On 7 September the Turkish Army, affirmed, in a communiqué, that it had extended for three months the duration of the “temporary security zones” in the provinces of Siirt, Sirnak and Hakkari. They had been set up for three months on 9 June. The Turkish General Staff states that these zones, to which all access is forbidden to civilians, will remain in force till 10 December. Moreover the Pan-Arab daily, Al-Quds al-Arabi reports, in its 13 September issue, that Turkey has begun excavation work along the Iraqi Kurdistan border so as to build a separating wall cutting Turkish Kurdistan off from the South. According to the paper, the cost of this work will be about $3.2 billion (3.0 billion euros). The wall will be 473 Km long and will consist of a first wall of reinforced concrete backed by an electronic fence equipped with alarms, the paper specified.
Moreover, on 28 September, after several days' negotiations, Baghdad and Ankara signed an agreement to cooperate against the PKK. The agreement, broadcast live y the public TV channel, was signed by the Iraqi Minister of the Interior, Jawad al-Bolani, and his Turkish opposite number Besir Atalay. Baghdad, however, rejected Turkey’s wishes for carrying out military operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iraqi government made the point that it had no intention of sending troops to hunt down the PKK in a region over which, moreover, it has virtually no control. The Iraqi Kurds, for their part, have already made known their opposition to any invasion of their territory or the extradition to Turkey of PKK leaders on their land. The United States also opposed any such military operations, Washington fearing that they might destabilise the region of Kurdistan, which is relatively calm, compared with the violence raging in the rest of the country.
Clashes have increased since the beginning of the year, plunging Turkish and Kurdish public opinion in turmoil. On 29 September, in the bloodiest attack of recent years, thirteen people were killed and two others injured. The first report of 12 deaths was increased the next day by the discovery of the body of a 7 year-old child nearby. The attack occurred at about 2 pm GMT near the small town of Beytussebab, in Sirnak province. According to the local governor, Selahattin Apari, members of the PKK are said to have machine-gunned a minibus, mainly carrying civilians. Amongst the dead was a mukhtar, or village chief, and his four sons, all “village guards”. This ambush recalls similar attacks against civilians in the first years of the PKK insurrection. “Village guards” are a Kurdish militia, recruited and armed by Ankara “to ensure the protection of villages”. According to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, this attack shows that the organisation is in “dire straits” because of Army operations.
PKK activities seem to extend beyond Near Eastern borders. Thus, on 28 September, an official of the Kazakhstan Intelligence Services announced to Kazakhstan Today that twelve people had been stripped of their Kazakh citizenship for having joined the ex-PKK. About forty Kurds are said to have left Kazakhstan between 1995 and 1999 to join that organisation. Descended from Kurds deported there in Stalin’s time, the Kurds of Kazakhstan form a community of some 50,000 people, strongly attacked to their language and culture.
On 26 September, the US Senate passed by 75 votes to 23, a non-mandatory resolution on the division of Iraq into three regions on a communal basis: Shiite in the South, Sunni in the Centre and Kurdish in the North. This resolution calls for the division of Iraq into federal regions, under the control of the three communities, in the context of a power-sharing agreement similar to that which had ended the war in Bosnia in the 90s. The US democrat-dominated Senate’s resolution, recommends in Iraq the creation “of a federal government system (…) and of federal regions” asking President George W. Bush to seek the support of the international community to ensure the success of this idea. According to its defenders, this plan is the only solution for putting an end to the violence shaking Iraq. It is sponsored by Democratic Senator and White House candidate, Joseph Biden, who presented it as the political key that would allow the withdrawal of American troops while preventing chaos. The Iraqi Kurdistan regional government warmly welcomed this American resolution as “the only viable solution to Iraq’s problems”. This resolution is a call “to rebuild the Iraqi State on a Federal basis”, rejoiced the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government. “A federal solution for the Iraqi State does not mean division, but rather a voluntary union”, the Kurdish authorities maintained. The resolution is, however, just a simple Parliamentary proposal and in no way commits the US Administration.
The division of the country into distinct federal States on the basis of the different communities is, however, rejected by President Bush’s Administration. Thus the Iraqi Prime Minister hopes that Parliament should meet as soon as possible so as formally to reject, by a vote of its members, the US Senate’s proposals. The US Senate’s vote also provoked widespread condemnation on the international scene from Iran, the Gulf State monarchies, the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organisation and France. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that unites six Arab countries allied to the United States also criticised the resolution.
The Iraq Sunni Arabs and some of the Shiites see in the development of federalism a prelude to partitioning the country. The Shiites, who control the major part of the country’s oil revenue, oppose such a measure that would weaken the territorial integrity of Iraq, which they effectively control at the moment. The Sunni Arabs live in an area with little or no proven oil reserves.
On 16 September, a two-party delegation of four US Senators, had visited Iraqi Kurdistan to meet the President, Massud Barzani, and see for themselves the political and economic development of the Kurdish region. Thus Mr. Barzani met Mr. Max Baucus, Democratic Senator for Montana, Mrs. Olympia Snowe, Republican Senator for Maine, Mr. Ben Nielson, Democratic Senator for Nebraska and Mr. Ken Salazar, Democratic Senator for Colorado. They discussed the efforts of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for development, the infrastructure projects, and the situation in Iraq. The Kurdish President stressed that a federal solution was essential to create a viable Iraq and that the rest of the country could well take the reconstruction drawn up by the KRG as an example. He pointed out that the Kurdish was working very closely with the central government in Baghdad to reach mutually satisfactory solutions to problems they share. He added that he hoped that the Petraeus/Crocker report noted the good security and development situations in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Minister responsible for the KRG’s Foreign Affairs Department, Falah Mustafa Bakir, for his part stressed that such a visit was also important for understanding the many opportunities that Kurdistan offered for direct foreign investments.
On 13 September, the government of Iraqi Kurdistan called for the resignation of the Iraqi Oil Minister, accusing him of meddling in the internal affairs of the region because of remarks he made about an oil contract signed by the Kurds. The Kurdish executive “rejects the declarations made by Minister Hussein Shahristani and calls for his immediate resignation”, declared the government’s spokesman, Khalid Saleh, during a press conference in Irbil. In the course of an OPEC meeting in Vienna on 10 September, Mr. Shahristani described as “illegal” an oil exploration contract signed early in September by the Kurdistan government with an American company. “What happens in Kurdistan is none of Mr. Sharistani’s business”, “he would do better to devote himself to more positive matters on the country’s behalf rather than undermining the efforts of the Kurdistan government in favour of the Iraqi people”, declared Mr. Saleh. The Oil Minister “has no authority for calling into question the legality of contracts signed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (…)”, he considered. “He would be better employed dealing with the oil smuggling that is going on under his very eyes as well as the difficulties he has made for himself over the new oil legislation”, continued the spokesman. Otherwise “he had better resign and leave his job to someone else, because the Iraqi oil industry deserves something better”, he added. Moreover, the spokesman accused Mr. Shahristani of having put pressure on Turkey and Iran so as to stop both countries supplying Iraqi Kurdistan with petrol and refined oil products, which shows up “the depth of his grudge against the Kurdish people”.
Early in September the Kurdistan Regional Government announced the signature, of a contract with a local subsidiary of US companies, Hurd Oil Company of Dallas and Impulse Energy Corporation (IEC), for exploring oilfields in the Kurdish province of Duhok. This was the first contract signed by the Kurdish Regional Government since the Kurdish Parliament passed new oil and gas legislation at the beginning of August.
Furthermore, the Iraqi National Parliament is examining, for its part, a controversial Oil Bill, already approved by the government in July. The Iraqi Kurdistan government has opposed to this Bill ever since an amendment was added, “stipulating that oil exploration contracts will fall within the competence of the central government”. Considered by Washington as a point essential to national reconciliation in Iraq, this Bill, aiming at an equitable sharing of oil revenues between the 18 provinces constitutes one of the most sensitive issues in this country that is sitting on the third largest reserves of black gold
On 8 September, the Iraqi Oil Ministry declared that Iraq aimed at increasing its oil production to 3 million barrels a day (mbd) in 2008 and to 6 mbd with the next ten years. The aim is to increase present day production, which is just under 2.5 mbd, to 3 mbd in 2008. Meeting this objective requires an improvement in the oil industry’s infrastructures, building a new pipeline in the East and other pipelines for exporting oil to neighbouring countries as well as new oil terminals South of the existing one in Basra. The Iraqi oil industry is suffering from several decades of under-investment, largely due to 13 years of UN sanctions, imposed after the Gulf war (1990-91) while Saddam Hussein was in power. The Iraqi oil industry must, moreover, must deal with the insecurity that still reigns while “about fifty oilfields are waiting to be worked” declared Mr. Shahristani.
Iran has decided to close its borders with Kurdistan in protest at the capture, by the US Army in this region, of an Iranian the Americans accuse of being an agent involved in the supply of arms to Iraqis. On 24 September, Teheran announced the closing of five border crossing points between Kermanshah (Iranian Kurdistan) and Iraqi Kurdistan. This measure, if prolonged, could have serious consequences for Iraqi Kurdistan — but also for those Iranian firms that trade with Kurdistan, according to Kurdish officials and experts. “The price of closing the borders will be paid by both sides — by the Iraqis and by the Iranians, because Kurdistan is Kurdistan is a growing market for Iranian products”, explained Mohamed Salman, head of the Economics Department of Irbil University. The bulk of the foodstuffs, domestic and electronic appliances come from Iran the Kurdish merchants point out.
The Kurdish Trade Minister, Mohammed Rauf, pointed out that the volume of Iran’s trade with Iraqi Kurdistan was a billion dollars. “Kurdistan is a major trading of Iran, an important outlet for Iranian goods”, recalled for his part the Director General of the Kurdish Trade Ministry, Aziz Ibrahim. He stressed, before the Suleimaniyah press, that this measure would affect the activity of firms on both sides of the border. “Nearly 120 Iranian companies, mostly active on reconstruction sites, are working in Iraqi Kurdistan” he pointed out.
According to the US authorities, the Iranian arrested was a member of the elite Quds Force, a branch of the Guardians of the Revolution, who brings arms into Iraq. Teheran denied these accusations, stating that the man arrested on 20 September, Mahmudi Farhadi, was an official working for the Iranian province of Kermanshah. The Iranian authorities demanded his release, as did Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was concerned “for the prosperity of the Kurdistan region”. In a communiqué published on 21 September, the Kurdistan Regional Government stated that it considered “this action by American soldiers to be illegal”. According to the Kurdish government, the Iranian delegation had come to Iraq with an official invitation. It arrived in Suleimaniyah on 18 September to develop cross-border trade. Washington regularly accuses Teheran of supporting militia who are fighting US troops by supplying them with armour-piercing booby traps. Iran has always refuted such charges. On 28 August, the US Army detained a group of Iranians, employed by the Iranian Fuel and Power, for questioning in a major Baghdad hotel for several hours. The US Army still holds five Iranians, arrested on 11 January 2007 in Iraqi Kurdistan, accused of helping terrorists. Teheran insists that they are diplomats.
Moreover, the local Kurdish authorities declared that, on 26 September, after the closing of the frontier, Iranian troops fired shells that exploded several kilometres inside the borders, in the Haj Umran sector, North=East of Irbil. In an interview on Iranian television on 23 September, General Yahia Rahim Safavi, military advisor of the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, confirmed that Iranian artillery had shelled Kurdish fighters of the Free Life in Kurdistan Party (PEJAK). The general's remarks, spoken in Persian, were directly translated into English by the channel. General Safavi explained that Teheran did not consider their activities “a great threat” but “their schemes, carried out by small groups or 4 or 5 men, created insecurity”. Iran had, however, denied, in response to accusations by local Kurdish authorities, being the perpetrator of strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan. On 3 September, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mehdi Mostafavi, declared, “Iran categorically denies any shelling in Northern Iraq. Teheran ahs already, in the past, officially replied to such allegations”. In August, Iraqi Kurdistan officials had stated that several hundreds of Kurdish villagers had taken the road to escape this shelling by the Iranian Army. Hussein Ahmed, head of the Qalaa Diza district had declared, “some 150 families have fled from their villages”.
The Iranian province of Western Azerbaijan, which has a large Kurdish population, is the scene of regular clashes between the Iranian Army and PEJAK activists. On 3 September, the state television announced that Seven Iranian police had been killed in a shoot out between security forces and “rebels” in the Kurdish province of Kermanshah. Mid-August, six members of the elite Guardians of the Revolution were killed and five others wounded when their helicopter crashed during operations in Northwest Iran near the Iraqi borders. According to the semi-official news agency Mehr, the incident occurred during an operation against PEJAK. In February, 14 Iranian troops, including two leading members of the Guardians of the Revolution, were killed when another helicopter crashed during operations close to the Turkish border. Iran has signed an agreement with Turkey to fight the PKK. In return, Ankara is committed to fight the principal Iranian armed opposition group, the People’s Mujahiddin.
On 18 September, the Pentagon reported to Congress on its concerns regarding the poor political progress achieved in Iraq, considering that the improvement in security was insufficient to pacify the country. “There has been little political progress at national level in terms of laws passed and of carrying out of reforms”, the report indicates. “The efforts (…) to find a consensus are still complicated by sectarian divisions and the violence resulting from these divisions”, the report continues. Furthermore, a report published on 5 September by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) an official independent (i.e. non-party) organisation sent by Congress on a fact finding mission, considered that 11 of the 18 political and security objectives set by Congress have not been achieved, that 4 had been partly achieved and only three fully reached. These figures, contained in the final report, are slightly less pessimistic than those contained in an interim report by the GAO. Initially this body had assessed that 13 of the 18 objectives had not been achieved and only two partly and three fully achieved. Between the two versions of the report, the GAO had upgraded two of the objectives from the “unachieved” to the “partly achieved” level — after insistent approaches by the Whit House. In the view of this body, only three of the 18 objectives had been fully achieved: the setting up of joint security posts in Baghdad, ensuring Human Rights for minorities in the Iraqi Parliament and creating support committees for the Baghdad security plan. Amongst those not achieved are such important points as: ensuring that the Iraqi security forces ensure security in an equitable manner, reducing sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminate the control of local security by the militia or again to increase the number of Iraqi security forces capable of independent action.
Since its formation in May 2006, Nuri al-Maliki’s cabinet has been undermined by divisions between Sunni Arabs and Shiites — but also by the struggle being waged by the principal Iraqi Shiite organisations (all of which have powerful armed militia) for influence and control over their community — which makes up the majority of the country’s population. This situation has prevented Parliament from passing a number of reforms desired by the United States, in a strategic law on the privatisation of oil extraction and on the sharing of oil revenues between the 18 Iraqi provinces. In this context, the organisation led by the young Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, withdrew its support for the Prime Minister’s government, already undermined by dissention. The movement confirmed, at Najaf, that it was leaving the coalition that gives Mr. Maliki a majority in Parliament, the Iraqi Unified Alliance (IUA). In any case, these Sadrist ministers had been boycotting the government since April. They were demanding, in particular, a timetable for the withdrawal of the Americans and an improvement in public services. The IUA, which so far had ensured a majority in Parliament for Mr. Maliki’s government (with the support of independent Shiites and Kurds) was made up of three organisations: Moqtada Sadr’s movement, the Prime Minister’s own Dawa Party and the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). A fourth Shiite organisation, Fadhila, had already withdrawn from the coalition some months ago. Moqtada Sadr’s decision complicates the task of the Prime Minister, whose “National Unity” government is already being boycotted by nearly half of its 40 ministers. With the withdrawal of the Sadrists, Mr. Maliki sees the number of members of parliament supporting him reduced to 136, thus losing the majority (138) of the 275 members. His allies, however, are still more numerous than the opposition (127) — themselves extremely divided. Parliament includes 12 independents.
Increasingly weakened, subjected to great pressure from the United States, for whom he is carrying out a national reconciliation, the Prime Minister has several times announced his intention of reshuffling his team, without it being followed through, at least to date. Mid-August he had announced the formation of a new coalition composed of the two Shiite parties, Dawa and SCIRI, and the two main Kurdish parties —the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, to try and draw Iraq out of its political crisis. Mr. Maliki had also made repeated gestures to the Sunni Arab parties to secure their participation.
On 5 September, accused of being unable to fulfil the objectives of national reconciliation which he was given, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, went to Najaf to meet the Great ayatollah, Ali al-Sistrani, the highest spiritual authority of the Shiite community and principal supporter Mr. Maliki’s Shiite organisation. The two men discussed the government crisis, almost half of whose ministers have resigned because of disagreements within the community. “I asked him for help in forming a government and in appointing ministers. I also asked him if it would be possible to form a new government solely made up of technocrats”. In the context of efforts of reconciliation to put an end to sectarian violence, Ayatollah Sistani and Vice-President al-Hashemi met on 26 September, for the first time. “He told me that his heart was full of sorrow over what had happened in Iraq”, indicated the Sunni Arab Vice-President, who is also the head of an Islamic party, following the meeting. The Vice-President has recently launched an initiative, “the Iraqi National Understanding”, which lays down 25 principals that should serve as a basis for reconciling the different protagonists in the crisis. “I showed him the document and Sistani took out the version he had in his pocket. He told me that he had read it and supported it in general, but had some remarks to make”, added Mr. Hashemi, without divulging their nature.
Moreover, on 11 September the US State Department announced that Turkey would host a conference on the security and future of Iraq late in October, which will be attended by the Moslem countries of the region. This conference of neighbouring countries, the third of its kind, will be aimed at securing commitment from the countries on means of stabilising the country. During a similar meeting in May at Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt, the countries bordering on Iraq had committed themselves to preventing radical activists from entering Iraq. On 9 September, speaking at the opening of a conference organised in Baghdad covering representative of neighbouring countries and those of the Near East as well as the United Nations and the G-8, the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari urged those countries bordering on Iraq to prevent “the terrorists and killers” from entering his country, warning that the violence in Iraq could contaminate the whole region. “Despite the emphasis on national reconciliation, we must also be reconciled with our neighbours, with the international community as a whole”, declared Hoshyar Zebari.
On 5 September, the Turkish Parliament passed a vote of confidence in the new Ankara government that emerged from the 22 July General Elections, thus opening the way for the liberal reforms desired by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Speaker of the Parliament, Koksal Toptan, made the point that 337 members had voted in favour of the confidence motion with 197 against. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has 341 of the 550 seats in Parliament since its election victory. “Reinforcing democracy and social protection will be the principal objectives of our government”, declared Mr. Erdogan to the House after the vote. “Our guideline will be to establish no discrimination between our citizens and to spread justice to all the regions”, he added — probably alluding to the Kurdish provinces.
The new government had made the revision of the constitution one of its priorities. The government’s plan is to replace the country’s existing Constitution, drafted by the military junta after the 1980 coup d’état by one that would allow the Islamic headscarf to be worn in universities. This, however, has provoked a violent debate round this ultra-sensitive subject. The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, both from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), an offshoot of the Islamic movement, have declared themselves in favour of abolishing the ban on wearing this headscarf in university campuses, which has been strictly applied till now. Since it's coming to office in 2002, the AKP has wished to lift this ban but, at each attempt, as come up against the Turkish Army's sharp opposition. Today, strengthened by its incontestable election victory, with 46% of the total vote, the AKP now wishes to carry out its election promises with a new legal framework that would replace the present Constitution, imposed in 1982, two years after the Army’s putch, but several times amended since. In 2005, the European Court for Human Rights had upheld the ban on wearing the headscarf in Universities, which also applies to the Civil Service.
While the AKP’s jurists and leading activists argue the justification of this repeal in their proposed new constitution, the two leaders have affirmed that the ban is a violation of individual freedom. “The right to higher education cannot be restricted because of the clothing that a young woman wears”, declared Mr. Erdogan in an interview published on 19 September in the Financial Times. “Such a problem doers not exist in Western societies, but it does exist in Turkey and I believe that it is the first duty of those who are involved in politics to resolve the problem”, he added. The Army, the senior judiciary and the rectors of the universities consider that wearing the headscarf is an act of defiance to the regime of so-called “Turkish secularism”. “It is better for them (veiled or covered up women) to go to university than to stay at home and be isolated from social life”, declared Mr. Gul to the liberal daily Milliyet. “We must look at the issue from the standpoint of individual freedom”, he indicated. Mr. Gul insisted that abolishing the ban would not lead to an outbreak of pressure on women who do not wear this head cover. Mr. Erdogan indicated that the draft Constitution would be discussed by society before being presented to Parliament, probably at the end of the year. The wives of both these leaders wear the headscarf, as do their daughters. Mr. Gul’s daughter was obliged to wear a wig so as to complete her studies in Turkey, while Mr. Erdogan’s daughters went to the United States for their higher education.
Abdullah Gul was elected Head of State by Parliament, to the great displeasure of the Army, which has been trying for months to prevent the former Foreign Minister from becoming President — and thereby becoming Commander in Chief of the Turkish Armed Forces… Furthermore, General Yasar Buyukanit, Chief of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff, was absent from Mr. Gul’s official investiture in Parliament on 28 August, and the next day did not salute the Head of State, as required by protocol, at a military celebration. The Turkish Army also refused to invite the country’s First lady, who wears the Islamic headscarf, to the Army’s Victory Day ceremonies or the march past to celebrate the Turkish victory, on 30 August 1922, over the Greeks forces. On the eve of his election, General Buyukanit had denounced, in a Victory Day communiqué, “centres of evil that are systematically trying to erode the country’s secular structure” and insisted that “the Armed forces (…) would make no concessions”.
On 11 September, for his first journey to the provinces, the new Turkish President visited Turkish Kurdistan — a visit intended to strengthen the links between the central authorities and this economically underprivileged region, according to his entourage. During his tour, Mr. Gul visited Van, and four other Kurdish provinces: Hakkari, Sirnak, Siirt and Diyarbekir. In these provinces, torn by decades of violence, the level of unemployment is the highest of all Turkey. Following the 22 July elections, about twenty Kurdish members were elected to the Turkish Parliament, from which they had been driven in the 90s. They support the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP), the principal pro-Kurdish organisation, which affirms its desire for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem and calls for a strengthening of the political and cultural rights of the Kurdish people. The DTP secured entry into Parliament despite all the pressures and obstacles set up against the party. Its members continue to be active under conditions severely limited by le legislation and police and judicial harassment. Thus nine of its members were arrested on 9 September for remarks ruled to be “illicit”. These nine activists face several years' imprisonment under the Turkish penal code that punishes any support of “terrorism”. “No one can expect us to describe our children as terrorists”, declared Sabahat Tuncel, DTP member of Parliament during a rally at Batman.
Furthermore, on 18 September, Abdullah Gul made his first visit “abroad” as Head of State, going to Cyprus, where the Turkish Army still deploys 40,000 soldiers. He was greeted by the president of the “Turkish Republic of North Cyprus”, an entity that is not recognised by the international community. The island has been divided into two parts, the Greek Cypriot South and the Turkish Cypriot North for the last 33 years. In 1974, the Turkish Army invaded the North following an attempted coup d’état by ultra-nationalist Greeks. Mr. Gul called on the international community to lift the economic restrictions imposed on the North — the Greek Cypriot State (internationally recognised) described this visit as a provocation and snub to the European Union.
On 24 September, the trial of one of Saddam Hussein’s most bloodthirsty associates, Ali Hassan al-Majid, already sentenced to death, began in Baghdad with fresh witnesses. He is charged for his role in the massacre of tens of thousands of Shiites in Southern Iraq in 1991. The hearing opened in the premises of the Special Iraqi High Court, in Baghdad’s Green Zone, in the presence of Ali Hassan al-Majid alias “Chemical Ali” and his 14 fellow accused. “Chemical Ali” is charged with crimes against humanity during the bloody repression of a Shiite uprising in 1991, He was then in command of the Republican Guard divisions in the South of the country and was also Minister of the Interior and Minister of Defence. A cousin of Saddam Hussein, he earned his nickname from his extensive use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 80s — crimes for which he has already been sentenced to death. His appeal against this was rejected on 4 September and, under Iraqi law, he is due to be hanged within 30 days. He had been found guilty of “genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity”, alongside Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, former Minister of Defence, and Hussein Rashid Mohammad for their role in the massacre of 180,000 Kurdish civilians during the “Anfal” operation. He has shown no sign or remorse, justifying the massacres in Kurdistan and openly claiming full responsibility. “I am the one who ordered the Army to destroy villages (…) I have no need to defend myself or apologise. I have committed no offence”, he had retorted to his judges. “Thank God” he had simply exclaimed on 24 June when his death sentence was announced.
Regarding the repression of the Shiite insurrection in 1991, his trial and that of his 14 co-defenders was adjourned on 23 August after three days hearing of witnesses. When the hearing were resumed, an anonymous witness, speaking from behind a black screen, told how his son was executed on 25 March 1991, in the Basra football stadium. His other son, who was also a prisoner at the time, told him the circumstances of his son’s death. “The people were executed in the stadium in groups of 25. Almost 200 were killed in all. Ali al-Majid was there when they killed the first group of 25. He left leaving orders to kill all the others”, declared the witness. “I was not present in Basra”, denied Chemical Ali vehemently. He was thin and tired and entered the court supporting himself on a cane. “You weren’t there yourself, you didn’t see anything”, he shouted at the witness. Up to 100,000 Shiites were massacred in March 1991 by the Republican Guard, following the uprising against Saddam Hussein in the South of the country, encouraged by the US President, George Bush Senior. In the course of earlier hearings, a witness, Laila Kathum, had accused Chemical Ali of having killed both her sons by personally throwing them from a helicopter while in flight. Nearly 90 victims of this repression are due to give evidence before this court.
Nevertheless, on 7 September, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani indicated that he would not sign the order to execute Saddam Hussein’s former Defence Minister, already sentenced to death by the Iraqi court and due for execution in thirty days time. Sultan Hashim al-Tai and two other dignitaries of the Saddam Hussein regime, sentenced to death for their role in the campaign of mass execution and chemical bombing carried out in Kurdistan during the 80s had their appeals rejected on 4 September. All three are due to be hanged within 30 days, under Iraqi law, which also requires the order of execution to be signed by three members of the Presidency. In December 2006 President Talabani had refused to sign the order to execute Saddam Hussein, declaring he was opposed to capital punishment. The ex-dictator was hanged on 26 December.
The authorities have ensured the greater visibility of these executions by hanging, for example, two men found guilty of murdering a judge in the centre of Teheran last month. This was the first execution to be carried out in public in the Iranian capital in five years. In just the month of August, 17 detainees were hanged in public and 11 others in prison. The hangings, which are often carried out using a crane, bring to total number of hangings this year to 201, according to a record kept by AFP on the basis of news published in the press and witnesses. The Islamic Republic has accelerated the rate of execution in the last few months. By way of comparison, at least 177 people were executed in 2006, according to Amnesty International and at least 81 in 2005 according to AFP. Treason, spying, murder, armed assault, drug trafficking, rape, sodomy, adultery, prostitution and apostasy are all punishable by death in Iran.
On 5 September, the Iranian authorities hanged 21 condemned people, of whom 17 were executed at dawn in the province of Khorassan-Razavi (North-Easter Iran) according to official media. The 17 executed in Khorassan-Razavi were described as “corruptions of the earth” and found guilty of drug peddling, declared a police spokesman on the State television channel. Four other people were executed in Shiraz (Central Iran) they were found guilty of possessing arms, drug trafficking and armed assault against members of the police and were hanged in public in the city, according to the Fars new agency. Moreover 7 drug traffickers were hanged at Mahan on 12 September in Kerman province, in Southern Iran as well as a man found guilty of murder in the province of Hormozgan (South). Moreover, four second-offence thieves had a hand amputated in Mashad (North-East). These amputations, provided for by law, are rather rare in Iran, but several cases have been reported in the press in recent months.
Furthermore, on 10 September, the Teheran province police chief, Reza Zarei, announced that the Iranian police have warned over 110,000 women who were incorrectly covered up since the beginning of a campaign, launched in April, to enforce observance of Islamic morals. “Since the beginning of the campaign (21 April) the police has issued 113,454 warnings for incorrect wearing of the veil” in Teheran province, declared General Zarei, as quoted by the Iranian press. He adds that 5,700 people, including 1,400 men were obliged to attend classes in good morals and that 1,600 women have been brought before the courts. Iranian women, like foreign women, have to observe the rules regarding wearing of headgear, ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979. The declared objective of the campaign, which is also aimed at perpetrators of violent actions, is to “improve the physical and moral security of society”. The Iranian police chief, General Esmail Ahmadi Mogadam, declared that a “new phase of the campaign would be beginning after the month of Ramadan”, which ends on 12 October next.
Moreover, on 25 September, a spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Justice, Mohammad Shadabi, announced that Iran has released the Iranian-American pacifist activist, Ali Shakeri, after four months detention. This is the fourth US citizen to be released by Teheran since August. He was accused of wanting to foment a revolution. “He was released last night against a bail of one million rials (about 77,900 euros) and a judge has authorised him to leave the country”, stated the spokesman.
According to the Iraqi government’s official figures, civilian losses caused by violence in Iraq fell by nearly 50% in September compared with the month before, which makes it the least murderous month for civilians this year. According to these statistics, provided by the Ministries of Health, the Interior and Defence, 884 civilians were killed in Iraq in September as against 1,773 in August. In all, 850 civilians were injured, which is also an improvement on the 1,559 injured recorded in August. This assessment is the lowest since Washington deployed 30,000 additional troops in Iraq. The US Army let it be known on 30 September that violence committed in Ramadan had dropped 38% compared with the same period last year.
Losses in the ranks of the US Army in September also reached the lowest monthly figures for 2007, with 71 deaths. This is the lowest figure since July 2006, when 53 deaths were recorded in the US Army’s ranks. This also marks a drop since the beginning of summer: 120 soldiers were killed in May, 93 in June, 82 in July and 79 in August. US Army officers attribute this drop in army losses to the security campaign launched in Baghdad in mid-February, which was then extended tom several unstable sectors surrounding the capital. With the deaths of three soldiers in separate incidents on 29 September, the total of American deaths since the beginning of US operations in Iraq in March 2003 is now 3,802 soldiers, according to official American figures. The heaviest monthly casualty figure for US troops was November 2004, with 137 deaths while the battle to capture Fallujah, West of Baghdad, was raging. Prior to this the month of April 2004 was particularly violent with 135 US troops killed in an earlier attempt to take Fallujah and uprisings in Shiite towns South of Baghdad.
Furthermore, on 29 September, officials of the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Iraq would ask the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the US-led multi-national force (which at present stands at 160,000 men) for only one more year, until the end of 2008. According to these officials, Iraq would then seek to reach a long-term bi-lateral agreement with the United States like those Washington has with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, declared on 26 September, that, for his part, the stabilisation of Iraq was still a long way off. Moreover, he reminded the countries neighbouring on Iraq, the disastrous consequences for all that would come of the propagation of violence in the region. “We have warned all the countries of the region that the continuous flow of arms, capital, suicide bombers as well as the increasing numbers of fatwas preaching hatred and murder can only have disastrous consequences for the peoples of the region and the world”, he declared. The US President reminded Mr. Maliki that the Iraqi government should make more efforts towards national reconciliation. Talking to the Iraqi Prime Minister on the fringe of the General Assembly, Bush encouraged him to get parliament to pass laws aiming at bringing the Iraqi communities close together. Success in this area would allow Washington to delegate part of its security mission to the Iraqi forces and this enable it to bring back part of its forces. On 3 September, the British army started to leave the city of Basra in the context of a process that should result, eventually, in handing control of the province over to Iraq and the withdrawal of British forces from the country. This withdrawal marks the end of British presence in the city, but the British forces should nevertheless retain a “supervisory” role and continue to train Iraqi security forces and guard the main supply lines from nearby Kuwait. Great Britain has already handed over control of three other provinces in Southern Iraq. The total number of British troops in Iraq is due to go down from 5,500 to 5,000 by the end of the year. Since the start of the intervention in Iraq, 159 British troops have died in the country.
On 3 September, the US President George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq, and to a province that is symbolic for the White House. Accompanied by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush arrived early in the afternoon at an air base 180 Km West of Baghdad, where Defence Secretary Robert Gates and several senior Army officers were waiting for him. This immense US base lies in the heart of al-Anbar province, the theatre of the most dangerous operation for the GIs. The decision to meet Iraqi representatives in Anbar province is highly symbolic. The US Army has been working, for several months, on a strategy of alliance with local tribal chiefs to fight the Iraqi branch of al0-Qaida, a strategy that has enabled it to record “some remarkable success”, according to the national Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley. This surprise visit of a few hours to Iraq took place on the very day that Great Britain undertook a highly symbolic withdrawal from Basra, Iraq’s second largest city.
The US President, speaking a few days before General David Petraeus, Commander of US forces in Iraq and Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, presented their evaluation of the situation, renewed his support for Iraqi Prime Minister despite rising criticism in Washington. He met Mr. Maliki on the al-Assad base with some members of his government and tribal leaders of this Sunni Arab region. The US President was making his third visit to Iraq since the intervention in March 2003. This was “the last major meeting of the president’s military advisers and Iraqi leaders before the president decided on the course to follow”, according to a Pentagon spokesman. The US President also raised the question of strengths before several hundreds of marines. “These decisions are based on a calm evaluation of the on the spot conditions by the army command and not on the feverish reactions to Washington politicians to the opinion poll results in the media”, he explained. “When we begin reducing our strengths in Iraq, we will do it from a position of strength, not one of fear and failure. Acting otherwise would encourage our enemies and increase the probability that they would attack us on our land”, he added. Mr. Bush left Iraq on the Presidential plane Air Force One to attend the APEC summit in Australia.
On 21 September, the World Health organisation (WHO) confirmed that over 1,500People had caught cholera in Iraq, where an epidemic has spread. In all, 29,000 cases of diarrhoea have been recorded by the Iraqi authorities, of which 1,500 are confirmed cases of cholera, declared a WHO official. A Week earlier the WHO had spoken of 16,000 cases of acute diarrhoea in the Kurdish provinces of Suleimaniyah, Kirkuk and Irbil.
At the end of August Zeruyan Othman, Minister of Health of the Kurdistan Regional Government, had confirmed, at a press conference, 35 cases of cholera infection have been identified in Suleimaniyah province and 47 in Kirkuk. Mr. Othman had pointed out that 4,000 cases remained suspect, as they were suffering from acute diarrhoea. Cholera, one of the deadliest illnesses in nature, originates in very polluted water, which causes diarrhoea.
ON 14 SEPTEMBER, Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, announced to his Iraqi opposite number, Hoshyar Zebari, who he was welcoming to Paris, France’s decision to open a diplomatic representation in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to a communiqué by the French Ministry’s spokeswoman, Pascale Andréani, “the Minister confirmed to his opposite number that France had taken a decision to set up diplomatic representation at Irbil”, in Iraqi Kurdistan. She added that this opening “would be effected as soon as possible and would enable the strengthening of French presence in this region”.
Iraqi Kurdistan now has an autonomous government. Messrs Kouchner and Zebari, who, moreover “raised the situation in Iraq and in the region as well as the state of bi-lateral relations” between France and Iraq, confirmed that they would meet again on 22 September in New York for a meeting on Iraq under the ægis of the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki-moon and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Last month, Mr. Kouchner was the first French Foreign Minister to visit Baghdad.
On 25 September, the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, announced that France and Turkey would be working together at Foreign Minister level to envisage “all the possibilities” for bringing Turkey closer to the European Union (E.U.). M. Kouchner, who was speaking before the American Institute for Research into Foreign Relations, explained that he was one of those who had “convinced” President Nicolas Sarkozy this summer “not to break up the whole process” of negotiations under way for Turkey’s membership of the E.U. “We spent an hour and a half (on 24 September) with Prime Minister Erdogan and we decided that the Turkish Foreign Minister (Ali Babacan) and myself would be responsible for setting up a sort of working party to look at all possibilities”, stated Mr. Kouchner.
“Turkey and the European Union must open 35 chapters in their negotiations”, he recalled, stressing that “only 5 assume integration into the E.U., 30 could be accepted in the context of a partnership”. “We are going to open the first 30, which will take years”, pursued Mr. Kouchner. Paris and Ankara will “also work on this new Mediterranean Union chapter”, pointed out the Minister, referring to Mr. Sarkozy’s initiative aimed at bringing together the countries round the Mediterranean that have no call to be integrated into the E.U. Mr. Kouchner stressed, however, that, unlike Mr. Sarkozy, he thought that “Turkey should be accepted, because to drive its moderate Islam towards extremism would be a great error”. However, he pointed out: “I am not the one who runs the show!”. At the end of August, Mr. Sarkozy raised the possibility of restarting the negotiations for that country’s membership on condition that any new chapters should be “compatible” with the two possible options: either membership or an association as close as possible.
On 17 September, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan, declared that his country was going to draw up a “new programme” to speed up the reforms intended to integrate Turkey into the European Union. “The new reform programme that is being prepared aims, above all, at harmonising (Turkish laws) with the community’s gains”, pointed out Mr. Babacan before a meeting of various official bodies involved in the pro-European process. Jean-Christophe Filori, a leading European Commission official working on the Turkish case had indicated, the week before, that Turkey must give “a fresh impetus” and “concrete signals” of reforms before November if it wants to avoid a new negative report from Brussels, which each year evaluates its progress towards the E.U. In particular, the Commission has been demanding for months that Ankara abrogate Article 301 of its Penal Code, which has allowed proceedings to be started against dozens of intellectuals for “insults to Turkish identity”. In the autumn of 2005, just after negotiations for Turkey’s membership of the E.U. had stated, Brussels had already criticised the slowing down of reforms. Last year, its evaluation had been very severe, even leading to the freezing of certain chapters of the negotiations because of Ankara’s refusal to open its ports and airfields to Greek Cypriot craft.
On 25 September, the Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmadinjad, declared from the United Nations rostrum, that the case of his country’s nuclear ambitions was “closed” and that the issue should henceforth be treated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “All our nuclear activities have been totally peaceful and transparent”, he declared, accusing the Western powers of wanting to deprive Iran of its right to atomic energy. On 21 August, Iran had reached an understanding with the IAEA to make known the extent of its atomic programme, which aims at mastering the technology for producing electricity, whereas the Western countries, led by the United States, think that Iran is seeking to make nuclear weapons. The agreement with the IAEA allows Iran to settle the questions one by one over a period that, according to the UN agency, runs on to December, even though the Iranians are adding centrifuges to their Natanz enrichment plant, approaching the 3,000 needed to produce usable quantities of nuclear fuel.
On 16 September, the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, estimated that the world should “prepare for the worst”, that is the possibility of a “war” with Iran, and had called for European sanctions while also calling for “negotiating to the end”, to avoid Teheran equipping itself with atomic weapons. Mr. Kouchner had stressed that negotiation remained the preferred option for getting Teheran to suspend its production of enriched uranium. However, he had also declared that Paris was arguing in favour of European Union sanctions against Teheran outside the United Nations context, which had been followed till then. On 24 September, the Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmadinjad, declared that he thought that the United States were preparing for military intervention against Iran and affirmed, for his part, that Teheran would not attack any other country.
The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran stop its uranium enrichment activities and twice imposed sanctions on the country. The United States and France are exerting pressure for a third series but Russia and China are hesitant. The UN Security Council has passed three resolutions against Iran, the two latest of which included sanctions, because it effused to suspend its enrichment of uranium. Mr Ahmadinjad considered that Washington’s efforts to tighten the sanctions were “unimportant”.
On 13 September, the Iranian central bank indicated, in a communiqué, that Iran’s currency reserves, deposited in foreign banks, had reached the figure of $65 billion at the end of June 2007. These hard currency credits have increased by 37% since the same period the year before, added the communiqué, published in the daily paper Hamshahri, that explained that this increase was due to the increase in price of oil, of which Iran is a major exporter, on the international markets. Iran is the world’s fourth greatest producer of oil, and the second largest in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEP).
A US Federal judge sentenced Iran to pay $2.65 billion damages to the families of 241 US soldiers killed in the Lebanon in 1983. This is the largest compensation ever demanded by the US courts of a foreign country. These US soldiers were amongst the 220 Marines killed on 23 October 1983 by a bomb attack in Beirut when a lorry, stuffed with 19 tonnes of explosives that charged into the US Forces General Headquarters near the Lebanese capital’s international airport. This was the bloodiest bomb attack against the US until the attacks of 11 September 2001. It was attributed to the Lebanese fundamentalist Hezbollah, who were backed by Iran. On the same day, 58 French parachutists were killed by a similar bomb attack in Beirut.
Although the attack took place over 20 tears ago, “it is clear from the evidence (…) that the immense sufferings endured to this day have had a lasting effect on the plaintiffs”, the judge concluded, Royce Lamberth, of a Washington Federal Court. Nearly a thousand relatives and descendents of the victims had applied to the American courts, affirming that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Iranian Ministry of Information “had been responsible for the consequences of the attack, for having supplied help and material support to the Hezbollah, the terrorist organisation that perpetrated the attack”. In 2003, the court had already given a ruling recognising that Iran was “legally responsible for having provided financial and material support that had helped perpetrate the tragic attack against the 241 soldiers in Beirut in 1983”.
The families, that fully intend to secure the sum allocated them by the judge against Iran, went to Congress immediately after the decision. They wanted, by their presence, to exert pressure in favour of the adoption of two Bills, in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, aiming at allowing assets indirectly controlled by Iranians to be seized.