B u l l e t i n

c o m p l e t

Bulletin N° 265 | April 2007



Massud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan, affirmed that the Iraqi Kurds would retaliate to any Turkish meddling in Iraqi Kurdistan. Massud Barzani pointed out that the Iraqi Kurds could raise the fate of the Kurds in Turkey after the latter state had called for the postponement of the planned referendum on the future status of the town of Kirkuk. The Turkish press quoted Mr. Barzani as stating that if Turkey “interferes in (the issue of) Kirkuk on behalf of only a few thousands of Turkomen then we will raise the issue of 30 million Kurds in Turkey”. On 9 April, the Turkish Prime Minister uttered threats against the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, affirming that the Kurds would pay a heavy price. “He should not say things with consequences too heavy for him. Mr. Barzani has overstepped the limits”, stressed the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan to journalists. “Northern Iraq, which is our neighbour, is making a mistake and the price to pay will be very high”, declared Mr Erdogan. Mr. Barzani has “overstepped the mark” he continued, adding: “I advise them not to pronounce words from which they will not be able to recover, and to know their place. Because they could later be crushed b y those words”. The Presidency of the region of Iraqi Kurdistan, reacting to these forceful words by the Turkish Prime Minister, retorted on 9April that the Kurds of Iraq were asking Turkey not to interfere in their affairs and rejected any threats. “We are not interfering in the affairs of countries of the region and also ask that they do not interfere in those of Kirkuk, which is an internal matter”, stressed the Presidency’s chief of staff, Fuad Hussein, in a communiqué. “Threats are not part of our political vocabulary. We have always had a language of self-defence. At the same time we do not accept that others should have recourse to threats against us”, stated Mr. Hussein, adding that the Kirkuk question “only concerns the Kurds, Turkomen, Arabs and Assyrians”

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, tried to appease Ankara. “Iraq’s foreign policy is planned and carried out by the Iraqi government”, declared Mr. Maliki in a communiqué, who was making a visit to Tokyo and Seoul. “This policy reflects our intention of maintaining the best relations with our neighbours and does not aim at interfering in their affairs”, added the head of the Iraqi government, pointing out, however: “At the same time we do not allow our neighbours to interfere in our affairs”

Following these statements, Ankara complained about Massud Barzani to Washington. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, expressed his annoyance to the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in a telephone conversation. Questioned by journalists, on 9 April, about the reply Turkey would make to Mr. Barzani, Mr. Gul merely replied: “You will see”. “Mr. Barzani’s words are extremely disturbing, unacceptable and are considered as a provocation”, Mr. Gul is said to have declared to Mrs. Rice, according to quotations published in the English language daily Turkish Daily News. The United States considered Mr. Barzani’s remarks about Turkey “regrettable”. “We think that remarks of this kind are really regrettable and they do not help advance the objective a wider cooperation between Turkey and Iraq”, stated the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack

Ankara fears that the incorporation of Kirkuk into Iraqi Kurdistan would give the latter sufficient financial means for it to proclaim its independence, a situation that could, according to the Turkish authorities, encourage Kurdish secessionists in Turkey. There is already considerable tension between Turkey and the Kurds of Iraq, whom Ankara accuses of tolerating, and even supporting, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), some thousands of whom have settled in the Iraqi Kurdistan mountains.

Moreover, the KDP, the Iraqi Kurdistan President’s party, has recently been particularly targeted by terrorist attacks. On 23 April a bomb attack caused 10 deaths and 20 injured near Mossul, when a car bomb exploded close to the KDP offices in the mainly Christian village of Tal Isquf. Moreover, according to the police, 23 workers, members of the minority Yezidi community, were executed by armed men in this same province and on the same day. Three days later, three peshmergas were killed and 13 others wounded by the explosion of two car bombs and in a suicide attack against the KDP at Zanmar, 80 Km from Mossul. The KDP was also targeted at Kirkuk, where a soldier was killed and the body of a member of the party, kidnapped on 9 April, was found dead. On 1 April, in a suicide attack with a truck full of explosives aimed at a police station close to a primary school at Rahimawa, 12 people were killed and 178 injured, including many schoolchildren and inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Considerable material damage was also caused. Moreover the explosion of a home-made bomb in the South of the town killed five policemen, while four members of a Shiite Kurdish family, including an eight-year-old girl, were killed in their home by unknown people


Turkey is plunged into a state of uncertainty at a time when the Parliament is due to elect a new President. The only candidate, the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, from the Justice and Development Party (AKP — in office) arouses the distrust of the all-powerful army and country’s secular elite. The perspective of Mr. Gul acceding to the state’s highest office has unleashed an unprecedented crisis in Turkey, the Army threatening the pro-Islamic government that it would intervene to protect the principle of secularism in force in this Moslem country. A first round of voting in Parliament, on 27 April, did not allow a new Head of State to be elected because it was boycotted by the opposition members of Parliament. A few hours later the General Staff of the all-powerful Turkish Army published a statement on its Web site that the press has since taken to calling “the midnight memorandum” or the “e-coup”, in which it accused the government in very harsh terms of failing to defending the Republic’s secular principles and recalling that it was ready to act to do so if needed. The General Staff stresses that the armed forces were “determined protectors of secularism” and that they “will openly display their position and their attitudes when it becomes necessary”.

The Turkish Army, which claims to be the guarantor of secularism, has already carried out three coup d’états (in 1960, 1971 and 1980) and forced the resignation of a pro-Islamic government, the first in the country’s history, in 1997. But this time, something unprecedented took place. After a meeting between the Prime Minister and several of its Ministers, the government, far from complying, riposted firmly, calling the generals to order and stressing, through its spokesman Cemil Ciçek, that the general staff “remains under the Prime Minister’s orders”. “It is inconceivable that, in a democratic State of law, the general staff (…) should make such remarks”, he pointed out, reaffirming the government’s commitment to secular principles. He reaffirmed the government’s and the AKP’s commitment to the secular principles of the republic and stressed that it was “unthinkable” for Turkey to seek solutions for its problems outside the democratic system. M. Ciçek also accused the general staff of “trying to the pervert the course of justice” by publishing its statement at a time when the Constitutional Court was examining a petition by the opposition to annul the first round of the presidential election. He also reported a “useful and fruitful” telephone conversation between Mr. Erdogan and the Chief of the General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit on 28 April. For his part, Mr. Erdogan’s first reaction had been to state that the Turkish people would oppose any attempt to destabilise the country: “This nation has paid a high and painful price when the bases of its stability and confidence were lost. However, it no longer authorises, and will not authorise, opportunists who are waiting to open the way to disaster”.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who had finally renounced standing for President, and Abdullah Gul both deny wishing to make Turkey into an Islamic State. They both recall that they have been holding office for nearly five years, a period marked by strong economic expansion, and that they have started discussions with a view to joining the European Union — a sign of their open minded will. Moreover in Brussels, the European Commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn, has called on the Army to keep out of the election process. “It is important that the Army leave democratic prerogatives to the government”, he declared on 28 April

In the last few days the opposition, the majority of the media and of civic associations and pressure groups, such as the employers association Tusiad, have argued in favour of an early General Election as the only way of preventing Turkey from sliding into chaos. On 29 April, a million people demonstrated in Istanbul in response to an appeal from an association for the defence of the ideas of Ataturk, led by retired generals, which followed an earlier demonstration, on 14 April, of nearly 500,000 people in Ankara

All eyes are now turned on Turkey’s Constitutional Court, which has to rule on the validity of the first round of the presidential election. For the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP — kemalist and nationalist) that lodged the appeal for invalidation, the opening of a presidential poll in parliament requires a quorum of 367 members (out of 550), equivalent to the two-thirds majority needed for election at the first round. However, only 361 members attended, of whom 357 voted for the only candidate standing, Abdullah Gul, nominated by the AKP. If the judges rule in favour of the CHP petition, this election will be annulled and a General election could be held within 45 to 90 days (instead of in November, when they are due anyway). If the Court quashes the CHP petition, the second round planned for 2 May, also needing a two-thirds majority, is unlikely to result in Mr. Gul’s election. However, he is virtually certain of willing the third round, planned for 9 May, which only requires an absolute majority, i.e. 276 votes, since the AKP has 352 members of parliament

The Turkish press was unanimous, on 30 April, in urging both parties to back down and defuse the crisis. Some commentators fear that once elected, Mr. Gul might approve laws rejected by his predecessor and islamise the country. “It is difficult for Mr. Gul to be impartial”, commented Tufan Türenç in the mass circulation daily Hurriyet, adding that, for him, a veiled First Lady is incompatible with secularism. The headscarf worn by Abdullah Gul’s wife, Hayrunisa Gul, is seen by the secularists as a demonstration of Islamic political militancy. “Do not reduce the country to ruins”, pleaded the popular daily Aksam, calling on the Army and the government to find a democratic solution to their quarrel, failing which “a great danger awaits Turkey”. “Secularism is certainly one of the pillars of Turkish society — but democracy is one of them as well”, wrote, for its part, the widely read daily Sabah, while the liberal paper Milliyet advised an early General Election


On 3 April, a Diyarbekir Public Prosecutor called for up to 15 years imprisonment for 53 Kurdish mayors on the grounds that they had written to the Danish Prime Minister in 2005, urging him to resist Ankara’s demands that he close down a Kurdish television channel, Roj-tv. The Prosecution accuses these mayors, on trial since September 2006, of “deliberate support” of the Kurdistan workers’ Party (PKK) on the grounds of this letter, written in English to Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmusen

The Public Prosecutor has demanded sentences of imprisonment of seven to fifteen years for the 53 accused, who are all members of the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP), the principal legal pro-Kurdish organisation in Turkey, which is often accused by the authorities of supporting the PKK. Amongst them is Osman Baydemir, the very popular mayor of Diyarbekir. The prosecutor asked that three other mayors, who claimed that their names had been added to the letter without their knowledge, be acquitted. None of the accused was present at the hearing. They had, at the very start of the trial, rejected the charges, stating that they had acted to defend the freedom of the press. The trial was adjourned to 8 May

Ankara had asked the Danish authorities to abrogate the broadcasting licence given to the Denmark-based Roj-tv channel, which has been broadcasting there since 2004, on the grounds of alleged links with the PKK, considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union


Despite the increase in strength of the Iraqi and American forces in the field, the numbers killed in Iraq increased by 15% in March. The number of deaths rose to 2,079 exactly, that is an increase of 15% on February, announced the Defence Ministry on 1 April. In all, 1,869 civilians, 165 police and 44 soldiers lost their lives according to the Ministry’s assessment, which takes into account its own figures as well as those of the Ministries of Health and the Interior. On average, 67 people were killed every day in March as against 64 in February. These acts of violence also caused 2,719 civilian injured, as against 1,992 in February. Still according to the defence Ministry, the number of terrorists presumed dead has, on the other hand, dropped from 586 to 481 in March. The number of arrests of “terrorist suspects” was tripled to reach 5,664 in March as against 1,921 in February

According to an AFP body count, based on Pentagon figures, 85 US soldiers or associated civilians died in March. The violence did not even spare political leaders. Eight people, including at least two members of Parliament, were killed on 22 April in a suicide bomb attack at the Iraqi Parliament — the first such in these premises located in the heart Baghdad’s ultra-protected Green Zone. In all likelihood, the perpetrator of this attack was the personal bodyguard of one of the members of Parliament. This increase in violence recorded has taken place despite the security plan launched on 14 February to make secure a Baghdad ravaged by acts of violence that caused 16,000 deaths in 2006. Some 9,000 members of the Iraqi security forces and US troops are to be deployed in the capital by June to curb these acts of violence, now very largely sectarian. The Middle East director of the International Crisis Group, Joost Hilterman, nevertheless considers that there will be no “significant decline in violence (…) without a political compromise between all the Iraqi political parties and groups”. President Jalal Talabani himself also stressed one success achieved by this plan: the almost complete disappearance from the streets of the Mahdi’s Army, the militia run by the Shiite boss Moqtada Sadr. To try and curb the endemic violence, the US Army is henceforth multiplying the erection of protective walls in several areas of the capital. According to the US Army, these concrete structures are aimed at preventing the possibility of Shiite death squads committing bomb attacks to force Sunnis to flee from the neighbourhood— but also to present Sunni insurgents from using such pockets as bases from which to carry out attacks on Shiite neighbourhoods. The initiative has been sharply criticised by some Iraqi members of Parliament, including the Kurdish M.P. Mahmud Osman, who considers that “erecting a wall round Adhamiyah is the height of failure and a mistaken step that violates human rights”. To cut short the controversy, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki stated in Cairo, on 22 April, that he had asked for the building of a wall round Adhamiyah to be stopped

Furthermore the US Army announced on 30 April over 100 deaths among the American forces in the month of April. These deaths bring the total death roll since the start of the war in 2003 to at least 3,350, according to an Associated Press body count. On 22 April, the United Nations Aid Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), for its part criticised the Iraqi government for blocking access to figures of victims of the war in the last quarter. The Iraqi Prime Minister has ceased divulging figures and accused the UN of exaggerating its evaluations in a previous report, according to UNAMI as it presented its quarterly report in Baghdad. In the previous report, dated 16 January, UNAMI had shown over 34,400 deaths in 2006, due to the daily acts of violence ravaging Iraq

According to the Gulf Research Centre, a Dubai-based Near East research organisation, suicide bomb attacks have increased considerably since the beginning of 2007 and are more murderous than ever. In February and March 2007, Iraq suffered 92 suicide bomb attacks against civilian targets as against 62 for the last two months of 2006. “Since January, we note the highest level of suicide bomb attacks since 2005 with casualty rates higher than at any time since the start of the war”, pointed out Nicole Stracke, principal editor of the Gulf Research Centre’s report on 3 April. The targets chosen — cafés or restaurants, weddings or funerals, markets or Shiite religious sites, are much less protected and more accessible than American military bases or Iraqi government premises. A recent tendency has been noted to chlorine gas attacks — eight between 28 January and end March, all with the same modus operandi: exploding trucks filled with chlorine, a highly toxic gas. This, in addition to the casualties caused by the explosion, provokes serious symptoms due to inhaling the gas — nausea, vomiting, skin and respiratory irritations. These chlorine gas attacks, recalling chemical warfare, have also an important psychological role, causing panic and reminding the Iraqis of a terrible period in their recent history — the gassing by Saddam Hussein of the Kurdish town of Halabja, which had caused 5,000 immediate deaths

The Shiites continue to be the preferred target of the terrorists. On 18 April, at least 190 people perished in a wave of car bomb attacks in Baghdad, 140 of which at a market in a working class neighbourhood, casting discredit on the massive security plan intended to stamp out violence in the Iraqi capital. The car bomb attack in the Al-Sadriyah market, a predominantly Shiite quarter on the East bank of the Tigris river, is the bloodiest in the capital since the beginning of the year. At least 140 people perished and 155 were wounded, according to the assessment of the security services. The explosion, heard several kilometres off, make a two-metre crater in the market area. This market had already been targeted on 3 February by another suicide attack with a truck full of explosives, which had caused 130 deaths. Another bloody attack was perpetrated in Sadr City, Baghdad’s largest Shiite quarter, in which another car bomb, which was exploded at an army control point, caused 28 deaths and 44 injured. Another car bomb exploded in the Karrada quarter, in the centre of the capital, causing 11 deaths. In the same quarter, 3 people died in a similar attack. On 28 April a suicide car bomb attack in the Shiite Holy City of Kerbala caused 71 deaths and 178 wounded. On 14 April an earlier suicide car bomb attack had caused 42 deaths in that city

Despite all this, On 9 April Iraq celebrated, in a very tense atmosphere, the 4th anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. For fear of any attacks, all motor vehicle traffic was banned in Baghdad. At Najaf and Kufa, draped with thousands of Iraqi flags, tens of thousands of Shiites took part in a great anti-American demonstration organised by Moqtada Sadr’s radical Shiite movement. However, on 26 April the US Senate passed, despite the threat of a veto by President Bush, a Bill on the financing of the war in Iraq that provides for the withdrawal of US troops to begin by 1st October next. This Bill provides for a budget of $124.2 billion (91 billion euros) for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the beginning of troop withdrawal on 1 October or earlier if the Baghdad government fails to fulfil certain conditions. It adds that the withdrawal must be completed before 1 April 2008.


On 12 April, Turkey was found guilty by the Strasbourg Human Rights Court (ECHR) in two cases concerning 13 detainees who had suffered ill treatment in Izmir and in Kurdistan. The petitioners received 111,000 euros damages. Twelve detainees at Buca prison, in Izmir, complained that they had been beaten with truncheons and wooden planks by the officials of the penitential centre, by wardens and gendarmes, because they had refused to allow themselves to be searched, in July 1995. According to the Turkish government, they had been injured by falling down a staircase. The European judges, finding this explanation implausible, concluded that the prisoners had, indeed, been “well and truly beaten and injured”. They also established that the enquiry had been marred by “serious gaps”, in particular the disappearance of a file and the refusal of the Public Prosecutor to take the gendarmes involved to court

In the other case, some gendarmes had beaten and deprived of food and water and toilettes an inhabitant of the Kurdish town of Sirnak who they suspected of being a sympathiser of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The man had been kept in solitary confinement for three days before being officially placed in detention. The European Court ruled that the man had been the victim of six violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely of the interdiction of inhuman treatment, of the right to effective recourse, to an equitable trial and granted him 15,000 euros damages


As expected, the coalition in power, the National Progressive Front (NPF) won the General elections. According to the officially results, published on 26 April, the coalition, led by the Baath Party that “directs the State and society” in the terms of the Syrian Constitution, won the elections help on 22 and 23 April. The NPF is said top have won 172 seats out of 250 in the People’s Assembly, the other 78 going to independent candidates, the Minister of the Interior, Bassam Abdel-Majid, pointed out. The turn out was said, officially, to be 56%. These General Elections were marked by a very feeble mobilisation and were boycotted by the opposition, which is tolerated but has no legal existence, in protest against the fact that the law reserves the majority of the seats to the parties in power. “It is pointless to take part in elections whose results are known in advance”, considered Mr. Hassan Abdel-Azim, spokesman for six banned parties united in the National Democratic Rally (NDR). On the wall most offices are hung photos of the Syrian President, Bachar al-Assad and of his father, Hafez al-Assad, whom he succeeded. “Brother citizen, elections are national democratic weddings. Vote for whoever you consider to be the most competent”, you can see on the Ministry of the Interior’s hoardings. Some 7.8 million Syrians are registered voters out of a population of 19 million inhabitants, according to official figures. The poor turnout confirms the population’s disinterest in this poll to re-elect parliament but whose results never hold any surprises. Created in 1971, Parliament designates the candidate for the Presidential Election, discusses government policy and endorses laws and the budget

In Damascus, the NPF presented 16 candidates, including the outgoing Speaker, the General Secretaries of the two Syrian communist parties, Ammar Bagdash and Hunein Nimr and the President of the Students’ Union. The Prime Minister, Mohammad Naji Otris was an NPF candidate in Aleppo. Thus, in the country’s second largest city, Aleppo (Northern Syria), “the candidates were disappointed by the poor level of participation”, wrote the daily paper al-Watan. In keeping with the law, the new parliament will be dominated by the National Progressive Front, as have all previous Syrian Parliaments since 1973, the date of the creation of the NPF. Of the 250 seats, 67 are reserved for the NPF and the 83 others for independent candidates, including businessmen close to the authorities. Some 2,395 candidates were contending for this, the second parliament since Bachar al-Assad came to power. A referendum for renewing the latter’s tem of office in planned for after the parliamentary elections. As the sole candidate to succeed his father, Hafez al-Assad, who died in June 2000m he had assumed power following a plebiscite in which he is said to have won 97.29% of the votes. The opposition is calling for a law authorising the creation of parties other than those allied to the Baath, which has been ruling Syria for the last 44 years, as well as the abolition of the State of Emergency that has been in force since 1963. At the end of 2005, in an event without precedent for decades, the opposition launched an appeal for “democratic change”, but nothing came of their action. Many denounce “the paralysis” to justify their disinterest in the polls. “Vast social groups are indifferent to the elections (…) because of the status quo that blocks any political development”, wrote a Syrian opponent, Omar Koche, in the Lebanese daily paper Safir, last March

These elections come at a time when Syria is trying to emerge from its isolation within the international community. Bachar al-Assad would like to use these elections to project to the outside world a picture of opening up politically. He thus hopes that these elections will consolidate his power ahead of the referendum in July. Which should give him a further seven years at the head of the country. He is also faced with growing pressure from the international community for the setting up of an International Court to try the murderers of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, assassinated in 2005. A UN investigation into this assassination had implicated Syrian leaders — accusations denied by Syria. Recently important foreign public figures have visited Damascus, including the diplomatic representative of the European Union, Javier Solana, and the Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi

Economically, according to official figures, Syria achieved a rate of growth of 5.1% in 2006 and wiped off almost all its foreign debt, estimated at five billion dollars as against 24 billion in 2005. The rate of unemployment has also dropped to 9.5% by the end of 2006


On 11 April, the Dutch Public Prosecutors demanded that a Dutch businessman be sentenced for genocide for selling Iraq chemicals used in murderous gas attacks on civilian populations. Frans van Anraat had appealed against the 15-year prison sentence passed on him in 2005 for complicity in war crimes on the grounds that he had supplied chemicals used by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to make toxic gases during its 1980-88 war with Iran. Mr. van Anraat, 65 years of age, was accused of complicity in war crimes and in genocide for having delivered, between 1985 and 1989, ingredients enabling the production of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, used against the Kurdish population of the small town of Halabja in 1988, which had caused 5,000 deaths. Pinpointed by an American enquiry, he was arrested in Italy in 1989 and then fled to Iraq, where he remained until the attack by the US-led coalition in 2003. It was then that he sought refuge in Holland. The United States had dropped their demand for his extradition in 2000, without giving any explanation. For their part, the Dutch authorities had no reason for arresting him till he was accused of genocide. The Dutch courts are empowered to prosecute Mr. van Anraat for genocide committed in Iraq following a ruling by the Netherlands Supreme Court giving them universal competence in cases of war crimes and genocide if the accused reside in that country

Mr. van Anraat, who refused to be released pending the result of his appeal, was acquitted of genocide in his initial trial, the court considering that it could not be proved that he knew exactly how the chemicals he’d sold would be used. “We ask that he be found guilty of genocide and ask for 15 years imprisonment for complicity in war crimes and genocide”, declared a spokesman for The Hague’s Public Prosecutor’s Office. The court of appeals is due to give its ruling on this case in the first half of May

Furthermore, on 2 April the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Iraqi High Criminal Court called for the death penalty for five of the six accused, including “Chemical Ali”, in the Anfal case, that of the massacre of 180,000 Kurds. In his closing speech, the Prosecutor, Manunqith al-Farun said. “We ask for the death sentence for Ali Hassan al-Majid and the (four) others”. He added that he asked that the sixth accused, the former governor of Mossul, Taher Tufiq al-Ani be acquitted for “lack of evidence”. Saddam Hussein and six former leaders, including his cousin Hassan al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, were on trial for ordering the organisation of the Anfal military campaigns in Kurdistan in 1987-88, which the prosecution said resulted in 180,000 deaths. Only Saddam Hussein, already executed on 30 December 2006 on another charge, and “Chemical Ali” were accused of genocide in the Anfal case. The four other accused for whom the death sentence is being ask are Saber AbdelAziz al-Duri, former head of military intelligence, Sultan Hashem Ahmed, ex-Minister of Defence, Farhan Mutlaq, a former Intelligence chief and Hussein Rashid Tikriti, a former Army commander



On 29 April, Iran confirmed its participation in the international conference on Iraq to be held on 3 and 4 May. Iran will be represented at this conference by its Foreign Minister, Manushehr Mottaki. This announcement comes as a senior Iranian security officer, Ali Larijani, is on a three-day visit to Baghdad. There he met Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Berham Salih, had planned to go to Teheran, but this visit was cancelled in view of Mr. Larijani’s visit, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA. On 25 April the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hosham Zebari, visited Teheran to ask Iran to take part in the conference “stressing the important role of the Islamic Republic in the region” in the course of a meeting with President Ahmedinjad. The following day he visited Ankara to stress the importance of this meeting and met his Turkish opposite number, Abdullah Gul. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had already, on 4 April, expressed the hope that Turkey could host this meeting in Istanbul. Five countries bordering on Iraq (Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey) are due to take part in this conference, planned for 3 and 4 May at Sharm el-Sheikh, on the Red Sea coast. Also participating are Bahrain, Egypt, the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organisation (ICO) and the United Nations

The US policy regarding Iran, although the two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, seems recently to have evolved. After having initially refused any contact with Teheran, US President George W. Bush has accepted to take part in multilateral discussions aimed at putting an end to its nuclear programme. On 24 April, President Bush stated that the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, could have bilateral discussions with her Iranian opposite number during this conference. On the US Television channel ABC, Condoleezza Rice explained, for her part, that what Teheran needed to do to put a brake on violence in Iraq seemed to her “pretty obvious”. “Stop the flow of arms to foreign fighter, stop the flow of mercenaries across the borders, stop using explosive devices to kill American soldiers, stop fomenting quarrels between militia that subsequently kill innocent Iraqis”, she spelled out. The Secretary of State denied, however, rumours that the United States had promised to release five Iranian leaders at present being held by US forces in Iraq so as to encourage Iran to take part in the conference

On the other hand, on 23 April the State Department announced it had imposed sanctions on14 companies and organisations, including three Chinese ones, with the aim of stopping the manufacture of military equipment in Syria or Iran. In the terms of these sanctions, these companies or organisations are banned from any relations with US government agencies for the next two years. These measures cover three Chinese companies, the Syrian Air Force and Navy, the Hezbollah (already subject to sanctions anyway) a Pakistani citizen and some firms in Malaysia, Mexico and Singapore. These sanctions are to a large extent symbolic, a number of those affected being already subject to sanctions by Washington, as a leading American commented off the record

At the level of national policy, the movement led by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr officially announced on 16 April its withdrawal from Nuri al-Maliki’s government at a press conference in Baghdad. Moqtada Sadr’s movement hold six Ministries in the National Union government. With 32 members of Parliament, it also represents the largest trend within the Shiite Parliamentary coalition, the Unified Iraqi Alliance (130 seats in all). At the end of 2006 the Sadrist members of Parliament had already once suspended their participation in the government to protest against the meeting between Mr. Maliki and President Bush in Jordan. The US authorities claim to know that Mr. al-Sadr is at the moment in Iran, but his supporters claim he is hiding in a secret place in Iraq

Furthermore, 0n 9 April Ali Allawi, one of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s advisors, called on Washington to accept a federal solution to Iraq so as to put an end to the instability reigning in the country. “The present framework of the Iraqi State is fundamentally unstable. The decision making process is paralysed by the game of power sharing” between the Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities, considered Mr. Allawi, a former Minister of Finance, Defence and Trade, on the occasion of the publication of his book “The Occupation of Iraq: winning the war, losing the peace”. According to him, “the government machine, in its present form, is too decrepit and corrupt to manage the country”. “The fiction that Iraq can be maintained in its present form without prolonged violence and without instability must be abandoned”, he added in a written statement. In his opinion, “a regional solution seems the only possible reply”. He considers necessary “new regional authorities with extensive powers and resources” the federal institutions acting “as referees between the regions”. “Security must be decentralised until confidence between the communities is restored” he considers. The Iraqi leader considers that federalism in Iraq “must be guaranteed by an international treaty that should include the regional powers”. “The American troops would then be replaced by an international force charged with stabilising the new federal system”, suggests Mr. Allawi. “The time has come for the United States to do a U-turn. It is necessary to recognise that the military solution is not enough”, he added during a press conference. According to him, it is necessary to organise an “international congress” to negotiate “an architecture of security for the Middle East while excluding the Palestinian question”


The descendents of the Assyrians celebrate their New Year in Iraqi Kurdistan as from 1 April ad for 12 days following — a pagan rite that goes back for millennia and glorifies resurrection and life. In view of the impossibility of gathering together in their ancient capitals of Babylon or Nineveh because of the prevailing insecurity, the Assyrians, a people whose history goes back to 3,000 years before Christ, celebrated their Year 6757 in Kurdistan, which is spared this violence. “People come from Baghdad, Mossul and Kirkuk to take part in the festivities at Dohuk. For security reasons it was too difficult to organise this on the plain of Nineveh”, admitted Akad Murad, spokesman of the Assyrian Democratic Movement

Officially banned by successive Baghdad regimes, the Assyrian Christians of Kurdistan have been celebrating their New Year since the first Gulf War in 1991. The New Year is the most important event in the year for this community that speaks Aramean, a Semitic language close to Hebrew. “We celebrate for 12 days as used to be done in Babylon and Ashur”, stated Nissan Beghazi, President of the city of Dohuk’s Cultural Centre, which is at the centre of these events for the first time. Before converting to Christianity in the 1st Century and adopting the Gregorian calendar, the Assyrians celebrated New Year on March 21, like the Kurds, greeting the arrival of spring like the Iranians

The celebrations began with a parade outside Dohuk’s Virgin Mary Church, whereas under Saddam Hussein the Assyrians had to celebrate their New Year indoors, hidden out of sight. In accordance with their traditions, they listen to poets recounting the story of the Creation. Another custom observed in Assyro-Chaldean villages consists of planting some grains of wheat or barley in a vase a few weeks earlier, placing the vase on a window ledge and watching the shoots grow as symbols of a new life. “After the 1991 uprising, our community, once again, began celebrating this historic day. In 1992, the Kurdish Parliament decreed that 1st April would be a public holiday, though that has not yet been implemented”, pointed out Mr. Beghazi. Behind these festivities lie some anxieties about the future in a country where mass emigration has hit minority communities very hard. Mass emigration has seen the Christian community drop to some 60,000 souls, in a country of 27 million inhabitants


On 24 April, some tens of thousands of people marked the 92nd anniversary of the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, once again calling on Turkey and the rest of the world to recognise that this was, indeed, a genocide. Waving flags but with gloomy looks, the demonstrators marched through Yerevan to the Memorial of the Genocide Victims, built on a hill overlooking the city, where they lay flowers. The date of 24 April marks the day in 1915 when, in the middle of the First World War, large number of Armenian intellectuals and political leaders were executed by the Ottoman authorities, who accused them of having helped the Russian Army’s invasion. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1917, what with massacres and deportations, in what historians consider the first genocide of the 20th Century

Yerevan and Ankara have no diplomatic relations because of this controversy. This question also complicates Turkey’s negotiations for entry into the European Union. Over 20 countries have officially recognised the massacres between 1915 and 1917 and being genocide, including Belgium, Canada, France, Poland, Russia and Switzerland. However, some powers, like Great Britain and the United States refuse to use this term in their anxiety to maintain good relations with Turkey. Israel, that has very close links with Turkey, one of the few Moslem countries with which it has diplomatic relations, rejected a resolution last March to implicitly recognise the reality of the Armenian massacre. Turkey suspended its military cooperation with France last November because the French National Assembly passed a Bill making the negation of the Armenian genocide illegal.

Moreover, an exhibition, which was due to be inaugurated on 16 April in New York by the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon to mark the 13th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, in the course of which Hutu extremists massacred some 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, was postponed following objections by Turkey to reference on the Armenian massacres during WWI. UNO apologised to the Rwanda Ambassador for the postponement of the exhibition. The controversy over the dismantling and postponement of this exhibition originated with criticisms by a Turkish diplomat, who took exception to a reference, on one of the panels to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in Turkey during the First World War, explained a UNO spokesman. The reference in question was accompanied by a quotation from Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word “genocide” in 1943. This Polish-born Jewish lawyer had been particularly interested in the Armenian “genocide” had pressed the League of Nations to outlaw what he described as “barbarity” and “vandalism”. The exhibition was partly organised by the Ægis Trust, a Britain-based non-governmental organisation that fights to prevent genocides throughout the world

On the other hand, fifty-three Nobel Prize winners have called on the Turks and Armenians to open their borders, establish official relations and resolve their differences regarding the massacres inflicted on the Armenians by the Turks at the beginning of the 20th Century. In a letter made public on 16 April by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, the Prizewinners urge Turkey to put an end to discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities and abolish article 301 of its Penal Code that stipulates that denigrating Turkish identity is a criminal offence. They also urge Armenia to “reform its authoritarian regime, allow free and equitable elections and observe human rights”

The statement refers to the assassination, on 19 January, of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist who had earned the enmity of Turkish nationalists by describing the massacre of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire as genocide. According to the Nobel Prize winners, the best that can be done to honour Hrank Dink’s memory would be to “pursue his life’s work, which consisted of defending freedom of expression and encouraging reconciliation between Turks and Armenians”. Amongst the signatories are Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust and 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner; J.M. Coetzee, 2003 Nobel Prize winner for Literature; Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winners and Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Prize winner for Literature


On 20 April, Amnesty International called for the abolition of the death sentence in Iraq, the application of which has already led to the execution of about a hundred people in the country since 2004. “Since the re-introduction of the death sentence in August 2004, over 270 people have been sentenced to death and at least 100 people have been executed”, affirms Amnesty in a report. “At least 65 people, including at least two women, were executed in 2006”, the organisation points. Amnesty makes the point that Iraq “now appears among the countries with the largest number of people executed in 2006”. “Restoring the death sentence in Iraq represents a deeply regressive setback”, Amnesty considers, criticising its “cruel and inhuman” character. It “calls on the Iraqi government immediately to establish a moratorium on executions in the perspective of complete abolition of the death sentence”

The Human Rights defence organisation says it is also concerned by the fact that many executions ordered by the Iraqi Central Criminal Court (ICCC) have followed “inequitable trials”. It also criticises “confessions televised before trial”, confessions secured under torture, as well as the lack of access to lawyers of people sentenced. Amnesty recalls that the death sentence had been abolished in June 2003, following the intervention in Iraq of the Americano-British coalition, then re-established in 2004 by the interim Iraqi government. Amnesty also stresses that death penalties were used intensively under Saddam Hussein, particularly against members of banned parties, opponents and Army deserters. At the time, however, the NGO had no means of establishing the number of people sentenced and executed. Saddam Hussein was, himself, sentenced to death and executed on 30 December 2006, for his role in the execution of 148 Shiite villages at Dujail (North of Baghdad) I the 1980s


In a report presented in Baghdad on 25 April, the United Nations Aid Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) stated that many women are victims of “honour crimes” in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Dozens of women have been killed for “immoral conduct” in the three Kurdistan provinces of Dohuk, Irbil and Suleimaniyah, states UNAMI in its tenth report on the Human Rights situation in Iraq, covering the first quarter of 2007. “Between January and March, UNAMI received information of some 40 cases of alleged honour crimes in Irbil, Dohuk, Suleimaniyah and Salaheddin, in which young women are said to have died of accidental burn at home or to have been killed by members of their family who suspected them of immoral conduct”, says the report


On 18 April, Iraq committed itself, at Geneva, “not to abandon” the millions of its citizens who have sought refuge abroad or been displaced inside the country and promised them financial assistance of 25 million dollars (18.4 million euros). “We will not abandon our citizens, wheresoever they may be”, declared the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hosham Zebari at the end of the first international conference devoted to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq by the United Nations. The Baghdad authorities will, in particular, open offices in Damascus and Amman to contribute financially to the health and education sectors in Syria and Jordan, where nearly 2 million Iraqis have sought refuge. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed “this commitment by Iraq towards its population”, which he described as the “great success of the conference”. “It is an essential step forward that allows people to keep alive the hope of returning when conditions make this possible”, declared Mr. Guterres to the press. “Security conditions at the moment do not at the moment allow us to envisage the voluntary return of refugees”, warned Mr. Guterres, who considered that “the solution to the problem is not humanitarian but political”

The conference also enabled the mobilisation of the international community and the covering of the High Commission’s needs for the Iraqi refugees, estimated at 60 million dollars (44 million euros), indicated Mr. Guterres. Germany announced that it would allocate an additional 2,2 million euros to help the Iraqi refugees while some French diplomats advanced the sum of one million euros. The European Commission released ten million euros to help Lebanon, Jordan and Syria accept the refugees. The High Commission for Refugees (HCR), which presided this two-day conference in Geneva, estimated at 4 million the number of Iraqis displaced by violence, of which half are outside its borders

At the opening of the meeting the High Commissioner had called on the industrialised countries, where “the Iraqis have become the largest group of asylum seekers”. About 95% of Iraqi exiles have found refuge in the Middle East, but the number of those who have fled to the industrialised countries has increased by 77% in a year, to 22,200 people. The question of the reception of the most vulnerable refugees in the industrialised countries has not had any firm response. The United States have announced that they might be able to receive as many as 25,000 Iraqi refugees this year, but without any real commitment to this. The European Commission has indicated it is in favour of accepting refugees but stresses that it does not have “the legal instruments for obliging the states to do so”