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[casi] News, 07-14/05/03 (2)

News, 07-14/05/03 (2)


*  Economic recovery plan: Train Iraqi stockbrokers
*  Snow Discusses Iraq's Financial System
*  Bush Shakes Up Iraq Administration
*  In One Major City, Power Goes to an Iraqi With a Past
*  New Iraqi TV Complains of U.S. Censorship


*  Interview: Islamic regime unwise - Al Qubeisi
*  Excerpts of Remarks by Iraqi Ayatollah
*  Fate of Arab volunteers still unknown after end of hostilities
*  Iraqi crowds welcome ayatollah home


by Walter Shapiro
USA Today, 9th May (Posted 1st May)

Meeting with reporters Wednesday in Baghdad, retired general Jay Garner, the
American overseer of postwar Iraq, returned to the platform with a final
thought. "We ought to be beating our chests every day," he said. "We ought
to look in the mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our
bellies and say, " 'Damn, we're Americans.' "

These patriotic sentiments might be fitting at a Fourth of July parade, but
they convey a tone of we're-king-of-the-world triumphalism when delivered in
the capital of a just-conquered nation. More than almost any post in
government, Garner's job requires subtlety and sensitivity to Iraqi
feelings. By indulging in metaphorical breast-beating in such a public
setting, Garner conveyed a smug sense that America can do no wrong in
reconstructing Iraq.

It might be easy to dismiss Garner's over-the-top comments as an isolated
example of irrational exuberance. But Thursday's Wall Street Journal
published details of a 100-page plan titled "Moving the Iraqi Economy from
Recovery to Sustained Growth." The report, prepared by the Treasury
Department and the Agency for International Development (AID), gives off a
whiff of self-confident certainty about Iraq's future economic
transformation. Coupled with Garner's remarks, the planning document can be
viewed as a worrisome sign of American "we know best" hubris.

Asked for comment Thursday, an AID spokesman, who requested anonymity,
described the report as "a very outdated document." It was indeed prepared
in mid-February, more than a month before the first cruise missiles landed
in Baghdad. But even though some of the recommendations may have to be
modified in light of subsequent events, the plan still illuminates the
government's thinking as it prepares to take over the most potentially
vibrant economy in the Arab world.

The key element, dear to the hearts of conservative thinkers, calls for
privatization of Iraq's vast network of state-controlled industries,
including oil. Unprofitable enterprises would be quickly liquidated,
compounding the problems of laid-off workers. But, in theory, individual
Iraqis would receive vouchers from the assets sales under what the report
grandly calls the "broad-based Mass Privatization Program."

Some of the recommendations veer close to the comic in their be-like-us
specificity. Within a year, the master plan envisions the creation of a
"world-class" stock exchange to handle the frenzied buying and selling of
big-ticket Iraqi assets. Where would we find experienced Iraqi stockbrokers?
Government-paid contractors would train them. That's right, your tax dollars
would be used to uplift the Iraqi people by educating them in the
world-class wiles of peddling securities.

Try explaining this foreign-aid program to American workers who have just
lost their jobs in the economic downturn. Although the report doesn't
mention it, the Securities and Exchange Commission has recently disciplined
dozens of brokers who presumably would be available to help run such an
overseas training program. True, the boast, "I used to be Martha Stewart's
broker," may not be much of a calling card in Baghdad.

But there are serious implications to any ideologically driven American
effort to decree the prompt sale of Iraqi industries. Economist Jeffrey
Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says,
"I'm a deep skeptic about all the pronouncements coming out of right-wing
think tanks in Washington. Privatization would end up being done by American
guns, not by democratic decision." Sachs, who played an active role in the
economic transformation of Russia, Poland and other parts of the former
Soviet Empire, warns, "If there was privatization like people are actually
talking about, it will help our oil companies and European companies in
grabbing the Iraqi oil fields."

Lost in the fog of American rhetoric about bringing democracy to Iraq is the
distinction between political and economic decision-making. One of the most
important lessons of the post-World War II occupation of Germany was that
democratization and economic revitalization were carried out on two separate
tracks. Instead of trying to impose an American model like the New Deal on
Germany, occupation forces worked with local business leaders for a rapid
hand-over of the everyday management of the economy.

Robert Hormats, a former State Department official and the vice chairman of
Goldman Sachs International, stresses the importance of finding an Iraqi
equivalent to Ludwig Erhard, the economist who was the architect of the West
German resurgence. "The economic success of Germany after the war was
designed and implemented by Germans," says Hormats, an economist who studied
postwar Germany as a graduate student in the 1960s and met frequently with
Erhard. "They were the ones who decided to decontrol the economy. It was
controversial, but the decisions were made by Germans."

Now that the shooting war is over, Americans are understandably inclined to
grant free rein to the occupation forces and the on-scene U.S. advisers in
rebuilding Iraq. The dramatic stories with Baghdad datelines revolve around
humanitarian relief, shootouts in the street and the fragile first steps
towards self-government. The future of the Iraqi economy seems far too
abstract to occupy our attention at a time when we have problems enough,
thank you, here at home.

But for most Iraqis, to lift a 1992 campaign slogan, "It's the economy,
stupid." That's the danger in these top-down privatization plans. Iraq is
not a sandbox in which to test free market theories. Imposing our economic
vision on this conquered nation would violate a fundamental tenet of
Operation Iraqi Freedom.


by Martin Crutsinger
Associated Press, 8th May

WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary John Snow said Thursday a U.S. team in Iraq
(news - web sites) is moving to get a financial system in place in hopes
that within six months there will be a strong flow of oil revenue to support

Snow said that the $1.7 billion in Iraqi government assets in U.S. banks
that were frozen in 1990 as part of economic sanctions against the country
were starting to be used in the rebuilding effort. But he said the major
source that the United States hoped to use was revenue from Iraq's sizable
oil fields.

"Iraq is a very wealthy country and if those oil revenues are used
appropriately, they will be the most important source of revenue to rebuild
Iraq," Snow told a House Appropriations subcommittee during a hearing on the
Treasury Department (news - web sites) budget.

"I would hope within six months that we would have pretty robust oil flows,"
Snow told the panel.

In his appearance before the House panel, Snow did not address the effort
the administration is undertaking to get the United Nations (news - web
sites) to lift sanctions against Iraq. Diplomats at the United Nations said
the administration plans to introduce a resolution on Friday that would call
for the immediate lifting of U.N. sanctions and a phase out of the
oil-for-food aid program over the next four months.

Snow told the House panel the administration planned to hold a donors
conference seeking international support for the rebuilding effort and was
also looking to the International Monetary Fund (news - web sites) and the
World Bank (news - web sites) to provide loans.

He said a team of about 20 Treasury Department officials was either already
in Baghdad or arriving in the next few days.

John Taylor, Treasury's undersecretary for international affairs, has also
been in Baghdad. The entire Treasury team got a morale-boosting telephone
call Wednesday morning from Snow and Federal Reserve (news - web sites)
Chairman Alan Greenspan (news - web sites).

"This call was to let them know how committed we were in supporting their
efforts," Snow said.

He said Greenspan, who happened to be in Snow's office for their weekly
breakfast, told the group they had "a chance that comes to few people to lay
out the foundations for a well functioning economy and your work will pay
dividends for generations to come."

Snow said U.S. officials were still trying to determine whether more than
$600 million in new $100 U.S. bills found behind a false wall in Baghdad was
real or counterfeit currency and where the money had come from.

"We are still trying to find out what that $600 million is and whether it is
real or not," Snow told the House panel.

Treasury officials said they were also still trying to track down $900
billion that reportedly was taken from Iraq's central bank under orders from
Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) just before the start of the U.S. bombing

After the hearing, Snow told reporters that the Treasury team in Iraq was
trying to move quickly on a number of fronts to get the country's financial
system working again.

He said the effort was aimed at establishing a system for paying bills;
developing a working ministry of finance and a central bank; and getting a
national currency in circulation.

"All the fundamentals of a well-functioning set of economic institutions,"
Snow said.

He said Peter McPherson, who will head up the administration effort in the
financial area, was scheduled to leave for Iraq later Thursday.

McPherson, who is on leave from his job as president of Michigan State
University until September to handle the financial aspects of Iraq
rebuilding, told reporters last week that top goals of the Treasury team
will be to establish a sound currency, a functioning banking system and
rules of law that will encourage international investment.

by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Slevin
Washington Post, 11th May

BAGHDAD, May 10 -- The American diplomat serving as chief administrator of
Baghdad has been reassigned by the Bush administration after less than three
weeks in Iraq in what U.S. officials here said was part of a broader
shake-up of the troubled Pentagon operation to rebuild the country.

Barbara K. Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen and the highest-ranking
woman in the U.S.-led interim administration in Iraq, said she intended to
leave for Washington on Sunday to fill a senior post at the State
Department. As Baghdad's effective postwar mayor, she had been in charge of
restoring vital public services and forming a democratic local government
for the capital's 5 million residents -- a job that is incomplete.

Senior U.S. officials said other top members of the reconstruction effort
here, including the overall leader, Jay M. Garner, a retired Army lieutenant
general, and several of his close aides would depart soon. Although Garner
had said before the war he would stay in Iraq for about three months,
President Bush on Tuesday appointed L. Paul Bremer III, a retired diplomat
and counterterrorism expert, to be the senior civilian in charge of
rebuilding the country's government and infrastructure.

"By the end of this month, you will see a very different organization," a
senior U.S. official involved in the reconstruction said today.


Bremer's appointment and Bodine's departure are occurring as concern grows
in Washington and foreign capitals about the pace of the U.S. reconstruction
program in Iraq. Several people involved in the process have said Garner and
his staff -- as well as his superiors at the Pentagon -- did not properly
plan for the task, from repairing damage suffered during the war to
restarting government ministries and forming an Iraqi-led interim

Iraqis have become increasingly frustrated with Garner's operation, saying
that his team has failed to fulfill promises to hand out emergency payments,
restore basic public services, address a wave of criminal activity and
involve resident Iraqis in the planning for a new government. In Baghdad,
many neighborhoods still lack electricity and running water, heaps of
garbage line the streets and most shops remain closed because merchants are
afraid of looters.

"There's large parts of the city that are in really bad shape," the senior
official said. "The city is better than it was three weeks ago, but it has a
long way to go."

The shortage of visible progress appears to have sparked consternation at
the State Department, where officials argued that a civilian with diplomatic
skills and foreign policy experience should coordinate reconstruction
activities. The Defense Department chafed at that idea and insisted the
program remain under military control. Ultimately, the State Department view
won out at the White House on the grounds that having a civilian at the helm
would inspire other nations to support the costly and complicated chore of
transforming Iraq into a stable, democratic nation.

U.S. officials interviewed today said the U.S. presence in Iraq would likely
become more assertive in coming weeks. The absence of strong leadership --
Iraqi or American -- is a subject of intense complaint among ordinary
Iraqis, who are struggling with a lack of civil order after 35 years of
authoritarian rule.

One senior American official in Baghdad said the U.S. team had been so
concerned about being seen as an occupying power that officials were overly
reluctant to exert their full authority.

"We came in here hands-off," the official said. "There was a bit of
ambivalence between being an authority and being authoritarian. We were so
concerned about being authoritarian that we didn't exercise authority."

It was not immediately clear why Secretary of State Colin L. Powell asked
Bodine to leave. Some observers have criticized her performance, saying she
possessed impressive diplomatic skills but not the management know-how to
run Iraq's largest city, which was pummeled during the war and ransacked by
looters after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party government.

Bremer's involvement in counterterrorism may have had a role in her
departure. Bodine antagonized the closely knit community of U.S.
anti-terrorism officials, of which Bremer is a member, after the October
2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. She accused the FBI's chief of
counterterrorism, John O'Neill, who sent more than 250 agents to Yemen, of
conducting a heavy-handed investigation that was damaging U.S.-Yemeni

O'Neill later left the FBI and became chief of security at the World Trade
Center, where he died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In an interview today, Bodine said she did not know the specific reason for
her reassignment. She said her new position in Washington would be deputy
director of the State Department's political-military division, which
handles a wide range of security related matters with other countries.

"I think so far we've had a good start, but we haven't hit our stride yet,"
Bodine said in her office in the marble-floored Republican Palace on the
Tigris River. "I'm not leaving with the sense that we've done everything we
could have done, but I'm also not leaving with the sense that it's been a

Bodine insisted that some of the infrastructure problems that have inspired
intense criticism by Iraqis occurred before the war. The city, she said, has
had rolling blackouts since 1991, when most of its electricity-generating
system was damaged in the Persian Gulf War.

"A lot of what was dysfunctional about Baghdad predates the war," she said.

She suggested that her reassignment, which came in a late-night call on a
phone that had been installed in her office only hours before, was something
of a surprise. Even so, she said her departure was occurring at a "natural
break point" after she and her staff finished setting up initial operations

"We've kind of cobbled the machinery together," she said. "Now it's time to
hand off to somebody who can take it from here to the political

Americans involved in the reconstruction effort said the departures of
Bodine, Garner and other top officials likely would further roil what has
been a chaotic and ill-prepared operation, depriving it of continuity and
potentially delaying some programs as new leaders familiarize themselves
with the operation.

But one official predicted the transition could occur relatively quickly,
with Garner and some of his top aides departing in a week or two. Garner is
expected to meet with Bremer at the Central Command's field headquarters in
Qatar and escort him to Kuwait and then to Iraq, first visiting the southern
port city of Basra before traveling to Baghdad early in the week.

"There will be a pretty quick turnaround," the official said.

Bodine, 54, is one of the few members of the U.S. interim authority who
speaks Arabic and had spent time in Iraq before the war. She served in the
U.S. Embassy here for about 18 months in the early 1980s.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, she was deputy chief of mission in the
tiny desert emirate. Although Iraqi forces surrounded the embassy compound
and cut off water and electricity to force out the occupants, she and other
diplomats toughed it out for four months, drinking water from the swimming
pool and eating canned food.


by Sabrina Tavernise
New York Times, 11th May

MOSUL, Iraq, May 10 ‹ Mishan al-Jaburi is a very busy man. His living room ‹
a lofty space where boys skitter with trays of tea ‹ is full of sheiks,
tribal leaders and armed guards in fatigues. They come to him for answers.

"So many guests," he said on a recent afternoon. "I tell them we have a new
governor, but they are still all coming to me."

Mr. Jaburi is a controversial figure. His critics accuse him of having been
a business partner of Saddam Hussein's son Uday, something he vigorously

What is beyond dispute is that he was the main local power broker behind
Iraq's first postwar election, a vote among tribal leaders last Monday to
choose a local government. In a week of meetings, Mr. Jaburi, a leader from
the Iraqi National Congress, and the American commander in the area brought
together 240 elders and tribal leaders.

Today, American military and civilian affairs officers handed over the
government to the Iraqi Citizen Council chosen in the Monday election.
American Army officers say they want to hand over as many duties to the
Iraqis as soon as possible.

"I am the leader of the city," said Mr. Jaburi in an interview in his new
residence, a house of angular modern design that just a month ago belonged
to the infamous Gen. Ali Hassan al Majid, also known as "Chemical Ali" for
his role in gassing Iraqi Kurds in 1988. "All the power is in my hands. I
told the Americans to hold elections."

As American authorities in Iraq get down to the business of building local
governments, they are faced with the task of finding leaders. Mr. Jaburi and
a small coterie of men have assumed that role in this city, Iraq's third

The task is not easy. Mr. Hussein's authoritarian government discouraged
leadership and initiative. Even recent history in the provinces is one of
control by complex tribal systems rather than formal laws. Elections have
been few and far between. Those with recent experience in public
administration were members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party.

"Iraq was a big prison for 35 years," said Farhan Sharafani, a tribal leader
in the far north of Iraq in a village called Mrehban. "Anyone under 35 knows
only that. In his mind, he's thinking of himself, not his country."

Enter Mr. Jaburi.

An energetic businessman, Mr. Jaburi, 44, lived outside Iraq for a number of
years, an experience his critics say was necessitated by having stolen
hundreds of thousands of dollars from Uday Hussein in a cigarette business.

Mr. Jaburi insists that he never worked with Uday, saying he met Mr.
Hussein's son only three times, the first in 1989 at Uday's behest. He said
he left Iraq because he had been privy to a plot to kill Saddam Hussein and
feared for his life.

Mr. Jaburi speaks English fluently, and wears Western-style clothing. He
says he was never a member of the Baath Party or connected to the old

Even so, he had a very favored position in society. He was rich in the
1980's, living in what he described as a mansion, gilded on the inside,
"that all the generals wished was theirs." He made millions of dollars from
what he described as an import-export business.

He moved around, living in Turkey, Jordan and Syria. But he loved politics.
He saw his chance in Mosul, as the United States was in the final stages of
its war against Mr. Hussein. He became an ally of the renegade Kurdish
leader Massoud Barzani.

There was friction with the American commander from the start. In an
interview last month, the commander, Col. Robert Waltemeyer, said Mr. Jaburi
hindered his troops as they entered Mosul. According to Colonel Waltemeyer,
Mr. Jaburi falsely told him that the Iraqi Army was waiting to surrender.

In fact, the Iraqi troops had long earlier fled the city. And as the
Americans waited for the surrender to happen, people began a looting spree.
Residents still blame American forces for not entering the city more quickly
and securing it.

The American military also raised questions about Mr. Jaburi's role in a
shooting incident that left at least 10 dead. When a crowd of anti-American
protesters gathered soon after the city fell, Mr. Jaburi presented himself
as the new governor of the city. The crowd pelted him with rocks and Mr.
Jaburi retreated into the building.

Later, shots came from the enraged crowd. Marines fired back. Mosul
residents still refer to the incident as a massacre.

But the next American commander to arrive in Mosul, Maj. Gen. David H.
Petraeus, chose to work with Mr. Jaburi. For Mr. Jaburi, the prize was the
election of the local government. He quickly took a leading role. General
Petraeus said Mr. Jaburi had been given power because he took the initiative
and his tribe was one of the biggest.

"There are some views that he has had too high a profile," the general said.
"But you have to have people who are willing to invest lots of energy and

In the end, a mayor was elected. The election was praised as advancing a
political process that seemed to be lagging in other parts of the country.
The new city council also included representatives from most ethnic
minorities in the area.

But Arab and Kurdish critics said the group that took part in the election
was replete with Baath Party officials and complained that delegates were
given a choice of just three candidates for mayor, all nominated by Mr.

"It's not democracy," said Ali Jajawee, a retired Iraqi Army general. "He
was the man behind the screen, controlling the process."

Though the first elections in Iraq's short history were in 1953, the Iraqi
people ‹ Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Kurds and Assyrian Christians ‹ have
bounced between military junta, kings and dictators for most of the past

For that reason, says Mr. Sharafani, the tribal leader, it was too early to
hold elections. "You don't start to build your house in the winter ‹ you
wait for spring," he said. "Now is winter. Opportunists are very, very
dangerous for Iraq."

Mr. Sharafani is among those who sat out the election rather than fight what
they saw as a flawed process. Still, he is hopeful that better elections ‹
once they are held ‹ will bring about effective government.

But the Americans have to stay. "Without the Americans," he said, "it will
be worse than Saddam."

by Saul Hudson
Reuters, 13th May

BAGHDAD: The U.S.-sponsored Iraqi television station began broadcasts on
Tuesday after complaining of American censorship, including efforts to stop
it airing passages from the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

At the start of what is being trumpeted as a new broadcasting era in a
nation fed on a diet of state propaganda, Baghdad residents with electricity
saw the Iraqi flag appear on their screens as a pan-Arab nationalist anthem

Deprived of any locally produced television since U.S. troops ousted
president Saddam Hussein, Iraqis watched canned interviews and decades-old
music shows.

But the Iraqi Media Network postponed plans to air a half-hour live news
program because of disputes over editorial control.

"As journalists we will not submit to censorship," said Dan North, a
Canadian documentary maker advising Iraqis at the station, which plans two
hours of programming a night for viewers in Baghdad.

"This whole idea was about starting the genesis of an open media so we will
not accept an outside source scrutinizing what we produce."

The charges of censorship could reaffirm for many Iraqis the perception that
Washington is not allowing them a free hand in building democratic

"All my neighbors say this TV is controlled by the Americans to get out
their point of view," said Abbas Mohammed, a cakemaker, who watched the
broadcast in his living room with his family. "But I don't care there was no
news. In Iraq the news is always bad."

U.S. officials made no comment on the censorship allegations. They had
earlier said the station would be a welcome change from the Saddam era.

"This is not American propaganda. This is the first time in 25 years Iraqis
are getting TV that is not propaganda," said Robert Teasdale, a U.S. adviser
to the network.

But North said the U.S.-led administration's Office of Reconstruction and
Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) had requested the station's news programs be
reviewed by the wife of Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader and a major figure
in the postwar politics of Iraq.

"Could you imagine a political leader being able to check the content of any
Western media?" North said.

The news program would be postponed for a week because of the wrangling,
said North, himself hired by the ORHA.

The network did air verses from the Koran, a tradition in Middle Eastern
countries, because the Iraqi workers threatened to walk out if they were
dropped at the ORHA's behest.

An eleventh-hour programming change on Tuesday cut an address by Jay Garner,
the No.2 in the U.S.-led civilian administration. The station broadcast
canned packages, including an interview with an electricity official and
sound bites from Iraqis outside a hospital complaining of a lack of

At the ORHA's "suggestion," the station cut one section in which a patient
made an unsubstantiated accusation that U.S. soldiers were stealing
gasoline, North said.


by Shadiah Abdullah
Gulf News, Dubai, 8th May

After five years in exile, a 68-year-old Sunni cleric returned to his native
Baghdad and made waves by giving a rousing Juma Khutbah (Friday sermon) from
the pulpit of the Abu Hanifa Al Nouman mosque.

The significance of the mosque, which houses the tomb of Abu Hanifa, the
founder of the "Hanafi" Sunni school of thought, did not go by unnoticed.

Observers were quick to interpret that Sheikh Ahmed Al Qubeisi had arrived
in Baghdad to fill a power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussain's regime.

A massive group of his supporters rallied at the centre of town to
peacefully demonstrate their rejection of foreign occupation.

During his several days' stay in Baghdad, Al Qubeisi, founded the Iraqi
Muslim Scholars Association, which up to now comprises only Sunni clerics,
as well as a political party called Al Harakah Al Wataniya Al Iraqiya Al
Muwahada (The Iraqi Unified National Movement).

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News at his residence in Jumeirah, the
Iraqi cleric said forming an Islamic government in Baghdad at this time
would be "unwise".

He warned the Americans that if they do not give Iraqis the chance to
rebuild their country, the people will revolt in a year's time.

Al Qubeisi, who spoke to Gulf News a day before he returned to Iraq for
good, said: "What the Iraqis want is a country with a strong civic
infrastructure like the Iraq of 50 years ago. It is not wise to argue over
the ideology of the Iraqi government at this point."

When asked if he would call for a jihad soon, Al Qubeisi, who found asylum
in the UAE when Saddam's regime issued a warrant for his arrest in 1998,
said: "It would not be to the advantage of the Iraqis to fight the Americans
at this time."

He believes fighting is the weakest form of jihad: "Jihad could be carried
out through prose, poetry, dialogue and many other peaceful ways."

He supported his position quoting a Hadith (saying) by the Prophet Mohammed
(PBUH). Returning from a battle, the Prophet said: "We returned from the
small jihad to the bigger jihad."

He stressed, however, that this does not mean Americans should allow chaos
to reign over Iraq, nor should Americans continue to treat the Iraqis as
"animals who have no history or worth or feelings".

He said the situation in Iraq is worsening by the hour. Referring to the
looting and the lawlessness that prevailed after the fall of Baghdad to the
U.S.-led coalition forces, he blasted the Americans for contravening
international laws: "It was their duty as occupiers to protect the country,
but they failed to do so... It will become our duty to fight them if the
situation does not improve, or else history will judge us as cowards. They,
the Americans themselves, will not respect us if we do not fight!"

There has been much speculation over why Al Qubeisi did not meet with
retired U.S. General Jay Garner.  "It is not wise for me to meet him now,
but I will eventually meet him when the time is right. We want the Americans
to prove their good intentions towards the Iraqis by getting the Iraqis out
of the state of confusion they created," he explained.

Al Qubeisi did not rule out dealing with the Americans, saying he would do
so "if it is for the benefit of Iraq..."

Al Qubeisi described the newly-founded Iraqi Muslim Scholars Association as
"a vessel to unite the word of the people and to lead them in a wise way".

He claims the association runs 4,000 to 5,000 mosques in Baghdad, with each
Imam leading a congregation of more than 1,000.

Al Qubeisi's political party, The Iraqi Unified National Movem-ent, will
"work towards unifying the Iraqi people regardless of their sect, religion
or race in order to rebuild Iraq". "The party has members from all sectors
of Iraqi society. It has Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Assyrians all of Iraqis,"
he said.

He evaded questions about external support for the party, stressing that
Iraqis are "supporting themselves". He vehemently denied allegations that
Arab countries are providing assistance.

"They are with us in spirit, but there have been no contact with any Arab
country," he said.
He hailed the UAE support for the Iraqi people since 1991.

He denied meeting any members of the Iraqi opposition, who "came with the
occupiers to represent American interests".

"We will work with the opposition, which represents the Iraqi people and
fights for their rights," he said.

Born in 1935 in Baghdad, Al Qubeisi, who has a PhD in Law and Islamic
Shariah from Al Azhar University, is a well known figure on the Arab
satellite channels. He fled Baghdad in 1998 after the regime issued a
warrant for his arrest, he claims, but did not specify the charges. "Up till
now, I do not know what those charges are. A prominent member of the
Mukhabarat refused to tell me the reason," he said.

He lamented the dire state of his country saying "there is no Iraqi society
anymore; it has been totally destroyed".

"There is no difference between a Bedouin tribe in the desert and the Iraqi
people now. My country has been totally destroyed," he bemoaned.

However, he said, he was not surprised to see the ruins of "what was once
known as Iraq" because he expected it. "They did announce what they were
going to do to Iraq. They never hid the fact that they were going to destroy
and kill. They fulfilled what they set out to do," he said, bitterly.

He described the Iraqis inside the country as "still shocked and bewildered
over what happened".

"They are licking their wounds and are waiting for a mirage... For the
Americans to do as the British did when they occupied Iraq in 1917," he
said. "The British immediately set up a civil government, but up to now we
haven't seen anything the Americans have done."

Al Qubeisi did not rule out the possibility of dividing the country into
governorates."Well, all indications are pointing towards that possibility
with them appointing a ruler for Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and the north."

He pointed out that America has not yet made its plans clear. "Things are
very blurred and uncertain in a way that nobody can accept," he said.

Asked why many Iraqis did not stand by Saddam to defend their homeland
against the invading forces, he answered: "Saddam never represented the
Iraqis. They had never seen a more brutal ruler than Saddam in their entire

He was upbeat about the situation reminding the world that the Iraqis were
known throughout history as a powerful people and they have survived worse
crises. To illustrate his point, he recalled the concerns expressed by
"Middle East experts" prior to the war that there would be sectarian
fighting after the collapse of the regime.

"What happened was the opposite. Iraqis are more unified now than at any
other time in history. The Shiites and Sunnis are all in one trench. They
are all taking the same stance."

Las Vegas Sun (from AP), 10th May

Quotes from a speech in Basra by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, head of
the largest anti-Saddam Shiite Muslim organization, after returning to Iraq
from more than 20 years of exile in Iran. The comments were made in Arabic
and translated by The Associated Press:

"Our Arab and Islamic world is full of dictatorship ... This dictatorship
(of Saddam Hussein) confiscated all rights of the Iraqi people, even the
simple ones, interfered in all the details of the Iraqi person, even inside
his home. ... The Iraqi person became a slave."

"We have some freedom, but it is not complete. When we want to move, we find
foreign troops, limitations on our movement to reach our goals ... (A future
government) must be a system based on the will of the Iraqi people, elected
by the Iraqi people."

"The system must respect the makeup of the Iraqi people. Shiites have their
cultural specifics, Kurds, and Turkmens, Sunnis and Christians have theirs
which are related to their identities."

"(The new government) will be a modern Islamic go along with the
modern world, today's world ... and it will be able to bring Iraq to its
natural place in the Arab and Islamic word."

"We don't want extremist Islam, but an Islam of independence, justice and

"We have to know that when we say and we make these slogans that people call
'religious slogans,' and that we speak apart from life and that we know
nothing about this world, tucked away in mosques... That is not true. We
also want to build a modern state ... Some people think that women should
stay at home. Now, women these days are half of society ... They should be a
principal part of this society."

by Alia Ibrahim
Lebanon Daily Star, 10th May

Fawziah Khodr is still waiting for her son to return from Iraq.

She has already been to Syria, where she spoke to dozens of "Arab volunteer"
survivors who told her they haven't seen him.

Last week, she tried to cross the Syrian border into Iraq but couldn't
because she doesn't have a passport and because the border was closed. She
now has a passport - the cost of which she could hardly afford, and is
impatiently waiting for the border to open.

The truth is, Omar Khodr will not return home, and his mother will never
find him even if she reaches Iraq. He was killed in battle, as verified by
his cousin who watched him die.

When Fawziah first heard the news she believed, but when a local sheikh
claiming spiritual powers visited her at her home and told her he had
journeyed in spirit to all the graves in Iraq, and that he couldn't find her
son anywhere, Fawziah didn't know what to think any more.

"If my son is dead, I want to know for sure. I want to know that someone
prayed over him when he was buried, I want to know he is not being tortured,
that he wasn't taken hostage and that he is not wounded in some hospital Š I
want to tell him I forgive him though he lied to me. I forgive him Š I pray
for him all the time and I want him to know that," she said as she cried in
the backyard of her small house in a remote village in the mountains of
North Lebanon.

"I am not saying anything against religion, I am a believer, but he is my
son, he is my son, and I can't help it," she shouted, when her devastated
husband told her with a broken voice, to "stop, and to remember that our son
died fighting in the name of God."

"I am not sad. My son chose this road, and now he is dead. I am proud of
him," Abu Omar said with tears welling up in his eyes.

"If only I knew he was going, I would have stopped him, I wouldn't have let
him, I would have locked him in, I would have begged him Š but I didn't
know," Fawziah went on.

But according to his friends, nothing could have stopped Omar from going.
Like many of the Arab volunteers who went to Iraq, he was determined to
fight in fulfillment of jihad or the duty on all Muslims to fight back
infidels when they are attacked.

There are still no official numbers on how many people answered the call
from Lebanon, or how many were killed for that matter. Figures vary from a
couple of hundred to a couple of thousand.

According to Maan Bashour, the president of the Gathering of Popular
Committees and Leagues, the only official authority that can determine the
number of volunteers to Iraq is the Iraqi embassy, which was shut down in
the aftermath of the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime. However, Bashour
said he believes the number to range "in the hundreds and not in the

What makes it difficult to determine a figure is that many volunteers 
didn't have passports and crossed borders illegally after "bribing" their
way for information on unguarded sections of the borders.

The fact remains that since the end of Iraqi war, dozens of Lebanese have
returned and they speak of "hundreds of thousands of Arab volunteers"
fighting in different parts of Iraq.

Ahmed Saghir, 19, the cousin who witnessed the death of Khodr, said there
had been treason by some Iraqis and that "Arabs" were left alone with few
weapons to fight against the invading American tanks.

"The Iraqis were the first to flee. They didn't fight. They left us alone
and some were even tipping off the Americans on our whereabouts," Saghir

Weeks after returning to Lebanon, Saghir still finds it difficult to talk of
the death of his cousin in what he named "the battle of the bridge," near
Baghdad's international airport.

Saghir said they were in the same bunker when Khodr jumped out to throw a
grenade at a tank. According to Saghir, Khodr was instantly hit.

"I saw him falling on a wire and struggling for a little while before
falling into another bunker," he said. He said he couldn't check on his
cousin for a couple of hours because of intense bombing. "He was already
dead when I reached him," he said. Saghir stayed with him in the same bunker
for another six hours before he could escape.

Looking back at it his experience, Saghir said he doesn't regret having gone
to war and that he would do it again, "for the sake of the Arab nation."

"Not going was not an option. How could we not go when we all saw those
pictures of kids dying?," he asked.

Yes, he misses his cousin, who was also his friend and mentor, but then he
is happy that he died believing that the war could be won, Saghir said.

Omar Sabra, another surviving volunteer, agreed with Sagheer, saying: "I was
100 percent sure I wanted to go, I thought it would be jihad, and that is
the duty of every Muslim."

by Danielle Haas
San Francisco Chronicle, 12th May

Shalamche, Iraq-Iran Border -- Beating their chests and chanting praises to
Allah, tens of thousands of Shiites flooded the southern Iraqi city of Basra
on Saturday to welcome home their exiled leader, whose brand of hard-line
Islam could play a decisive role in shaping the religious and social face of
the new Iraq.

Returning to Iraq after 23 years living abroad in neighboring Iran,
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq party (SCIRI), was deluged by an outpouring of devotion
from followers who flocked to the Iran-Iraq border near Basra to witness his
passage back to his homeland.

A sea of flags and posters bearing images of the 66-year-old cleric
stretched as far as the eye could see along the road leading to the
Shalamche border post, where two defaced murals of Saddam Hussein buried in
prayer had been replaced with al-Hakim's photograph.

"Yes, yes for Hakim. Yes, yes for Islam. With our blood and souls we will
sacrifice for you," the raucous crowd chanted in unison while men unloaded a
truck full of sheep in preparation for a ritual celebratory slaughter.

As al-Hakim's procession of white cars neared the border, it was swamped by
crowds clamoring to catch a glimpse of their leader. Amid a cacophony of
blaring horns, people piled into the back of trucks, buses and even a fire
engine draped with flags and pictures of al-Hakim to accompany him on his
triumphant 12-mile journey into Basra.

"Saddam is the enemy of God. Where are you now, you donkey Saddam?" one man
screamed from a vehicle as it passed through a market where women dressed
from head to toe in traditional shapeless black abayas flapped their robes
in jubilation.

By the time al-Hakim arrived at Basra's Celebration Square two hours later,
the crowd had swelled to more than 100,000. A thunderous roar of "Allahu
akbar (God is great)" rose from the crowd when al-Hakim finally mounted the
podium, from which he addressed his devotees.

"This government must be chosen by Iraqis and totally independent," al-
Hakim told them. "We will not accept a government that is imposed on us."

"We have gone such a long way in such hard times; we are now on the road to
security and stability. This is a jihad of reconstruction after the
destruction of the oppressors," he said. "We used to say yes, yes to
freedom. Now we say yes, yes to independence."

Al-Hakim is the latest Iraqi leader to arrive home from exile in recent
weeks. He is hopeful of carving out a place for his party alongside the
myriad factions jostling for position in the emerging Iraqi political
landscape. SCIRI opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq, but has close ties to
the U.S.-backed opposition, including the Kurds and the London-based Iraqi
National Congress. And it maintains its own military wing, the al-Badr

But since the American-led war in Iraq, al-Hakim has sought to play down
those fears, stressing that he is not seeking to remake Iraq in the image of
Iran's Islamic Republic. Just how successful he proves to be in importing
his brand of political Islam could prove to be a major factor in the
U.S.-Iran rivalry for influence over Iraq's majority Shiite community.

The Bush administration is concerned that neighboring states, especially
Iran, will try to influence the new Iraqi government, and has said it
believes that Iranian agents who crossed into Iraq since the fall of
Hussein's government are trying to win over Shiite clerics sympathetic to
Tehran's fundamentalist religious establishment.

Al-Hakim told the mostly male crowd that Iraq must base its laws on Islamic
strictures and prohibit the kind of behavior that may be acceptable in the
West but is forbidden in Islam. But he hedged on his precise vision, saying
that a new Iraqi government must be representative of all ethnic and
religious groups -- not only majority Shiites but also minority Sunni
Muslims and Christians.

"We don't want an extremist Islam," he declared. "We don't want a Taliban
brand of Islam. We want an Islam of independence, justice and freedom."

The ayatollah was jailed and tortured in the 1970s for opposing Hussein, and
he left for Iran in 1980.

Not everyone here welcomed al-Hakim's return. One Basra resident, Safa al
Rubayeh, said he knew of al-Hakim's al-Badr forces, composed mainly of
Tehran- backed Iraqi exiles living in Iran, and rejected the cleric as
little better than a dictator cast in the same mold as Hussein.

"Badr forces are already operating here. I am afraid to speak freely . . .
Hakim has the same style as Saddam, with his motorcades and bodyguards,"
said the 25-year-old furniture store owner, alluding to al-Hakim's showy
entrance earlier in the day when security officials sat atop his car,
wearing dark sunglasses, with mobile phones pressed to their ears.

Attributing Saturday's huge turnout for al-Hakim to local curiosity rather
than mass support, al Rubayeh added, "Half the people at Celebration Square
were his followers, but half just wanted to see him."

While his period in exile has accorded al-Hakim a mythic status among many
Shiite Iraqis, particularly in their southern heartland, his absence during
the harsh years of Hussein's regime could affect his chances of gaining a
broader base of support.

Addressing a hall full of specially invited tribal leaders and Shiite
clerics later in the day, al Hakim spoke of his affection for Basra and the
need for democratic and free elections.

"This government has to be elected by the Iraqi people via the ballot box.
This is democracy," he said.

But with Shiites constituting some 60 percent of the Iraqi population, the
call is unlikely to calm fears among the minority Sunni population that they
could be edged out in the future Iraqi government. The extent to which al-
Hakim intends to press for an Islamic state governed by Shariah, or strict
religious law, also remains to be seen. His words Saturday were ambiguous on
that subject.

"Shariah has to lead this country," he said. "But the government has to
respect all people. Otherwise it will just be the same as the old regime."

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