On 26 December, the Turkish Armed Forces confirmed that they had carried out a new air raid against PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdistan. In a communiqué published on its Internet site, the Turkish General Staff declared that it had “struck objectives relating to that group during a targeted operation carried out efficiently in the morning of 26 December”, without giving any details about possible victims. The Turkish Army also launched a new operation in Turkish Kurdistan. Ground units, Cobra helicopter gunships and Sikorsky helicopter transports were involved in this operation, carried out in the mountainous ranges of Kupeli and Gabar, in Sirnak Province. On 25 December the Turkish General Staff announced that its troops had killed 11 Kurdish PKK fighters and captured two others in 48 hours in the Sirnak mountains. This is the third air strike against the PKK that the Turkish Army has confirmed since 16 December, in addition to a “small scale” land operation. According to the Turkish press, the air operation was followed, on 18 December by a land incursion of limited scale — 500 to 700 commandos. On 25 December the Turkish Army announced that 150 to 175 Kurdish fighters had been killed during the 16 December strikes, which mainly targeted the Qandil massif, a mountainous region of Iraqi Kurdistan where several hundreds of PKK fighters are located. According to the Turkish General Staff, some 200 targets were destroyed in the course of this raid, including 16 command, training and logistic bases, 82 caches, ten anti-aircraft batteries as well as 14 PKK munition dumps. In a previous communiqué, on 16 December, the Turkish Army had indicated that some air raids lasting three hours and, followed by artillery fire, had targeted Qandil PKK bases.
Various sources from the Kurdish authorities indicated that bridges, houses and even a school had been destroyed in about a dozen villages of Iraqi Kurdistan. Some families had fled their homes to seek refuge in nearby villages or caves, according to these officials. For its part, the PKK reported seven deaths — two civilians and five fighters. According to the private Turkish TV channel NTV, about fifty planes had taken part in these raids, while CNN-Turk, on 16 December, spoke of about twenty planes. On 1 December last, the Turkish Army had carried out similar operations South-East of the border locality of Cukurca. These raids and shellings had not, however, been immediately confirmed by the Iraqi, Kurdish and American authorities. The 5November last, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had met US President George W. Bush at the White House. The two leaders had committed themselves to exchanging more information on the PKK, following the adoption by the Turkish Parliament of a resolution in favour of cross-border interventions. At the end of a five-hour meeting on 28 December, the National Security Council (MGK), which includes the country’s highest civilian and military officials, welcomed the results of the 16 December operations against the PKK in Kurdish territory in Iraq and stressed that “the areas of civilian habitation had not experienced any damage”. “It has been shown that, in addition to heavy losses inflicted on the terrorist organisation, its supply and communications systems had, to a large extent, been destroyed”, stated this body in a communiqué published on its Internet site.
In his monthly television message to the nation, the Turkish Prime Minister declared, on 30 December, that Ankara would continue to “use with determination the political, military, social and economic means” to fight the PKK.
Following the Turkish Army’s operations, the White House expressed its anxiety at the danger of an escalation. Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, indicated that the US authorities have “clearly indicated to the Turkish government that anything that could lead to an escalation or to civilian losses was worrying”. However, the US, that controls Iraqi air space, supplied Turkey with help for these air raids into Iraqi Kurdistan. The head of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, declared on the Kanal D TV channel that the US forces had supplied certain information but “what is important is that, last night, the United States opened the air space of Northern Iraq (Kurdistan). (…) In doing this, the United Sates approved the operation”. On 19 December, the Pentagon’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, pointed out that Turkey had warned the US that it was going to launch an air raid on PKK positions in Iraqi Kurdistan 16 December, describing this “coordination” as “adequate”. “We received notification before the bombardment”, he declared during a press conference, confirming, for the first time, that the Pentagon had been informed of the Turkish plans. “This was communicated to us via the Ankara coordination centre, which was opened a few months ago, and in which Turkish and American military personnel work together to share information”, specified, refusing to say whether the United States had supplied information in the targets aimed at by Ankara. On 2 December, the Turkish journalist, Rusen Cakir, an expert on the PKK, had considered on the NTV channel that “the Americans and the Iraqis understand that Turkey is going to act in one way or another. So they have done what is needed to limit the damage”.
The incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, the only province spared the violence current in Iraq, was announced at the moment of Mrs. Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Iraq. She went first of all to Kirkuk, then to Baghdad, where she met the Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The US Secretary of State who was making a one-day visit to Iraq on 19 December, refused any direct comment on the Turkish incursion during a press conference with her Iraqi opposite number, Hoshyar Zebari, organised after a meeting with President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad. However, she stressed that the United States, Turkey and Iraq had “a common interest in stopping the activities of the PKK, who threaten the stability of the North”. “This is a Turkish decision. We have clearly expressed our government’s anxieties to the Turkish government regarding an action that could lead to civilian victims or destabilise the North”, declared Mrs. Rice. Mr. Zebari judged the Turkish operations “unacceptable”. To mark his disapproval of American support of Turkey, the Kurdish President, Massud Barzani, cancelled a planned meeting with Mrs. Rice in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government and Parliament condemned the strikes as an attack on the country’s sovereignty and were moved by the civilian victims thus caused. On 16 December, Iraq summoned the Turkish Ambassador in Baghdad to demand the ending of these Turkish Army operations in Iraqi Kurdistan, stating that these operations could affect the “friendly relations” between the two countries. On 17 December, the Iraqi Parliament indicated, in a declaration that “Turkish planes have bombed Iraqi villages in Kurdistan, near the Turkish border, causing many innocent civilian victims (…) We firmly condemn this violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and of the principle of neighbourly relations”. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, for his part, ordered that a committee be created to come to the help of the Kurdish families that had been obliged to flee their villages after the recent Turkish strikes. “Mr. Maliki has ordered the creation of a committee that is due to visit the displaced families (in Kurdistan). They will each receive 1 million dinars”, this is about 830 dollars, stated a communiqué on 30 December from the Prime Minister’s press service. The UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR) stated on 18 December that over 300 families (about 1,800 persons) had fled their homes after some intensive Turkish shelling of Iraqi Kurdistan. Some villages had to flee, sometimes barefooted in the snow, from their homes in the Qandil Mountains. “We were sleeping when the Turkish planes bombed our village (…) We had to leave the house as we were suffocated by the dust I…) Before it was Saddam who destroyed our homes, now it’s the Turks (…) We have to leave without knowing what we had done wrong”, declared a 75-year-old farmer from Qalatuga village. Another villager said he did not understand why the Turkish air force targeted his school, “razed to the ground” by the strikes. The building of this school, begun in 2004, was nearly finished and was due to be officially opened shortly.
In a report published 19 December, the British think tank, Chatham House, estimated that any military operation aimed at dislodging the PKK was “probably in vain” and Ankara would “probably never” defeat the PKK. The PKK is “a very motivated force that enjoys a local support and the protection offered it by the inaccessible terrain of the border regions”, pointed out this London based centre. Chatham House also imputes the Iraqi government’s “reluctance” to fight the PKK to the “military risks this would involve”. “Even if it succeeded in chasing them out of the mountains, this could leave the door open to radical Islamists to transform the region into a stronghold in the style of Tora Bora”, the former Taliban hideout in Afghanistan, adds the report. “The Kurds are enjoying a political renaissance”, Chatham House further stressed.
Conscious that armed struggle will not be enough, the Turkish government has announced that it is working on already existing amnesty law for “repentant rebels” to widen its scope. Projects for raising the standard of living of the Kurdish population, mainly by encouragements to invest and by subsidies, are also being studied. The Head of the General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit, had stressed last May the fighting the Kurdish fighters was not just limited to his forces. “The struggle against terrorism does not only cover military measures but economic, cultural and social measures”, he had declared in an attempt to mobilise the government, accused of “lethargy” on the military and political fronts. In his column in Today’s Zaman, Dogu Ergil, a subtle connoisseur of Turkish politics pointed out: “Mr. Erdogan seems to have understood that unless the Kurdish conflict is resolved, neither the political stability of the country nor the future of his party can be ensured”.
Turkish Kurdistan is the poorest zone in Turkey, a country that is applying to join the European Union. Millions of Kurds have been driven from their villages or have had to flee the fighting to emigrate towards the big cities. Ten years ago, Diyarbekir, the politico-cultural capital, had 350,000 inhabitants. Today it has almost one and a half million, amongst which a very large number of families live below the poverty line. Turkey, which has the second largest Army in NATO after that of the United States (515,000 men) has been massing 100,000 men on the 380 Km-long-border since April 2007.
On 26 December, the Parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan accepted the UN proposal to postpone for six months a referendum on the Kirkuk issue, initially planned for the end of the year. “The Parliament of Kurdistan has accepted by a majority, the proposal of the UN representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, to postpone the referendum on Kirkuk for six months”, announced the Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament, Adnan Mufti. The six months delay should be used to set up, in Kirkuk and elsewhere in the country, machinery for resettling populations displaced in the context of manipulating provincial borders by the former regime. Saddam Hussein’s policy of forced Arabisation forced tens of thousands of Kurds into exile and settled in their place populations brought from other regions of Iraq. Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates that a referendum must take place before 31 December 2007 to decide whether Kirkuk is to pass under the authority of the Kurdistan regional government. The Kurds have made the holding of this referendum a clear condition of their support for the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government, in office since the passing of the Constitution in 2005.
The Kurdistan regional government had agreed to the UN proposal on one of the thorniest issues in Iraq. On 17 December, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, announced that his government had accepted the postponement proposed by the United Nations. “The application of Article 140 has been delayed for technical reasons(…) The problem is not to postpone this application but to extend the period for applying this article (…) The region’s government is in favour of this extension”, he had affirmed following a meeting at Najaf with the most influential religious leader of the Iraqi Shiites, Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The Parliament of Kurdistan had, on the same day, heard Staffan de Mistura defend his plan. “Your reaction should be dictated by reason and not by passion (…) Otherwise everyone will suffer the consequences”, Mr. de Mistura had maintained. A communiqué published on 17 December by the UN aid mission for Iraq (UNAMI) pointed out the necessity of a “technical delay” and welcomed “the general agreement” received from the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. The UN communiqué points out that it has been “indicated at UNO that the most appropriate next stage is to start in January 2008, and for six months, a process of easing the application of Article 140”. To support the UN envoy in Iraq, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, visited Kirkuk on 18 December where the American Foreign Minister met representatives of the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite Arab, Christian and Turcoman communities.
Moreover, the Kurdish and Arab parties of the Kirkuk region reached an agreement on 3 December on a power sharing formula. The President of the Kirkuk regional Council, Rizgar Ali, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) welcomed this agreement before the press “as a positive stage towards the development of Kirkuk and towards cooperation in decision-making and partnership”. According to an Arab member of the provincial council, Rakan Said al-Juburi, the agreement announced gives his community a better representation in the bodies that will be set up following fresh local elections. “For the first time, the duties of assistant governor and of Chief assistant of the judiciary will be attributed to us”, he welcomed. “Responsibilities will be distributed equally with up to 32% each to the Kurds, Arabs and Turcomen. The remaining 4% will be attributed to the minorities, like the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians”, he added. The 41-member regional council is dominated by the two Kurdish parties (Massud Barzani’s KDP and Jalal Talabani’s PUK) with 26 seats. The Arab parties have six seats and the Turcomen nine. The Arab organisations have been boycotting the regional organisation for several months.
2azen Darabi, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of several Iranian Kurdish leaders in Berlin in 1992, and considered by the Germans as an Iranian secret agent, was freed ahead of time on 10 December and expelled to Iran from Frankfort Airport. He has spent fifteen years in prison. The Mykonos trial, from the name of the Berlin restaurant where the killings took place, had damaged German-Iranian relations for a long time — and, more widely, the E.U.’s relations with Teheran.
Kazam Darabi, today 48 ears of age, and his Lebanese accomplice, Abbas Rhayel, 39 years, had been sentenced for life in April 1997 for the murders, in a Berlin restaurant on 17 September 1992, of the chief of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), Sadegh Sharafkandi and three of his companions. They had come to Berlin specially to take part in a meeting of the Socialist International. Kazam Darabi was the head of the commando and Abbas Rhayel the one who fired the fatal shots. Two other Lebanese who had also been found guilt, Mohammed Atris, who served a five years and three months in jail and Yussef Amin, who was expelled to the Lebanon in 1999 after serving more than half his 11-year sentences. In the verdict, Iran was directly implicated “at the highest level of the State”, that is openly accused of terrorism, a world first. The sentence, following on three years of hearings, highlighted by evidence by the former Iranian President in exile, Abdolhassan Banisadr, who had accused Iran of being a terrorist state. There followed a diplomatic crisis of a year. Iran recalled its ambassadors to Europe, the E.U. recalled theirs from Teheran.
In October, the German authorities had announced, unexpectedly, their intention of shortening the sentences of these two men and expelling them, while Iran had been trying for several years past, to secure Kazem Darabi’s release. At the time Germany had denied any political bargaining, arguing the classical process, in Germany, that allows the release, after at least 15 years detention, of prisoners sentenced for life. However, a little earlier in the year the legal authorities had excluded the likelihood of Kazem Darabi being rapidly freed. They had argued the “particularly heavy” load of the crime committed. The prisoner was considered by Israel a precious bargaining counter for gaining information about the fate the Israeli pilot Ron Arad, whose plane had been shot down over South Lebanon in 1986. That State had, indeed, tried to put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel this autumn, to prevent the announced release of the two prisoners. The name of Darabi was also raised as a bargaining counter when Germany was seeking to secure the release of a German tourist, Donald Klein, imprisoned in Iran and sentenced for illegal entry into Iranian territorial waters. The German was finally released in March, after 15 months detention.
Thus Germany has closed a painful chapter in Irano-Germn relations. A spokesman for the Berlin regional Ministry of the Interior announced his expulsion when Kazem Darabi had already left German airspace early in the evening. His Lebanese accomplice, Abbas Rhayad, Lebanese Hezbollah activist, was expelled as far back as 6 December to an unspecified destination. The German Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the competent authority for terrorist cases, repeated “there is no connection (between the expulsion of Kazem Darabi and Abbas Rhayel) an other cases”. The former lawyer of the private parties associated with the prosecution judged these early releases “incomprehensible”. Considering them more the consequence of “political pressures” and will be “interpreted by Iran not as a sign of generosity but as a sign of the West’s weakness”.
On 27 December, the Constitutional Court rejected demands by the Public Prosecutor for restricting the activity of the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP – pro-Kurdish), which is being prosecuted and threatened with banning because of alleged links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The Court considered that the conditions required for taking such measures against the DTP for the duration of its trial did not exist. The DTP welcomed this decision but stressed by the Court, but stressed that it was still being threatened with being closed down, “This is a positive decision even if it does not constitute any sign about the root of the case”, stated the DTP Member of parliament Selahattin Demirtas. “The demands of the Public Prosecutor were illegal and the Court applied the law”.
The Public Prosecutor had called for the banning of the DTP, that holds 20 of the 550 seats in the Parliament, from putting forward candidates at elections, of taking part in polls on the lists of other parties or as independent candidates. He had also demanded the freezing of any financial aids the party might enjoys well as on the recruiting of new members. These demands for these measures of distraint were included in the charge sheet sent to the Constitutional Court in November by the Prosecutor of the Court of Appeals. The prosecutor recommended banning the DTP on the grounds that it could be “a source of activities prejudicial to the independence of the State and its indivisible unity”. The proceedings started against the DTP come at a time when Turkey has been waging military operations, since 16 December, against Kurdish fighters entrenched in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Furthermore, on 17 December, in Ankara, the Turkish police took in for questioning the President of the DTP, accusing him of having “used false documents to avoid military service”. Nurettin Demirtas, elected in November to the Presidency of the DTP, was arrested at about 7.30 p.m. (5.30 p.m. GMT) at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport, on his return from a visit to Germany. He was led to a forensic medicine Institute, a procedure prior to being placed in detention. According the CNN-Turk television channel, Mr. Demirtas, 35 years of age, is being sued with 183 other people for having avoided military service by making “use of false report of unfitness” and faces two to five years' jail.
At least 568 Iraqis were killed in December in attacks and assassinations — the lowest figure since February 2006, according to figures by the Ministries of Defence, the Interior and Health. According to this assessment, 480 civilians, 24 soldiers and 64 police were killed in December, making a total of 568 people. In all, 937 people were injured in December, according to the figures of the Iraqi Ministries: 730 civilians, 51 troops and 156 police. On the other hand, 251 “terrorists” were killed and 1,146 were arrested according to the same assessment. The Sunni Arab militia mobilised by the US Army against al-Qaida, some dozens of whom have been killed in attacks in the last few weeks, are counted amongst the civilians. At least 637 people were killed in February 2006, a month marked by the bomb attack on the Shiite Mausoleum of Samarra (125 Km North of Baghdad), which had unleashed a wave of sectarian violence in Iraq, essentially between the Shiite and Sunni communities. The peak of this violence was reached in January 2007, with 1,992 deaths recorded by the three Ministries. In November 2007, 606 Iraqis were killed, compared with 887 in October and 840 in September. Alongside this drop, the number of US troops killed in Iraq has also been diminishing regularly since last May.
Iraq has been experiencing a relative improvement in security since the end f the summer. This is particularly notable in Baghdad, where the bomb attacks, kidnappings, executions and clashes between armed groups have sharply diminished. According to a recent report by the US Administration, attacks have dropped by 62% throughout the country since June. The US and Iraqi authorities see here proof of the success of a vast offensive launched in February 2007 in the capital and the rest of the country. This improvement is also the result of the mobilisation of Sunni Arab militia against al-Qaida, and the truce decreed by Moqtada Sadr’s powerful Shiite militia, the Mahdi’s Army.
Anxious to curb the violence, the US General Staff has provided its active support for the creation of “concerned local citizens” (CLC). On 3 December, the Iraqi government ordered the Ministry of the Interior to undertake the command of 12,000 “concerned local citizens” in the Baghdad region and to begin paying them. The US Army has revealed the fact that it was forming, arming and paying some 60,000 “concerned” Iraqi citizens throughout the country, mainly Sunni Arabs, to control the violence at local level. Credited with having contributed to reducing the level of violence, the some 200 CLC groups already formed are derived from tribal militia that appeared last year in the Western region of Anbar. To struggle against al-Qaida’s blind massacres, the Sunni tribal Sheikhs of the province had undertaken to set up groups of young militia, made responsible for policing the areas of their tribal influence.
Since mid-November, three large-scale bomb attacks have take place in the capital, causing at least 36 deaths. The rest of the country has not been spared. On 8 December a suicide bomber blew up his car bomb against a police building in Baiji (Northern Iraq), killing at least six policemen and wounding sixteen others. The day before, at Moqdadiyah (North) a woman had set off the explosive belt she was wearing in the building used b a militia fighting against al-Qaida in Iraq, causing 16 deaths and 27 injured. On 12 December, three car bomb attacks committed a few minutes apart caused 40 deaths and dozens of injured in Amara, which is mainly Shiite in population. This triple attack is the bloodiest in Iraq for several months and occurred in a region where struggles for influence between factions have intensified since the gradual withdrawal of British forces. The bombs exploded in one of the main thoroughfares of Amara, the capital of Maissan Province, located some 365 Km South of Baghdad, mainly inhabited by Marshland Arabs. Most of the victims were killed or injured by the second and third bombs that exploded as a crowd of onlookers had gathered in front of a parking area, where the explosion had taken place.
According to figures published on 5 December by the Iraqi Red Crescent, almost 110,000 displaced persons were able to return to their homes in Iraq in October. In all, the number of people displaced inside Iraqi territory has dropped from 2.3 to 2.19 million. The Red Crescent also estimate that slightly over 25,000 Iraqis refugees have returned from Syria since 15 September. According to reports coming from the principal countries offering them asylum, namely Syria and Lebanon, the situation there is becoming daily more and more precarious for the refugees. According to the Human Rights Defence group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Lebanese authorities have begum to put pressure on the 50,000 Iraqi refugees living there. According to Bill Frelick, of HRW, those refugees who do not have valid visas are too often just thrown into jail until they agree to leave the Lebanon. Syria is becoming less and less hospitable and the conditions for survival are constantly deteriorating.
On the other hand, on 10 December, Iraq asked the UN Security Council to extend for a further year, the mandate of the US-led coalition, specifying that this was the last extension and that it could, indeed be shortened. US troops will remain on Iraqi soil after 2008, but Baghdad wants to amend the terms of their mission. Since the beginning of the year attacks have dropped by 55%, following the deployment of 30,000 additional troops since mid-June. The increasing recourse to “concerned local citizens” backed by US troops, mostly organised by Sunni tribal Chiefs, is said to have born fruit, despite initial criticisms.
On 16 December, the Syrian police dispersed a demonstration of several dozens of Kurds before ht High Court of State Security, a special emergency court. The demonstrators, coming out I response to a call from three Kurdish parties (banned in Syria) wished “to protest against the decision of the authorities to put five Kurds on trial before this court”, pointed out the Syrian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LSDDH). Some demonstrators were knocked about and beaten with sticks by the police then forced into trucks that took them out of Damascus, where they were released.
Furthermore, the same court sentenced four Kurdish detainees to imprisonment. Abed Salhab, Mohammad Anas Saleh, and Radwan Sheikh Mohammad, all three accused of “being members of an organisation aiming at altering the economic and social status of the State”, were respectively sentenced to ten, five and four years imprisonment, the LSDDH indicated. Rami Sayed was sentenced to four years detention for “having spread false information aimed at weakening the nation”.
The LSDDH expressed its “profound anxiety” at the sentences passed and denounced the special courts, that “violate the essential freedoms guaranteed by the Syrian Constitution and Human Rights treaties”. It called for “the immediate freeing of all political detainees”.
On 15 December, US President George W. Bush called for the immediate freeing of dozens of the regime’s opponents arrested in recent days. “The Syrian regime continues to detain hundreds of prisoners of opinion and has arrested over thirty members of the National Council in recent days”, declared Mr. Bush, referring to the Council recently set up round the “Damascus declaration”, a call for democratic change in Syria. “All these detainees must be freed immediately”, Mr. Bush stressed in his communiqué.
On 14 December, the former Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, a former opponent of Turkey’s joining the European Union was chosen to preside the “think tank” desired by Nicolas Sarkozy to consider the future of Europe. The mandate of the group, which is due to make its report in 2010, is to imagine the face of Europe in the perspective of 2020-2030, and does not specifically mention Turkey. Nicolas Sarkozy had announced during the election campaign that he would stop the negotiations with Turkey if elected. He has since moderated his stand by accepting to open talks on those chapters that do not directly lead to membership. He has, however, conditioned the pursuit of these negotiations to the setting up of a group of “wise men” who, so he says, cannot imagine the future of Europe in the next 20 years without also thinking about the place it would leave for Turkey. However, the group’s mandate makes no direct reference to the reply needed regarding Turkey’s candidacy, nor to Europe’s borders — but the “wise men” will have to begin by assuring the stability of “the European region in a broad sense”.
For his part, on 12 December the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, considered that France could not block Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union, even if Paris succeeded in having the word “accession” removed from the European communiqué on the Turkey-E.U. negotiations, On France’s insistence, the E.U. Foreign Ministers avoided using the words membership or accession in their communiqué about Turkey of 10 December. Thus the document evokes the holding, before the end of the month, of “inter-governmental conferences” and not of “conferences on membership” to open two chapters of negotiations. “If France believes it can prevent Turkey’s accession with the support of some countries, it is mistaken”, declared Mr. Erdogan during a reception by an Ankara businessman in Ankara, attended by Ambassadors of European Union countries. “Because Turkey remains and will continue to remain decided to advance on the road to the E.U.”, added the Prime Minister. In these uncharacteristically sharp terms, Mr Erdogan accuses Mr. Sarkozy of sending messages in different tones depending on whether he addresses them to Turkey or elsewhere. In his view, the E.U. cannot change the rules of the game at half time, — an allusion to efforts by Sarkozy to persuade Turkey to opt for a “privileged partnership” with the E.U. and to renounce real membership.
The French President has accepted that discussions continue, but not on chapters of the negotiations that automatically imply membership, such as entry into the euro zone, a position that is, indeed, close to that displayed by Angela Merkel’s entourage. Paris will, therefore, approve the opening of two new chapters at the end of December — on consumer protection and trans-European networks — which will be added to the five already opened. The French government is ready to amend the French Constitution to suppress the obligation of a referendum before the admission of any new countries, such as Macedonia or Serbia — a risky procedure introduced by Mr. Chirac to defuse the Turkish issue.
Furthermore Turkey has been under strong pressure from the E.U. to amend or suppress Article 301 of its Penal Code, which allows judges to try people for “insulting Turkish identity” and, in particular, to punish statements about the Armenian genocide of 1915. Some Turkish officials, quoted off the record by Reuters on 7 December, state that Turkey will amend this controversial article of its Penal Code for freedom of expression — when the E.U. unblocks negotiations for membership with Turkey. Article 301 allows the trial of people having “insulted Turkish identity” and, in particular, punishes any statements about the Armenian genocide of 1915. “There is a political will to changer article 301, which has been decided, but the methods and time table depend on certain on certain measures by the E.U.”, declared a high-ranking official, off the record. The E.U. is also calling for the rights of religious minorities in Turkey, such as making more flexible the restrictions on the property of non-Moslems, like the Greek Orthodox community. The European summit of December 2006 froze eight of the 35 chapters of negotiation (the most important ones) so long as Turkey refused to open its ports and airports to ships and planes coming from Cyprus.
On 30 December the Iranian Foreign Minister announced that the first Iranian nuclear power station would start producing electricity in the summer of 2008. Manushehr Mottaki declared that the Russians, who had helped built the Bushehr (South) light water reactor, would have finished delivering nuclear fuel by the summer, which would allow starting the power station. “The Bushehr power station will start up at 50% capacity next summer”, declared Mottaki, according to the IRNA press agency. The total capacity of the site is 1,000 MW”.
After several months delay, Russia began its deliveries of fuel mid-December and a second delivery arrived on 28 December. In all, 82 tonnes are du to be delivered according to the Iranian authorities. Moscow had officially explained the delay on the procedure by delays in payment but many observers have suggested that Russia was annoyed that the Iranians were not assuring the international community in a clearer manner that their nuclear programme was, indeed, purely civilian. The use fuel is due to be sent back to Russia, which helped reassure the international community that it would not be retreated to extract plutonium for military use. The spokesperson of the Russian company Atomstroiexport, Irina Essipova, had pointed out on 20 December that the Bushehr power station “would not be started up before the end of 2008”. Russia, which took over the building of the plant from the German Siemens company, made two deliveries of fuel to Bishehr in the last two weeks. These deliveries are due to end next February. “Six after the end of fuel delivery we will begin testing with this fuel. When the tests have been successfully completed we will be able to start up the plant”, the Russian builder’s spokesperson had explained, adding: “I cannot say how long the testing of the fuel will last”. Mr. Mottaki, however, indicated “delivery will be complete with the sending of eight shipments”.
After the first delivery of fuel, Moscow called on Iran to “stop its uranium enrichment work” pointing out that the supply of fuel to Bushehr “was ensured for the rest of its working life”. Iran replied by stating that it was continuing its uranium enrichment, against the wishes of the international community, so as to supply its future power station at Darkhoyan (South). The Iranian Minister of Fuel and Power, Parviz Fattah, stated on 30 December that Iran had begun building the Darkhoyen power station in Darkhoyen, in the province of Khuzistan (South-West Iran).
In a report published on 3 December, the US Intelligence service stated that Iran had, in fact, stopped its nuclear arms plans in 2003 and admitted that it did not know its current plans, at the risk of against discrediting George W. Bush’s discourse on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. “We judge, with a high degree of confidence, that Teheran stopped its nuclear arms programme in the autumn of 2003”, according to the Intelligence services, who think that Iran does not have any nuclear weapons at present. On the other hand, 16 other intelligence services indicated that Iran apparently intends to maintain the nuclear arms option and might be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium to make an atom bomb between 2010 and 2015. This agency reveals for the first time that Iran did indeed have secret plans before 2003 and also stresses that Iran continues to have activities in other possible nuclear activities such as enrichment. The Democrat opposition to Bush has based itself on this report to demand a “new policy towards Iran”, in the terms of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, while the head of the Democratic majority in the Senate, Harry Reid, called for a “diplomatic surge of energy”. Some weeks after President Bush had brandished the spectre of a “nuclear holocaust” or a Third World War if Iran had the bomb, the Bush Administration is being pushed onto the defensive by unfavourable comparisons with the Iraqi precedent, when he had invoked the danger of Saddam Hussein’s weapons mass destruction.
Uranium enrichment, that Iran refuses to suspend despite two series of international sanctions and the danger of a third, is intended to produce fuel for its future civilian power stations, the Islamic regime insists. However, enriched to over 10%, uranium can provide material for a bomb. The note has appeared at a time when the six powers taking part in the negotiations over Iranian nuclear plans (France, Germany, Russia China the United Kingdom and the United States) are discussing a third resolution strengthening sanctions against Iran to get it to suspend its suspected nuclear activities — especially the enrichment of uranium.
On 11 December, the Deputy Prime Minister, Omar Fatah, indicated that the government of Kurdistan hoped to sign a separate agreement with the United States organising a long-term American military presence on its territory. “A strategic agreement between Kurdistan and the United States would satisfy us”, he insisted in a statement to the press at Irbil.
Returning from a visit to the United States, he was commenting on the signing of an agreement between Washington and the Baghdad central government to maintain US troops in Iraq on the expiry of the UN mandate at the end of 2008. “We are satisfied with this agreement between Washington and Baghdad (…) the Kurdish leadership has tried to have the same thing several times” the Deputy Prime Minister continued. “We are not in favour of a rapid withdrawal of American troops. We want these troops to remain until the establishment of a democratic and federal Iraq”, Mr. Fatah insisted.
Eight members of the Kurdish security forces, the peshmergas, were killed on 16 December in an attack on a control post near the town of Karatappa, in the neighbouring province of Diyala. Jabar Yawar, Commander of the Peshmergas who ensure security in Iraqi Kurdistan made the point that “eight peshmergas were killed and five were wounded when terrorists attacked their control post” in a shoot out that lasted over two hours, and that three “terrorists” were killed. Some peshmerga units have been sent to the Karatappa region, where some communities of Shiite Kurds are settled, while Diyala Province is the scene of an American offensive against the Iraqi emulators of al-Qaida.
An Iranian judge has accused two feminist activists of having conducted “terrorist activities” in Sanandaj, provincial capital of Kurdistan Province, according to a report dated 16 December by the official news agency IRNA. Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi “have been arrested for action contrary to national security by taking part in recent bomb attacks in Sanandj and for being members of the PEJAK Group”, declared the judge responsible for the case. According to him “the counter-revolutionary groups use civic organisations to carry out their terrorist actions”.
The two young women were among the feminist groups that, several months ago, launched a campaign to collect a million signatures to alter laws that discriminated against women. The legal official added “people have been arrested in Teheran for having carried out actions in favour of Pejak under cover of the campaign for a million women’s signatures”. Some international organisations for the defence of human rights have protested against the arrest of these feminist activists, particularly Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi.
PEJAK, an acronym for the Party for a free life in Kurdistan, is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It wages an armed struggle against the Iranian regime. The Province of Kurdistan and the neighbouring province of Western Azerbaijan are the scene of sporadic clashes attributed by the authorities to “Kurdish separatist groups”. The forces of the Foreign Ministry of Information announced, on 25 November, that it had arrested 11 members of Pejak, accused, amongst other things of having “attacked and set on fire a police station in Sanandaj and set off several bombs”.
On 29 December, the Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister, Labid Abbawi, announced that an Iraqi delegation would be going to Iran in the coming days to negotiate slight modifications to the agreement, which has defined the border between the two countries since 1975. This initiative, seems to confirm a diplomatic solution to a disagreement linked to the Treaty of Algiers, signed nearly 33 years ago, and which Iraqi President described on 25 December as “null and void”. The Iraqi President later indicated that the treaty was still valid but that Iraq wished to negotiate certain changes. The Iranian Foreign Minister, Manushehr Mottaki, quoted by the IRNA press agency on 29 December, as saying “We approve Talabani’s latest declaration that the 1975 Treaty between Iran and Iraq was valid”. “This point of view can constitute a solid base for relations between Iran and Iraq”, he added.
Labid Abbawi indicated that the Iranians had accepted to discuss changes to the Treaty, without, however, giving any date for the discussions. “Part of the discussions will concern the Algiers treaty, we will discuss the border and try to define clearly its line. There are oil fields on the border and we hope that the benefits be shared”, he declared. “This does not present a problem for Iraq. They have agreed to negotiations and there is no problem”, he added.
The treaty of Algiers has been controversial since it was signed by Saddam Hussein, at that time Iraqi Vice-President and the Shah of Iran, In the 1980s, disagreements over the border plunged Iran and Iraq into a war that lasted eight years and caused over a million deaths. At the heart of the claims id the Shatt al-Arab estuary, which allows access to the Arabo-Persian Gulf and contains oilfields. According to Labid Abbawi, portions of Iraqi territory are now flooded because of erosion and geographic changes in the region. Iraq also hopes to negotiate with Iran the neutralisation of thousands of mines that still strew the Shatt el-Arab
The former President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, is returning to the forefront in preparation for the Parliamentary elections due 14 March next. He will lead a coalition of reformers and moderate conservatives whose objective is to regain control of the Majlis (the Iranian parliament), at present dominated by President Mahmud Ahmedinjad’s Abadgaran Party. The coalition led by Mr. Khatami brings together 21 parties, including allies and others loyal to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, another former Iranian president and a very influential figure in the political caste. The reforming alliance aims to campaign by criticising the country’s economic situation, including a galloping inflation and the extremism of the positions adopted by President Ahmedinjad, particularly on the nuclear issue. For some weeks now criticisms directed at President Ahmedinjad have been increasingly frequent and have even been expressed in media considered close to the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Khamenei.
Mohammad Khatami, who was President of the Islamic Republic from 1997 to 2007, embodies the hopes of a whole of Iranian society, particularly the students, that hopes for a certain modernisation of society. These hopes have been disappointed, partly because of the political system, the principal levers of which remain concentrated in the hands of the Supreme Guide of the Revolution — a factor which paved the way for the return to power of the ultra-conservatives in 2004.
Meanwhile, the Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmedinjad, will be going on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia — a first ever for a Head of State of the Islamic Republic. “On the official invitation of (the Saudi) King Abdullah, President Ahmedinjad will take part this year in the pilgrimage to Mecca”, declared Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, principal adviser to the Head of State on 13 December, as quoted by the Mehr press agency. “This is the first time, in the history of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, that the Saudi King has invited a President of the Islamic Republic to come to Mecca on pilgrimage”, declared for his part Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the President’s media adviser.
On 11 December, the Iranian President had stated that king Abdullah had invited him verbally, during the recent summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. This will be 'r. Ahmedinjad’s third visit to Saudi Arabia since his taking office in 2005. Iran, which is mainly Shiite and the mainly Sunni Saudi Arabia have been trying, over the last few years, to strengthen relations hitherto marked by mutual distrust. These relations have long been marked by a tragedy in Mecca in 1987, when 402 pilgrims, including 275 Iranians, were killed, according to the official assessment, by the Saudi police. The latter were repressing a traditional demonstration by Iranian in Mecca against the United States and Israel. Iran, at the time, was in the middle of its war with Iraq, which was supported by the Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia.
On 16 December, Great Britain officially handed over responsibility for the security of Basra Province to the Iraqi forces, at the end of nearly five years of British control of Southern Iraq. During an official ceremony to mark the event in the last British military base in the region, the province’s Governor, Mohammed Mosbah al-Waeli, linked to the Fadila party, declared: “This is a historic moment, a special day, one of the greatest days in the history of modern Basra”. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police took part in the march past along the riverbanks of the capital of the Great South, with a cloud of helicopters flying above them. Motorboats also crossed the Shatt el-Arab, the river at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates, which leads down to the Gulf. The Commander of the British forces, General Graham Binns, who led the troops who captured the city in 2003, paid homage to the Iraqi security forces, insisting that the were equal to the task that was being confided to them.
This province, of 2.6 million predominately Shiite inhabitants, is clearly the most densely inhabited and richest of the 18 Iraqi provinces whose control has been handed over to the Iraqis. It is the principal centre for the exporting of Iraqi oil, and Basra is the country’s second largest city. The Iraqi forces insist that the 30,000 soldiers and police present in the region are in a position to keep the peace. The province has, to a large extent, been spared the sectarian conflicts that have caused tens of thousands of deaths in the centre of Iraq. But the city of Basra has been the scene of bloody clashes between rival Shiite factions, criminals and traffickers of various sorts. The factions have agreed to a truce, for this month, and violence has diminished, but an outbreak of violence remains possible in the regions evacuated b the British forces. It is for this reason that a reduced British contingent will remain in Southern Iraq, confined to its base round Basra Airport and that a few army instructors as well as a rapid reaction force will remain ready in case of need. Great Britain now has some 4,500 men in Iraq, less than a tenth of the force sent to overthrow Saddam Hussein. There have been 174 British troops killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003. The United States have openly supported the decision of their British allies to gradually disengage from Iraq. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Great Britain controlled four provinces in the South, backed by contingents of Italian, Australian, Japanese and others — most of whom have long been gone. Of the four provinces of which Britain had charge, three have already been handed over to the Iraqi authorities: Muthanna, Zi Qar, and Missan. The British forces began to hand over control of the province to the Iraqis last year. On 3 September they had given control of the city of Basra’s security to the Iraqi authorities.
The Province of Basra, trough whose port transits 80% of Iraqi oil, exports 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, which supplies virtually the totality of the Iraqi government’s resources. The wealth in oil of this province produces, together with the neighbouring province of Missan, some 70% of Iraq’s crude. Part of this oil is also sold abroad outside official channels, a source of illicit revenue for smugglers and other traffickers, many of which are suspected of having links with local militia. Political rivalries have divided the city between three main factions. The supporters of imam Moqtada al-Sadr, fiercely anti-American, have considerable street influence. His rival, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) enjoys considerable influence with the security forces while the Fadila party, the smallest, is influential in the civil administration.