Iraq Report: January 23, 2004

23 January 2004, Volume
7, Number

A pick-up truck laden with explosives detonated outside U.S. occupation headquarters in Baghdad on 18 January, killing at least 20 people, and injuring more than 60, international media reported. The car detonated during the morning rush-hour, setting nearby cars on fire. A number of coalition employees –mostly Iraqis — were killed in the explosion just outside the U.S. compound. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Hertling told AP that the blast occurred “literally at the last point a vehicle could get to without being stopped.”
The bombing, considered the deadliest since deposed President Saddam Hussein’s capture on 13 December 2003, came one day ahead of a meeting between UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) representatives to discuss a IGC request that the UN send a team to assess the possibility for national direct elections in Iraq in the next few months. Annan has also been asked to return UN workers to the country. All international UN staff were pulled from Baghdad in October (see “RFE/RL Iraq Report,” 14 November 2003). U.S. officials had been reporting a decrease in attacks on coalition targets by militants in recent days, reported on 18 January. Attacks stand at around 17 a day, compared to twice that number in November. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

As many as 100,000 Iraqis took part in a peaceful demonstration in Baghdad on 19 January to demand immediate direct elections in Iraq, international media reported. A representative of Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani conveyed a message from the ayatollah, who has demanded direct elections, rejecting an agreed upon plan by the Iraqi Governing Council and the coalition for elections based on a caucus system. “The sons of the Iraqi people demand a political system based on direct elections and a constitution that realizes justice and equality for everyone,” AP quoted al-Sistani’s representative Hashim al-Awad as saying.

Tahir al-Asadi, a spokesman for Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Al-Jazeera television that the 19 January demonstration was organized by the leading Shi’ite groups the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed wing, the Badr Corps, and the Islamic Al-Da’wah party. Sunni Muslims also reportedly took part in the demonstration. Sunni and Shi’ite prayer leaders across Iraq threatened during 16 January Friday prayers to continue to stage popular demonstrations that might lead to clashes with coalition troops in the coming months if direct elections are not held, Al-Jazeera reported the same day.

Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad for a second consecutive day on 20 January to demonstrate in favor of direct national elections and to demand that Hussein not be granted “prisoner of war” status, international media reported the same day. Many of the demonstrators were supporters of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has voiced support for Iraqi Shi’ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the latter’s call for direct elections. Some 30,000 Iraqis demonstrated for direct elections in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on 15 January. (Kathleen Ridolfo)

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