'The enemy within'
Kurdish politicians in Turkey are taking the brunt of PKK attacks from Iraq, observes Gareth Jenkins
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Turkish commandos patrol in a village, in the province of Sirnak, near the Turkish-Iraqi border. Thousands of Kurdish guerrillas have crossed the border into Iraq to escape a threatened Turkish offensive
In a surprise move, Nuri Al-Maliki decided to integrate 18,000 militiamen into the army and security services. Iraqi sources say that the militiamen are from Al-Maliki's Daawa Party and the Badr Brigade of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The militiamen have been given posts at the interior, defence, and national security ministries with ranks ranging between lieutenant and major. The move followed a four-way agreement signed recently by the Daawa Party, SCIRI, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
Several political parties and blocs, including the Iraqi Accordance Front (IAF) of Adnan Al-Duleimi and the Iraqi List of Iyad Allawi voiced their opposition to the integration of militiamen into military and security institutions, noting their previous involvement in criminal atrocities. A former senior police officer said that he resigned in protest against frequent violations committed by militiamen integrated into the security services. He added that most security personnel accused of corruption and torture originally came from the militia.
In Karbala, 110 kilometres south of Baghdad, tensions worsened between two armed groups, the Daawa Party's militia and the Mahdi Army of Moqtada Al-Sadr. Al-Sharqiya television ran a report on members of a family affiliated with the Mahdi Army claiming that they were tortured by policemen affiliated with Daawa. One of the victims, an eight-year- old girl, had her eyes gouged. Meanwhile, the Karbala police distributed pictures of the bodies of individuals believed to have been killed by the Mahdi Army. The Interior Ministry, as usual, promised to investigate the claims.
American and Iraqi officials met near the Dead Sea in Jordan a few days ago. The meeting, attended by representatives from the opposition, armed groups, and the disbanded Baath Party, discussed ways to achieve national reconciliation in the country. Soon afterwards, Al-Maliki accepted the resignation of five ministers of the IAF. The move, analysts say, could undermine current reconciliation efforts.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday, the prime minister defended his decision to accept the resignations of the five ministers and a deputy prime minister. "When an official resigns he should remain in his post until the resignation is accepted. If that official fails to report to duty for more than 10 consecutive days, he must be dismissed." Al-Maliki promised to fill the posts with individuals sharing the same political background as the sacked ministers; namely, Sunni Arabs.
Attempts to mend the rift between Al-Maliki and the IAF are still underway. The IAF pulled out its ministers from the government to protest against Al-Maliki's failure to declare a general amnesty, release non-convicted detainees, and enlarge the scope of political participation.
Al-Maliki disclosed that President Jalal Talabani asked him to wait before accepting the ministers' resignations, so as to allow time for political reconciliation. "We wanted the brothers to return to government, but we finally realised that they had no intention of doing so. Therefore, we accepted the resignation." The prime minister said that although resigned ministers were not entitled by law to receive financial compensation, he would make an exception in their case.
During the same news conference, Al-Maliki said the US Embassy in Iraq refused to hand over some of those convicted in Al-Anfal trial to the government to carry out the death sentence against them. The prime minister accused the Iraqi Presidential Council of violating the constitution by failing to ratify the death sentences passed against Ali Hassan Al-Maguid and Sultan Hashem.
Vice-President Tareq Al-Hashimi called for a stay of the execution against former defence minister Sultan Hashem, saying that the ruling would not be valid until ratified by the Presidential Council. Last month, Al-Hashimi called on the US Embassy not to deliver the convicted men into the hands of the government before contention over their execution is resolved.
Meanwhile, Talabani expressed his strong opposition to the execution of Sultan Hashem. "This man doesn't deserve execution. He was a capable Iraqi officer who carried out Saddam's orders. As a military man, he couldn't possibly oppose orders." The IAF also called for a stay of Hashem's execution, calling on the government to show respect for capable and patriotic Iraqi officers.
As Operation Iron Hammer got underway in Kirkuk and Mosul, the Presidential Council began drafting a new security agreement extending the presence of US forces in the country. Sources close to the council say that the government intends to ask the UN Security Council to extend the mission of US-led multinational forces until the end of 2008, after which date, Iraqis and Americans would sign a long-term agreement defining the manner of US troop deployment in the country.
Talks between the US, Iraq and Iran are expected to resume within the next few days, although the Iranians want all their detainees held by the US forces to be released first. Deputy Foreign Minister Lobeid Abbawi said, "the US and Iran would resume talks upon the invitation of the Iraqi government. The talks would address the security situation in the country and the revival of the security committee that was formed last July." The Americans released nine Iranian detainees on Friday in what Abbawi described as a "clear and positive signal" to the Iranians. The Americans still hold 11 Iranian detainees. Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, leader of SCIRI, said the American ambassador in Baghdad promised to release the remaining Iranian detainees.
US forces accuse the Iranians of being members of the Al-Quds Brigade sent to Iraq to train local militia. A senior US officer said the Iranian component of Iraqi explosives is increasing despite the drop in the number of attacks. Major General Rick Lynch, who is in charge of operations in southern Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala, said Iran's extensive influence in Baghdad is still visible despite signs that tensions between Washington and Tehran are ebbing. He added that his troops are chasing 20 Iraqi Shias who work for Al-Quds Brigade of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Last August, Lynch stated that 50 Iranian Revolutionary Guard members were in south Iraq, giving military training to Shia militia.
Judge Wael Abdul-Latif, a parliamentarian for the Iraqi National List, said the security situation was improving in Baghdad and Al-Anbar, but deteriorating in the central and southern parts of the country. The deterioration, he said, was due to power struggle among Islamic parties. Everyone is interfering in Iraq, Abdul-Latif stated, from the UAE to Palestinian intelligence, "but the worst interference is the Iranian".
Although 250 surveillance cameras have been set up in Baghdad, the police still find unidentified bodies in the city streets. Teachers remain prime targets of assassination. Within the past two weeks, three teachers were killed in Baghdad, one of them in front of her students. In Kirkuk an armed group abducted a school principal. The group commandeered a school bus, released everyone inside, except the principal who was led to an unidentified destination. A university professor was abducted and killed in Kirkuk, allegedly by a Kurdish group.
A recent UN study says that attacks on students and professors around the world have grown dramatically over the past three years, a trend that is nowhere more visible than in Iraq. The Iraqi educational system is "on the verge of collapse," the study notes.
Turkish commandos patrol in a village, in the province of Sirnak, near the Turkish-Iraqi border. Thousands of Kurdish guerrillas have crossed the border into Iraq to escape a threatened Turkish offensive (photo: AFP)