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[casi] News, 18-25/06/03 (3)

News, 18-25/06/03 (3)


*  [Two US soldiers attacked in Baghdad] from U.S. Captures Key Hussein Aide
*  Sniper adds to US toll in Iraq
*  Mortar Hits Coalition Office in Iraq
*  Soldier Killed in Iraq Ambulance Attack
*  Soldier killed and pipeline burns as tension runs high in country
*  Militant fires at U.S. convoy, reportedly hits Iraqi civilian bus
*  Car bombs explode in Baghdad
*  Six British soldiers killed in Iraq


*  Iraq democratizing Iran?
*  US Restrictions on Iraqi Media Spark Criticism
*  Weekly column on fatwas introduced by Baghdad newspaper
*  Iraqis protest in Al-Hillah
*  U.S. troops open fire as Iraqi military protests turn violent


*  French raid throws exiled Iranian militants into spotlight
*  Turkey Shuts Iraq Crossing to Commercial Traffic
*  U.S. Using U.N. to Thwart Iran's Nuclear Program
*  Cheney highlights 'Middle East Partnership'     


by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post, 19th June


The latest act of violence that U.S. military officials attribute to Hussein
loyalists was today's shooting of two soldiers outside the propane station.
Details of the incident varied. A U.S. Army spokesman said one soldier was
killed and another wounded when gunmen walked up to a squad of troops
guarding the station. But an employee at the station, Salam Mohammed, said a
lone gunman fired at the soldiers from a moving car.

The name of the slain soldier was not immediately released. He was the
second American killed this week in Baghdad. Since major combat was declared
over by President Bush on May 1, 49 members of the U.S. military have died
in attacks or accidents in Iraq.

A few hours before the attack, military police shot dead two Iraqi
demonstrators after a protest over the U.S. failure to pay military salaries
erupted into a stone-throwing riot in front of the main gate to the grounds
of the Republican Palace, where the occupation authority is based. About
2,000 former army officers and soldiers gathered there, some believing that
the money would be paid today. They said they were angered by the
authority's decision not to pay salaries to former soldiers or give them
"emergency payments," as other government employees have received.

Converging on razor-wire barricades under a blazing sun, they shouted and
waved Arabic language banners that read, "We Demand Our Rights" and "Please
Keep Your Promises."

Although a U.S. officer greeted the demonstrators and listened to their
grievances, they grew incensed after he told them they would not be paid.
They began shouting and throwing stones at military police officers guarding
the gate, leading the officers and other soldiers to put bayonets on the
ends of their rifles and move toward the protesters in an attempt to
disperse them.

Accounts of what happened next varied widely. Some Iraqi witnesses and
participants said the situation grew out of control when a U.S. Army
interpreter loudly told the protesters to step aside to allow visitors from
Kuwait to enter the coalition complex. Incensed that the Kuwaitis -- former
enemies of Iraq -- were receiving deferential treatment, the protesters
surrounded the Kuwaitis' car and shook it, then surrounded a military Humvee
that was leaving the complex.

"As the convoy came out, the demonstrators surrounded the car and began
throwing stones and shaking it," said Pvt. Claudio Beas, 21, who was
standing guard at the entrance. A soldier in the Humvee became angry "and
started shooting," Beas said. "I guess he felt threatened."

Maj. John Washburn of the 1st Armored Division, which is responsible for
protecting the palace, told the Associated Press that a soldier in a convoy
approaching the gate opened fire after the convoy came under a barrage of

But in a statement, the Army said U.S. forces opened fire in self-defense
only after "one demonstrator pulled out a weapon and began shooting."

Two Iraqis struck by bullets later died, and several others were wounded.
U.S. officials said soldiers administered medical assistance.

The organizer of the demonstration, Sabih Azzawi, said U.S. soldiers
mishandled the confrontation. "The security situation in Iraq is bad," he
said. "Military people have no money. They have nothing in their houses. For
four months they've had no salary."

A U.S. official said tonight that the decision not to pay salaries to former
soldiers was "under review."

Correspondent Daniel Williams, staff writer Sharon Waxman and special
correspondent Khalid Saffar in Iraq and staff writer Bradley Graham in
Washington contributed to this report.,3604,979553,00.html

by Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
The Guardian, 18th June

Scores of American troops mounted new searches through Baghdad yesterday
after a sniper shot dead a US solider on patrol.

The soldier, from the 1st Armoured Division, was shot in the back around
midnight as he sat in a Humvee vehicle in north-west Baghdad. He died 40
minutes later. The gunman was not captured. Hours earlier, there were two
blasts in the capital, a car bomb and a land mine.

The attacks highlight the increasing sophistication of guerrilla fighters
intent on confronting the US army, even in Baghdad. Nearly 50 US soldiers
have been killed in shootings and accidents since the war ended in April.


Yahoo, 19th June

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A mortar shell hit a coalition office in the city of Samarra
north of Baghdad, killing one Iraqi and injuring 12, a U.S. military
statement said Thursday.

The 82 mm mortar round crashed into the Civil Military Operations center, an
office that coordinates military and civilian humanitarian aid, on

U.S. soldiers said they contacted local police after hearing three
explosions. Police arrived at the scene and found the dead and wounded, the
statement said.

"Soldiers were unable to respond or find the perpetrators," said the
statement, from U.S. Central Command.

"This is one of numerous incidents recently where Iraqi resistors have
attacked coalition forces or Coalition Provisional Authority locations and
injured or killed Iraqi citizens," it said.

by Arthur Max
Yahoo, 20th June

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP): A rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a U.S. military
ambulance Thursday, killing one American soldier and wounding two others,
the latest in a series of attacks on U.S. personnel or their offices.

The ambulance was transporting a wounded American soldier to a medical
facility when it came under fire on a highway about 20 miles south of

The wounded soldier being transported was not the one killed, said Capt.
John Morgan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. The casualties were
members of the 804th Medical Brigade and their identities were being
withheld pending notification of relatives.

The wounded were taken to the 28th Combat Army Support Hospital in southwest
Baghdad. It was not immediately clear if the ambulance was traveling as part
of a convoy or if fire was returned.

Three mortar shells exploded Tuesday outside a coalition-run humanitarian
aid office in the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad, killing an Iraqi
bystander and wounding 12 others, hospital officials and U.S. officers in
the town said Thursday. No American forces were hurt. The military initially
said the attack happened Wednesday.

Attackers also fired a rocket-propelled grenade that struck a U.S. tank in
Samarra, said Sgt. Steven Stoddard with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
Another tank fired back, killing one attacker, while the second was
captured, Stoddard said. There were no American casualties.

In west Baghdad, an Army truck was hit by what witnesses said was a
rocket-propelled grenade. The torn-apart truck sat burning on the edge of
the highway.

Witnesses said there were casualties, but U.S. military police at the scene
said the vehicle broke down earlier and was set on fire after being left
alone while soldiers prepared to remove it.

The mortar rounds in Samarra, 75 miles north of Baghdad, exploded outside
the Civil Military Operations Center. U.S. soldiers heard three explosions
and asked local police to investigate, said a U.S. Central Command

Samarra police found the injured and killed and that soldiers were unable to
find the attackers, the statement said.

The office coordinates between the military and civilian agencies in the

Meanwhile, scores of angry mourners fired Kalashnikov assault rifles into
the air and shouted curses at the United States during a procession Thursday
for two Iraqis who were shot dead by U.S. troops at a protest by disgruntled
former army officers.

Shouting "Death to Bush!" and "Revenge!," mourners marched with the body of
32-year-old former Iraqi army officer Tareq Hussein Mohammed, killed by U.S.
troops, from his house in northern Baghdad to a mosque.

Mohammed was one of two men shot outside the gate of the coalition
headquarters in Baghdad during a demonstration of ex-soldiers demanding
their salaries. The men were shot after the protest turned violent, the U.S.
military said.

"Abu Soheib, come back to us," wailed his wife Soheir, using his nickname.
"Now there is no salary, and no man."

As neighbors saw the coffin arriving at his house from the morgue, they
fired their weapons into the air for more than 15 minutes at a time in a
deafening, frenzied display of defiance. U.S. troops have prohibited people
from shooting their weapons in the streets.

In Iraq, shooting into the air is also a sign of respect for the dead.

"Iraqis are going to kill Americans. We are going to take revenge for
Tareq's blood," said Salwa Mohammed, a relative of the slain man.

Black-clad women at the house sat on the floor and wailed.

As the U.S. military grappled with an increase in guerrilla attacks, the
United Nations reported that an increase in power outages in the capital of
Baghdad was caused by sabotage to Iraqi power lines. The United Nations also
reported that humanitarian assistance vehicles were being fired upon, along
with those of the American military.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army's Baghdad radio station began broadcasting appeals
for Iraqis ‹ including ex-military personnel ‹ to join the civilian police
force in Baghdad and Fallujah. Some say the upsurge in violence is at least
partly due to the huge number of former soldiers and officers of the ousted
regime who lost their jobs.

Iraqi cities have been on edge since Sunday, when coalition forces began
house-to-house searches in Baghdad for banned weapons and suspected
activists trying to undermine the U.S.-led occupation.


The Scotsman, 23rd June

A GRENADE attack killed a United States soldier in Iraq yesterday as a
pipeline fire blazed following an overnight explosion described by an oil
ministry official as sabotage.

The US military said a second soldier was wounded in the attack on a
military convoy at Khan Azad, 20km south of Baghdad. The first was dead on
arrival at hospital.

It was the latest in a spate of deadly assaults on US troops. Nineteen
soldiers have been killed since the US president, George Bush, declared
major combat in Iraq over on 1 May, nine of them this month.

Two US soldiers were wounded on Saturday afternoon in the town of Hit (about
140km north-west of Baghdad) when their vehicle ran over a land-mine.

About an hour before midnight, a US patrol reported a fire at an Iraqi fuel
pipeline in the desert near Hit.

"This incident is an act of sabotage. The pipeline was blown up
deliberately," said one oil ministry official. He did not elaborate and
asked not to be named. A Reuters correspondent at the scene said orange
fireballs and thick, black smoke were billowing from the damaged pipeline
more than 12 hours after the blast.

He said no US troops or Iraqi officials were on the spot and no attempt was
being made to extinguish the blaze.

A US military spokesman said earlier that efforts were under way to put out
the fire. He had no word on its cause.

It was the second major fire to damage Iraqi pipelines this month. US
officials blamed the first on gas leaking from the main export pipeline from
the Kirkuk oilfields to Turkey.

The oil pipeline at Hit, with a gas pipeline alongside it, was built in the
1980s to connect Iraq's southern and northern oilfields, enabling exports to
flow smoothly.

An oil ministry official said any disruption to the pipeline could hit
Baghdad's main refinery, forcing it to rely on crude from the south, where
oil facilities are in bad shape.

The refinery at al-Doura serves a city whose five million people have barely
had time to forget the misery of petrol queues that snaked through
sweltering streets for weeks after US led forces toppled Saddam Hussein's
regime on 9 April.

Iraq, which exported around two million barrels per day before the US-led
war, relaunched oil sales yesterday from eight million barrels stored in

A Turkish tanker loaded a million barrels of oil bound for Turkish
refineries from the Mediterranean terminal of Ceyhan.

De facto oil minister Thamir Ghadhban said on Saturday it would take 18
months to restore pre-war production capacity of three million barrels per

Post-war looting and sabotage at oil facilities have delayed the resumption
of Iraq's oil exports and will keep shipments well below pre-war levels for
several months, officials have said.

Iraqi oil pipelines and installations are spread over vast swathes of
sparsely populated desert that is extremely hard to patrol.


RFE/RL IRAQ REPORT Vol. 6, No. 27, 21 June 2003

An unidentified assailant fired a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at 4th
Infantry Division soldiers on 15 June near the town of Al-Mushahidah,
instead hitting a civilian bus that was passing the U.S. convoy, according
to a 16 June press release on CENTCOM's website. Task Force Ironhorse units
returned fire to protect the convoy and bus, it said. "Supporting units from
Task Force Ironhorse responded to assist the people on the bus; however, the
bus was moved while the soldiers were traveling to its location. The
soldiers searched the ambush location but did not find the bus," CENTCOM
reported. The number of casualties on the bus remained unknown, according to
CENTCOM. U.S. forces also came under attack by Iraqi militants firing RPGs
at a military convoy near Al-Dujayl, located some 60 kilometers northwest of
Baghdad, CENTCOM noted in the same statement. (Kathleen Ridolfo)


RFE/RL IRAQ REPORT Vol. 6, No. 27, 21 June 2003

A civilian vehicle exploded in a neighborhood in northwest Baghdad on 16
June, killing one woman and a young girl, Reuters reported the same day. The
cause of the explosion was not clear, but it reportedly occurred at an
intersection where U.S. troops had dismantled a checkpoint just 30 minutes
earlier. Another civilian vehicle was blown up in a tunnel in Baghdad on 16
June, the news agency reported. Early reports indicated that the likely
cause of the latter blast was a land mine. Two Iraqis were wounded in that
incident. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

by Kim Sengupta
Sydney Morning Herald, from The Independent, 25th June

Six British soldiers were killed and eight injured in two ferocious ambushes
in Iraq today in the biggest losses suffered by coalition forces since the
end of the war.

Up to 80 Iraqis are also believed to have been killed in the prolonged and
fierce firefight.

The dead soldiers were members of the Royal Military Police. They were
massacred inside a village police station where they had gone for a
prearranged meeting. Their bodies were found by local people who alerted the
British military.

Four and half hours earlier, in a second attack at the same village - Al
Majar alkabir- a patrol of around 20 members of the 1st Battalion, the
Parachute Regiment, came under withering fire, injuring one soldier and
destroying two Pinzgauer troop carriers.

An RAF Chinook helicopter, carrying a Quick Reaction Force team, summoned
for help also came under sustained attack injuring seven on board, three of
them seriously.

The attacks, near al-Amarah north of Basra, were the first serious
confrontation in the shia south, controlled by the British, and Iraqis, in
marked difference to the Sunni north and central areas of the country where
the American occupying forces have faced constant attacks.

The attacks showed careful planning and coordination. The RMPs, who were
working with the 16 Air Assault Brigade based in Basra, had been training
local Iraqi polic. Their appointment at the station was obviously known to
the attackers, according to defence sources. They were said to be lightly
armed and wearing berets rather than helmets when the attack took place.

The paratroopers, based at Connaught Barracks in Dover, were on patrol in an
area which was part of their regular route when their troop carriers were
believed to have been hit by rocket propelled grenades and raked by
semi-automatic rifles.

The injured were taken to 202 Field Hospital near Basra and two have since
been transferred to a US field hospital in Kuwait for " special treatment of
a very serious nature".

The deaths bring the number of British forces killed since the start of the
conflict to 43, and the most lost in combat during one incident.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for
Defence, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary and Baroness Amos, the Secretary
of State for International Development.

Afterwards Mr Hoon appeared at the Commons to give details of the casualties
to sombre MPs. He said : The two vehicles in which they (the paratroopers)
were travelling were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine
guns and rifle fire from a large number of Iraqi gunmen. British troops
returned fire and called for assistance. A quick reaction force including
Scimitar vehicles, additional troops and a Chinook CH-47 helicopter was
despatched to provide assistance. They also came under fire.

"A total of eight British personnel sustained injuries - one on the ground
and seven in the helicopter."

"Coalition forces have worked hard to secure Iraq in theaftermath of
decisive combat operations. They will not be deflected from their efforts by
the enemies of peace."

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of State for Defence, said "Just as they
were unable to stop the coalition advance in Baghdad, the death squads will
not stop our commitment to create stability and security in postwar Iraq."

Mr Rumsfeld claimed the violence was a result of "the global war on terror,"
and a reminder of the Bush administration's pre-war assertions that Saddam
Hussein's regime was tied to al-Qaeda.

"Every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, throughout the world, brave men and
women risk their lives to defend us all from terror," Mr Rumsfeld said.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said " The Prime Minister was informed of
this during lunchtime today and heard the news with great sadness and it
goes without saying that he believes those who died have died with honour
doing a very worthwhile job, serving their country with great distinction."

The town of al-Amarah lies near the Iranian border, north of Basra. It was
the base of Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as 'Chemical Ali', a senior
member of Saddam Hussein's regime, who had earned his nickname for carrying
out chemical attacks on Shia and Kurdish rebels.

The US and British governments had claimed that General al-Majid was killed
in a missile attack during the war. However, the Pentagon has subsequently
acknowledged that he may have survived and could be leading forces loyal to
former President Saddam.


by Pepe Escobar
Asia Times, 19th June

Real indigenous democracy does not seem to fit American plans for post-war
Iraq - at least for now. Paul Bremer, the American proconsul, has said on
the record that elections in Iraq are "premature" - that's how he justified
his personal ban, last Saturday, on the election for governor of the holy
city of Najaf, which was supposed to take place this coming Saturday and for
which local political parties had been preparing for over a month. Bremer
invoked technicalities, saying "there's no electoral law", "no ballot boxes"
and "no procedure" in place. Bremer, a Pentagon favorite, former Henry
Kissinger collaborator and specialist in counter terrorism, has no Middle
East - or democratic - experience. The delayed election episode may have
brought down his credibility among Iraqis - and especially Shi'ites. Before
that, in the new, free Iraqi debating climate, people already knew how
Bremer had blamed Libya, Syria and especially Iran as the main backers of

Such has the situation become in Iraq that China, of all regimes, has called
for "free and transparent elections" under the supervision of the United
Nations, as well as the formation of a "largely representative" government.
Meanwhile, former Iranian president Ali Rafsanjani - the real strongman
behind Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - took his cue and
predicted that the American forces will eventually have to leave the Middle
East whether they like it or not.

Among all the misunderstandings, the Shi'ites' overall strategy in Iraq
seems to be the one that is really sound. Instead of just playing the
demographic card - they comprise more than 60 percent of the population - a
substantial part of the Shi'ite leadership is trying to accommodate the
Americans. That's the case of crucial characters like Ayatollah Bakr al
Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq
(SAIRI), who returned to Iraq after 23 years of exile in Iran. Even while he
relishes ironic commentaries on American "democrats" who "refuse the Iraqis
to elect their own representatives", he wants no confrontation. In the face
of calls in some quarters for various forms of jihad against the Americans,
Hakim's reaction was extremely measured, considering Bremer's delaying of
the election in Najaf, as Hakim's candidate had a very good chance of

The crucial game is being played in Najaf, the holy city of 200,000 where
Imam Ali is buried, the cousin of Holy Prophet Mohammed and icon of Shi'ism,
assassinated in 661 in Kufa, near Najaf. Najaf is struggling to become the
capital of all 120 million Shi'ites in the world, a de facto Shi'ite
Vatican. Najaf is already a crucial seat of power in the new Iraq, and its
expression par excellence is the powerful al-Hawza, an institution that is a
mix of religious authority, political consciousness, guardian of the faith
and laboratory of Islamic identity. No wonder that at the entrance of Najaf
the banners read "We are all the soldiers of al Hawza".

Al-Hawza, created in the year 992 to replace the 12th imam, is the
institution that forms the members of the clergy, and also where fatwas -
religious decrees - are issued. When Asia Times Online was received in April
by Sheikh Adnan Shahmani, the spokesman for Sayyed Al-Sadr (son of the
famous imam al-Sadr, assassinated in Najaf in 1999), he was very clear:
"Al-Hawza is the word of Allah. To obey al-Hawza is to obey Allah." Al-Hawza
dictates the religious rules to obey and the right path to follow. It
comprises around 150 schools, universities and seminaries, nowadays with
more than 5,000 students.

The doctors of the faith at al-Hawza have a reputation of tolerance - and
many religious leaders have made clear that they don't want an Islamic
Republic in Iraq based on the Iranian model. But one crucial issue will have
to be solved one way or another: the opposition between the proponents of a
"general vilaya" - the clerics interfering in public matters - and
"particular vilaya" - clerics outside of political life. The Grand Ayatollah
Sistani - a moderate, and a Najaf icon - has already pronounced himself in
favor of a separation between religion and politics.

There are no Desert Scorpion-style operations in Shi'ite country. Najaf and
the whole Shi'ite south has met the American invasion and occupation with no
resistance. Unlike the Sunni triangle around and north of Baghdad, there
have been no attacks against the Americans. The extremely influential
Shi'ite religious leaders congregated at al-Hawza have not adhered to the
calls towards a guerrilla war against the invaders. On Friday prayers, there
are no anti-American slogans.

Compare this with Baghdad and surrounding areas where US and Iraqi soldiers
as well as civilians continue to come under deadly attack, all of which
serve to steel the resolve of the Sunni Iraqi resistance against what is
widely perceived as an insensitive and heavy-handed American approach.

This Tuesday, the "Iraqi Resistance Brigades", an unknown group, has even
claimed the authorship of "all combat operations" against the Americans - at
the same time dismissing that they are working in tandem with Saddam
Hussein: as Asia Times Online reported on May 28 (The Saddam intifada),
Saddam has set the official beginning of an anti-American intifada for July
27. In a communique broadcast by Qatar television station al-Jazeera, the
Brigades qualify Saddam and his followers as "enemies who have contributed
to the loss of the motherland". The Brigades refuse to be regarded as
Islamist extremists, and describe themselves as "a group of young Iraqis and
Arabs who believe in the unity, freedom and Arabness of Iraq".

Shi'ites of the SAIRI mould would be as proud as these Sunnis of their
Arabness, but they prefer a more subtle strategy. It's true Americans have
recovered by force some of the buildings the SAIRI has occupied when they
came back from exile in Iran. And the SAIRI's military wing, the Badr
Brigades, has been officially dissolved. But Shi'ite religious leaders are
concerned with a much more important matter. They are very much aware that
the absolute majority of Iraqis - Shi'ites included - want peace and an
opening towards the rest of the world. Whatever violence has occurred has
been directed against former Ba'ath Party members and collaborators, and not
against the "occuberators" - as Iranians have been referring to the
Americans. Virtually all the main Shi'ite religious leaders have prohibited
violence as everyone waits for the constitution of a legitimate Iraqi

Shi'ites are fierce partisans of democracy and the principle of "one person,
one vote". And as well as the Kurds, they also want federalism: this, by the
way, is the official position of the SAIRI. Whatever American schemes are
concocted to minimize Shi'ite participation in a future Iraqi government,
they know that ultimately Shi'ites have the demographic majority in their
favor. And on top of it there is the deliberate effort not to jeopardize the
departure of the Americans - which they believe could happen in a year or
two - by any kind of armed offensive.

There are of course Shi'ites who want no compromise with the Americans. And
the Americans worry about them - but mainly because of disinformation (as
Americans still believe that the SAIRI is an agent from Tehran). The SAIRI
is only one of six Islamic parties that last Sunday created a "coordination
committee" in Najaf, beside five other "secular" Shi'ite parties (there are
no Sunnis in Najaf). It's interesting to note that the SAIRI encouraged
"peaceful demonstrations" against the cancellation of the Najaf election,
unlike the traditional Da'awa Islamic Party, which used to be considered
"terrorist" and now is conducting many talks with the Americans.
Essentially, the American "occuberators" should know that Shi'ites are
traditionally attached to free intellectual debate - so there's no black
or-white or "you're with us or against us" here. A few parties may not be on
face value as opposed to the Americans as they let it be known, while others
may profit to become more radicalized.

As for an Iranian point of view, there are fears that the center of gravity
for 120 million Shi'ites may be displaced from the holy city of Qom, in Iran
- where Ayatollah Khomeini started his campaign to depose the Shah - to the
birthplace of Shi'ism in Najaf, Iraq. This is one of the key questions in
the complex Iran-Iraq equation: how Iraqi Shi'ism threatens Iranian Shi'ism.
The religious flowering in Iraq is already undeniable - but there are many
indications it may not follow the Iranian political path. The consequences
for Iran may be devastating, because the legitimacy of the theocracy of the
mullahs (or "mullarchy") is increasingly defied not only by reformist
intellectuals and students but even by some religious clerics and former
1979 revolutionaries.

Amir Mohebian, a pro-mullarchy intellectual, pro-Supreme Leader Ali
Khamenei, and journalist at Resalat, an Iranian daily aligned to the
interests of right wing bazaaris (traders and merchants), says that "Iran
would be happy that an Islamic republic is given birth in Iraq, but it is
not willing to impose it. If Iraqis decide to opt for a non-religious
political system, this is no problem for us." Compare this to reformist
Hamid Jalaeipur, professor of political science at the University of Tehran:
"All Iraqi Shi'ites don't want such a system. The role of secular Shi'ites
as well as Iraqi clerics - opposed to a political role of the clergy - will
have to be examined closely, because it is very probable that we will soon
see the emergence in Baghdad of a secular regime."

In Najaf, SAIRI cadres are actually hoping that the Iranian Islamic Republic
will not influence Iraq; they'd rather see the new Iraqi experiment being
able to democratize Iran. Meanwhile in Qom, the Grand Ayatollah Saanei, who
talked to Asia Times Online last year, has told French daily Le Monde that
"it is out of the question to transfer our system to Iraq. The United States
should not interfere politically in Iraq, and this also applies to
ourselves." Saanei remarked that all great "sources of imitation" - or
marja'a, the highest echelon of the Shi'ite clergy - who have lived in Qom,
all of them came from Najaf. For him, Najaf and Qom complement each other.

Will Iran and Iraq complement each other? The answer may hinge on the impact
of the more than 3,000 Iraqi Shi'ite religious leaders who came back home
from exile in Iran. If a separation between religion and politics
successfully takes place in Iraq, the road is paved for a secular
Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi regime being able to give the Iranian theocracy a
democracy lesson. If the Americans allow it, of course.


by Ellen Barry
Boston Globe, 19th June (?)

NAJAF, Iraq -- Coalition soldiers raided the distribution center for
Sadda-al-Auma newspaper last week, seizing extra copies of its second
edition and detaining and interrogating its employees, said staff at the

Nevertheless, Sadda-al-Auma, or The Echo of the Nation, was back on the
newsstands with a third edition on Tuesday, selling its pungent brand of
postwar analysis: Its front page invited the people of Najaf to join the
Ramadi resistance movement; warned that Zionist groups were commandeering
some of Baghdad's best real estate; and damned unveiled women for their
''stinking, Western ideas,'' asking, ''Is this liberty, to walk around

Last week the US-led coalition authority brought a strong hand down on the
hurly-burly collection of new voices that have cluttered Iraqi newsstands,
virtually absent of any advertising, since Saddam Hussein fell. The new law
bans incitement of violence against American troops or against any
religious, ethnic, or gender group, and prohibits any publication that
promotes a return of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.

US officials insist the law applies only to material that undermines civil
order that is necessary for a free and democratic Iraq and that it is meant
to prevent violence.

''It's not designed to be restrictive,'' said Charles Heatly, a coalition
spokesman. ''We welcome the emergence of a free press, and we have no
intention of stifling free speech.'' The act, which carries fines and prison
sentences, has spawned resentment among members of the new media class, who
argue that newspapers restrained from criticizing the American forces hardly
constitute a free press.

''Would you agree to be constrained by a decision of President Bush?'' asked
Mohammed Abdul Hadi, whose organization, the Supreme Council to Liberate
Iraq, helps publish and distribute Sadda-al-Auma. ''Why do you apply these
constraints on Iraq when they are not applied on Americans?'' Not everyone
in Najaf complained about the new regulations, though. In Al Nawras
Publication House, whose stock has skyrocketed from four newspapers to 140,
Adnan al-Sudani said the press freedom has gone too far already, allowing
unqualified people to disseminate misinformation. Although his sales have
gone up 70 percent, Sudani said the content has begun to worry him.

''Iraq has reached the limits of democracy in journalism,'' he said. The
Iraqi reader ''is like a thirsty man in the desert. When he gets water, he
starts drinking and drinking and never fills his thirst.'' Until two months
ago, Iraqi readers had two print news sources to choose between: Al Thaura,
or The Revolution, and Al Jamorriya, which translates as The Republic. Both
featured Hussein on the front page every day, and they, like television
news, fell under the tyrannical watch of Uday, the president's oldest son.
All that control broke suddenly in April, when Hussein's government
collapsed under the US-led invasion.

In Baghdad, the new regulations infuriated some editors.

''Freedom of expression . . . includes the freedom of a citizen or a
journalist to criticize the presence of foreign forces on its land,'' said
Shehab al-Tamimi, an official in the Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate. ''It is
the right of the Iraqi people to express everything they believe.'' On the
front page of yesterday's edition of As'saah, or The Hour, a masthead
editorial explained that two articles had been spiked before deadline out of
concern about punishment by the Americans.

The editorial, headlined ''[Ambassador L. Paul] Bremer is a Ba'athist,''
read, in part: ''Only four months ago, the easiest accusation to make
against us was that we were agents for America. Today, with the same ease,
they put sacks on our heads and accuse us of being agents for Saddam Hussein
and the Ba'ath Party.'' The editorial continued: ''There is nothing worse
than Saddam Hussein except what we are suffering now, and I hope I will not
be surprised tomorrow morning by your soldiers surrounding my building.''
Bremer is the top American administrator in Iraq.

The case of Sadda-al-Auma was already well known in Najaf, where the banned
edition sold like hotcakes after the American raid. The newspaper is
published by the Supreme Council to Liberate Iraq, a political organization
which Hadi said developed in the marshes of southern Iraq during the
uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Ali Chiad, a 32-year-old guard at the building, said he had been detained,
bound, and held for four days while American interrogators asked his
superiors questions about the newspaper. He said bags were put over the
captives' heads and that troops seized the excess copies of Sadda-al-Auma.

Hadi expects the paper to keep publishing unless coalition forces ban the

At his newsstand where newspapers sell for pennies, Sudani said he doubted
that the American penalties were compelling enough to stop the profusion of
new messages.

''Already we have an undertaker and an estate broker and a marsh-man
publishing newspapers. We are waiting for the butcher to take part,'' said
Sudani. ''The butcher and the cab driver.''


RFE/RL IRAQ REPORT Vol. 6, No. 27, 21 June 2003

The Baghdad-based newspaper "Sawt al-Tali'ah" has introduced a weekly column
on the religious rulings (fatwas) of Ayatollah Al-Sayyid Muhammad Taqi
al-Mudarrisi. The column will also publish fatwas issued by other "high
religious authorities."     The 15 June issue carried the rulings of Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Asked if it is permissible to punish those former
regime members that played a role in the killing of Iraqis, he said:
"Punishment is the right of the family of the victim after the crime has
been proven in a Shari'a court. It is impermissible for others to mete out a
punishment. Moreover, there must not be any punishment before a Shari'a
judge has announced the sentence." Al-Sistani added that action may not be
taken against former regime members or suspected collaborators until the
cases have been ruled on in Shari'a courts.     Asked about reports of
Shi'ites expelling Sunni clerics from their mosques, he said: "This is
completely rejected and must be stopped. The imam must be protected and
returned to his mosque in a dignified and honorable manner."     As for
mixing politics and religion, al-Sistani said: "It is not right to involve
men of religion in administrative and executive affairs. Their role must be
confined to that of guidance and supervision of the committees formed to run
the affairs of the town and insure security and public services for the
people." Asked whether it is permissible for Iraqis to purchase weapons for
self-defense, he ruled: "Weapons stolen from prisons and other centers
remain the property of the state. It is impermissible to deal with them.
They must be collected and kept under the supervision of a committee formed
by the people of the area so that they will then be returned to the
competent authorities." He added that only official security personnel have
the right to carry arms. (Kathleen Ridolfo)


RFE/RL IRAQ REPORT Vol. 6, No. 27, 21 June 2003

Iraqi civil servants in the Babil Governorate reportedly protested on 16
June against a U.S. demand that they sign a form stating they will obey U.S.
troops or face dismissal, Al Jazeera reported the same day. Hundreds of
citizens took to the streets in a peaceful demonstration to protest the U.S.
demand, the broadcaster reported. The report has not been independently
confirmed. (Kathleen Ridolfo)


RFE/RL IRAQ REPORT Vol. 6, No. 27, 21 June 2003

U.S. forces opened fire on former Iraqi soldiers after their protest turned
violent outside U.S. headquarters in Baghdad on 18 June, Reuters reported.
The former Iraqi soldiers have regularly gathered to protest their dismissal
by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and to demand three months of back pay
(see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 6 June and 30 May 2003). U.S. Army Captain Scott
Nauman told CNN that violence erupted when protesters attacked a U.S. convoy
outside the compound, smashing windows and shaking the vehicle. U.S. troops
outside the compound reportedly fired two warning shots into the air before
a soldier from within the convoy fired directly into the crowd of
protesters. Two Iraqis were subsequently reported to have been killed. U.S.
forces reportedly provided medical attention to the injured Iraqis inside
the U.S. compound. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that protesters threw rocks
at two Iraqi cameramen working for that news agency outside the U.S.
compound during the demonstration. UN and television-crew vehicles passing
by the demonstration were also attacked.     The administration in southern
Iraq is being run along very different lines, however. Dismissed Iraqi
soldiers living in the British-administered areas of southern Iraq continue
to receive paychecks despite a U.S. decision to dissolve the Iraqi Army, the
London "Daily Telegraph" website reported on 18 June
( The payments are part of Britain's "hearts and
minds" campaign, aimed at forging good relations with Iraqis rather than
stirring up resentment, according to the report. Brigadier Adrian Bradshaw,
commander of the 7th Armored Brigade, told the daily that approximately
8,000 of the 10,000 demobilized soldiers in the Al-Basrah Governorate are
being paid as "civil servants."     Bradshaw said the soldiers are no
different from the estimated 70,000 other civil servants currently on the
payroll who receive checks but do not report to work. The payments,
according to the "Telegraph," amount to a form of unemployment benefits. "At
least they have something to tide them over until the employment situation
improves," Bradshaw said. In the meantime, the British are actively
recruiting former soldiers as security guards for food-storage facilities,
and as many as 2,000 might be recruited to serve in the soon-to-be-launched
"Basrah River Service" -- policing waterways in search of smugglers.
(Kathleen Ridolfo)


by Ardeshir Moaveni
Eurasianet, 18th June

On June 17, when French police arrested 165 reported members of exiled
Iranian military group Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK), including the wife of its
charismatic leader, they further convoluted the group's role in regional
politics. Some in US President George W. Bush's administration hope to groom
the Iraq-based group as a proxy force against the hard-line Iranian
government. Others, citing the group's long alliance with Saddam Hussein,
mistrust the group as much as the French do.

In the roughly two months since the United States signed a ceasefire with
the group, divisions within the Bush administration over its usefulness have
clarified. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives]. The State
Department, which has officially labeled MEK a terrorist organization, has
argued that MEK's reputation and tactics run counter to Bush's desired
outcomes in Iran and could subvert deals proposed to the Iranian government
in January. But many Bush advisors apparently want to use MEK as a pressure
point on the regime.

Recent street protests are embattling Iran's ruling clerics, while tensions
regarding Iran's purported nuclear arms program figure to make American
policy more confrontational. [For background see the Eurasia Insight
archives]. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters on June 17 that
the United States would support "peaceful demonstrations" by "the young
people of Iran." Meanwhile, many MEK fighters are reportedly interned in
Iraq's Camp Ashraf, near Khales, under protection of Americans and their
allies, with heavy equipment stored near Fallujah. These fighters could tip
Iran's political balance.

Formed by Muslim children of clergymen and bazaar merchants in the 1960's,
MEK increasingly adopted an ideology mixing radical Islam and Maoism and
modeled its activities after the urban guerilla organizations of Latin
America. According to Iran-Interlink, a London-based group seeking aid for
disaffected former MEK members, the group made its first terror attack in
1971, killing six American civil and military advisors. In the ensuing
crackdown, the Shah's secret police caught most members and imposed death
sentences on almost the entire central committee. Massoud Rajavi survived
the 1979 revolution and rebuilt MEK as a magnet for radical young Muslims.

As the new religious government turned more repressive, MEK became a
principal platform for protest. In June 1981, Rajavi decreed a nationwide
uprising and assassination campaign, which failed. Many observers call the
uprising the moment when undemocratic elements conquered Iran's state
machinery. In 1986, Rajavi moved his decimated organization to Iraq, which
was fighting a bloody war with Iran. The MEK survived by targeting Iranian
leaders for assassination, sharing intelligence with Saddam Hussein's
regime, and preparing its 6,000-member army for a return to Iran.

This turbulent history makes the MEK potentially explosive in regional
affairs. Already, reformists in Iran's government have signaled strong
distaste for MEK. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi reportedly said in April
that a rumored deal promising American support for the group would "increase
our pessimism and qualm towards America." A few weeks later, the Bush
administration reportedly decided to press for MEK's surrender, in light of
a reported deal offered in January by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
The deal would have made MEK a focus of American antiterrorist efforts in
exchange for Iran's blessing of the Iraq invasion. It never happened.

Most Iranians despise Rajavi for siding with Saddam Hussein during his
nine-year war with Iran. The European Union has also labeled the group a
terrorist organization. To Bush administration hawks who see little reason
to support President Mohammed Khatami, though, the MEK might look like a
potent tool against Iran's fundamentalist rulers. The group has formidable
fighting and intelligence-gathering credentials ­ proven in Saddam Hussein's
service during the first Gulf War. According to a spokesman from the
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Iraq used the MEK to brutally suppress
uprisings in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish north. "These people took their
orders from the Mukhabarat [Saddam's feared secret police]," the spokesman
told EurasiaNet. "They committed major crimes against our people. They are
not welcome in our country."

Beyond its links to Iraq and reported use of terrorist tactics, the MEK may
be too unorthodox for the Bush administration to support. A Wall Street
Journal reporter who visited MEK bases in 1994 wrote of forced
indoctrination, children being held "hostage" from their parents, beatings
and total isolation from the outside world. Ervand Abrahamian, professor of
history at Baruch College and author of six books on Iran's fundamentalists
and mujaheddin, compares the MEK with personality cults like the Moonies.
The MEK "combines the excesses of religious cults with those of personality
cults," Abrahamian told EurasiaNet. "It would be enough for Rajavi to say
that he had an epiphany in which it was revealed to him that the earth was
flat or the tenets of Islam were in desperate need of change for his
followers to believe him." One former MEK member, who requested anonymity,
has written a 1000-page monograph explaining that MEK members decreed
Rajavi's wife Maryam "President-Elect of Iran" because only she could
presumably interpret Rajavi's divinely-inspired words correctly.

Yet MEK has charmed major politicians in Western countries to a remarkable
degree, sometimes powering campaign contributions. In April, US
Representative Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-Florida), who chairs the Central Asia
and Middle East Subcommittee of the House of Representatives' Foreign
Relations Committee, insisted that the group was "assisting us in the war on
terrorism" to the Hill, a Capitol Hill newsletter. She also reportedly
showed a letter of support for the group signed by 150 colleagues. This
attitude may wane, though. Representative Bob Ney (R-Ohio), a strident Iraq
hawk, recently attacked MEK in a letter to the same newsletter.

Rajavi may be attempting to seize the chance to posit his group as an
American ally. Iran Interlink publicized a June 12 message from Rajavi that
he reportedly couched in pro democratic language. "We ask most respectfully
of whoever wants to support the Iranian people, their demonstrations, their
demands and the struggle of the students, to look again at Iran's recent
history and the historical place of Rajavi and his cult in the past twenty
years," the report on this message read.

Rajavi and two other unidentified leaders are reportedly currently being
debriefed by an American-led coalition team somewhere in Iraq.
Iran-Interlink head Anne Singleton says there are 300 MEK fighters in
Western cities, trying to burnish the group's image. If France sees
dangerous signs within its borders, the brewing confrontation between Iran
and the United States could touch off broader dangers.

Tehran Times, 19th June

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey - Turkey closed its main border crossing with northern
Iraq to commercial traffic on Wednesday, but officials gave no clear reason
for the move.

The Habur border crossing was shut to all vehicles except those on official
United Nations business or those supplying U.S. forces based in northern
Iraq, officials said, adding they were acting on an order issued from Ankara
late on Tuesday.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Huseyin Dirioz confirmed the closure,
which he said had been sparked by disruptions on the Iraqi side of the
border, controlled by a Kurdish group.

Dirioz said there had been an unspecified incident on the Iraqi side which
had caused a blockage in both directions, but that talks were in progress to
open the border. "This blockage will be overcome," he said. Local traders in
Turkey's southeast expressed puzzlement and frustration at the move, which
they said could stifle trade with northern Iraq, which recently restarted
following a shut-down in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

"The border is closed. If it stays that way then we could have even worse
times than in the Gulf crisis," said Adnan Elci, chairman of the chamber of
industry in the border town of Cizre.

Around 700 cars and trucks make the crossing between southeast Turkey and
Kurdish controlled northern Iraq every day.

by Michael Dobbs
Washington Post, 23rd June

Confronted with a set of unattractive choices for dealing with an escalating
nuclear threat from Iran, the Bush administration has adopted a policy of
working through the United Nations and other international institutions to
mobilize world opinion against the Islamic government in Tehran.

After disparaging the performance of the United Nations and its nuclear
watchdog in dealing with Iraq, administration officials have gone out of
their way to praise the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency on
Iran. A senior State Department official described a report drawn up by the
U.N. agency's experts on Iranian nuclear capabilities as "factual" and
"devastating," adding that the Iranians have a "lot of explaining to do."

U.S. officials and independent experts have long suspected Iran of
conducting a largely clandestine program to produce the fissile material for
a nuclear weapon through both plutonium separation and uranium enrichment.
But public evidence of the scale and sophistication of the Iranian effort
has emerged only over the last few weeks as the result of on-the-ground
investigations by U.N. experts and Iranian government responses to
allegations by exile groups.

The report submitted to the IAEA listed numerous anomalies in Iranian
reporting of the handling of nuclear materials, including a 1991 shipment of
natural uranium from China. More important, it demonstrated that Iran is
developing a domestic capability for all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle,
from the mining of uranium to the production of highly enriched uranium
through centrifuge technology.

Exactly when Iran will be able to produce enough fissile material for a
nuclear weapon is hotly debated both inside and outside the U.S. government.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the Russian newspaper Izvestia
that Iran would possess a nuclear bomb "by the end of 2005 or early in
2006," a prediction described as a worst-case scenario by independent

U.S. officials are more cautious than the Israelis, saying that the Iranians
must resolve a number of complex technical problems before they can build a
nuclear weapon. A senior State Department official said the "conservative"
estimate of U.S. intelligence agencies is that Iran could have nuclear
weapons "toward the end" of the decade. Other officials argue that the
Iranians will need significant foreign assistance to meet that target.

The Iranian nuclear program began in 1957 under the shah, with significant
assistance from the United States, at a time when relations between
Washington and Tehran were close. The program was interrupted by the 1979
Islamic revolution, but resumed in the 1990s, with assistance from countries
such as Russia, which agreed in 1995 to complete a 1,000 megawatt light
water reactor at the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr for the production of

Iranian officials have long said that the nuclear program is for civilian
purposes only and that Iran would abide by the 1968 nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it ratified in 1970. U.S. officials question
why an oil-rich country would want to invest so much in nuclear power. They
point out that Iran burns off considerably more energy in natural gas than
it is ever likely to produce at Bushehr.

Under the terms of Iran's agreement with Russia, Moscow will supply the fuel
for the Bushehr reactor, beginning around 2005, and retrieve the spent fuel
rods. U.S. experts worry, however, that Iran could break out of the
Non-Proliferation Treaty, renounce its international obligations and hang on
to the fuel rods. Under that scenario, it could use the fuel rods to
separate enough plutonium for more than 50 nuclear weapons.

A more likely route to an Iranian nuclear weapon, according to many experts,
is uranium enrichment. In March, Iranian officials took IAEA experts to
visit a centrifuge facility at Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran, whose
existence was first disclosed by an Iranian exile group, the Mujaheddin-e
Khalq. The Iranians say that the centrifuges are designed to produce fuel
for the Bushehr reactor, but Western experts fear that it could also produce
enough highly enriched uranium for two or three nuclear bombs.

According to independent experts, the Bush administration's focus on
multilateral diplomacy as the preferred method for dealing with Iran
reflects the paucity of other options. Administration officials have
rejected the idea of negotiating limits to the Iranian nuclear program as
part of a grand diplomatic bargain with the country's Islamic government,
along the lines of the 1994 agreed framework with North Korea.

The fallback option is preemption along the lines of Israel's 1981 attack on
an Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak. But the political, diplomatic and military
obstacles to such an approach are much more formidable than those faced by
the Israelis two decades ago, according to U.S. officials and independent
experts, and there is no guarantee of success.

"By disseminating their nuclear program, the Iranians are making it
bomb-proof," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and
International Security, a Washington based think tank that tracks
proliferation issues. "You would need extremely precise and good
intelligence to make sure you got everything. The risk is that you would
drive them out of the international structures that they are just beginning
to engage in."

In addition to the Bushehr light water reactor and the uranium enrichment
plant at Natanz, preemptive strikes would likely be designed to hit critical
bottlenecks in the Iranian nuclear program. These include a uranium
hexafluoride plant under construction in Isfahan, in central Iran, where
natural uranium is transformed into gas suitable for use in centrifuges.

The problem, according to Albright and other experts, is that the Iranians
have begun to disperse their nuclear facilities and protect them in
underground sites. Last month, the Mujaheddin-e Khalq identified two other
pilot gas centrifuge facilities that it said could be used to duplicate some
of the operations of the Natanz plant, at Ramandeh and Lashkar Abad.

The political difficulties associated with preemption are even greater,
according to U.S. officials and independent experts. Popular support in
Iran, and among exiled Iranians, for a nuclear program extends far beyond
the country's ruling Islamic elite. Many Iranians who are opposed to the
government believe that Iran has the right to pursue nuclear weapons in
order to balance the military power of three other regional nuclear states
-- Russia, Pakistan and Israel.

"It is very important for the U.S. not to poison the reservoir of goodwill
that exists toward America among the Iranian population," said Michael
Eisenstadt, an Iranian expert at the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy. "This is likely to be the key to a successful political transition
in Iran."

Some experts argue that successive U.S. administrations have paid little
attention to the question of Iranian motivations in pursuing nuclear
weapons, which are closely tied to Iran's vision of itself as a major Middle
East power, and the perceived threat from Israel. Israel has refused to hold
negotiations on nuclear issues in the absence of a permanent Middle East
peace settlement.

"The [U.S.] obsession has become the Iranian nuclear program and how to get
it closed down," said Richard Murphy, a former assistant secretary of state
for Near East affairs, now with the Council on Foreign Relations. "I would
like to think we could eventually find a way to pick up the Iranian and
Syrian proposals for a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle
East. Instead, the talk is all 'Syria, shut down your chemical weapons
program,' 'Iran, shut down your nuclear program.' "

U.S. officials say it is premature to put Israeli nuclear weapons on the
bargaining table as long as Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab states.
Meanwhile, they have claimed some success in persuading Russian President
Vladimir Putin to insist on more intrusive international inspections of
Iran. "The Russians have moved a long way to recognizing our concerns," a
senior administration official said last week.

Russian officials, however, have sent conflicting signals about whether they
will insist that Iran sign an additional protocol, strengthening its
obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a condition for completing
work on Bushehr.

by Mustafa Alrawi
Jordan Times, 24th June
DEAD SEA ‹ The economic aspects of the US "wider initiative" for the Middle
East continued to dominate attention at the World Economic Forum's (WEF)
Extraordinary Annual meeting.

Senior administration members, from Alan Larson to Robert Zoellick have been
working hard to explain the potential benefits of the plan.

Liz Cheney, a deputy assistant secretary in the US State Department's near
east bureau, became on Monday the latest ambassador for the initiative.

During a press conference, the daughter of US Vice-President Dick Cheney,
discussed the "Middle East Partnership (MEP)."

Under the MEP, $100 million has been committed this year to funding smaller
programmes and pilot projects in the Arab world, ranging from improving
literacy to raising democratic awareness. More investment is in place for
the next 10 years.

The MEP has been formulated to help facilitate the implementation of a
Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA).

"For too long the US has talked about these things in regards to other parts
of the globe apart from the Middle East," Cheney confirmed.

Yet Cheney admitted that despite enthusiasm from many of the region's
governments, the US is yet to win widespread approval from the Arab public.

"Americans have to prove themselves, at the same time we don't always get a
fair hearing from the media in the region," she said.

Cheney called for the media to be fairer when discussing and debating US
efforts in the Middle East. But Cheney is confident that the MEP as well as
the overall economic aspects of the initiative will be successful.

Input was taken from US investors and institutions regarding what obstacles
stood in the way of putting their capital in the Middle East, and this plan
has been designed to clear the path for more foreign direct investment to
find its way here.

The MEP has set up its headquarters in the region to make sure the project
runs smoothly.

Cheney confirmed that Iraq would not fall under this project's mandate.
Neither Libya nor Syria are entitled to share in this funding. Cheney also
indicated that projects in Lebanon would be funded under a current USAID

Iran will be entitled to participate in the MEP and Cheney hopes to involve
Syrians in another capacity.

However, Cheney warned that embarking on free trade with the United States
was a big commitment on the part of all countries involved.

These agreements are much different from the agreements the Europeans have
established across the region. In ours everything goes to zero "all across
the economy...tariff and non tariff barriers,"she added.

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