6 June 2003, Volume
U.S. SCRAPS NATIONAL CONFERENCE, WILL APPOINT IRAQI INTERIM COUNCIL.
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has decided to appoint an interim Iraqi advisory council, nixing a previous plan to sponsor a 300-member Iraqi national conference that was expected to elect an Iraqi interim administration in mid-July, international media reported on 1 June. The CPA will now appoint a 25-30-member council within six weeks, a senior coalition official was quoted as telling several news agencies. The decision is likely the result of increased calls by Iraqis demanding that they be given a role in the administration of the country sooner. In addition, an unnamed coalition official reportedly said the CPA's choice of members will reflect a broader participation than the Iraqis might have come up with themselves. The mid-July meeting had been planned after U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer canceled a national conference scheduled by his predecessor Jay Garner for the end of May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 May 2003).
The role of the 25-30 council members will be to act as advisers to Iraqi government ministries, assist in the formulation of policy, and nominate a committee to draft an Iraqi constitution. Some are also expected to become ministers in an interim Iraqi government. An unnamed coalition official said the coalition will choose council members "through a process of consultation" with Iraqis, adding that the appointed members will "emerge from a process of give and take with the Iraqis," "The Washington Post" reported on 2 June. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker briefed seven political groups about the decision on 1 June, the daily reported.
It appears that the CPA is eager to avoid the type of problems that arose during local elections in recent weeks. The "Financial Times" reported on 1 June that a 30-member committee of Iraqi technocrats walked out to protest the United Kingdom's insistence on chairing the committee. British officials disbanded the Al-Basrah city council at the end of May and replaced it with an interim committee after it was discovered that the head of the council, Shaykh Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al-Tamimi, is a former Ba'ath Party member. Problems also arose in Kirkuk local elections last week when protests erupted among political and ethnic groups over the elected composition of the council (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 May 2003), forcing U.S. administrators to step in to appease all sides. Meanwhile, the coalition has canceled local council elections scheduled to take place in Al-Najaf this week.
Bremer defended the decision to appoint an interim advisory council at the 2 June press conference saying that decision was made in response to Iraqi demands to speed up the reconstruction process in Iraq. "Most of the Iraqis we've talked to have been anxious to move ahead rather quickly to establish an interim administration and we agree with that," "The Washington Post" quoted Bremer as saying in a 3 June report on the press conference. "We think it's important for the Iraqi people to be seen to be involved in some very important decisions that are going to have to be made in the weeks and months ahead, and we have felt the best way to get that forward quickly is to broaden our consultations, to step up the pace of our consultations, and to arrive at a decision about the political council rather quickly," he added. He also argued that the decision was in line with the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1483, which recognizes U.S. and British officials as the governing "Authority" in Iraq.
Representatives of the seven major opposition-turned-political groups met in Baghdad on 2 June to discuss the U.S. decision, "The Washington Post" reported the same day. The groups expressed their disappointment over the decision but stopped short of issuing a joint condemnation of it. "We had hoped for an Iraqi process to select an interim administration, which would have some clear powers.... Now, it does not look like that will happen," Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) told the daily, while Entifadh Qanbar of the Iraqi National Congress said, "We are skeptical [that the U.S. plan] is going to work."
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani criticized the seven major opposition groups, including his own, in an interview with "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that was quoted in the PUK newspaper "Al-Ittihad" on 26 May for their inability to organize in an expeditious fashion. "I want to blame ourselves and then the coalition," he said. "Yes, there is negligence on our part as far as working expeditiously is concerned. The Leadership Council [group of seven] had to expedite the formation of the preparatory committee and the latter had to expedite holding the conference." He also criticized the U.S. for continually changing its plans with regard to an interim Iraqi government. "Any procrastination [by the U.S.] will raise suspicion and distrust in the coalition [among Iraqis]. This will be reflected on us, too, as partners," Talabani said.
Meanwhile, a 2 June meeting between the Iraqi Tribal Chiefs Council and a CPA representative ended abruptly when the tribal chiefs walked out, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. According to the news channel, the meeting, which began in a "friendly atmosphere," ended after U.S. representative Ambassador Hume Horan was asked by tribal leaders whether the U.S. presence in Iraq is one of liberators or occupiers, to which Horan reportedly replied that occupation might be too harsh a term, but is the reality. "We committed mistakes and we will commit more mistakes. This cannot be avoided. But I want to tell you frankly and from the heart that the mistakes we commit are not because we have bad intentions," Horan told the group. The tribal chiefs were reportedly angered by Horan's remarks. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. ADMINISTRATOR SAYS NEW MILITARY RECRUITMENT TO BEGIN IN LATE JUNE.
U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer told a Baghdad press conference on 2 June that recruitment for the "New Iraqi Corps" -- the U.S.-backed replacement for the Iraqi Army -- will begin in late June, AP reported the same day. Bremer also said that in the coming week the U.S. will begin hiring thousands of demobilized enlisted men from the army to assist in cleaning up sites that will be used by the new military. According to AP, Bremer said that he is "fully aware" of the hardship faced by many former members of the Iraq Army who are now out of work, stressing that "The purpose of our policy is not to punish people." Bremer cautioned, however, that the CPA will not be intimidated by the threats of former Iraqi army officers. "We're not going to be blackmailed into producing [job] programs because of threats of terrorism," Reuters quoted him as telling the press conference. He added that the U.S. policy banning senior officers from positions in the new Iraqi government will stand, and that he anticipates only a few exceptions will be made to that ban. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. TO ISSUE PINK SLIPS TO 500,000 IRAQI WORKERS...
The CPA intends to lay off some 500,000 Iraqi military and civilian personnel in the coming days, the "Los Angeles Times" website (http://www.latimes.com) reported on 3 June. Information Ministry, armed-forces personnel, and other government employees will receive "termination payments" of around $20 -- the equivalent of an average monthly salary. According to the daily, around 30 percent of Iraqi workers were employed by the government under deposed President Saddam Hussein. The move, coupled with an estimated 20 percent unemployment, could further destabilize the country. U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer told reporters on 2 June that the CPA is looking into ways of providing at least temporary employment to some Iraqis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003), including a $70 million community-development program that should resume municipal services such as trash collection and rebuild schools damaged by the conflict. The CPA estimates that about 100,000 of Iraq's 400,000 Hussein-era military personnel will be rehired as part of the New Iraqi Corps (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003).
...AS DISMISSED SOLDIERS PROTEST AGAINST CPA IN CAPITAL.
Around 3,000 former Iraqi soldiers protested outside the CPA's Baghdad headquarters on 2 June, one week after they vowed to take revenge on the United States if it refused to reverse a decision that dissolved the Iraqi military, leaving thousands unemployed (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 May 2003), Reuters reported the same day. Some protesters demanded that U.S. and British forces withdraw from Iraq, while others threatened violence unless they receive compensation for their military service. "All of us will become suicide bombers," former officer Khairi Jassim said, adding, "I will turn my six daughters into bombs to kill the Americans." The protesters reportedly dispersed after CPA officials met briefly with former senior officers and agreed to hold talks with them on 3 June, AP reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
U.S. TROOPS ARREST MORE BA'ATH PARTY MEMBERS.
U.S. forces arrested 15 members of the banned Ba'ath Party who had gathered at an Iraqi police academy, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May. Bernard Kerik, a U.S. adviser to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, told journalists the same day that former Ba'ath Party functionaries had convened for the meeting. The Ba'athists were reportedly plotting to blow up police outposts and assault U.S. forces, the "Chicago Tribune" cited U.S. military police as saying on 1 June. "They were supposedly working on curriculum for a police force that does not exist," he said. "They were really working on attacking police stations and soldiers," U.S. Army Captain Steve Caruso told the daily. Among those arrested were one major general and five brigadier generals from the deposed Hussein regime, as well as the director of the police academy. Reuters quoted Kerik as telling reporters that police officers at the academy applauded the arrests, "which shows what people thought of them." Kerik said an investigation was launched after documents written on Ba'ath Party stationery were found at the academy. The investigation revealed that the party was holding weekly meetings at the site. U.S. General Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, banned ousted President Hussein's Ba'ath Party on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 May 2003). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SCIRI'S BADR BRIGADE DISMANTLED BY U.S., WILL CHANGE FOCUS.
The Kurdish newspaper "Hawlati" reported on 28 May that U.S. forces had begun disarming the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) armed wing, the Badr Brigade, in the area of Ba'qubah, northeast of Baghdad. According to the report, some brigade members were arrested and interrogated "about the number and identity of the Iranians who accompanied them [into] Iraqi territory." The report stated that "scores" of Badr fighters were arrested and many remain in detention. The report was not independently confirmed.
A similar report was issued on 3 June by the Voice of the Mujahidin, a clandestine radio station reportedly affiliated with SCIRI. According to the report, U.S. forces stormed SCIRI offices in Tal Afar, near Mosul, seizing "the contents" of the building and arresting a number of SCIRI members who were meeting there.
Meanwhile, SCIRI representative Hamid al-Bayati told Al-Jazeera television in a 2 June interview that SCIRI would be reassessing its structure in light of the downfall of the Hussein regime. "It is only natural to review SCIRI's situation. As a matter of fact, His Eminence Ayatollah al-Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, chairman of SCIRI, announced in a speech in Karbala that the Badr Brigades will be transformed into the Badr Institution for Building and Reconstruction," al-Bayati noted. He added that SCIRI's organizational structure might also be changed.
BRITISH REOPEN PRISON IN SOUTHERN IRAQ.
British forces have reopened a prison on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi town of Al-Basrah, BBC reported on 3 June. British General Peter Wall reopened the facility in a red-ribbon ceremony. It will house up to 300 people, with the first 70 arrivals slated to enter in the coming days. They include Iraqis arrested after the war for crimes including major theft and looting, murder, rape, and attacks on the Iraqi infrastructure.
The prison was reportedly updated -- the 3-by-3-meter cells now include toilets (instead of buckets or holes in the ground) and fans, according to the BBC. Prisoners will be provided blankets but will sleep on plywood "mattresses." "They're going to be fed and looked after, but it's not going to be too nice," Major Simon Wilson told AP on 2 June. "They're not going to want to come back," he added. The prison also has separate wings for women and juvenile offenders, although no women have been arrested, according to AP. Iraqi Captain Walid Sadak, the prison's former deputy warden, has been promoted to major by Wall, and will now run the prison.
Courts are also scheduled to reopen in the coming days. "It's important to have a place to put these people before the courts are open," General Wall said. Iraqi corrections officers and administrators will be running the prison, he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SUSPECTED MURDERER RELEASED FROM U.S. CUSTODY.
An Iraqi accused of participating in the murder of thousands of Iraqi Shi'as was inadvertently released from U.S. custody, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported in a 29 May press release on its website. Muhammad Jawad al-Neifus was released from the Bucca Internment Facility in Umm Qasr on 18 May after a screening by an officer of the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps.
According to the press release, al-Neifus's true identity was not known at the time. He was taken to the facility after being detained by U.S. Marines outside Al-Hillah on 26 April. He is accused of participating in the murder of thousands of Iraqi Shi'as in Al-Mahawil, just north of Al-Hillah. "U.S. forces are solely responsible for his erroneous release," the statement read, adding that the coalition "will use all means available to bring al-Neifus to swift justice and are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SHI'ITE CLERIC DISCUSSES AL-NAJAF HAWZAH.
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Sayyid Muhammad Rida al-Sistani told Beirut-based "Al-Mustaqbal" in an interview published on 28 May that efforts are under way to reestablish the Al-Najaf hawzah to its pre-Saddam Hussein status as a major center for religious study. Al-Sistani said the institution is now in a transitional phase, noting: "In the past years, particularly during the [1980-88] Iran-Iraq War, there were no students. We had very few people from Islamic countries. Iraqis and others went to other hawzahs, like those in Qom and Mashhad [both in Iran]."
Al-Sistani said the Al-Najaf hawzah needs to be rebuilt, noting that under the deposed Hussein regime, "not even a small book" was allowed, while in places like Qom, "the best books are printed on the best printers and with the best layout." As for the future role of the Al-Najaf hawzah, al-Sistani said: "We will certainly expand our role and activity. My father [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani has no establishment here, but he has schools, societies, and centers in Qom, in addition to more than 300 houses for students. We are waiting for the right time to build compounds and schools" in Al-Najaf. Al-Sistani added that a revival of the Al-Najaf hawzah will not affect the prominence of Qom, saying, "Each hawzah has its [own] status and role." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI CLERIC COMMENTS ON BA'ATH SABOTEURS, CALLS ON EXPATRIATES TO RETURN.
Iraqi cleric Shaykh Muhammad Baqir al-Nasiri issued a statement to "Al-Zaman" calling on Iraqi expatriates to return to their country and invest in the rebuilding effort, according to an article published in that London-based Iraqi daily on 28 May. "I call on entrepreneurs to invest their capital and capabilities in rebuilding Iraq," he said, adding that Iraq is "in dire need of investment in the sectors of water, electricity, and services."
Al-Nasiri said the local infrastructure is subject to regular attacks by Ba'ath Party members. "Former members of the Ba'ath Party provoke party members to carry out daily sabotage of water and power networks and to hamper the administration's work in Al-Nasiriyah in various sectors," he said, adding, "We are not happy with these acts and we call for an end to them." (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDISH PAPER SAYS HUSSEIN LOYALIST ASSISTING PUK.
The Kurdish independent weekly "Jamawar" claimed on 2 June that an individual loyal to the Hussein regime is working with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in northern Iraq. Muhammad Najm al-Din Naqshbandi was reportedly close to Watban al-Tikriti, a half brother of the deposed president, and held a post at the Iraqi Interior Ministry. According to the weekly, Naqshabandi now holds a position "under the banner of reorganizing the officers of the former [Iraqi] Army." The paper suggests that he obtained the position through PUK senior official Nawshirwan Mustafa. "He also contacts former Kurdish officers on behalf of the PUK," the weekly reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
KURDS WANT MORE MONEY FROM U.S.
Despite receiving $30 million last week to pay the April salaries of state workers in Iraqi Kurdistan, officials in the city of Irbil complained that the money was significantly less than employees formerly received, "The New York Times" reported on 4 June.
Complaints also came from Kurdish peshmerga fighters, who went unpaid. One fighter told the daily that he had not been paid since January. "Peshmerga prepared everything for the Americans," Fathel Abdulla said, adding: "We liberated this area with our blood. Now they act with us like we are cheap, not human, like some kind of servants."
The chief of staff for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in northern Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel William Butcher, told "The New York Times" that the salaries were simplified in order to expedite the payments. "This is an interim salary structure developed by coalition authorities in Baghdad," he said, adding, "It's difficult to get all the information you need from 18 different provinces and make it exactly right the first time." Butcher said that salaries would be adjusted at a later date.
Residents of Iraqi Kurdistan were far better off economically at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom than their southern Iraqi compatriots, and are sure to feel the crunch more than those who lived in the Hussein-controlled areas of Iraq. According to "The New York Times," a teacher before the war earned somewhere between $120 and $410 per month. The coalition pay scale will now provide them with a $50 monthly salary and a $30 bonus. Judges who earned around $830 will now earn $250 per month. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
COMMITTEE TO DEVELOP NORTHERN IRAQI AIRPORT.
A committee has been set up to work on the development of a civilian airport in Irbil, northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 2 June. The committee, comprising relevant ministry and government-agency representatives, was appointed by the Council of Ministers, the executive branch of the Irbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government. The committee has reportedly submitted a number of proposals to the Council of Ministers for the revitalization of the airport. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ NOW TAKES VISA.
Visa International transacted the first international credit card payments in Iraq in Baghdad on 1 June, "Gulf News" reported on 2 June. An Iraqi expatriate who paid for a two-night stay in Baghdad's Ard Sumar Hotel made the first transaction. "We have started the acceptance of international Visa cards in a certain number of outlets, including hotels and restaurants," Visa's Middle East General Manager Peter Scriven told the daily. "As foreign visitors enter the country to help with the reconstruction of postwar Iraq, we hope to provide a modern payment method that will facilitate the work of international and humanitarian organizations as well as the development of new business," he said. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BAHRAINI KING INVITES IRAQI GROUPS TO NATIONAL CONFERENCE.
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has invited all Iraqi political groups to hold a national conference in Bahrain, Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Shaykh Muhammad bin Khalifa al-Khalifa announced on 28 May, according to a "Gulf Daily News" report the next day. Addressing the 30th session of Islamic foreign ministers in Tehran, al-Khalifa said the king is eager to encourage an Iraqi national dialogue as its citizens move toward rebuilding their country. In other news, Bahraini Minister of State and National Committee for Supporting the Iraqi People head Abd al-Nabi al-Shu'ala announced that Bahrain will fund the reconstruction of a health center in Baghdad that serves 50,000 families. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQIS REPORTEDLY REPATRIATED FROM SYRIA, LEBANON.
The clandestine Iraqi Voice of the Mujahidin Radio reported on 2 June that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which the radio is affiliated with, has assisted in the repatriation of several thousand Iraqis to their country. Citing a statement by "the office of religious authority" Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim in Damascus, the radio reported that 8,000 Iraqis from Syria and Lebanon were repatriated since the war ended in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE UN AND IRAQ
UN INSPECTION CHIEF ISSUES FINAL REPORT OF HIS TENURE.
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), issued the final quarterly report of his term to the UN Security Council on 2 June, international media reported the next day. Blix is slated to leave his post at the end of June. The report states that "little progress" has been made toward resolving outstanding issues related to Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
Blix wrote that while UNMOVIC inspections and documents provided by Iraq "contributed to a better understanding of [Iraq's] past weapons programs...a long list of proscribed items unaccounted for and as such resulting in unresolved disarmament issues was neither shortened by the inspections nor by Iraqi declarations and documentation." Blix is scheduled to address the Security Council on 6 June.
Blix also requested in his quarterly report that the Security Council not dismantle UNMOVIC, "The Washington Post" reported on 2 June. "It would be inadvisable to undertake any drastic overall reduction in the present cadre of staff," he reportedly writes. "In the months to come it may also be desirable that this staff engage in summarizing and digesting unique experience gained" from inspections in Iraq, he adds. The daily also reported that the United Kingdom has requested that the United States allow UNMOVIC personnel to return to Iraq to complete their task. UNMOVIC employed around 76 weapons inspectors prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom on 20 March.
In related news, Washington recently announced that a two-week transition phase will begin "no later than 7 June" to transfer the search for weapons of mass destruction from the 75th Exploitation Task Force to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which will oversee the weapons search under the command of U.S. Major General Keith Dayton. The ISG will consist of 1,300-1,400 personnel from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, Dayton told a press conference at the Pentagon on 30 May. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IAEA HEADS TO IRAQ.
A team of seven inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) departed Vienna for Kuwait on 4 June en route to Iraq, where they will inspect a portion of the Al-Tuwaythah Nuclear Research Facility, located some 18 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, Reuters reported. Looters reportedly ransacked that facility and six others in the days after the Hussein regime fell, prompting IAEA Director-General Muhammad al-Baradei to seek U.S. permission to send inspectors back to Iraq to assess the situation (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 May 2003).
According to Reuters, the Al-Tuwaythah inspection will be confined to a storage depot known as "Location C," which is located outside the complex. Inspectors will not have access to the complex itself. Over 500 tons of natural uranium and 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium were stored at Al-Tuwaythah, in addition to other radioactive materials. For a look at UN weapons inspections in Iraq prior to the outbreak of Operation Iraqi Freedom, see the Tracking Inspections page on RFE/RL's website (http://www.rferl.org/specials/iraq-inspec/). (Kathleen Ridolfo)
FOOD RATIONING RESUMES IN IRAQ.
Millions of Iraqis began collecting food rations as the UN World Food Program restarted the distribution of monthly ration packages in Iraq after two months, Reuters reported on 2 June. The rations will be given to Iraqi citizens who present prewar ration cards. Around 60 percent of Iraqis were dependent on monthly rations under the deposed Hussein regime. The UN distributed the rations from 1996 until the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom under the oil-for-food program, which is currently being phased out under UN Security Council Resolution 1483.
Some Iraqis were not happy however, with the quantity of the rations. "I was expecting more and better things. Where is all this aid they are talking about? I will still have to go out into the market and buy food so we don't go hungry," Noor al-Huda Muhammad told Reuters. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EUROPE, THE U.S., AND IRAQ
G-8 ENDORSES IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION.
Group of Eight (G-8) representatives concluded a three-day summit in Evian, France, by voicing support on 3 June for the building of peace and the reconstruction of Iraq, according to a "Chair's Summary" statement on the G-8 website (http://www.g8.fr/evian). "Our shared objective is a fully sovereign, stable and democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbors and firmly on the road to progress," the statement reads. Members also welcomed the UN announcement of a preparatory meeting for an international conference on the reconstruction of Iraq. The summit signaled an apparent easing of tensions between the United States and G-8 members France and Germany, who opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
BRITAIN RETURNING ASYLUM SEEKERS TO IRAQ.
The first group of Iraqi asylum seekers who want to go home will be returned to Iraq in June, British Home Secretary David Blunkett said on 30 May, according to a report in "The Independent" on 31 May. The transfer program was devised during a Geneva meeting between Blunkett, his French and German counterparts, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.
Blunkett said that the plan would be solidified in the coming weeks. "Now [that] Saddam Hussein's regime has been removed from power, thousands of Iraqis who fled to Europe are seeking ways of returning home to help rebuild their country," he said, adding, "Iraq needs the skills and commitment of these exiles as it makes the transition to democratic stability and prosperity."
A Home Office spokeswoman told "The Independent" that while the program would be voluntary, she conceded that it might eventually become compulsory. The daily reported that 14,940 Iraqis applied for asylum to Great Britain in 2002. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
POLISH FORCE WILL BE FULLY STAFFED BY SEPTEMBER.
The head of the Polish-led multinational peacekeeping force that was due to begin patrolling the streets of central Iraq by midsummer said he expects his force to be fully operational by early September, Reuters reported on 3 June. "September 1 is the final date for taking control of our zone," Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance deputy head Marek Belka said. Belka said that the force would begin deploying in July and reach full strength by mid-August. The Polish-led force of 7,500 troops will man the central-southern zone between Baghdad and Al-Basrah. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQ SURVEY GROUP PREPARES TO RESTART INSPECTIONS.
U.S. Army Major General Keith Dayton briefed reporters at the Pentagon on 30 May one week before his team planned to depart for Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Dayton, currently the director of the Defense HUMINT (human intelligence) Service at the Defense Intelligence Agency, will head the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which was formed from several U.S. government agencies in what Dayton said would be a consolidation of "the efforts of the various intelligence-collection operations currently in Iraq under one national-level headquarters." The ISG takes over from the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which has searched more than 300 of the 900 suspected WMD sites in Iraq in recent weeks.
Dayton told reporters that in addition to the search for WMD, his team will "collect and exploit documents and media related to terrorism, war crimes, POW [prisoner of war] and MIA [missing in action] issues, and other things relating to the former Iraqi regime. It will interrogate and debrief individuals, both hostile and friendly, and it will exploit captured materiel. The goal is to put all the pieces together in what is appearing to be a very complex jigsaw puzzle."
The team will be based in Baghdad, with an analytic center and the media-processing center operating out of Qatar. "The main effort is going to be in Iraq, with the headquarters in Baghdad. This collection operation will include a joint interrogation debriefing center, a joint materiel-exploitation center, chemical and biological intelligence-support teams, and the ISG operation center. The main analytic effort will be co-located with CENTCOM forward [Qatar], as will the combined media-processing center. Furthermore, the ISG is going to have liaison elements with CJTF-7 in Kuwait and with other U.S. government agencies inside Iraq. And finally, the intelligence-fusion center will be here in Washington, D.C. And all are going to be linked electronically," Dayton said.
It's unclear however, what the ISG's plan is regarding the actual discovery of WMD. But, what is clear, is that the U.S.-led ISG is taking a vastly different approach towards finding WMD than the UN-led inspection regimes -- the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and UNMOVIC -- were able to do. Rather than carrying out hands-on inspections, the group will focus on interviewing people connected to the WMD program and sifting through piles of documents now available since the fall of the Hussein regime.
Dayton told reporters that while the U.S. possesses a "fixed list" of sites that contain or are suspected of containing WMD, he said that "there will be a decreased emphasis on fixed sites and a greater emphasis in going to places where the intelligence community's analytic powers tell us that there is a much more probable likelihood of finding something or finding people who know something about what was there." He added that it might prove more valuable for his team to interview site guards or truck drivers to obtain information, rather than revisiting a site. His team also plans on interviewing low-ranking officials who worked at WMD sites, while the responsibility for interrogating the senior members of the Hussein regime now in coalition custody will fall to another group of coalition officials. Asked if his team would go to every site on the list, he answered that it was unlikely.
He also told reporters that his team has not reassessed intelligence that reported WMD at certain high-priority sites when later inspections found no evidence of WMD. "No, I haven't done that. But I will tell you that we know a lot more now than we did back in February or January, when these lists were originally developed, and that we are in much better shape now, based on interviews of a lot of people that we had never had the opportunity to talk to, to refine what we think we're going to find and where we think we're going to find it," he said.
Dayton's three-nation, interagency team includes former UNSCOM inspectors, as well as some 1,300 to 1,400 personnel from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
END NOTERUSSIAN CONTRACTS IN IRAQ: FORGIVE OR FORGET?
World punditry's sound bite of the moment is "Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia." Attributed to U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the phrase is said to be the blueprint for the United States' postwar policy toward its three most prominent prewar critics. The current brouhaha over the contract to develop Iraq's vast West Qurna oil field indicates that, at least as far as Russia is concerned, forgiveness is a tricky business.
West Qurna is one of Iraq's tastier morsels. According to data published in "Vedomosti" on 2 June, the field contains reserves of 8 billion-10 billion barrels of oil. A 1997 production-sharing agreement gave Russia's LUKoil a 68.5 percent stake in the field (with 3.25 percent stakes each for compatriots Mashinoimport and Zarubezhneft). The agreement, which ran through 2020, envisaged investments of $6 billion into the field's development. According to a report in "Kommersant" on 27 May, the contract would have brought the three Russian companies $70 billion worth of oil. UN sanctions rendered the contract stillborn.
Iraq canceled the contract with LUKoil in December, initially alleging that the company had failed to meet its obligations. LUKoil pointed indignantly to UN sanctions that prohibited work on the project. Subsequent reports indicated that Saddam Hussein's regime really intended to punish LUKoil for behind-the-scenes talks with the United States aimed at securing the company a role in a post-Hussein Iraq. Throughout, LUKoil insisted that unilateral termination represented a violation of the contract's terms and promised to pursue the matter through international arbitration. War temporarily quelled the controversy.
The issue resurfaced on 26 May, when Thamir al-Ghadban, Iraq's U.S.-appointed oil minister, told the BBC that LUKoil had "already lost" its contract to develop West Qurna. With their company suddenly in the unenviable position of a suitor spurned by both Hussein and his successors, LUKoil representatives went on an verbal offensive. "Kommersant" reported spokesman Dmitrii Dolgov's official reaction the next day: "We do not consider the remarks by Thamir al-Ghadban the official position of the legitimate government of Iraq. We will conduct negotiations about the future of the oil field only with lawfully elected authorities." LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun went farther, threatening legal action in the event of the contract's cancellation: "We'll arrest tankers with Iraqi oil through the arbitration court in Geneva. LUKoil will present claims for $20 billion in lost profits."
Coming on the heels of Russia's 22 May vote for a U.S.-backed UN resolution to end sanctions against Iraq, al-Ghadban's comments prompted a gloomy 27 May editorial in "Vedomosti." "Russia has lost the diplomatic Iraqi campaign once and for all," the editors began. They went on to conclude: "The bargaining failed: the resolution passed, and the U.S. position has hardly changed. The fate of the debt, it's true, may still be decided within the Paris Club of creditors, but the contracts will be canceled."
LUKoil kept pressing its case. On 30 May, Interfax quoted an anonymous source in the company as saying that the lifting of sanctions on 22 May had kicked off a 100-day period in which LUKoil would begin fulfilling the terms of its West Qurna contract.
On 1 June, a U.S. State Department representative told a briefing in St. Petersburg, temporarily at the center of world attention for its 300th anniversary celebration, that al-Ghadban's comments had been "incorrectly cited," Prime-TASS reported the same day. The official explained that a decision on West Qurna would have to wait for a government to emerge in Baghdad. Until then, all contracts would be frozen.
By 2 June, LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun had switched from litigation to negotiation. "We are in consultation with the occupying power," he told journalists at an investment conference, "The Moscow Times" reported the next day. According to Fedun, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was making LUKoil's case to U.S. officials in the course of high-level contacts in St. Petersburg and Evian, France.
The two highest levels of contact were coy when queried about Qurna. According to the White House transcript (http://www.whitehouse.gov), U.S. President George W. Bush responded to a question about Iraqi oil and Russian companies at a 1 June joint press conference in St. Petersburg as follows: "And as to the energy sector, the Iraqi people will make the decision which is in their best interest." Not to be outdone, Russian President Vladimir Putin parried: "We don't rule out that our companies will work there. That will depend on the situation that emerges in Iraq."
West Qurna is not the only Russian oil contract in Iraq, just the biggest and best-known. "Nefte Compass" reported on 28 May that other contracts include: Mashinoimport ($77 million), Slavneft ($21.2 million), Zarubezhneft ($8.3 million), Tatneft ($4.8 million), and Stroitransgaz ($33.5 million and $150 million). According to "Nefte Compass," representatives of LUKoil, Zarubezhneft, and Stroitransgaz plan to accompany a group of Russian diplomats to Baghdad in early June to discuss the fate of the contracts.
Under Saddam Hussein, Baghdad made lavish promises to Russian companies; Moscow responded with occasionally sympathetic rhetoric. With UN sanctions preventing real movement on the juiciest contracts, the billions remained shimmering on the horizon as the two capitals bartered promises for rhetoric in a verbal tit-for-tat that did not, in the end, amount to much.
With Hussein gone and UN sanctions a thing of the past, the development of West Qurna is now a real possibility. That said, LUKoil's future in Iraq remains shrouded in uncertainty. What seems clearer in the back-and-forth of the past week is that even if the pundits are right about postwar forgiveness for prewar obstreperousness, forgiveness might not come easy.
Copyright (c) 2003. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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