Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Can't keep the guns and the money

Looks like yesterday's meeting was just another failed attempt to break the deadlock.

The "agreement" the political leaders reached is practically worth nothing. Washington will not like this. The US is not willing to station people overseas without legal protections...I think it's politically indefensible in the US.

The cause of this deadlock is rooted in the disagreements on power, land and money. All the Iraqi political leaders (except the Sadrists) are willing to vote in favor of immunity, but they will not give this to PM Maliki for free. Specifically, Iraqiya wants the Policies Council and Defense Ministry, while the Kurdistani Alliance wants a friendly oil and gas law [there is coordination on this issue with Iraqiya to reach a mutually accepted draft] and, eventually, some progress on disputed territories. If the Kurds and Iraqiya get these some of these demands, they will support Maliki's request for parliament to give immunity to US troops.

We either get an all-encompassing agreement addressing the issues of power-sharing, oil and gas legislation and US presence, or nothing at all. In other words, Nouri Al-Maliki can't keep both the guns and the money.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Riots erupt in Saudi village

And it is on in Saudi Arabia!
Fourteen people, including 11 policemen, were hurt when riots erupted in a Shiite-majority village in eastern Saudi Arabia, state news agency SPA said Tuesday, blaming the unrest on a "foreign country."

"A group of outlaws and rioters on motorbikes gathered" at a roundabout in the village of Al-Awamia in Al-Qatif province on Monday "carrying petrol bombs," SPA said, citing the Sunni-ruled kingdom's interior ministry.

The group carried out acts causing "insecurity with incitement from a foreign country that aims to undermine the nation's security and stability," SPA quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

"Security forces managed to deal with those traitors at the spot and after they were dispersed, machinegun fire erupted from a nearby neighbourhood."
And it is now reported that rioters carried "Hezbollah and Iran addition to Iranian clerics pictures."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Iraq May Approve Energy Law by Year End, Committee Chief Says

An overly wishful, almost out of touch assessment of bill stuck since 2007:
“We are studying two drafts, one from within the committee and another one from the government,” Adnan Al Janabi said. “We will come out with a new law from these two drafts, and we can pass the law by the end of the year.”

Not gonna happen! First you need the three major blocs to all agree on a workable power-sharing arrangement. Only then you can expect them to start working on an agreement on one draft, before it can pass a vote by parliament. Right now, there's no end in sight for the grand power-sharing disputes.

Iraq signs deal to buy 18 F-16 warplanes

The deal is finally's unclear yet though whether it includes the same lame weapons package announced in the original notification. The final price will also be significantly lower than the $3-4 billion estimate. How much exactly? We'll have to wait, but I guess it will be around $1 billion.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Somali radio gives away assault rifles in Quran contest

You're not gonna believe what this radio station in Somalia did!
The "Al-Andalus" radio station offered weapons (and cash) as prizes for winners in a Quran memorization contest this past Ramadan. The first place winner got an AK-47 and the equivalent of $700. Second place winner got an AK-47 too, plus the equivalent of $500 in cash. The third place winner, well, he got 2 hand grenades and $400 in cash...The contestants? Children between 10 and 17 years old.

Iraq Calls for Change of Syrian Regime

This is a pretty interesting and welcome about-face.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bomb blast in Ankara as Turkey, Iran consider joint operations

This escalation will most certainly reflect negatively on the border ares of Iraq's Kurdistan Region. Actually, with a joint Ankara-Tehran operation possibly in the works, it looks like the KRG has some really tough days ahead. It could also very well influence the KRG position in their negotiations with Maliki, who will probably try to leverage the situation to improve his position..It would be a shame if the KRG allowed this to weaken their position and give up on their new joint effort with Iraqiya to enforce the power sharing agreement.

Egypt bars Islamist hard-line political party

Egypt's Political Parties Affairs Committee has made a brave decision, barring the extremist Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya from registering as a political party. The way this enfolds will have deep effects on the future of Egypt's political system.

If this ruling stands, Egypt will succeed in avoiding one of the biggest mistakes we made in Iraq when all filters were removed. We ended up allowing those who believed in violence--not democracy or human rights--to undermine the political process from within...I hope Egypt's desire to establish a real democracy does not wane.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Iraq Crude Oil Output Rises to Highest Level Since 2003

Production in August hit 2.81 million barrels per day. Going neck and neck with Kuwait, who has also been frantically ramping up output this year.

With significant revenue growth in the pipeline, the government in Baghdad is already working on a plan to expand next year's budget by more than a third.

You will see September numbers dip slightly when the next output report is released. That's because of the temporary loss of exports from Kurdistan Region, which may have been caused only by a technical problem.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Allawi no longer welcome in politics, says Maliki

Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has effectively torpedoed what was left of the power-sharing agreement that led to the formation of his cabinet.
In a very short and ominous statement to the press, he stated that Ayad Allawi "is no longer an acceptable partner in the political process."

This is going to have serious ramifications, including the potential for the collapse of the current coalition government. Much of what's going to happen next will be shaped by yesterday's negotiations between Allawi and Barzani, and tomorrow's talks between Salih and Maliki.

Iraq reworks fees to bolster 4th energy auction

The Ministry of Oil will be trying to squeeze even more revenue out of future development contracts by closing one of the "loopholes" found in earlier contracts.
"If the total production is 1 million barrels per day and the cost recovery is (the value of) 300,000 bpd, then we will deduct the 300,000 from the net production and the remainder is 700,000 bpd, so we will pay remuneration for the 700,000 only, not for the 1 million," Ameedi said. "The remuneration will be higher so it is in our interest and I think it is in the interest of the contractor." The calculation change is aimed at cutting the cost of subcontracts, which was inflated by some oil companies under the current deals signed with Iraq, Ameedi said. "We will deduct the cost of subcontracts from the total production and the remaining production will pay remuneration for it," he told reporters on the sidelines of the roadshow. "If that share of production is less, remuneration of the contract will be affected negatively, and if it is high, they will get more remuneration," he said. "It coincides with the idea of production sharing in this sense only. That there would be 'cost oil' but there would not be 'profit oil'."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tehran fantasizes about gas exports to Europe

Another Iranian pipe dream, literally.

Oil dispute flare-up

The KRG are saying exports were halted because of "technical difficulties."

This could in theory be true, but it's highly unlikely. First, exports were halted immediately after Maliki-Erbil tension boiled over draft oil law disagreements. Second, it happened while the Kurdish parties threatened to even boycott federal parliament and cabinet meetings. Against this backdrop, the technical difficulties story doesn't sound as convincing.

A lighter footprint will not prevent conflict

I'm quite sure that when General Odierno said:
"I'm not saying 3-5,000 is the right number," but "there comes a time...when it (US presence) becomes counter-productive...I'm not quite sure what the right number is, but there's a number there somewhere that is -- you've got be careful about."

...he was trying to explain that he wanted the extended US presence, should there be any, to maintain a low profile so as to avoid providing pretexts for AQI, Sadr, other Iran-backed militias to conduct violent attacks.

I have to disagree with this reasoning. I think this is not the right metric to consider when deciding the final number of troops--the reaction will be the same regardless of whether the number was 100, or 10,000.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sadr says will suspend operations against US troops

So Moqtada Sadr, trying to make himself look reasonable, issued a statement Saturday night in which he claims that:
"Out of keenness on Iraq's independence and the withdrawal of American forces from the country, I must halt military operations for the Iraqi resistance until the withdrawal is case the withdrawal is not complete and Iraq's land remained nonindependent, the decision will be to resume military operations with a new approach and severe might."

Effectively, this changes nothing. If any US troops/trainers remained in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, their presence will be used to justify militia operations. Even if no troops remained, the presence of an embassy will be used to justify militia operations...and so on...The decision is already made.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ahmadinejad tells Assad to end the violence?

Something must have been lost in translation, because this couldn't be coming from Ahmadinejad.

Iraq Discovers Oil, Gas Field in Anbar Province, Official Says

Never heard of recent active exploration in this area,which roughly corresponds with the southern edge of "block 2", one of the 12 exploration blocks that will be auctioned off in the upcoming 4th bid round in January. I'd take this one with a grain of salt, for now.

Iraqi Army Receives Last Abrams Shipment

All 140 of them have been delivered. We'll need about 4 times as many only to complete the modernization of tank elements for 4 modern mechanized divisions...still a long way to go before having adequate defense against conventional external threats.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Revolution in Syria brings security to Iraq's border

Iraqi border guards report that since protests escalated in Syria, there have been almost no militants trying to cross into Iraq. "We have recorded only three infiltration attempts in the last three months, and this is the lowest rate since 2003," the official said adding that "Arab revolutions against ruling regimes, particularly Syrian protests, have had a positive effect on security in Iraq."

I would argue that AQI is in fact showing signs of regrouping and trying to make a comeback elsewhere in Iraq, but this doesn't mean this guy is wrong about the trends in his own area of responsibility.

Iraq eyes EU gas exports through Turkey

This article actually raises a few very interesting points about Iraq's potential gas exports, particularly this one:
Al-Shamma also said gas exports to Europe would begin only if gasfields were found, saying associated gas would not be exported by pipeline. “If we depend on associated gas, that will fluctuate and we cannot commit to a long-term export project. We need to have a stable supply and that can be achieved only with some reserves of free gas.”

Iraq OKs six more companies for 4th energy bid

Iraq has approved six more energy companies to participate in its 4th energy auction, raising the number of pre-qualified bidders to 46, a senior oil ministry official said on Wednesday.

The auction for 12 new exploration blocs, scheduled for late January, is expected to add 29 trillion cubic feet of gas and 10 billion barrels of oil to Iraqi reserves.

"We have six companies that were not qualified first, but after reviewing their information, we asked them to submit further documents to support their position. We have decided to qualify them after they offered the required documents," Abdul-Mahdy al-Ameedi, director of the oil ministry's contracts and licensing directorate, told Reuters.

It is quite fascinating to me that no matter how deep political deadlocks in Baghdad are, and regardless of whether security is improving or facing setbacks, the oil industry keeps going forward!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sadr applauds Hizbollah Brigades, seeks merger

Al-Sumaria News (Arabic) quoted Moqtada Sadr as saying that he blesses the work of the Hizbollah Brigades--one of the notorious IRGC backed special groups--and that he offered a merger between the group and his militias; "The strength of the Trend [Sadr's movement], so to speak, is yours."

Sadr also acknowledges that that the Brigades' mission is regional, and extends well beyond Iraq's borders, and implies that his offer was kinda declined; "I had wished for efforts to unite and that your work be dedicated to Iraq alone, but your [the Brigades'] senior commanders rejected that."

Panetta says 3,000 is enough

New York Times reports:
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is supporting a plan that would keep 3,000 to 4,000 American troops in Iraq after a deadline for their withdrawal at year’s end, but only to continue training security forces there, a senior military official said on Tuesday.

Now one of the big questions is force protection. Sadrists and other Iran-backed militias said if any US military personnel are going to stay beyond 2011 then "there will be war." It seems there are 3 logical options:
1)You can keep a force that can defend against such threats, or
2)Demand that the Iraqi government makes a commitment to take decisive action to neutralize that threat, or
3)Find a way to assist Iraq without exposing your people to danger.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Al-Qaeda offshoot acquires, well, something!

Al-Qaeda offshoot acquires Libyan air missiles: EU
Due to the turmoil in Libya, members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have "gained access to weapons, either small arms or machine-guns, or certain surface-to-air missiles which are extremely dangerous because they pose a risk to flights over the territory," said Gilles de Kerchove.

So what exactly did they acquire again?

Tehran looking beyond Al-Assad

Asharq Al-Awsat:
...The senior ISCI member also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Tehran is very concerned about the fate of the Syrian regime, and it wants to move the area of conflict to Iraq and the Arab Gulf region” adding that “in the event of the collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Tehran will concentrate on Baghdad as an alternative to Damascus.” The ISCI source, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, also revealed that “instructions have been issued – in the form of advice from the al-Quds Force that is responsible for the Iraqi file in Iran – for a media campaign to be launched against the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia, in order to raise the issue of Bahrain once again, as well as for a media campaign to be launched against Kuwait against the backdrop of its construction of the Mubarak Port.“

Now that explains what the fuss is about.

Iraq bars Hess from auction over Kurdish deals

Iraq's Oil Ministry has excluded U.S oil firm Hess Corp from competing in its 4th energy auction because the company signed deals with Iraq's northern Kurdish region, a senior Iraqi oil official said on Monday....A laughable attempt to fool the system and avoid blacklisting. You'd expect a company of this size to know better!

U.S. Eyes Covert Plan to Counter Iran in Iraq

Military commanders and intelligence officers are pushing for greater authority to conduct covert operations to thwart Iranian influence in neighboring Iraq, according to U.S. officials....Those in Iraq with shady ties to Iran will freak out. They will put more pressure on Maliki not to request an extension for US presence. Could the envisioned operations be covert enough to bypass that?

Iranian Police Arrest Water-Pistol 'Rebels'

Iranian police have started cracking down on water fights springing up across the country, arresting several young men and women who took part in the latest organized water-pistol battles....Seriously Iran!?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Syrian Protesters Burn Iranian, Russian, and Hezbollah Flags

For decades we watched protesters in the Middle East burn the flags of America, the UK and Israel, as these countries were believed to represent the “enemies of the people.” For the first time, we see protesters burn the flags of Iran, Russia and Hezbollah for a change! Are we witnessing a moment of redefining the “enemies of the people” in the Middle East?

The first video shows protesters in Syria burning the Iranian and Russian flags. The second video shows a protester holding a handwritten sign written in Russian and Arabic addressed to the Russian leadership saying that the Syrian people want their freedom. In the third one, Hezbollah flags are set ablaze in Syria as protesters chanted No to Iran, No to Hezbollah!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Middle East Transformation Will Not Favor Extremists

The ambiguity surrounding some Islamist powers involved in Middle East revolts raise questions in the West about the trajectory in which ongoing turmoil is taking the region. Skepticism is exacerbated by the fact that some Al-Qaeda affiliates are enthusiastically talking about the opportunities that change in the Middle East holds for them. Lessons learned from Iraq’s transformation suggest two things; that the emergence of even a stumbling democracy makes extremists more vulnerable to change themselves, and that the potential for evolution towards democracy is greater than that for relapse towards theocracy. The international community should therefore remain engaged until that outcome is achieved.

Change is happening. And with change comes opportunity for the powers that oppose the status quo. The average Tahrir Square-type protesters use this opportunity to seek greater freedoms, a more representative government, better jobs and other legitimate aspirations. There are, however, unsavory actors who see in this change and the ensuing chaos an opportunity to do harm.

Al-Qaeda propagandist and extremist cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, for instance, recently said that change will allow terrorist organizations to make a “major leap forward,” regardless of the end-state of the new political system that will replace outgoing dictators.

Awlaki’s generalization is fundamentally flawed, and the opportunity for his envisioned “leap” will end when stability and pluralistic political processes begin to take hold. The nature of the new political system does indeed matter. Protracted ethic and sectarian conflicts, civil wars and failing states tend to provide a favorable environment for extremists and terrorists. Democracies do not.

A democracy should allow previously repressed Islamists to take part in politics. These Islamists will strive to influence this democracy to further their views. But the system also changes the Islamists. Under the previous regimes, Islamist groups appealed to people simply by merit of their opposition to a dictator. In a democratic system the competition is different. Islamists will have to get elected to have influence, and since there will be no more resistance-against-dictatorship to boast, they need to present a revamped platform to be electable.

Gradually the Islamists will have to assume a more civil and less confrontational posture. The campaigns and results of the 2005 and 2010 general elections in Iraq show what the trajectory is; voters gradually base their decisions more on the policies of the contenders rather than their piety.

Even seemingly irreconcilable cases like Moqtada Al-Sadr had to pay lip service to what the people want; reform, freedoms and better services. And above all, they have to eventually distance themselves from violence. Although Sadr continues to threaten with violence and tries to bend democracy to serve his purposes, the rules of the democratic game forced him to suspend most armed operations in 2008--in part--in exchange for a role in politics.

Change in the Middle East will break the vicious cycle the dictators had created and which enabled them to thrive and justify their staying in power. First, they kept the West under the impression that their regimes are necessary to protecting the security and interests of the West from Islamist extremists. Second, they simultaneously kept their people under the illusion that the West is bent on destroying Islam and resurrecting Western imperialism. Such arguments do not seem to resonate well today.

Change will alter the threat calculus for Islamists, from an international, intercultural or global realm, to one that is confined to individual states or communities. Instead of preparing Jihad against America and the West who—in the extremists view—support oppressive regimes and seek to destroy Islam, their efforts will shift towards the more urgent struggle for power within their own countries.

Rallying cries such as Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan will become less and less relevant as people and factions in the Middle East regardless of their ideology start to compete with one another for power and influence and pay more attention to their problems at home.

Contrary to what Awlaki likes to think, change in the Middle East and North Africa will provide a great opportunity to significantly weaken radical Islamist groups. There will soon be a long and tough turf battle between radicals and moderates within the Muslim communities undergoing change. And as we saw in Iraq a few years ago, Sunni extremists, which saw in the fall of the dictator an opportunity to declare an Islamist state, were defeated at the hands of other Muslims. As long as the international community remains invested in consolidating democracy in the Middle East, the extremists’ fortunes in Libya or Egypt or Bahrain will not be any brighter than they were in Iraq.

By Omar and Mohammed

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Power-Sharing Deal Falling Apart?

This is disturbing:

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iyad Allawi, leader of the bloc that won the most seats in Iraq's 2010 elections, said on Wednesday that he will not chair a supervisory body that he was to have headed as part of a power-sharing deal.
The National Council on Strategic Policies was to be created as a sop to Allawi when rival Nuri al-Maliki was nominated to a second term as prime minister in November, and was intended to constrain Maliki's powers by providing a body for other politicians to make decisions on major issues.

It has yet to be established, though, as a law required to bring it into existence has not been passed.

"I will not participate in the national council," the former premier said in an interview with the Al-Rasheed satellite television channel to be broadcast later on Wednesday. Key quotes were provided beforehand to AFP.

"This is a final decision, and Iraqiya can choose another person instead of me," he said, referring to his Iraqiya bloc which won 91 seats in the 325-member parliament, two more than Maliki's State of Law coalition. Allawi attributed his decision to "the lack of implementation of the national partnership agreement."

And not even a day later...

Now Allawi is not naive. He knows very well that a) the Kurds will stick with Maliki with whom they have a strategic deal. He has so far given them what they wanted, including the right to resume oil exports, and b) the Sadrists and ISCI--even if they ally with him--will not allow him to become Prime Minister, as we saw during 9 months of negotiations. So whay is he doing this?
Ayad Allawi traveled to Najaf on Thursday for talks with Moqtada Al-Sadr. At a joint press conference with Sadr, Allawi announced that Iraqiya seeks to build better ties with the Sadrist movement, ISCI and the Kurdistan Alliance. “Iraqiya wants to build positive relations with all blocs and political movements in the country, particularly with the Sadrist movement.”
Note that yesterday, the Sadrists alluded to the possibility of forging a new majority coalition with Allawi, ISCI and the Kurds. In my opinion, this call is simply another example of Sadr's disruptive attitude.