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RFE/RL Iraq Report
A Weekly Review of Developments in and Pertaining to Iraq
The White House condemned the al-Haydari killing later the same day and insisted that Iraqi elections will go ahead as scheduled. But there is evidence that the campaign by insurgents to thwart elections might be having some effect.
Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 3 January that the Kurdish and Iraqi parliaments will call on the Council of Ministers and the president to postpone the elections due to the unfavorable conditions in the country. That request is due to be made at the interim National Assembly's next meeting in Baghdad, the station reported. Meanwhile, interim Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan proposed in Cairo on 3 January that national elections be postponed by a few weeks in order to allow Sunnis to organize should they agree to participate in elections. It is unclear whether al-Sha'lan's proposal was an official proposal floated by the interim government or a personal one. For now, there is no official word on whether a delay will take place.
Al-Haydari rose to prominence in the Iraqi capital following the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein's regime. Born in Baghdad in 1958, al-Haydari, a Shi'ite independent not affiliated with any political party, was a mechanical engineer. He joined the Al-Adl neighborhood council in the months after the war and later joined the Al-Mansur neighborhood council. In July 2003, al-Haydari became a member of the Baghdad Municipality. He was later appointed general director of the financing department at the Education Ministry; in June 2004 he was appointed governor of Baghdad, where he oversaw numerous reconstruction projects.
Al-Haydari escaped at least one previous attempt on his life, in September 2004.
Al-Haydari's assassination is the latest episode in an atmosphere of heightened violence in the period ahead of elections later this month. A militant detonated a tanker truck laden with explosives outside the Green Zone in Baghdad on 4 January, killing at least 10 and wounding some 60 people, Interior Ministry officials said. The attack followed a string of attacks across the country one day earlier that included three car bombings and a roadside attack that claimed the lives of at least 16 people. In one of the attacks, militants strapped a booby-trapped bomb onto a decapitated body and detonated it as police approached to investigate the corpse.
The attack on al-Haydari is also just one of several attacks in recent months targeting national figures and politicians, including a recent attack targeting leading Shi'ite politician Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim and, more recently, the 3 January attack on the headquarters of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's political party in Baghdad.
The goal of the insurgents appears to be twofold. First, insurgents want to send a message to government officials and politicians that no one can escape their reach. Second, the attacks are aimed at intimidating the general population in order to prevent people from heading to the polls. A poor voter turnout would presumably be interpreted as indicating illegitimate elections. Militants are exerting maximum effort to prevent successful elections.
In a joint statement issued on 30 December, three militant groups threatened attacks against Iraqis who participate in the elections, "Al-Hayat" reported on 31 December. The statement said the elections are "designed to promote acceptance of atheism and the atheist laws articulated by the crusaders, isolate our great religion from the reality of life, and offer secularism as an alternative." The militant groups Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq, and the Mujahedin Army have continuously targeted Iraqi civilians and security forces over the past year and a half. The statement also called the elections a "comedy proposed by the enemy to impose so-called legitimacy on the new government that serves the crusaders and implements their plans. Efforts to ensure the success of these elections and participation in them would be the biggest gift to the United States, the enemy of Islam and the Satan of this age," the statement added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
COMMISSION STAFF RESIGNING UNDER THREAT. Members of the Iraqi Election Commission have reportedly been resigning in large numbers in recent weeks under the threat of attack by militants, according to Iraqi and other Arab media reports.
Earlier this week, militants in Ba'qubah kidnapped the head of a polling station in the city, located about 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, warning Ahmad Sulayman Wahhab not to participate in the 30 January elections, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 5 January. The news channel said that gunmen have also distributed leaflets throughout the city warning citizens against promoting or participating in the election process in the city.
Muhammad Shahran, the head of the commission's Bayji branch, announced three days earlier that the commission's 12 members in the city have resigned en masse after some of its members received death threats, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 2 January. Bayji is located some 180 kilometers north of Baghdad. Two members of the commission reportedly tendered their resignation two months ago. Shahran declined to give details about the threats.
Two voter-registration centers in Tikrit came under mortar attack on 2 January. The registration centers, located on school grounds, were attacked in the early morning hours, Al-Sharqiyah reported. An Education Ministry source told the news channel that the buildings sustained major damage and many voter-registration documents were destroyed.
Some 700 employees of the commission working in the Ninawah Governorate, which includes the city of Mosul, purportedly resigned in late December. Some staffers said they were threatened by insurgents, while others said their resignations were in support of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group that withdrew its participation in the elections, Al-Jazeera reported on 30 December. It is unclear how many of the staffers were under threat.
It is not surprising that insurgents have increasingly set their sights on individuals involved in the electoral process. After all, with little to no security provisions in place, polling personnel are easy targets. An unsigned directive posted to a jihadist website in early January advised militants in Iraq to "prevent the continuation of participation by any members of the election committees through persuasion, threats, kidnapping, and other methods." It continued: "Make sure that once they agree to withdraw from the election committee, their withdrawal is not announced except during the critical and narrow time frame [so that] the government cannot replace them with other [workers].... This will make it extremely difficult to find trained people to manage the elections in such a short period of time."
The directive also instructs fighters to attack polling stations in the immediate days leading up to the election and "seize all documents, voter lists, and boxes." It further advises attacks on polling stations throughout the day on 30 January and says that polling stations not attacked on that day should be targeted as the votes are being counted. Vehicles transporting ballot boxes after the election should also be targeted, since "no election can succeed if votes are missing."
Three militant groups, the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, the Mujahedin Army, and the Islamic Army of Iraq posted a joint statement to the Ansar Al-Sunnah website (http://www.jaish-ansaralsunnah.8m.com) on 30 December threatening anyone associated with the elections, stating: "The hands of the mujahedin will reach the election centers, workers, and participants, God willing." The statement carried a number of Koranic verses and posited that any government not ruled by divine law would be in contradiction of the religion of God. The statement referred to Iraqi elections as "the comedy of democracy and elections," adding: "Those who participate in this filthy comedy will not be safe from the attacks of this nation's vanguards and its sharp swords, who taught and are still teaching the enemies of God and their [cohorts] valuable lessons."
Iraqi officials have provided little information on the planned security precautions for election day. However, the Defense Ministry said in mid-December that it has established a three-tiered security system that would protect voters and polling stations. Police and Iraqi security forces would be involved in the plan, which would impose security cordons around the polling stations and prevent cars from approaching them. National Guardsmen will also be setting up makeshift checkpoints around the cities and deploying armored personnel carriers on the streets, Iraqi media reported.
Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 6 January that the Election Commission has announced that due to the unique security situation in the Al-Anbar and Ninawah governorates, voters who were unable to register to vote during the allotted period in December will be allowed to register and vote on the same day when elections are held on 30 January. The commission added that some registration forms were lost in the governorates due to attacks in which records were burned. Extra polling personnel will be on hand in those governorates on election day to facilitate registration and voting. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION ORGANIZING EXPATRIATE VOTING. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), charged with organizing expatriate voting for Iraqi nationals living abroad, announced on 5 January that voting will now take place in 14 countries. Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates have each concluded agreements with the organization in recent weeks. Agreements had previously been reached with Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The IOM said in a press release posted to its website (http://www.iraqocv.org) that offices are being established in each of the participating states and local Iraqi staff is being trained to act as registration and polling officials. Voter registration will be held in each participating country from 17-23 January. Voting will take place from 28 to 30 January, the statement said. The IOM has also launched an information campaign for Iraqis living abroad, employing innovative methods to keep voters abreast of election developments.
In Jordan, the IOM established a voter information center, which allows voters to telephone, SMS text message, or e-mail their questions on the voting process. Iraqi nationals handle inquiries in Arabic, Kurdish, and English seven days a week for six hours per day. Iraqis living outside of Jordan can access the center by calling its local telephone number in Jordan. Toll-free numbers have also been set up in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. "By setting up this multimedia information center, we are able to provide detailed information to Iraqi expatriates worldwide, in a way that is convenient and efficient for them," said Peter Erben, the IOM's out-of-country-voting director for Iraq.
The IOM has also launched a voter-information campaign that includes radio and television spots on both local and satellite channels, including Radio Monte Carlo, and MBC-FM; and on state-run Jordan radio and television. Print advertisements are running in several local Jordanian dailies ("Al-Ra'y," "Al-Dustur," and "Al-Ghadd,") and pan-Arab newspapers, such as "Al-Hayat," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," "Al-Khaleej." The IOM said that flyers and posters listing information on registration and voting locations are being distributed to Iraqi communities in each country. Lewis Martinez, who heads the voting program for Syria, said on 5 January that additional centers will be set up to accommodate expatriate voting in Syria, Al-Jazeera reported. Martinez said that he expects Iraqis living in Lebanon to make their way to Damascus to vote. In Iran, registration and voting centers will be open in Ahyaz, Kermanshah, Mashhad, Orumiyeh, Qom, and Tehran. Panto Letic, acting head of the out-of-country-voting office in Iran, was quoted in a 27 December newsletter issued by the IOM as saying that he expects the full cooperation of the Iranian government in organizing the vote. "IOM organized out-of-country voting in Iran for the recent Afghan presidential elections. We experienced excellent cooperation with the [Iranian] government then and we are sure that the government will be equally supportive" of the Iraqi vote. "We cannot organize such a complex operation without the full support of the Iranian authorities." The IOM has also organized out-of-country voting for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, and East Timor in recent years. The number of Iraqis estimated to be living in Syria is around 300,00. Iranian officials put the number of Iraqi expatriates at around 200,000, although the number could be higher. There are an estimated half a million Iraqis living in Jordan.
During the five-day registration period, Iraqis must present proof of identity and nationality with at least two documents issued by a state, state agency, or international institution. Only those born on or before 31 December 1986 are eligible to vote. Registrants will be given a "registration receipt" that they will need to present, along with a photo identification, when they return to cast their ballots during the three-day voting period from 28 to 30 January. Voters must cast their ballots at the location where they registered. In order to prevent fraud, each voter will have a finger marked with indelible ink and will sign a voter list after casting their vote. Ballots will be counted in the countries in which they are cast.
The IOM has estimated that as many as 1 million Iraqis will participate in out-of-country voting. The Iraqi Independent Election Commission has estimated the cost of out-of-country voting to reach $92 million. Expatriate Iraqis will cast their ballots for the transitional National Assembly. They will not, however, be eligible to vote in governorate elections or in the Kurdistan parliamentary election. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi called on Arab and Muslim states to do their utmost to facilitate successful elections in Iraq, telling reporters in Jordan on 30 December: "The election process is part of a broad political equation, and Iraq, therefore, needs [the support] of its Arab brethren and Muslim countries to forge ahead in its program to rebuild the country," Amman's "Al-Ghadd" reported. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
RFI INTERVIEWS FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) Baghdad correspondent, Salma Mikhail, interviewed French Ambassador to Iraq Bernard Bajolet in the Iraqi capital on 5 January to discuss French support for Iraq's national elections on 30 January. The interview was translated by Petr Kubalek.
RFI: In order to support the political process in Iraq, the French government decided to invite several parties and movements to France for participation in an informative course on democracy and for strengthening the ties between the two nations. On 5 January, French Ambassador Bernard Bajolet met in the building of the [French] Embassy in Baghdad the representatives of 14 parties who will participate in the course. The ambassador, in an exclusive interview for our radio, described the stance of the French government on holding the elections [in Iraq] at their planned time:
Bajolet, in Arabic: We think that this is an [ultimately] Iraqi matter, and France does not want to intervene into Iraqi internal affairs. This is a very important decision.
RFI: With respect to the stance of the French government to the parties that [either] decided to participate in the elections or to boycott them [the ambassador said]:
Bajolet: We respect the decision of those parties that decided to participate in the elections but we also understand the wavering that has appeared.
RFI: He also expressed the French objections towards the conditions in which the elections will be held:
Bajolet: The elections will be held in the shadow of the [presence of] foreign armies, without any clear horizon of their withdrawal, and under the threat from armed groups and terrorists. We also have questions about surveillance over the [proper] organization of the elections. However, the elections can become a final point in relation to the previous periods. This means that we hope the elections will lead to changing the government. If any change does not happen after the elections, that would mean the elections have no sense for the people.
RFI: The French ambassador also reflected on the opinion of his government on the national sovereignty [of Iraq]:
Bajolet: In unity and in agreement over the national constitution, and with a common political project where everyone finds his or her place, Iraq will be able to win back its complete sovereignty and independence, and to adopt its role on the regional forum.
RFI: Despite the agreement of all participants in the course that the French step has come late, they did consider it important. Mr. Akif al-Alusi, from the Independent Democrats Bloc [Tajammu' al-Dimuqratiyin al-Mustaqillin, unlike the Adnan Pachachi-led Independent Democrats Movement, or Harakat al-Dimuqratiyin al-Mustaqillin], has the following opinion:
Akif al-Alusi: The experience is very attractive. The French experience is autonomous and totally different from the democratic experiences in the United States. We have an excellent chance to build democracy for the future.
RFI: Similarly, Amir Oraha from the Assyrian Democratic Movement, thinks:
Amir Oraha: France has opened to the Iraqi democratic process by calling Iraqi political parties to benefit from the experience [it has] with the issues of elections.
SUNNIS CONTINUE CALLS FOR ELECTION POSTPONEMENT A number of Sunni groups from throughout Iraq met in Baghdad on 4 January and called for a postponement of the national and provincial elections slated for 30 January, the Islamic Party's Dar Al-Salam Radio reported the same day. A statement issued by the participants claimed that it is not in Iraq's interest to hold the elections in the current atmosphere.
Muhammad Adnan Salman al-Dulaymi told the station: "We held this conference in the name of Sunnis in Iraq. This does not mean that we want to cancel [the role of] others. However, we want to affirm to the world that there is a large number of Sunnis in this country who cannot be marginalized. Those who seek to marginalize Ahl al-Sunnah will not succeed. Their attempts will only lead to the destruction of Iraq."
Adnan Pachachi, the veteran politician who heads the Independent Iraqi Democrats Movement, issued a plea for an election postponement in the "Al-Mu'tamar" newspaper on 4 January. Pachachi said that while his party has registered a list of candidates to participate in the elections, he still believes the deteriorating security situation warrants a postponement. The security situation and power outages have made it difficult to publish and disseminate party platforms.
While conceding that there is truth to the argument that a delay would represent a victory for the terrorists, he argued that the terrorists will also succeed if Iraqis are too terrified to cast their ballots. He added that candidates have been unable to organize public rallies ahead of the elections because such events would be "an open and frank invitation to these terrorists and murderers to point their machine guns at the chest of the electorate."
Pachachi also criticized the Independent Election Commission for not properly educating Iraqis ahead of the vote. "Many wrongly think the next Iraqi president will be elected in a direct vote," he wrote. A postponement would not only help to rectify these issues, but also allow for a national reconciliation conference to strengthen the unity of Iraq, he said.
Meanwhile, President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir called on the United Nations to decide whether Iraqi elections slated for 30 January should be postponed, Abu Dhabi television reported on 4 January. "I think that the most important party that could make its judgment in this regard and be acceptable to all parties is the United Nations, particularly the Security Council," he said. "This is because this government emanated from [Security Council] Resolution 1546 [in June]." He added that it is his belief that the UN is the only party that can issue a recommendation on the issue.
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi attempted to "clarify" al-Yawir's comments, telling journalists at a 5 January press briefing in Baghdad that the president was arguing that the Security Council has not called for a postponement and therefore the elections should be held according to schedule. "I believe that President al-Yawir had a strong point to explain when he asked or called on the United Nations to give its opinion on this issue for these elections will not be postponed without the UN Security Council's approval," he said.
Intelligence chief General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani commented on the insurgency this week, telling AFP that the number of insurgents in Iraq "is more than 200,000 people," including active fighters and sympathizers, the news agency reported on 3 January. Shahwani said the figure includes a core of at least 40,000 hard-core fighters; the remainder are part-time fighters and volunteers who provide militants with logistical help, shelter, or intelligence.
An unnamed senior U.S. military officer could neither confirm nor deny the claims, AFP reported. "As for the size of the insurgency, we don't have a good resolution on the size," the officer said. Shahwani said that militants receive wide support in the governorates of Baghdad, Babil, Diyala, Ninawah, Salah Al-Din, and Ta'mim -- governorates with large Sunni populations. Shahwani criticized the U.S.-led operations to cleanse Al-Fallujah of insurgents in November. "What we have now is an empty city almost destroyed...and most of the insurgents are free. They have gone either to Mosul or to Baghdad or other areas," he said. Asked if the militants were winning in Iraq, he replied, "I would say they aren't losing."
Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said on 5 January that more than 1,300 Iraqi police and security forces working under the Interior Ministry have been killed or injured in the 1 1/2 years since they were reorganized following the war in Iraq, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Naqib called on the interior ministers of Arab countries currently meeting in Tunis to condemn terrorist attacks on security forces and civilians in Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
Diplomats in Amman told reporters on 6 January that the conference would stress Iraq's "Arab nature" and warn against outside efforts -- an apparent reference to Iran -- to influence the 30 January vote.
Diplomats said that statement -- agreed on by the foreign ministers of Sunni-run Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia -- is intended to boost participation in the vote by Iraqi Sunnis. They've threatened a boycott that could weaken the legitimacy of a post-election government.
Rami Abdulrahman, a freelance journalist based in Amman, told RFE/RL: "Arab nations do not want a Shi'ite Iraq because they don't want an extension of Iran into the Middle East. If the Shi'ites [are] able to win the elections and run Iraq, Iran would have enormous power in Iraq. For many different reasons, Iran is not a very friendly country," Abdulrahman said.
In December, Jordan's King Abdullah II accused Tehran of seeking to establish a Shi'a belt from Iran to Lebanon through Iraq. Iran rejected that accusation and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi accused Jordan of meddling in the Iraqi vote and vowed to boycott the 6 January meeting. Iran has instead sent a low-level delegation.
Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group (ICG) in Amman said Iran's low-level presence will have a negative impact on the conference. "You cannot really have an effective conference of the neighbors of Iraq if the neighbors are not all represented at the same level. So it is a pity that Iran has chosen to stay away. But it's equally a pity that Jordan has chosen to alienate Iran, the way it has. I think it is in the interest of all neighboring states and especially in the interest of Iraq that there is some kind of common ground that these neighboring states can build on to secure the borders and to enhance security and stability in Iraq," Hiltermann said.
In an interview published on 6 January, Abdullah said his comments on Iran had been misinterpreted. But he warned that Iraq's very unity was at stake and reiterated concern about Iraqi Sunnis, saying that no Iraqi group should "feel it is marginalized in future."
Recently, the king also told "The Washington Post" that more than a million Iranians had entered Iraq to influence the vote. Iran denies those charges, too. Tehran has repeatedly said a stable Iraq is in its interests and that Iraqis should decide on their own about their future.
Analyst Hiltermann believes that Iran would like to assert influence but agrees that there is no evidence to support Abdullah's contention about a million Iranians entering Iraq. "They're [Sunni countries] drawing a sectarian map here and I think there is a danger to doing that. They see it as a Sunni-Shi'ite issue, where in fact a government that comes about democratically in Iraq would be -- before a Shi'ite, it would actually be a popularly elected government. And that would be in itself a much greater danger to unelected regimes in the region," Hiltermann said.
Iraq's elections, which take place amid increasing violence, are expected to be dominated by Shi'a candidates with close ties to Tehran. For that reason, the United States' Arab allies had sought to delay the election in an attempt to persuade more Sunnis to take part. They relented in the face of U.S. pressure, however. Analysts say Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain fear their own Shi'a minorities could demand more political representation if Shi'a take over in Iraq. (Golnaz Esfandiari)
Compiled by Kathleen Ridolfo.
Copyright (c) 2005. 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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