Monday, August 31, 2009

Iraq postpones census until October 2010

Aswat al-Iraq:
Spokesman for the Iraqi government said on Monday that the council of ministers has agreed to postpone the census until October 2010 and to form a high committee with the Kurdistan region to solve all problems between the two sides.

“The council agreed on a suggestion from the operations room of the general census for residents to continue rehabilitations procedures and to implement the census in October 2010,” Ali al-Dabbagh told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

“The council agreed also to form a high committee between the federal and regional governments to solve and facilitate all problems,” he added.

On Sunday (Aug. 16), the Iraqi minister of planning and development cooperation, Ali Baban, said that the census, scheduled to be carried out on October 24, will be postponed until further notice following reservations from political blocs in Ninewa and Kirkuk.

Iraq-Turkey railroad opens tomorrow

The Iraqi ministry of transportation announced yesterday that the Iraq-Turkey railroad will be opened September 1st.
The railroad will serve as a link between Gulf and Mediterranean seaports.

Turkish FM: Baghdad's Information "Convincing"

Aswat Al-Iraq:
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday described information he received from the Iraqi government on the crisis with Syria as convincing, noting that he will transfer it to Damascus.

At a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad, the minister called on the two sides to exchange information on the current crisis without revealing them.

The minister said that he discussed with President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Vice President Adel Abdulmahdi the latest developments between Iraq and Syria.

“We understood the Iraqi stance and its persuasive information and I will carry them to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his foreign minister Walied al-Muallem during my visit to Damascus,” he said.
Relations between Iraq and Syria deteriorated after Baghdad alleged that Damascus was harboring leaders behind one of two devastating truck bombings that killed 95 people and wounded about 600 in the Iraqi capital on August 19.

Earlier this week, Iraq recalled its ambassador in Damascus and Syria retaliated within hours by ordering back its envoy from Baghdad.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Shiite-Sunni political coalition formed

A new political bloc involving both Sunni and Shiite political and tribal figures was announced in Baghdad yesterday. The new bloc, Bayariq al-Iraq includes 20 registered political entities.

Prominent and influential members include Yousif al-Haboubi, the independent politician who won most of the votes in the provincial elections in Kerbala earlier this year. There is also Ali Hatem Ali Sulaiman, chief of the powerful al-Dulaim tribes in western Iraq.

According to Suleiman, the coalition involves more than a 100 Sahwat (Awakening) leaders from Baghdad and surrounding areas. However, Suleiman admitted that the other two senior Awakening figures (Hameed Hayis and Thamir al-Timimi) are not part of the coalition.
"Hayis found himself in the National Iraqi Alliance (formerly known as UIA) while Timimi has not made up his mind yet" Suleiman explained.


That stands for Improvised Rectal Explosive Device; Al-Qaeda's newest weapon.
The suicide bomber who tried to assassinate a Saudi prince used an unusual place to conceal his explosive charge; his anus.
Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned television network, said the attacker concealed the explosives in his anus, allowing him to evade detection. The network also quoted an expert as saying that the method of concealment aimed the blast away from the target, while blowing the bomber to bits.

Fortunately the attack failed, otherwise Iraqi officials would freak out and demand that all visitors to government offices have their anuses probed before entry.
But seriously, how did he place the explosives in his anus? I don't think he could've done it on his own. But on the other hand if someone else helped him do it then that makes the whole operation unholy, and very gay, right?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Baghdad: Cell involved in Wednesday's attacks captured

State owned al-Sabah reports that a special force of the ministry of interior captured 14 suspects believed to have been involved in the August 19 attacks in Baghdad that killed more than a hundred people.

The confessions of the captured cell members lead to the bomb factory where the trucks used in the attacks were made. Inside the factory, which was in the Ghazaliyah district in northwestern Baghdad, another truck-bomb was found and disposed of.

Security sources told the newspaper that the MOI force identified the owner of the truck that was used in the attack on the foreign ministry through the vehicle's plate.
It is not clear though how the plates survived the force of the massive explosion.

The report adds that the suicide bomber who drove the truck was released from Camp Bucca just three months ago, according to one of his relatives who is in MOI custody. The unnamed bomber was a member of the so called Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Sadr calls for banning alcohol

He is still hiding in Iran yet he insists on interfering in people's lives.
Moqtada Sadr called for shutting down all bars and liquor stores in all of Iraq. Mr. Sadr said in a statement that was read by his representative in Kofa Dhiya al-Shawki that all bars and liquor stores that spread recently in some Iraqi cities must be closed. he also criticized he phenomenon of not observing the fast in Ramadan.

I guess he's practicing for his future "Ayatollah" job. There were reports that Sadr intends to return to Iraq in Ramadan and declare himself an Ayatollah. The degree traditionally requires 15 years of theological studies. Sadr, being the genius (imbecile) that he is, reportedly claims to have condensed the program in 2 years only.

No suffrage for Kirkukis outside

Kirkuki people residing outside the province are not entitled to vote even if they have food ration forms from Kirkuk, the Independent High Electoral Commission’s Kirkuk office noted. Likewise, the decision applies on Mosul and Diyala as they are areas of dispute between Erbil and Baghdad, the IHEC said.

Political rifts are seemed reflected in the decision as it is a complete loss for Kurds, head of Kirkuk provincial council Rizgar Ali said.

“We will boycott elections if the IHEC would impose and enforce the decision”, he added.

Kirkuk, 255 km from north of Baghdad, has a population of 775 thousand people and is a disputed area between Baghdad and Erbil. The Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution is mainly evoked in the case of Kirkuk province, which is the main source of tension between Erbil and Baghdad.

This decision could further strain relations between Baghdad and Erbil. Actually I don't think the Kurds would ever accept it.

Iraq to retrieve old MiGs from Serbia

An Iraqi military delegation has gone to Serbia to bring back 19 MiG fighter planes that Saddam Hussein's regime sent for servicing 20 years ago, the defence ministry said on Saturday.

"General Othman al-Fredji, a defence ministry adviser, and Anwar Mohammed Amin, head of the air force, are in Serbia negotiating the return (of the planes) at the earliest possible date," spokesman General Mohammed al-Askari said.

The Soviet-built MiG-21 and 23 aircraft, whose existence has just been discovered, "were sent by Saddam's government in 1989 for maintenance and everything was paid for with Iraqi money," he said.

Askari said the planes are important for Iraq as "our air force only possesses helicopters."

The former Yugoslavia was a major exporter of arms to Saddam's dictatorship before breaking up in the 1990s.

Askari said the ministry "is searching in the United States, France, Italy, Russia and some Arab countries to locate funds or military equipment that the former government bought for its army."

Iraq has found two navy vessels belonging to it in Egypt and two others moored in Italy as well as "aircraft and equipment in Russia and France," the spokesman said, without giving further details.

In my opinion these aircraft are not a smart investment at all. No matter how cheap it will be to refurbish them the cost will outweigh the modest (if any) effectiveness they can promise.

Friday, August 28, 2009

FDI Personality of the Year 2009: The Governor of Al-Anbar

FDI (Foreign Direct Investment Magazine) named the governor of al-Anbar province its global personality of the year.

In order to be successful at attracting investment, political leaders need many things: intellect, instinct, sensible advisers, an appreciation for the way business works, or sometimes just dumb luck. In most places in the world, they do not require bravery or courage, at least not in the truest sense of the words. Most places are not Iraq.

Being the governor of Al Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, is a not a job for someone who wants an easy life, or is prepared to shrink from a challenge. In 2005, the governor at the time was kidnapped by terrorists and killed during a gunfight while in captivity. The one before that resigned after his sons were kidnapped.

Anbar is safer these days, although the ­current governor, Qasim Abid Muhammad Hammadi Al Fahadawi, still faces serious threats. His biggest concern, however, is ­creating jobs for the nearly 20,000 unemployed people in the province – therefore denying terrorists a source of recruits. Economic development, fuelled by foreign investment, is a weapon in the war against terrorist groups, he says.

Investment rush

FDI in a place like Anbar is a lifeline and attracting it a life-or-death situation. And that is why Governor Qasim is a man in a hurry. Having assumed office in April, he is working with developers on ambitious plans for new commercial, housing, industrial and tourism zones, pushing plans for improving transport links, and courting investors in Iraq and abroad to finance the schemes. And he is putting his money where his mouth is: he has purchased a property in one of his pet projects, the planned New Ramadi City housing development.

Corruption remains endemic in Iraq and is an impediment to investment. To increase transparency and bring a more businesslike focus to government operations, the governor is implementing a streamlined system for administrative procedures, based on international best practice, which he hopes will be a model for the rest of Iraq. “If everything goes according to my plan, within two years we will have put everything in place in the right way. So the second two years in office should be easy for me,” he says with a laugh. “Then I can work eight hours a day instead of 18.”

Arab politician assassinated in Mosul

An Arab politician and member of the Hadbaa bloc (majority, Arab) in Nineveh's provincial council was assassinated yesterday. The victim, Tariq Ali Abbawi was murdered while leaving a mosque in northern Mosul. The governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nijeifi suggested the assassination was linked to Abbawi's nomination to head the refugees and displacement department in the province.

The office to which the slain politician was nominated is considered critical to the future of disputed territories in Nineveh. The department is involved in surveying forced displacement patterns that could be used to determine the validity of claims made by different ethnic groups to historical rights in disputed territories.

In Tehran

Speaker of Iran's parliament Ali Larijani, at a memorial service for Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the late head of ISCI said "Hakim had impressive loyalty and admiration for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenie. We hope you will follow on his steps with more strength. We hope to see our brother Ammar al-Hakim play a more active role in the Iraqi scene".

Then mourners chanted "Death to America, Death to Israel".

Larijani's endorsement of Ammar al-Hakim indicates that Tehran wants him, not other ISCI leaders, to be the next leader of ISCI and the NIA.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Oil Ministry Seeks Foreign Investment in Ten Oilfields

The ministry of oil will organize a new conference to auction the second batch of investment licenses to foreign oil companies. Ministry spokesman A'asim Jihad said the conference will be organized in Istanbul, sometime in November.

The spokesman named ten oilfields for which investment licenses will be auctioned. Seven of these oilfields are located in southern and eastern Iraq, these are: Majnoon, West Qurna, al-Helfaya, al-Gharraf, al-Kifil, Murjan and Bedra. The other three oilfields are located to the north around Mosul, these are: Khashm al-Ahmar, Qamar Klabat, Qayara and Nejma.
Jihad added that forty five foreign companies are expected to compete for investment licenses in these fields.
Abdul-Hadi al-Hassani, member of the parliament's hydrocarbons committee said these oilfields, when fully developed, could increase Iraq's oil output to 6 million bpd. Iraq currently produces approximately 2.5 million bpd of crude.

In related news, PM Nouri al-Maliki met with the representatives of British Petroleum in Baghdad. The Prime Minister urged the oil giant to resolve issues that have been delaying the implementation of a contract with the company to develop the huge Rumaila oilfield.

After his death, who succeeds Hakim as ISCI, NIA leader?

There is uncertainty about who is going to succeed the late Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim as the news leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the new National Iraqi Alliance (NIA).

Sources in ISCI told Azzaman that Humam Hammoudi, a senior ISCI member would be the new leader of the NIA. This claim is contested by Ali al-Adeeb of the Da'awa Party. Although the Da'awa is not yet part of the NIA, Adeeb is no. 2 in the hierarchy of the UIA (the predecessor of the NIA) and had served as Hakim's deputy in leading the parliamentary bloc. However, ISCI's senior members argue that the leadership of the UIA (and now the NIA) belongs to ISCI. It is worth mentioning here that the Da'awa Party has not totally ruled out the possibility of joining the NIA, according to MP Hassan al-Sinaid, of the Da'awa Party.

On Tuesday, the leaders of ISCI had an emergency meeting in Baghdad in which they agreed to have Ammar al-Hakim (Abdul-Aziz's elder son) lead ISCI "during this transitional period". A second meeting will be held later to select a new leader, according to the sources.

There is no word about VP Aadil Abdul-Mahdi assuming either leadership position. This may be because ISCI wants to reserve the leadership to a cleric. However, Abdul-Mahdi's damaged reputation (the bank robbery case) undermines his chances to be VP for another term. Therefore I suspect he will have to compete with Ammar or Hammoudi for the leadership of ISCI or the NIA.

Meanwhile, al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that Badr Brigade (ISCI's militia) has been put on high alert "all leaves were canceled and ranks were reinforced with Ittila'at (Iran's intelligence service) officers to prepare for all possible developments". A senior member of Badr said the organization was only working to arrange the funeral.

Iraq approves Kurdistan oil contracts

According to Kurdish newspapers, Iraq has approved an oil production contract between Kurdistan and foreign oil companies.

Iraq approved an oil contract in Kurdistan that was awarded to Chinese oil giant SINOPEC following its acquisition of the Swiss Adax Petroleum.
Investments in Taq-Taq oilfield will amount to $500 million. The maximum production capacity [of the field] will be 180k bpd but production will start at 40k bpd. The crude will be transported to a storage facility via a 9km long pipeline that was recently built. From there, tanker trucks will take the oil to the Kirkuk-Cehan pipeline. The oilfield is operated by the Turkish Genel Enerji and the Swiss Adax companies as well as the government of Kurdistan. Genel Enerji and Adax will share 12% of export revenues while the remaining 88% will go to the federal government through the Kurdish government in Kurdistan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Maliki blames Syria for last week's attacks

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hinted today that Syria was responsible for last week’s bombings in Baghdad. In an unusually belligerent tone Maliki added that Iraq could respond in kind but refrains from doing so because of “our values and keen interest to reach an agreement with this country to get rid of those elements they host”.

This is the first time the Prime Minister points at a particular state for involvement in violence in Iraq. Previous statements usually used the loose “neighboring countrie(s)” term. Although he only spoke about Syria, he also hinted that Syria might have a partner in the crime. He explained that “the confessions of the criminals revealed that this operation was not locally planned; it was the work of states”.

Almost immediately Baghdad recalled its ambassadors from Damascus. The decision was coupled with a demand that Syria hands over two senior members of the Ba’ath Party, “The cabinet requests (that Syria) hand over Mohammad Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan for their direct role in Wednesday's terrorist act," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

The Syrian government reportedly rejected the Iraqi accusation of involvement in the attacks, which Damascus said it condemns as a terrorist act. According to the BBC, Damascus informed Baghdad that it is “willing to have an Iraqi delegation come and present the evidence Iraq has obtained about the bombers. Otherwise it will consider anything the Iraqi media presents as fabricated evidence made for domestic consumptions, or maybe to serve foreign agendas”.

Meanwhile the Iraqi foreign ministry was told to send a petition to the UN Security Council to form a criminal court to try "war criminals who planned and executed war crimes and crimes against humanity" in Iraq.

This last part is an interesting development. For the first time the Iraqi government to internationalize the issue of violence in the country. This was avoided for several years although there have always been ample evidence for the involvement of some countries in the violence.

When American officials went to Syria some time ago to discuss the infiltration of foreign militants, the Iraqi government said it Iraq did not need others to do this on its behalf. This attitude ignored the fact that the problem is not Iraq’s alone. There’s an ongoing struggle that involves the United States, Iran and Syria. The Syrian negotiator knows that a deal with America would be better than one with a government most people consider weak.

Why now and why Syria? It is perhaps that while Baghdad knows that Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria have been all involved in the violence in one way or another, Syria represents the weakest link among the three. This makes it the point from which Baghdad can start. In this context, the message to Syria is also a message to Iran, who has strategic relations with Syria and uses it as a forward base to support extremists in Lebanon, Iraq and the Palestinian territory.

At the moment it is difficult to gauge how serious the Iraqi government is about going with this claim to the end. The whole thing could be an attempt to absorb popular demands for justice and for ending foreign interference.

In general, the decision to recall Baghdad’s ambassador seems to have been made in a rush. Maliki is clearly anxious and under pressure to do something. This sense of urgency could put him in trouble later. He must have an appropriate exit strategy should Damascus choose not to cooperate.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Baghdad Pleased to see Salih form Kurdistan’s cabinet

The spokesman of the Iraqi government Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad was pleased to see Barham Salih (the outgoing deputy PM) preside over the new cabinet in Kurdistan. Dabbagh said Salih, from his new position, will contribute to the success of dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil. He described Salih as a politician “who maintains good relations and has great diplomatic skills that enable him to solve many of the outstanding issues between the region and the center” and added “we have confidence that Salih will improve our relations”.

Indeed, Salih has a good reputation for being the sound of reason. His personality, and the time he spent as Maliki's deputy make him more accepted and respected in Baghdad. Therefore he will have a better chance to improve the relations between Baghdad and Erbil than his predecessor.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Maliki promises a crackdow that could reach political figures

Prime Minister Nourai al-Maliki announced that there would be new measures to improve security following last Wednesday’s tragic bombings. “We defeated the terrorists, and Ramadan is a great chance to eliminate them once and for all”, Maliki said. He described the purpose behind the attacks as “They target the government which represents the political process and national unity, which they hate”. Here Maliki is clearly referring to some Shiite parties that attacked him over his active non-sectarian approach and increasingly stronger relations with Sunni Arab powers.

It can be seen from Maliki’s words that he is determined to move forward with building his diverse political alliance and ignoring the calls for rebuilding the Shiite alliance (UIA). There has been pressure from Iran and Najaf to reconstitute the UIA to enter the elections as one great mass.

In fact Buratha News, a mouthpiece of ISCI, bitterly announced today that Maliki and his Da’awa Party are not attending tomorrow’s launch ceremony of the new Shiite alliance.
Knowledgeable sources close to the preparatory commission of the National Iraqi Alliance (NIA; the new name of the UIA) mentioned that Maliki’s branch of the Da’awa Party will not attend the launch ceremony of the NIA. In spite of great efforts by political and religious leaderships to persuade Maliki to join the alliance-which emphasized the dangers of staying of the alliance-he did not give up his demands. Those demands were to grant his party absolute majority in the alliance and secure the premiership for himself. This is a demand that was rejected by all concerned religious and political leaderships.

Maliki also made some stern statements that allude to a possible crackdown on the political leaderships of political parties that had a role in the attacks.
Some political powers rejoiced Wednesday’s attacks; for political reasons…[we] have made decisions and will take measures that-with help from the people-will address this new chapter of terrorist campaign. There will be decisive measures to fix defects and points of weakness…Partisanship and politicization have driven their wedges in the security forces. This is a constitutional violation, which we will vigorously prosecute...we will not tolerate any of those involved[in the attacks].

In tandem, Baghdad is exploring the possibility of signing regional security protocols with its neighbors. MP Abbas Bayati, member of the parliament’s defense and security committee said Iraq seeks to establish protocols that enable the sharing of intelligence and mutual tracking of terror cells. Bayati named Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Jordan and Turkey as the countries with which Iraq seeks to establish security protocols. Through these protocols, the government will most likely try to facilitate the exchange of wanted individuals suspected of leading or financing militant groups in Iraq.

Meanwhile, foreign minister Hoshyar Zibari was a little more pessimistic about the situation and expected “greater security breaches in the future”. However, he echoed Maliki’s call for strict measures to contain the security breach.
"We must all refrain from making useless statements. We must expose the facts that stand behind the setbacks in security. This was a clear and dangerous setback, and so security preparations must match the magnitude of challenges" Zibari told reporters. Another source quoted him as saying that he does not "rule out the possibility of collusion between security forces and terrorists to deliver the car bombs to those sensitive locations."

The ministries of defense and interior are having their own exchange of accusations. Each ministry is trying to put the blame on the other. The minister of defense, Abdul-Qadir al-Obeidi said the ministry of interior was responsible for this failure. The minister of interior, Jawad al-Bolani fired back saying the protection of the capital was the responsibility of Baghdad Operations Command under Maliki’s command and involved both the police and army forces. It is worth mentioning that Bolani has some personal interest in tarnishing Maliki’s reputation as he is believed to have ambitions to run for the PM office in the next cabinet.

To inspire even more speculations about the political dimensions of Wednesday's bombings, the director of the national intelligence service Mohammed al-Shahwani reportedly resigned (in other accounts was fired from) his position. Shahwani reportedly had a vocal dispute with Maliki at a cabinet meeting in the aftermath of the attack. He is believed to be in Amman-Jordan now.

The parliament, which had a special session to hear from the ministers of defense and interior and senior commanders, was over all not satisfied with what these officials had to say. Several members of parliament from various blocs said the arguments of those in charge of security were “not convincing”.

The president of the country is in a different world. Once again Jalal Talabani acted as a leader of a particular party, not as a national leader. While the bombs hit the heart of Baghdad, he traveled north “to discuss the security situation in Kirkuk” with the local officials of his own party (the PUK).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Azzaman: Special Groups Responsible for Wednesday’s Rocket and Mortar Attacks

Special Groups acting on orders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were behind Wednesday’s indirect fire attacks against government targets, Azzaman reports.
The newspaper says security sources in Baghdad revealed that a Special Group led by a person named Haji Mehdi al-Kinani was responsible for firing rockets and mortars at the Green Zone and other government targets yesterday. The group reportedly operates from the Hay Ur district in northeastern Baghdad.

This picture, supposedly of al-Kinani, was delivered to al-Malaf Press by a source in Baghdad Operations Command in March 2008.

The report also adds that anther group “under the command of another entity navigated the explosive-laden vehicles for more than 10 kilometers across the capital without being discovered by explosive detectors deployed on the streets”.

Who Was Behind Wednesday's Attacks?

There is near-full agreement in Iraq that Wednesday’s wave of attacks were more than indiscriminate acts of terrorism. Most politicians, commentators and observers believe those behind the attacks want to influence political alignments and voter decisions before general elections next January.

Most fingers point at a “neighboring country”. This “neighboring country” to some is Saudi Arabia but is Iran to many others. Either way, most people agree that the attacks were beyond al-Qaeda’s or any other individual group’s capability.

This is a plausible assumption. Baghdad has not seen a similar wave of highly coordinated attacks and powerful bombings in more than a year. During that time it has been all down hill for al-Qaeda’s network in Baghdad. Most operatives had either been killed or captured or had to flee and find new safe havens around Mosul, Diyala and Kirkuk to the north and northeast. More important is that almost all of the locals who had fought alongside al-Qeada or provided its cells with logistic support had turned on the organization and joined the Sons of Iraq. It is also important to remember that three years ago there were parts of Baghdad where security forces could not go but all those former “no-go” zones are now accessible to the security forces.

Some argue that the departure of U.S. troops from cities gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to regroup. However, it is unlikely that al-Qaeda managed in only six weeks to reestablish itself in Baghdad in a way that enables it to plan and execute a campaign of this magnitude and level of sophistication.

The most widely accepted theory is that the attacks were the works of a neighboring country assisted by collaborators from within the ISF and influential political parties. There are, however, two different explanations for the purpose of the country that ordered the attack. Some accuse Saudi Arabia and what is left of the Ba’ath Party of trying to reignite sectarian tensions and derail the political process. Others say it was Iran and its surrogates in Iraq. They argue that Iran wants to put pressure on Maliki to join the fragmented Shiite political alliance.

The assumption for the latter is that Iran is not in favor of a powerful central government in Iraq led by an increasingly nationalist figure like Maliki. In this context, the attacks would serve Iran’s interests in several ways.

First of all, the deterioration in security undermines Maliki’s reputation and weakens his position in a critical time before elections. Second, it spreads fear among the people about a possible return to the dark days of 2006-2007. This in turn reduces the chances of secular parties and encourages voting along sectarian lines as a means to seek protection from the perceived threat other sects poses. Third, it sends a message to Maliki that if he stays close to the U.S. and insists on his increasingly nationalist, non-sectarian course, then he would not have much of a country left to rule.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Maliki Calls for a Re-Evaluation of Security Plans

In response to a series of high profile deadly attacks in Baghdad, PM Nouri al-Maliki said the recent developments require a reassessment of security plans. He described the bombings as an attempts by extremists to reignite sectarian strife in the country and halt progress and reconstruction efforts.

Maliki called upon Arab and Muslim countries to issue a clear condemnation of these attacks and deal with the perpetrators as war criminals.

Meanwhile the spokesman of Baghdad operations, major general Qasim Ata blamed the Iraqi security forcesfor the unfortunate setback in security. According to the Iraqia state TV, he said the incompetent units that failed to prevent the attacks have had their ranks infiltrated.

Baghdad Under Attack

Today was Baghdad’s bloodiest this year. More than 90 people were killed and over 500 more were wounded in a series of attacks across the city. The deadliest of the attacks took place just outside the building of the foreign ministry. The bomb was so powerful that blast walls were blown off. This particular attack may be more than just an indiscriminate massacre. The location and timing suggest it could be a message from Arab nationalist extremists to Kurdish leaders over Kirkuk and Mosul (or so the perpetrators want it to be seen). This is because the Kurdish-dominated foreign ministry is considered a symbol of Kurds’ presence and influence in Baghdad.

The attacks in general show that terrorist groups in Baghdad can still be lethal. They also indicate that existing plans are not bringing us closer to long-lasting peace and stability.

Baghdad and Washington should take a second look at their strategies and revise whatever needs to be revised. This may be particularly painful for Maliki since it's election season. However, if he wants to be reelected on the premise of the improvements in security during his first term, then his priority should be to do whatever is needed to preserve security.
Same for Washington; if the administration wants to call this war over.

There are unconfirmed reports that the actual number of casualties is much higher than 95 dead and 560 wounded. The editors at claim they received information from "special sources" in Baghdad that put the casualties at 200 dead and over 1,700 wounded. "There were orders not to release these figures to avoid panic", according to Kitabat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Iranian-Made Weapons Found After Attack on U.S. Base Near Basra

Iraqi troops seized a launcher loaded with more than a dozen Iranian-made rockets and detained three suspected militants after an attack against the American base outside the southern city of Basra, officials said Tuesday.

Col. Karim al-Zaidi said the missiles were found in an eastern section of Iraq's second largest city after rockets targeted the U.S. base Monday evening.

The U.S. military confirmed that 16 rockets were found and three suspects detained by Iraqi troops who responded to the attack. It said no casualties were reported.

Barham Salih Resigns His Positions as Deputy PM

A spokesman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK, president Talabani's party) announced that Barham Salih will submit his resignation from his position as Iraq's deputy PM. Salih will be be tasked with forming the new cabinet in Kurdistan, according to the spokesman. He will be replacing the current PM Nechirvan Barazani (KDP) who occupied the position since 2006.

The PUK and KDP have an agreement to rotate the prime minister post in the Kurdistan regional government between the two parties every four years.

The Iraqi minister of water resources, Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed is expected to serve as acting deputy PM until a new cabinet is formed in Baghdad.

Released AAH Operative: 'CIA pressed me to testify against Chalabi'

A former official in the De-Ba’athification committee accused the CIA of pressing him to make a testimony regarding connections between Ahmed Chalabi and Iran’s revolutionary guard corps (IRGC).

The official, Faisal al-Lami, was released from detention a few days ago. He spent a year in prison over charges of assisting armed militias, apparently the League of the Righteous (Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, AAH)

Al-Lami, told radio Sawa that he resisted CIA attempts to make him testify against Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress Party (INC), who is suspected of having connection with, and passing intelligence to the IRGC.

It is worth mentioning that al-Lami’s release was a result of recent negotiations between Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (league of the Righteous) and the Iraqi government, according to al-Lami himself.

Saudi Arabia, Former Iraqi Officers Accused of Helping Yemen fight Houthi Insurgents

There are reports on some Iraqi websites about former Iraqi army and republican guard officers advising Yemen’s military in the ongoing campaign against the Houthi insurgents.

According to Buratha and, senior former officers in Saddam’s army are helping government forces in Yemen identify the mistakes they made in previous confrontations with the Houthis. The sources quoted by the two websites add that “the officers presented their experience in dealing with Kurdish strongholds in the Iraqi north whose mountainous and rugged terrain resembles that of Sa’da” and that Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Salih then decided to enlist the help of those officers as advisers and field strategists in the offensive that is currently underway.

The authorities in Yemen deny such collaboration, and is accusing Iran of funding and supporting the Houthis.

Clear sympathy for the Houthis is noted in this and previous reports on similar Shiite-affiliated Iraqi websites. Here too Saudi Arabia is being accused of being the mastermind of the campaign which is being portrayed as a Sunni-on-Shiite genocide. Another report on Buratha says “A political representative of the Houthis said this sixth war in Yemen is for the benefit of Saudi Arabia. The representative, speaking to al-Alam (Arabic-speaking Iranian TV) said eyewitnesses saw Saudi fighter aircraft fly low towards Yemen and [the sighting] was followed by powerful explosions”.

This comes less than a week after the same sources accused Saudi Arabia and the Ba'ath Party of planning a campaign of sectarian cleansing against Shiites in Nineveh.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Odierno wants U.S. Troops in Disputed Territories

America's top commander in Iraq said Monday he wants to deploy U.S. soldiers alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops in a disputed swath of northern territory following a series of horrific bombings by insurgents hoping to stoke an Arab-Kurdish conflict.

The move would be a departure from the security pact that called for Americans to pull back from populated areas on June 30. But Gen. Ray Odierno warned that al-Qaida in Iraq was exploiting tensions between the Iraqi army and the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, to carry out attacks on villages not guarded by either side. The bombings have killed scores of people since Aug. 7.

The U.S. soldiers would act in an oversight role to help the troops work together to secure areas along a fault line of land claimed by both Arabs and Kurds, Odierno said, stressing no final decision had been made.

It is good to see the commander on the ground responds quickly and thoughtfully to the emerging crisis.

Yezidi Villagers Expect More Attacks, Build Barricades

People in five Yezidi villages are building barricades around their communities in anticipation of more attacks, sources in Nineveh said.

Yezidi communities were targeted by suicide bombers recently. Coordinated bombings last week killed 21 and wounded more than 30 people. The five villages (20 miles north of Mosul) colleted money from residents to build the barricades, a Yezidi spokesman said.

The spokesman added that “Each village will have one point of entry and twenty guards to watch the barricades surrounding the villages…this plan was made hours after rumors spread of imminent attacks here following the bombings in Sinjar, Shalej and Khazna”.

U.S. Firms Seek to Invest $840 Million in Thi-Qar Agriculture

From Aswat al-Iraq:

Representative of a U.S. credit banking firm started discussions on Monday with the Thi-Qar Investment Commission to invest $840 million in the province’s farming.

“The investment period will be three to seven years,” the representative told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

“The company seeks partnership with the Iraqi government in the field of farming,” the representative said.

Kurdish Opposition Points to Potential Rapprochement with Baghdad

From Niqash, excerpt:

Sources close to the Change List leader Mustafa Nashirwan said that there are intentions for political convergence between him, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other government forces. There are also expectations that the coming period will witness a series of meetings between the different parties.

Commenting on these expectations, Adnan Uthman, a leading figure in the Change List, who is also the editor in chief of the opposition Roznama Newspaper, said that "our political program in resolving outstanding issues with the federal government will distance itself from the maneuvers and the indifference approach adopted by the two Kurdish parties over the past six years."

The Kurdish opposition figure told Niqash that "his list will resort to the constitution, negotiating channels and to the federal court to resolve issues rather than adopting policies of threats and intimidation.”

There is now even talk that the Kurdish opposition may join a grand alliance of parties allied to al-Maliki for the forthcoming national elections. Kurdish parties, with the exception of one Islamic party, competed in 2005’s national elections under one Kurdistan Alliance List.

Read the full report from Niqash, here.

Iraqi Army Conducts Wargames Near Border with Iran

The 14th division of the Iraqi Army (IA) recently conducted its first live-fire exercises. The joint-weapons exercise, dubbed "Heroes' Resolve" involved a battalion from the 52nd brigade of the 14th division and took place in an area east of Basra, approximately 12 miles from the Iranian border.

Defense ministry officials described the exercise as part of the effort to prepare the IA to assume its primary role in defending the country against external threats.

Five Armed Factions Engage in Negotiates with the Iraqi Government

Government sources confirmed that five Iraqi armed factions voiced their willingness to lay down their weapons in exchange for “guarantees for participation” in the political process and the upcoming general elections.

The director of international relations at the Iraqi ministry for national dialogue told the newspaper that “the government expressed readiness to talk to five well-known Iraqi armed factions after they pledged to lay down their weapons and participate peacefully in the political process according to what they achieve in elections”.
On the other hand, the official, Saad al-Muttalibi, said the government would not be bound by the results of any negotiations between the U.S. and Iraqi factions because the government was not notified of such talks. Al-Muttalibi is clearly referring to earlier meetings in Turkey between U.S. officials and representatives of the “Political Council for Iraqi Resistance”, an umbrella for six Sunni insurgent groups.

The newspaper adds that another official (Mohammed al-Uraibi, state minister for tribes affairs) is leading a delegation to speak with Sunni Arab tribal leaders, who are currently in Jordan and Syria, and persuade them to return to Iraq.

Iranian Cleric: Neighbors Must be Changed to Prepare for the Return of Imam Mehdi

The representative of Iran’s supreme leader in the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) said it was necessary to induce wide changes in Iran’s neighbors to prepare the world for the return of Imam Mehdi, the twelfth imam in the twelver Shiite faith.

According to al-Arabiya, the cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sa’aeedi did not specify the nature of these changes but he named Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon as the countries where changes must be made.

Sa’aeedi added that obeying the orders of the supreme leader is in fact the way to carry out the orders of Imam Mehdi.
Sa’aeedi also sought to justify the oppressive practices of the IRGC saying that the IRGC and other armed forces are preserving the theocratic system to prepare “for the emergence of the Awaited Mehdi”

The cleric concluded his statement by saying “We have a lot of time to achieve this. Meanwhile we should teach the forces of good on how to identify the return of the Imam and remove the obstacles that stand in its way, including the United States and Israel”.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sadrist MP: Will not Let Da’awa get the Premiership

The head of the Sadrist bloc in the parliament said the new alliance (the replacement of the main Shiite bloc, the UIA) could be formed without the Da’awa Party, if the latter insisted on certain conditions. The Da’awa Party, led by PM Maliki, had previously demanded half the bloc’s future share of seats and the premiership as conditions for joining the UIA.

The Sadrists seem to have run out of patience with Maliki and the Da’awa; the language they used suggest that's the case.
“The Sadrist bloc will not allow the premiership go to the Da’awa”. Aqeel Abdul-Hussein, the Sadrist MP told al-Mashriq newspaper. Abdul-Hussein added that Da’aw’s participation in the UIA is trivial matter “The Da’awa Party’s departure from the UIA does not mean the alliance could not be formed. Neither would Da’awa’s addition mean the UIA was missing anything without them”.

Meanwhile, Maliki is receiving offers from Sunni political powers to form a new alliance. He told reporters that there are certain Sunni parties that are asking him to expand the State of Law bloc and join forces with them to prepare for the upcoming elections.

Between these two contrasting attitudes, Maliki may not find it difficult to pick a side.

Most Iraqis Will Vote Differently, Poll Predicts

A majority of Iraqis said they would vote for political parties than the ones they voted for in past general elections. According to preliminary results of the poll, which was conducted by al-Sabah, 69% of samples said they would vote differently. Another 27% said they would give their votes to the same political parties they voted for in 2005. The remaining 4% provided no answers.

These preliminary figures represent the answers of 5104 Iraqis. The samples were taken from 8 provinces, and covered various age groups, education levels and occupations from both sexes, according to the newspaper.
The final results that will include all 20,000 samples are expected to be available in a few days.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Accord Front Collapses, Sunni Tribes Seek Shiite Allies

There have been many changes in political alignments in Iraq recently. Old alliances fragment, new ones emerge, only a few seem to remain unchanged.

It appears the Accord Front (largest Sunni bloc) is no more. The bloc was not in great shape to start with as one of the three groups that originally formed the Front (the National Dialogue Council of Khalaf Ilayan) broke away several months ago. However, the disintegration is happening faster these days. Adnan al-Dulaimi, a founding member of the Front admitted to reporters that the groups that made up the Front are breaking away and joining other alliances to prepare for elections.

The Islamic Party, which is considered the backbone of the Accord Front is suffering from defections too, at the highest levels. A senior member of the Front mentioned that VP Tariq al-Hashimi, the head of the Islamic Party is going to announce his own slate, separate from his party, next week. A number of “prominent members” are said to have left the party and joined Hashimi. All reports so far indicate that Hashimi has joined forces with former PM Iyad Allawi in a bid to secure majority in the parliament.

A member of parliament who once led a campaign to turn Basra into an autonomous region is forming his own slate, apparently to compete for the same province’s representation in the parliament. MP Wa’ail Abdul-Latif, who was once member of Iyad Allawi’s bloc said his slate (The People’s Solidarity Front) has been joined by more than 60 political entities. Abdul-Latif described his coalition partners as “liberal and independent” but did not name specific parties.

The United Iraqi Alliance (the main Shiite bloc) is not in better shape than its Sunni counterpart. The Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI) has been relentlessly trying to put the bloc back together but hardly made any progress. ISCI announced several times that the new UIA would be declared “next week”. However, “next week” never comes!

ISCI, however, seems to be making progress in a different direction. Today there is some interesting news coming from the west, in Anbar.
Two main tribal factions have not been getting along very well lately. The Anbar Salvation Council (led by sheik Hameed al-Hayis) and the Iraq Awakening Council (led by sheik Abu Risha) have been competing for power in the province for a while, and lately the competition became a little aggressive. The interesting thing is that reports indicate that both Sunni factions are looking for Shiite allies. Abu Risha’s Awakening Council is said to be seriously considering allying with PM Maliki. On the other hand, there is a report today that says Hayis’ Salvation Council has joined ISCI as a member of the new UIA.

Yezidi Politician Asks Baghdad to Form Support Councils

The head of the Progressive Yezidi Party, Wa’ad Metto said there were certain political ambitions behind the recent bombings in Sinjar (west of Mosul-Nineveh) that killed and wounded more than fifty people.

Metto, said this attack and the bombings that targeted Shebak and Turkmen communities in disputed territories are evidence that the goal of the perpetrators is to show the central government as incapable of protecting the people.

Metto called on the government in Baghdad to form Support Councils (tribal militias paid for by the government) in Yezidi-majority regions. He also asked demanded the government increases police and army presence and evicts other militias from those regions, in a clear reference to the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On Nineveh

Nineveh is rapidly becoming the epicenter for ethno-sectarian conflicts of interest in Iraq. Two primary foci of tension exist; the first is Sunni-Shiite and the second is Arab-Kurdish.

This is not particularly new as tensions between the three factions have existed for a long time. However, recently there has been a spike in verbal attacks exchanged among them. This wave of tensions first started on the Arab-Kurdish front in the aftermath of provincial elections in January and the subsequent hegemonic activities by the winning Arab bloc.

What makes this episode alarming is that this Arab-Kurdish tension has been complicated by a resurgence of terrorist attacks in the province. These attacks seem to have caused tensions between Sunnis and Shiites to build up after a period of relative calm.

The rising tensions are manifesting themselves in the political debate in Iraq, in various forms. Since the country is headed for elections, each faction is using the situation to sell certain perceptions to its respective constituency.

On the Shiite side, and after not achieving much by traditional means, ISCI and smaller groups are using fear politics. Their attempts to glue the Shiite alliance back together have met with little if any success so far. Their relations with PM Nouri al-Maliki are steadily deteriorating. In fact, Maliki, presenting himself as a national leader, seems more interested in recruiting Sunni Arab allies than rebuilding the Shiite alliance.

Now those groups are blaming the Ba’ath Party for the violence, Saudi Arabia for supporting the Ba’ath Party, and PM Maliki for his reconciliation efforts. They consider the latter the catalyst that allowed the Ba’ath Party to regroup and resume activity.

It is true that the Ba’ath Party still exists and perhaps has significant role in recent violence. However, it is absurd to think it could ever have enough power to impose its rule on the country once again. The parties wanting to rebuild the Shiite alliance need a rallying cry to get the support of their constituencies in order to have a chance in the elections. Unfortunately, while the declared enemy is the Ba’ath Party, the victim would be political reconciliation.

Buratha News is quoting unnamed “diplomatic sources in Brussels” who are concerned about “security deterioration in Iraq due to Saudi Arabia’s support to bombings that target the Shiite”. The report goes on to add that the sources also stated “serious information reached several European capital about a Saudi Arabian plot to carry out terrorist attacks against the Shiite, especially in Mosul and Diyala, to cleanse these regions off this sect’s members”.

Another Shiite-affiliated website is also quoting those mysterious “European sources in Brussels” and offers even more details about the alleged Saudi plot: “There is a Saudi attempt to support a secret plan codenamed ‘Cleansing the Nests’. The goal is to carry out terrorist attacks against the Shiite, especially in place like Mosul and Diyala to make Iraqi cities and provinces Shiite-free. This comes after the sectarian plot of 2004-2005 failed to make Baghdad a Sunni-dominated capital….Saudi Arabia has allocated financial resources to execute ‘Cleansing the Nests’ in Mosul, in order to make Mosul a Sunni city with no Shiites at all”.

Now Saudi Arabia might very well have been supporting (directly or indirectly) some insurgent activity in Iraq, so accusing Saudi Arabia is not what concerns us here. What concerns us is that the report continues to claim that the Ba’ath Party has reestablished its organizations in Mosul and that “Many Ba’athists and sectarian extremist work in the ISF in Mosul. They provide protection and cover for the Ba’ath organization. They leak information about security operations to the Ba’ath and even present manipulated reports and misinformation to Maliki’s government about security in the city”.

The interesting thing is that this report, which we have not seen in any credible news source, is spreading like wildfire among websites and forums affiliated with Shiite parties. There are even columns that commented on this report barely a few hours after it first appeared. One such column on Sot al-Iraq website (Voice of Iraq) is worth noting. The author of the piece essentially argues that the Shiite have been fooled into making concessions to other factions and that “reconciliation was a well-prepared booby-trap”.

The Sunni Arabs in Nineveh are pointing their fingers, not at Shiites, but at their immediate rivals in the vicinity, the Kurds. Arab officials in the province are not-so-implicitly blaming the worsening security there on the regional authorities in neighboring Kurdistan and their Peshmerga militia.
Yesterday, reports came that the provincial government in Nineveh asked Baghdad to help “put an end to the deterioration in security”. The first demand of the Sunni Arab-dominated provincial government was to “Deploy army and police forces to the province and to have the Federal Police secure the regions along the administrative borders of Nineveh province with Kurdistan prior to March 19th 2003”. The provincial government also asked the presidency, cabinet and parliament to “Evict Peshmerga paramilitaries from regions belonging to the province and put those regions under the control of the armed forces that answer to the central government”.

Kurdish politicians aren’t making much effort to calm the situation either. They too are using fear politics to improve their standings vis-à-vis a stronger opposition bloc. Al-Ittihad (the newspaper of President Talabani’s PUK party) has excerpts from an address by Masoud Barazani, the president of the Kurdish region, to the people of Kurdistan marking the success of recent elections in the region. Barazani’s key line was that the Kurdish leadership “will pursue the constitutional rights [of Kurdistan], restore the regions that were excised from Kurdistan, reinforce Kurdistan’s stature at home and abroad and protect the higher interests of the federal Iraq”. The message will undoubtedly be seen as provocative by the proponents of a strong central government, particularly Sunni Arabs in Nineveh. Note that Barazani did not use the term “disputed territories” which is how the constitution refers to some regions in Nineveh, Diyala and Kirkuk. Instead he referred to them as territories that “were excised from Kurdistan”. Sunni Arabs do not approve of the former, let alone the latter.

In another statement, the spokesman of Kurdistan regional government condemned Monday’s double bombing in a Nineveh village. The statement accused some Hadbaa officials (Hadbaa is the majority Arab bloc in the province council) of power monopoly and of endorsing “an extremist racist ideology similar to that of terrorists”.

All that said, the danger here is that al-Qaeda’s tactics seem to be working and the political factions are taking the bait. The recent terrorist attacks are fomenting suspicion and tensions along both sectarian and ethnic fault-lines.

Such political ammunition is attractive and maybe even irresistible during election season. Al-Qaeda would be more than glad to keep the supply coming and the political parties might ignorantly keep using it. If this does not stop, it will likely end badly.

There are however, signs that invite a less pessimistic assessment of the situation. On the Sunni-Shiite front the reactions have been limited to political rhetoric and attempts to improve popularity at the expense of rivals. We have not seen anything similar to reactions to the spectacular attacks of 2005-2006. On the Arab-Kurdish front, despite the aggressive tones we see that both sides demand that the constitution be the judge between them. Neither side has taken up arms yet, which is good. However, we need to stay vigilant as we do not know where the critical threshold might be.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Abdul-Mahdi Allowed the Burglars to Escape

The case of the Zuwiyah bank robbery is not going away any time soon.
Serious developments have taken place over the past few days. A leading ISCI figure (sheik Jalal ad-Din al-Saghier) harshly attacked the state-owned al-Sabah over an article that alluded to ISCI officials’ involvement in the robbery. Saghier went as far as accusing the newspaper of following Ba’athist agendas!

Al-Sabah actually immediately “suspended” the author of that article, perhaps to protect him. The editor in chief of al-Sabah, Falah al-Meshaal, warned that Saghier’s threats put the lives of his colleagues in danger.

The unprecedented exchange of threats shows how deep the divide has become between ISCI and al-Maliki on one hand, and ISCI and the Ministry of Interior (whose chief, minister Bolani spearheaded the attacks on ISCI) on the other hand. Al-Sabah and her journalists are the scapegoats in this fight.

Things keep getting more interesting. Earlier today, PM Nouri al-Maliki himself joined the fight when he took an unexpected jab at VP Aadil Abdul-Mahdi. Maliki told reporters that in the beginning, VP Abdul-Mahdi told him that “Those who robbed the bank are a group of a special [presidential] guards unit. The criminals and the [stolen] money are under control”. Maliki then asked Abdul-Mahdi “to apprehend them and hand them over to proper authorities”.

Here comes the bombshell, Maliki finally reveals that Adul-Mahdi was indeed complicit with the suspects and allowed their escape.
“The money was returned, but the criminals were not turned in to the proper law enforcement apparatus”.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Arab politicians flock to Kurdistan as tension rises

Since after PM Maliki’s visit to Kurdistan, the region has become a primary destination for Iraqi political leaders. Vice president Tariq Hashimi (Sunni-Islamic Party), Iyad Allawi (secular-Iraqi List) and vice president Aadil Abdul-Mahdi (Shiite-ISCI) all visited the region in the last few days. The stated purpose of these visits is to congratulate Kurdish leaders on the successful elections.

However, the timing of the visit, and the fact that Hashimi and Allawi went together to see Barazani may have some implications. It possibly indicates that Maliki’s partners and rivals alike are concerned that he might be managing the relations with the Kurdish region alone. Those who do not necessarily agree with Maliki want to know what kind of a deal he made with the Kurdish leaders, if any, especially that not much information has leaked about that.

The second point here is Barazani’s statement in which he said he could ally with some Arab political blocs for the upcoming elections. This may have encouraged the Islamic Party and the Iraqi List to look forward to such an alliance that could substantially alter the political map.

Hashimi and Allawi made sure they visit both Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. In Sulaymaniyah, Hashimi was accompanied by the senior leaders of his party “to discuss steps to improve the relations between the Islamic Party and the Patriotic Union (PUK)”.

Although recent news about approaching agreements and having more in common than not, the complexity of the situation on the ground does not suggest there are readily available solutions. In this regard, Falah Mustafa, the foreign affairs officer in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) acknowledged it was difficult to make predictions about the disputes between the KRG and the central government. “The Iraqi situation is so complicated at this point that we will not waste a chance for dialogue between the regional and federal governments…the regional government seeks progress on points of dispute whenever there is an opportunity to do so in order to resolve problems and calm the situation”, says Mustafa.

In my opinion, both sides want to put the conflict for later, at least until after the general elections in January. Neither side can afford an escalation that could cost them votes. On the one hand, Maliki and his party succeeded in the provincial elections based on the improvement in security. He has a good chance for a second term in office, so despite his tough stance vis-à-vis Kurdish aspirations, he has been keen to steer the situation away from the brink of armed conflict. On the other hand, although the PUK-KDP alliance still has the majority and although there is widespread consensus on nationalist aspirations, the elections revealed a growing popular demand for development and reform inside the region.

Indeed both sides have been clear that they would not let things spiral down to an armed conflict. The minister of defense, Abdul-qadir Mohammed Jasim said he would not allow “such foolishness”. Meanwhile Masoud Barazani pledged that there shall be no fighting as long as he was present.

On the ground, the situation is fast-paced and actions can get not as reconciliatory at times.

In Kirkuk, preparations for the general elections have begun way ahead of any other province. The Electoral Commission is working to establish voting centers and update voter records. According to the Commission’s office manager in Kirkuk, there will be 43 centers; 23 in the city of Kirkuk, and 23 in surrounding towns. The official added that food coupons would likely be used to update the voter records, noting that “the office is constantly in contact with the national center in Baghdad to discuss this issue with the board of trustees, who will in turn make recommendation to the parliament to prepare a mechanism for the process”.
The preparations coincided with a surprise visit by president Talabani to the province, where he is expected to discuss the security situation with local officials. The interesting thing is that Talabani, while he is president of the country, seems to be interested in visiting only two places outside Kurdistan; Baghdad and Kirkuk. I can’t remember the last time he has been to any other province.

The debate over the validity of article 140 of the constitution (which prescribes steps for deciding the future status of Kirkuk) continues. An Arab political group called the Arab Political Council in Kirkuk attacked PM Maliki over a recent statement he made in this regard. During his meeting with Kurdish leaders, Maliki said his government was committed to the full implementation of article 140 in Kirkuk and other disputed territories. Hassan al-Jubouri, a speaker of the Arab group called on Maliki to “take it back”. Al-Jubouri argued that article 140’s validity had expired the moment the deadline for implementing it passed. Kirkuk’s Arabs demand that article 142 (the article that regulates constitutional amendments) be used instead.

In other contested regions, both Kurdish and federal authorities are working to assert themselves; in various forms.

In Qara-Teppa, an Iraqi army unit is doing this the traditional way. The IA battalion that is deployed in this town (in northern Diyala) forbade members of the Kurdish security forces (the Asayesh) from walking around the town’s marketplace in their uniforms. The IA unit sent an official letter to the Asayesh force in Qara-Teppa warning that any member of that force seen in uniform in public places would be subject to arrest.

In another contested region; Sinjar (west of Mosul) the KRG is asserting itself in a different way. The mayor of the town said the KRG is funding the construction of four soccer fields at a cost of 160 million dinars (~$140k). This kind of investment, while not big, is a message that the KRG is not backing off from those regions.

In Mosul (the capital of Nineveh) the situation seems to have not been affected by the friendly meetings between the Arab and Kurdish leaders. Yesterday, Khesro Koran the leader of the Kurdish bloc in the provincial council (30% of the seats) reiterated his bloc’s determination to unilaterally form a their own administration in the province, should there be no deal with the Hadbaa (Arab ~50% of the seats) bloc. Koran accused the Arab bloc of taking over all the important offices in the provincial government and replacing Kurdish police officers and senior civilian officials “we cam in with good will and open hands but were surprised that in the first session [of the provincial council] all posts were given to the Hadabaa bloc, in a farce that lasted ten minutes”.

The bottom line is, the crisis continues and the tension rises, and so do negotiations to contain it. The problem is that intentions are very difficult to measure. Both sides say they are keen to keep the crisis from getting out of control, at the same time as they dig the trenches.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Moqtada to Return to Iraq Soon

Sadrist bloc MP Ahmed Masoudi says that Moqtada Sadr will soon be on his way back to Iraq. Masoudi made somewhat contradicting statements about the purpose of Moqtada’s return. First he said that his return “does not necessarily mean preparing for the upcoming general elections or rebuilding [political] coalitions”. Masoudi however added that Sadr “is coming back to build a nationalist political program”. According to Masoudi, Moqtada is expected to show up in Ramadan; that’s two weeks from now.

As of now, the Sadrists are still considered a swing-bloc so to speak. They have had very turbulent, and at times bloody, relations with their former allies in the last two years; particularly with the ISCI and Maliki. It is elections season though, and all parties are trying to be better prepared by attracting allies.

It is not easy to predict where the Sadrists are going as they have deep differences with both ISCI and Maliki’s Da’awa Party. Sadrists try to represent the nationalist proletariats. ISCI on the other hand is more of an elitist organization that is keen on establishing a loose federal system. The two are close only in terms of their Shiite Islamist background and their relations with Iran. Maliki and his Da’aw Party have adopted a more nationalist agenda, so that’s one thing they ostensibly have in common with the Sadrists. However, Maliki has largely diluted his Shiite Islamist identity, which could be a problem for the Sadrists. Above all, it would be very interesting if the two managed to put their history of fighting behind their backs.

Another big question is; how much weight will the Sadrists have in the upcoming elections? Moqtada is certainly less powerful today than he was in 2005-2006, but how much influence he could still have is not easily measurable right now. Anyway, we should have more input to analyze in just two weeks.

It's about time

Blast walls will be removed from all "major and secondary" streets in Baghdad in 40 days!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The League of the Righteous Renounces Violence?

This actually happened yesterday, but it's an important piece of news:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met members of the radical Shiite group believed to have kidnapped five Britons in Iraq two years ago after it said it had renounced violence, a government spokesman said on Monday.
The meeting came just days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said two of the five were "very likely" to be dead, bringing to four the number of hostages killed by the League of the Righteous.
"The government welcomes the statement by the League of the Righteous that it renounces violence and supports the political process and efforts to achieve national unity," Ali al-Dabbagh said on state Al-Iraqiya television on Sunday.

How did this happen?
One, or a combination of the following:
- The League of the Righteous may have been instructed by Tehran to moderate their behavior and join the political process. This move could improve the standings of the fractured Sadrist movement and Shiite Islamic parties in general among their constituency. The goal may be to rebuild the UIA and balance Maliki's emerging nationalist coalition.
- The release of detained League's leaders and affiliated Iranian agents has paid off.
- The League is faking this to have more of their detained members released and buy some time to regroup and reorganize.
- Maliki is trying to get the Sadrists on his side to prepare for general elections.
- Maliki wants to show that he is the arbiter of national reconciliation, not the Americans who were talking to Sunni insurgents without his government's knowledge. If this is the case, he may have paid a high price to bring the League to the table on such a short notice.

Kurdish MP: Baghdad-Erbil Talks ‘Successful’

A member of parliament says that PM Nouri al-Maliki has reached an agreement with Kurdish leaders regarding the status of the Kurdish militia (Peshmerga).
MP Firyad Rawandouzi, from the Kurdistani Alliance explained that Maliki agreed to absorb the Peshmerga into the national defense apparatus. The arrangement would expedite the pending formation of two new divisions (15th and 16th). The remaining Peshmerga members would either be absorbed into the police force, civilian institutions or be retired, according to Rawandozi.

3,300 Sons of Iraq get civilian jobs

The commander of Baghdad operations General Aboud Kanbar announced that 3,331 Sons of Iraq (tribal fighters, members of Awakening Councils) will be hired as civil servants at 19 ministries and departments.
The announcement was made at ceremony celebrating the efforts of the Awakening Councils in fighting al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

The Iraqi government had pledged to provide jobs for the nearly 100k members of the Awakening Councils. Some 20k are believed to have been absorbed into the Iraqi security forces. The rest await civilian jobs. The issue is considered an important cornerstone for national reconciliation efforts.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Maliki in Kurdistan

A summary of some news reports from the Iraqi media on PM Nouri al-Maliki’s visit to Kurdistan and his meeting with Masoud Barazani.

Azzaman reports that Maliki proposed a roadmap to Kurdish leaders that involves postponing the referendum on Kirkuk’s future.
One suggestion is to have the Kurdish side request postponing the Kirkuk referendum so that it does not appear as it [the delay] were imposed on the Kurdish regional government. The sources added that a commission will be formed (of Maliki, Barazani, Barham Salih and an unnamed Iraqi minister) to resolve disputes between the center and the region without interference from political coalitions.

Al-Sabah quoted Maliki as saying that the things we and the region agree on are more than the things we disagree on. The report adds that sources expected Maliki’s visit could last for two days during which he would meet other regional officials including the leaders of the two slates that came second and third in the region’s elections.

Maliki also played down the differences between Baghdad and Kurdistan by saying that differences between Baghdad and Kurdistan are not an anomaly.
There are differences not only with Kurdistan but also within the federal government and with other provinces. “I consider this to be normal since we are building a state on the ruins of dictatorship and a rigid centralized system. The emergence of differences does not justify pessimism, nor should we expect that to push democracy to collapse and waste all the accomplishments we paid for in sweat and blood. I personally think the problems are in smaller details and we have agreed to resolve them.

Politicians from different blocs had different things to say about the visit.

The chief of the Accord Front Dhafir al-Aani told Radio Sawa that Maliki’s visit to Kurdistan was unlikely to resolve the disputes between Baghdad and the Kurdish region. Al-Aani called the problems between the two sides “complicated” and called on Maliki to engage other political powers in the search for solutions.

Sami al-Askari, a Shiite MP known to be close to Maliki was a little bit more optimistic. Askari told al-Mada that Maliki’s visit was “an important step to bridge the gap between Baghdad and Erbil” However, he acknowledged that more time would be needed to reach final solutions. He said the details of disputed issues would be talked later by a joint commission between Baghdad and Erbil.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A bank robbery turns political

The ministry of interior announced that the gunmen who robbed a Baghdad bank last Tuesday were arrested yesterday. The gunmen, who are reportedly included two security forces officers, had stormed a bank in the Karrada district of Baghdad and stole $7 millions after killing 8 guards.

The robbery and the quick apprehension of the robbers turned into heated exchanges of defamation among politicians and affiliated media outlets.

State-owned al-Sabah reported that the MOI “declined to reveal the identity of those involved in the robber of the Ziwiyah bank in Baghdad. The MOI only reaffirmed that the stolen money was retrieved and delivered to the ministry of finance”. The report added that the MOI believes that “the gang executed the operation without the knowledge of their employer”.

By “employer” the MOI is implicitly referring to someone closely affiliated with the ISCI and VP Aadil Abdul-Mahdi. Other media outlets like al-Sharqiya was less reserved in alluding to links between the robbers and the ISCI. Others like Azzaman say the whole story of the arrest was faked by the MOI to cover up for their failure to prevent recent violent attacks in Baghdad.

On the other side, Buratha News, a website closely affiliated with the ISCI posted a very awkward report in defense of Abdul-Mahdi. It goes like this:

“Informed sources mentioned that the Ziwiyah robbery, in which 9 guards were killed, was executed by a group of Iraqi Army officers; one officer is from the 9th brigade, and the other is from the presidential battalion. The robbers were identified by the personal guards of Dr. Aadil Abdul-Mahdi. As a result, Dr. Abdul-Mahdi went to meet al-Maliki without an appointment. The sources mentioned that Maliki was asleep at the time but he was awakened and briefed on the subject by VP Abdul-Mahdi who asked Maliki to let the presidential battalion raid the location. Maliki agreed and the raiding force captured one of the officers and found the stolen money. The criminal confessed that he had hidden the money at the Adala (Justice) newspaper (an ISCI publications) where he works as a security guard because he thought security forces wouldn’t search there. The sources also denied the culprits had any political affiliation”.