Friday, December 10, 2010

The National Council for Strategic Policies

The most recent draft of the legislation to govern the proposed National Council for Strategic Policies (NCSP) leaked to an Iraqi news website yesterday. This is the body which Ayad Allawi is supposed to chair under the deal between him, Barzani and Maliki. Allawi has set this as the condition for his bloc's participation in Maliki's government. The parliment is supposed to vote on this next week.

Here's my rather quick, not so fancy translation:

The National Council for Strategic Policies

The structure of the Council

A. The presidency of the council: Consists of the president of the council and the secretary general.

B. The members of the council: Include the president of the republic and his deputies, the presidency of the parliament, the presidency of the federation council, the PM, his deputies, the presidents of federal regions, and the president of the supreme judicial council.

C. Participants in the council meetings: concerned ministers, by invitation from the presidency of the council. Those ministers do not have the right to vote.

D. Advisors and experts.

E. Administrative staff.

F. Independent budget.

G. The council is part of the executive branch and its president has a rank equivalent to the Prime Minister.

H. The ministers are required to attend meetings concerning their specialties, without affecting their work at the council of ministers.

I. The Council has the right to appoint advisors in various fields of expertise as needed.

J. The Council is the place where the three branches of government work in cohesion in an integrated manner to build the state. The Council is not a replacement for either branch.

The functions of the council:

1. Domestic policies:

Achieving national reconciliation and supervising its implementation. Repatriation of refugees and internally displaced people, and compensating them in a manner commensurate with damages and suffering. Expediting the processing of detainees and the release of the innocent. Dealing with the decisions of the Justice and Accountability Committee within the judicial framework and recommending that the Parliament close this file. Building a common vision for constitutional amendments to overcome previous loopholes and improve the efficiency of the political system.

2. Foreign policy:

Preparing the prerequisites for:

a. regaining Iraq’s status within the Arab and Islamic community.

b. creating constructive relations with the regional and international surroundings.

c. removing Iraq from under Chapter VII of the UN charter.

3. Monetary and economic policy:

Planning national strategies for various economic activities to secure prosperity and decent living standards for the people. Adopting specific guidelines and standards for achieving sound economic growth and harmony between federal budget allocations and the priorities of the strategic goals and the investment and development plans and programs.

4. Security and military policies:

Planning the high strategic policies for Iraq’s internal and external security. To secure Iraq’s stability and the nation’s ability to deter and defend against any aggression. These policies include the following areas:

a. Defense policy

b. Armed forces buildup

c. Military doctrine

d. Procurement policy

e. Training doctrines

f. Military service policy

g. Unit deployment

h. Force employment

i. Internal security policy (nationwide)

j. Command structure, and defining powers and responsibilities (supreme commander, commander in chief, defense minister, interior minister, chairman of the join chiefs)

k. Intelligence strategy, and coordinating the functions of the different intelligence agencies

5. Oil, Gas and Electricity policy:

Establish a special commission, attached to the Council, to be comprised of experts, as well as the ministries of oil, electricity and water resources. The commission’s function is to review the principles and foundations of contracts and agreements, to make amendments to traties, and to expedite the drafting of the oil and gas law, and any other legislations, prior to sending them to the parliament.

6. Administrative policy:

Amending the CPA-issued Inspector General law. The Council also plays a role in planning and overseeing the execution of high policies for the preservation of national culture, heritage, and education.

7. Policies concerning the sovereignty and integrity of the judiciary:

Preparing a list of priorities to enact the necessary legislations, in coordination with the council of ministers. Evaluating the framework of active laws and legislations to identify and address weaknesses. Abolishing legislations, rules and regulations that were made by the former regime.

8. Constitutional amendments:

Building a common vision for constitutional amendments to overcome previous loopholes and improve the efficiency of the political system and support the nation’s stability (examples include the dispute over the definition of the “largest bloc”, fluid timetables for transfer of power, etc).

9. National priorities:

Since the Council deals with the highest policies of the nation, the matter requires adopting the following pattern:

1. Defining the concept of national reconciliation

2. Defining the objectives that must be met to achieve national reconciliation

3. Designing the grand strategy (the policies required to achieve the objectives), by defining the tasks, assigning duties, timeframes, alternatives, etc.

10. General considerations:

a. This Council does not act against the constitution

b. Technical meetings shall be held with concerned ministers and advisers.

c. The political meetings of the Council are convened by the presence of the members as explained above above.

d. The duties, specialties and decision-making mechanism are to be decided, and shall become part of the Council’s internal charter.

e. This Council is established by law for one electoral cycle, and may be extended for more than one cycle according to future agreements among the members of the council of representatives.

f. The decisions and recommendations of the Council are binding to all concerned entities.

g. The Council reserves the right to establish permanent or temporary commissions or workgroups to address specific issues.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Maliki's rivals are not giving up yet

Unnamed politicians say that former PM Ibrahim Jaafari, Finance Minister Bayan Jabr, and the sketchy Ahmed Chalabi will be working separately to foil Maliki's efforts to assemble a cabinet. The key, according to the report, is in the following lines from the constitution.

Article 76:

First: The President of the Republic shall charge the nominee of the largest Council of Representatives bloc with the formation of the Council of Ministers within fifteen days from the date of the election of the President of the Republic.

Second: The Prime Minister-designate shall undertake the naming of the members of his Council of Ministers within a period not to exceed thirty days from the date of his designation.

Third: If the Prime Minister-designate fails to form the Council of Ministers during the period specified in clause “Second,” the President of the Republic shall charge a new nominee for the post of Prime Minister within fifteen days.

Fourth: The Prime Minister-designate shall present the names of his members of the Council of Ministers and the ministerial program to the Council of Representatives. He is deemed to have gained its confidence upon the approval, by an absolute majority of the Council of Representatives, of the individual Ministers and the ministerial program.

Fifth: The President of the Republic shall charge another nominee to form the Council of Ministers within fifteen days in case the Council of Ministers did not win the vote of confidence.

Several observations arise here.
First, all three alleged plots are led by politicians who are very close to Iran. My assumption here is that since the premiership is going to stay within the Shiite house in general (since Iraqiya and the Kurds already got their share of the three top posts) Maliki drastically depreciated from Iran's perspective. After all, Tehran was at odds with Maliki since after he turned on Sadr 2008. The support Iran gave Maliki in the past few months was an exception to the rule. Now that the Shiite parties are more or less on the same side again, it makes sense for Iran to back a less nationalistic figure.

Second, as usual, any such scheme would require Kurdish cooperation. From the Kurds perspective, a good PM should be: 1)reasonably weak, 2)not a Sunni Arab nationalist. At least two of the three men named in the report fit the bill. However, the Kurds seem quite happy with the deal with Maliki, so it's not easy to tell what their response is going to be should the alleged schemes materialize.

Third, the constitutional article isn't specific enough. The third clause does not specify whether the "new nominee for the post of Prime Minister" must come from the largest bloc in parliament, or any other bloc.

The government formation journey could be far from over.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Government formation update

The government formation process seems to have reached critical mass and I suspect we’re going to see some interesting developments within the next couple weeks. Here’s where the different groups stand as of now:

The Sadrists (40 seats) made a 180 degree turn earlier this week by supporting Maliki’s bid for a second term. Apparently a fatwa from Ayatollah Ha’iri (Moqtada’s mentor) forced him to change his mind, even though he had been consistently and adamantly opposed to letting Maliki stay for a second term. But Sadr isn't particularly famous for being consistent! His followers are confused to say the least, because Sadr has more than once referred to Maliki as a liar and a hypocrite. Now Sadr is telling his followers that his decision to support the same hypocrite is “in their best interest.”

This change in Sadr’s position has brought the Iraqi National Alliance (INA: Sadrists, ISCI, and Fadheela) to the brink of collapse. While Sadr and Fadheela endorse Maliki, ISCI, led by Ammar Hakim remains opposed to Maliki staying power and is still trying to promote its own candidate Aadil Abdul Mahdi. In fact, ISCI is in a tough position because it’s suffering from internal divisions as well. Badr organization (aka Badr Brigade, led by Hadi Al-Aamiri, who is very close to Iran) which represents roughly half of ISCI is moving in the same direction as Sadr. Hakim and Abdul Mahdi believe this is their last chance to remain a relevant player. They see they have been losing ground and clout to their rivals/partners over time. Five years ago ISCI (back then SCIRI) was the largest, most powerful Shiite party, but now they have only 17 seats out of 325. ISCI leaders think that a deal with Allawi could give them some of that power back.

The Kurds (57 seats) are generally closer to Allawi these days, but also have some disagreements. Masoud Barzani seems comfortable supporting Allawi, but Jalal Talabani sounds like he’s been under a lot of pressure from Iran to go in the opposite direction. This is potentially dangerous.

The two smaller blocs; Tawafok (6 seats) and Iraq Unity (4 seats) can be counted as Allawis upporters.

The INA is having a meeting today with Maliki’s bloc, but ISCI is not going to take part. The meeting will most certainly result in declaring Maliki as the official candidate of the so called National Coalition (INA+Maliki’s State of Law coalition). This would give Maliki 140 votes—and potentially half a dozen more if Badr breaks away from ISCI.

The only option for the other blocs to counter this outcome would be to form their own coalition, and there are signals (particularly from Allawi) that this is already in the works. If the Kurds, ISCI and the two smaller parties join Allawi (assuming Talabani doesn’t go astray) they will have a total of 168-175 votes, depending on whether Badr stays or goes with Maliki. Either number is of course greater than 163, which is what they need to present their own candidate; that would be Allawi, or Abdul Mahdi.


Maliki is now officially nominated for the premiership with Sadr's support. ISCI boycotted the meeting.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On the radio

Will be on the Brian Lehrer-WNYC show tomorrow starting 10:06 Am EST to talk about the withdrawal of combat troops and Obama's speech.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

New Op-Ed

Check out the opinion page at the WSJ tomorrow. Austin Bay and I will have a piece on government formation.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Realities, rules, relationships won't help surge succeed

Debating the surge in Afghanistan, on The Hill. Here are my two cents.

When the Bush administration unveiled the Iraq surge and new war strategy, then Senator Barak Obama opposed the plan, arguing it was bound to fail and increase the violence. He was proven wrong. A few years later, President Obama, faced with a dismal situation in Afghanistan, is trying to copy the same approach, minus the right strategy and necessary catalysts. Although it may take many months before a reliable assessment of success or failure can be made, there is little reason to expect Obama’s plan to meet with the same success of the Iraq surge.

Let’s look at some of the enablers of success in Iraq and compare those with the situation in Afghanistan.

First, differences in the capability, resolve and reliability of local partners matter. In Iraq's case, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki acted as a resolute, if sometimes reckless, partner. He did not shy away from cracking down on terrorists or confronting insurgents — Shiite or Sunni — head-on. The parallel rapid growth in the size and proficiency of Iraqi security forces — which some keen observers called “the real surge” — was also instrumental in turning the tide.

In Afghanistan, the situation is not even remotely similar. President Hamid Karzai not only has been reluctant to support military operations but went as far as threatening to join the Taliban. Moreover, U.S. forces cannot expect from Afghan forces the same level of active participation the Iraqis were able to contribute. Despite having a larger population, Afghanistan’s security forces are a third the size of Iraq’s. Tough terrain and more scattered population centers further complicate counterinsurgency operations by the smaller combined U.S.-Afghan force.

Second, different operational strategies and stricter rules of engagement represent another challenge to troops in Afghanistan. While both surge plans emphasized protecting the civilian population, the strategy in Iraq also emphasized taking the fight to the enemy. An important part of the strategy was sending troops out of large bases to fight their way into neighborhoods where they established combat outposts from which they could protect civilians and proactively tackle the enemy at the same time, which they did. Troops in Afghanistan do not have the same freedom of action. The rules in Iraq offered troops more flexibility in force employment, allowing them to take timely decisive action against the enemy. In Afghanistan it is common to hear troops complain how the new rules of engagement can allow enemy fighters to escape, and occasionally put the troops in danger. This was not the case in Iraq.

Third, the relationships between the population, terrorists and government were different in Iraq than in Afghanistan. Afghans, while not necessarily fond of the Taliban actions, do not seem to see huge differences between Taliban and government control. In fact sometimes they prefer the former as the Taliban can be better at governance and creating working relations with the population, largely because the government is so incompetent and corrupt.

In Iraq the situation was different. Terrorists alienated the population with their brutality, while the government and U.S. forces offered brighter and more viable alternatives. By the time the surge started, Awakening tribes were already chasing down al-Qaeda.

The Iraq surge had the right enablers, but also clear and suitable political and military goals—to protect the population, defeat the irreconcilable, and offer the reconcilable a chance to find political solutions. Obama sent the additional troops, and the generals wrote great counterinsurgency manuals, but a comprehensive strategy based on the needs and assets on the ground does not seem to exist yet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

False alarm

Yes. That's what the post from July 8 was. It was very disappointing because Maliki did in fact make such statement and it was reported the next day by numerous local and Arab sources. It was probably a statement that he made without enough thinking or without the approval of other powerful members of his coalition.

Anyway, it's been 20 weeks since the election and there's still no sign of a solution. The prospects of proposals and potential solutions fluctuated so much that it's even tougher to predict what's going to happen than it was last time in '05-'06.

For some reason a number of politicians are expecting the UN Security Council to intervene decisively and even take over government formation process after a meeting scheduled for August 4. I don't know where or why they got this impression!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Maliki Concedes the Premiership to Allawi

It looks like Allawi is about to get what he deserves as the winner in the March 7 election:

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki said that he is not opposed to having al-Iraqiya bloc of Ayad Allawi form the new government, if the matter was conducted in accordance with constitutional guidelines.

Maliki added at a joint press conference with Lebanese counterpart Saad Hariri that he believes in the peaceful and constitutional turnover of power. Maliki explained that “when someone comes and shows that he can secure [parliamentary] majority in accordance with the constitution, we will all go with him.”
Now all that is needed to finalize the deal is to get the Kurds to sign in on it. The Kurdish top leaders are having their own meetings today to decide their final position. Yesterday they spoke with Allawi and with VP Biden. If the Kurdish leaders agree to relinquish the Presidency and accept alternatives like the Speaker of Parliament position, things can progress really fast.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Allawi-Maliki Deal Imminent

Nouri Al-Maliki and Ayad Allawi are going to meet tonight at 6pm local time, at Allawi's Iraqiya bloc offices.
Word in some local media and speculations by some politicians indicate that a deal between the two leaders is imminent. The deal is expected to give Allawi the Presidency and Maliki the Premiership, while awarding the Parliament Speaker post to the Kurds, who are freaked out by the rumors.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Najaf in Vatican's Footsteps?

A growing sex scandal that recently surfaced is probably going to haunt the Najaf clergy, particularly that of Ayatollah Ali Sistani, for a while. Recently, a bunch of video clips appeared on youtube, in which Sistani's representative in Maysan province is seen engaged in sexual action with several women.

So far, the leaks, discussion and speculations have been limited to online forums and blogs, so I must point out that other than I cannot guarantee the accuracy of the additional details...All I can say with certainty though is that the videos of the playboy cleric do exist.

So, reportedly, this guy, Manaf Il-Naji ( مناف الناجي Sistani's representative in Amara-Maysan, who leads prayers and collects the religious tax for Najaf) had seduced or drugged over a dozen different women; some of whom married, and recorded the intimate engagements, supposedly, to blackmail the women and ensure they continue to obey his orders. It is strange though that one of the women is said to be a "colleague" of Il-Naji and the head of a religious women organization that answers to the same hierarchy. The memory card or the camera got lost or stolen and someone posted the videos on the internet...BOOM!

Word reached the families and tribes of the women and, reportedly, some "honor" murders took place and the tribes are demanding Il-Naji's head.

Clerics' involvement in crimes of sexual exploitation is not news, they do it all over the world all the time, often abusing their status and authority in the process of perpetuating and hiding their atrocities. The phenomenon/crimes turn into disasters when the establishment (Sunni, Shiite, Catholic, whatever) rushes to defend the sexual predators and cover up their crime, and it looks like Sistani's establishment is no exception.

Word in the forums and blogs is that Sistani dispatched Ahmed Al-Ansari, one of his assistants on a mission to calm the tribes down, call for restraint and contain the scandal. Ansari was supposedly armed with lots of cash to bribe/persuade sheiks and needy families alike. Other people claim that Il-Naji is currently hiding in or around Sistani's office in Najaf, while others are speculating that he fled to Iran. Some websites posted excerpts of an alleged letter from Sistani to the tribes asking them to "protect the faith by accepting reconciliation and turning the page on what happened...a scandal would forever be a stigma in the history of our faith and would allow Ba'athists and Takfiris to smear and insult the leaders and symbols of the faith."

If true, the letter shows that in Najaf, as in pretty much any other religious establishment, image, influence and power come first. The poor bastards on whose shoulders this power and prestige are built can go to hell.  

I have so far seen no mention of this story in any local newspapers, TV or any other traditional media sources, but the videos exist, so we know it's there. My guess is that editors and managers have deliberately chosen to ignore the news because they don't want to face the consequences of messing with the untouchables, which are certain to be very serious.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Time for some maintenance

I decided it was time to finally endorse Blogger's new (a couple years old actually!) goodies and fancy tools. So, I will be upgrading, adding, removing, adjusting and readjusting page elements, sidebar content, links etc one thing at a time, meaning it will probably take a couple weeks until things return to normal. The disruption will regrettably involve the comments section as well, but I will try to fix this asap.


The comments section was restored faster than expected, which is great, especially that if we lose it we lose almost 7 years worth of your comments, which would be a shame.

The best thing about this maintenance work is that hopefully display problems will be solved and people who used to see a blank space when loading the page will start to see the blog posts where they should be.
In fact, the upgrade is more than 70% complete!...Some work on the blogroll and links and we will be done.

By the way, your feedback and suggestions would be highly appreciated.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Maliki at a Crossroads

Two months after election and six weeks after results were announced, we are farther from figuring out the shape of the new government than we were on election eve.

The largest three blocs (Allawi's Iraqiya, Maliki's SoL and Hakim/Sadr's INA) are struggling to wrestle the initiative from one another. Recent developments over the last week appear to have given Maliki the advantage. Maliki has tried to keep his options open by negotiating on multiple tracks with both INA and Iraqiya. He recently agreed to enter a coalition with INA to form the largest bloc and consequently the new government. A few days after that reports came that he's been engaged in serious negotiations with Iraqiya.

His strategy appears to be working. Today the Sadrists, who had been adamant in their refusal to let Maliki stay in office are saying that they don't have redlines regarding any future PM candidate, including Maliki.

Maliki has played a good game of political brinkmanship that could enable him to extract concessions from his rivals. His deal last week with INA seems to have convinced Iraqiya that maybe offering Maliki a second term while a member of Iraqiya become president is better than being alienated altogether while INA and SoL get everything. On the other hand, the recent news about a SoL-Iraqiya deal may have convinced the INA that it's better to accept Maliki's PM candidacy than to watch him form a grand nationalist coalition with Iraqiya--a coalition that could in theory rule without the votes of INA or even the Kurds.

The decision now belongs to neither the largest bloc (Iraqiya) nor to any of the "kingmaker" groups (INA, Kurds)--it's pretty much in Maliki's hand. Choosing to form a cohesive nationalist government with Iraqiya (while giving minimal shares of power to the Kurds and INA) would be the best for Iraq's democracy, but it would anger Tehran and its proxies who bring a gun to the negotiations table.

On the other hand, choosing to go with INA and the Kurds (and giving minimal share of power to Iraqiya, in a replication of the 2005 government, which was weakened by compromises) would certainly be a setback to democracy. Ironically, this path doesn't guarantee that Sadr won't revive his quest for power because with 40 seats in parliament and several cabinet posts, he will have unprecedented access to resources to exploit in his Iranian-backed campaign to foil democracy in Iraq.

It seems to me that the new government is bound to have problems with Sadr, and armed confrontation may become inevitable as was the case two years ago. If I were Maliki, I'd choose the strong government option and join Allawi--that would put the government in a better position to win any future confrontation with Sadr or other menaces .

Friday, April 16, 2010

Government Formation--Nationalism vs. Regional Agendas

The dust from election day is beginning to settle down and now we can identify the main possible trajectories in which government-formation is going.

First of all, it is becoming clear that there are two very powerful regional influences that are pulling in different, but not exactly opposite, directions. On the one hand there’s Iran and on the other there’s Saudi Arabia, and I may say Turkey with it.Second, the US is not a direct player on the stage but is believed to be represented by the Saudis and Turks.

Iran is pushing for a government that resembles the one formed after the December 2005 election. That would be a government including Maliki's bloc, along with ISCI, the Sadrists, the Kurds and maybe the Sunni Accord. Iran however, does not want Maliki to be the next PM, and this is the reason why a deal between him, ISCI and the Sadrists isn’t in place yet.

Iran by the way wants neither Allawi nor Maliki to be the next PM. Iran essentially would like to see a weak central government in Baghdad. To achieve this end, Iran is pushing Shiite parties to pick a “compromise” PM figure and a strike deal that allows smaller (and more sectarian) parties to have a lot of influence at the expense of the larger bloc (Maliki's or Allawi's).

Iran's efforts in this direction and Maliki's refusal to negotiate with Allawi is making Allawi pursue a direction that is similar—in concept—to what Iran wants; a ruling coalition comprising his bloc, the Kurds, Sadrists and/or ISCI, and maybe the Sunni Accord.

Saudi Arabia is seen as Allawi’s main source of regional support. The kingdom is making a spectacular debut in Iraqi politics and is working energetically to counter Iran's role.

In just a few days Riyadh has received most Iraqi leaders; Hashimi, Hakim, Talabani and Barzani, all had meetings with King Abdullah himself. Maliki and the Sadrists, however, were shunned by the Saudis.

The Saudi king also made some interesting gestures such as awarding prestigious medallions to Iraqi Kurdish leaders Talabani and Barzani. This is a declaration of approval of the new order in Iraq. Approval of course requires cooperation in the form of leaving the Iranian bandwagon and taking the Saudi proposal instead.

The Saudi effort, from the way politicians are talking about it, is seen in Iraq to be coordinated with Turkey and the US. Perhaps this perception will serve to persuade the Kurds to listen to the Saudi proposal for two reasons. First, they care a lot about maintaining good relations with, and not upsetting, their northern neighbor. Second, a deal under the auspices of the US is likely to involve checks against extremist Arab nationalist agendas within Allawi's camp. Moreover, the Kurdish region looks forward to GCC investments, which the Saudis can help with. Overall, a deal with the Sunnis/Allawi is looking more lucrative, and not as dangerous as before.

It would be a bad idea for Allawi or Maliki to go in either direction preferred by Iran and Saudi Arabia. The key risk here is that a government formed with the exclusion of Allawi (and with him the vast majority of Sunnis) or with the exclusion of Maliki and the Sadrists (the vast majority of Shiites) will be very unlikely to enjoy stability. There will be millions of frustrated voters on either side—among whom there must be some former insurgents and militiamen—who will see the exclusion of their representatives as great injustice.

Additionally, there are great differences between the programs of Maliki and Allawi on the one hand and the programs of ISCI, Sadrists and Accord on the other hand. Joining these sectarian parties in a coalition would only lead to a highly unstable and inefficient government that will not be able to make critical decisions effectively. By contrast, a government that includes both Allawi’s and Maliki’s blocs would be more likely to rule effectively and avoid disintegration, again due to the similarities in their programs.

This idea of a nationalist Allaw-Maliki coalition is unfortunately not gaining enough momentum to compete with the Saudi and Iranian proposals.

The two leaders—pressed by political realities—are being diverted from the nationalist vision they both sought to represent and instead heeding what X or Y in the region thinks is acceptable. Iran and Saudi Arabia are both keen not to let Iraq become a satellite of the other but at the same time neither wants Iraq’s democracy to succeed because that is a threat to both of them.

Remember the Lebanese election? Despite Iran’s “loss” and Saudi Arabia’s “win”, Lebanon is still far from safe. The risk here is that Tehran and Riyadh may have decided to have a rematch in Iraq. With the accelerating US disengagement from Iraq, the shape of the next government may very well be shaped by the winner of this rematch.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Terrorist Plot to Attack Najaf Shrine With Hijacked Airliners?

Al-Sumaria News:
A government delegation arrived in Najaf Wednesday afternoon to discuss the closure of Najaf’s international airport. The delegation included the ministers of defense, transport and national security.

A source in Najaf’s province council told Al-Sumaria News that “the three ministers went immediately to a meeting with governor Adnan Zurfi to discuss the situation at the airport, which has been shut down for several days” adding that “they [the ministers] are currently at a meeting over the same issue with the members of the province council.”

Najaf’s province council chief Fayid Shemmeri announced Tuesday that a protest against the closure of the airport has been postponed after PM pledged to find a solution for the situation. Other sources stressed that the airport was shut down because of threats of an attack on the Imam Ali shrine using a civilian airliner.

Authorities had shut down Baghdad and Najaf airport last weeks for “technical reasons”. Baghdad’s airport was reopened hours later while Najaf’s remained closed.

A high-level source at the Counterterrorism Bureau revealed that “intelligence helped thwart a plot to attack the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf by an aircraft departing Najaf’s airport. As a result security authorities decided to shut down the airport immediately and cancel all flights until further notice.”

Another source from the Iraqi intelligence service speaking on condition of anonymity told an Iraqi newspaper Wednesday that “intelligence reports indicated that Al-Qaeda was very close to conducting a spectacular operation using new methods in Iraq…security forces tracked the clues to discover that Al-Qaeda is planning to blow up either the dome of Imam Ali’s shrine or the court between the two shrines of Karbala using civilian aircraft hijacked from Najaf’s airport.”

Update: AP confirms the reports:
"BAGHDAD – Iraqi and U.S. security officials say Iraqi forces have foiled an al-Qaida in Iraq plot for a 9/11-style attack to hijack airlines and fly them into Shiite holy shrines.

Two senior Iraqi officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday they have arrested two men allegedly linked to the plan, which shut down the airport in Najaf for days and Baghdad airport for hours last week.

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials in Washington confirmed the plot but said it's doubtful the alleged plotters were very far along in their planning — or even had the ability to carry it out.

The officials say the plan was aimed at re-igniting sectarian violence.

All spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing."

Update: US intelligence officials confirm the plot existed:
"Two U.S. intelligence officials in Washington confirmed the plot but said it did not appear to be fully planned out, nor was it clear that militants would be able to carry out any attacks.

Still, they said the threats were being taken seriously as "the intent seems real," according to one of the U.S. officials.

Meeting Wednesday afternoon with local lawmakers in Najaf, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi said the airport "will be reopened soon, after discussing the needed security measures." He said the intelligence about the attacks is unclear but "at the same time, we can't neglect them."

He did not confirm or comment on any of the specific allegations.

The Iraqi security officials said al-Qaida planned to hijack flights as they were leaving Iraqi airports. Authorities shut down airports in Najaf and Baghdad last week in response to the threat, the officials said. The Najaf airport has been closed since April 8 and Baghdad's International Airport shut down for a few hours on April 7 in what officials then blamed on radar problems.

One of the Iraqi security officials denied that Wednesday, saying it was closed because of the threatened plot.

The Iraqi officials said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is aware of the plot and has ordered stepped-up screening measures at all airports."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Iraq Election Results Coming Soon

We should hear the election results in about 90 minutes, 7:00 pm baghdad time.
I hope it won't be a 91:91 tie between Allawi and Maliki as some calculations and predictions are showing--such result would be bad for post-eelction negotiations and could seriously complictae cabinet formation. I will try to share some analysis later.

30 minutes after 7:00pm...
Now they say the election commissioners are in a meeting!
Looks like there will be some delay.

Another 30 minutes...
Ok, the election commission press conference begins!

The guy is giving a speech...seriously!?

By the way, the press conference can be viewed live here, but it's in Arabic.

Nice, another speech! This time it's the UN guy.

Ok, at least he's saying there were no evidence of major fraud and that the results ought to be accepted by all.

Yet another speech! (just give me the damn results)

They're talking too much. I sense they have bad news for Maliki.

Finally. They are reading the results, slowly. Will take a while to go through all of them.

Allawi got two seats in Diwaniyah. This may actually be decisive .

And Allawi got another 2 in Wassit. I guess he's getting close.

At the final count:

Allawi: 89
Maliki: 87
Hakim+Sadr: 68
Tawafok: 6
Change (Goran): 8
Bolani: 4
Islamic Union (Kurdish): 4
Islamic Group (Kurdish): 2

Adding the 7 compensatory seats, the final picture looks like this:

Allawi: 89+2=91
Maliki: 87+2=89
Hakim+Sadr: 68+2=70
PUK+KDP: 42+1=43
Change (Goran): 8
Tawafok (Accord): 6
Iraq Unity (Bolani): 4
Islamic Union (Kurdish): 4
Islamic Group (Kurdish): 2
Minorities: 8

Total: 325

Friday, March 05, 2010

Iraq Elects, Again

Here we go again, for the third time since 2003, Iraqis are heading to the ballots to choose their representatives.

It’s a little different this time. In some aspects it's a little less "interesting"... In December 2005 we walked from home to the voting center (which also used to be where I went to school as a kid) to a soundtrack of mortars and gunfire. Indeed, that ten minute walk was wrapped in so much fear and worry, but also in so much hope and pride.

My trip to the voting center will be less interesting this time because I'll be taking the orange line to Arlington where the place is, which happens to be some hotel whose owner will eventually be Paris Hilton.

Yes, that's a little boring.

In other aspects, though, the election will be more interesting. It’s more difficult to decide who to vote for this time. The fact that voters can pick individual candidates from within lists gives us more options. I can see, for example, that there are many candidates who don't seem to fit into the lists they are running with. I think many have done this with the intention of getting logistic support from those lists and then breaking away after the election and joining other blocs where they would be more compatible.

Otherwise, what is this nice young lady doing running on the same list such unsavory characters are running with? Just saying!

Anyway, I will go dip my finger in the purple ink sometime tomorrow.
Now I need to go back to my homework of researching candidate programs because I haven’t decided on a candidate yet. I know that lady is cute, and I was actually tempted to vote for her, but there are other candidates who better represent the ideas and goals I believe in.

By the way, her campaign posters actually caused gridlocks, and in some reports, even traffic accidents!

Before I forget, here are my predictions for what the distribution of the 325 seats in the new parliament is going to look like:

Sate of Law (Maliki, Da’wa): 90-100
Iraqia List (Allawi, Hashimi): 80-90
Iraqi National Alliance (Hakim, Sadr): 50
Kurdistan Alliance (PUK, KDP): 35
Change List (Nesherwan Mustafa): 15
Iraq Unity Coalition (Bolani): 10-15
Kurdish Islamic parties combined: 6-9
Accord Front: 5-10
Christians, Yezidis and other minorities: 8
Small parties (Communists, Mithal Alousi, Ayad Jamal ad-Din, etc): 6-12

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A BigTest for 'Justice and Accountability'

Earlier today, there were reports that thousands of protesters took to the streets in Diyala and Fallujah demanding that MP and senior member of Sadr movement Bahaa Al-Aaraji be prosecuted under the Justice and Accountability Law.

Al-Aaraji infuriated the Sunni community when had made what many Iraqis considered inflammatory statements in a recent appearance on a TV show: "Shiites, who make up the majority, had been the target of conspiracies since the days of Abu Bakr, to the days of Ahmed Hasan Al-Bakr's party" Aaraji said, referring to the 7th century first Caliph and to Saddam's predecessor who ruled Iraq from 1968 to 1979.

Sunni politicians and protesters considered this statement sectarian incitement and an insult to a major figure of Islamic history. The protesters reportedly held banners that said "Ban sectarian instigators the same way you banned Ba'ath sympathizers" in reference to the recent ban on hundreds of candidates over suspected ties to the Ba'ath Party.

The cabinet, in a press release, condemned Al-Aaraji's comments: "...this statement violate article (7) of the constitution, which prohibits such [sectarian and racist] remarks...those who propagate these [ideas] may be banned from political participation."

Will Al-Aaraji be a scapegoat to give some credibility to the highly divisive and controversial Justice and Accountability Law and the commission in charge of it?
We shall see soon!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Who is the Ban Targeting?

Feeling the need to provide an explanation, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki asserted that the decision to ban 500 candidates from general elections is not targeting Sunni Arabs. He said that Sunni Arabs are more than necessary as partners in the political process and that their participation in the March elections is even more important than it was in 2005.

Maliki told al-Iraqia TV on Tuesday night that although the list of banned candidates includes many Sunni names, it also includes Shiites, perhaps in greater numbers, according to Maliki. He also pointed out that 70% of the Ba’ath Party members were Shiite.

Maliki might be right in saying that more Shiites were banned than Sunnis. However, it is obvious now that, unlike with Sunni candidates, none of the banned Shiite candidates is a prominent political figure. In fact, the media so far has not mentioned the names of any of those disqualified Shiite candidates. I suspect that even of the names are made public no one would recognize them nor would I expect their disqualification affect their blocs in any significant manner.

The other important and suspicious point about the ban is that the banned politicians have been part of the political process for several years. This and the timing raise suspicion about the intentions of the Maliki government and the “justice and accountability commission.” While major existing partners in the political process are banned over alleged ties to the Ba’ath Party, the government is at the same time making deals with hostage killers like the group known as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and is trying to persuade them to join the political process.

In light of these facts and suspicions, the ban is perceived by some in Iraq as a systematic targeting of the Sunni political class. Others think the target is nationalist non-sectarian blocs. I agree more with the latter in that the targets are actually blocs that identify themselves as nationalist/anti-sectarian. We can see for example that Salih Al-Mutlaq and Saad Aasim AL-Janabi (two prominent Sunni banned politicians) are members of the coalitions led by Iyad Allawi and Jawad Al-Bolani respectively. Considering that both Allawi and Bolani are secular nationalist Shiites, it would be wrong to consider the ban as to be targeting Sunni Arabs.

These two coalitions I mentioned (Allawi’s and Bolani’s) represent the most viable and credible attempts at creating political blocs that transcend sectarian affiliations. That’s why I think these heterogeneous coalitions were seen as a serious threat to coalitions that are more homogenous in their ethnic and sectarian composition like Maliki’s, ISCI-Sadr, PUK-KDP. The ban is therefore a manifestation of the struggle between the proponents of a consensus-based political process (like the one in Lebanon) and those of an actual democracy.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Several hundred candidates from about a dozen political blocs will reportedly be banned from Iraq's upcoming general elections in March.

The problem with this decision is that it seriously threatens to pull Iraq back to the political and security instability of several years ago, when boycotts and political sidelining put the country on the road to civil war.

The selective enforcement of law is not justice. It is also outrageous when the entity in charge of enforcing the "justice and accountability law" is led by a terror suspect.

Ali Faisal Al-Lami, the current head of the commission that issued the ban admitted that he supports one of the most notorious Iran-sponsored armed militias in Iraq.

To appoint a "reconciled" terrorist facilitator in a position where he judges who's qualified to run for office and who's not is a disaster. Whether Mutlaq and the other 500 candidates deserve to be banned or not is now irrelevant.

If the "justice and accountability law" is to be enforced, it should be enforced impartially on all Iraqi parties that have had a role in violence, before and after 2003 alike. Otherwise the law must be revised, suspended or, discarded altogether. After all, having two separate penal codes in one country does not foster justice and rule of law.

The ban has inflamed suspicions that the "justice and accountability law" is about exterminating the Sunni Arab constituent from political life to serve the Maliki's ambitions and Iran's interests--it is not about justice.

Since the surge began in 2007, Americans and Iraqis paid an immense price in blood and treasure to defeat our mutual enemies and make progress happen. We cannot allow this progress to be undone.