Iraq delegation is later expected in Ankara to discuss details of the agreement with the Turkish authorities. Since the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki has refused to sign the agreement until it has been put to the vote in Parliament.
For his part, on 7 August, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan regional government, Nechirvan Barzani, minimised the disagreement with Ankara. The Turkish troops that were in the Kurdish enclave were there with the consent of the local authorities, Mr. Barzani declared in a press conference at Irbil, the regional capital. Mr. Barzani urged the Kurdish political leaders to discuss with Turkey how to end the differences over the PKK. “We hope that this visit (by Mr. Maliki) will mark a beginning of a resolution of all the problems. We are ready to discuss with Turkey whenever it wants” he added.
The clashes have intensified since the beginning of the year and Turkey has deployed forces all along the border and is threatening to launch a military operation into Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish Army has been demanding political authorisation for launching a cross-border operation since April, so as to carry out an incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan. On 29 August, eight Kurdish fighters were killed fighting in clashes in Siirt Province, near the locality of Pervari. Two other Kurdish fighters were killed the day before in Van Province. One of the bloodiest clashes took place in a rural area near Uludere, in Sirnak province. Two Turkish soldiers and 10 Kurdish fighters, including two women, were killed in Hakkari Province. On 12 August, twelve Turkish soldiers were injured by the explosion of as remote controlled mine on a road in Siirt Province, as two Army vehicles were passing. On 7 August a Turkish soldier was killed by the explosion of another mine near Yuksekova in Hakkari Province and on 5 August a PKK fighter was shot down by security forces in Sirnak Province while three Turkish soldiers were killed by the explosion of yet another mine in Diyarbekir Province.
Some 1,500 members of special units of the gendarmerie, which is a quasi-military force in Turkey, have been carrying out combing operations in Tunceli Province, with helicopter gunship support. On 3 August two PKK fighters were killed and two soldiers wounded in two days during these operations On the other hand, some 350 members of an elite Turkish anti-PKK commando penetrated into Iraqi Kurdistan territory during the night of 5 August. Some villages near the town of Zakho were targeted by Turkish artillery without, however, injuring anyone.
Furthermore, Nuri al-Maliki also visited Iran for discussions on security in Iraq. He arrived in Teheran on 8 August, two days after the first meeting, in Baghdad, of an Iraqi-Americano-Iranian commission set up for improving co-operation for stabilising the country. This commission was set up in the wake of determining discussions held in Baghdad in May and June between the Americans and the Iranians. They were meetings held at the highest level between representatives of the two countries, which have had no diplomatic relations since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The Iraqi Prime Minister met, in particular, the Iranian President and other high Iranian officials. Mahmud Ahmedinjad told the Iraqi Prime Minister that Teheran and Baghdad shared “a heavy responsibility” for establishing peace and security in the region. His arrival in Teheran coincided with an international meeting on security in Iraq that opened in Damascus.
On 1 August, the organisation for the defence of press freedom, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), launched a petition to demand the release of two Kurdish journalists, sentenced to death in Iran. On 16 July the Iranian courts had confirmed the sentence of hanging passed on Abdelvahed Botimar and Adnan Hassanpur “for being moharb”, a Persian word meaning “enemy of God”. RSF also demanded the release of the journalist Farshad Gobanpur, detained on 31 July for “unrevealed” reasons and of the former chief editor of the daily paper Jomhuriat Emadoldin Baghi, sentenced on the same day to three years imprisonment for “actions against national security” and for “publicity favourable to opponents of the regime”. According to the organisation, eleven journalists and Internet dissidents are at present imprisoned in Iran. The petition is open for supporting signatures on http://www.ref.org. The two Kurdish journalists began a hunger strike over two months ago, according to one of their lawyers. “They are on a water only strike”, declared Mr. Nikhbakht on 20 August who saw the condemned men two days earlier and “realised that they were in a very weak state”. Mr. Nikhbakht also sent his observations to the Association for the defence of prisoners’ rights, who explained, in a communiqué that “their demands are slight and easily satisfied. They wish to be transferred to the common quarters of the prison and be able to see their families and lawyers”. Campaigns of support have already been launched in Kurdistan. On 1 August, about fifteen Turkish Human Rights activists protested in front of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul. The demonstrators, brought together by the Association for Human Rights (IHD) read out a communiqué in front of the consulate criticising the tortures to which the journalists had been subjected.
The death sentence on these two was also criticised by the United States, the European Union, and France. On 1 August the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, condemned the death sentences passed on the two journalists and asked that the sentences be not carried out. “I learned with the greatest concern about the death sentence passed on two Iranian journalists of Kurdish origin”, declared the head of the French Foreign Office in a communiqué. “France, fully engaged with its European partners in favour of the universal abolition of capital punishment, calls on the Iranian authorities not to carry out this sentence”, he added. Mr. Kouchner also called on Teheran to “observe the freedom of the Press, in accordance with its international obligations”. On 3 August, the European Union called on Teheran not to execute the two Kurdish journalists and ensure them “an equitable trial”, according to a communiqué from the Portuguese presidency of the Union. “The E.U. urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to stay the execution of Messrs. Adnan Hassanpur and Abdolvahed Botimar and ensure that the two journalist receive an equitable trial, in accordance with the International Pact regarding civil and political rights, which Iran has ratified”, the communiqué points out. More generally, the E.U. says it is “deeply concerned by the series of public collective executions that have taken place in several regions of Iran last month as well as by the growing number of death sentences being passed”. On 2 August, the Italian Foreign Ministry made public its “great anxiety” and also indicated that it was “very concerned” at the death sentences against the two Kurdish journalists in a communiqué. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed the assistant chargé d'affaires of the Iran Embassy in Rome, Hossein Mafi Moghaddam, during a meeting that took place at the Ministry, of Italy’s great anxiety regarding the executions which have taken place in the last few weeks in the country”, indicated the office of Massimo d’Alema. The Ministry deplores “the reference also made to the accusations of homosexuality that occur in the charge sheets” of people who have been hanged. On 15 August, the United States also indicated that the death sentences on the two journalists indicated Teheran’s determination to “flout its citizens’ rights ”. In a communiqué, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, denounced the sentence passed. “By sentencing the journalists Adnan Hassanpur and the ecological activist Abdolvahed Botimar to death after a biased trial, the Iranian government once again shows its determination to flout its citizens’ rights and to ignore the basic principals of acceptable behaviour at international level”, declared Mr. McCormack.
At least 177 people were executed in 2006, according to Amnesty International, which points out that Iran is, along with China and Pakistan, one of the three countries that make the greatest use of capital punishment in the world. Two men, found guilty of assassinating a senior Iranian magistrate in 2005 were hanged in Teheran on 2 August before a crowd come to see the first public execution in the capital for five years. Ten other people had been executed the day before in Iran, seven of them in public at Mashhad (North-Eastern Iran). An Iranian, sentenced to death for “murder of his mother-in-law” was hanged at Babolsar, according to the daily paper Etemead Melli. The condemned man was hanged in the town’s Bassij Square. This execution brings the number of executions of those sentenced to at least 157 since the beginning of the year, according to AFP’s calculations, based on news published in the press and witnesses. Treason, espionage, murder, armed attacks, drug trafficking, rape, sodomy, adultery prostitution and apostasy are all liable to face capital punishment in the Islamic Republic.
On 27 August, the Office of the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, announced in a communiqué that the Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders of Iraq had committed themselves to relaunch the process of national reconciliation by accepting to resolve the key problems that divide them. The leaders have agreed to reduce restrictions on ex-members of former dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party and to organise regional elections (one of Washington’s demands) and to help the security forces put an end to the reigning violence, the communiqué points out. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi President Jalal Tlabani, Vice=President Tareq al-Hashemi, Vice-President Adel Abdel Mehdi and the President Of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massud Barzani, made a rare appearance on television following the communiqué. This latest effort to extract the country from the political crisis follows intense pressure from the American authorities and two weeks before the presentation to Congress of a report on Iraq by the US Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker and the head of the coalition forces on the spot, General David Petraeus.
Under this agreement, a Bill will be placed before Parliament to replace the “de-Baathification law” adopted in 2003 on Washington’s initiative, and thus allow former members of the Baath Party to re-enlist, with senior posts, in the Army, the Civil Service and other institutions. The rehabilitation of former Baathists had been strongly demanded by the Sunni Arab political bloc. The Iraqi leaders also accepted the organisation of regional elections and the continuing of the dialogue on questions that divide them like constitutional reform and the Oil Bill. The presence of Vice-President Hashemi, a pillar of the Sunni Arab bloc does not, however, necessarily mean the return of the Sunni Arab bloc to the government. The Iraqi government has been paralysed for several months by internal quarrels between Sunni and Shiite Arabs, which provoked the walk out of 17 of the 40 ministers. On 6 August, the ministers of the Iraqi National List, secular Arabs close to the former Prime Minister Iyad Alawi announced they were boycotting the government. On 1 August, the six Ministers of the Front, the principal Sunni Arab bloc in the government, with 44 of the 275 seats, had handed in their resignation to the Prime Minister following a month-long disagreement. Even earlier, in June, five ministers allied to the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, had resigned. On 16 August, the Shiite and Kurdish parties had decided to form a new alliance to try and bring Iraq out of the political crisis, but without securing the immediate participation of the Sunni Arabs. The new alliance consists of four parties and has 108 of the 275 seats in Parliament.
Meanwhile, on 10 August, under pressure from the United States to commit itself further to stabilising Iraq, the United Nations accepted to play an increased role. Resolution 1770, unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council, gives the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) a wider field of action, “should circumstances permit”, in various domains: political, diplomatic, humanitarian, Human Rights. These activities are the daily routine of the international organisation, but usually in post-conflict situations. Of the 300 members of the international UNAMI staff, the number authorised to reside in Iraq is limited to 65. At present only 55 really live there, 5 of them in Irbil and 50 in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone. Still traumatised by the 19 August 2003 bomb attack that had killed 22 UN staff, including its special envoy to Iraq, the Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, the organisation’s staff had reacted in advance to resolution 1770.
One of the architects of Resolution 1770, the US Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, pointed out that the unanimous vote showed “that a page has been turned in the history of the UN Security Council’s role in Iraq”, referring to the latter’s refusal to legitimise the 2003 military intervention. “This resolution stresses the increasingly shared feeling that everything that happens in Iraq has consequences for the whole world, and not just for the region”, added the American diplomat.
On 9 August, Damascus welcomed an international meeting on the stabilisation of the situation in Iraq, with the quite exceptional participation of the United States. Apart from the United States, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran also took part in this meeting which dealt with the securing of the 360 Km Iraqi-Syrian border and the controlling of the networks of Iraqi Baathists settled on Syrian soil since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. This meeting is the logical follow up of an earlier meeting of Syrian and American leaders that took place in May on the fringes of a conference in Egypt. Washington has been accusing Syria of allowing armed activists to infiltrate into Iraq through its territory.
The Syrian delegation included Mohammad Mansura, head of the Intelligence service responsible for political security. Iran sent a group of 15 diplomats and Intelligence officers and the United States team of diplomats from the Damascus and Baghdad Embassies.
Since the intervention in Iraq, nearly a million Iraqis have sought refuge in Syria, including a considerable number of former agents of Saddam Hussein’s security services, who Baghdad accuses of lending a hand to the Iraqi guerrilla. Some diplomatic sources in Damascus consider that till now Syria has remained vague about its policy in Iraq, hoping that the US, in return for its possible cooperation, would relax the US sanctions to which it is subjected or put pressure on Israel for it to accept the return of the Golan to Syria.
On 30 August, the Suleimaniyah Provincial Director of Health, Sherko Abdullah, announced that six people had died of a cholera epidemic in the Province and that the region’s hospitals were treating 2,000 suspects. In the course of just one day, on 28 July, 250 people showing symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting were taken into hospital and 102 others were admitted to hospitals the next day, according to the Director.
In Geneva, the World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that 35 cases had been confirmed by local laboratories. “We have found two sources of the epidemic, one at Suleimaniyah and the other at Kirkuk”, indicated the WHO specialist on cholera, speaking of “major epidemic”. According to Mr. Abdullah, “the principal cause (of the epidemic) is the bad quality of the water”. He nevertheless pointed out that most of the patients were not suffering from cholera. “The hospitals I Suleimaniyah are treating cases of diarrhoea. But cases of diarrhoea are not necessarily cases of cholera. We are taking every precaution to prevent the illness from spreading”, he stressed.
The Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmedinjad, has replaced his Ministers of Oil and of Industry in a major reshuffle, considered to be a means of strengthening his hold on the industrial sectors in which are concentrated the bulk of the country’s revenue. According to the official news agency IRNA, the Oil Minister, Kazem Vaziri Mahaneh, and the Industry Minister, Ali Reza Tahmasebi handed in their resignation and were replaced by ministers who are just responsible for dealing with current questions. However, on 13 August, the bulk of the country’s major dailies affirmed that Mr. Ahmedinjad had in fact, fired the two ministers. The State media gave no reason for the alleged dismissals, limiting themselves to publishing the Presidency’s official communiqué, which merely said that the Iranian President had appointed the President of the National Oil Company (NIOC), Sholam Hossein Nozeri as minister in charge of Oil and Ali Akbar Mehrabian, director of a chain of Teheran shops as Minister in charge of Industry.
Elected in 2005 on the basis of a populist programme, Ahmedinjad had, amongst election other promises, promised to rid the country of what he had described as the oil “mafias”. The Iranian President was, however, forced to accept Sholam Nozeri Mahaneh in that post after parliament had thrice rejected the candidates he had proposed for the post. Kazem was recently accused by a former member of the government of having concluded a contract to sell petrol to India and Pakistan for too low a price.
Iran closed down, for the second time in a year, the country’s major moderate daily, Shargh, after it published an interview with a militant lesbian living in Canada. “I was informed that the press supervision organism had ordered the ban but we have not yet received official notification”, stated the Director of the paper, Mehdi Rahmanian on 6 August. “We published an interview of an Iranian women expatriate. They told us that this woman had moral problems. She is homosexual and boasts of it in her blog. We just interviewed her as a poet”, added Mr. Rahmanian. In its 4 August issue, Sharghi (East) had published full-page interview, entitled “feminist language”, of Saghi Ghahreman, an Iranian poetess living in Canada. The conservative daily Kayhan then attacked Mrs. Ghahreman, describing her as a “counter-revolutionary in flight” who ran “the organisation of Iranian homosexuals”. Sharghi had started to appear again in May, after a nine-month ban for having published a caricature of President Mahmud Ahmedinjad that was considered insulting.
Furthermore on 9 August the official news agency IRNA reported that the Iranian police had arrested 20 young girls and boys during a mixed party at Karaj (West of Teheran), a few days after the arrest of 230 people during a secret concert of rock music, described as “satanic” in the same town. Over 110 of those taking part were transferred to the local prison. Consuming alcoholic drinks and mixed parties are forbidden in Iran. The Iranian Chief of Police, General Esmail Ahmadi Mogadam, declared that the campaign of moralisation, launched last April, was going to be pursued with force “because of the support provided by the population”, reported the Mehr news agency. The Iranian police have been carrying out a vast campaign since last April against failures to observe the Islamic headdress, any outward signs of Western culture, particularly young people wearing clothes bearing foreign inscriptions and Western hair styles.
Moreover, on 5 August, the media reported that a star host on the State television channel had been laid off after having criticised the Teheran Chief of Police during a very popular programme. This police chief has been waging a campaign against women whose heads are not sufficiently covered. Two weeks ago Farzad Hassani indulged in sharp criticism of the capital’s police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan. The presenter severely criticised the methods of the police who had just launched a campaign against Iranian women who insufficiently covered their heads or who had western hairstyles.
On 11 August, the Cyprus Foreign Minister, Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis declared that Turkey’s threats regarding the exploration of oilfields by Cyprus in Eastern Mediterranean waters could hinder Turkey’s attaining membership of the European Union. Turkey’s behaviour will have serious repercussions on its application for membership, warned the head of Cyprus’s foreign service, indicating that it had already had important consequences regarding the Fuel and power chapter of the negotiations.
Turkey is opposed to Cyprus’s action in granting licences for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, arguing that the Turkish-Cypriot regime in Northern Cyprus that had the right to deciding about the submarine wealth. Mrs. Kozakou-Marcoullis informed the United States and the E.U. about Turkish threats against the international invitation to tender put out by Nicosia, the first cycle of which is due to end on 16 August next. The firms interested can submit their bids for exploration and exploitation projects in 11 blocks defined by Cyprus off shore of the island. According to the local media, the Turkish research vessel Yunus S has recently been sailing in the area for Mediterranean exploration. Turkey is said to have send a letter to the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon, denouncing the fact that the Greek-Cypriots were trying to “create a fait accompli” in the region. Ankara does not have diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cyprus, which is recognised by the international community, and joined the European Union in May 2004. Cyprus has been divided since its invasion by the Turkish Army in 1974, which followed a failed coup d’état by some Greek nationalist, backed by the Colonels Junta then in power in Athens, aiming at annexing Cyprus to Greece.