BAGHDAD - An Islamic group
going under the name Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad
(Monotheism and Holy War) claims to have beheaded a
second American hostage in its custody, with threats to
kill a British hostage unless female Iraqi detainees are
The group, which earlier beheaded Eugene
Armstrong, has now killed Jack Hensley and has
threatened to behead Kenneth Bigley unless female
prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr prisons are freed.
"The lions of Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad have
slaughtered the second US hostage after the deadline
ended [for their demands] and we will soon show the
video of his execution," claimed the group, which is
linked to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who
is associated with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The United States has posted a US$25 million
reward for information leading to the arrest of Zarqawi.
Iraqi leaders and the US accuse the 37-year-old of being
behind the assassination of Iraqi Governing Council
leader Ezzedine Salim and the beheading of US citizen
The latest decapitation comes as
violence has already claimed more than 300 lives in Iraq
in September, especially in Sunni areas west of Baghdad
and in the Shi'ite districts of the capital.
Meanwhile, US marines in Najaf have arrested two
close aides of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
The motives for the arrests remain unclear. Assad Swari,
a spokesman for Muqtada in Baghdad's al-Kharkh district,
says the cleric's followers have nothing to do with the
kidnappings and beheadings. Swari told Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty that Muqtada strongly condemned the
slaying of innocent civilians: "Muqtada says that we
will never accept under any circumstances whatsoever
hostage-taking operations. We reject it as a whole. And
if we reject all of this, do you expect us to accept
beheadings and mutilation of hostages?"
another development, two members of the influential
Association of Muslim Scholars - Sheikh Mohammad Jadoa
al-Janabi and Sheikh Hazem al-Zeidi - were killed during
the past week in a mostly Shi'ite district of Baghdad.
The organization, a powerful Sunni Muslim group, has
served as a mediator to hostage disputes. Analysts say
the killings could help fuel sectarian violence in Iraq,
which is believed to be at risk of civil war.
But Swari insisted that Muqtada had absolutely
nothing to do with the killing of the Sunni scholars:
"There was a statement issued by Muqtada al-Sadr's
office condemning this act, and we have nothing to do
with this criminal atrocity [killing Sunni clerics]."
Swari blamed the killing on "mysterious forces", such as
foreign intelligence services and extremists. He said
both groups want to see a civil war in Iraq. But
Muqtada's spokesman said the country's majority Shi'ite
population would never fight with what he calls their
blues Meanwhile, reports Peyman Pejman of Inter
Press Service (IPS), Iraqi leaders and officials are
becoming increasingly jittery over the now partial
elections proposed for January.
of US-appointed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has said,
with US and British backing, that elections will be held
as planned even if people in areas under rebel control
do not vote. That is a growing number. The chairman of
the US Central Command, General John Abizaid, said this
month that more areas are now under the control of
unknown armed groups than there were last year. These
areas now spread from the north near Mosul to cities
such as Fallujah and Ramada, Sadr City in Baghdad, and
down to places in the south.
The reaction to
proposals that elections may not be held in all of Iraq
has been mixed. Some Iraqi and international
human-rights groups say they are not happy with the
decision, but can understand it as long as the
government does not claim the elections are fair.
"If you are going to have elections, our concern
is that those elections be held in a manner that is free
and fair," Joe Stork, acting director of the Middle East
and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told
IPS. "Questions about the overall fairness will
legitimately be raised if they were going to go ahead in
circumstances where you had whole towns, whole cities,
whole communities who effectively could not
participate," he said. Stork said one possibility might
be to postpone and not cancel elections in areas such as
Ramada and Fallujah.
Hussain Sinjari from the
Iraq Institute for Democracy in Baghdad says the
government is doing its best. "We are not living in an
ideal place where the circumstances are 100% suitable
for holding elections," he told IPS. "I think we should
hold the elections according to the realities on the
ground. If there is a governorate or a town like
Fallujah where there is violence, we can exclude the
place from elections."
The controversy extends
beyond exclusion of some areas. Abdel Aziz Hakim, leader
of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in
Iraq, an influential Shi'ite group, says the entire
mechanism is flawed because what is called the
Independent Elections Commission has too much power
vested in it by an illegal authority. "Do you find
something resembling this anywhere in the world?" Hakim
asked at a recent gathering in Baghdad. "Being appointed
by the occupation power, and give them these powers, and
we are starting elections and democracy?"
administrator of the former Coalition Provisional
Authority, L Paul Bremer, signed an order before the CPA
was dissolved in June to establish a commission to write
election laws and prepare the ground for holding
elections. Commission officials say politicians like
Hakim are either misinformed or they are being
Bremer issued the law but "this
commission is the first [electoral] experience in the
history of Iraq", said commission spokesman Farid Ayar.
"This commission is an Iraqi commission, independent,
and it works to bring a very new and democratic election
in Iraq." The appointment of the commissioners came
through the United Nations, he added.
officials in Baghdad confirm that the CPA had little to
do with choosing the commissioners. They say UN
elections advisers selected a panel of international
judges to sift through more than a thousand applications
to serve on the commission. The judges eventually
interviewed fewer than 20. Eight were selected. The
commission has hired about 500 employees but is likely
to need thousands more.
Those employees need to
be trained, but UN officials say little time is left for
that. Some can be trained outside Iraq but that cannot
be done for everyone, they say. Hakim is concerned that
one of the responsibilities of the Election Commission
is to write laws on the qualifications of the
candidates. "These few selected people have jurisdiction
over issues that affect not just this election but the
future of Iraq," Hakim told the gathering.
Commission officials acknowledge such concerns,
and say the Iraqi government can negotiate those powers
with the UN if enough politicians raise the issue. The
commission is meanwhile racing against time to pass
seemingly insurmountable obstacles such as preparing an
electoral list and determining how many Iraqis inside
and outside the country can vote. Ayar says the
commission wants to finish that task by the end of this
month. Others are not so optimistic.